News from Japan #02

News from Japan #02
Florian
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Students that have lost their part-time jobs as a result of Corona will be able to apply for an additional stimulus. But how about international students? We looked at the news and some reactions to them.

A new student stimulus and international students

Source: Huffington Post Japan, 21nd May 2020

Last week, the Japanese government put together a plan to help students in Japan that are facing financial difficulties as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Like everywhere else in the world, many students in Japan are at least partly relying on income from part-time jobs to support themselves while attending university. While Japan never went into “full lockdown” like some other countries, many businesses shortened their opening times, which resulted in many part-timers losing their jobs.

The new stimulus package is designed to specifically support students that were heavily relying on part-time work. In addition to the “general” 100,000 JPY stimulus that is still being rolled out right now, they will be able to receive an additional 100,000 to 200,000 directly to their bank accounts.

However, in contrast to the general stimulus, this one isn’t of the “blanket” (一律, いちりつ) type. Students who want to claim this stimulus have to fulfill certain requirements that “prove” that they really need the extra money. Those requirements include:

  • ■ Having lost more than 50% of part-time work income
  • ■ Part-time work income making up a significant amount of living expenses/tuition
  • ■ Not living with relatives
  • ■ Not receiving high allowances from relatives

However, on May 20th, multiple news outlets started reporting that there were additional requirements for international students, those being:

  • ■ Good grades (more specifically, a GPA higher than 2.3)
  • ■ A class attendance percentage of over 80%
  • ■ Receiving less than 90,000 JPY in allowances every month
  • ■ A Japan-residing supporter with a yearly income below 5,000,000 JPY

So while Japanese students “just” need to be facing financial troubles to qualify, international students need a good grade and attendance record on top. This disparity between requirements resulted in some critical voices being raised.

とく疑問視ぎもんしされているのは学業成績がくぎょうせいせき要件ようけんだ。共同通信きょうどうつうしんによると、対象たいしょうとなるのは成績上位せいせきじょうい3割程度わりていど文科省もんかしょうは、将来的しょうらいてき母国ぼこくかえ留学生りゅうがくせいおおいため、日本にほん将来貢献しょうらいこうけんするような人材じんざいしぼ要件ようけんさだめたと説明せつめいしたという。>

文科省もんかしょうはハフポスト日本版にほんばん取材しゅざいに、「支援策しえんさく議論ぎろんするなかで、留学生りゅうがくせい対象たいしょうふくまれるよう努力どりょくしてきた。差別さべつではない」と強調きょうちょう

Especially the grade condition is being questioned. According to Kyodo News, only the top 30% will be able to receive the stimulus. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology (MEXT) said that because a high number of international students will return to their home countries sooner or later, the requirements were set to target those students who are likely to contribute to Japan in the future.

In an interview with Huffington Post Japan, the ministry stressed: “When discussing the support measure, we made serious efforts to also include international students. We are not discriminating.“

The ministry was also quick to add that these conditions don’t represent hard limits. In the end, it’s the universities that decide which students to support, so there is still some wiggle room when grades or attendance rates don’t match the official requirements.

Reactions to the special stimulus

Next, let’s look at some reactions. What did people in Japan think of this news?

On news sites and social media, there’s a wide variety of opinions on the topic. First and foremost, there are commenters opposing the decision because the Coronavirus crisis couldn’t be anticipated and that it’s not appropriate to apply special conditions to only a certain subset of people. On Twitter, these opinions accumulated under the hashtag 「#文科省もんかしょうは外国人留学生全員がいこくじんりゅうがくせいぜんいん現金給付げんきんきゅうふをしろ」(“the MEXT should give money directly to all international students”).

Hashtags that directly address political and social problems have seen increased use in the few past weeks. Although infection numbers are still low (and have been continuing to drop for about a week now) the government’s general handling of the crisis has motivated people to speak up about all sorts of issues.

Japanese and foreigners, students and working adults, we’re all just living our lives. This [stimulus] guarantees our livelihood, so it should be given to everyone equally.

On the other hand, there are commenters who think that the differentiation is appropriate and that international students should either return to their home countries or seek support from their governments. This is the crowd who maintains the opinion that it’s only natural for a country to give preferential treatment to its own nationals.

Back when the general stimulus was announced, opinions on whether foreigners should also be able to receive the money largely fell into two camps, more or less representing the two answers “Yes” and “No”. However, it seems like the response to the student stimulus is not as clearly divided, probably because it doesn’t only differentiate between Japanese nationals and foreigners, but also students and non-students. That means that some people think their fellow countrymen don’t deserve the extra money.

Some voices would favor it the other way round – not removing the grade requirements for international students, but applying them to Japanese students as well. These commenters doubt whether the money will be used for the “right” purposes and argue that there are channels through which the stimulus could have been better tailored to fulfill a single, specific goal. The comments cited below were posted under the Yahoo! News version of the Huffington Post article linked above.

大量たいりょう現存げんぞんする「ばかりの留学生りゅうがくせい」をはじくための措置そちなのは理解りかいできるが、そもそも政府支援せいふしえんはしかるべき教育機関きょういくきかんにおける学費減免がくひげんめん補助金ほじょきんとして「学校がっこうに」支出ししゅつするべき。個別こべつ学生がくせいたいする直接給付ちょくせつきゅうふは、学業支援がくぎょうしえん趣旨しゅしからおおきく逸脱いつだつするれい大量たいりょうむことになるので賛成さんせいできない。

I understand that this is a measure to repel those international students that are only “students” on paper, of which there are a lot. But government-issued support should be given in the form of subsidies for tuition reduction at the proper educational institutions, to the schools. Giving the money directly to the students will result in a great number of cases where [money like this] is not being used for its intended purpose as academical support, so I can’t approve this.

Others found it strange that specifically students are being singled out as recipients of a special stimulus when there are people that would need the money more and/or are contributing more to society at this point in time.

日本人学生にほんじんがくせいだって成績如何せいせきいか給付きゅうふきめめてもいいのでは?
そもそも国民こくみんとして10万円まんえんはもらうのでしょう?
真面目まじめ出席しゅっせきし、勉強べんきょうしている学生がくせいさんはいとして、勉強べんきょうもせずバイト三昧ざんまい学生がくせいさんが、バイトできなくなったからさらにおかねもらえるのは…
それならフリーターさんにももっとあげたら?

Wouldn’t it be appropriate to also apply the grade requirements to Japanese students as well?
They’re already receiving 100,000 Yen because they’re nationals, right?
Students who are properly attending class and studying – OK. But students who don’t study and spend all their time part-timing being able to get money just because they lost their jobs [is a bit much]…
If they [the government] are doing that, why don’t they also give more money to freeters?

“Freeter” is the Japanese term for people who have graduated from university but are not employed full-time. There are multiple reasons why someone may become a freeter. Some simply want more time to pursue their interests after university without being held back by the rules and regulations that come with being a company employee – entrepreneurs and freelancers. Others simply couldn’t find a job after university and are using part-time work to finance their livelihood.

Vocabulary

Japanese Kana English
疑問視(する) ぎもんし(する) to question/be sceptical of smth.
貢献(する) こうけん contribution (to a project, society, etc.)
差別(する) さべつ discrimination (both in the general and negative sense)
一律 いちりつ uniform, evenly, equal
給付 きゅうふ payment, provision of funds
名ばかりの~ なばかりの~ ~ in name only (“not really ~”)
弾く はじく (1) flick, snap
(2) repel, turn away
減免 げんめん reduction, exemption (of taxes and other )
支出(する) ししゅつ expenses, to spend expend money on smth.
補助金 ほじょきん subsidies, support payment
趣旨 しゅし the general meaning, point or goal of smth.
逸脱 いつだつ deviation (ex. from an original purpose)
~三昧 ~ざんまい being completely immersed in ~, doing nothing but ~, enjoying ~ to one’s heart’s content

Conclusion

When it comes to money (especially government money that’s collected from everyone’s tax payments) opinions split easily. Japan sits somewhere in the middle when it comes to social expenses. It’s not as generous as some European countries, but it also offers some benefits like universal health insurance.

Still, many Japanese do think that people shouldn’t rely on or accept public funds unless they absolutely need or deserve them. Because of this, stimuli or subsidies to certain subsets of people are quick to be criticized – especially online, where everyone can hide behind some amount of anonymity. The current crisis has affected the general opinion in the sense that many are more or less OK with unusual measures for dealing with unprecedented problems.

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Florian

My love for ninjas and interest in Chinese characters (kanji) were what first made me come to Japan, as a high school student. Over ten years and many visits later, I’ve found a job here and have chosen it as my new home.