Language, Discrimination and Internationalisation of a Japanese University

Liang Morita, Graduate School of Languages and Cultures, Nagoya University [About | Email]

Volume 12, Issue 1 (discussion paper 2 in 2012). First published in ejcjs on 1 May 2012.

Abstract

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in Japan launched the Global 30 (commonly known as G30) project in July 2008 in an attempt to stay ahead in the global race in higher education. One of the goals is to increase the number of international students to 300,000 by the year 2020. Although this appears to be theoretically sound and consistent with internationalisation processes in many countries, the implicit assumptions are not necessarily valid. One of them, identified in Jane Knight’s ‘Five myths about internationalization’ in International Higher Education (2011, No. 62), is the myth that more foreign students on campus will produce more internationalised institutional culture and curriculum. This paper presents important, yet often unquestioned issues concerning international students in the internationalisation of higher education based on a case study of Nagoya University. The data consists of responses to an open-ended questionnaire (n=22) and a follow-up survey involving a multiple-choice questionnaire (n=64). The author focuses on language and discrimination, which directly affect the everyday experience of students living in the context of internationalisation. She hopes that the findings will serve as an entry point for a broader inquiry into issues concerning international students.

Keywords: MEXT, Global 30, Nagoya, English education, internationalisation, language discrimination.

1. Introduction

In its efforts to stay ahead in this age of globalisation and competition, Japan is currently attempting to increase the number of international students to 300,000, under the Global 30, or G30, project. Formally known as the G30 Project for Establishing Core Universities for Internationalisation, G30 was launched in July 2008 to select universities that will function as core universities for receiving and educating international students.1 In 2009, 13 core universities were selected,2 one of them being Nagoya University, the present case study.

Although G30 appears to be theoretically sound and consistent with internationalisation processes seen in higher education in many countries, this does not necessarily mean that all the assumptions behind the programme are valid. As Knight (2011) recently pointed out, as internationalisation matures, it is becoming complex as well as confused and misunderstood. Over the years, implicit assumptions have developed about internationalisation. Among the five prevalent myths she discusses in her paper, the present author focuses on the first, namely, that foreign students are agents of internationalisation, in this paper:

A long-standing myth is that more foreign students on campus will produce more internationalized institutional culture and curriculum. […] In many institutions international students feel marginalized socially and academically and often experience ethnic or racial tensions. […] it speaks to the often unquestioned assumption that the primary reason to recruit international students is to help internationalize the campus. While this is a well-intentioned rationale, it does not often work out that way […]

This paper presents important, yet often unquestioned or unexamined issues involved in the internationalisation of higher education both within and outside Japan, based on a case study of Nagoya University. It gives the readers a glimpse of students’ experiences of internationalisation, from both domestic and international students’ points of view, the existing literature seldom offers this. The author hopes to use the findings in this study as an entry point for a broader or more conceptual inquiry about internationalisation. In the next three paragraphs, she will elaborate on the first point, namely, challenging the assumption that greater numbers of international students contribute to the process of internationalisation.

Recruiting international students to Japan has traditionally been seen as the prime internationalisation strategy. It has been argued that high-quality foreign students can contribute to the research agenda of host universities and help increase the overall competitiveness of Japanese universities. It may be true in theory that international students contribute to the internationalisation process, but whether they are welcomed by the Japanese people they come into contact with in their everyday lives is a different question. Seeing as there is evidence of hostility towards international students in the past, it is reasonable to question the hospitality they receive today. Section 2 focuses on whether Japanese and international students think international students are necessary in the internationalisation of Japanese universities.

Another strategy used in internationalisation, in addition to trying to attract international students, is to offer courses taught in English. One of the strengths of this strategy is that it enables Japan to compete for top international students who would otherwise be considering applying to universities in the US, UK, or other English-speaking countries. It would not be unreasonable to assume that under ordinary circumstances, an applicant to an English-medium course would not speak Japanese. However, English plays a limited role in Japan. Section 3 investigates the use of English and Japanese both inside and outside the university.

The third and last issue studied in this paper is discrimination (section 4). If racial discrimination as described in the literature exists and negatively affects the everyday life of international students, can one still claim that the presence of international students plays an important role in internationalisation?

As a faculty member of a core university and a committee member responsible for creating a Master’s course taught in English, the author is in a privileged position, being a participant in as well as an observer of the university’s internationalisation. Nagoya University is one of the seven ex-imperial3 national universities and a prestigious research institution. Under the G30 project at Nagoya, there will be 14 degree courses taught in English across disciplines starting from April 2011. The data in this study, made up of responses to an open-ended questionnaire and multiple-choice questionnaire, is introduced below.

1.1 The data

The open-ended questionnaire

Since ‘G30’ has become a buzzword in academic circles and will soon have an impact on many aspects of university life, I introduced a few articles on the subject in my advanced English classes attended by undergraduates, postgraduates and administrative staff in 2010. Most of them engaged in lively discussions when we covered the topic. Near the end of the term, they were given a copy of a questionnaire I developed. The topic of internationalisation was also touched on in my Introduction to Sociolinguistics class taken by a mixture of Japanese and international undergraduate and postgraduate students, they also received a copy of the questionnaire. It was made very clear to all the students that these questionnaires were not part of the course work and that they were optional.

The findings based on these open-ended questionnaires are probably not significant from a quantitative point of view because the number of respondents is relatively small. However, they do give us a glimpse of students’ experiences of internationalisation from the point of view of both Japanese and international students, and offer us a small yet interesting snapshot of the ground-level landscape of internationalisation. These responses are likely to have been reflected upon, given the fact that most of the students read, discussed and are familiar with the topic.

46 copies of the questionnaire were given out and 22 (7 international and 15 Japanese) were completed and returned. The response rate is 47.8%. Table 1 shows the country of origin of the seven international students:

Table 1: Country of origin of international respondents
Korea 1
Taiwan 3
China 1
US 1
Brazil 1

Tables 2 and 3 show the number of undergraduates, postgraduates and administrative staff, as well as males and females:

Table 2: Level of study of respondents
  International Japanese
undergraduate 5 11
postgraduate 2 2
administrative staff - 1
no response - 1
total 7 15
Table 3: Gender of respondents
  International Japanese
male 2 4
female 5 11
total 7 15
The multiple-choice questionnaire

After reading through the responses, the author noted the issues raised and made them into a multiple-choice questionnaire aimed at a larger number of respondents in order to have a better sense of perspective. The questionnaire consisted of 11 statements and the respondents were told to mark the most suitable response among ‘strongly disagree’, ‘disagree’, ‘agree’ and ‘strongly agree’. Copies of this questionnaire were distributed at three institutions: the Graduate School of Languages and Cultures (GSLC), the Graduate School of International Development (GSID), and the Nagoya University Program for Academic Exchange (NUPACE). These institutions have the highest numbers of international students in the university. 347 questionnaires were put in the mailboxes of potential respondents and 64 (32 from GSLC, 19 from GSID, 13 from NUPACE) were completed and returned, giving a response rate of 18.4%. The tables below show the country of origin and gender of the respondents.

Table 4: Country of origin of respondents
  GSLC GSID NUPACE total
Korea 3 - 2 5
Taiwan 5 - - 5
China 18 4 3 25
Thailand 2 - 1 3
Laos - 1 - 1
Cambodia - 3 - 3
Indonesia - 7 - 7
Australia - - 1 1
Sri Lanka 1 - - 1
Bangladesh - 1 - 1
Mozambique - 1 - 1
France - - 1 1
Germany - - 4 4
Uzbekistan 1 1 - 2
US - - 1 1
Canada 1 - - 1
Brazil 1 - - 1
no response - 1 - 1
total 32 19 13 64
Table 5: Gender of respondents
  GSLC GSID NUPACE total
male 5 12 3 20
female 25 7 10 42
no response 2 - - 2
total 32 19 13 64

Needless to say, all the respondents from GSLC and GSID are postgraduate students. Among the NUPACE respondents, three are postgraduates and the rest (10) are undergraduates.

The findings from the follow-up survey offer a better sense of perspective even though there are biases in the sample. Most of the GSLC respondents, for instance, are from neighbouring countries (Korea, Taiwan and China), especially China. Respondents from these countries make up just over half (35) of the entire sample (n=64). A truly representative sample would involve coordination between multiple universities and an extended period of time of study, undertaken by a team of researchers.

The issues studied in this paper are broadly divided into language and discrimination. The author will begin with the issue of the presence of international students (section 2). Language issues are covered in section 3, which is divided into language use outside (section 3.1) and inside the university (section 3.2). Discrimination is discussed in section 4.

2. The presence of international students in Japan

Question 1. Do you think it is necessary to have more international students in Japanese universities? Why?

Recruiting international students to Japan has traditionally been seen as the prime internationalisation strategy (Ninomiya et al 2009:119). As the authors argue, high-quality foreign students can contribute to the research agenda of host universities and help increase the overall competitiveness of Japanese universities. Although it is true in theory that international students contribute to the internationalisation process, whether they are welcome by the people they come into contact with is different question. People outside the circles of policymakers may or may not support the move to attract more international students. In the past, even Japanese professors were not in favour of having more foreign students because of the excess work they caused and the lack of support by universities. (Ebuchi 1989, Ninomiya 2003; cited in Ninomiya et al 2009) Going back further in time, recipients of the scholarships provided by the post-war Japanese government were not easily accepted by the local community due to differences in behaviour and cultural practices. In the 1980s and 90s, international students were criticised for antisocial behaviour and accused of using their time in Japan to work and earn money instead of pursuing their studies. Signs bearing the words ‘No more foreign students’ were put up on university campuses and in local communities (Ninomiya 1988).

Most of the respondents of the open-ended questionnaire (15 out of 22: 12 Japanese and 3 international) think it is necessary to have more international students in Japan. 11 of the 15 who approve of the move cited reasons concerning communication with foreigners, foreign languages and cultural contact (i.e. having more opportunities to communicate with foreigners and to speak other languages; opportunities to improve their English skills; and cultural contact or to get used to foreigners). Three gave reasons concerning internationalisation such as the internationalisation and international competitiveness of Japanese universities, training Japanese people to work in the global society and enabling young people from other countries to know Japan.

Seven (3 Japanese and 4 international) do not agree with the move. Two disagree with the emphasis on the number of international students. One Japanese respondent thinks it is not the quantity but quality of relationships between Japanese students and international students which is important. Another Taiwanese articulates her doubts below:

…I think the numbers of foreign students is not the key to enhance mutual understanding for Japan and other countries. Instead, the education which teaches the locals how to have better tolerance toward different cultures seems to be important.

It seems that these two respondents may be unhappy with current relationships between Japanese and foreign students and would like these relationships to be improved. There is a hint of a similar dissatisfaction, couched politely, by an American:

I think it would be better to have more international students if the regular Japanese students were more interested or accepting as I think many international students want Japanese friends and vice versa but everyone is shy of his or her language ability it seems.

And even though one Chinese respondent thought there should be more international students in Japan, he commented on the lack of communication, presumably between international and Japanese students:

…there’s a problem is though there are many international students, the communication is not enough.

Another (a Japanese) of the seven who disagree with having more international students feels that internationalisation is unnecessary because Japanese universities have their own ways of achieving results in research. This may be a polite way of saying that Japanese universities are self-sufficient and do not need any help from foreigners. Another Japanese feels that international students socialise among themselves and not with Japanese, and are poorly motivated in their studies. This will be further discussed in the section on discrimination.

Unfortunately, the follow-up survey was targeted at international students, so it is difficult to have a sense of perspective of Japanese students who welcome or do not welcome international students. In the multiple-choice questionnaire, the author also found it difficult to elicit opinions on qualitative issues such as the presence of international students (Question 1) and relationships between Japanese and international students. She felt there were too many dimensions to these questions to be captured on the strongly disagree-strongly agree plane. These, as well as Questions 2-3, 10-14 and 16 were not included in the follow-up survey.

3. Language

3.1 English in daily life (i.e. outside the university)

The role of English in Japan

(The role of English language teaching and learning, especially the limited role of English, is discussed in greater detail in Morita 2010.)

In spite of the fact that English is taught in public schools for six years (three in junior high and three in high schools) and strong visual presence of English in Japanese cities and towns, very little English is spoken in daily life. The use of English within Japan is limited in range and depth. The number and type of users who interact with others in English are small, although there is an increasing number of those in scientific or technical fields who read English for professional purposes and those who use English in business-related correspondence. (Yano 2001, cited in Morrow 2004:90) Despite the strong visual presence (in advertising and popular culture, for example) that English has within Japanese society, the language has no official status, neither do the majority of citizens require any particular fluency in it for their everyday lives. (Yano 2008, cited in Seargeant 2009:3) It is very difficult for English speakers to live in Japan without some competency in Japanese, seeing as it is the language of daily transactions, the workplace, business, education and the government.

Responses on English in daily life

Question 2. Do you think English is widely used outside the university? Why?

Question 3. Do you think English should be widely used outside the university? Why?

Question 4. Have you been in situations in which you were not understood in English outside the university?

Question 5. Have you been in situations in which you were not understood in Japanese?

For Question 2, all seven international students and most of the Japanese (12 out of 15) agree with the literature cited earlier that English is not widely used in Japan. Only two Japanese think that English is widely used and one is unsure.

For Question 3, interestingly, only two out of the seven international students feel it is necessary for English to be widely used. More specifically, two Taiwanese think that people who work in train stations, banks, hotels and government offices should be able to speak English. Many of them appear to have accepted the limited role of English vis-à-vis the dominance of Japanese. According to a Taiwanese:

…Except for schools, I don’t think we should speak English outside the university instead of Japanese. Instead, we (foreign students) should grasp every chance to practice our Japanese in order to get accustomed to the society.

Among the Japanese, 11 out of the 15 think English should be widely used, giving reasons concerning international competitiveness. One of the three who answered in the negative argues that the use of the Japanese language enables the Japanese to maintain their moral standards; another feels that English is unnecessary for everyday life. One did not respond.

Concerning the experiences international students had with the use of English in daily life (Question 4), most of them (5 out of 7) had been in situations in which they were not understood in English. The other two respondents, a Korean and a Taiwanese, did not use English outside the university. Some felt it was not a problem but a Taiwanese was clearly frustrated:

…when I just came to Japan, I was frustrated that most of the time my English can’t be understood, even very simple one.

In the follow-up survey, 67.2% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with ‘I have been in situations in which I was not understood in English outside the university’. 18.8% disagreed or strongly disagreed and the rest did not answer because they did not use English outside the university.

There is an interesting difference in the proportion of agree and strongly agree responses among the three institutions: the Graduate School of Languages and Cultures (GSLC), Graduate School of International Development (GSID) and Nagoya University Program for Academic Exchange (NUPACE). NUPACE has the highest figure (92.3%), followed by GSID (68.4%) and GSLC (56.3%), which means that NUPACE respondents are most frequently misunderstood in English outside the university, and GSLC respondents the least. It is probable that GSLC respondents are least misunderstood in English because they have stronger Japanese skills and do not often use English. This is supported by the fact that 28.1% of GSLC respondents did not answer the question, with many indicating that they did not use English outside the university, compared to 5.3% at GSID and 0% at NUPACE. Until the present time, all GSLC applicants are required to be competent in Japanese, though this is about to change with the introduction of English-medium courses. Until now, GSLC applicants have sat for the entrance examination in Japanese only. On the other hand, GSID and NUPACE applicants have a choice of entering via English or Japanese.

The data was also analysed according to country of origin. Because of the relatively low numbers of Korean (5) and Taiwanese (5) respondents, they were grouped together with Chinese (25) respondents. The number of native speakers of English (US, Canada, Australia; 3) was also low, and they were put together with members of other industrialised Western countries (Germany and France; 5). Finally, respondents from developing countries in Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh; 16) were placed in the same group. 100% of those from Western countries, 65.7% from neighbouring Korea, Taiwan and China, and 56.3% from developing Asian countries have been misunderstood in English outside the university.

Turning now to the Japanese respondents, all the international students in the open-ended questionnaire survey spoke Japanese in their daily life and all but one had been in situations in which they were not understood (Question 5). The exception is a Taiwanese who studied Japanese for three years before arrival and is confident of her Japanese. Needless to say, the better one’s Japanese ability, the fewer the situations of being misunderstood. Students who are here for degree programmes generally arrive with better Japanese skills, compared to those who are here as exchange students for a year or half a year. In addition to the frequency of not being understood, the severity of the problem also correlates with one’s Japanese ability. According to a Taiwanese who is here on short-term exchange and arrived with minimal Japanese:

…since my Japanese is not very fluent, I need to explain one thing for a long time and still may not be understood in the end, especially in telephone!!

In the follow-up survey, 56.3% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I have been in situations in which I was not understood in Japanese outside the university’, 40.6% disagreed or strongly disagreed. Note the fact that 67.2% of the respondents experienced miscommunication in English (see p.13) and 56.3% in Japanese. It is not a very large difference but international students may have an easier time making themselves understood in Japanese.

GSLC respondents show the lowest rate (46.9%) of agree and strongly agree responses, followed by GSID (63.2%) and NUPACE (69.2%). This is consistent with the explanation provided earlier, which is that GSLC students have stronger Japanese skills compared to GSID or NUPACE students. 75% of Western respondents, 68.8% from Asian developing countries, and 51.4% from Korea, Taiwan and China agreed or strongly agreed. The fact that Koreans, Taiwanese and Chinese are least misunderstood in Japanese could be interpreted as them having stronger Japanese skills. Because Japan, Taiwan and China use similar Chinese characters in their written language, Taiwanese and Chinese learners of Japanese often have an advantage over learners with no background in Chinese writing. Koreans have an advantage too, since both Japanese and Korean come under the Altaic language family and show a large degree of similarity in their grammar. Younger Koreans seem less familiar with Chinese characters however, due to recent changes in policies concerning the use of Chinese characters.

3.2 English in the university

The language used in class is probably at the top of the agenda for international students in their university life. Since the topic of English-medium courses has been covered in Tsuneyoshi (2005), Lassegard (2006) and Kuwamura (2009), only a brief introduction is presented below.

Language issues have traditionally presented challenges to international students. Until relatively recently, the medium of education in Japan has been the national language, Japanese. In the 1980s, the government encouraged national universities to establish postgraduate programmes and courses taught in English (Ninomiya et al 2009:121). Later in the 1990s, the government strongly encouraged the creation of English-medium programmes at universities to lessen the burden of learning Japanese for international students and attract high-achieving students who otherwise would not have considered studying in Japan. This is part of the goal of making Japanese universities ‘international centers of learning’ which attract students and scholars from around the world (Tsuneyoshi 2005:67). Since then, there has been an increase in the number of English programmes and courses offered by universities. The move by the core universities in G30 to open more English programmes and courses is consistent with the above rationalisation.

Responses on English in the university

Question 6. Have you been in situations in which you were not understood in English in the university?

Question 7. Have you been in situations in which you were not understood in Japanese in the university?

Question 8. Have you been in situations in which you were not understood by the university administration staff in English?

Questions 9. Have you been in situations in which you were not understood by the university administration staff in Japanese?

Question 10. Do you think English is widely used in the university? Why?

Questions 11. Do you think English should be widely used in the university? Why?

Question 12. Do you think the university administration staff should be able to speak English? Why?

Only the international students were asked to answer Questions 6-9, all but one have been in situations in which they were not understood in English or Japanese in the university (Questions 6-7). The exception is a Taiwanese who does not use English in the university. She studied Japanese for three years before arrival and she is always understood. In the follow-up survey, 46.9% agreed or strongly agreed with ‘I have been in situations in which I was not understood in English in the university’, 35.9% disagreed or strongly disagreed. The rest did not use English in the university. For the corresponding statement concerning being understood in Japanese, 50% disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 45.3% agreed or strongly agreed. Hence the presence of difficulties in communicating in both English and Japanese is confirmed. Unlike in section 3.1, in which there are systematic differences between responses from different institutions, the same pattern is not found here. For the corresponding statement on being misunderstood in Japanese, most GSID respondents (52.6%) and NUPACE respondents (53.8%) agreed or strongly agreed, while most GSLC respondents (59.4%) disagreed or strongly disagreed. This could be interpreted as GSLC respondents being more competent in Japanese.

A Taiwanese’s response to Question 6 caught my attention:

…I took an English-taught course this semester in which class discussion is necessary. Since the other Japanese students can’t understand English much, they ask me if I can discuss in Japanese… Well, a big challenge for me!

It seems that even in English-medium classes, Japanese students use Japanese among themselves. It makes one wonder about the raison d’etre of English-medium courses. In a similar way, interviewees in Lassegard’s (2006:130) study experienced frustration with the limited English abilities of Japanese students; one at his/her presentation which was delivered in English, another concerning the lack of feedback from his/her fellow students. In the follow-up survey, 67.2% agreed or strongly agreed with ‘In classes where there are Japanese students, they prefer to have class discussions in Japanese’ and 25% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Another Taiwanese wrote the following about her academic advisor:

… The first time I met my academic advisor, I talked to him about my plan of courses this semester and ask him for advice, and he seems puzzled and start talking about weather…

It seems that there is some variation in the English abilities of faculty members assigned to guide international students or teach courses in English, as discussed in Tsuneyoshi (2005), Lassegard (2006) and Kuwamura (2009). The three authors elaborate on the difficulties faced by those who teach English-medium courses from the faculty members’ perspective. In the follow-up survey, only 28.1% agreed or strongly agreed with ‘I have had difficulties communicating with Japanese professors due to their lack of English skills’, while 56.3% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Questions 8 and 9 ask more specifically about experiences with the university administration. Approximately half of the open-ended questionnaire respondents have been misunderstood in English and again half have been misunderstood in Japanese. A Taiwanese pointed out that since she usually goes to the NUPACE office or GSID, she is usually understood in English. This shows that at least some of the administration staff are competent in English, and they are posted in some relevant and specific parts of the university. In the follow-up survey, 51.6% disagreed or strongly disagreed with ‘I have been in situations in which I was not understood in English in the university by administration staff’. 28.1% agreed or strongly agreed. 34.4% of GSLC respondents agreed or strongly agreed and 40.6% did not respond. At GSID and NUPACE, 78.9% and 76.9% disagreed or strongly disagreed. These figures confirm the fact that GSID and NUPACE staff communicate well in English. It is harder to interpret the figures for GSLC because many did not use English and hence did not respond. For the corresponding statement about being misunderstood in Japanese by administration staff, 57.8% disagreed or strongly disagreed and 37.5% agreed or strongly agreed.

It seems that although it is not very common, some international students do experience difficulties in making themselves understood to the administration. According to a Taiwanese:

…actually university administration staffs are not well-trained yet. Many foreign students who can’t speak fluent Japanese have to struggle by themselves.

Needless to say, the better one’s Japanese is, the fewer will be the occasions when one is misunderstood. Judging from the data, students do need Japanese to some extent both within and outside the university. This is evident in a Taiwanese’s response below:

…even though some of the international students can speak some Japanese (like me), there’s still time when I misunderstand what people were saying. And it usually cause a lot of troubles if you misunderstand the administration policy.

While only the international students in the open-ended questionnaire survey were asked Questions 6-9, all the respondents were asked Questions 10-12. Practically all the respondents (21 out of 22) agree that English is not widely used in the university (Question 10), except for a Japanese.

The answers to whether English should be widely used in the university (Question 11) are more mixed. Three out of the seven international students feel that English should be more widely used, citing reasons such as communication and internationalisation. Four international students answered in the negative. 12 Japanese answered in the affirmative, 2 negative, and 1 was ambivalent. The reasons they gave are similar to those for the corresponding question on whether English should be widely used outside the university (Question 3).

As for Question 12, on whether the university administration staff should be able to speak English, all but one answered in the affirmative, the reason being the presence of international students. The exception is a Japanese who did not respond. Some felt that at least some administrative staff or one person in each office should be able to speak English. It is encouraging that although some Japanese have reservations about English gaining currency inside and outside the university, practically everyone agrees that the needs of international students are important. In other words, they may not accept the concept of English being widely used, but when presented with a more concrete scenario involving international students, they allow practicality to override their principles.

4. Discrimination

In the author’s study of Japanese sociolinguistics and bilingualism, she has come across many cases of discrimination against members of other ethnic groups or speakers of other languages. In Maher and Macdonald (1995), for instance, discrimination against the Ainu and Koreans is discussed. Experiences of Brazilian immigrants and language minority students in public schools are described in Noguchi and Fotos (2001). Kanno (2008) also discusses discrimination against language minority students. If the number of international students in Japan is going to increase dramatically, discrimination is an issue we need to investigate, because it directly impacts their everyday lives and experiences of Japan.

According to the literature, discrimination against foreigners exists, but only for some foreigners. According to Kobayashi (2010:324), the Japanese general public discriminates against foreign residents of the same or darker colour, or English speakers with an ‘accent’ (i.e. non-native speakers of English). In her paper, she refers to a survey in which half the Latin American respondents (n = 115) experienced discrimination due to their skin colour or nationality. A similar distinction can be found below:

From my peers I learned that the image of ‘foreigner’ associated with the term gaijin is of Caucasian, blue-eyed, fair-haired people. They are generally seen as more intelligent and financially better-off. … But there’s also a non- Caucasian image, referring to other Asians. They’re regarded as lower status than Japanese: poor, unintelligent and badly educated. … I used to be told that Kankokujin (South Koreans) were OK, but Chosenjin (North Koreans) were really low status, along with Chinese, Filipino and other Asians. …

(Maher and Macdonald 1995:252-253)

Responses on discrimination

Question 13. Have you experienced any racial discrimination in Japan?

Question 14. Do you think there is racial discrimination against international students in Japan?

Question 15. Do you find it easy to make friends with Japanese students? Why?

Question 16. Do you make friends with international students? Why?

Question 17. Do you find it easy to make friends with other international students? Why?

Among the seven international students in the open-ended questionnaire survey, some have experienced discrimination while others have not (Question 13). The table below shows the results:

Table 6: Experiencing discrimination
Have you experienced discrimination?
Yes No
1 Taiwanese 1 American 1 Brazilian 2 Taiwanese 1 Korean 1 Chinese
Total: 3 Total: 4

It was surprising that an American gave an affirmative answer, since according to Maher and Macdonald (ibid.), white Caucasians or native speakers of English are most favoured in Japan. She wrote that no one sits by her on the subway. A Taiwanese worded her response carefully:

For some part-time jobs, they require Japanese native speakers regardless of one’s Japanese communication ability. However, most of the time, Japanese are kind to foreigners and always willing to help.

It seems that she was turned down in her attempts to secure a part-time job because she was not a native speaker or a foreigner. This is the respondent mentioned earlier who studied Japanese for three years before arrival and is confident of her skills.

There is a hint of a hierarchy or distinction between various categories of foreigners in a Taiwanese’s response:

Not really discrimination, but I feel in Japan, most people have less interest and are less friendly toward us (Taiwanese or…East-Asians?) than toward the European or the American.

Even a Japanese agrees there is a preference for Caucasians:

…Japanese usually prefer white Europeans.

A similar preference for Westerners was expressed by a Japanese. This is the same respondent who in Question 1, said it was not necessary to have more international students because they socialise among themselves and are poorly motivated in their studies. Her responses to Questions 1 and 14 are provided below:

…if we invite more international students, they will speak each other and they will not try to communicate with Japanese students. Such environment will cause them to have less motivation for studying. I often see Chinese students chatting each other, and I heard those students have few motivation for studying.

…I think Chinese international students are discriminated. I don’t feel good when they speak Chinese loudly in the campus. However, most international students from Western countries are not being discriminated. They will be kindly treated.

Although the author applauds her honesty, she detects a discriminatory tone. Any member of the university can attest to the fact that not all international students socialise among themselves only. We will see later that although international students do find it easier to socialise with other international students, there is no evidence that they socialise within themselves only. Also, socialising with one’s co-nationals has nothing to do with motivation to study. Furthermore, it is natural that those from the same country speak their native language when they meet.

While only the international students were asked to answer Question 13, only the Japanese were asked Question 14. 12 of them (out of 15) think there is racial discrimination against international students; two feel there is none; and one is ambiguous. According to a Japanese:

There is plenty of discrimination such as in “Black people stink”, “Islam is dangerous” and so on. …

All the international respondents except a Korean found it difficult to make friends with Japanese students (Question 15). Although according to the literature, an American should have an easy time socially, she found it difficult to make friends with Japanese:

…Nagoya Daigaku (University) students have a “busy” mindset and only have time on school days since they live so far away. My opinion.

It was surprising that Nagoya University students gave her the impression of being too “busy” to socialise. It has been noted (e.g. in Allen et al 2007) that many Japanese undergraduates spend more time on extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and socialising than on their studies. Many worked hard during their high school years preparing for university entrance examinations but once they are admitted to the university, they feel they have earned the right to a few years freedom. Tsuneyoshi (2005:83) painted a similar picture of University of Tokyo students:

…for Japanese students who have been studying for years for the competitive University of Tokyo entrance examinations, the undergraduate years may serve as a period to cultivate social skills and relationships, and activities outside of the University.

‘Living far away’ from the university is not entirely true either. Many students rent apartments near the university. In the follow-up survey, 51.8% disagreed or strongly disagreed that it was easy to make Japanese friends. 37.5% agreed or strongly agreed. When the figures were broken down according to institution, 71.9% at GSLC and 52.6% at GSID disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 61.5% at NUPACE agreed or strongly agreed. Since GSLC students have relatively strong Japanese skills but at the same time have the highest proportion of those who find it difficult to make friends with Japanese, it seems that language skills do not necessarily guarantee success in the social scene. This observation is supported by 71.9% of GSLC respondents and 61.5% of NUPACE respondents who disagreed or strongly disagreed that they found it difficult to make Japanese friends due to the lack of Japanese skills. However, at GSID, 68.4% agreed or strongly agreed. Multiple factors contribute towards one’s success in making friends, and language is only one of them.

Question 16 is also about making friends with international students, but from the Japanese students’ point of view. Nine from the open-ended questionnaire survey said they make friends with international students and six answered in the negative. Out of the nine, two said they did so because they had been exchange students themselves or they received help when they lived abroad. It seems that experience of studying abroad enables Japanese students to empathise with international students and encourages them to make friends. Another two said they got to know international students in class. Among the six who said they did not make friends with international students, three attributed it to the lack of opportunity. Another three attributed it to their (the Japanese’s) lack of English proficiency.

Judging from the responses, having a common language, either Japanese or English, is an important issue when it comes to making friends. According to a Japanese:

I think it’s difficult for Japanese students to make friends with international students. Because it’s necessary to use English, and they have little opportunity to speak English in usual university’s life. …

Another Japanese brought up the same concern about English:

…I don’t have any opportunity to communicate with international students. Moreover, I hesitate to speak poor English.

The lack of English skills is clearly a barrier below:

…I can’t speak English fluently. But I want to make friends with them.

Another Japanese has no problem communicating with international students because those he knows speak Japanese well:

… At university, I have discussions with foreign students. However, their Japanese is very good, so I have no need to speak English.

When asked about whether they found it easy to make friends with other international students (Question 17), all but one (a Brazilian) said they did. According to a Korean, it is because they take many classes together and participate in the same events. Four (3 Taiwanese and 1 Chinese) feel it is easy to make friends with international students because they are in the same boat. In the follow-up survey, 82.8% agreed or strongly agreed that it was easy to make friends with international students. They clearly found it easier to make friends with international students than with Japanese.

5. Discussion

Returning to Knight’s (2011) five implicit assumptions or myths about internationalisation discussed in the introduction to this paper, she points out that a common element in many of these myths is that the benefits of internationalisation or degree of internationality can be measured quantitatively, one such measure is the number of international students. One of the goals of the G30 programme is to increase the number of international students in Japan to 300,000 by year 2020. Knight continues that while the attempt to quantify outcomes as key performance indicators may serve accountability requirements, it does not capture the key intangible human performances of students, faculty, researchers, and the community that bring significant benefits of internationalisation.

The present author strongly agrees with Knight that while numbers may be important in accountability requirements, intangibles, while difficult to measure, are just as important, if not more so. These include the absence of racial discrimination; hospitality towards international students shown by the host country; ease in making friends with members of the host country; and ease in communicating in daily life as well as in sharing and exchanging of knowledge, ideas and opinions.

The numeric goal of increasing the number of international students in Japan to 300,000 requires further reflection and discussion. Should numbers have a priority over relationships or communication between international students and Japanese (section 2)? Some of the respondents in this study believe that the quality of relationships is more important than the quantity of international students. Some also allude to a dissatisfaction with current relationships or a lack of communication. One wonders about the point in having large numbers of international students when there is no dialogue between them and members of the host country. What can Japan and Japanese universities do to improve these relationships and communication?

Many factors are involved in the successful friendships between international and Japanese students, one of which is a common language. Some Japanese respondents blame their lack of communicative skills in English (section 4) for the infrequent friendships with international students. In daily life within as well as outside the university, some international students have difficulties making themselves understood, in both English and Japanese (section 3). English plays a limited role in everyday life in Japan. Given the current state of English education in Japan, which emphasises mostly grammar-translation and preparation for written entrance examinations (Morita 2010), the communicative abilities of the average Japanese seems unlikely to improve dramatically in the short run. Although a tremendous amount of effort is being poured into reforming English education with an emphasis on spoken communication, the results are unclear at the moment. In that case, what is the rationale for increasing English-medium courses as a way of internationalisation, when Japanese language skills are necessary inside and outside universities? What can Japan do to expand the use of English?

If racial discrimination does exist to some degree, what may be Japanese universities’ educational and social responsibility in eradicating racial discrimination in Japan when the country and universities strive to bring in more international students in the name of internationalisation?

The author hopes she has shown how complex the issues concerning international students as internationalisation agents are. She also hopes to use the findings in this study as a step towards further reflection and discussion of internationalisation.

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my gratitude to Ishikawa Claudia, Kawaguchi Naomi, Morita Hisashi, Watanabe Miki, Yamashita Junko, and the two anonymous reviewers of Higher Education for their invaluable contributions.

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Notes

[1] MEXT website: mext.go.jp/english/news/1283454.htm, accessed 9th August 2010.

[2] The 13 universities are: Tohoku University, University of Tsukuba, The University of Tokyo, Nagoya University, Kyoto University, Osaka University, Kyushu University, Keio University, Sophia University, Meiji University, Waseda University, Doshisha University and Ritsumeikan University.

[3] The nine imperial universities (7 in Japan and 2 outside Japan) were founded by the government between 1877 and 1939 and run by the government until the end of World War II. They are still considered as the most prestigious universities in the country.

About the Author

Liang Morita was born in Singapore and studied linguistics and sociolinguistics in Singapore and Britain. She taught in Thailand and researched language shift in the Thai Chinese community. She currently teaches English and sociolinguistics in Japan and her research interests include bilingualism, English education and higher education.

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