Japan has seen a sharp drop in the number of Chinese students at domestic Japanese-language schools following the nuclear disaster and new flareup over territory.
The Association for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education said that although there were 29,271 Chinese students enrolled in its 400 member schools as of July 1, 2010, the number exactly two years later had dropped to 18,093. The number of schools responding to the association survey differed in the two years.
There will likely be a further decline in the number of Chinese students this year based on the number of student visas that had been issued as of April.
The drop in numbers is apparently mainly due to fears about the Fukushima nuclear disaster and strains in relations caused by the dispute over sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
The trend is also affecting Japanese universities, which are increasingly trying to recruit Chinese and other foreign students to make up for a decline in Japanese students resulting from lower birthrates.
Sources at Japanese-language schools noted that parents in China are increasingly voicing concern about their children studying in Japan while the two countries are locked in a diplomatic standoff over the territorial dispute and the fact that the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has not be contained.
Chinese students are increasingly going to the United States and Europe to study instead of Japan. Another factor behind the decrease is that Chinese universities are admitting more students.
Meanwhile, the number of South Korean students was 2,675 in 2012, about one-fourth the level of the peak in 2008.
The overall number of students at domestic Japanese-language schools decreased by about 30 percent from 43,669 in 2010 to 29,235 in 2012.
The decline in Chinese students has pushed some schools to look toward other nations for students.
The number of students from Vietnam reached 2,039 in 2012, double the figure of two years ago. The number of student visas issued to Vietnamese in April was about five times the number of last year.
"There is likely a relationship to the fact that more Japanese companies have moved into Vietnam," said an association official.
There was also a threefold increase in visas issued to Nepalese students.
Masahiro Yokota, a professor of intercultural education at the School of Global Japanese Studies at Meiji University in Tokyo, said: "The effects will likely continue for a while as long as Japan-China relations do not improve. We should welcome the increase in the number of students from Southeast Asia. Almost all foreign students will become more understanding of Japan.
"Because Chinese students who come to Japan despite the worsening of relations are valuable human resources, there is a need to have more foreign students come to Japan at such a time as this."
One school affected by the decline in the number of Chinese students is Kansai Gogen Gakuin (Academy of Kansai Language School) in Kyoto, despite the fact that its graduates have gone on to more prestigious institutions. Among graduates this spring, 11 entered the University of Tokyo, and 24 were admitted to Kyoto University. All were Chinese.
Xia Yiran, 19, entered Kansai Gogen Gakuin last October. Shortly before leaving for Japan, a minor anti-Japanese protest took place in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, where Xia is from. Friends and relatives said now was not the time to go to Japan because they were concerned about an increase in anti-Chinese sentiment.
"I had already decided to come, but I believe future students who are thinking about coming may be affected by relations between Japan and China," Xia said.
The academy is expecting a decrease in the number of students this year of between 30 and 40.
According to sources, most Japanese-language schools recruit foreign students through brokers in China who are paid a commission for every student that enrolls. A few years ago, the commission was around 80,000 yen ($800) per student, but it has now shot up to about 200,000 yen.
A school in Kanagawa Prefecture was scheduled to enroll five Chinese students last January, but three ended up canceling because of opposition from their parents.
A representative of a broker in China that had been introducing students to the school said recruiting Chinese students was difficult now and instead sent documents for 30 students from Vietnam.
However, most students from Vietnam are not well off financially. Before the Kanagawa school admitted a dozen or so students in April, the school principal visited nearby factories and secured part-time jobs for all the incoming students.
Accepting foreign students who do not have financial security often leads to problems, such as students who go missing or overstay their visas.
Some schools remain hesitant about accepting Vietnamese students because the immigration bureau could designate schools that have many problem cases as "inappropriate" for issuing visas. That would make it even more difficult for such schools to continue operating.
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