Foreign students in Japan ponder future careers

KAGA, Japan, Aug. 5 Kyodo

The 73-meter-tall Kannon statue, Japan’s tallest, reminds Oranuch Pipatpokaisri of pagodas in her native Thailand.

The statue rises high above the city of Kaga in Ishikawa Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast, the venue for the annual ”Japan Tent” program aimed at familiarizing foreign students with Japanese culture, customs and behaviors.

A former employee of an affiliate of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. in Thailand, Pipatpokaisri, 30, is a PhD candidate in marketing at Tokyo’s Keio University.

The year-old financial crisis in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries worries Pipatpokaisri, who says she plans to become a professor of economics after completing her studies in Japan.

Pipatpokaisri is one of some 51,000 full-time foreign students in Japan from more than 100 countries as of May 1, 1997, according to the latest Education Ministry statistics.

The total is up sharply from around 22,000 foreign students in 1987 and some 48,500 in 1992, according to the ministry’s Student Exchange Division. There are many other foreign students, many of them from China and Taiwan who study at vocational or language schools by day and work part-time by night.

An Education Ministry official said the big jump in the number of foreign students studying in Japan in the last decade stems partly from the attraction of Japan as a good place to study and work even after the burst of the nation’s bubble economy, as well as young people from overseas having a serious interest in things Japanese.

Pipatpokaisri recently spent three nights and four days at the home of Takeo Narifusa, 65, and his wife Chiyo, 55, in Kaga as part of the Japan Tent program.

The Narifusas also hosted Jeremy Savian, from Buffalo, New York, who is scheduled to become a professor of anthropology. Savian, 29, is a student at Chiba University but said he is looking forward to a yearlong apprenticeship of ”ranma” wood carving in Tonami in Toyama Prefecture.

A day after their arrival in Kaga from the prefectural capital of Kanazawa, Yuzo Mizogami, 76, Chiyo’s father who lives with the Narifusas, drove the two students to the nearby ”Utopia Kaga No Sato” complex, replete with the giant Kannon statue, an amusement park, hot baths, restaurants and other facilities.

The Narifusa family has participated in the last four years of the 11-year-old ”Japan Tent” familiarization program by accepting two foreign students each year — from Sudan and Brazil in 1995, Morocco and China in 1996, and from Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1997.

Roughly 350 foreign students from more than 100 countries normally participate in the weeklong Japan Tent programs each summer.

”It’s an educational experience,” said Mizogami, one of 120 survivors out of 300 Imperial Japanese Army soldiers who took part in the military campaign against U.S. soldiers in Rabaul on New Britain Island between November 1943 and May 1945.

”I can notice the closed nature of Japanese society. Peace comes from grassroots-level exchanges,” he said, lamenting the low number of host families in Kaga willing to accommodate foreign students just for a few days. ”These foreign students study far harder than Japanese students.”

Takeo Narifusa noted that he and his family had often seen foreign students attending the Osaka University of Foreign Studies near their home in Osaka before they moved to this city of 69,000 a decade ago.

After listening to an address by former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in Kanazawa as part of the Japan Tent program, Savian said he is personally interested in ”the mechanism that determines who would be on the Security Council.”

Boutros-Ghali warned against ”neo-isolationism” emerging from some segments of countries around the world and called on these countries to be more hospitable to foreigners.

As in international diplomacy, Boutros-Ghali said in an interview, countries and peoples need to have ”the capacity to talk to foreigners, the capacity to understand different ways of life and the capacity to see somebody who has another color than your color.”

Asked about the newly inaugurated government of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, Savian said, ”To me, it sounds like things will not change very much.”

But Pipatpokaisri predicted that the Obuchi government would be ”a little better because he knows a lot about foreign affairs” as former foreign minister.

While these and other foreign students in Japan are trying to study much about their host country, Kazuhiro Hayashi, head of the Education Ministry’s Exchange Student Division, said his ministry is having difficulty in prodding budget planners at the Ministry of Finance (MOF) to boost scholarships for foreign students.

He recalled that when he visited MOF with a request for enhancing government scholarships for foreign students, one of the MOF bean counters snapped, ”It has nothing to do with the government’s economic stimulus measures.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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