Why aren’t the Japanese more interested in studying abroad?

“Only one student from Japan entered Harvard University’s freshman class last year, bringing the total number of full-time Japanese undergraduates to five, compared to a total of 36 from China and 42 from South Korea”

South Korea being a country with a much smaller population and substantially lower per capita income.

“While 33 percent of men and 23.9 percent of women in their 60s and older said they would have some aversion to either themselves or their spouses going to work overseas, the share of people with that sentiment reached 42.9 percent and 38.9 percent respectively for people in their 20s”

both quotes from “Too Tall for Japan?”, the Meanwhile column in the International Herald Tribune by the always excellent Kumiko Makihara

The first idea that popped into my head was a lack of ambition, common in most countries that have reached a certain level of prosperity. No lack of effort at getting into Todai (Tokyo University) though!

It’s certainly true that Japanese get a lot of suspicion and general shit if they’ve been living or working abroad and then work in a Japanese company in Japan, with “We don’t do that here in Japan” being used as a sure-fire way of shooting down all their ideas, but not sure if that’s the biggest influence or not. With the younger generation, I think it’s just a general hatred of anything that could be difficult or uncomfortable, as if the rest and relaxation that starts after entrance exams should last for life rather than just the 4 years of university. I remember so many newspaper stories that saw the rejection of the hard work of their parents’ generation as a new hope for Japan, but seems to me that they want all the rewards that their parents got (something that is happening to nobody in any developed nation) with none of the sacrifices, and are far less free-thinking than their parents were. Same is true of Spain, though.



  1. Wintersweet said,

    July 14, 2010 at 2:54 am

    What about the fact that when you look at the top hundred or internationally-ranked universities (as many Asian students and their families do), there are no South Korean or Chinese universities included, but there are several Japanese universities? Japanese students looking for a brand-name school don’t have to leave home. The two statistics Makihara quotes don’t add up to any conclusion about Japanese students being less interested in studying abroad anyone else, I think. (They may very well be less interested than South Korean or Chinese students, but a) I’d like to see comparative rates of participation, and b) I’m curious about the motivation behind studying abroad for all of those groups.)

  2. σ1 said,

    July 14, 2010 at 3:27 am

    I have to also add to the above comment which I endorse, whoever said that going to the US was the epitome of being “international”? (I am not directing this at you – there have been not a few articles in the last year or so making a big deal about this lack of Japanese interest in US schools).

    FWIW Many more Japanese students in my own home country (NZ) than before. Furthermore, there are no statistics in these reports on the number of people going to East Asia, to get an education. I know that it is not inconsequential and certainly higher than than the “golden age” of Japanese “kokusaika”.

    Also, there are many non-graduate Japanese in their post-high school years who are travelling to East Asia for fun, for language study, and for work. Surely these people are every bit as important for understanding diversity in Japan as stuffy old elites, if not more so. This non-elite experience of overseas is actually something that is quite a new development in Japan. They might go overseas less overall due to financial limitations, for holidays etc, but those that do, seem to do so for much longer and more substantive way.

    I do have to take issue with the representation of Japanese youth as lazier and more selfish than their parents. This bugbear is pretty common in the Japanese media itself these days. What we completely miss here is that their parents were every bit as self-interested and selfish as any other generation (human nature doesn’t change by generation!)- the difference is that in the baby boomer, and more so bubble economy generations everyone knew that their patience and hard work would pay off and their were other non-monetary perks to tide you over till that day (lifetime employment, functioning sempai/kohai relationships etc etc) – the lost decade generation has been lead to expect anything but.

    I think people get these things around the wrong way. It is not the current generation that has undermined the socio-economic structure of Japan – it is the socio-economic situation that has created the situation we have today. (some may plausibly argue due to the short-sightedness and selfishness of the bubble economy generation).

  3. alexcase said,

    July 14, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Hi Wintersweet

    I think that is a factor, and in fact many of the Japanese who I prepared to study abroad were people who fell out of the bottom of the Japanese education system (usually meaning couldn’t get into 4-year university courses) rather than the super-ambitious elite that tend to be interested here in Korea.

  4. Ted O'Neill said,

    July 15, 2010 at 1:02 am

    One consideration is preparation. Students can’t just decide in the second or third year of high school that they want to attend university abroad–they wouldn’t be ready. From what I’ve seen second hand as I watch some of my friends run junior and senior high kids through the gauntlet, international education just isn’t any kind of priority for secondary ed. Students would require a very different kind of education to get ready for universities in Boston (or in Beijing, Barcelona or any where else for that matter) and they won’t get it at school. The elite comes from the elite unis and send their kids back there–not abroad.

    I see plenty of first year students enter my uni in Tokyo who want to go abroad for study but are really not ready as 18-19 year olds. Many of them do eventually go abroad for one term, and a few for one year, but only after a year or so of university education and experience to help them prepare linguistically and personally.

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