Advice from Senpai for Heritage Students

Senpai (先輩・せんぱい) means one's senior at school, in his/her work place, or in martial art and other training clubs, where experience is highly regarded. In traditional Japanese culture, the senpai is expected to teach, guide, and support his/her kohai (後輩・こうはい) 'new-comers, junior'. Here is valuable advice from your senpai about how to study the Japanese language.



In J10X, we learned about many topics ranging from geography and history to pop culture and food. We read from our textbook and discussed the topics during class. Not only did I learn more about Japanese society and culture, I also learned how to present my own opinions and ideas to my professor and fellow classmates. I gained a wider vocabulary for speaking on topics such as the educational system or traditional arts. Though I was already somewhat familiar with formal Japanese speech styles, there were details I was unaware of and this class helped me learn specific uses of words and expressions that I had only heard of before. This was very helpful because formal speech styes are important when conversing with Japanese people in the real world. I am also having less trouble remembering certain kanji when writing, which is something I used to have trouble with. Most of all, I enjoy being able to speak in Japanese while learning about interesting and relevant topics.

J10X and J100X

For the more recent J100X, I remember studying about broad topics such as sexuality, pop culture, and health; all were placed in modern day contexts and supplemented with recently published materials. This allowed the topics to be relatable and relevant. We not only studied these topics but practiced presenting them to the class, which helped in organizing my thoughts and opinions in a coherent manner. I was able to practice formally speaking about topics, which is arguably the hardest part of the Japanese language. I found it very helpful to practice formal interviews and emails because this is helpful for professional occasions. Above all, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the class and the teacher. It was a very constructive class, where ideas and thoughts influenced each others opinions, and we frequently had open ended discussions which helped understand the topics and shined light on the different ways of viewing the material. The presentations were also interesting because everyone had different topics and it gave me exposure to a variety of phenomena that I otherwise would not be aware of.

The J10X and J100X Series

The J10X and J100X series was a great way for me to learn some of the basics in reading and writing Japanese. Before I took the class, I had never formally learned Japanese in a classroom setting and thus the amount of reading and writing that I could do in Japanese was very limited. After taking the class, I can now read some of the simpler topics of an article in a magazine or newspaper and although I cannot read all of the characters, I can understand the basic idea of the contents of the articles. I think that the heritage classes are very well suited for those that speak Japanese at home in casual settings but need more practice in reading, writing and formal speech. I think that the heritage classes are some of the many unique opportunities that UC Berkeley offers that are well worth taking advantage of.

More than anything, I really looked forward to going to class everyday because I loved all of the people in my class. I think that the small class size and the gathering together of people with the same Japanese heritage and cultural interests created a very warm and fun atmosphere that made the learning process of the language and the culture very enjoyable.

Academically, I think that the most helpful part of the class was learning new characters and vocabulary. We had a quiz almost every day that varied in style (vocabulary, reading characters, reading and writing characters) and every other week or so we would have a more intense quiz that focused on grammar and writing. Although at the time I felt that it was a lot of work, I am now grateful that the quizzes were part of the course since I now feel that I can read better than I was able to before.

Overall, I had a great experience taking the class and hope that other students will enjoy the class as much as I did!

The J100X Experience

J100X class is a designed for heritage learners, that is students from a Japanese background, who would like to improve their conversational Japanese through intensive writing and reading practices. Unlike most students who has spent most of their time in the United States, I grew up in Japan and attended international schools based on the American curriculum. J100X, therefore, provided me with an opportunity to further improve my Japanese reading and writing skills.

Class sizes are comparable to liberal arts programs; my specific class consisted of less than 20 students. Lessons were very organized and followed logical transition, and the small class sizes allowed flexibility in discussion. Lesson topics included Japanese communication styles and norms, various social issues such as gender relations, corporate culture, environmental issues, etc.

J100X was not only about learning but also about applying our knowledge of Japanese. We practiced translating Japanese literature in English, which allowed us to apply our knowledge of Japanese culture, history, and tradition to contextualize literature for interpretation. We also had an opportunity to use formal/honorific Japanese by interviewing professionals about their career in Japanese corporations or academia.

The class has had a lasting impact on me. The social issues that we covered in class appear frequently in my Japanese politics class (I am a Political Science major), and gives me more insight about Japanese politics. In a large public university like UC Berkeley, it is difficult to interact with professors and classmates on a personal level. J100X, therefore, is a precious counterexample. Komatsu Sensei is wonderful and has always motivated me to pursue my goals with confidence. Relationship as classmates turned into friendships, and some of us meet on a regular basis. For most of us, J100X has become a cherished memory.


I decided to take J100X after my wonderful experience with J10X. The transition was seamless and taking J10X proved to be great preparation for the more intensive material and course load of J100X. The class covers broad topics including the environment, religion, communication, gender relations, and food culture through textbook readings and class discussions. The readings required a decent level of comprehension and analysis to understand in order to complete the assignments and engage in discussion.

The professor and small class size created a supportive environment that really helped me succeed in this class. Komatsu Sensei is very thorough in her explanations to ensure that everyone understands the lessons and is happy to answer any questions if you are still confused. The discussions allow for plenty of opportunities to speak in class and frequent presentations provide great public speaking experience.

I grew up speaking Japanese with my mother and attended Saturday Japanese school in America, but each person in this class had a different background with Japanese, so I was able to learn a lot from my classmates as well. It was fascinating to exchange stories of our different experiences with Japanese culture and speaking with those of us who grew up in America, Japan, and even other countries.

J100X was very rewarding and I’m grateful for the lasting relationships I’ve made. After taking the J10X and 100X series, I felt much more connected to my heritage as well as inspired to continue my study of Japanese for the remainder of my time at Berkeley.


Before taking J10X, I didn't have the confidence to speak freely in Japanese, let alone read or write in it. Taking the class has allowed me to gain the experience and knowledge necessary for saying more than a few words or sentences to my Japanese friends and family. I have broadened my knowledge of not only colloquial Japanese but also the more formal speech styles, which has greatly increased my confidence in my speaking abilities.

My reading and writing abilities have also greatly improved. In fact, my handwriting has finally surpassed grade-school level! All joking aside, thanks to this class, I no longer feel embarrassed to read or write in Japanese. I feel more freedom when writing because I know how to put my thoughts to words in a coherent and mature way, and I have the writing skills to be able to put those words to paper- this is all thanks to this class.


Although this class is called J10X: Japanese for Heritage Learners, I believe that one does not actually have to have any Japanese “heritage” aspects in order to take this class. From taking this course I feel that this class is directed towards those who are interested and self-motivated to learn Japanese. It really is a great class to be in, if you are willing to put in time and effort to learn. I took this class hoping to improve my Japanese skills so I could use them for possible future jobs and/or internships and, retrospectively, I do believe I improved on my writing and speaking skills, especially in formal occasions. Personally, I liked how the class was designed to do one chapter per week, rather than dragging a single chapter for weeks. The fast pace was great in the sense that it introduced the class to many different topics from Japanese traditional events to even the newest Japanese pop culture. The speediness and progression of the class is very efficient and enforces learning; basically, there is no way one can take this class and not improve their Japanese skills.

The class was very small consisting of less than 10 people, so seeking help was no problem. Also, getting close to peers and the professor is very easy because the class is held every day. The professor is always willing to help and hold office hours for individuals (she often recommends it). Homework is feasible and class discussions are extremely interactive. There is not a day you will go without speaking Japanese in the class, which is extremely helpful for conversational purposes. The overall experience of being in J10X was enjoyable. It’s a great chance to improve your Japanese skills with fellow classmates, who range from different levels and who all want to improve their skills in one way or another. I would easily recommend this class for anyone, Japanese or not, who is looking to improve their Japanese skills.


J100X is a class for heritage speakers that combines the materials from J100A and J100B into one semester. The course was offered in Spring 2012 as a "trial" but it really did not feel like one; it was very well organized, and Komatsu-sensei was always prepared with the materials and provided us with reasonable yet challenging amounts of work every week. The purpose of this course was to prepare heritage speakers for using Japanese in the professional world. Although I am sure that my Japanese is still quite a ways from the level of an employee in Japan, this class gave me more confidence in my language skills and helped me immensely in getting closer to what I see as satisfactory Japanese for a heritage speaker.

The class consisted of weekly Kanji and vocabulary quizzes, eight written quizzes, eight short essay assignments (Sakubun), four in-class short essays, four speeches, an interview, and a final paper and presentation. – I am sure the amount of work will vary according to the semester and to the needs of the students in the class. Throughout all that, we studied important grammar points and structures and discussed various reading materials. Komatsu-sensei prepared special units that were in addition to what was in the regular textbook and covered subjects such as use of Keigo (honorifics), proper formats for interviews and formal letters/emails, and reading essays, newspapers and selections from novels.


The J100X Experience

I personally had attended weekly Japanese school (日本語補習校) up until high school. However, since I quit Japanese school a few years back, I had started to feel that my Japanese was slipping from lack of use, especially in reading, writing, and formal speech. I was a bit hesitant about taking a Japanese course at Berkeley because I assumed I was fluent enough in the language to get by. This class, however, filled in many of the gaps in my Japanese knowledge while also giving me a chance to use the language on a daily basis.

Daily, structured use of language, as it turns out, is the key to retaining and improving any language skills. Attendance is emphasized in language classes for a good reason and the teachers in the Japanese department really know what they’re doing. Apart from regular attendance, for J100X, I just recommend coming to class prepared with questions and opinions about the materials. The more people came prepared, the more enthusiastic and enriching the discussions usually were. In addition to that, I recommend that students not be afraid to speak up about anything – seriously, anything. Trivial information, personal experiences, opinions… the more you add to the discussions, the more others have to say about the topic. And Komatsu-sensei would be there to comment, expand, and mediate discussion if things got too off-topic or confusing. Therefore, it wasn’t rare for us to get carried away in a heated discussion and forget about other materials, and I believe experiences like these were the most valuable.

In any case, if you are a heritage speaker, the main focus for you is probably not grammar or memorization of Kanji. For me, it was simply getting more comfortable with articulating my thoughts in Japanese, preparing and carrying out formal speeches, and becoming overall more confident in my mother tongue. For instance, I realized early on how hard it was for me to fluently articulate my thoughts, especially in speech. With daily practices in the form of discussions, speeches, and essays, however, I became naturally better at speaking and writing. In such a way, this class is specially designed to help you face any insecurity you may have in your Japanese skills and overcome it – a small class of people with differing interests but also with an over-arching goal of improving their Japanese, and an exceptional teacher as your guide. I would highly recommend this class to all heritage speakers out there looking to polish up their Japanese.

P.S. The only regret I have is not connecting with my classmates as friends sooner. So to all future J100X students – Just speak up! You’re all in the same boat. No other class gives you such freedom and opportunity to turn the class into what you want it to be.

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