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

Japanese Language Education to Lead the Immigration Policies in Japan
MENJU Toshihiro / Managing Director & Chief Program Officer of Japan Center for International Exchange

May 28, 2024
Japan has entered an era of drastic depopulation, moving further downward from a declining population. According to a recent figure revealed by the Statistics Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan's total population stood at 124,342,000 as of November 1, 2023, and showed a decline of 571,000 year-on-year. Further, when counting the number of Japanese nationals alone, it declined by 852, 000 year-on-year. Given that the population of Osaka, the second most populated prefecture in Japan, is 8,760,000, this drastic pace of depopulation can be seen as equivalent to the whole population of Osaka disappearing in the next 10 years.

In contrast, the number of foreigners residing in Japan surged after COVID-19, reaching 3,075,000 by the end of 2022 (up by 314,000 YoY) and increasing further to 3,411,000 by the end of 2023 (up by 336,000 YoY). The number of foreigners is increasing at a pace inversely proportional to the decrease of Japanese nationals, and they will likely continue to increase at least by 300,000 annually. If this turns out to be the case, the number of foreign residents in Japan will reach 10 million in the 2040s, much earlier than the government forecast.

Even at this time of drastic depopulation and the surge of foreigners happening simultaneously, the government has yet to officially announce its acceptance of foreigners as immigrants and embark on any “immigration policy”. However, in practice, immigration policies based on the assumption that foreigners settle in Japan are being implemented, and among those policies, there has been a most noteworthy development in the policy for Japanese language education for foreigners.

At the initiative of a super-partisan group of lawmakers, “The Act on Promotion of Japanese Language Education” was submitted to the Diet and was promulgated in 2019. The act ensures the maximum opportunities for foreigners to receive Japanese language education in light of their situations and abilities. The subcommittee of the Japanese Language Education set up at the Agency for Cultural Affairs, of which I am a member, has taken up issues on the promotion of Japanese language education for foreigners. Many of the members were linguists with full-depth knowledge and experience in language education for immigrants in other parts of the world, and the focus from the outset has been on Japanese language education based on the assumption that Immigrants from abroad will be accepted.

As a subcommittee member, I believe one of the reports issued by the subcommittee titled “Japanese Language Education in Local Communities” (dated November 29, 2022) established a highly progressive philosophy regarding Japanese language education from now. It stated, “For the Japanese learners, the goal/norm is not necessarily the acquisition of Japanese language as used by its native speakers, but the use of diversified Japanese should be respected”. It was clarified that the ultimate goal for foreigners is not to acquire the level of Japanese skill comparable to Japanese nationals. Further, the reference to “the respect for the use of diversified Japanese language” can be seen as an acknowledgment that the Japanese language itself may change in the future as there will be more and more foreigners living in Japan.

In 2024, the “Act on the Accrediting of Japanese-Language Institutes” was promulgated. As a result, Japanese language institutes were placed under the supervision of the national accrediting system, and Japanese language instructors too must become “registered Japanese language teachers” with the requirements of passing the national examination of Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Moreover, in April 2024, the government agency responsible for Japanese language education was transferred to the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology from the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Through the transfer, a new department named “Department of Japanese Language Education” was established consisting of as many as 50 staff. Among all the governmental measures for accepting de-facto-immigrants, it is anticipated that leading progress will be made in Japanese language education for foreigners.

However, if we look at the countries that regularly accept immigrants, the language education for incoming foreigners is conducted on an almost compulsory basis, and the bulk of the cost is borne by the government. Discussion of such measures has not even started in Japan yet. However, in order to push Japanese language education forward, the discussion on how to share the burden of the cost is unavoidable. As such a discussion moves forward, a comprehensive debate on the acceptance of immigration is likely to be elevated to the level of addressing the core issues.

As the silent movements behind the governmental stance that Japan will not officially accept immigrants become more apparent, the government will need to acknowledge in the near future that Japan is a country accepting immigrants

MENJU Toshihiro is Managing Director & Chief Program Officer of Japan Center for International Exchange.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

毛受 敏浩 / (公財)日本国際交流センター 執行理事

2024年 5月 28日
日本は人口減少の時代から人口激減の時代に突入した。直近の総務省統計局の発表によれば、2023年11月1日現在の日本の人口は1億2434万2千人で、前年同月に比べ減少 57万1千人となり、また日本人の数では前年同月に比べ85万2千人の減少となった。日本で二番目に大きい都道府県である大阪府の人口が876万人であることを考えれば、日本人の数は10年で大阪府がなくなるレベルで激減していくことになる。









筆者は日本国際交流センター 執行理事 
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) > Japanese Language Education to Lead the Immigration Policies in Japan