Yoshimi Yamagata Aoyagi, a local Japanese teacher at both Chapel Hill High School and East Chapel Hill High School, was recently awarded a Commendation by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Aoyagi said she has been teaching in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for the past 15 years. She is currently teaching several classes between CHHS and ECHHS.
On Aug. 10, the Ministry awarded recognitions to 197 individuals and 48 groups, according to their website. The Foreign Minister’s Commendations are awarded to individuals who have outstanding achievements in the international field that promote friendship between Japan and other nations.
Out of the total number, 173 individuals and 40 groups recognized reside outside of Japan, with the rest being based inside the country. Certificates for awards and commemorative gifts will be provided through the Embassies or Consulates-General of Japan for recipients outside of the country.
The Consulate-General in Atlanta contacted Aoyagi about her teaching accomplishments, and many of Aoyagi’s colleagues and students have expressed their gratitude and pride for her recognition, she said.
“We just announced it so they are happy and they give me congratulations and so forth," Aoyagi said. "This is a big thing, so I’m happy too."
Yuki Aratake, a Japanese professor at UNC and one of Aoyagi’s colleagues, emphasized the importance of collaboration between high school language teachers and university language teachers. She added that some students she taught had also been taught Japanese by Aoyagi in their respective high schools.
“I think high school teachers are doing a really good job of teaching Japanese and Japanese culture," she said. "I think it’s a connection between K-16 and then college should be really working together.”
Morgan Pitelka, the department chairperson of Asia and Middle Eastern Studies at UNC, also said he recognized the connection between high school and college foreign languages.
“We are lucky to have a great Japanese program in the local high schools in the CHCCS district and the best Japanese program of any university in the southeast region of the U.S. here at UNC,” Pitelka said in an email.
Pitelka said he has collaborated with Aoyagi for the past nine years on programs bridging Japan and the United States, along with the Animazement Convention in Raleigh.
Animazement is a three-day annual anime and manga convention that promotes an appreciation for Japanese culture and language. The event features events like a traditional tea service and guests including Japanese voice actors and Japanese culture panelists.
Aoyagi, who is one of the founders of Animazement, is looking forward to the upcoming convention. This May marks the 25th anniversary of the event.
“Animazement has been around long enough to where it’s like a big family," RJ Marchese, owner and editor-in-chief of The Variant, said. "You get to go and see your friends and people you haven’t seen in forever. They do have some great programming with panels, it’s probably one of our favorite conventions."
The Variant is an organization composed of writers, artists, cosplayers, photographers and fans of comic book culture, according to its website.
Since 2016, The Variant has been covering media for Animazement through the use of photo booths and promotion on social media, Marchese said.
Aoyagi said she wants to connect more people to Japanese culture and language and hopes to spread awareness of the importance of foreign languages in schools.
“Minor language is always the first to go," Aoyagi said. "I’m hearing many Japanese classes nationwide are being budget cut or some places gone. I’m hoping more people will become interested in Japanese or just curious about other cultures."
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