VOX POPULI: It’s time for Japan to reopen its doors to foreign students


Japan experienced an influx of Chinese students at the start of the 20th century.

Many students came to Japan hoping to understand the strength of the nation that had defeated theirs in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). They were also seeking to acquire knowledge about modern science that Japan had learned from the West.

At its peak, the number of students exceeded 10,000 and among them was the young Lu Xun (1881-1936).

He first enrolled in medical school, but soon became fascinated by literature, especially the works of Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) and Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927).

By pooling funds with other students, Lu even rented a house where Soseki once lived, according to a book by non-fiction author Romi Tan, titled “Aruku’s Teito Tokyo wo Chugoku Kakumei” ( Take a walk in the Japanese imperial capital of Tokyo in search of sites related to the Chinese Revolution).

Lu’s encounter with Japanese literature inspired his later works, notably his 1921 novel “The True Story of Ah Q”.

There are still people in the world today who wish to study in Japan, but they would be hampered by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Japanese government has effectively suspended the issuance of student visas, and the number of foreign students arriving in Japan in the first semester of this year was only 10% of the pre-pandemic level.

Among the major industrialized countries of the Group of Seven, Japan practices the strictest policy of closed doors.

This is said to push foreign students to travel to other countries, and a campaign to demand that the government resume issuing student visas has been launched by Japanese and American researchers.

The situation would also hamper student exchange programs, which is not good for Japanese students either.

Given the explosive surge in infections last summer, some of these outcomes were likely inevitable.

However, I believe the time has come to gradually begin to reopen the doors.

It is not only foreign students who will be intellectually stimulated by their stay in Japan. Their presence should also cause many “new awakenings” among Japanese students and teachers.

Lu never forgot the dedication of a professor he met in Japan and wrote about it in a short piece called “Fujino Sensei”.

He hung the teacher’s picture on the wall, he recalls. And every time he got tired of writing he looked at the picture and it invariably inspired him to keep going.

Such a priceless encounter continues to be denied in Japan today.

–L’Asahi Shimbun, October 28

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that covers a wide range of topics including culture, the arts, and social trends and developments. Written by veteran writers from Asahi Shimbun, the column offers useful insights and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.


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