National

Language schools struggling to survive as virus keeps students out of Japan

Kyodo

With the coronavirus pandemic choking social interaction and global travel, many of the nation’s approximately 800 Japanese-language schools are struggling because new students have not been able to enter Japan.

Since private schools basically rely on tuition fees, they are facing an existential crisis, people familiar with the matter say.

Enrollment at Japanese-language schools halved to around 50,000 from about 100,000 in March due to graduation and other reasons, including coronavirus restrictions, they said.

Japan has banned the entry of people from 100 countries and regions as part of efforts to curb the pandemic.

According to the Justice Ministry, students can enroll in a Japanese school for up to two years. Without new students, however, it is difficult for these establishments to survive, one school official said.

The YMCA Tokyo Japanese Language School said about 30 students were scheduled to enroll last month but there were numerous cancellations. The number admitted last month was just three, with 10 more eager to enroll but unable to due to Japan’s entry restrictions, the school said.

Cheng Yuen-ki, 24, of Hong Kong decided to study in Japan despite the situation and arrived in early March.

Lo Weng In, 27, from Macau, has been studying at the school since last year but is worried about the uncertainty.

“I want to work in Japan after I finish school but I wonder when we can get back to ordinary lives,” Lo said.

YMCA Tokyo School Principal Kazuhisa Tazuke, 52, is concerned students may face financial hardship if their part-time jobs continue to be affected by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state of emergency declarations in April included requests for people to stay home and for businesses to close to curb the virus.

“We are struggling financially as well, but we are the only ones who can protect our students. We have to come up with support measures for them,” Tazuke said.

At Fukuoka Japanese Language School, 81 students who were scheduled to enroll in April have not been able to enter the country. If the situation continues, the owner — which runs two campuses in the region — may have to reimburse students.

Of some 50 to 60 apartments the school uses as dormitories, 25 or so are empty but still require that rent be paid in case new students are eventually allowed to enter Japan or current students catch the virus and need to self-isolate.

“If our students get infected, we are wondering whether our staff members are able to provide assistance to cover their daily living needs,” said Principal Hiroki Nagata.

“There’s just a lot of anxiety at this moment, such as about management, among other things,” Nagata, 42, said.

The school began online classes taught by full-time teachers in early April, while part-time teachers were told to take time off, adding employment issues to the list of concerns.

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