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Business trends

Japanese-language schools expand offerings overseas

Demand grows for fluent speakers as nation opens doors to more foreign workers

Students study Japanese at a school in Nepal. Language school operators from Japan are finding an eager market around the world among people hoping to work in Japan.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japanese education companies are expanding their language offerings overseas, seeing business opportunities in meeting growing demand for Japanese-speaking foreign manpower as the nation opens its doors to workers from overseas.

As of October 2017, there were about 1.28 million foreign workers in Japan, including interns and student part-timers, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The numbers have grown 90% in six years, hitting record highs, due to the worsening labor shortage and an increase in foreign students.

The government has revised the immigration control and refugee recognition act to allow new visas for unskilled foreign workers. Japanese schools are betting that demand for Japanese-language education will increase, because foreign nationals are required to have a certain level of Japanese language proficiency to get a job.

Japanese education and recruiting company Human Holdings provides Japanese lessons at universities overseas for a fee through its Human Academy unit. Although the company now partners with a few schools, "we aim to contract with 100 schools over the next 12 months and win about 1,000 students a year," a company representative said.

The company has informally gotten green lights from several universities about providing Japanese lessons, the official said.

Human operates Japanese-language schools in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Most students come to Japan as interns or students at universities. Enrollment at its school in Indonesia has doubled from the previous year.

Cram school operator Seigakusha established a unit in South Korea in November, with the aim of providing Japanese-language education services for students and employment agency services for Japanese companies starting in April 2019. The Osaka-based company also launched a language school in Japan in April 2017 and plans to open another in 2019.

Kyoshin, operator of Japanese-language school Kyoshin Language Academy, operates nine schools for foreign students in such cities as Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka. The company aims to increase that number to about 50 nationwide.

In 2017, there were 2,109 Japanese-language education facilities in Japan, including universities, international exchange organizations and private language schools, according to the Agency for Cultural Affairs. The number of such facilities rose 5% from two years before, but the number of Japanese learners jumped 25% over the same period.

Japanese-language education facilities are increasing overseas as well. In 2017, a record 1.02 million people applied for the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test.

There are cases, however, in which foreign students of Japanese-language schools illegally work part time for more than the permitted 28 hours a week or foreign interns disappear.

"The students of our Japanese-language schools here are required to live in dorms for six months so we can keep an eye on them," said Masato Fujita, managing director at Seigakusha.

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