BLC Lecturer Profile: Chika Shibahara

From a Fan of Little House on The Prairie to a Japanese Lecturer at UC Berkeley: Chika Shibahara

PROLOGUE: As a teenager, Chika Shibahara had her mother sew clothes designed by Chika and inspired by her favorite American TV series, Little House on the Prairie. Little did Chika know then where life would lead her . . .

. . . once in a lifetime
–A Japanese proverb by a famous tea master
(Guests should think: this is an opportunity of a lifetime. As we might not see each other again, let’s treasure the time together!)

Chika Shibahara, a Japanese lecturer at UC Berkeley since 1993, says that the truth in this proverb applies to a classroom situation as she truly treasures the time with the students in her Japanese language classes. Chika continues that she appreciates the diverse student body that allows her to learn from the students as well as teach them. She continues to be fascinated by the many different perspectives her students bring to class.

Chika also adds that the San Francisco Bay Area is a perfect place for her: the climate, the large Asian community, the food, the diverse cultural elements, etc. She should know as she’s lived in many other locations and could truly compare before declaring the Bay Area a winner.

Chika Shibahara was born in Osaka, Japan, and moved to the Bay Area with her California husband who is a Japan specialist as well—a professional musician teaching and performing shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute. Before ending up in the Bay Area, they lived in Japan, Hawaii, and Washington State.

Chika Shibahara has been working in the language field for a long time. She has an MA in American Literature, and she taught English in Japan, did translation work, and wrote for a teenage magazine. But among all the language-related jobs, she has found teaching the most fascinating. She finds the interaction and feedback in a language class utmost fulfilling. That realization led Chika to SFSU and the MA program for Japanese teaching. She says that she owes much of her teaching philosophy and skills to the then head of the program, a wonderful sensei, the late Dr. Toshiko Mishima.

At Berkeley, Chika was originally hired to develop a second and third year track for a business Japanese program. However, funded by soft money, this track has been since discontinued. At the same time, when the economy took a downturn, the student body has somewhat shifted—from business-oriented students to students with a large variety of majors. For example, science and engineering students want to use a different part of the brain—and take Japanese just for fun.

This new trend works well for Chika who now teaches first- and fourth-year Japanese courses. The Japanese program at Berkeley is known for its rigorous curriculum. After two intensive semesters, students can make themselves understood—even though listening comprehension skills are harder to develop. Nowadays however, the abundance of Japanese pop culture on the Internet gives access to extra practice. Students watch Japanese movies, TV-dramas, J-pop music videos, and ever-popular animations to improve their listening skills.

Chika enjoys sharing novels, poetry and films she loves with her students. Integrating these cultural elements to her teaching allows her to take advantage of her literature background when planning the curriculum for the fourth year classes. She has developed new techniques to get students involved in short stories and poetry. With her creative additions to the curriculum, even passive students have demonstrated more excitement and active use of their newly acquired language skills.

I asked for a piece of advice for the future Japanese students. This is what Chika Shibahara would like to convey, “Come to class with an open mind and ready to enjoy the new cultural experience!”

As an admirer of Chika Shibahara’s exquisite style, including her fabulous boots, there’s one more question I’ve been dying to ask for years.

—Chika-San, what got you into boots—and since when have you been wearing a pair?

—The girls wearing feminine clothes on Little House on the Prairie also wore good walking boots. I just had to get a pair. Once after I wore a pair to my school, with the appropriate style clothes sewn by my mother, even the very strict home economics teacher of mine paid me a compliment. She was the one who had often scolded me for eating ice cream during the lunch break while walking down a hallway. (We were supposed to sit down to eat ice cream.) Her compliment sealed it! It was going to be just boots after that!