Japanese language education is one of the most important aspects of preparing to accept more foreign workers, as the government desires to do to alleviate labor shortages. It is difficult to live in Japan without a basic command of the Japanese language including the ability to conduct daily conversation.
Yet the government does not incorporate this issue in its draft bill amending the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to open the country's doors further to workers from overseas. The government intends to use a Justice Ministry directive to address the matter in the future, but this approach is unreliable.
The revised immigration act would introduce two new residency statuses for additional foreign workers. One of them, "category 1," would require its holders to be able to understand more than day-to-day Japanese. This requirement would not apply to applicants with three years or more of experience as a technical intern trainee in government-backed programs. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe estimates that many of the approximately 274,000 technical trainees in Japan at the end of 2017 would try to obtain the "category 1" status.
What is the government's real intention on this issue? We suspect that the administration wants the foreign workers to learn the language while they are still going through the trainee program because that would minimize the cost.
The trainee program was originally designed to transfer Japanese technology and know-how to developing countries by offering people from those nations a chance to receive training in Japan. But in reality, the program forces trainees to undergo long working hours at low pay.
The trainee program does not offer sufficient language education courses. We understand that some officials of overseeing organizations for industries accepting the foreigners double as teachers when Japanese language schools cannot dispatch instructors.
According to an interview survey conducted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism targeting trainees in the construction sector, some respondents had only questionable Japanese languages skills and were not allowed to work.
Category 1 residency status holders can stay in Japan for up to five years. It's a long period of time, and they need education from specialist educational bodies, including some 700 Japanese languages schools across the nation.
Japanese language institutions are mushrooming in tandem with a growing number of foreign workers. But teachers' salaries are low and turnover rates are high. Overall, we apparently need more teachers.
To improve the quality of education and make teachers stay longer at their schools, the government plans to introduce a public license for Japanese language instructors. However, that alone is not enough.
Japanese language education has been carried out by local governments and regional nonprofit organizations, and little support has been extended to them.
The government must allocate necessary financial resources to create a system to back up Japanese language education. The measure must come alongside the planned expansion of the foreign workforce in Japan.