The recent relaxation of entry restrictions for foreigners opened the door again for overseas students to study in Japan. The Yomiuri Shimbun talked with students at Kai Japanese Language School in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. This is the fourth of a five-part series.
In early August, Michael Agreda, a 31-year-old from Tennessee, was sitting in a classroom at Kai Japanese Language School, working on a Japanese composition. From time to time, he looked at a textbook on his iPad. A dedicated app for hiragana and kanji drills, as well as Japanese conversation listening materials, are also found on the device.
Agreda said he chose Kai because of its digital environment, which is no surprise for a highly skilled tech professional. He is in Japan because the country has a shortage of such human resources.
From an early age, Agreda was fascinated by Japanese video games such as the “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda” series. After studying graphic design at a state university, he studied game development at a graduate school in Florida. He then worked as a software engineer for a U.S. company and was involved in a project with Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.
He came to Japan in June with this dream in mind: To be involved in the development of Japanese video games.
After enrolling in the Japanese language school, he was surprised to find that many fellow students were from his industry.
During a break in class, he chatted with Daniel Bourne, a 33-year-old Australian, about the types of skills needed to work for a Japanese company and interesting aspects of the video game industry.
Bourne also came to Japan in June. He is studying in the same beginner’s class as Agreda. In Australia, he worked for a local tech company for more than 10 years, then studied cybersecurity at a university. There are few tech-related companies at home, so he decided to work in a foreign country to find a place where he can make better use of his skills.
He had planned to look for a job in an English-speaking Western country, but the COVID-19 pandemic made him decide to work in a country closer to home in case he had to return immediately.
He plans to study at the language school for just under two years, then work for a Japanese company as a bilingual information technology expert.
Another student who entered the school in June is a blockchain expert from Hawaii called John Bui. The 28-year-old came to Japan after meeting a Japanese person who was eager to learn about blockchain technology.
Although Bui has only been in Japan for a short time, he is already advising some companies using his expertise. He says he wants to share his knowledge and skills to advance the blockchain industry in Japan.
Seeking skilled professionals
According to a survey conducted between 2018 and 2021 by Yu Korekawa, director of the department of international research and cooperation at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, about 40% of students from abroad at Japanese language schools are graduates of universities or graduate schools. Many of these highly educated students are eager to pursue higher education or find employment in Japan.
In May 2012, the government launched a system to certify foreign nationals who exceed a certain score as “highly skilled professionals” based on their educational background, work experience and Japanese language skills, in order to promote the acceptance of excellent foreign human resources. In April 2015, a highly skilled professional status of residence was established and preferential measures, such as easing the requirements for permanent residency, have been implemented.
According to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, the number of foreign residents certified as highly skilled professionals was 313 at the end of 2012, but increased to 16,554 by the end of 2020.
An issue facing many Japanese companies is the shortage of tech personnel. In January this year, the Information-technology Promotion Agency conducted a survey of 1,935 tech companies in Japan and about 80% of them responded that there is a shortage of such personnel in terms of quantity and quality. The need for excellent foreign human resources is expected to increase in the future.