Chinese nurses flourish in Japan as Indonesians, Filipinos struggle

May 21, 2013

By ATSUSHI SHINGEN/ Staff Writer

KYOTO--Walking with slow, careful steps, Yao Hongwei helps one of her patients, an elderly man with brain disease, complete his walking exercises at Takeda General Hospital.

"You're not tired, are you?" the 25-year-old nurse asks. "Say out loud, 'One, two. One, two.' "

The patient, who cannot walk on his own, appreciates her care.

"She is a good listener," he said. "She is no different than a Japanese nurse."

Yao is one of a growing number of Chinese nurses finding success in Japan, thanks not to government initiatives, but rather to the help of nonprofit organizations.

There are at least 217 foreign certified nurses, including 183 from China, working at private hospitals, mainly in Tokyo, Osaka and surrounding areas, The Asahi Shimbun has found. Most have been introduced by Japanese nonprofit organizations funded by hospitals to help cope with the shortage of nurses in Japan. The list is rounded out by 30 Vietnamese and four South Koreans.

Chinese nurses like Yao have an advantage over those from other countries because they are familiar with kanji characters used in Japan. Additionally, they are able to take advantage of the strong support in language education offered by nonprofit organizations.

Those from Indonesia and the Philippines aspiring to become nurses in Japan under bilateral economic partnership agreements face quite different circumstances.

Currently, only 96 Indonesian and Filipino nurses are working in Japan under the agreements, and the success rate for nursing candidates from the two countries is about 10 percent, far lower than the 70-90 percent for Chinese and others introduced by nonprofit organizations.

Yao, who passed the national nursing exam in March, is one of the two new Chinese nurses at Takeda General Hospital in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward.

They can look forward to receiving help from the eight other nurses from China.

"I am shy with new people," Yao said during a training session for new Chinese nurses in April. "I am worried about whether I will be able to get used to the ward (where I will work)."

Liu Jing, who is in her second year there, had warm words for her.

"You might have some difficult times because there is a language barrier," said Liu, 26, "but give it your best, and don't forget to smile."

Yao has been assigned to the internal medicine ward, which accommodates about 50 inpatients. A total of 379 nurses work at the 500-bed hospital.

A native of Jiangsu province, Yao attended a meeting about a Japanese-language course when she was a freshman at the Anhui University of Chinese Medicine.

A representative from a Japanese nonprofit organization told her that if she worked as a nurse in Japan, she could earn 300,000 yen ($3,000) a month, more than three times as much as she could make at a major hospital in China.

Yao received Japanese-language training for two to three hours after university classes two or three days a week.

She came to Japan in July 2010 with eight others and attended a Japanese-language school in Kyoto while working as a nurse's aide at Takeda General Hospital.

When Yao failed the national nursing exam last year, she wept all night in her dormitory. She even handed a letter to the nursing director that read, "I am ashamed. I cannot stay here anymore," but she was advised not to run away from the challenge.

Yao still cannot write nursing records in proficient Japanese, and she has difficulties with katakana, a Japanese syllabary, but her career in Japan has so far been a successful one.

She has saved up 2 million yen for her parents by cutting down on her own living expenses. Her parents, who live in a farming village three and a half hours by bus from Nanjing, have built a new three-story home with some of the money.

In the future, Yao plans to return to China and get married, although she can renew her three-year contract with Takeda General Hospital.

A growing number of aspiring Chinese nurses are expected to follow in Yao's footsteps, and hospitals and nonprofit groups alike are eager to help them.

The Japanese-language course that Yao attended in China was set up by Kokusai Iryo Fukushi Jinzai Ikusei Kiko (the organization for development of international human resources in medical and welfare services).

The nonprofit organization, based in Fushimi Ward, has offered Japanese-language lessons in China since 2006 in partnership with 23 universities in the country.

The number of students has increased from dozens to 300 or so, and 76 of them plan to come to Japan in 2013.

Chinese universities are eager to send students to Japan to work as nurses, often asking Japanese nonprofit organizations to serve as intermediaries with hospitals in Japan.

Dalian Medical University plans to increase the number of students attending its Japanese-language course from the current 40 to 160.

"The aging of the Chinese population is going to gain momentum," said Han Jihong, who is in charge of overseas exchanges at the university. "We expect students to learn advanced nursing services in Japan and return to China."

A midsize hospital in the Kanto region employed a Chinese nurse for the first time this spring.

The 27-year-old, who passed the national nursing exam on her first try, was introduced by a Japanese-language school in Tokyo.

"We have established a route via which we can hire Chinese," the director of the hospital said. "We want to secure at least one each year."

The hospital accepted two Indonesian nurse candidates four years ago. One passed the national exam, but the other failed and returned home.

"It is difficult for people from countries where kanji is not used to acquire Japanese language capabilities required for the national exam," the director said. "Arrangements under the economic partnership agreements are not efficient."

By ATSUSHI SHINGEN/ Staff Writer
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Chinese nurse Yao Hongwei, right, keeps nursing records at Takeda General Hospital in Kyoto. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

Chinese nurse Yao Hongwei, right, keeps nursing records at Takeda General Hospital in Kyoto. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

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  • Chinese nurse Yao Hongwei, right, keeps nursing records at Takeda General Hospital in Kyoto. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

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