Vietnamese need to deepen understanding of their own culture and society in order to better appreciate and compare it with other cultures, Kazumi Inami, director of the Japan Foundation Centre for Cultural Exchange in Viet Nam, tells Thu Trang.
Inner Sanctum: How and why did you start this mission in Viet Nam?
I took up the position of Director of the Japan Foundation Centre for Cultural Exchange in Viet Nam in August 2011 and so far I have worked in the country for three and a half years. When I was working in Tokyo, I used to travel to Viet Nam often on assignments and found that the Vietnamese people love Japan. I really wanted an opportunity to work in the country.
Inner Sanctum: What has the centre done in Viet Nam so far? What advantages and disadvantages have you experienced? Which activities have left the greatest impression on you?
We tried to showcase different kinds of traditional and modern cultures, through Japanese drum performances and rock concerts, with the aim of introducing Japan's diversified culture in Viet Nam.
I met with some difficulties while organising events in regions because the Centre was not known very well in the localities. When they heard the word "Centre", people would often think about Japanese language teaching centres and were unaware that my Centre is run by the Japanese Government.
With support from these localities' authorities, more people have become aware of the Japan Foundation Centre for Cultural Exchange in Viet Nam and that it is an official body of the Japanese Government, with a focus on organising cultural exchange events.
A lot of the Centre's activities left a lasting impression on me, such as the modern fine arts exhibition by artist Yayoi Kusama, which attracted more than 2,000 visitors per day, the Go!Go!Japan! rock concert, which also drew a great number of young people, and the showcasing of traditional handicrafts.
I was impressed the most at an event held to introduce Japanese culture in the northern province of Nam Dinh, where I even delivered the welcome speech in Vietnamese.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us more about the Japanese language programme in Viet Nam?
The Centre has joined hands with the Ministry of Education and Training to extend support for Japanese language training in junior, secondary and high schools in Viet Nam. The set of Japanese language textbooks from grade six to 12 was completed in 2013, so any school wanting to teach the Japanese language can start using these immediately.
The Vietnamese Government also plans to start teaching Japanese as a foreign language from grade three. My Centre also supports the programme and at present experts from the Centre are collaborating with the University of Languages and International Studies and the Viet Nam National University to compile a textbook on the Japanese language for grade three students. We plan to teach Japanese in some primary schools in Ha Noi from September this year.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think of our country and its people? What should the Vietnamese do to uphold their culture and learn from other cultures?
The Japanese prefer living in large families, whereas the Vietnamese people prefer to lead more individual lives. For instance, in Japan, working in offices and schools is similar to being part of a big family, with people developing close bonds. But for many people in Viet Nam, the workplace is only a means for progressing further in life.
But the two countries have a lot of similarities, including the respect given to families, ancestors, traditional habits and rites. If some people are close to each other, they will give regards to each other's family members.
Vietnamese need to deeply understand their culture and society first. Only then will they be able to compare it with other cultures, and be able to appreciate the valuable and unique features in other countries' cultures. It will also help them preserve their traditional culture in a modern society.
Inner Sanctum: How does the Japanese Government and your family help you in your work?
The Centre's work is sponsored by the Japanese Government, in other words, it is run using the funds collected from taxes paid by the Japanese. I hope that our activities will help people from the two countries understand each other better.
I entrust all the household work to my wife like every other typical Japanese man. Without my wife's help, I will not be able to complete my work and for that I am thankful for her.
Inner Sanctum: What are your future plans in Viet Nam?
So far, our activities have been carried out in big cities, such as Ha Noi and HCM City. We introduced Japanese culture in Da Lat in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong last December and in the central province of Thanh Hoa this month. I want to expand such activities to other localities as well.
Moreover, ASEAN countries are uniting and cultural exchange between countries will become more important in the future, so I want to step up such co-operative activities. It will also offer the Vietnamese people opportunities to work in the cultural sector and allow them to travel to Japan for more work. — VNS