Saturday, 29 February 2020


The right decision

 The thoughts of a Japanese high school student and his mother on exchanging life in Tokyo for the opportunity to study in Mercury Bay

By Suzanne Hansen

No matter what your feelings are about the current state of our public education system in New Zealand, students still travel thousands of kilometers from overseas to take part in what they deem is a system that celebrates diversity, creativity and an outward looking culture of learning, which they cannot find in their own countries. We should be proud of what we have in New Zealand, and especially right here in Mercury Bay with Mercury Bay Area School.

One international student at MBAS, Ian Takahashi (in Year 9 this year) and his mother, Hiromi have earlier this year left everything behind in their native Tokyo to live in Whitianga for the next four years, so that Ian can complete high school at MBAS. Ian, who is 14, is among a growing number of Japanese students who find the rigid structure of the Japanese education system difficult. The Japanese education system actively fights against diverse learning styles and requires the regimented and synchronized achievement of subjects. It is a system that does not allow students who think slightly out of the box the freedom to do so and one where students are harshly discouraged from giving any sort of feedback to teachers.

In the Japanese education system Ian felt bullied by his teachers for being unique and, as a result, he was quickly losing confidence in his own abilities. The system is also culturally and language insular in a globally connected economy, where English skills and global knowledge are requisite to success.

Ian felt so strongly about the issue that in February this year he traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, along with six other Japanese students, to present to a UN committee on children’s rights on the lack of diversity in Japan’s public school system.

Ian, who is not yet proficient in English, managed to present to the committee, in English, about the emotional and learning impacts on children who are not strictly considered “in the box,” with the anticipation that the UN will work with the Japanese government to cultivate a more empathetic and worldly learning environment - a huge project.

Meanwhile, Ian and Hiromi, not able to wait for an overhaul of the Japanese education system, made the difficult decision to leave their home in Tokyo and move to New Zealand for the next four years. They have left behind Hiromi’s successful carbonated skin care business and Ian’s father to hold the fort.

Their move to Whitianga did not come without a lot of research and analysis. They have looked at and analysed many other schooling possibilities, including the US, UK and Australia, but Ian has been a fan of New Zealand since he chose the country as a research project in Year 5, back in Japan.

Ian has enthused about New Zealand ever since and can tell you a lot about the country. He has a passion for our beautiful environment and New Zealand culture and loves that the country is an island, just like Japan. For her part, Hiromi believes that New Zealand offers the most flexible and outward looking learning style and that Kiwis are easy-going people and speak English very clearly.
After choosing New Zealand as their destination, Hiromi and Ian first considered Auckland as an option, but soon decided against moving to another large city with traffic, noise and too much stimulus. In their minds, Auckland was just another large city like Tokyo.

Back in Tokyo, after a visit to Auckland, Hiromi came across Evakona Education, an English language school in Whitianga, on Google and soon met up with Eriko McLean (the Evakona owner) on a visit to Tokyo. That meeting convinced Ian and Hiromi to move to Whitianga for Ian to attend MBAS with English language learning support from Evakona.

Although far away from home, Ian’s father and their two dachshunds, Ian and Hiromi are over the moon with their decision to come to Mercury Bay. Ian is gaining confidence, has new friends and loves his teachers, the ability to learn English and the learning style at MBAS. He particularly enjoys computing, geology and geography. One day he hopes to have his own IT company and perhaps start a shelter for homeless cats and dogs back in Japan.

Hiromi also loves being in Whitianga and has made some good friends. She has joined several social groups, including the ladies nine hole golf group. She attended had her first parent/teacher interview last week and was extremely nervous based on all of her experiences with similar meetings in Japan. The meeting was extremely positive. She was told that Ian is blossoming. She knows they have made the right decision.


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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.