From our last two videos, we know that plenty of people want to come and live in Japan, and we know that both locals and foreign workers understand the pros and cons of working side by side. In this video we want to get out of the office and find out from the locals whether or not they are open to becoming friends with us lot, how they would do this, and more broadly, what they think of their country’s path to internationalisation.
OK. All pretty positive stuff. Let’s be honest though, it would take a brave person to be asked by a foreigner, if they want to be friends with foreigners, and then turn round and say to that foreigner ‘No!’. Certainly, our hosts are too polite for this.
How to become friends?: language, language, and language
Someone’s got to give on this. How deep a friendship can be without the understanding of a common parlance is perhaps something for the philosopher in us to think about. In the mad rush of everyday life in Japan though, there’s perhaps no time to get this deep, both in the short-term (I don’t have time for this conversation to take 30 mins when it would normally take five.), and in the long-term (long-term for many a foreigner in Japan might only stretch to a couple of years). For both sides, the language barrier seems to have deep foundations. Who’s expected to give, then? Common standards would dictate that the foreigner in a foreign land should take the initiative and learn the local language. Here though, the locals seem to give off the vibe that learning Japanese is going to be too hard for most. For their part, whilst many are pretty well versed in the grammar of a second language, Japanese people are often too petrified to put it into speech.
Lack of language skills might be easy to put down an ageing populace, who perhaps don’t have fond memories of language class (if any at all), and for whom mixing with excitable expats carries little appeal. But younger generations don’t seem to be faring too well in either. Last year, Japan’s Education Ministry reported that English standards were significantly below government targets for high school students, and that some 60% of students don’t even enjoy the subject. Evidence still, that English classes in Japan are geared up to nothing more than passing some kind of test.
In terms of internationalisation
There seems to be a belief that it is happening in Japan, gradually. Certainly, tourist numbers are exploding, but smash and grab style shopping trips have accounted for large numbers of late. As one of the interviewees pointed to, does an increase in tourist numbers really count as internationalisation?
Further tying language and internationalisation together is the 2020 Olympics. Tokyo securing the games has seen business’ scramble to secure ‘inbound’ markets by developing services designed to make being over here a smoother experience, accessible in multiple languages. The general public, too, is wrapped up in Olympic fever enough to get them down to the eikaiwa and try out a free sample English lesson, or two. But with the Olympics comes the question of legacy. Nobody over here seems to be sure what that will be post 2020, and experience shows, that once all the medals have been handed out people are quick to move on.
Is Internationalisation A Good Thing?
Depends on who you ask, one would think. Certainly, among younger generations it sounds exciting, and is surely the best way to increase tolerance and understanding.
If international terrorism seemed distant to the Japanese people before, last year brought events in Syria and the threat of ISIS, much closer to the Japanese collective conscience. Together with Europe panicking over border control and some fearsome rhetoric echoing from U.S. Republican debates, is this likely to play on the minds of some members of the public when it comes to talk of opening up immigration?
For now though, on the streets, the outlook seems positive. That people took the time to talk with us (in front of camera), and shared their ideas on how to mix with the international community here, is testament to the kind of spirit needed for internationalisation.
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Image (cropped to fit)