Inheriting "Japanese-Ness" Diversely

Heritage Practices at a Weekend Japanese Language School in the United States

Author: Neriko Doerr and Kiri Lee


The late twentieth century saw a rise of global discourse about heritage. Research on heritage politics, however, has shed little light on heritage practices in schools, especially regarding language, that is, how heritage language is constructed and how it is "inherited" by students of various backgrounds. Heritage language education is often viewed as a means to empower heritage language speakers or to address the diverse needs of students in language classes. In existing works, the individual’s link to "heritage" is assumed as given and stable. More recent works show that the processes and effects of heritage language education are complex and nuanced due to diverse personal backgrounds and changing political economy and cultural politics. The role of schooling in the process of "inheriting" language, however, has not attracted much attention: how students are grouped or tracked into a particular class, for example. After ethnographically investigating various views and practices at a weekend Japanese language school in the northeastern United States throughout 2007 and 2008, the authors of this article argue that heritage language school is not merely a place to reproduce "heritage" by passing it on to students, but it is also a productive site where ways to imagine "heritage" and "inherit" it proliferate. The article analyzes the processes by which what would be considered as merely "speaking Japanese" and "being Japanese" outside heritage language school are differentiated into diverse ways of being Japanese. It suggests a need to investigate school as a site of heritage politics as well as a need for researchers and practitioners to view heritage language education not only as a way to teach language but also as a means to gain an understanding of heritage politics. 

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan

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