More Japanese head to Philippines to study English on a budget


Ahead of a change to university entrance exams that places more focus on speaking abilities, as well as the Tokyo 2020 Games, a growing number of Japanese are opting to travel to the Philippines to study English at a low cost.

The number of Japanese visitors to the Philippines has steadily risen in the last few years, reaching 584,180 in 2017 — up 9.1 percent from a year earlier. The increase has been supported by demand from students and services industry workers who want to put themselves in an English-speaking environment.

“The number of travelers aiming to study English (in the Philippines) is surging. About 100 Japanese junior high and high schools implemented study abroad programs in 2017,” said an official at the Tokyo office of the Philippines Department of Tourism in a telephone interview.

Many are choosing the Philippines to study English because of the language’s official status and the nation’s geographical proximity to Japan compared with other English-speaking countries, as well as relatively low study and living expenses.

Cram schools as well as regular Japanese schools such as Ritsumeikan Uji Junior High School, an affiliate of Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, now send their students to Philippine schools during school vacations.

The government plans to overhaul the English-language test for standardized university entrance exams for those who enroll in the academic year starting in April 2021, so in addition to reading and listening there will also be much more emphasis on speaking and writing.

Service industries are also contributing to the rise, with some firms dispatching their employees for English training programs in preparation for the Tokyo Games.

The Philippines is closer to Japan and less costly than Singapore and Malaysia, said Masaaki Shibata, an official responsible for human resources management at MK Co., a Kyoto-based taxi and limousine operator. In addition to similar programs in Australia and Britain, MK initiated a training program in the Philippines in 2015.