Jiro Sato, president of the Association for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education (APJLE)
Unsurprisingly, Japanese language schools in Japan have been significantly impacted by the March 11 Great E ast Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
According to a survey of 446 Japanese language schools in Japan, as of May 24, out of 26,020 foreign students, 11,000 had temporarily left Japan and 2,069 had permanently quit the schools. O f the 11,000, 848 students had not yet determined whether they would return.
The survey was conducted by the A ssociation for the P romotion of Japanese Language E ducation (APJLE), aka Nisshinkyo, which is affiliated with the education, justice and foreign ministries. The APJLE was established in 1989 "for the purpose of improving Japanese language institutes in quality and letting foreign students study Japanese comfortably and at ease," according to the association's website.
Moreover, the survey showed that of the 13,615 foreign students who had obtained the authorization to study at Japanese language schools in Japan from the semester that started in April, 2,138 declined to enter Japan while 797 deferred their arrival to an undetermined date. Therefore, according to the survey, nearly 6,000 foreign students have given up or suspended their interest in coming to Japan to study at Japanese language schools.
A few years ago, the Japanese government enacted a plan to attract 300,000 foreign students by 2020. T o achieve this target, Japanese language schools play a crucial role. For most of those who seek higher education as well as careers in Japan, Japanese language schools are a gateway to not only learn Japanese but also Japanese culture.
"Before going to universities, most international students start at a Japanese language school to establish their language skills," said Jiro Sato, the president of the APJLE, in an interview with The Japan Times last month. "Therefore, though it is not well-noted, Japanese language schools are directly suffering from the decreasing number of students because of the disaster."
Attracting new students: The APJLE held study abroad fairs in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh on June 18 and 19 to provide information about studying abroad and learning Japanese in Japan. Below: Sato speaks at the Hanoi fair on June 18. Association for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education
Against the trend of foreign students staying away from Japan, the APJLE has taken countermeasures in cooperation with language institutions as well as government agencies. On March 17, the APJLE sent a letter to government agencies asking for special measures due to the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and accident at the Fukushima N o. 1 nuclear power plant. The APJLE asked the Ministry of Justice, which includes the Immigration Bureau, and the Ministry of Foreign A ffairs to simplify application procedures for international students who had left without obtaining the required re-entry permits and to enable foreign nationals that were to apply for visas to continue to use their certificates of eligibility as valid documentation even after their three-month validity had elapsed.
In response to the requests, the Immigration Bureau has taken special measures so students who departed without obtaining re-entry permits will be able to return to Japan in time for the next semester. These students also will be eligible to obtain a new visa from a Japanese Embassy or Consulate in as short a time as possible, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also, for foreign nationals whose certificates of eligibility have expired due to the disaster, applications to acquire a visa or landing permission can be accepted after confirmation, through evidence such as documents or other materials, that changes have not been made to the eligibility. In addition, the APJLE asked the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and T echnology for financial support for reconstruction efforts of the institutes affected by the crisis and for international students to encourage them to continue studying. Also, the association demanded monetary compensation for the financial harm caused by the fiasco at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
"What I want the government to do is to keep trying hard to provide other countries with accurate information about Japan, which is now an intricate issue due to the nuclear accident, and, of course, to resolve the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It is fairly obvious that without solving this national problem, we can't really ask international students to come to Japan," Sato said. The APJLE also took action on its own by collecting donations from its member schools in Japan from A pril 1 to May 10, gathering more than ¥2.6 million. On June 6, the APJLE offered each of eight institutions in Sendai and the city of Fukushima ¥119,000 and the 335 students studying in those institutions ¥5,000 each as support money.
Though the APJLE has made these efforts, the number of international students continues to decline. B ecause of rumors and unclear information about the nuclear power plant, which influenced many parents to not allow their children to go to Japan, some students are unlikely to return or may feel uncomfortable coming.
To help those students longing to study Japanese come to Japan as well as to convince their parents, Japanese language schools have been enacting various measures. These include transmitting the school's current circumstances on their websites, providing safety information and even making visits overseas to persuade students to come.
"Moreover, I heard that students who judged the situations by themselves and remained in Japan after the disaster informed their friends of the situation as seen from their point of view, and that is the most effective way to encourage other international students to come to Japan." Sato said.
As a result, 10,152 of the 11,000 students who left Japan temporarily have returned or are planning to return. "This clearly means that students love their schools because if they didn't like it, they wouldn't come back. I believe that also means each school's care for its students is sincere and profound. So iThelps the students decide to return to continue their education," Sato said.
The next step is to attract new students. The APJLE, in cooperation with educational organizations, has held study abroad fairs in several countries, such as Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and will hold fairs in Thailand and South Korea, among other countries, in the future. Finally, Sato provided a message to international students who may be hesitant about coming to Japan:
"Japan has been through an unprecedented crisis and we are all working to recover together. And I believe Japan will overcome this situation and be reborn as new. So I really want the youth in the world to witness the restoration of Japan. I believe it is worthwhile for them to initiate a new era. Students studying in Japan are safe and bravely striving to learn Japanese. So please don't be afraid to come here and expand your possibilities."