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17.03.2017 г.

Promotion of Japanese language as a cultural policy tool

Dobrinskaya Olga, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Department of Oriental Languages Diplomatic Academy, Researcher, Institute of Oriental Studies

Japan has traditionally worked hard in order to maintain a favorable image of the country, increase its popularity in the world and strengthen its international clout. One of the main pillars of this work is cultural diplomacy, which includes promotion of traditional and modern culture, cultural exchanges and promotion of the Japanese language.

The promotion of the Japanese language as a means to improve the country's international image has a long history. Before the World War II the government established institutions in charge of dissemination of knowledge about Japan and the Japanese language. In April 1934, the Society for international cultural relations ("Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai") was established, followed by the establishment of the Foreign Ministry Department for promotion of Japanese language abroad, including the implementation and support for the study of Japanese language and culture in schools. [1] The spread of Japanese language and culture, on one hand, was intended to prevent international isolation in the wake of the Manchurian Incident and Japan's exit from the League of Nations. On the other hand, the introduction of the Japanese language in the occupied territories was aimed at consolidating the policy of establishing the East Asian co-prosperity sphere.

During the first post-war years Japan's cultural diplomacy was directed at creating a new pacifist image in the eyes of its only ally - the United States. Further success in the economy brought about the need to conquer new markets as well as the desire to diversify external relations. This resulted into increased attention to cultural diplomacy as a means of rapprochement with Asia-Pacific countries in order to overcome associations with militaristic past. From the 1970s Japan began activities aimed at the dissemination of the Japanese culture and language overseas, especially in the United States and ASEAN countries. In the 1980s, the policy of internationalization and strengthening of national consciousness contributed to the further spread of the Japanese language abroad. The image of Japan as an economic giant, a leader in technology, as well as interest in Japanese business model largely contributed to the growth of the number of people learning Japanese for the purpose of business and employment. Japan's appeal was based on its economic success as well as an example of achieving modernization without losing its national spirit.

The slowdown and the collapse of the "bubble economy" in the early 1990s dealt a blow to the image of Japan as one of the world's economic leaders. However, it has led to an unprecedented rise in the popularity of Japanese contemporary culture, the phenomenon which the American journalist Douglas Mc Gray called "gross national cool". According to his observations , the collapse of the "bubble economy ", as well as the values ​​associated with globalization have blurred the rigid framework of social hierarchy based on seniority system, and gave way to young people, allowing them to freely develop their talents. [2] Using the potential of contemporary culture as a diplomatic resource was soon taken on board by the Government, which developed the initiative «Cool Japan". With a view to a more effective language promotion policy the Council for the promotion of the cultural diplomacy under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi suggested involving more people into learning the language, not only experts or artists, to expand the audience interested in Japan. It particularly underlined the idea of using pop culture in the development of language education courses. [3]

Cultural and public diplomacy is an important part of Prime Minister Abe's foreign policy. First, the Prime Minister attaches importance to the promotion of "Japaneseness" in the world, as he has repeatedly said in public, and also wrote in his book "Beautiful Japan". Second, cultural diplomacy is seen as a way to smooth out concerns about the defense policy reforms against the background of the "war of words" with China and South Korea on the history issues.

The main institutions involved in the implementation of cultural diplomacy are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan Foundation. Partly this role is also performed by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), because many of JICA's projects are aimed at dissemination of the Japanese experience of economic development and Japanese language training.

The Japan Foundation was established under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1972. Its main activities include cultural exchanges, promotion of the Japanese language, and support for Japanese studies and intellectual exchange. In 2003, the Japan Foundation was reorganized as an independent administrative authority, but it is still the main instrument for the implementation of the Foreign Ministry's policy. About 80% of the Foundation budget is subsidized by the government, which amounts to about 50% of the annual government public diplomacy budget. Part of it is financed by the donations from the private sector. This organization operates a developed network of branches. In addition to the head office in Tokyo and offices in Kyoto it has two Japanese language Institutes in Urawa and Kansai, and 24 overseas offices in 23 countries.

The development of the Japan Foundation language programs is based on the needs of each individual region, and at the same time it is part of a unified strategy. Firstly, it involves support for the leading national language teaching institutions with the aim of establishing "hubs" which would link the community of Japanese teachers and students. Secondly, the strategy focuses on the further internationalization of the language. Towards this end, it has developed a common method of teaching and assessment of the study of the Japanese language, similar to the CEFR (Common European Framework of reference for languages: learning, teaching, assessment). In 2010, the Japan Foundation introduced a standard for Japanese language (the so-called JF standard) and a universal six-level system of training and performance evaluation based on this standard.

Programs of the Foundation include support for language students, support for teachers, conducting worldwide Japanese proficiency test, development of training materials, fostering the creation of a community united by interest in the language. There are three categories of people targeted by these programs -opinion-makers and persons involved in the political decision-making, young people who can be regarded as future political and economic elites, and general public as a whole.

Student support includes teaching the language course on the basis of the JF Standard, distribution of educational materials, speech contests for students, networking assistance. There are also special training courses for the individuals who might have influence on the development of bilateral ties, such as diplomats, government officials, researchers, post-graduate students.

Teaching assistance includes sending the Japanese experts abroad, inviting foreign teachers to Japan, grants for language-related activities, seminars and workshops for teachers, development of teaching materials including audio-visual and online resources, research in Japanese language education, surveys on its spread overseas.

According to the first report of the Japan Foundation conveyed in 1979 the number of people officially studying the Japanese language in the world amounted to 127 000. In 2015 the number increased to 3 651 715 students in 137 countries. There were about 64 041 teachers and the Japanese language was taught in 16,167 institutions. [4]

In 1984, the Japan Foundation and the Japan Association for International Education introduced an exam to determine the level of the Japanese language proficiency (Nihongo Noryoku Shiken). The number of examinees in the first year was about 7 thousand and in 2015 it grew to about 750 thousand people in 264 cities in 69 countries. [5]

Since 2008, the Japan Foundation has been building up a "Japanese language community" ("Sakura Network"), which brings together Japanese language associations worldwide. In September 2016 the number of registered members was 287, including 9 from Russia [6].

According to a survey by the Japan Foundation held in 2012, the main reasons for learning the language were interest in Japan (62%), the ability to communicate in Japanese (56%), love for manga, anime etc. (54%), interest in the culture and history (50%), the future employment (42%). [7, page 4] Thus, the study of Japanese is associated not so much with the return in practical terms, but with the opportunity to learn more about the country. At the same time interest in manga and anime is higher than in traditional culture. Thus, the Japanese government's reliance on pop culture as an effective way to boost interest of the global audience towards Japan seems justified.

Geography of the Japanese language education shows that it enjoys the greatest popularity in Asia. In 2012, China and South Korea ranked as first and third by the number of Japanese language students. It should be noted, however, that interest in the language is not automatically translated into sympathy towards the country as a whole. According to a survey conducted by "Global Social research", only 8% of those surveyed in China and 22% in South Korea have a positive attitude toward Japan. [8]

Southeast Asia is home to about 30% of the students of the Japanese language, with the largest number of students in 2012 living in Indonesia. This can be explained by the active expansion of Japanese companies in the country. Southeast Asian countries, which are important economic partners, were the main target of the Japanese efforts at cultural diplomacy in 1970-80s. This led to a significant improvement in the country's image. The sharp rise in interest in the Japanese language could be related to the expansion of economic relations of Japan and ASEAN, based on the need to communicate with business partners and employees, as well as the desire to learn Japanese technology. At some universities of Southeast Asia Japanese language has become the first taught foreign language, surpassing English language. In other regions, with the exception of Australia, the Japanese language is less popular - in North America accounts for about 4.5% of all Japanese language students, Western Europe - about 2%, and in other regions the figure is less than 1% [4].

The spread of the Japanese language is also boosted by the activity of Japan Centers established within the framework of the ODA (Official Development Aid) technical assistance. Currently, JICA operates such centers in nine countries, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine. The main purpose of language-related activities in these centers is introducing the language to the general public. This increases the availability of language learning, however, generally the courses are limited to primary or secondary level. The centers also support language teachers and educational institutions. Their support includes courses for teachers, provision of educational materials, etc. They also organize language-related activities such as contests, theme meetings, lectures and conduct exams for internships in Japan. In countries where there is no representation of the Japan Foundation, the centers serve as sites for people interested in Japan.

From the 1990s the Japanese government has consistently implemented the policy of promotion of the language in Russia. The number of Japanese language learners is growing steadily, from 6 191 people in 1998 to 11 401 people in 2012. As of 2012, there were 137 Russian institutions teaching the language and 529 teachers. [7, page 7] Most of the learners are university students (about 38%), 22% study the language at school, and 9% at elementary school. Almost a third of all language learners study it outside of the system of secondary and higher education, i.e. at language courses, including those at the Japan Foundation and at the Japan Center. Teaching is mainly concentrated in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

In 1998, the first Noryoku Shiken was held in Moscow. Since then, the number of examinees has increased significantly, while the geography of the exam is expanding as well, now held in nine cities of Russia. The popularity of this exam is growing because a language proficiency certificate is usually required in order to participate in most overseas training and exchange programs, as well as to get employment in Japanese companies. The availability of education resources and existence of the exam preparation courses contribute to an increase in the number of applications.

For many years, an annual Japanese language speech contest among students has been held. As a rule, the first prize is a trip to Japan. In October 2016, Moscow hosted the 29th students speech contest.

In addition to the work of the Embassy and Japan Foundation, one can note the activities of the Japanese Center for the development of trade and economic relations, funded and managed by the Government of Japan. Currently, the organization operates a head office on the basis of the Moscow State University, and five branches - in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Sakhalin. The centers are mainly business-oriented and offer free Japanese language courses in primary and secondary level, as well as Japanese for business communication.

Japanese language education in Russia faces certain challenges. Among them are the reorganization of Russian universities which includes editing the curriculum, eliminating less profitable courses, transition from five-year to a four-year education system. A common problem of studying Japanese language in Russia is employment of students of the Japanese language. While the problem in not so acute in Moscow, St. Petersburg and cities of the Far East, in Novosibirsk job opportunities with the Japanese language are limited. In Moscow and other large cities the growing interest in Chinese and Korean is accompanied by decrease in popularity of the Japanese language. In Russia, the Chinese is studied by more than 37 thousand people. According to the vice-premier O.Golodets, Chinese language is fifth in popularity in schools after English, German, French and Spanish. [9] Despite the interest in Japanese culture, economic power and political influence of China make Chinese more promising in terms of practical use.

* * *

Promotion of the language is a way of familiarizing the population with Japanese culture, promoting understanding of the mentality of the Japanese and sympathy for this country. Support for language teaching in schools and universities, activities directed at young people contribute to bringing up future politicians and businessmen who feel sympathy for Japan and are ready to work for the sake of the bilateral relations.

To some extent distribution of materials and implementation of training standards allow the Japanese government to have control over the content of training programs, to participate in shaping the outlook of students who graduate from the language course in the proposed program.

The efforts of the Japanese government continue to be an important factor in the spread of the language. At the same time, it is clear that such factors as a shared interest in the development of economic and political ties with the country, the level of political dialogue, as well as national policy in the field of education will influence the popularity of the Japanese language in the world.


[1] Lee Yeounsuk. The ideology of kokugo: nationalizing language in modern Japan. 2009. P.162.

[2] D.MacGray. Japan's Gross National Cool.-http: //

[3] Establishing Japan as a «peaceful nation of cultural exchange". Prime Minister of Japan and his office. -

[4] 2015 nendo Kaigai nihongo kyoiku kikan chosa kekka. The results of the research institutions teaching Japanese in 2015. The Japan Foundation. 11/10/2016. -

[5] Diplomatic bluebook 2016.

[6] The JF nihongo network. The Japan foundation-

[7] The research institutions, teaching Japanese language in 2012. Overview. Japan Foundation. 2012 nendo Nihongo kyoiku kikan chousa. Kekka gayo. Kokusai Koryu Kikin. Page 4. -

[8] How Asians see each other.

[9] Examen na znanie yaponskogo. (The examination for knowledge of Chinese.) Rossiiskaya gazeta 12.11.2015. -

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