The thought of coming to Japan and making Japanese friends are often common for people aspiring to work or study in Japan. One could sharpen their Japanese skill and then proceed to acquaint themselves with the locals at the same time, making new friends and learning more about the culture in the process. However, this process is often a hit or miss, as Japanese people themselves tend to either shy away from foreigners, or become just basic friends. Across several universities in Japan, there are community clubs called “circles” (サークル) that allow foreigners to interact with local Japanese students in the activity or subject that one is interested in. For example, there may be several local anime circles or sports circles in one university at a time, and they usually follow a period of time where students are recruited. However, not all foreigners are allowed in some circles, and the language barrier is often high, requiring a decent enough Japanese skill and knowledge of keigo.
【Tokyo International Friends Talk】
The “Tokyo International Friends Talk” attempts to eliminate that language barrier. It is a community led by a Tokyo Denki University student held once every week in Toyo University that allows local Japanese people to have discussions with foreigners (usually language school students, but the community also sees some university students).
1. Program Details
The session lasts for a few hours and consists of 2 general parts: in 30 minute intervals, discussions are held in one language at a time: either Japanese or English. Groups consist of 2 foreigners and 2 locals, though this may vary. The purpose for this exchange program is for Japanese participants to practice their English speaking skills (since Japanese people tend to be weak at speaking English), and for foreigners to practice their Japanese skills by having discussions. Making friends are of course, part of the mission, as there are a few regulars that populate the exchange program.
(Photo taken from the Tokyo International Friends Talk website)
The level of Japanese that foreigners speak generally vary. There are usually some foreigners that just recently moved to Tokyo and are in need of friends while learning some basic Japanese. On the other hand, there are also foreigners that are language school students, so their Japanese level tends to be fairly high.
A neat perk of this exchange program is also the place that the meetings are held. It is held in the Toyo University cafeteria, and to regulars, the cafeteria is known to serve quality food with sizable portions only for 500 yen (rice portion can be increased with just 30 more yen). Some regulars not only come to practice their Japanese and meet some friends, but to have lunch at the legendary cafeteria.
(Photo taken from the Toyo University official website)
In addition to having weekly meetings, the group also hold several events throughout the year, such as fireworks gatherings and karaoke parties. The most recent event the group held was the Adachi Fireworks Event, which dozens of members from the group gathered up and watched fireworks. There are also numerous cultural trips, such as matsuri trips and sakura viewing trips (お花見).
2. Location and Meeting Time
Currently, the exchange program is held every Saturday starting from 11 AM until 3 PM at the Toyo University cafeteria. More details on the exact location can be found on their website down below.
If you are interested in participating in this exchange program, contact the founder of Tokyo International Friends Talk through his email, which can be found in the link to their website: http://friendstalkforregi.wixsite.com/languageexchange-ift
【English Only Café】
Another very similar exchange program is the “English Only Café”. The program name is misleading because similar to the aforementioned Friends Talk, small groups are held and a 30 minute discussion period between English and Japanese are conducted. There are, however, several differences.
While the Tokyo International Friends Talk community meetups generally revolve around the large and open Toyo University cafeteria, the English Only Café holds meetings at a small rustic café where only drinks are served for 200 yen each. The atmosphere between the two locations, therefore, are different. While the Toyo University Cafeteria is a big, open public space, the café is more close knit and cozy.
The English Only Café is also notably more international, featuring participants from 30 different countries during one meetup. In addition, other language pairs are also planned to be held sometime in the future. For example, there may be a Japanese/French exchange program and a Japanese/Korean exchange program planned in the future. If you are of French or Korean nationality, then stay tuned for the updates!
(Picture taken from the English Only Café Facebook cover page)
3. Availability and contact
The English Only Café holds meetings twice during the week (on Thursday and Saturday), compared to once for the International Friends Talk. The meetings are also held in the afternoon (from 4:45 PM onwards). This means that one can drop by after finishing their class or work. Another one thing to note is that the English Only Café is limited to 36 people per session, so be sure to contact them if you plan to attend via their Facebook page.
More information regarding the English Only Café can be found on their Facebook page, or their website: http://englishonlycafe.com/ In addition, they also have a page in Meetup: http://www.meetup.com/englishonlycafe/
Both exchange programs are free of charge and require no degree of fluency between 2 languages. Both are great places to start whether you are planning to strengthen your Japanese skill, or trying to make friends, foreigners and locals alike. If you like smaller, more tightly knit groups, then the International Friends Talk may be the better option. On the other hand, the English Only Café generally features more people in 2 different sessions during the week. Going to both exchange programs, however, is definitely a feasible option if you have the time for it.