Having Fun in Japanese: Nihongo de Asobou!

Mina-san, konnichiwa! For those of you learning Japanese, I believe that there are times where you feel the urge to use what you have mastered so far outside of the classroom – for instance, while on holiday in Japan, or to watch anime or listen to Japanese music without referring to subtitles or lyrics. 

Given how the former is all but impossible now, I am sure that most of you have taken to the latter, and are busy devouring all the titles available on Netflix and other channels. 

While that is a fine enough option, it would be so much nicer if you got the chance to interact with people while using Japanese, right? After all, the power of language comes through best when it is used in communication. Today, I would like to share with all of you an event in Singapore that allows you to meet like-minded fellow Japanese learners, and make use of what you have learnt in a fun and enriching manner!

Games at Nihongo de Asobou 

Nihongo de Asobou (NHGDASB), or “Let’s Play Using Japanese”, is an annual event held by the Japanese University Graduates Association of Singapore (JUGAS), with aid from the Ministry of Education Language Centre (MOELC), both campuses of the Japanese Primary School, and the Japanese Secondary School.

JUGAS was founded in the 1960s by a group of Singaporeans who studied in Japan.

As a Japanese teacher, I have had the opportunity to help organise and execute the event as one of the representatives from MOELC for the past few years. Due to COVID-19, though, the event was cancelled last year, and brought back as an online event last year, which I had the pleasure of attending.

Held on the 11th December 2021, from 1:30pm to 3:00pm, the event was a huge success, with over 50 participants even though the event was held right in the middle of the school holidays . 

In previous editions of Nihongo de Asabou, there were games involving things like hiragana cards. Sorting my sets before the new year begins…… 

In previous years, participating institutions would all come up with different puzzles or games to be completed in Japanese, and participants were required to clear these challenges in Japanese as a team. Last year, though, the format was vastly different, with the first half consisting of quizzes and challenges to be completed individually. 

Unlike in previous years, there was also a theme last year – that of anime and manga, and Japanese used in these two popular art forms, which made perfect sense to me. Anime and manga, after all, are still the main gateways via which people get into the Japanese language and culture, and to have an edition of Nihongo de Asobou focusing on that seemed like the perfect chance to give learners a better idea of how to link what they have been learning with their interests, and to further sustain their interest in learning the language.

Previously, when I was involved as an organiser, I barely had any time to find out what the students were doing at the other stations, let alone try out some of the games myself – it was therefore a refreshing change to be able to take part as a participant for once without having to worry about keeping track of the time, ensuring that the scoring is accurate, and all of the other things I used to have to be aware of during Nihongo de Asobou!

Learning More About The Life of a Manga Editor 

The second half featured a live panel with Mr. Toide Keisuke, a manga editor. Mr. Toide not only meticulously answered the questions that the participants sent in before the event, but also very gamely replied to a few that were posted after he gave his self-introduction, and talked more about what being a manga editor is like, as well as his daily routine. 

The students posed many questions, ranging from more whimsical questions like which manga authors he had met before, to more serious, thought-provoking ones like how he copes when a series he has been managing gets cancelled, and even requests for advice on how to become a manga author.

Their enthusiastic response made it evident that many of them were interested in what Mr. Toide’s job entailed, and wanted to make full use of this rare opportunity to directly interact with someone in the business. Looking at my students, many of them are well-versed in art – I hope that out of those who attended last year, one or two of them will eventually go on to become manga artists and pursue their dreams!

Voices of the Participants 

Interviewing two of the participants, Jolene and Putri. 

Of course, what matters most is how the students found the event. Judging from the constant stream of answers to the various quiz questions, I would say the students had fun learning more about the various kinds of Japanese used in anime and manga, including things like onomatopoeia, words used to describe the sound made during an action, as well as yakuwari-go, words that give the reader hints to the character’s traits. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the attendees, Jolene and Putri, coincidentally both MOELC students, after the event. Both of them agreed that Nihongo de Asobou gave them a chance to learn more Japanese beyond what was covered in their textbooks and school curriculum, and allowed them to appreciate Japanese from a different angle. 

An avid fan of anime and manga, Jolene mentioned that she would pay more attention to language use in manga, especially yakuwari-go and onomatopoeia, from now on when reading manga, in response to me asking if what they learnt through last year’s event has changed the way they view Japanese, and how it would enhance their learning of the language. 

Putri, on the other hand, said that she was now better able to understand the context of the conversations going on in manga, as well as how the characters view each other, through their usage of specific words and the type of language used, for instance whether it is formal or informal.

Interviewing the organising committee, with Mr. Toide present.

Behind the Scenes: With the JUGAS Organising Committee 

Having been involved in organising the event before, I have an inkling of what goes on behind the scenes. I believe, though, that it must have been much harder for JUGAS last year, as not only were they the only ones planning the activity this time, they also had to take into consideration the issues making it an online event would present. 

When I asked the organising committee what challenges they faced while preparing for Nihongo de Asobou last year, they pointed out the difficulty in coming up with questions that were entertaining yet still informative – after all, as teachers, we want our students to walk away from the event having learnt something through it!
Other challenges brought up included technical issues like how to ensure that the quizzes and slides were conducted and toggled between smoothly, especially since this was the first year the event was being held online.

When asked why the theme of anime and manga was chosen, the organising committee  explained that they went with this particular theme as they wanted to try something that they would not have done pre-COVID-19. Indeed, one of the takeaways I have gained from these two years of trying to work around COVID-19 is being able to think more outside the box, and to view the challenges brought about by COVID-19 not as limitations, but as opportunities and avenues for new, novel ways of doing things.

Nihongo de Asobou is but one event where learners of Japanese can use what they have learnt in a non-classroom setting – for those of you who have participated last year or before, I hope this will encourage you to keep an eye out for other similar events! Now that most events have an online element to them that makes attending them easier, this is a chance for you to take part in as many as you can! 

For those of you who have not attended Nihongo de Asobou before and are interested in doing so next year after reading this, do look for other events for you to brush up on your Japanese before taking part in Nihongo de Asobou next year!

All the best in your journey of learning Japanese! 

About the author

Loves cats, music, and alcohol. Dedicated to spreading the good word of Japanese and Japanese culture! 猫と音楽とお酒が大好きです。日本語と日本文化についていろいろ教えちゃいます!