How many places have you visited where you are surrounded by modern-day technological wizardry one minute, then turn the corner and be completely immersed in ancient culture?

Welcome to daily life in Japan.

It is this ability to simultaneously embrace both advancement and historical traditions that make Japan and the Japanese way of life so intriguing for many students who grew up in Australia.

Then there's sashimi, matcha, sumo, ikebana, shodo, kabuki and chanoyu (just to name a few)—all of which are enhanced by knowledge of the language—it's no wonder learning Japanese is so popular. And, believe it or not, the capital city of Australia, Canberra, is one of the best places to learn Nihongo and experience new and fascinating food, sport, arts and culture first hand (and often for free).

Canberra and Nara: Australia's Youngest Capital City and One of Japan's Oldest

There is a long history of exchange between Canberra and Japan with Ainslie (Primary) School being the first school in Australia to establish a sister-school relationship (with Tokyo's Nezu Elementary School) in 1964. Many years later, in 1993, the city of Nara became Canberra's first sister city.

Where can I learn about Japanese culture in Canberra?
The Canberra Nara Peace Park, on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, hosts the Canberra Nara Candle Festival and a number of other Japanese cultural events every year. | Source: Visual Hunt - Sharp_Pics

Today, the relationship between the two cities is still strong and provides the foundation for many education exchanges and public cultural events throughout the year.

School-Based Japanese Courses in Canberra

In 1966, two years after establishing its sister-school relationship with Nezu Elementary School, Ainslie School became the first primary school in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) to start teaching Japanese classes.

Since then, according to data from 2019, twenty-three government primary schools in Canberra offer Japanese classes to a range of their students. Many of these primary schools feed into the thirteen high schools and seven senior secondary colleges that also have Japanese courses. A number of schools in the non-government and independent sectors also teach Japanese.

Of course, the Japanese lessons Canberra education institutions offer can vary widely in terms of language content, lessons per week and the age or grade-level students can gain access to the course. The Australian Curriculum provides guidelines regarding course sequence, language structures and cultural understandings at each stage, however, it is the responsibility of each school to implement the learning strategies in their own way.

Teachers of Japanese also differ with regard to their language proficiency and in-country experience. To counteract this, many schools now host Japanese Language Assistants. These assistants are native speakers, usually university students, who wish to spend a year in Australia to improve their English. They are invaluable when it comes to providing pronunciation modelling and cultural lessons. Hosting a Japanese Assistant is a great way to get in some free practice while helping them increase their English proficiency.

Where can I learn about Japanese culture?
Australian students will often learn about different festivals held in Japan, like the Hina Matsuri. | Source: Visual Hunt - darijapan

For people looking to study the language at university, the Australian National University (ANU) offers a wide range of Japanese courses as stand-alone degrees or majors in another field of study.

Language Schools and Private Tuition

After the announcement of the sister-city relationship, a small number of specialty Japanese language schools opened throughout Canberra and other language schools also began to offer Nihongo as part of their course list. In addition, the demand for Japanese language tutors also began to rise.

Learn at a Language School

  • Awesome Japanese Language and Culture School: offers group and private lessons for kids, business, travel, Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) preparation, and specialist culture lessons. Classes can be run via Skype if preferred and they also offer one-off excursions (for example, cherry blossom viewing), opportunities to learn the techniques of Japanese cooking, and culture classes covering topics from calligraphy through to J-Pop. Many of the culture classes are free.
  • Vocational Language Learning Centre: caters for students who want to learn languages, such as Japanese, for travel or business—or just for fun! The Canberra branch is a virtual office, so students learn in an online environment.
  • Deeply Regional Japan: is a family-run business in Canberra focusing on cultural awareness training and travel specific expressions for students wishing to tour off the beaten tourist trail in Japan.
  • ANU Centre for Continuing Education: In addition to their degree courses, the ANU runs several short courses in Beginning Japanese. These lessons follow a set structure and are language-focused, each one building on the skills of the preceding course. The first series includes a focus on travel Japanese.

Hire a Private Tutor

There are a large number of private tutors who either work independently or in a tutoring agency, in the nation's capital.

  • Superprof: you'll find a wide range of tutors on the Superprof platform offering reasonably-priced small group, one-on-one and online Japanese tutoring. From academic-level Japanese lessons to 'fun ways to learn Nihongo', you'll be sure to find a tutor who can help you along your language-learning journey. Most tutors on Superprof provide their first lesson for free with no obligation.
Where do I find a Japanese tutor?
The benefits of private tuition include flexibility of lesson time and location - why not work with your Japanese tutor in a coffee shop? | Source: Visual Hunt
  • Canberra Tutoring: will find you a Japanese tutor for any level from school-aged to university and beyond.
  • Other Tutoring Agencies such as Tutors Field, Tutor Finder and University Tutor have platforms where Japanese tutors can list their availability.

Informal Japanese Lessons and Language Exchange

Thanks to a Japanese teaching boom after the sister-city arrangement was announced in Canberra, a huge number of online resources became available to cater for the surging interest in Japan and its language and culture. Many of these are online and free, and have a focus on aural and oral skills.

  • SBS Nihongo (Japanese Radio) has a bilingual website and features short audio clips on items of interest in Japan, in both English and Japanese
  • Japanese101
  • Linguanaut
  • Mango Languages (you can access the full program with your ACT Public Library membership)
  • Duolingo
  • NHK World-Japan (current affairs in Japanese and English)

Language Exchange and Conversation

For students who want to brush up their Japanese skills and build their fluency, a language exchange can be perfect. This involves finding a native Japanese speaker who wants to improve their English, and essentially meeting with the purpose of having a chat—in both Japanese and English.

To find a language exchange partner, advertising on a university noticeboard is a great way to start, or you might like to join a platform such as Tandem and join the language exchange community.

Meetup is another fantastic place to look and it's where you'll find the Canberra Japanese Language and Culture Group who, among other things, organise a regular Oshaberikai (conversation club or social gathering).

Cultural Lessons and Events

The Australia-Japan Society (ACT branch), in conjunction with the Embassy of Japan and the JET Alumni Association (JETAA) are responsible for organising a series of events across Canberra to celebrate Japanese culture and enhance relationships between Japan and Australia. The highlight is the Canberra Nara Candle Festival, held each year in spring, and bringing together exhibitions of Japanese traditional arts, music and food. Free classes are usually held in conjunction with the event, giving participants new experiences and insight.

If you're more interested in specific Japanese culture—both traditional and modern—Canberra has plenty to offer.

  • Kuroyama Budokai specialise in ancient Japanese martial arts and offer classes and guidance across the ACT in kendo, aikido, naginata and jodo (wooden staff), kyudo (archery) and iaido (swordsmanship)
  • Ikebana Canberra run regular lessons and workshops in the art of Japanese flower arranging
  • National Arboretum often hold calligraphy and bonsai classes

Don't forget, if you're wanting to learn a new skill or Japanese art or musical instrument, Superprof has hundreds of tutors on standby to help you achieve your goals and have some fun. It doesn't matter if they're not in Canberra, as most lessons can be run easily in an online environment.

Where can I learn tea ceremony?
New experiences are not only fun but also provide perfect opportunities to build your vocabulary and expression repertoire. | Source: Pixabay - Rolando Marin

Whether you are a beginner who only knows a few basic greetings, a fluent speaker of Japanese or only interested in learning about Japanese culture, Canberra has an abundance of classes, language schools, private tutors and community groups you can tap into. With its sister-city relationship, and being the home of the Embassy of Japan, Canberra is lucky to have plenty of resources to get you started on your cultural and linguistic journey.

Atarashii gengo wa arata na jinsei no hajimari.

(A new language is a new life.)

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Kellie is an editor, a children's writer, blogger and a teacher. Any remaining time she has is spent on a dragon boat.