Meager pay keeps ranks of instructors in doldrums

It may not be well-known, but [Japanese language instruction] has also been on the rise, with more people than ever trying to learn [the language]. But the number of Japanese who teach nonnative speakers isn’t growing, partly due to lack of interest among academic circles and the low pay at private language schools that derives in part from restrictions on management.

Some advocates stress the need to get the numbers up, as Japan is aging rapidly and reliance on an immigrant workforce is going to grow, thus it is important that newcomers be conversant in the language.

According to the education ministry, foreigners in the country studying Japanese increased to 170,858 in fiscal 2009 from 135,146 in fiscal 2003.

The number of Japanese-language teachers, excluding volunteers, dropped from 14,047 to 13,437 over the same period.

The trend is particularly noticeable at the nation’s universities. Foreign students studying Japanese at such institutions rose to 53,546 in fiscal 2009 from 34,880 four years earlier. Despite the jump, the number of teachers stayed almost unchanged, 4,250 last year versus 4,240 in fiscal 2003.

Satoshi Miyazaki, a professor at the graduate school of Japanese applied linguistics at Waseda University, said it is unfortunate teacher ranks are not growing. They should be boosted and put in positions of responsibility to enable a long-term commitment, otherwise, for example, universities would have a hard time improving their programs for international students.

The slow growth in Japanese teachers is shared by private language academies. Such commercial entities had 5,947 teachers and 50,479 students in fiscal 2003, compared with 5,959 teachers and 53,047 students in fiscal 2009.

“One reason for the lack of Japanese teachers is because it’s not a well-paid job,” said Nobuo Suzuki, who manages Arc Academy, a Japanese-language school with several branches in the Tokyo and Kansai areas.

Suzuki explained that about 80 percent of his teachers work part time and most are women.

The hourly wage is about ¥1,700 to ¥1,800 for new part-time teachers, who can only teach around three hours a week when they start out. Their hours can go up every three months and the part-time wage can rise to about ¥2,500.

An experienced teacher makes on average ¥7,000 to ¥8,000 a day.

Suzuki said full-time teachers with 10 years of experience earn about ¥4 million a year.

The meager pay means few young people, especially men, want to become Japanese-language teachers, people in the field say.

Yumiko Furukawa, a full-time teacher at Arc Academy who has been in the game for four years, said the high turnover rate — teachers last an average of only two years — is mainly because of wages.

“It is quite difficult to support an entire household by teaching Japanese, but there are many who love teaching Japanese, and I think Japanese-language teaching is supported by their passion,” said Furukawa, 41, whose husband also works so she doesn’t have to rely on just her wages.

[Makoto Murakami, head of the editorial department at the monthly magazine Gekkan Nihongo (Monthly Japanese)] Murakami likened Japanese-language teachers to nurses and caregivers.

“The number of people who will need caregivers will increase sharply, but the number of caregivers doesn’t grow because the job conditions aren’t very good,” and if the situation doesn’t change there won’t be enough Japanese teachers, even though the number of foreigners is likely to keep increasing, Murakami said.