The first J-Kaiwa Japanese Language Workshop has begun this semester and is being overseen by Paul Mak, a junior studying business management.

Mak served his mission in the Japan Tokyo South Mission from 2013 to 2015. Before serving, he did not have any experience with Japanese culture.

“Before my mission, I had never been into anything Japanese,” Mak said. “My call to my mission caught me by surprise, so that was my first plunge into it. When I first got to Japan, it was crazy. Everything was super different, (but) I got used to it.”

One difference Mak noted was that the people did not know anything about Christianity.

Mak said that people were “blown away” to hear that they are children of God and they couldn’t understand that well since they weren’t familiar with Christianity.

Mak talking with an investigator.
Courtesy photo by Paul Mak

“It was really cool to start off simply, being able to find simple ways to teach them about Heavenly Father, teach them why we have the gospel, why Jesus Christ matters and the eternal scheme of things,” Mak said.

Mak said his favorite part of serving in Japan were the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Japanese people.

“The members that I met were just super faithful,” Mak said. “Because Christianity isn’t big in Japan, I feel like members have to sacrifice a lot more to do good Latter-day Saint things, to keep the commandments.”

Mak said the members are special because they are usually the only Latter-day Saint member in their school or workplace.

After returning from his mission, Mak participated in Student Activities and got involved with Student Associations. When it came to starting the J-Kaiwa workshop, he said it was a roommate’s idea that he went along with.

Mak and his roommate noticed that after Student Associations ended, American Sign Language began to do workshops that were doing well. They thought, why not start a Japanese language workshop?

Along with roommates and friends, he helped start the J-Kaiwa workshop and has had 20-36 students attending throughout the semester.

“This is just an act of service we want to provide for people,” Mak said. “I know Japanese and I want to teach it. I know people who know Japanese that can teach Japanese … to people who want to either … learn Japanese for the first time, or … continue practicing and refining their skills.”

A landscape picture of the city Kofu, Japan with Mt. Fuji in the background.
Courtesy Photo by Paul Mak.

Even if you are not familiar with Japanese, Mak suggested a couple of reasons people should come to the J-Kaiwa workshop.

“If you are in your apartment with nothing to do, why not challenge yourself and learn a language?” Mak said. “It’s free, you have nothing to lose. Japanese is a useful language … even if you’re planning on working in the States, it’s going to give you an edge.”

With the success of the J-Kaiwa workshops and other language workshops, Mak said he hopes other students will be inspired to create workshops for languages that are not offered at BYU-Idaho.