A life changed by radio
Jun. 9, 2017
NHK creates TV and radio programs for a worldwide audience. This is a story that was inspired by one of these radio shows. It is about a man with a dream. His passion for the Japanese language brought him all the way from Africa to Japan.
At NHK Broadcasting Center in Tokyo, in addition to international TV shows, radio programs are aired in 18 languages, including Japanese.
One of the most popular shows is Radio Japan's "Easy Japanese." It has been teaching basic Japanese to people around the world for half a century now.
Hassan Malam Kaou is 28-years-old and comes from Cameroon. He lives and studies Japanese in Gunma Prefecture.
In his Japanese language course, all of the students are from Asian countries except for Hassan.
"I'm very happy to attend the class," he says. "I will do the effort to increase and improve my level."
What brought Hassan 12-thousand kilometers from his home to Japan?
Cameroon is a country with more than 20 languages. Hassan speaks 6 of them. But one day, he made the unusual decision to study Japanese.
His motivation came from his admiration for Japanese products, such as cars and electronics.
He began to listen to Easy Japanese and started learning the language.
But people in his village said he was wasting his time. They told him to help with his family's cattle.
Instead of giving up, he started a Japanese language club in the village.
But there were many difficulties. For example, there were no Japanese textbooks available at stores even one thousand kilometers away from his village. So he wrote to the Japanese Embassy:
"Please send me a kanji book and a map of Japan."
His letter ended with the Japanese phrase, "Ichigo ichie." It describes a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
A year later in 2005, the village had an unexpected visitor. The Japanese Ambassador to Cameroon came all the way from the capital with Hassan's letter in his hand.
The ambassador's visit was broadcast on national TV in Cameroon. After seeing the program, Hassan's relatives offered to support his Japanese language studies.
In April of this year, Hassan finally made his dream come true. With help from Japanese supporters, he managed to come to Japan.
The unfamiliar language Hassan used to listen to on the radio now surrounds him.
Although Hassan was the best Japanese speaker in his village, things are a bit different in his classroom in Japan.
But Hassan is ever-optimistic, and he expresses his enthusiasm through an old Japanese saying.
"If you fall seven times, you can also get up eight times," Hassan says. "When I see somebody who has great level in front of me, it is a way to encourage me to go further and to do best and better."
One day, Hassan visits an old friend, Masaki Kunieda, the former Japanese Ambassador to Cameroon. Kunieda traveled all the way to the village 12 years ago.
Now retired, he still has a copy of Hassan's letter as a memento of their encounter.
"This is what Hassan has presented to us," says Kunieda. "It's a very great joy to observe it. It's a tremendous, let's say, wonderful, example of friendship between the two countries."
"Today is my best day in Japan," Hassan says. "So I'm very happy to meet Mr. Kunieda Masaki."
Hassan seized his "once in a lifetime opportunity." And his dream of being a bridge between Japan and Cameroon is coming closer to reality.