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Japanese language schools struggle with shortage of students amid overseas travel bans

Students are seen taking classes while wearing masks in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on May 28, 2020. (Mainichi/Sachi Fukushima)

TOKYO -- With foreign students unable to enter Japan due to flight suspensions amid the coronavirus crisis even after the lifting of the state of emergency, Japanese language schools are struggling to stay in business, with over 40% of schools reporting to have no new incoming students for the academic year that started in April.

Aoyama School of Japanese, a language school located in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward with a history of over 40 years, has accepted new enrollments three times a year, in April, July, and October. However, there was a large decline in newcomers this April, and the number of those planning to enter the school in July and October is said to be close to zero. The school is not in a position to recruit new students and its plans for the next school year onward have not yet been decided.

The language school has held online classes since it closed temporarily due to the coronavirus outbreak. The class system was altered in mid-May to have students show up at the school once a week, and the institution plans to have them come three times a week from June.

Ikutaro Nakanishi, principal of Aoyama School of Japanese, is seen talking to students during an online class while holding a whiteboard up to a computer screen on May 28, 2020. (Mainichi/Sachi Fukushima)

Although the school is figuring out ways to deal with classes for currently enrolled students, it is unclear when new students will join, as there is no prospect of international flights bound for Japan resuming anytime soon.

Principal Ikutaro Nakanishi, 42, expressed his concern, stating, "This sort of situation is the first of its kind since the school's establishment. Even if restrictions on entering the country are eased, it's hard to think that the families of students would wish to send them off to Japan right away. Before that happens, the business management of Japanese language schools may become unstable."

Six bodies including the Association for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education, which consists of Japanese language schools nationwide, conducted a survey in April regarding the impact of the novel coronavirus, and obtained answers from 208 schools. Over 40% of schools reported that none of the foreign students who had been set to enroll in April were able to enter the country. Meanwhile, over 70% of schools reported that no more than 10% of students set to start in April were able to make it into Japan. According to the survey, 11,653 students are waiting to be accepted into the country.

In addition, 30% of schools cited "problems with business management" due to the pandemic, while one said, "There have been problems with salary payments and employment issues."

The six organizations also surveyed foreign students, obtaining answers from 1,887 respondents. About half of the respondents said that allowances from their families had ceased or been reduced, suggesting that many students are struggling financially. About 20% of students answered, "It is difficult to continue studying in Japan due to financial circumstances."

(Japanese original by Sachi Fukushima, Special Reports Department)

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