Schools in Japan are struggling to meet the needs of children with non-Japanese parents who come from a diverse range of countries.
Aichi Prefecture, which has the largest concentration of non-Japanese pupils in the country, has strong expertise in supporting Portuguese-speaking Brazilian children who had been on the rise before the 2008 Lehman shock. But now teachers are scrambling to cope with an increasing number of children from parts of Asia, including the Philippines and China.
“Kiotsuke! Rei! (Attention! Bow!)”
“Ohayo gozaimasu (Good morning).”
A group of non-Japanese children who recently came to Japan shout in Japanese as they attend a special class held at Iwata Elementary School in Toyohashi, Aichi.
The class is attended by nine Filipinos and three Brazilians between the second and fifth grade.
They are learning Japanese terms to express comparisons, such as big and small.
“Which one is bigger?” Yoshihiro Matsunami, a 43-year-old teacher, asked, speaking slowly in Japanese as he held up three pairs of shoes.
“That one,” some students replied.
Meanwhile, a Filipino woman working as a counselor went around the classroom to speak in Tagalog to children who appear to have difficulty following the class.
“I don’t know what I would do without these counselors who can communicate with the children in their mother tongue,” Matsunami said.
Out of 768 students enrolled at the school as of May 1, 151 are non-Japanese, with 62 from Brazil and 62 from the Philippines.
The school previously had a large number of Brazilian pupils, with a dormitory of a large temporary employment agency located in the neighborhood, but many of them left the country after the Lehman shock in 2008 and the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, and Filipinos have taken their place.
Unfortunately, much of the know-how accumulated over the years to support Brazilian children and their parents could not be immediately applied to the Filipinos.
“For example, schools in the Philippines do not have swimming classes, so we had difficulty explaining that to the parents,” said Matsunami. They also had to translate all the materials written in Portuguese into Tagalog.
According to an education ministry survey conducted in 2014, there are some 6,400 non-Japanese pupils in Aichi Prefecture, up by about 500 compared to the previous survey held in 2012.
The number of Portuguese-speaking children dropped by some 40 to around 3,040, while the number of children speaking Tagalog increased by around 260 to 1,300.
Chinese-speaking children and those from Spanish-speaking South American countries are also on the rise.
The number of elementary and junior high schools with non-Japanese students in Aichi totaled 670, about 30 more than the previous survey.
A similar pattern has been observed in neighboring Gifu and Mie prefectures as well.
This year, the Aichi Prefectural Board of Education hired 53 additional teachers to support non-Japanese pupils. They also increased the number of foreign language-speaking counselors by six, creating two new positions for Tagalog-speaking counselors.
But board officials say that is still not enough.
The Toyohashi Municipal Board of Education, which hires its own language counselors, said it is difficult to find personnel to support people other than Brazilians.
“The Brazilian community has assistance organizations and leaders within themselves, but that is not the case for others,” explained a Toyohashi board official.
The number of Filipinos in the Tokai region is increasing, led by rising demand for low-cost labor in the manufacturing industry. They, in turn, invite their family members and friends to join them.
According to professor Mamoru Tsuda of Nagoya University of Foreign Studies, who studies the Filipino society, in the period between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, most of the Filipinos who came to Japan did so on an entertainer visa.
However, this past decade has seen more Filipinos of Japanese descent entering the country on long-term resident visas. They are the second- or third-generation of Japanese who left the country before World War II.
Manufacturers began hiring them with lower wages compared to their Brazilian counterparts. Some temporary staff agencies even give bonuses to people who bring their acquaintances to work for them, which accelerated the concentration of Filipinos in areas such as Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture. Many of them are said to come from poor regions in the Philippines and require guidance on daily life in addition to language support.
“The parents have their children join them after they establish a livelihood in Japan, and living in the area as a family can create new problems,” said Yoshimi Koijma, associate professor of Aichi Shukutoku University who specializes in multicultural symbiosis. Authorities should be flexible in taking measures to support them, Kojima added.
“Creating an environment to enable the full potential in non-Japanese children will also contribute to nurturing within Japan (people with global talent) who can accept various cultural values,” Kojima said.
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Aug. 3.