Teaching Japanese Culture in South Dakota

Japan Outreach Coordinator with community members

Northern’s JOI coordinator holds outreach events around the state

ABERDEEN, S.D. – As coordinator of the Japan Outreach Initiative at Northern State University, Kirika Shimmei has spent the past year teaching Japanese culture to people across campus, the community and the state.

During that time of teaching others about Japan, Shimmei has in turned learned about life in South Dakota.

Her visits to a Sioux Falls prison were especially impactful – Shimmei called the experience life-changing. Despite being nervous beforehand, she was surprised to see that inmates held group activities such as art, poetry and games.

“One of the inmates at the poetry group told me that he had realized how important family and people who supported him were and how selfish he was, and he lost many people that he cared about,” she said. “I thought that my situation, living in other countries, could be a similar situation because I don’t get to see and talk to my family and friends often.” 

Now, she tries to stay in touch more with family and friends. “I learned how to keep communicating with others from the other countries and to show an appreciation.”

Shimmei’s second visit to the prison was a highlight for her, as she gave a presentation to more than 40 inmates, answering their questions about Japan.

“The hour-long presentation passed fast, and I really enjoyed teaching Japanese culture to them,” she said.

First JOI Host Site in the Dakotas

Shimmei arrived at NSU in August 2019, after Northern was chosen as the first university in the Dakotas to be a host site for JOI, a program that supports intercultural understanding and awareness.

Since arriving, Shimmei has held community outreach events, ranging from a tea ceremony at the K.O. Lee Aberdeen Public Library to movie nights at NSU. Shimmei has also visited elementary schools in Aberdeen and Groton, as well as Central High School, presenting about topics including Japanese school life, food, holidays and celebrations.

Many of the local teachers told her that their students rarely have opportunities to experience different cultures.

“I believe that learning and experiencing a different culture at an early age is important in opening their minds,” Shimmei said.

She was surprised to see that elementary schools had advanced technology in the classroom, such as smart boards and iPads. Schools in Japan still don’t have that kind of technology, which meant many schools have lacked the technology to hold online classes during the pandemic.

“It is important for kids in the future to have more chances to learn about technology at schools,” she said.

Shimmei has had to adapt her own offerings due to COVID-19. She created a JOI YouTube channel, posting videos about Japan. She also held online classes with the YMCA and the library this summer.

Upcoming Library Classes

This fall, Shimmei is continuing online classes with the YMCA, library and Aberdeen Area Senior Center. Her upcoming online classes with the library will be Oct. 15 and Nov. 19. They are free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Shimmei at Kirika.Shimmei@northern.edu

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a student-centered institution that provides an outstanding educational experience, preparing students through the liberal arts and professional education for their future endeavors. A regional university, Northern offers rigorous academics; diverse civic, social and cultural opportunities; and a commitment to building an inclusive environment for all points of view. Northern also offers a broad-based athletics program, sponsoring 15 NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity sports that compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NSIC). The university strives to enrich the community through partnerships such as its Educational Impact Campaign, which opened a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; new athletic and recreation fields; and, soon, an on-campus regional sports complex. With the $55 million campaign, NSU has been the recipient of more than $120 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions