International Research Institute of Controversial Histories (iRICH)
- General situation of Japanese language education
There are currently about 4 million Japanese language learners outside Japan (Japan Foundation 2020). It is an increase of over 30 times in 30 years since 1988. There are 160,000 Japanese language learners in Japan as well, an increase of about three times in 30 years (Agency for Cultural Affairs 2021).
The trend of Japanese language education in Japan has made changes with the change of the times. Until the 1970s, Japanese language learners were limited to only a fraction of foreigners such as researchers on Japan, businessmen and foreign students studying in Japan. However, Japanese language learners have continued to increase and also become diversified, while being influenced by the politics, economy and diplomacy at given times such as Japan’s high economic growth, the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China (1972), the signing of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1981), the 100,000 Foreign Students Plan (1983), the revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (hereinafter “Immigration Control Act”) (1990), the Technical Intern Training Program for Foreigners (1993), the 300,000 Foreign Students Plan (2008), the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) (2008) and the Specified Skilled Worker system (2019). Nevertheless, Japanese language education, lacking in clear philosophy of itself, has been a history of struggle in the sense of haphazardness, being buffeted by extrinsic factors and completely taken up dealing with problems at hand, and there was no long-term strategy.
- Lack of a perspective of a national strategy
Growth in the number of Japanese language learners and in popularity of Japanese language education provide a perfect opportunity to make the Japanese language and culture widespread around the world and increase Japanophiles and Japanologists. However, despite the fact that the number of Japanese language learners has increased, it does not seem that Japan has become better understood or the number of Japanophiles and Japanologists has increased. While the number of Japanese language learners has increased, anti-Japan activities of neighboring countries still persist and misunderstandings of and prejudices against Japan are spreading to cause Japan to be exposed to unreasonable criticisms and malicious slanders. One major cause of the failure to win a correct and deeper understanding of Japan is that Japanese language education has been left to chance without any national strategy.
The Japan Foundation is Japan's only institution dedicated to promoting international cultural exchange. Ever since its establishment in 1972, it has carried out programs to support Japanese language education outside Japan. While the programs were initially intended mainly for developing researchers on Japan, the institution has recently been carrying out support programs to meet local demands of occasions or various reasons behind Japanese language learning (such as acquisition of advanced technologies, technical training and interest in pop culture). What it suggests, however, is a passive, halfhearted attitude of giving assistance to the other countries, which are interested in the Japanese language, according to their current conditions and demands and there is no further strategic perspective.
As the objective and philosophy of Japanese language education of the Association for Japanese Language Education and certain universities and Japanese language schools, phrases such as “for multicultural coexistence,” “for learning together and from each other,” “for mutual understanding and respect” and “for international exchange” leap to the eye. This way of Japanese language education, which may eventually contribute to Japan’s national interest, is too devious and as good as no strategy.
The same applies to the Act on the Promotion of Japanese Language Education promulgated and enforced in 2020. The Basic Philosophy (Article 3) says: “The promotion of Japanese language education must be carried out in a way that ensures to the maximum extent possible the opportunities for foreigners, etc. desiring to receive Japanese language education according to their wish, situation and ability” and “The promotion of Japanese language education must be carried out in a way that deepens foreign countries’ understanding of and interest in Japan through Japanese language education outside Japan to encourage exchanges with foreign countries and that contributes to maintaining and developing friendly relations with foreign countries.” The provisions are acceptable more or less but there is hardly any strategic perspective of positively training Japanophiles and Japanologists who serve Japan’s national interest.
- Adverse effects caused by lack of philosophy
As measures against the falling birthrate and aging population and against labor shortage, Japan has brought out one new measure after another from the 1990s to the present, including the revision of the Immigration Control Act, the Technical Intern Training Program for Foreigners, the 300,000 Foreign Students Plan, the EPA and the Specified Skilled Worker system. In reality, however, they function to supply cheap labor that Japanese workers do not perform, which may apparently seem to support Japanese economy but contributes to lowering Japanese wages and should be assessed as making Japanese economy unsound. This is assumed to be due to irresponsible response to economic problems with an absence of philosophy of Japanese language education.
Regarding the issue of education of foreign students and young people, on August 29, 2022, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio held a conversation with Nagaoka Keiko, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and instructed to review the “300,000 foreign students in Japan” program and formulate a new plan to further increase foreign students. Of the many problems relating to education of foreign students and young people, here are two briefly mentioned as adverse effects caused by lack of philosophy.
1) Issue of education of young people
Second-generation and third-generation Japanese born outside Japan have rapidly increased in number since the 1990s and are often accompanied by their families when coming to Japan. In recent years, taking families along is permitted even for foreign students and in the Specified Skilled Worker system. Children who have reached school age enter Japanese public schools but they are not only unable to understand classes because of lack of Japanese language proficiency but also fail to acquire sufficient ability in the Japanese language as well as their mother tongue. In the end, they often fail to enroll in compulsory schooling or even take to delinquency.
Meanwhile, the excessive burdens placed on teachers at schools that accept them should not be overlooked. They include special lessons for the pupils concerned (such as supplementary Japanese language lessons), teaching material development (addition of kana readings, English translations, summaries in the pupils’ mother tongues, etc.) and special treatment for examinations (addition of kana readings, permission of use of dictionaries, extension of the time, decreasing the number of questions, padding the scores, etc.). In addition, teachers are required to deal with irregular entrance and changing of schools due to the parents’ work. Yet another problem is to what extent special measures for addressing cultural differences should be permitted in view of fairness with Japanese pupils (pierced earrings, school meals, cleaning after school and participation in extracurricular lessons, etc.). In reality, problems are concealed under the find-sounding phrase “diversity provides richness.”
2) Issue of quality of foreign students
In the 100,000 and 300,000 Foreign Students Plans, the numerical targets generate their own momentum to drive universities to secure certain numbers of foreign students even if excessive efforts are required.
This results first in the problem of imbalance of countries of the students’ origin. China accounts for 40% of the countries of foreign students’ origin. As a result, even a risk of secret information leaks has been generated. Despite this, Japanese universities have a sense of crisis low enough to think of human nature as fundamentally good and tend to even avoid viewing foreign students with suspicion. This is another result of lack of strategic perspective in Japanese language education in Japan as a whole.
Secondly, there is a problem of unavoidable acceptance of foreign students with low academic and Japanese language ability. Of foreign students whose original purpose is not studying, some devote themselves to part-time jobs without attending classes and even disappear unnoticed. Among universities, under the pretext of “internationalization of universities,” some increase the number of courses that can be taken in English for foreign students with low Japanese language ability or state that students can get a diploma by using English only even though they provide education for foreign students in Japan.
- Perspective of national strategy required for Japanese language education
China’s Confucius Institutes are organizations for Chinese language and culture education. They are said to engage in propaganda campaigns and espionage based on opinions of the Communist Party of China under the guise of education. Recently in Europe, vigilance against Confucius Institutes has increased and the organizations have been closed at one university after another. Having said that, the positive attitude of the Confucius Institutes toward spreading their own language and culture has points to learn from in terms of Japan’s national strategy. In order to train Japanologists with a deep understanding of the history, culture and sense of value of a country called Japan and Japanophiles with love of and respect for Japanese tradition and culture, rather than providing Japanese language education that simply meets the demands of the other countries or Japanese language education only for personal benefits such as obtaining employment, there is a lot to learn from Confucius Institutes.
As an idea, a system should be established of financing various universities in the world from the Japanese budget to open courses such as a Japanese culture course for learning the Japanese language and culture and dispatching teaching staff from universities and professional schools in Japan as required.
For that purpose, it should be necessary in training Japanese language teachers in Japan to have trainees fully understand what it means to become Japanese language teachers, or to give them a sense of mission to provide Japanese language education and become Japanese language teachers for serving Japan’s national interest. In addition, as a minimal level of grounding, knowledge about Japan should be cultivated after breaking away from a masochistic view of history. There is an endless list of what we can boast to the world, such as the world’s longest history ruled over by an unbroken line of Emperors, the achievement of a peaceful and recycle-based society spanning over 10,000 years called the Jomon period, tolerance toward religion, the spirit of harmony and democracy manifested in the Seventeen-Article Constitution, equality as seen in the Manyoshu and the high status of women symbolized by The Tale of Genji, just to name a few. Things like these are what should be acquired as a grounding first by Japanese language teachers themselves and this content should be adopted as the essentials in the curriculum of Japanese language teacher training and education offered by universities and professional schools.
This is only the author’s impression but those trying to be Japanese language teachers are often superior and full of the volunteer spirit and have lofty ideals such as multicultural coexistence and mutual respect. Therefore, if the content of Japanese language education is improved with national strategy, it is not too difficult to disseminate the Japanese language and culture with a sense of mission and increase the number of Japanologists and Japanophiles.