NABEA’s Japan Chat Club is a community-driven program founded and led by Ashley Hayes and supported by Harvey Beasley; it was created in June of 2021, just 2 years after NABEA’s founding in 2019. As part of NABEA’s mission to uplift Black voices in the U.S.-Asia space, the interview below highlights the grassroots efforts of these incredibly talented community leaders.

Ashley Hayes, Founder of Japanese Chat Club

Q: What led you to start the Japanese Chat Club?

Ashley: Starting the group was a team effort. I had participated in several of the Chinese Language Group sessions and found them to be very enjoyable, even as a novice. I started to think, “We need a Japanese group too!” Around the same time, I saw Harvey express interest in a Japanese conversation group, and it felt like the stars were aligning. From there we worked on setting up our first session in June 2021.

A&H: The purpose of the Japanese Chat Club is to create an opportunity for NABEA members to casually practice their Japanese in a safe space. In keeping with the notion of “if you can see it, you can be it,” our members are inspired by seeing other African-Americans speaking Japanese and learning about their Japanese language journeys. We support and encourage each other. 

Q: In leading and shaping the Japanese Chat Club, what has been most surprising? Most enjoyable?

A&H: There are so many Black people out there who are highly motivated students of the Japanese language. Even though you may be the only Black person in your university studying Japanese, joining our group will demonstrate that you are far from alone. It’s so encouraging to see others like you with a shared interest in something you are passionate about. 

Q: What topics does the Japanese Chat Club discuss?

A&H: We cover a wide variety of topics, from current events, to pop culture happenings, to personal stories of our own experiences in Japan. In recent sessions, we’ve adopted an open conversation format, where we just chat about whatever is on our minds, or what people are curious about. We usually have a nice mix of U.S. and Japan-based folk, so it’s fun to hear what’s going on on both sides of the Pacific.

Q:  How would a potential joiner know if their Japanese is “good enough” to participate?

A&H: If you want to join the Japanese Chat Club, your Japanese is definitely good enough to participate! We are a very encouraging and patient group. If you are a beginner, then you will benefit from hearing how everyone uses the language, and you will be able to pick up new words as they are typed in the chat during the session. People of all levels, including folks with more experience with the language, learn something new each session! Participating is a great way to motivate yourself to study harder between sessions.

Q: How do I join NABEA’s Japanese Language Group?

Ashley: Just join the NABEA Slack Community, and say hello in the #japanese-chat-club channel. All are welcome! We typically meet once a month on Wednesday evenings, in the spirit of a hump day happy hour.

If you’re not a NABEA member but still want to get involved as a guest speaker, that’s great! You can get in touch with Harvey and I via the form on the NABEA website.

The Japanese Chat Club is a program organized within the NABEA Slack community. If you are interested in joining, sign up to join NABEA’s Slack workspace here and join the #japanese-chat-club channel.

Program Spotlight: Japanese Chat Club
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