Location: Trunk Kitchen, Shibuya

I hadn’t seen Austin for two years since we worked together briefly at my former company. Actually, if I remember correctly, it was at a debaucherous night of karaoke, where he busted out some wild moves.

This is the song he sang…in Japanese, without looking at the lyrics.

Anyways, I’m interviewing Austin for my upcoming book Unlikely Pioneers of Japan, so this was a pre-interview meetup. We got to talking Japanese government, tourism, recruitment and freelance life in Japan. He’s working on several freelance projects himself — growing a tourism product called Liigo and running the MEXT scholarship association.

Notable points/links from our conversation:

The Japanese government has made it a priority initiative (since 2017) to help foreign students in Japan and find work. The actual initiatives they’re implementing are still unclear.

MEXT Scholars Association (http://mextsa.org/) is an association to help students make the best of their student lives and post-graduation careers. Austin designed and help deploy the 2018 JAPI’s research project — a survey about foreigners working in Japan as well an assessment of attitudes of foreign students in Japan.

Austin was kind enough to share the raw slide decks for presentations he did the previous year. They cover perspectives and demographic data for exchange students in Japan, as well as their job preferences for specific companies. Here they are: JAPI Survey/English slides

Todai Tuition

Tokyo University (also known as “todai”), Japan’s #1 and most prestigious public university. Tuition? Only $6,000 per year. Compare that to Ivy Leagues in the US or Europe which start upwards of $40,000  per year — often 10x as much! Your job prospects after graduating from Tokyo University are on par with a Stanford/Harvard in Japan, and it’s fairly easy to get a job.

An Influx of Students

The number of Vietnamese students coming to Japan is increasing by 20% each year for the past 5 years. Nepal is actually number 3 or 4 right now. The Nepalese can be good at English actually, but the top two are generally better in Japanese than in English. Around half of people holding a foreign student visa right now in Japan are from mainland China.

That being said, the growth in foreign student population over the past few years have been in students studying in Japanese language schools. So not at the bachelor’s level, not at a grad school level. So this is also contributing to how Japanese society has increasingly over the past few years viewed Japanese language schools as a social problem.

Sketchy Language Schools

Japan has quite liberal laws in terms of what kind of part-time work you can do as a foreign student. Right now, if you have a foreign student visa, as long as you apply for a permit, you can work up to 28 hours a week during term time, and 40 hours a week during holidays. So many schools are actually not schools but they are vehicles for foreigners to come to Japan, work 28 hours, work 40 hours, earn something, send it back, and they themselves would go back afterwards.

From Japanese society’s perspective, this is a decoy or a disguise for illegal low-skill labor immigrating to Japan. And that’s the way that much of the media has been reporting about Japanese language schools so far.

Whether it’s true or not depends on what kind of name you put on it. As a phenomenon, it is true that there are many schools which are like that. Also because there’s a shortage of Japanese language teachers. Shortage of teachers, an increasing number of foreigners who come to Japan, and you get a situation where… It’s not all, but there are a significant number of schools which aren’t really schools

Austin’s LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/austin-zeng-120a4563/

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