When Ryan Christie first started teaching at Elk Grove three years ago, he was only part-time.
Christie, when he was hired at Elk Grove in 2018, taught five levels of Japanese language over four sections, meaning that many of his classes were stacked with multiple levels of Japanese students.
Then the pandemic happened in 2020. One school year after that, and Christie was teaching full-time.
This school year, there are now five sections for five levels, and three distinct sections of Japanese 1, compared to just one section last year. It was a surprise considering Japanese isn’t taught at the feeder junior highs.
“I do believe a couple reasons why the Japanese program blew up is one, with the new block schedule it kind of freed an elective,” Christie said. “But there’s so much to take at EG like art and band, why Japanese?”
A big reason why Christie is teaching more entry-level Japanese students than ever before can be chalked up to Japanese media influences.
“I think it has everything to do with anime and with everyone being locked at home,” Christie said. “Streaming services also, because with them including Japanese programs into their services more and more, it’s becoming more accessible.”
Japanese media is the biggest factor in the influx because of this accessibility. Video games, TV shows, books and many more cultural items have also influenced students to take Christie’s class.
Christie said that anime just didn’t have the same pull before the pandemic, especially considering the difficulty of learning Japanese.
“Japanese is very hard, it’s not easy to learn like the other three languages [at EG],” Christie said. “I have to teach handwriting, alphabets and all that. Kids come in and expect that in a semester, they’d talk like Naruto, but they won’t. Kids get impatient or say it’s not for them.”
Brandi Rojas, a new counselor at Elk Grove, places students into classes and has noticed the same sentiments as Christie.
“Many students take Japanese and all take it since they watched Japanese media, they wanted to get a better understanding of that,” Rojas said. “In fact, I have a student who transferred here a month ago that for a couple years, learned the language by themselves and since transferring, they’ve been doing fairly well.”
Seth Gore, a student studying Japanese at EG, said that although many students joined the class because of the rise in Japanese media, students in the class don’t need to have seen it as a precursor to success.
“I know a former student who hadn’t picked up a manga, but scored a five on the AP exam and is currently studying linguistics in Milwaukee,” Gore said.
There are, of course, many students who are in the Japanese classes who were drawn to the class for other reasons.
Sophomores Calvin Wong and Violet Luoren already had some experience with Japanese culture from the get-go. For Wong, he joined after hearing family talk about Japan, and for Luoren, it was karate.
“I didn’t get very into anime until after I joined the Japanese program,” Luoren said.
Christie was in his students’ shoes. A 1999 graduate of Elk Grove, he took Japanese classes and knows how different the world is for students today when it comes to media.
“I graduated from EG in 1999, and anime was not as accessible as it is now,” Christie said. “You’d have to get a VHS of anime, there were no streaming services. In general, globalization has helped Japanese grow in EGHS because now, Japanese culture is available on Twitter and other social media.”