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

Whither is post-2020 Japanese-language education abroad going?
OGAWA Tadashi /  Professor, Atomi University

November 21, 2019
There is a growing current in Japanese-language education abroad. This current may be a harbinger of structural changes of Japanese society. It is time for Japan’s policy on cultural exchange to face up to a new challenge.

The Japan Foundation recently published the preliminary report of the results of the 2018 Survey on Japanese-Language Education Abroad. It was confirmed that Japanese –language education was being implemented in 142 areas (countries and regions), which is the largest number ever. The number of institutions involved in Japanese-language education in the world was 18, 604 institutions, where 77,128 teachers were teaching Japanese to 3,846,773 learners. Both the number of institutions and that of teachers were the highest ever reached.

As for the number of learners of Japanese in the world, the peak number reached was 3,985,669 people in the 2012 Survey recorded 3,985,669 people. The number in the 2015 Survey, which was 3,655,024 people, marked the first decrease in the number of learners since the 1979 Survey. It appeared at the time that Japanese-language education abroad, which had consistently expanded until then, was beginning to decline. However, the latest Survey indicates that it has registered an increase of 5% over 2015.

Soft power, which is the power to attract others, does not lend itself easily to quantitative measurement. This Survey on Japanese-Language Education Abroad provides a tool for quantitative measurement of Japan’s soft power. As far as we can see from the latest Survey, Japan’s soft power is far fro being on the wane.

How do we see the new current of Japanese-language education that I mentioned at the beginning? It is the remarkable 37% increase in the number of learners at “other” educational institutions (primarily private Japanese-language schools) from 610,000 in the previous Survey to 830,000 people in the latest Survey, while the numbers of learners at secondary and higher education institutions, which used to constitute the bulk of Japanese-language learners, have decreased slightly. This boost in Japanese-language learning at “other” educational institutions is probably attributable to the policy for greater acceptance of foreign human resources launched by the Japanese government as a part of the steps to cope with projected manpower shortage.

In particular, the Specified Skilled Worker status was created to grant a new status of residence to workers in industrial sectors with acute labor shortage, whereby the applicants are required to take examinations to ascertain whether they have a certain degree of proficiency in the Japanese language. The Japanese government has concluded bilateral agreements (Memorandums of Cooperation) with nine countries whose nationals are likely to come under this status, and the number of educational institutions teaching Japanese other than secondary and higher education institutions has increased in all the nine countries. In seven out of the nine countries, the learners of Japanese other than those at secondary and higher education institutions have increased in number, with notable increases in Vietnam (from 34,266 to 114,957 people), Myanmar (from 10,539 to 32,616 people) and Indonesia (from 7,865 to 20,205 people).

The motives for overseas learners to learn the Japanese language have shifted from economic factors such as the demand to engage in business with Japan in the 1980s and 90s to cultural factors such as the popularity of anime and cartoons. Now there has arisen the new factor of the need to qualify for the status to work in Japan.
With respect to Japanese-language education, there has so far been a division of labor between the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Agency for Cultural Affairs being responsible for things “within” Japan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan Foundation being responsible for things “outside” Japan. As we accept more and more foreign human resources, this distinction between “in and out” will gradually lose its relevance. We will need to formulate a strategy for Japanese-language education from a more comprehensive perspective. The Japan Foundation has started a new approach including JFT (the Japan Foundation Test for Basic Japanese) designed for those foreign workers seeking to qualify for the new visa status. It will probably need to collaborate further with institutions engaged in Japanese-language education within Japan.

One cause for concern is that we have yet to see the stance of the Japanese government on how it may tackle the problem after 2020. For example, what are we going to do about the “NIHONGO Partners” program of the Japan Foundation in the future? Under this program that started in 2013, 1500 Japanese volunteers have been dispatched to ASEAN countries in the course of five years, benefiting 1.35 million learners, thus providing a valuable underpinning to Japanese-language education in these countries. However, the budget of the Japan Foundation Asia Center, which is implementing the program, is to expire in 2020, and what may happen after that remains uncertain.

An important factor behind the expansion of Japanese-language education abroad up to now is the fact that the Japanese government’s steady approach based on a medium to long-term vision has borne fruit. This stance should be firmly maintained, and it is urgently necessary for the Japanese government to present to the world its vision and concrete policies for cultural exchange beyond 2020.

Tadashi Ogawa is Professor at the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Letters, Atomi University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小川 忠 / 跡見学園大学教授

2019年 11月 21日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Whither is post-2020 Japanese-language education abroad going?