Fewer Japanese students are studying abroad than just 8 years ago, and the number has been slowly declining.

According to Tokyo Times, The number of Japanese students studying overseas peaked at 82,945 in 2004 and fell to 58,060 in 2010, according to the Ministry of Education. Fewer than 20,000 Japanese students studied in the United States in 2011, compared with 46,000 in 1999, according to the Institute of International Education.

Why the big problem?  Japanese companies and its very economy must globalize to stop their steady decline.  It is already late in the game, and Japan has to play catch up.  According to McKinsey and Company:

A matter of survival

Japan’s biggest companies have been losing relative market share over the past ten years: their proportion of the Fortune Global 500’s total revenues decreased to 13 percent, from 35 percent, between 1995 and 2009. One of Japan’s longtime strengths is electronics, for example, but its share of the world’s export value of electronic goods has fallen from 30 percent in 1990 to less than 15 percent today, according to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Many Japanese companies have no alternative to globalization if they hope to continue growing.

Why don’t college students in Japan want to study overseas?  According the Japan Times last year, college students said that Japan is comfortable to live in, they lack the confidence to study overseas, and perhaps the most utterly sad thing–only 17 percent of the students in Japan said they are in search of a better educational environment, far less than 77 percent in China, 39 percent in South Korea and 36 percent in the United States.

Japan has a long climb. Photo by "Kaonashi".
Japan has a long climb up a foggy mountain. Photo by “Kaonashi”.


The last reason, that very few students seek a better educational environment, is an effect of the dismal secondary education system in Japan.

In high school, the emphasis is on one thing–passing the entrance examination to a good college.  The students spend most of their time studying for that.  Since each university is ranked strictly, students aim to pass the examinations of the one with the highest rank possible. They (and their teachers and usually parents) feel that doing so will garner them lifelong success.  The concept of education–bettering oneself through learning, is an alien concept.

Recently, Japan has woken up to see how deeply it is sinking in relation to the rest of the world.  The Abe government is working on several proposals to make Japan less insular and more global, though all of these would take several years to implement and require a large change in the mindsets of many of today’s educators.

These include such radical proposals as changing the admission for universities from April to September to coincide with those overseas, requiring TOEFL to enter any college, and scholarships for students who wish to study overseas.

All are a step in the right direction, but Japan has a long climb ahead.  Will these steps encourage more Japanese students to look overseas for a good education?  That remains to be seen.