Languages are windows of opportunity that allow people more ways to look at the world, says Dr. Tomomi Kakegawa, professor of Japanese at UW-Eau Claire.
Born in Gunma, Japan, a district two hours northwest of Tokyo, Kakegawa grew up knowing how to communicate in the Japanese language. She didn’t, however, realize it would become a lifelong professional career.
“English is the only foreign language that you can study at public schools and most private schools in Japan," Kakegawa says. "So I started learning English in middle school. In high school, I studied abroad in Australia, and people started asking me about Japan and the Japanese language. I realized, ‘I really don’t know much about my own country or my own language.’ So, that’s when I really became interested in looking at Japanese culture and language to explain it to other people.”
Since 2003, Kakegawa, who has a background in linguistics, has been the only professor of Japanese at UW–Eau Claire. She has taught all levels of the language, from introductory to advanced-level courses, which she says allows her the opportunity to see students grow in their understanding of both the language and the culture. Learning the language, in turn, helps them learn the culture, she says.
“I really appreciate the students who take Japanese and their sincere interest in the subject," Kakegawa says. "I would like my students, who are learning Japanese, to have direct access to Japanese culture. You can read about Japanese culture in English and watch movies translated into English, but that’s already one filter away from the actual Japanese culture and language that you could access directly if you knew the language.”