4 million studying Japanese abroad

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

There were a record 3.98 million people studying Japanese abroad in 2012 amid widespread interest in the nation’s culture, the Japan Foundation announced Monday.

The figure in its preliminary report on Japanese-language education overseas showed the number of students rose 9.1 percent from its previous survey in 2009, which counted some 3.65 million students.

Although Japan’s economy has worsened, a certain number of people study the language nonetheless because it’s needed to further their careers, said Toshiki Ando, managing director of the foundation’s Teacher and Institutional Support Department.

“In addition, there are many people who learn the language out of their interest in culture, including animation, manga and history,” Ando said at a news conference Monday in Tokyo.

By country, China topped the list for the first time, with around 1.04 million learners, up 26.5 percent from the last survey, followed by 872,000 in Indonesia and 840,000 in South Korea, which topped the previous survey.

Ando warned, however, that the tally in China may fall amid the current chill in bilateral relations.

The triennial survey by the foundation was conducted from July 2012 until March this year in 203 countries and regions, with questionnaires distributed to 19,834 institutions listed as teaching Japanese.

The survey, to which 18,479 institutions responded, indicated 16,045 were engaged in language education, up from 14,925 in 2009. It also showed an increase in the number of teachers of Japanese, rising to 63,771 from 49,803.

Overall, East Asia, including Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Vietnam, accounted 82 percent of all learners, the preliminary figures show.

Interest in Japanese itself came first among the motivations for learning the language, followed by the ability to communicate and acquiring knowledge about manga and animation.

The Japan Foundation is a public organization under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Ministry, specializing in international cultural exchanges, including fostering Japanese-language education overseas. The organization has 22 offices in 21 countries.

  • kyushuphil

    Maybe more than anyone spurring interest in Japan is director Hayao Miyazaki..

    Millions have seen his animated films. And they show a culture that speaks as if Japan had a language that confronts and has alternative to all the worst of the world’s modernity.

    Japan does have this language. Where Hayao Miyazaki’s films sparkle and radiate with the give and play of light and shadow on clouds, in trees, and across fields, his films recall what Natsume Sōseki said 100 years ago, at the beginning of “Ksuamakura,” about how these same opposites always best play together — though too many of us try to deny, separate out, and push aside too many of life’s shadows.

    Where Hayao Miyazaki’s films show the rich personality of little girls, and the fierce determination or kindnesses of adult and older women, they recall the great voices of women throughout Japanese culture: Murasaki Shikibu, Yosano Akiko, and Hayashi Fumiko among them.

    Animism and attentions to nature abound in Hayao Miyazaki, as they do in Bashō, Chikuden, and all the arts-&-crafts practitioners of “wabi-sabi.” And as world-famous writer Haruki Murakami shows the Zen ability to slough off the detritus of the modern world’s materialism, and go into the floating, morphing layers underneath, that’s all, too, in Hayao Miyzazaki.

    This interest in true Japanese culture may inform the education of Japanese kids here in Japan. For these students, bored with the lifeless English-learning textbooks that a clueless, lifeless ministry of education imposes, texts could instead present English as a way to talk with foreigners about the many things in truest Japanese culture that millions around the world so desire to learn.

    • Akyli Ewell

      Hayato Miyazaki is also a genius as well as one of the only japanese anime directors that the whole world repects due to the themes of his movies

  • Sugar

    when they study Japanese, I think, it is a great way for them to use the animation they like.
    They can get motivation and they can foster their independence, using animation to gain interest.

  • 8giggles

    I’m sure the number is actually much higher with apps for phones & tablets. I found “Human Japanese” as a recommended app by Apple employees when I wanted to start learning Japanese. I now have 4 apps to help me besides a few books. What I would really appreciate is being able to hear it more often. What I found is that there are A LOT of Korean shows & movies I can find on legitimate sites online, but virtually no Japanese ones. Or at least this is the case in the USA.