It was on an evening in October 2019 that two men turned up at the apartment of a 21-year-old Vietnamese student in the western Japan city of Kobe and handed him a notice.
"We're going to have you get on a plane tonight and return to Vietnam," one of the men, both workers at a Japanese language school, told him. The A4-sized notice informed the student that he was being expelled from the school. The only reason it gave was that his performance was "extremely bad."
The student, going by the pseudonym Dan, was ushered into a car that took him to Kansai International Airport.
According to Dan and the school, he came to Japan in April 2018. After a year and a half in the country, he was still unable to pass the easiest level of the Japanese language proficiency test (N5), and the school told him that if he didn't earn at least 80 points in a school test on par with the N5 exam, then he would be expelled.
On the morning of the day he received the notice, he had taken his second test but his score was below 70 points.
After taking the test, Dan became scared and fled from the school to his apartment. Several minutes later the men turned up. Dan sent messages to his friends through social media in the car on his way to the airport, saying "Help me," and he had a Vietnamese woman he was acquainted with come to meet him at the airport.
Dan narrowly evaded being sent back to his country that day, but discrepancies between his version of the events that took place and the school's version emerged.
Dan says that he pleaded for lenience with the school when the Japanese language proficiency test was approaching in December 2019. "I told them in tears, 'I'll study harder and pass the exam, so please let me stay in school,' but they didn't listen."
The school, meanwhile, insisted, "It was his intention (to go back to his country)."
Dan asked for his expulsion from the school to be retracted, but the school refused to do so. In the end he had no option but to return to Vietnam at the end of January 2020. Through people including his supporters in Japan, he has asked the school to return part of his tuition fees, and talks with the school are ongoing.
When approached by the Mainichi Shimbun in September, a school representative stated, "It's a school matter, and it's also personal information, so we can't offer an explanation."
The government requires students to have at least an N5 level of Japanese language proficiency before coming to study in Japan, and a legal representative for the school said of Dan, "He had difficulty with his language ability, and expulsion was based on school regulations. The school didn't do anything illegal, and obtained the consent of the student and his parents."
Before returning to his country, Dan lamented, "I felt like I wasn't respected as a student. I had a good impression of Japan, but not all people there were good."
Yoshihisa Saito, an associate professor of Vietnam's legal regulations at Kobe University's graduate school, who is versed in problems relating to students from overseas, commented, "When a school has a lot of students with poor records or who go missing, then it is treated unfavorably by immigration in its applications for residency status for students, and there are times when the number of students it is allowed to accept is cut back. The school probably wanted to expel the student for having bad grades, but this was too tough. There's also a problem with the way it tried to have him return to his country, half by force."
There are more than a few students from overseas who, like Dan, run into trouble in Japan.
Toshiaki Torimoto, head of "Nichietsu Koryu Center Hyogo" (Japan-Vietnam exchange center Hyogo), a nonprofit organization that supports mainly Vietnamese students, commented, "Being enrolled in a school in Japan is a prerequisite for obtaining a student visa and having it renewed. In contrast with the schools that apply for the visas, the students are in a weak position." There have apparently been cases in which students who have received job offers have had their graduation certificates withheld by schools as the schools continue to demand tuition fees from them, and cases in which students who have not paid their school fees have had their passports taken from them.
(Japanese original by Kwanghoon Han, Kobe Bureau)