In a previous discussion thread, commenter Riko of Taiwan asked me why Japan offers scholarships to foreigners. For those unfamiliar with the program, Japan’s Ministry of Education offers a number of scholarships, primarily graduate level, to foreign students from around the world, to come and study in Japan. To read about the types of scholarships avaliable, see any Japan Embassy web site and look under Education or Scholarships, for example the New York regional one (my home region). I originally types my comments below in reponse to Riko’s question, but then thought that this topic would be better as a new discussion, so here we are.
I don’t know anything about the history of the program or what the officially stated purpose is. In most Asian countries applications for the scholarships are very competitive, but people who study Japanese to a high enough level in the US are quite rare, so there are far fewer applicants for this program.
In fact, Taiwan has a similar program. When I was studying Chinese in Taipei, many of my classmates were in Taiwan on a government scholarship, doing language study before they actually entered their undergraduate or graduate program. The interesting thing in Taiwan is that there are actually two programs. One from the Ministry of Education, and one from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter program is open only to citizens of the few countries who have formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, and the MOE scholarships or for countries that don’t.
It seems to me that the goals of these scholarship programs in Japan and Taiwan are similar; their primary purpose is diplomatic, to build goodwill towards the host country. In Taiwan’s case, they are obviously overshadowed by China in terms of image, and they want people to come and study there so Taiwan will have a core of foreigners helping to promote the country abroad based on their good experiences there. If you look at which foreigners are studying in Taiwan, about half are Japanese-most of whom either have relatives or ancestors that are Taiwanese or who did not want to study in China either because Taiwan’s standard of living is more similar to Japan or because they worry about anti-Japan sentiment in China making it uncomfortable to be there. Then you have another 10 or 20% who are Taiwanese-Americans or Canadians, who obviously would study in their parents or grandparents’ home instead of China. Then there are a few percent who wanted to study in Taiwan because the traditional writing appealed more to them or they have family working in Taiwan or their Taiwanese friends back home suggested they go to Taiwan, but I think 20-30% or so are there because of the scholarships. If the Taiwanese government did not use these scholarships, they would probably have exactly zero students coming from most countries, and almost zero coming from some other countries if you do not count students that have blood links to Taiwan. I guarantee that I would have never even thought of going to Taiwan if they had not offered me a few months of free study there. Since Taiwan is, to put it mildly, in a diplomatically awkward situation, it is probably worth the money to take a few people each from many different countries around the world, and then send them home educated and friendly towards Taiwan. Larger numbers of these scholarships are also
Japan’s case is not as dramatic as Taiwan, but the reasons are similar if smaller scale. While there are people interested in Japan all over the world, there are virtually no communities of native speakers of Japanese outside of Japan, so most people who become fluent in Japanese and understand Japanese culture will have to live in Japan at some point. Since Japan is one of the world’s most expensive countries, there are very few people around the world who can afford to study there, and of course the number of people who could afford it is much lower in some poorer countries-and these are often the same countries where Japan has manufacturing or outsourcing facilities, or buys raw materials from.
There are probably other justifications for the program which I have missed, so please chime in.