Writing centers in Japan and Asia

Scott Johnston


Scott Johnston is a writing coach and this essay shares his expertise and experiences in developing writing centers. He takes the reader into a writing center and to a colloquium on developing writing centers in Japan and Asia. Writing centers at universities are places where students can seek help from tutors and graduate student teaching assistants to improve their essays. ESL writing centers were developed in the United States during the 1990s and have become a model for writing education and collaborative learning in Japan since 2004. The colloquium provided colleagues with an opportunity to discuss the early stages of the development of these new writing centers.Differences in language, culture, and institutional context require that the writing center model be adapted creatively to meet local needs.

Writing centers in Japan and Asia

A nervous student walks into the room, hesitantly heads toward the table, and says, “I am working on my essay on climate change. Could you help me with the introduction?” The person behind the table asks her to read the paragraph out loud and as she nears the end of the paragraph the student says, “Oh, the thesis statement is not very clear is it? I need to fix it.”

This conversation is one that took place at the writing center at Osaka Jogakuin College where students come for help to improve their writing. Similar conversations are occurring at many writing centers in Japan and Asia. Altogether, there are at least 11 writing centers in Japan, with three of them focusing on improving Japanese writing. In addition there are six known writing centers in Asia, including South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and India. Administrators at these writing centers and others interested in writing centers formed an online group in 2007 that continues to exchange information on such topics as how to run centers, how to carry out tutoring sessions, and how to encourage students to use the centers.

On 17 Feb 2009, the first Colloquium on Writing Centers in Japan was held at the University of Tokyo (Komaba Campus) with coordinators from six writing centers presenting and over 30 participants. It was the first time for so many Japanese writing center administrators and people interested in writing centers in Japan to gather. The writing centers are located at Hokusei Gakuen University Junior College, Osaka Jogakuin College, Sophia University, University of Tokyo (Komaba Campus), Tsuda College, and Waseda University. The colloquium also included a panel of tutors from Waseda, University of Tokyo, Sophia, and Teachers College Columbia University,Tokyo.

Through the presentations, it became apparent that each writing center has developed according to the needs of the schools and their students. Some writing centers support only writing while others help with writing, speaking, and grammar. Some help only with Japanese, some only with English, and some with both. Some help international students. For example, Waseda University helped 113 Chinese students and 71 Korean students with their writing during the fall of 2008.

As the number of universities with programs taught through English increases, the benefits for students of writing and learning centers will become more evident. Thus, the role of writing centers in Japan will increase.