Living in Japan

Japanese Government Wants to Make it Easier for Foreigners to Learn Japanese: Here’s Why and How

Japan’s House of Representatives recently passed a bill designed to promote Japanese language learning by resident foreigners. The Bill to Promote Japanese Language Education states that the national government and local municipalities have a responsibility to implement measures to promote and create opportunities for foreigners to learn Japanese. The bill has been sent to the Upper House and is expected to be passed by the full Diet.

The bill was written by the bi-partisan Japanese Language Promotion Advocacy Federation and proposed to the legislature last year in response to the growing number of foreigners coming to live in Japan and the recent change to the Immigration Law allowing greater numbers of blue-collar workers into the country. (Please see the original story here: Should foreigners learn Japanese if they live in Japan?). The overall objective of the law would be to enhance Japanese language education in order to ensure that resident foreigners can carry out the functions of daily life and live in harmony as a part of Japanese society.

In 2016, there were 2,382,822 registered foreigners living in Japan. This was a 6.7% year-on-year increase, and the highest number ever recorded by the Ministry of Justice.

On April 1st this year, Japan officially opened the doors to significant numbers of lower-skilled workers through two new residency visa statuses. Over the next five years, two Specified Skills Visas will allow about 345,000 foreign workers into the country over the next five years, in 14 industries, as part of an effort to alleviate severe labor shortages.

Current Situation

Observers have pointed out that currently, there is limited government support for Japanese language learning by resident foreigners.

  • There is currently not an official certification to qualify Japanese language teachers.
  • A recent government survey found that there are about 10,000 foreign children at Japanese language schools who are in need of Japanese language support but who are currently “unsupported”.
  • The same survey found that there are at least 16,000 foreign children at the elementary and middle-school level whose educational situation is “unknown,” meaning that the local government is not able to ascertain whether they are actually attending school.
  • According to a recent survey by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, there are about 240,000 Japanese language students who attend public schools and Japanese language classes in Japan, which is about four times the number in 1990. About 450,000 foreigners currently live in areas where Japanese language education classes do not exist.
  • About 30% of Japanese language teachers are part-time works, about 60% are volunteers, and only about 10% are full-time employees.

Who is the law meant to help and how

The proposed law is meant to apply to all foreigners residing in Japan: children, students, foreign exchange students, workers, technical interns, and refugees.

Local municipalities would be urged to develop a system to place Japanese language teachers in schools specifically to support foreign children; to better train teachers; support school attendance by foreign children; and basically to encourage local governments to take responsibility for promoting Japanese language learning by foreigners.

The key policy goals and measures of the bill are to:

  • Ensure that foreigners receive Japanese language education if they want and at a level that is appropriate for them.
  • Improve the proficiency of Japanese language teachers.
  • Develop a nationwide system for the placement of Japanese language teachers.
  • Direct local municipalities to implement measures for promoting Japanese language learning by resident foreigners.
  • Set up meetings between government organizations concerned with Japanese language learning.
  • Urge employers to support Japanese language learning by their employees.

Among critics of the bill, the main complaint is that the details for implementation are not spelled out. However, supporters note that the proposed law is a good first step, especially because members of the House have expressed that the government will likely back the law with budget allocation and a follow-up legal framework for implementation.

In the meantime, below are a few free and low-cost resources for Japanese language learning. The list below is not exhaustive and Real Estate Japan Inc. provides this information only for the convenience of our readers. We have no relationship with the organizations. Please contact them directly for more info!

Free / Low-Cost Japanese Language Classes for Foreigners

Please see the nationwide list here: List of free Japanese classes near you in Japan – Search by prefecture


Tokyo Nihongo Volunteer Network

List of Japanese classes taught by volunteers in the Tokyo 23 Wards


The link will take you to the official list provided by the Osaka City Board of Education. The classes listed are free or require a small nominal fee.

Japanese language classes in Osaka for foreigners


Course Fees: ¥2,600 per month, four classes per month. Textbook fees are extra.

Kyoto YWCA — “Rakurauku” Japanese Classes

News source: Mainichi, May 22, 2019

Lead image: Stock photo, copyright free