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COLUMN ONE : 'Japaning' of Europe at Full Tilt : Companies rush for a foothold before the 1992 integration of the European Community. Alsace is a case in point.

August 02, 1990|KARL SCHOENBERGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Klein's logic eventually worked on Sony, whose European operations have their headquarters in Cologne and are run by a Swiss chief executive. Klein did a few other smart things, too. He sent his son to Japan for the summer, and the Japanese consultant who runs the agency's Tokyo office placed the younger Klein in an internship with Fuji Television--which happened to be looking for a European location for its new adventure-drama series.

Klein also invited a reporter from Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's top economic newspaper, to visit Alsace and persuaded him to write a story about an empty convent in the medieval village of Kientzheim that might make an ideal campus for a Japanese prep school. A dozen schools saw the article and contacted Klein.

In 1986, Tokyo's prestigious Seijo Gakuen, an institution that educates free-thinking Japanese from kindergarten through university, opened its first overseas branch at the site, Lycee Seijo d'Alsace. Enrolled are 180 junior high and high school students, about two-thirds of whom are children of Japanese expatriates in the vicinity or in Europe, Africa, Australia or the Soviet Union. The rest come from Japan for an "international experience."

The curriculum is all in Japanese and exactly the same as at Seijo's head campus in Tokyo, and that's the point, said headmaster Jokichi Moroga.

The deepest anxiety of overseas Japanese is the vexing problem of how to properly educate their children so that they can pass the highly competitive entrance examinations at elite Japanese universities. Seijo gets around that by offering a feeder system to its distinguished college. Similar programs are operated by private Japanese schools in London and New York.

"This is a little Japan, like a desert island," Moroga said. "There's no problem as long as they're here. But culture shock sets in during vacations, when they go to be with their parents in Africa."

Lycee Seijo students have some exposure to French children during sports exchanges, but on the whole they remain isolated at the former convent.

"It's a lot of fun, but there are some drawbacks," said Gosuke Kubo, 18, son of a steel merchant from Kobe. "Like, I've been here for four years and I can't speak any French."

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