Gotemba lies beside Mount Fuji (Fuji-san) in central Japan. It’s a city that has a lot of natural beauty with outdoor adventures, relaxation, and a wonderful culture to share.

Lisa and Rumiko are currently living in Gotemba. But is not the only thing they have in common. 

They also share a commitment to education, language, and culture. And most importantly, they share a vision of creating a vibrant community in Gotemba, where locals and foreigners can connect, learn, and grow together. 

That’s why they decided to embark on a journey along with SPEAK to make Gotemba a more inclusive city. 

Lisa and Rumiko, SPEAK Gotemba Founders:

Meet Lolisa Mae Sakurai, who everyone knows as Lisa, and Rumiko Sugiyama. Together they became founders of SPEAK in Gotemba City, Japan. 

Lisa in Japan
Lolisa, co-founder of SPEAK Gotemba

Lisa was born in the Philippines, and she started her career as an online English teacher before moving to Japan to teach English in grade schools and junior high schools for two years. 

Rumiko seated on a bench
Rumiko, co-founder of SPEAK Gotemba

Rumiko Sugiyama is a Japanese national and managing director at an ESL school with an extensive experience in education. She used to be kindergarten teacher and now she performs the role of educational consultant. This is a role that has enabled her to support individuals, schools, and organizations in various educational matters.

How did they learn about SPEAK?

SPEAK is an international impact organization with a community from all over the world. But, the in-person SPEAK experience has so far only been available in 23 cities, mainly in Europe. So, how did two people in Gotemba get the idea to bring SPEAK to their city?

Like many of our founders’ stories, one of them got to live the experience by themselves and realised how meaningful it is to have a supportive community where everyone feels welcomed and integrated.

Lisa in Porto
Lisa in Porto

This first experience with SPEAK happened on 2018, when Lisa moved to Porto, Portugal to complete a master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) while teaching English online part-time.

During her time in Porto, she enrolled in a special course for foreigners at the University of Porto to learn Portuguese. This decision opened doors for her to expand her social circle and connect with people from different backgrounds. 

“I met a Japanese who I ended up becoming my language exchange partner – I tought her English, and she tought me Japanese. Later on, she introduced me to SPEAK.” Lisa tells. 

8 people seated in the grass during an activity of a language group
SPEAK community in Porto

Years later, Lisa introduced Rumiko to the SPEAK world. “I was very impressed and interested in becoming a founder in the city”, Rumiko says. And this is how the SPEAK Gotemba story begins.

Lisa’s experience in Porto with SPEAK

The first event Lisa organised was during the summer of 2019. It was a two-week summer English group with a Portuguese buddy named Anna. The group had participants from Brazil, Portugal, Taiwan, and Japan. “The experience was incredible, and I decided to continue organizing English groups with the help of my Portuguese buddy.” she said. 

Lisa (the one holding her hand up) and SPEAK Porto community 

Lisa continued doing English groups until the end of 2019. By 2020, life came to a complete 180 turn because of the pandemic, and SPEAK released online language groups, so all sessions were made online. Lisa decided to embrace the opportunities for cultural exchange even during the lockdown and joined a language group as a participant. 

Realizing that Gotemba is in need of social inclusion

Japan is an island nation and geographically isolated, which makes it crucial to build a community that embraces foreigners and facilitates language skill improvement. Lisa and Rumiko realised something from to their experience in Gotemba and by being in touch with foreigners: the need for a welcoming community was pretty clear.

After coming back to Japan at the end of 2022, Lisa started working at an English language teaching company. This company offers an internship program for foreigners abroad who are interested in staying and working in Japan for a couple of months. That’s how Lisa got to meet different interns from all over the world. And after some time, she noticed that the interns coming to Gotemba are yearning for some sort of community. 


Lisa is also teaching a special course in her high school called Global Studies. “In my class, I hoped to bring in different nationalities to provide my students with an international environment where they can use and practice English by meeting different people.” she clarifies.

SPEAK, the solution for social inclusion in Gotemba

Inspired by the desire to bridge these gaps and create a supportive community, the idea of opening SPEAK came to Lisa’s mind. “I pitched this idea to my company and they gladly supported the project to start SPEAK Gotemba together”, she said.

Fortunately, they shared the same vision and provided the necessary support to make it happen so Lisa didn’t had to take the responsibility only on her own. “It is important to build a community with foreigners for improving language skills” Rumiko states. And “we would like to start connecting people locally based on shared interests, language learning, cultural exchange and growing globally”

Language group in SPEAK Porto
SPEAK language group in Porto

SPEAK represents a the unique way to connect people, and encourage them to exchange languages, cultures, values, ideas, and more. That’s why Lisa and Rumiko saw it as a great opportunity to break down language barriers that they have identified.

Social inclusion is very personal for me. Leaving my home country and assimilating myself into a very different culture than my own has been a benchmark of my own self-growth. In my opinion, you never really get the full experience of the city/county until you get to experience it with its people.

Lisa, co-founder of SPEAK Gotemba

Social inclusion is about creating a new society where everyone can participate and contribute regardless of their differences. It is really good to know people from different countries, age and backgrounds. I am looking for our students and kids to have such an experience.

Rumiko, co-founder of SPEAK Gotemba

A Vision for SPEAK Gotemba: Community, Language and Cultural Exchange

SPEAK Gotemba now is a reality. And its plan is based on fulfilling that need for a community for foreigners living in this city.

Gotemba City receives an influx of foreigners every year, whether as tourists or as expats. And they experience difficult times adjusting and assimilating themselves into the community due to the language barrier. 

But is not just about foreigners. The local community also plays a very important role. “At the same time, more and more, there has been a growing desire for language learning within the Japanese locals, especially English, in order to communicate with both tourists coming and foreigners living in the city and even in the country as a whole.” Lisa explains.

Mount Fuji
Image by マサコ アーント from Pixabay

The SPEAK Gotemba team has a deep understanding of the challenges faced by individuals from diverse backgrounds when adapting to a new culture. Their goal is to provide a safe and welcoming environment where everyone can participate and contribute, regardless of their differences.

With the launch of SPEAK Gotemba, Lisa and Rumiko aim to empower foreigners to fully experience the city and its people. They also seek to fulfill the growing desire within the Japanese community to learn languages, particularly English, for effective communication with both tourists and foreigners residing in the city.

Join the SPEAK Gotemba Community

Lisa and Rumiko are thrilled to embark on this transformative journey of social inclusion, language learning, and cultural exchange in Gotemba. They invite both locals and newcomers to join SPEAK and become part of this inspiring community where everyone can participate and contribute, regardless of their differences.

You can join SPEAK Gotemba toda. Be part of this exciting journey towards a more connected and culturally rich community in Japan! The best way to do it is by being a buddy and leading a language group in Gotemba.

Discover more about our new cities by reading Creating a Home for All: Meet Ilze, the Founder of SPEAK Riga or Soulful Action with SPEAK Torres Vedras: Meet Its Founders José, Sara and Fernando.

Author: Daniela Afonso

Daniela is a creative who loves exploring cultures and languages. She moved from Venezuela to Portugal and recently joined SPEAK as a Full-Stack Marketer. Passionate about movies and books, she loves the art of storytelling and finding unique and innovative ways to communicate ideas.

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