BY TOMOHIRO OSAKI
A cross-party group of lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a draft version of what would become Japan’s first-ever law defining the government’s responsibility to systematically promote Japanese language education both at home and abroad.
The drafting of the bill comes as Japan experiences a continued increase in non-Japanese residents, including under categories such as technical intern trainees, students, and highly skilled professionals, but at the same time lacks a unified policy as to how to teach them Japanese.
The group hopes to submit the bill to the fall session of the Diet for possible enactment, Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Hiroshi Hase, secretary-general of the group, told The Japan Times.
Whether the bill will be passed through the Diet and how big of an impact it will create remains to be seen, with its effectiveness likely hinging on how much funding it receives from the government.
The draft bill does not specify any numerical targets for fiscal spending nor set a deadline for the government to meet the ultimate goal advocated in the legislation.
Still, the group has emphasized the bill would be a key step to help bolster Japanese language education for non-Japanese residents.
The draft revealed by the group Tuesday characterized the initiative as a “matter of urgency.”
It stipulates the government has to ensure that “anyone who wishes to receive Japanese language education will be afforded such an opportunity commensurate with their demand and ability,” calling an improvement in language instruction “instrumental in realizing a vibrant, co-existent society respectful toward diverse cultures.”
“Be they migrant workers or highly skilled professionals, those who want to be successful in Japan are now fast moving here, becoming a huge wave,” independent lawmaker Masaharu Nakagawa, formerly of the Democratic Party, told the group’s gathering in Tokyo.
“Our hope is for them to study and acquire the Japanese language so they can make full use of their talent in our society. … The law aims to spell out how to realize a domestic environment that will make this possible,” Nakagawa said.
Specifically, the bill declares it the government’s responsibility to offer proper language training to non-Japanese children, students from overseas, foreign workers, technical interns, and refugees.
In the absence of a central policy, the draft also says a consultative body of language experts must be established to coordinate relevant government entities, such as the education and foreign ministries, to push for the “comprehensive,” “unified” and “effective” promotion of Japanese.
The bill also calls on the government to promote education overseas by helping language institutions abroad.
While China has been aggressively seeking to raise the global profile of Chinese language and culture with the establishment of the government-funded Confucius Institute, Japan has no such policy aimed at “strategically promoting Japanese language overseas,” the group said in a statement upon its launch in November 2016.
“One of the reasons why people overseas remain reluctant to come and study in Japan is that in the global community, there is little advantage to them learning Japanese,” LDP lawmaker Kazunori Tanaka, a member of the group, said at the gathering.
The envisaged bill also calls for measures addressing the emergence of rogue Japanese language institutions that allegedly profiteer by arranging for their students — especially those from some developing Asian countries — to engage in illegal overwork.
Critics have argued a sizable number of students hailing from those countries are chiefly motivated to work and earn money so they can financially assist their families back home, rather than study.
The government, the draft says, has to consider how to properly “assess” Japanese language schools in order to “maintain their education standards.”
According to the Justice Ministry, the number of non-Japanese residents hit a record-high 2.56 million as of the end of 2017. By visa status, those on student visas accounted for the third-largest share at 311,505, up 12.3 percent from a year earlier, followed by technical interns at 274,233.
A separate education ministry survey showed that the number of foreign and Japanese children deemed to be in need of Japanese language education reached 43,947 as of May 2016, a significant increase from 26,281 in 2006.