1649-8526Volume VIIIIssue 1Year 2014

Process Drama in the Japanese University EFL Classroom: The Emigration Project

Eucharia Donnery


This paper examines the impact of using a process drama project in a Japanese university EFL class focusing on the social issue of emigration from a historical perspective while simultaneously developing English communicative skills. Speaking in English is a skill that many Japanese people find challenging. There are a number of cultural reasons for this, for example the enormous linguistic gap between Japanese and English communicative patterns in terms of explicitness/implicitness, hierarchy, gender, and the role of silence. Therefore, the overt aim was to help students develop English language skills while learning about Japanese historical emigration through the medium of English with Japanese scaffolding. This is in keeping with the needs of the average Japanese university EFL student, who has had six years of accuracy-based study for the short-term target of the university entrance examination and who sees English in terms of mathematical code, rather than as a communicative tool. The narrative arc of the paper follows the Noh theatre JO-HA-KYU, Enticement- Elaboration-Consolidation trajectory to take the reader through the emigration process drama project held in the spring semester of 2009 at the School of Human Welfare Studies (HWS), Kwansei Gakuin University (KGU), Japan. The research approach was a mixed-method one and data was collected through digital recording of role-plays, student self-critical reflection by writing-in-role and writing out-of-role in an online class group, qualitative and quantitative questionnaires and teacher observation. Results indicated that process drama projects can have a positive influence on Japanese university EFL learners from the perspective of both linguistic and intercultural communicative competence.

1. Introduction: Setting the Scene

In February 2007, I sat an interview for a full-time contracted position in an English department in a faculty that did not exist. During the interview, the interviewers were extremely interested in my background in the creative nature of drama in language acquisition, as well as curriculum design They expressed unfeigned interest in what was, at that time, a theoretical framework for helping students to become more confident and competent in their English language skills through drama in second language acquisition (SLA). When I mentioned the social nature of process drama as being an eminently suitable way of running a learner-centred curriculum because its relationship to the HWS core subject areas of social welfare, social enterprise and holistic sciences, all ten members on the panel became animated and there was a veritable barrage of questions pertaining to process drama. I was hired on the stipulation that I would help design the overall framework of the English language program with my two colleagues and independently create a one-semester process-drama project, which would be piloted and assessed by the acting coordinator of the English Department.

In this pilot process drama project, which focused on the social issue of bullying, the students were in-role as the Student Council of KGU, building an anti-bullying campaign for the university as a whole. When Dr. Nakano came to observe the final performance of the project in-role as the KGU president, she was suitably impressed with the students’ level of oral English and encouraged me to continue to use process drama in the curriculum for the remaining two semesters. In addition, we applied for a research grant to KGU in recognition of the success of the process drama project in the English Communication program with the support of another colleague, Dr. Liederbach from the Faculty of Sociology, who wished to become involved with further projects. This grant was awarded to Dr. Nakano on behalf of the English Department.With her generous support and encouragement, I was able design more ambitious projects for the second year of the English Communication program, broken into the spring and autumn semesters respectively. With respect to English Communication III and IV, to help the students understand theoretical concepts pertaining to the social issues of emigration and homelessness on a deeper level and in a more personal way so as to develop sensitivity and creativity, I designed a guest lecturer project, in which three speakers would present their experiences of the two themes at hand in a semi-formal manner.

At the end of the pilot bullying process drama project in the autumn semester of 2009 (, students were asked to anonymously submit suggestions for the theme of the second process drama project. These suggestions varied widely, but because the students were from the same faculty, there was also a considerable amount of overlap. In these notes, the students outlined their areas of interest, and the theme of this second project slowly took shape. The themes for the remaining two semesters were chosen by the students and seemed to reflect the ethos of this particular faculty: the problems which immigrants face in Japan and the issue of homelessness. Not all of the students had had overseas experience and they seemed keen to try and understand why people would want to leave their homeland to migrate to Japan, as well as the difficulties that foreigners may face when living in Japan. While students were very conscious that people outside Japan came to live and work in Japan, they had never considered the possibility of mass emigration from Japan.

In an attempt to emotionally replicate the experiences and emotions of emigrants, the frame for the emigration project was set around the passengers aboard the Kasato Maru, the first passenger ship to carry Japanese emigrants from Kobe City, located twenty kilometres south-west of KGU, to Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1908. The other issue that would be examined from a contemporary vantage point would be the plight of people illegally trafficked1 to Japan, a major human rights issue. These two themes emerged as the emigration process drama project.

2. Process Drama in Second Language Acquisition

The evolution of process drama as a branch of drama-in-education (DiE) has had positive effects within the interdisciplinary fields of theatre-arts, cultural studies, and, most importantly for the purposes of this paper, second language acquisition (SLA). Within the field of SLA, Kao/O’Neill (1998: 12) state that the key characteristic of process drama is to “include active identification with and the exploration of fictional roles and situations of the group”, through the target language, as opposed to for the target language.

However, Kao/O’Neill (ibid. 21) realized that although a process drama approach is increasingly familiar to educators in first language settings, it is still new to many second language teachers. While many SLA textbooks rely on a one-dimensional and/or mono-centric sense of language and its acquisition, classroom practices for process drama stipulate:

  1. Language is not only a cognitive activity, but also an intensely social and personal endeavor;
  1. Both students and teachers must be prepared to take risks and take alternatives with a functioning speech community;
  1. The teacher can no longer presume to dominate the learning and should be prepared to function in a variety of ways, including taking on a role within the drama.

However, Kao/O’Neill found that “while language teachers accept in principle that drama activities can help them achieve their goals, a disappointingly large number seem to restrict their efforts to the simplest and least motivating and enriching approaches, such as asking students to recite prepared scripts for role-play” (ibid. 6). In their “continuum of drama approaches” (ibid. 5), Kao/O’Neill devised a summary of the differences between closed/controlled drama activities such as language games and simple role-plays, semi-controlled drama activities like scenarios and the open communication that is process drama, as seen in Table 1 below.

Figure image

Table 1: Summary of the differences in key aspects of three drama approaches (Kao/O’Neill 1998: 16).

3. Aims of Process Drama Emigration Project in SLA

With respect to the Emigration Process Drama Project at the center of this study, the explicit aim was to make positive changes in the areas of fluency, authenticity, confidence, challenge (which was interpreted as a change in short-term instrumental motivation to a more integrative life-long model) and new classroom relations. Kao/O’Neill favor an interactive, three-step approach of preparation, dramatic scenes (role-plays), and reflection (writing-in-role), which is in line with the Enticement-Elaboration-Consolidation Noh theatre narrative arc of this paper. This latter act of reflection was in keeping with the thoughts of DiE pioneer Heathcote, who stated that, with respect to the creation of meaningful experiences, “without the power of reflection we have very little. It is reflection that permits the storing of knowledge, the recalling of power of feeling, and memory of past feelings” (Heathcote 1991: 97).

In addition to changes in Kao/O’Neill’s five areas of open communication skills, the more general aim was that the Emigration Process Drama Project would facilitate:

  1. A move from accuracy to fluency-based model of communication, through English rather than for English in second language acquisition for Japanese university EFL students.
  1. A development in critical thinking skills: from understanding contemporary Japaneseness to a broader and deeper worldview and the place of Japan within it.
  1. A CLIL-based approach which would make changes in the areas of intercultural knowledge and understanding in tandem with language competence and oral communication skills, as well as developing multilingual interests and attitudes.

4. Literature Review

Unlike their Irish counterparts, many 21st century Japanese people do not have a strong national or cultural awareness of their own history of emigration. Much of the emigration occurred after the 250 year period of national isolation in the nineteenth century (sakoku), due to the political, social and cultural upheaval of the Meiji Era. The typical patterns of emigration were to America via Hawai’i and Canada, and, according to figures provided by Comissao in de Carvalho, “[b]y 1898, the Japanese constituted 40 per cent of the total population of Hawaii” (2003: 3). This initial wave of Japanese emigration to Northern America and the fate of Japanese-Americans imprisoned in interment camps during World War II became the point of reference for the subsequent homelessness project in the third semester. With respect to Japanese emigration, however, owing to a tightening of restrictions in the Northern Americas, according to Normano (1934: 44), Japanese emigrants set their sights on the Southern Americas and the first passenger ship of 799 Japanese emigrants, the Kasato Maru, set sail from Kobe to Brazil in 1908. The numbers of Japanese emigrants fluctuated and numbers peaked in 1929, when 15,597 emigrants arrived, and continued until 1934 when, as stated by de Carvalho, “the Brazilian government restricted immigration (the Restriction Act of 1934) to an annual quota of 2 per cent for all Japanese immigrants” (2009: 6). While migration has continued to other parts of the world, to date, the Japanese-Brazilian community of Sao Paulo is at about 1.5 million the largest concentration of ethnically Japanese people outside of Japan.

5. Cultural Context

Currently, migration studies are growing in popularity in Japan and there are many studies in both Japanese and English, which outline the circumstances and patterns of emigration to Hawai’i, Northern America, and the Philippines. However, although there has been much research done into the bilateral migration between Japan and Brazil in Japanese and Portuguese, there has been comparatively little research in English into the migration of Japanese workers to Brazil. This niche research into a historical event meant that the students would be producing a unique body of research through Japanese and English and produced in English. When rationalizing their choice for the theme of emigration, the students, in their 21st century roles as Japanese Selves, responded that they would like to understand what life for the foreign Other in Japan was like, as well as to understand the difficulties and rewards that were to be had for this foreign Other. It was at this point that I realized that it could culturally be extremely beneficial to the students on many levels to actually experience the life of what they had described as Other. Thus, the Kasato Maru Emigration Process Drama Project was born. One clear aim of the project was to deliberately blur the lines between the Self and Other and move towards more a meaningful understanding of emigration.

The location of KGU on the tip of an imaginary triangle between Osaka and Kobe in the Kansai region of Japan meant that students could easily visit Kobe for primary research about the Kasato Maru. Kobe is a port city and was one of the busiest ports worldwide until the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Even with the decline of Kobe as an internationally acclaimed port, it still has an international atmosphere and a history of foreign trade predating the sakoku era, the time of national isolation.

In addition to this and in a stroke of serendipity, the Kobe Centre for Overseas Emigration and Cultural Interaction, established in 1928, announced in the national news that its refurbishment had been completed and the new centre would be open from June 3rd, 2009, coinciding with the emigration project at hand. The opening of this facility allowed students to do important first-hand primary research about the physical aspect of the Kasato Maru as well as to examine documentation pertaining to the passengers aboard.

The year 2008 saw the centennial of the Kasato Maru’s maiden voyage and there were festivals in both Kobe and Sao Paulo to celebrate. At the time of the emigration project, it was one year later in the spring semester of 2009, and the students were embarking on their second year of study.

6. Class Distinctions

The emigration project commenced as part of the English Communication III course, a bi-weekly elective course, in the sixth week of the semester, and continued until the fourteenth week. At the end of the first year, the English Communication course as a whole was restreamed and I was assigned to teach Class 1 and Class 2, the highest academic and the mixed-ability groups. Class 3 was perceived as being the academically weaker students, many of whom entered the HWS on sporting scholarships and other non-academic routes for their first year. However, to the entire faculty’s amazement, these students outperformed their more ‘academic’ counterparts in the Departments of Social Enterprise and Social Welfare and were re-streamed into the higher-paced classes. Twelve students from Class 3 whom I had taught in the first year were reassigned to Class 1 in the second year. The other half of the class was made up of students mostly from the Department of Social Enterprise, with only two students from the Department of Social Welfare. The second elective class I was assigned to teach for the spring 2009 semester was Class 2, the mixed-ability class of twenty students, consisting mostly of students from the Department of Social Work with seven from the Department of Social Enterprise. Out of twenty students, four dropped out of their university studies entirely during the semester. The atmosphere in the class initially was openly hostile towards English and what they saw as its representative – me – and there was extreme apathy, if not open dislike, between the two departments.

As all the students in Class 1 had been part of the bullying process drama project I referred to above, they were much more willing to suspend their disbelief and enter into the spirit of the emigration project with gusto. With respect to Class 2, because the emigration project was an entirely new way of learning through English for the majority of students, it was much slower and more difficult for both teacher and students alike.

7. JO — Enticement

After distributing the syllabus for the semester and as part of the warm-up to the theme of Japan and Brazil, there were two video clips shown, one celebrating one hundred years of Japanese culture in Brazil in 20082 and the other of a Brazilian festival in Tokyo3. Students were randomly assigned ‘family groups,’ which they kept for the remainder of the semester. These groups were asked to brainstorm why people left their homeland, social connections and cultural background to go and live in other places, as well as their own personal motivation for overseas travel. The groups reported their findings to the class and then set about assigning family roles for each member of the groups as well as a family name. One group adopted my surname for the duration of the semester, while the others chose names with cultural in-joking, referring to the pop culture of the day. 

8. HA — Elaboration

8.1. Tableau-dialogue-action and Writing-in-role 1

In the next class, there was an official poster inviting Japanese people to Brazil shown on the OHP and then affixed to the blackboard throughout the entire project.

Figure image

Invitations to an information meeting in the Kobe Regatta and Athletic Club were distributed to all the students outlining upcoming information session with the representative of the Brazilian government. For homework, the students were asked to research the circumstances of life in Japan at the turn of the twentieth century and to be able to contribute ideas for the first family group role play the following class. The next class opened with a discussion focusing on what makes people give up what they know and take a long and difficult journey. Students were then asked to make a tableau of why their ‘family’ decided to leave Japan. Each scene captured a sense of hopelessness as well as something feared greatly within the post-World War II Japanese psyche – hunger. Students then formulated a sentence based on what they thought his/her character were feeling and then combined this with an action. The students built on this tableau-dialogue-action to develop their first role-play called “reasons for staying, reasons for leaving”, which they performed to an audience made up of their classmates and me, their teacher. For their homework assignment, students did their first 250 word piece of writing-in-role homework, in which they described their family, their reasons for wanting to stay in Japan and their reasons for leaving.

8.2. Class-in-role 1

To prepare for the class in-role information session, each member of the ‘family’ brainstormed his or her concerns and worries about leaving Japan and formed questions in preparation for the information session. I took part as teacher-in role; a representative of the Brazilian government who was to meet these Japanese families to put their fears to rest. In a rather unusual hybrid of a French/Spanish accent, a navy beret, rather elaborate gestures and hyperbolic English on my part, I seemed to persuade the class that this was indeed another person from another place and time. Then, all students were given detailed immigration information sheets, to be completed as a homework assignment for two classes hence.

8.3. Role-play 1 and Writing-in-role 2

In the interim class, the students, in their family groups, brainstormed the worst possible case scenarios of being aboard a ship over a period of 52 days to create the second role-play called “aboard the ship.” These scenarios ranged from pirate attacks with handsome and kind pirates4 to inclement weather to the unsanitary conditions aboard a ship, reflecting the Japanese cultural adherence to cleanliness. In the family groups, after agreeing on the scenario to be explored, students then got in role to create a tableau of their chosen event. Once again, each student spoke a line, outlining the emotional landscape of his/her role. For the third step, students performed role-plays in front of the audience – myself and the other students. Other topics covered in the role-plays included the problem of scurvy and other illnesses, a family mutiny and the shame and embarrassment caused by children stealing money from a neighbour,. As part of their writing-in-role homework, students were asked to write up a 250-word diary, outlining how their character was feeling and the emotional landscape of his or her character, and reminded to complete the immigration information sheet in preparation for the next class-in-role task. To finish the class on a note of happiness, rather than the rather dark atmosphere that prevailed after the final “aboard the ship” role-play, the students created and performed a family-in-role tableau based on the phrase “Look, there’s land!”

8.4. Emigration First-hand: Guest Lecturer Session 1

The next class prepared for the upcoming guest lecturer session. To allow the students to get used to the cadence and vocal pitch of the speakers as well as learning the skill of mind mapping, the first lecturer had made a brief two or three-minute introduction about his personal and academic pasts, which had been digitally recorded. As this clip was played, the students filled out the mind map, and then consulted within the family group for any gaps in information. Using the clip as a stimulus for motivation, the family groups brainstormed the questions they would like to ask the speaker. As a homework assignment, the students decided on three basic questions that they would like to ask during the Q & A session, which they posted in the class Google Group. The rationale behind this was that within the implicit nature of Japanese language, it is not necessary to formulate questions during a Q & A session and, from a cultural perspective, many Japanese university students tend to be hesitant about speaking out before their peer group for fear of standing out, which has quite a negative connotation. Therefore, the very act of preparing questions that did not overlap and posting them with the Google group provided students with psychological scaffolding in order to acculturate to English Q&A norms, which differ considerably from that of Japanese, and to communicate competently.

The first speaker was a professor of German from the Faculty of Sociology who was part of the research team that secured our research grant in the aftermath of the bullying project of autumn 2008. The lecturer’s field of research is comparative analysis of nineteenth century Japanese literature and its translation into German, as well as intercultural communication in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Because the speaker was also a non-native speaker of English, he was obviously nervous but had taken the trouble to prepare his lecture on intercultural communication in a clear and logical method. Since the students were well-versed on the main facets of intercultural communication, the analysis of the qualitative post-guest lecturer session surveys indicated that they felt that the subject matter was within their comfort zone, yet the lecture stretched this pre-existing knowledge of the subject to include Turkish immigration in Germany. Unlike a normal teacher-led class, students deliberately responded to the lecturer’s nervousness by providing active listening cues such as smiling, maintaining eye-contact and nodding, which they themselves also noted in the post-lecture survey. They were then able to ask their questions in an appropriate, albeit somewhat stilted and rehearsed, manner. In a comparison to the two guest lecturer sessions of that semester, students reported through the post-guest lecturer surveys that they understood more about intercultural communication after the lecturer’s session because he had organized his presentation clearly and logically. For homework after the guest lecturer session, the students completed the key points hand-out, which they compared with the guest lecturer’s summary video clip, shown in the following class.

8.5. Current Immigration Procedures in Japan

The next class opened with a discussion on immigration from the personal experiences of the students who had travelled abroad, and then a video clip5 of the new fingerprinting and facial photo procedures since November 2007 for non-Japanese nationals was shown. Next the discussion focussed on the functions and fears surrounding the issue of immigration in a contemporary setting, especially with respect to the Japanese media. Ironically, this deliberate negative portrayal of foreigners in the Japanese media has its roots in the nineteenth century, as Shipper (2005: 303) shows:

[…] as international relations increased in significance after Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s arrival in 1853, fear that commoners would collaborate with the foreigners grew among the ruling class. They then created the unsavoury images of foreigners among their own people and often referred to Christianity as the ‘wicked cult’ jashu.

In light of the Christian ethos of KGU, the students were, for the most part, aghast that all the international students and international faculty had to carry alien registration cards at all times and go through the fingerprinting and photograph procedures on each entry into Japan, irrespective of visa status.

8.6. Class-in-role 2: Immigration, Brazil 1908

After online research to find out the historical setting of the passengers aboard the Kasato Maru, the students were asked to imagine the possible fears of the Brazilian immigration authorities and those of these first Japanese passengers. The fears of the Brazilian authorities focused on health, language, and culture. Then, the students went into their family groups to check over their immigration application forms and then each family approached me, the instructor, in-role as the immigration officer. There was a sign “Silêncio” written on the board behind me in my role as immigration officer, and there were neither smiles nor jokes from the students. In both classes, the atmosphere was serious, and, as the each member of each ‘family’ underwent the immigration procedure, other members of the ‘family’ waited anxiously. When all members of the ‘family’ were permitted to enter Brazil, there was a palpable sense of relief as the students were reunited with their ‘families’. This role-play allowed students who had never been abroad to experience the anxiousness that immigration procedures can cause, particularly when having to navigate in a non-native language.

8.7. Role-play 2 and Writing-in-role 3: Life in Brazil, 1908

The students then individually researched the living conditions of the Japanese passengers in Sao Paulo in 1908. To their outrage, far from finding themselves as the affluent emigrants to a new land, the stories that “money grows on coffee trees” could not have been further from the truth. Students posted their findings in the online Google Group and were encouraged to read one another’s interpretations of the Brazilian lives that awaited the Kasato Maru passengers in Sao Paulo. The example below was that of a student from Class 1, which clearly demonstrates the shared sense of yamatodamashi, the essential spirit of Japanese-ness and that of gaman, Japanese stoicism:

“The immigrants contracted themselves to coffee plantations and started to work. However, the environment of work was very hard and bad because of disaster, geographical condition or the difference of language and culture. They could not get enough wages. Therefore, some people escaped from the plantations and got other work arbitrarily. As a result, one fourth of people took root in coffee plantations. Though there was the difference between the real and their dream, people who tried to live in the area did their best. For example, they grew vegetables and cotton in rented land, they could get their own land by saving money and they started business in the city. As immigrants adjusted, Japanese people societies organized in each area and Japanese newspaper was issued. Japanese schools were also constructed for their children.”

For the last time, the family-groups created a tableau, added a line of dialogue and developed upon it to make the third role-play called “life in Brazil”, which they performed for the other members of the class and me. To complete the writing-in-role section of the course, the students wrote diaries of their new lives as being hard, but because of their yamatodamashii, their spirit of Japaneseness, they sought to rationalize these difficulties in a positive light, by working hard and maintaining strong familial ties.

8.8. Role-play 3: Illegal Aliens in Japan

After this emotional engagement with the theme of emigration through the plight of these first Japanese migrant families to go to Brazil, the subject was turned to the issue of illegal immigration and human trafficking in Japan nowadays. Japanese media have a tendency to promote a xenophobic climate by citing crime rates committed by foreigners living in Japan as being more numerous than those of Japanese nationals. This view is skewed somewhat by the nature of the most prevalent foreigner-related crime. As Shipper (2005: 306) points out, “more than half of crimes by foreigners are ‘special code offences,’ such as violations of immigration laws and alien registration.” Students were asked to create role plays taken from true immigration scenarios as outlined by Goodmacher (2007: 19) which took into account the plight of the foreigner, the employer and the Japanese state in a courtroom setting. Each role was prepared individually and then performed as a group to the rest of the class and the instructor. As conflict is anathema to the Japanese psyche and the students had learned negotiation tactics and skills earlier that year, they were motivated to find the most beneficial solution for all parties within the group. Interestingly, a clash of personalities, which had been observed but never verbalized, between two students found oxygen for the smouldering fires of dislike in the courtroom and each tried to build a stronger case before the judge for their roles as prosecutor and defendant. This was important as both students were competing in English in roles they both engaged with completely. For the homework assignment, students were asked to do online research about human trafficking in Japan and to outline their findings on Google Group citing their sources as a resource for the final report.

8.9. Guest Lecturer Session 2

The next class opened with the introductory video clip of the second guest lecturer and, once again, the students completed the mind-map. This second speaker was an African-American native-speaking Instructor of English as a Foreign Language (IEFL) for the Language Center on the first floor of the HWS building. For a number of reasons, the students were much more relaxed about this session than they had been for the first guest lecturer session. Firstly, because some of the students had taken this lecturer’s intensive English course during the summer vacation, they were able to tell the other students about his personality and teaching style. The most important thing that was shared in the class groups was that his English was much, much slower than mine! Secondly, because his office was situated within the same building he was more visible to the students outside of class. Finally, this was the second time for this endeavour, which allowed the students a sense of knowledge and psychological comfort. Interestingly, however, the post-guest lecturer surveys indicated that while the students found it less stressful, they also found that the content of this presentation was not as clear as the first and therefore all the students commented that they got more from the first, more serious lecture session. The details of the three guest lecturer sessions and the findings with respect to motivation and spontaneity became another strand of research; suffice to say this second session also provided the students with a more personalized perspective on emigration and minority identity.

8.10. Final Performance

For the final performance, students were to produce a PowerPoint slideshow outlining the circumstances of the Japanese emigration from Kobe to Sao Paulo, Brazil to present in the following class. This was to facilitate an intellectual understanding of the emigration process, as well as team-building within the family groups through research and the subsequent presentation of the results of this research. Throughout the presentation procedure, there were overlaps as well as many informative differences in the approaches taken.

9. KYU: Consolidation

9.1. Instructor Observations

In a departure from the bullying project where the students moved in and out of various roles, the students stayed in their chosen family roles for the entire project. Intriguingly, throughout the semester, students called each other by their role names outside the classroom, especially the Class 1 group. Dr. Nakano reported that some of the students who took her compulsory courses jokingly referred to each other as “older sister”, “younger brother”, “uncle”, “mother” and “father”, which initially took her by surprise. The students had, however, made it their own by doing this in Japanese outside the class, so there was one memorable occasion when a passing member of faculty expressed surprise when one student addressed another as “dad” in this way.

9.2. Student Observations

The major achievement of this project was that all of the students in Class 1 and most of the students in Class 2 experienced their own Japanese-ness from the perspective of Other, which allowed them to move beyond the Self and Other dichotomy that the needs analysis, taken at the end of the spring semester in 2008, had revealed. Another result was that students connected emotionally and intellectually with a Japan of a different era. As one student succinctly put it, “I never knew that there was a time that Japanese people were poor and had to emigrate.” There was also a sense of injustice that the Japanese people were lied to, just as in the contemporary cases of human trafficking, and another reported that, “People who go to Brazil will become rich. However, the conditions: housing, 3D6 and too low salary was not good for Japanese immigrants. In one of the coffee companies, Japanese were treated as slaves.” All of the students grappled with their research and sought to find meaning in the lives of these early Japanese emigrants. A student described how the emigrants strove to make their own lives more tolerable: “Their condition was not easy; the difference of language and culture, living in poverty, unhealthy and so on, but they… displayed the values which are still Japanese, [made] associations, and stabilized their lives.” Therefore, through the lens of history, the students themselves could instinctively identify the integral parts of deeper Japanese culture.

With respect to facilitating a move from the Closed Communicative style to a more Open Communicative style, students reported changes in the five target ICC areas of fluency, authenticity, confidence, challenge/motivation and new classroom relations. One student commented that “I can’t remember fine, but I think I get creative power. I have changed to be better than I was”, indicating a growing sense of fluency in English. Regarding authenticity, another student commented that “Kasato Maru project was very difficult, but I could get information and knowledge.” With respect to confidence, a student from Class 1 reported that “the teacher…never spoke Japanese and she continued persuading us to talk in English in the class. As a result, almost all of us tried to use English as much as possible and our English skills improved steadily.” Another student recognized the switch in his own motivation in the comment “By studying with such individual situations, we can learn English that we cannot learn if we study in the ordinary English Classes.” In the more troubled environment of Class 2, the major success was in the change of classroom relations, as can be seen in the comment “making groups and doing some activities (role-play, presentation and so on) helped us to enjoy learning.” There was only one voice of negativity, as can be seen in the comment “I think role play was nonsense.” However, all the students but one in both Class 1 and Class 2 democratically voted for a similar project be done for their last semester of English Communication in Autumn 2010.

With respect to the more general aims, there were also noticeable changes:

Process drama projects facilitated a move from accuracy-based study to fluency-based learning, working through English rather than for English in second language acquisition for Japanese university EFL students.

By focusing on the deepening of emotional engagement with the world of the process drama, the HWS students lost awareness of English as a test-subject, instead creating a psychologically safe environment in which to communicate with pre-existing vocabulary, while simultaneously expanding English vocabulary through self-motivated research. Through the role-plays, this vocabulary was utilized and, as the projects progressed, the students indicated a growing acceptance that responding appropriately in communicative situations, both verbally and non-verbally, was more important than grammatical perfection.

Process drama projects facilitated a development in critical thinking skills: from understanding contemporary “Japaneseness” to a broader and deeper worldview and the place of Japan within it.

In the writing-in-role assignments, students created and developed complex and multi-faceted characters in-role who engaged with the worlds of the process drama, by interpreting the events through the lenses of both as characters in-role and as contemporary Japanese students out-of-role. As the projects progressed, it became evident that the students were engaging with their characters at deeper levels while simultaneously commenting on the thematic events of the dramas from the vantage of 21st century Japanese university students.

A CLIL-based approach makes changes in the areas of intercultural knowledge and understanding in tandem with language competence and oral communication skills, as well as developing multilingual interests and attitudes.

For the emigration project, the students researched the lives of Japanese emigrants to Brazil in the early twentieth century before linking their fate to the victims of human trafficking in contemporary Japan. The strength and power of the process drama projects was to help the students develop empathy with people outside of Japan and they began to realize that, far from the anticipated difficulties when engaging with the world in the Self/Other model, human experience transcends national borders and human beings are really quite similar in terms of sentiments, fears and worries.

10. Summary: Reflections

The emigration project was highly successful with Class 1, the group that had already been through the bullying project and were highly motivated to communicate in English irrespective of ability. Students affectively engaged with the lives of the emigrants and took some aspects of the project, such as familial roles, outside of the class, which would seem to demonstrate a deepening of inter-personal relations within the class. All of the students commented positively about doing the role-plays. For example one student reported that “We have done a little role playing about trials in the spring semester and it was interesting” while another simply stated that “I like the way of role-playing.”7

With Class 2, however, the pace was much slower as it was a radically new learning style for most of the class. In addition to this, there were other factors at work: the students’ tendency to set up the Self and Other model with respect to English, and the antipathy between the two departments. While the first problem was unresolved at the end of the semester in the class as a whole due to the peer-pressure of the group, most individual students were not hostile but rather open and friendly. The second hurdle was overcome through group learning, with one of the more difficult students admitting “making groups and doing some activities (role-play, presentation and so on) helped us to enjoy learning”.

As Japanese university students develop more awareness of global issues, it was in the interest of the individual student to facilitate the discovery of worlds beyond the classroom walls that would encourage self-critical reflection and a greater understanding of what contemporary “Japaneseness” is. Therefore, as identified by the needs analysis study at the end of the first semester at HWS, it offers an understanding of the culturally specific needs of the Japanese university EFL learners, which, in the case of HWS, students themselves had identified as speaking, understanding of global issues and critical thinking.

Process-drama projects are particularly suited to the Japanese EFL classroom because, from official figures, personal observations and the results of the needs analysis administered at the end of the first semester in 2008, speaking is the skill with which students in Japan struggle most. Process drama projects, however, allow the students to take active ownership of their English language skills by affective engagement with authentic material.


de Carvalho, Daniela (2003): Migrants and Identity in Japan and Brazil: The Nikkeijin. London: Routledge Curzon

Goodmacher, Greg (2007): Stimulating Conversation: Thinking Critically about Current Issues. Fukuoka: Intercom

Heathcote, Dorothy (1991). Collected Writings on Education and Drama (ed. by Liz Johnson and Cecily O’Neill). Illinois: Northwestern University Press

Kao, Shin-Mei & O’Neill, Cecily (1998): Words into Worlds: Learning a Second Language through Process Drama. Stanford & London: Ablex Publishing

Normano, Joäo Frederico (1934): Japanese Emigration to Brazil. In: Pacific Affairs 7/1, 42-61

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko (1984): Illness and Culture in Contemporary Japan: An Anthropological View. Cambridge: Cambridge UP

Shipper, Apichai W. (2005): Criminals or Victims? The Politics of Illegal Foreigners in Japan. In: Society for Japanese Studies 31/2, 299-327