Japan's efforts to increase the number of international students coming to its shores are being dwarfed by similar initiatives in neighboring China. Lofty goals such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plan to attract 300,000 foreign students by 2020 appear to be struggling to gain traction.

While few, if any, nations can compete with the deluge of financial investment and hordes of students China has fed into the global education system since the early 1980s, the Asian giant's strategies and ambitious approach can offer pointers to Japan about what more it could be doing to catch up.

While China now hosts 8 percent of the world's 4.3 million international students, it accounted for less than 2 percent just a decade ago, according to the Institute Of International Education (IIE). During this time, Japan has remained fairly constant with a 3 percent market share. Globally, China has become the third most popular destination for higher education after the United States and United Kingdom, with an international student body that has been growing by 10 percent annually. Meanwhile, Japan has fallen from sixth to eighth place in the rankings, trailing France, Germany, Australia and Canada.