Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Immigrant Acceptance and “Plain Japanese”
IORI Isao / Professor, Center for Global Education and Exchange, Hitotsubashi University

March 28, 2019
Immigration and the Language Problem

A recent shift in Japanese government policy has made it likely that the nation will see a rapid rise in the number of long-term foreign residents. The government has denied that this constitutes an “immigration policy,” but in point of fact this is precisely what it is. Given this, Japan now needs to put systems in place to receive these immigrants appropriately. Below I consider the language issues that are involved in this reception from the perspective of Plain Japanese.

What Is Plain Japanese?

When a country receives new immigrants, it can give rise to a range of language-related issues. Plain Japanese is an initiative to respond to all these issues in a comprehensive manner, but I will look at just its aspects as a means of sharing information with foreign residents (immigrants) and as a common language for use in local communities.

A rise in immigration means more foreigners living in Japan’s communities, where they will need to make use of a commonly intelligible language for communication. Past investigations have shown conclusively that English cannot serve as this common tongue. Japanese, as it is used in its unadjusted form by native speakers, is similarly inappropriate for this role. One reason for this is that, as the rise in immigration is now projected to unfold, a large portion of the new arrivals—at least soon after coming to Japan—would have no means of communication with Japanese community members speaking their native tongue in its ordinary form. One language that could serve as a common tongue for these populations is a form of Japanese that has been adjusted by those native speakers: Plain Japanese.

Plain Japanese is systematically designed to function as a compact language. Once speakers master the grammatical rules set forth in its most basic level, they are able to express their thoughts in spoken Japanese and to understand written texts composed in Japanese according to these rules.

This means that if the very first stage of Japan’s reception of new immigrants is accompanied by training in Plain Japanese, they will be able to understand documentation provided by the government authorities, potentially leading to considerably reduced administrative costs associated with their entry into and integration in Japanese society.

Plain Japanese will also play a vital role in the Japanese-language education provided to these immigrants. When these people arrive in Japan, it will be important to provide paths to success in Japanese society for their children who make an honest effort. If the country’s immigration policy marches forward without these conditions in place, it will likely engender a sentiment among these people that they will only ever be treated as second-class residents of Japan. This could lead to a situation like that seen in France, where minority populations can be hotbeds for terrorism.

If, however, the possibilities for success are made available to them, and they are able to find work in Japan meeting their desires, they will become vital links between Japan and their own countries or regions elsewhere around the world, thus potentially contributing considerably to Japanese society—not just in economic terms, but with respect to the nation’s politics and foreign relations as well. To play these roles to the fullest, of course, these young people will need to have learned the Japanese language and other academic subjects to a level that lets them compete on an even playing field with native Japanese speakers by the time they graduate from high school, at latest. When they first arrive, though, they will inevitable face an overwhelming gap in language skills. They will require a “shortcut” of sorts in their language instruction to overcome this handicap. Plain Japanese can serve as just this shortcut.

Plain Japanese in the Immigration Policy Context

As outlined above, Plain Japanese could be an effective tool for addressing the various linguistic issues that arise when Japan implements its new policy approach to immigration. Applying a set of limitations to the language in public or common use in a country is an effective means of aiding immigrants who are (not yet) fluent in that language as they seek to adapt to life there. This will have the benefit of reducing administrative costs associated with the population of immigrants by making it easier for government to communicate with and get a handle on them. In addition, it will lessen friction between them and residents of the communities where they are received, leading to reduced social costs as well.

There are almost no nations—even among those with deeper experience in admitting immigrants to their shores—that have implemented a linguistic approach like Plain Japanese. As I have outlined it above, therefore, the theory behind Plain Japanese and the practical aspects of its usage could hold significance for nations around the world as they craft their own immigration policies.

Isao Iori is a Professor at the Hitotsubashi University Center for Global Education and Exchange.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

庵 功雄 / 一橋大学国際教育交流センター教授

2019年 3月 28日










一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Immigrant Acceptance and “Plain Japanese”