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Japanese workers in US keep trip home in mind

YASUMASA KATSURA had two major concerns when he and his family moved to the United States two years ago. First, how to adapt to the American environment.

Second, how to maintain Japaneseness, especially in the case of his son, Yuki, who was then four years old.

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Mr. Katsura is an engineer, a supervisor in the quality-control department of Mazda's new assembly plant in Flat Rock, south of Detroit. He, his wife, Sumie, and their son, Yuki, live in the unpretentious suburban community of Gibraltar, just a five-minute drive from the Mazda plant.

Mr. Katsura's concerns are typical of Japanese families that have transplanted themselves into middle America along with the manufacturing or sales jobs that have brought them here. Internationalization is a buzzword in Japan today, and most families going abroad know that they should acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. They are sensitive to Japan's new status as supposedly the richest nation on earth, and have been told not to flaunt wealth or to bunch together in golden ghettos.

They also know that prolonged absence from cozy, insular Japanese society makes reintegration into that society difficult. One Japanese, long settled in the United States, said that many newer arrivals seem torn between the attraction of America's more open society and the umbilical cord that ties them to their home islands.

``If you don't speak English and don't have a driver's license, you will have problems,'' said Mrs. Masako Fuchida, whose husband, Keizo (nickname Kent), works at Diamond-Star Motor Corporation, a joint-venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi.

But most younger, college-educated wives do have some knowledge of English, Mrs. Fuchida said. She herself had no trouble adapting herself to life in America, and her 18-month-old daughter, Yuiko, has helped her make friends naturally and easily with their neighbors.

The Fuchidas live in the pleasant university town of Normal, Ill., where Diamond-Star is situated. Mrs. Fuchida, an English major, hopes to take classes at Illinois State University as soon as her daughter is old enough to attend nursery school.

For the Katsuras, the main burden of preserving Japaneseness falls on their son. Yuki, a lively, mischievous six-year-old who seems to be perpetually bringing schoolmates home to play television games upstairs, has been attending Saturday Japanese classes since April this year.

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``We put Yuki in a nursery school as soon as we arrived the year before last,'' Mrs. Katsura said. ``He was the only Japanese in the school, and at first he was crying. But in a month he began to understand what was going on. If there had been other Japanese in the school, it might have taken him longer to speak English.''

Now Yuki is crying again, this time over having to go to Saturday classes. ``None of my other schoolmates have to go - why only me?'' he wails.

But if a child is to return eventually to the Japanese school system, and especially to prepare for the difficult university entrance examinations, he must keep up with the Japanese curriculum - not only language, but arithmetic and social studies and everything else.

``I have to take him all the way to Troy [north of Detroit] every Saturday. That's where the Japanese school is,'' said Mrs. Katsura. ``They told us there would be only about 10 minutes of homework every day, but it seems more like an hour. After all, we have to cram the whole week's curriculum into just one day.''

With older children, Mrs. Katsura said, both parents have to get involved in the homework. Even so, it is not easy for children returning to Japan to get into good high schools and universities. Because a prestigious university opens the door to prestigious career paths, parents are particularly sensitive about the education of their sons. In fact, said Hideo Kashima, who is helping to train American computer operators to use Japanese information systems at Mazda, few Mazda employees bring school-age sons to the United States. ``I would say that 80 percent of the Mazda children here are girls,'' said Mr. Kashima. His own two teen-agers are daughters, and he said he was quite satisfied with the education they were receiving in their American high schools.

``People say a lot of things about the quality of American high school education, but in our case I think the teachers are more interested in the students and take better care of them than they do in Japan,'' Mr. Kashima said. ``They ran special makeup classes in English, and within a year our children were having no difficulty, even though one spoke no English and the other very little when we arrived here.''

Mrs. Katsura said that she enjoys the lack of constraints in American society. In fact, the main constraint she feels is in dealing with fellow Mazda families, who ``tend to treat me as Mrs. Katsura - my husband's wife - rather than as an individual.''

Or, as Mrs. Fuchida put it, ``I really haven't had such difficulty adapting myself to American society. I'm more concerned about how, after four or five years here, we are going to reintegrate ourselves into Japanese society.''

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