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Learning made fun with Milwaukee's Doyo Kai

Doyo Kai
Staff and students of Milwaukee's Doyo Kai

Every Saturday, from this past September to May, Evangelical Covenant Church has turned into Doyo Kai, a weekend Japanese school.

Students from all backgrounds, from kindergarten to high school, gathered to learn Japanese language and culture. And parents enthusiastically join to connect with other families embracing Japanese traditions.

Yuko Kojima-Wert teaches Japanese at Doyo Kai and at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Her daughter is currently enrolled at Doyo Kai as well.

She says it’s in Doyo Kai’s mission to make learning fun and entertaining for students to come to class on Saturday.

"Our goal is like, you know, that ... kids has to have fun like if it's not fun — they don't learn anything. We often have, like you know, teachers meeting and every time we make sure our class has to be fun because it's Saturday, you know, other kids are like ... relaxing at home," Kojima-Wert says.

The halls were full of sounds from students learning numbers and singing songs to learn the seasons and animals all in Japanese.

In another class nearby, students work diligently and quietly practicing Japanese calligraphy.

There’s also a nursery, which Kojima-Wert says was just added to help support new mothers who may be struggling with the culture shock of America.

Doyo Kai
Students learning calligraphy in Japanese

"I gave birth here and I know the loneliness ... you get the information or the many things, but you know, we thought maybe, you know, providing this kind of place is important for someone who has a little ones. I don't know, but it's a really, you know, we are like building community. I think that as I said: The kids can listen to the parents speaking in Japanese," says Kojima-Wert.

Kojima-Wert says that Doyo Kai has officially been operating for about eight years now, but parents were still gathering even before that. She says it’s a very rare thing for Japanese families in the United States to find and she’s very lucky to be a part of it.

"Usually like parents, you know, try to build this kind of community, but it always doesn't last so long. But Milwaukee’s Doyo Kai is very successful too, you know last ... Offering this kind of place, and I know like a student, we have a student here who grew up at the Doyo Kai. So like, you know, the first generation are becoming college students," says Kojima-Wert.

Kojima-Wert says it’s important to provide Asian families, especially Japanese families with resources to connect with their heritage.

She points out that this is one of the only places to learn about Japanese language and culture in Milwaukee.

Kojima-Wert says, "As a parent, I ... we want them to heritage this culture and language and I want them to be to be an important position in United States as well ... What is it so the United States is has like a diversity, and maybe they can represent the Asian identity."

Kojima-Wert says she wants the children of Doyo Kai to become a bridge between Japan and the United States through learning about their heritage and culture.

Although the school year for Doyo Kai has come to an end, Kojima-Wert invites students of all backgrounds to visit the school next year.

Support for the Eric Von Broadcast Fellowship is provided, in part, by Chris Abele.

Corrected: June 1, 2023 at 11:38 AM CDT
A previous version of this story misspelled Yuko Kojima-Wert's first name as Yoko.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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