I teach in Japan.

Looking at the trends here, what is certain to happen, I have no doubt that the number of Japanese studying in international colleges will increase, by 300%, over the next ten years.

The growth will come mainly in universities in English-speaking countries, in particular the United States.


Japan’s current educational system sorely lacks a global perspective.

The Abe administration has recognized this, and several strategies are under discussion to improve Japan’s global education. These have ranged from making college entrance exams TOEFL-like to teaching English at an earlier age. All are long range, very much so, and will not begin for at least five years with effects even further down the road.

However, the wind has changed, so to speak–a national shift in perception is taking place.

Going overseas for university has become a good thing. This will increase in speed and 

scope over the next decade.

Japan has no choice.

To get a job, English is necessary. “English is now the global language of business,” according to Harvard Business Review, and as one famous Japanese executive put it, “Non-English speakers cannot do business in 10 years.

Yet, with only a handful of exceptions, universities in Japan cannot teach students to actually speak English (and the universities that are exceptions require students to spend a year studying overseas as part of their curriculum, so they are not exceptions in truth). Conversation and English schools are expensive and mostly unsuccessful.  Japan cannot provide a decent education in English.


From this factors, I can make an obvious prediction.

The number of Japanese students going overseas for a college education, now woefully small, will increase. It must. Economically, Japanese companies have to compete in a global market, and with the economy slowly improving, will need workers who can do so. Most companies even now, face problems getting workers who can work globally.

Culturally, the age-old Japanese idea that going to a “highly ranked college” will lead to life-long success is dying, with the once respected institutions that sit atop Japan’s university rankings, such as Tokyo University, Waseda, and so on, not ranking poorly in the world rankings. Ambitious young people who wish to succeed will study overseas.

Some argue Japan’s universities might step up to fill this gap.

Is it possible for Japanese universities to offer more international programs to keep Japanese students here? Perhaps recruit more foreign students to create an international environment?

I think not.

Japanese is an extremely difficult language, and to reach the level required for college instruction takes years. English-language programs are scarce in Japanese colleges, and Japanese universities are often reluctant to treat foreign professors well (a well-known phenomena among foreigners in Japan called “academic apartheid” where foreign professors are released after two years at the same university). The likelihood for such a Japan-based solution is very low.

To summarize, Japan’s need for global thinkers, workers with competent English, and a lack of a way to educate these necessary workers means that the number of Japanese studying in English-speaking countries will swell in the next ten years.

I predict that the numbers will triple, and probably exceed this. Why? South Korea sends around 70,000 students to the U.S. yearly, according to the recent Open Doors Report. In contrast, Japan sends a mere 20,000.

Korea’s population is about 50 million, less than half of Japan’s 120 million.

Korea’s economy is very competitive now. Japan’s, while considerably larger (third or fourth in the world still), is rising again, driving the need for Japanese students to study overseas.

Why compare Japan to Korea? I do not claim to be an economist, but Korea’s economic growth has come through globalization, by way of its internationalized labor pool (which is why we see so many Koreans studying in the US for its small population). Japan’s growth can come in the same way, and it has a larger population and bigger economic potential. Therefore, the number of Japanese international students will, at the very least, surpass that of Korea.

As I said, the main growth will come in the United States. Why? Simply because Japanese are the most comfortable with the US. The ties between the countries are the closest, they do lots of business with the US, and most Japanese consider American English as “standard” English.

That is my prediction—that the number of Japanese studying in the United States will triple to 60,000 (at least) over the next ten years.

My reasons for this are clear. Japan’s economy requires workers with skills that Japan simply cannot provide, so Japanese college students must go elsewhere to learn, and most of them will go to the United States.

If you disagree, or would like to add your opinion, contact me or leave a comment here.