US Navy Officer interacts with Japanese students [ Image: US Navy / Wikimedia Commons ]

Lagging Japanese Interest in Study Abroad Requires Renewed Engagement Effort

Japan Asia

As Japanese firms have expanded their presence in the global market in recent years, corporate Japan has experienced an increased need for employees able to travel overseas, work directly with foreign customers, and speak more than one language. Experience living abroad is one of the most valuable assets Japanese students can demonstrate to potential employers during the job-hunting process.

However, low interest in study abroad among Japanese teenagers has persisted as an issue for the past decade. Japanese youth are reluctant to move their academic careers abroad due to high living and tuition costs and concerns whether time abroad will actually secure them jobs once they return home. Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology released a report in 2014 which showed the number of Japanese students studying abroad peaked at 83,000 in 2004 and has continued to decline since. In contrast, China, South Korea, and India have all sent more than 100,000 students to universities around the world each year.

Skepticism toward living abroad appears key to Japan’s comparatively low numbers. When the Japanese Cabinet Office surveyed youth aged 13 to 29 from seven countries in a 2019 poll, it found Japan had the highest percentage of youth who stated they had no intention of ever studying abroad compared to other countries. The poll also highlighted that as the number of Japanese youth studying abroad declined, it has become increasingly difficult for Japanese firms to secure recruits with overseas experiences. This poll points to a troubling development that will likely hamper economic growth.

To address this problem, Japanese schools will need to provide more opportunities for youth to interact with foreign countries and people. Educating Japanese students in this way will be the first step in encouraging more youth to take advantage of studying abroad. For example, studying foreign affairs may be crucial to instilling in students a drive to study and even work abroad. Additionally, new requirements for English language education in elementary school have signaled the Japanese government is aware of greater need for the country’s youth to acquire an international understanding. Japanese schools have also adjusted their teaching to focus more on global education. Such exposure to other nations and cultures will be critical if Japan is to remain competitive in the global market.

Shoitsu Nakayama is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She recently received her master’s degree in International Relations from New York University, where she concentrated in Asian Studies. She has been a Business & Policy department Intern at Japan Society since January 2021. At Japan Society, Shoitsu was responsible for managing communications between non-profit organizations and corporate sponsors, and conducting research for issues that are of interests and relevance to the U.S.-Japan business and policy communities. Prior to join Japan Society, Shoitsu was a research assistant intern at the Institute for China-America Studies. At ICAS, Shoitsu was assisting the research in U.S.-China maritime security and editing the ICAS Bulletin. She was also a program assistant intern at National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York and a research intern with the Pacific Asian Affairs Council. Born in Tokyo and raised in Shanghai, Shoitsu has a great passion and interest to explore the multinational cooperation and relations in the Asia-Pacific. She hold a BA in International Affairs with a minor in Japanese from Northeastern University. Shoitsu’s academic expertise focuses on U.S.-China cooperation and competition, South and East China Sea conflicts and security, and human rights issues in Hong Kong and Taiwan.