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Opinion
Japanese Language Education in Russia
Tadashi Kobayashi
(Director, MIRBIS Japan Management Training Center)

As is seen in the movie "Oroshiya Kokusui Mutan (Ultranationalistic Dreams of Russia)", Japanese language education in Russia started as early as the Edo period, when Japan was closed to foreign commerce, i.e. around the 17th to 18th centuries, at the time of Peter the Great and Empress Ekaterina, using Japanese people who drifted ashore in Russia as teachers. The fervor in Russia for Japanese language education is still great and such schools as Saint Petersburg State University, the Institute of Asian and African Countries of Moscow State University, Far Eastern National University in Vladivostok, Moscow State Linguistic University and International University Moscow, which is under the jurisdiction of Foreign Ministry, are famous as higher educational institutes with a long tradition of teaching Japanese. Apart from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, in Far Eastern Russia in particular, including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, people are very keen on Japanese language education. In addition, the number of Japanese language courses established at universities has increased in other provincial cities, including Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Chelyabinsk, Krasnoyarsk, Ekaterinburg. However, since Russia had a policy of national isolation during the pre-perestroika Soviet era that limited contact with foreign countries or foreigners and hardly any young people who returned to Russia after studying in Japan became Japanese language teachers at universities because of the low salary, although there are excellent elderly researchers who specialize in Japanese literature and are authorities in Japanese grammar, many Japanese language teachers use the wrong particles in everyday conversation.

Accordingly, in response to requests from Russian educational institutes, Japanese language instructors have been sent to Russia from various institutions, including the Japan Foundation, and have achieved significant results in teaching practical Japanese as a tool of communication. According to research conducted by the press office of the Embassy of Japan in Russia, in fiscal 2001, the Japanese language teachers sent to Russia included seven from the Japan Foundation, fourteen from the Japan Russia Youth Exchange Center, four from the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Diplomacy, four from the International Internship Program, one from Niigata City and one from the REX program run by boards of education in Niigata Prefecture. Furthermore, many Japanese language teachers are engaged in Japanese language education as volunteers throughout Russia (see the list on page 3 for further details).

A lot of schools in Russia start teaching Japanese from the elementary stage: fourteen in Moscow alone and many elementary schools in Far Eastern Russia. Foreign language classes start in the fifth grade. A first foreign language is compulsory, for which most students take English, while a second foreign language is optional, with students able to choose from English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese. Problems with primary-level Japanese language education include the fact that there is no qualifying examination for Japanese language teachers who graduate from Japanese language courses at university, many teachers speak incomplete Japanese, and students who chose Japanese as a foreign language at elementary education rarely take Japanese language courses at university. I am sorry to say that, the program has failed both to yield results and to conduct coherent education.

In addition to the Japan Center of the Embassy's press office, Japanese language courses are conducted by the Japanese side as part of the Japanese government's support projects for Russia at Japan centers, including Moscow University, Mirbis, Saint Petersburg, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. These Japanese language courses at the centers are very popular, as the students can take free Japanese courses taught by native Japanese, such as Japanese language teachers from Japan or students who are studying in Russia, using the latest textbooks and excellent facilities, such as language labs; high achievers are given the chance to study in Japan for about a month. Examinations are held to select students for these courses, because the number of applicants exceeds the capacity of the facilities. The entrance examination for the Japanese language course for the fiscal year beginning September 2001 was highly competitive, with five to seven times more applicants than places. The number of students who have taken the Japanese language course at the Mirbus Japan Center alone over the past six years has reached approximately 800. In June 2001, 12 students completed the six-year program, and 20 the five-year program. According to a questionnaire about their motivation for studying Japanese, 40% of respondents said that they were interested in Japanese culture, such as language, literature and the arts, or working for a research institute related to the economy or technology, while 60% expressed practical views, including using Japanese at work, doing business with Japan and working at Japanese companies; however, at present, there are only a few jobs for those who complete the Japanese language course. I wonder why Russians are so enthusiastic about learning Japanese. I assume that they have been greatly influenced by many articles in the media that praise Japan. In fact, when I asked Russians the reasons why they were so interested in Japan, many gave positive answers, citing the fact that Japan achieved a miraculous revival despite having no natural resources, the fact that a country half the size of Khabarovsk oblast has become the second largest economy in the world, the high quality of Japanese industrial products, including cars, electronic products and household electronics goods, their interest in the Japanese competence and society that established excellent production systems, as well as the fact that Japanese culture and arts seem to be special and exotic for Russians, and, moreover, the mentality of Russians who believe that trying to learn Japanese - said to be the world's hardest language - is cool. At any rate, it is ironic that while Japanese people have a bad image of Russia, the image of the Japanese held by Russian people is very good.

List of Japanese language teachers sent to Russia:

  1. Dispatch of young Japanese language teachers
    -Institute of Oriental Studies, Far Eastern National University- 1 person
    -Novosibirsk State University- 1 person
    -Khabarovsk State Pedagogical University- 1 person
    -Moscow State University- 1 person
    -Institute of Economics and Oriental Studies, Sakhalin State University- 2 people
  2. Japanese language teachers dispatched from other institutes
    The Japan Russia Youth Exchange Center's Japanese language teacher support program
    -Faculty of Journalism, Moscow University- 1 person
    -Ural State University- 1 person
    -Kuban State University- 1 person
    -Saint Petersburg State University- 1 person
    -Saint Petersburg State University of Culture and Arts- 1 person
    -Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, Institute of Oriental Studies and the Vladivostok Institute of International Studies of the Asia Pacific Region, Far Eastern National University (employed jointly)- 1 person
    -Vladivostok State University of Economics- 1 person
    -Faculty of Oriental Languages, Far Eastern State Marine Academy- 1 person
    -Khabarovsk State University of Technology- 2 people
    -Far Eastern Institute of Foreign Languages and Khabarovsk State Academy of Economics and Law (working at both)- 1 person
    -Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Institute of Economics, Law and Informatics- 1 person
    Volunteer Teacher Dispatch Project, Society for the Promotion of Japanese Diplomacy
    -Linguistic University of Nizhny Novgorod- 1 person
    -Kazan State Pedagogical University- 1 person
    -School No. 583- 1 person
    International Internship Program Project
    -Novosibirsk State Technical University- 1 person
    Japan-Eurasia Society
    -Kazan State Technical University- 1 person
    -Komsomolsk-on-Amur Technical University- 1 person
    -Zabaikalie State Pedagogical University (Chita City)- 1 person
    Dispatch of Japanese language teachers (city office employees) from Niigata City Office
    -Vladivostok School No. 51- 1 person
    REX program run by boards of education in Niigata Prefecture
    -Far Eastern State Marine Acade- 1 person
    Elderly Volunteer
    -Vladivostok State University of Economics- 1 person

In addition, there are many volunteer Japanese language teachers throughout Russia and NIS countries.

It seems that when the Japan Foundation started its Japanese Language Proficiency Test in 1998, it encouraged Japanese language learners by giving them a scale against which to measure their actual Japanese ability objectively. I am delighted that some of the students who took the Japanese language course at the Japan Center have passed level one of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and, although they are few in number, there are those who are working as professional interpreters, studying in Japan, working for Russian companies or the government, working as translators at various research institutes and working for Japanese companies.

Japan, which has flourished since the end of World War II, is now working on structural reform and it is said that the key to determining the future of Japan is education. There is no doubt that language will play an important role in deepening mutual understanding and developing the political and economical relationship between Japan and Russia. I hope that Japanese language education in Russia will become the foundation on which a fruitful relationship between the two countries will be built in the future.

[Translated by ERINA]

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