TOKYO -- Rabina Dangol was born in Nepal's capital Kathmandu and raised there by her grandparents until, at age 13 and with no Japanese skills, she was whisked to the western Tokyo city of Akishima to live with her 41-year-old mother Shanti.
That was in 2014, and the painful and challenging road she would traverse over the following months is but one example of the difficulties faced by foreign children unable to speak Japanese as they try to lay the foundations of their life in a new country. In Rabina's case, the first hurdle came quickly: She was denied entry to her local junior high school. The school had no Japanese language education support in place, and would not let her enroll until she could get by in class in Japanese.
Rabina's mother came to Japan in 2002 to provide for the family, and is now an in-home care provider. She had no knowledge of the Japanese school system when her daughter arrived, so Shanti consulted YSC Global School, a cram school run by the Youth Support Center non-profit organization, based in the neighboring city of Fussa. An NPO staffer accompanied her to the Akishima Municipal Board of Education and she completed the admission process.
According to Shanti, they received a form notifying them of Rabina's school designation, but a school official explained, "If the child does not understand Japanese, she cannot enter."
"Schools are supposed to accept children willing to enter. But we don't know about that (Rabina's case) as we don't have any records from that time," said an education board official.
Rabina gave up on enrolling then and started learning written and spoken Japanese at YSC Global School. Hers is not the only case, however.
People consulted the YSC twice in academic 2018 about being kept from entering Japanese schools. Staffer Rie Pitchford, 57, pointed out, "I believe the lack of a Japanese language support system is a reason why the schools have to deny entrance to them (foreigners who don't understand Japanese well)."
Five months after having the school doors closed to her, Rabina had reached a basic Japanese level and was allowed to enter the municipal junior high as a first-year student, though she would have been in the second year class by age.
There were three other foreign students in the school, but all of them had good Japanese language skills. As the school did not conduct any Japanese language classes for foreigners like Rabina, she felt that "all of the classes were difficult" and she "just zoned out every day." When her class shifted classrooms, no one told her where they were going, and she was usually left behind.
She was also bullied, such as the other girls repeatedly pinching her during school assemblies in the gymnasium. In the May of her second year, boys hit her on the arm with a metal ruler during a bus trip to Nagano Prefecture. Rabina recalled, "I wanted to tell the teachers about it, but I couldn't explain the details. I couldn't even cry."
From that academic year, the education board began sending Japanese language instructors to the school once or twice a week. Rabina gradually started understanding more Japanese from around that summer. A classmate told her, "You can tell me if you don't understand something." She made new friends and talked with other students during lunch break.
Rabina, now 18, is going to a Tokyo high school where there is at least one other foreign student attending part-time. The school provides special, small-group lessons to students who do not understand Japanese well. She became a second-year student this year and her Japanese is much better.
Last autumn, Rabina was praised by classmates for a "magnificent" illustration that she drew for her class' school festival pamphlet. Since then, fellow students have asked her for drawings whenever there is a school event.
Rabina told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I'm happy that my friends rely on me. I can understand schoolwork now, and I feel I want to go to school even on holidays."
(Japanese original by Haruna Okuyama, City News Department)