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A New Dimension in Japanese Public Diplomacy

Tags: Language , Foreign Policy , International Cooperation , Middle East , Japan , Education

Ishikawa, Eriko (-2014)

July 08, 2008

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Spurred by the momentum of China's Confucius Institute, the Japanese government is pressed to rebuild its overseas language education program and public diplomacy. Possible strategies are examined by looking at Turkey, which leads the Middle East in learners of Japanese.

The repositioning of Japanese language education abroad as a national strategy is now a topic of growing debate in Japan. Since Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's first policy speech to the Diet in January 2008, the Fukuda cabinet has been consistently upholding its plan to increase international students in Japan to 300,000. Additionally, from the perspective that some degree of Japanese language ability would be a prerequisite for studying in Japan, a program called the Japanese-Language Education Network is currently being implemented by the Japan Foundation1. This aims to increase Japanese language education centers overseas to more than 100 within the next two to three years. Behind such review of policy by the Japanese government and related organizations is the development of public diplomacy by other countries armed with a strong overseas language education program.

According to journalist Toshiro Kitamura, the British Council, a venerable institution in the field of overseas language education, teaches English to 300,000 people at 126 facilities worldwide. Similarly, L'Alliance Français has 450,000 people learning French at 1,071 locations, and Germany's Goethe-Institut has 150,000 learners at 101 facilities. The most remarkable progress over the past few years has been achieved by the Confucius Institute of China, said to have increased its number of centers to 188 in just two years2. In contrast, even with the inclusion of institutions in partnership with the Japan Foundation, Japan has only 39 facilities - a reflection of the meager budget up to now for public diplomacy as a whole3. Prime Minister Fukuda's plan to increase foreign students in Japan to 300,000 and the Japanese-Language Education Network suggest the beginnings of a new dimension in Japan's public diplomacy to counter China's "great leap forward" in this area.

Japanese language education abroad by the mere 39 facilities of the Japan Foundation has been augmented by the individual activities of the private sector, including local universities and language schools, as well as cultural exchange groups. These activities on the private level have been supported in part by the Nippon Foundation Fund for Japanese Language Education Program, or NF-JLEP, carried out by the Nippon Foundation and the Tokyo Foundation. This program was launched in 1994 with the objective of spreading the Japanese language and promoting Japanese language education overseas. Endowments of $1.5 million each have been presented to eight universities in six countries. The endowed universities use the earnings from fund management to conduct programs to train teachers of Japanese and researchers on Japan in their respective countries and to develop Japanese language teaching materials, as well as to generate interests in Japan and the Japanese language among schoolchildren. While the scale of this project is not large, support given in the form of endowments has significant advantages in that long-term planning and implementation of Japanese language education become feasible for each university.

Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University (Çanakkale University) in Turkey is an NF-JLEP recipient, presented with the endowment in 1996. When reviewing the history of Japanese language education in Turkey, the Nippon Foundation appears to have had foresight in establishing the endowment. The following introduces the views of Yukiko Kondo, who has taught Japanese at this university for many years and continues to be actively involved in developing and spreading Japanese language education.

Japanese Language Education in Turkey

Turkey has a history of strong, friendly relations with Japan and boasts the highest number of Japanese language learners in the Middle East. The history of Japanese language education in this country is, however, relatively brief. The first Japanese language education course to be introduced in Turkey was started by the Turkey-Japan Women's Cultural Association in 1976 with the opening of a Japanese language class to the general public. This still continues today as a general course for adults. In the realm of higher education, in 1985 a Japanese language and literature course was established in the faculty of letters of Ankara University; this was the only institution in Turkey that offered a major in Japanese language education. Some time afterwards, under the leadership of Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, who aimed to strengthen economic relations between Japan and Turkey, it was reasoned that the training of individuals competent in Japanese as well as teachers of Japanese would be necessary. The department of Japanese language teaching was thus established within the faculty of education of Çanakkale University in September 1993. Eight years had passed since the establishment of the course in Ankara University.

The Japanese language teaching department was established in Çanakkale University within a stark learning environment: teaching materials, dictionaries, and other literature on the Japanese language were virtually nonexistent, and there were just three Japanese instructors. This was the situation present when the NF-JLEP endowment was established in 1996. With the aim of training Turkish teachers of Japanese, the fund was allotted to scholarships to send young researchers to Japan and to purchase books on the Japanese language. And indeed, students who were able to study in Japan on this scholarship have, upon returning to their country, taken up teaching positions at their alma mater. Students completing their term of study are scheduled to return one after another, and anticipation runs high that in several years Turkish instructors of Japanese will form the core of the department's operations.

The diversity of their major fields of study - linguistics, Japanese language, Japanese language education, Japanese literature and sociology - should be capable of meeting all the areas necessary for the department to function. Nevertheless, maintaining a long-term commitment would be essential as current figures reveal that, with three Turkish teachers and nine Japanese teachers, Japanese instructors still compose more than 70% of the department's faculty. For full-scale dissemination of Japanese language education abroad, it would be crucial to nurture teachers of Japanese from among the country's citizens, rather than depending forever on Japanese teachers.

Following the establishment of the Japanese language teaching department in Çanakkale University, a Japanese language and literature course was established in the faculty of arts and sciences of Erciyes University in Kayseri in 1994. But there has been no increase in the number of universities offering a major in Japanese since that time. While universities offering elective classes in the Japanese language have been growing annually since the 1990s, there is no local office of the Japan Foundation, nor does any network currently exist for cooperation between Japanese language teaching organizations and associated personnel throughout Turkey to boost education and support. According to the Survey Report on Japanese-Language Education Abroad conducted by the Japan Foundation in 2006, Turkey had the largest number of people learning Japanese in the Middle East with 226 in primary and secondary education, 862 in higher education, and 385 in facilities other than school education. Moreover, employment opportunities where Japanese can be an advantage are expanding with the advance of Japanese automobile-related firms into Turkey from around 2000. Accompanying this are the growing opportunities for a career as a Japanese language teacher.

In the light of this situation, it would be essential for the Japanese government to make an effort to bolster the system in Turkey. Weight has been placed on establishing facilities in the advanced nations and the countries of East Asia. But there is also a considerable necessity to establish footholds in those countries at the dawn of Japanese language education. With Japan's pop culture now sweeping the world, educational investment in Turkey - a nation of people highly conscious of Japan - would lead to an effective build-up of Japan's "soft power." This August the Symposium on Japanese Language Education in Europe will be held at Çanakkale University, marking the first time for this symposium to be held in Turkey. The provision of this kind of active support toward cooperation and exchange that transcends national borders will also grow in importance in the future.


1The Japan Foundation was established in 1972 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to undertake international cultural exchange. It then became an independent administrative institution on October 1, 2003. The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which evaluates and certifies the language proficiency of primarily non-native speakers of Japanese, has been administered by the Japan Foundation.

2Toshiro Kitamura, "Osokutemo shinaiyori ii taigai Nihongo kyoiku kyoka (Better Late than Never: Strengthening Japanese Language Education Abroad)," Foresight, June 2008 pp. 68-69.

3Naoyuki Agawa, "Japan Does Soft Power," Yasushi Watanabe and David L. McConnell, ed., Soft Power Superpowers: Cultural and National Assets of Japan and the United States (New York: An East Gate Book, 2008), pp. 226-29.

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