TH: This is our 26th year – last year was our 25th anniversary. In the late 1980s, as our economy was booming, what we call the ‘bubble economy’ happened in Japan from the late 80s to early 90s, like five or six years. And we saw so many Japanese students looking for education overseas at that time, and the number of Japanese going to study abroad increased rapidly.
Naturally, the agency business was kind of created then. As agents sent more students overseas, we had more complaints. The number of the complaints grew, and sometimes they were very serious, and created some problems in our society. Then the government started realising they had to do something to this industry. Before the government stepped in, some of the owners of the study abroad agencies at that time thought it better for us to create some platform so that we could have a dialogue among friendly competitors, to level out our services, make guidelines, and so we could talk to the government. We wanted to say ‘It’s okay for us because we take care of ourselves, look at these guidelines’.
“Outbound numbers hit rock bottom five years ago and agencies suffered”
So JAOS was created in that sense. We only had 10- 15 agencies, but we gradually grew as Japanese students going to study abroad were increasing up until 2001. But after that it decreased. Then it hit rock bottom five years ago, then study [abroad] came back again. So agencies suffered from decreasing student numbers. At that time, we thought we needed something more, on top of just making guidelines.
So we have done several things in the market. One, we created a certification course, a training course for study abroad counsellors. Another thing we did is we created opportunities, and found a place where we can have dialogues [with those] who are in charge of promoting education in Japan like Austrade, Education New Zealand… and we’ve made the dialogue meeting annual. We had this meeting in February, that was I think the 20th anniversary. JAOS members and officers from specific countries came together – one full day – and exchanged information.
The PIE: What was discussed in the last meeting?
TH: The topic we featured was new destinations like the Philippines, because other countries’ officers are very curious about how much that new destination has developed. As a matter of fact, the Philippines is a growing new destination for the Japanese market. Many of our members started sending their students to the Philippines.
The PIE: Why do you think the Philippines is gaining popularity?
TH: One, the majority of instruction is provided on a one-to-one basis, maybe 80% of instruction is individual. But it’s a very reasonable price, maybe half the price of Western countries. And it’s close. So it’s kind of a very good destination for beginners and intermediate students.
The PIE: What other changes are there in the Japanese outbound market?
TH: We see many universities, Japanese universities, sending their students overseas, so in a way, they are rivals to agencies. But we try to have a good relationship with the universities, so that they can outsource to us. But we see that trend, many universities sending their own students.
The PIE: In terms of language study abroad, how much is demand increasing for English overseas?
TH: It’s always there. But our Ministry of Education has decided to change our national entrance exam system, in regards to the English test. So far, we don’t test speaking ability for the entrance examination to universities. But they decided to add a speaking part of the test into that. It will change in five years, so every high school, junior high school, preparatory school is now in the process of changing their teaching methods. So it’s a big thing for Japanese parents and the students. Japan has six years compulsory English study, but yet we cannot speak good English. So it’s going to be changed. So that’s why the Philippines became very popular, one-to-one and training to speak English.
“Changing the English requirement in the national entrance exam is a big thing. It will have a big, big impact”
The PIE: So changes to the national entrance exam are quite significant.
TH: It’s a big thing, it’s like changing the format of the examination for SATs, or something like that. It will have a big, big impact.
The PIE: What else is happening in the market?
TH: Again, our Ministry of Education decided to start English teaching from third grade of elementary school. It’s now fifth grade, but they will make it younger by two years. So it’s changing a lot for English study, because we’re welcoming the Olympic Games and everything.
The PIE: The Japanese government is trying to attract more tourists into the country for the Olympic Games. How does this tie in with language learning?
TH: Our government is very keen to raise Japanese English ability, so one is adding the speaking part to the examinations, and elementary schools’ English classes. Naturally, we need teachers to do that, so teacher training. And our Tokyo metropolitan government is also very keen to build an English village where native speakers come and that particular area is all English. No Japanese allowed! We invite native speaker teachers and everything, so that elementary school, high school trips, they go to that village and they experience native speakers.
The PIE: What do you think will shape the future of the outbound market?
TH: I think we’ll see more and more Japanese going to new destinations like the Philippines or Malaysia. Those who are going to those new destinations tend to be beginners – they are potential students. There are so many potential students, but they used to not study abroad because they may not have confidence or because they don’t have enough money. But now the Philippines and Malaysia are attracting those kind of potential students. It’s good for the current traditional destinations as well, because once they build that confidence in the Philippines or Malaysia, they can move on to other destinations, final destinations, traditional countries.
“Once they build that confidence in the Philippines or Malaysia, they can move on to other traditional destinations”
The PIE: What other motivations are there for Japanese students to learn English?
TH: For the Olympic Games, and the tourists that we are welcoming. Last year, for the first time, there were more than 20 million tourists from overseas. And our government set a new target to double the number by 2020 – so 40 million. And those 20 million don’t come only to Tokyo; other parts of Japan are having more and more tourists. So they suddenly realise the importance of learning English – not only Tokyo, not only Osaka, not only Fukuoka, Nagoya – those major cities. But there are many, many unknown cities, in the countryside of Japan. That’s why they started realising it’s very important for them to learn English. In addition to the Olympic Games.
The PIE: What’s next for JAOS? How do you see the association growing?
TH: Last year, we started working with the British Council. We had a junior summer study campaign run jointly with the British Council, and this is our second year to promote that. So we’d like to have that kind of relationship with other destination countries and agencies like Austrade, Education New Zealand, IALC. We can promote the destinations, we can promote their schools and that impacts Japanese audiences – they think ‘maybe I should go to study abroad’.
The PIE: How did you get involved in international education?
TH: I used an agent when I studied in the United States in California because I had no idea at that time. It was like 35 years ago, no internet, no information. It was very difficult for us. But this particular agent helped me adapt. So I graduated university, I came back to Japan, I was looking for a job, and I applied to agencies. And for this career, I can make use of my experience, English, and everything – that really motivates me.