Television personality Neru Nagahama promotes sign language

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Neru Nagahama

TV personality and actor Neru Nagahama appears in a Japanese sign language education program on NHK-E as a learner of the language. The five-minute show, “Shuwa Shower” (Sign Language Shower), is broadcast on an irregular basis and lets viewers learn commonly used words and phrases in sign language as if they were literally being showered with the vocabulary.

“[Sign language] terms for social media, like ‘Twitter’ and ‘like,’ are increasing,” Nagahama said. “I hope to convey the feeling that you can learn ‘live’ sign language and get started on the spot.”

In the program, Nagahama is taught beginner-level sign language by students of special schools for children with disabilities across the country. Videos of the show’s past installments can be watched on Heart Net, NHK’s website for information on welfare. The vocabulary introduced on the program covers a wide range of topics, such as self-introduction, greetings, colors, shapes, time, seasons and travel.

Nagahama and students from special schools face each other and practice words and short sentences together to an upbeat rhythm.

“I exaggerate my facial expressions to make myself clearly understood. I also try to keep it ‘pop and fun’ so that viewers can remember sign language gestures together with a set rhythm,” she said.

Nagahama was born on Sept. 4, 1998, and comes from Nagasaki. As a child, she grew up on one of the Goto Islands in Nagasaki Prefecture. A former member of pop idol group Keyakizaka 46, she has also appeared in NHK’s serial morning drama “Maiagare!” (Soar High!).

Her first encounter with sign languages dates to when she was a first grader in elementary school. She joined an international exchange group and learned a few simple words in sign language as part of choreography for songs. After starting out in show business, she signed some simple words to respond to a fan, who uses sign language, and they proved extremely pleased, far more than she had imagined. The experience made her think of learning the language more seriously someday.

What has impressed her since she began appearing in “Shuwa Shower” is the richness of the sign language vocabulary.

“You can communicate with others by using single words alone. What I find particularly nice is that you use a lot of facial expressions. The students who serve as my teachers kindly teach me words and the expressions that go with them. It feels to me like a warm language,” she said emphatically.

On the show, it may look as though Nagahama is just repeating sign language words. But each and every movement Nagahama makes carries a wish.

“I hope more and more people will remove the barriers that separate them from sign language and experience it as something close to themselves,” she said. “If you know one sign language word, you may be able to help someone on the street or increase your number of friends. Some gestures are really cute. I hope this show will be a starting point for many people to want to know more about sign language.”

Some questions for Nagahama

Q: What Nagasaki dishes do you recommend trying?

A: I like aji (horse mackerel) sashimi very much. I miss it now because it’s very rare that you regularly find fresh sashimi with a firm texture at supermarkets here, the way you can find it in my hometown. I also like champon noodles with a rich seafood broth.

Q: What do you do to recharge?

A: Cycling. I ride my bike for a distance of like five train stations in Tokyo to visit a supermarket a little ways from home or some furniture shops. When I’m pedaling, the wind feels fresh. It’s very pleasant to breathe the outside air.