Yomiuri: Iwate town sponsors Vietnamese future doctor — and people reportedly react with trepidation

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Hi Blog.  In light of how NJ nurses under a national visa program have been treated in the face of a chronic careworkers shortage, here we have a case where even local sponsorship of a NJ doctor is also viewed (according to the Yomiuri, which may indeed in the interest of “balance” be conjuring up a tempest in a teapot) with suspicion because she is a foreigner.  After all, she might not stay!  Then again, so might not anyone else being trained on that scholarship program regardless of nationality.  Ah, but foreigners are different, you see.  They always represent a flight risk…  Anyhoo, good news tainted with an editorial bias of caution and trepidation just because the subject is NJ.  Arudou Debito


Town turns to Vietnam for future doctor
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jun. 23, 2012), courtesy of JK

ICHINOHE, Iwate — Facing a serious and chronic shortage of doctors, the town of Ichinohe felt it necessary to look overseas to find medical staff willing to live and work in the rural area.

The town plans to spend more than 10 million yen on school and living expenses for a Vietnamese woman on the condition that she will practice medicine in the town for at least seven years after obtaining her license.

The unusual plan raised eyebrows when the town ran it by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, and some residents have questioned why the town is sponsoring a foreigner.

However, Ichinohe Mayor Akira Inaba believes the unprecedented plan is just what the town needs.

“The scholarship program for Japanese medical students hasn’t attracted enough applicants to meet its quota,” he said. “We have no other choice but to secure our doctors on our own.”

The foreign student the town plans to sponsor is 18-year-old Luu Hong Ngoc, who will graduate this month from Vietnam National University’s High School for the Gifted in Ho Chi Minh City. The school is one of Vietnam’s most prestigious.

Inaba visited Ho Chi Minh City after a local sewing plant began accepting Vietnamese vocational trainees. Ngoc’s grandmother served as the mayor’s interpreter in Ho Chi Minh City, and told him that her granddaughter hoped to become a doctor overseas.

Inaba asked to see Ngoc’s school transcript and requested other information about her. Her records showed her to be a qualified and enthusiastic student, and after receiving a letter of recommendation from Ngoc’s school, the town decided to invite her to Japan.

Municipalities in Iwate Prefecture run a joint scholarship program to support medical students, which Ichinohe participates in. The scholarship provides each student with 200,000 yen a month and pays a lump sum of up to 7.6 million yen when the recipient enters medical school.

However, for several years the scholarship has failed to fill its quota. The program also provides no guarantee the recipient will work in Ichinohe after receiving a medical license.

These difficulties are what pushed the town to decide to independently fund Ngoc’s medical education.

The entire process will take eight to 10 years and cost 10 million yen to 20 million yen. In return, the town will receive a pledge from Ngoc to work for at least seven years at the town’s prefectural hospital.

The town plans to allocate funds for Ngoc’s costs for this fiscal year in a supplementary budget to be submitted in September.

Inaba said Ngoc’s grandmother, who learned Japanese in Moscow, is “Japan’s No. 1 fan in Vietnam.”

The town has heard that Ngoc is telling people she plans to study other subjects besides the specialized course to help her become a better doctor.

Ngoc is scheduled to come to Japan by the end of the year. In the spring, she will begin studying for the medical school entrance exam at a national university while learning Japanese at a vocational school in Morioka.

However, some residents and members of the town assembly have raised concerns about the plan, such as what would happen if Ngoc decided to return to Vietnam before finishing the course, or why the town is sponsoring a Vietnamese person in the first place.

The town government has said it will take steps so the money will have to be returned if Ngoc does not fulfill the work agreement, possibly through a contract.

Ichinohe, population 14,000, has a prefectural hospital and four internal medicine clinics, with a total of 18 full-time doctors.

However, many people must visit hospitals in Morioka, about 100 kilometers away, because local facilities lack obstetrics and outpatient ophthalmology departments.

“I hope what we do will draw attention to the lack of doctors in rural areas,” Inaba said. “We’ll keep looking for more talented young people in Vietnam.”

13 comments on “Yomiuri: Iwate town sponsors Vietnamese future doctor — and people reportedly react with trepidation

  • A friend poignantly comments off-list:

    “It is an odd plan. Take an untested teenager, hope that she actually has the potential to become a doctor, sponsor her education, and then force her to work in a rural town for several years.

    “It seems like another workaround or excuse for not having a real immigration policy.”

  • Haha, I said a few weeks ago about the nurses-now that Filipinos are looking elsewhere (Japan now even in their top ten work destinations) where is next? Oh yes, Vietnam. And sure enough….

    Why dont they just make the job conditions more attractive? They’ll get more applicants, and NJs will stay. Any salary details?

  • An acquaintance of mine is being sponsored by the Japanese Red Cross to make the change from nurse to doctor, on condition that she work for the Red Cross in Japan for four years after finishing med school. I know for a fact that she’s planning to move to the UK immediately after qualifying. And she’s Japanese. Who’d a thought it???

  • I know a couple of Vietnamese students studying medicine and nutrition in Shinagawa Ku. Although they like Japan, their ultimate aim is to get knowledge and techniques and go back to Vietnam. Naturally. Why not?

    This is probably where the naysayers say “You see? You cannot trust gaijin!!” But the same naysayers are not coming up with an attractive immigration policy to make said trainees stay in Japan. Other than getting hitched (the appropriate word) to a Japanese husband- quite possibly a sub agenda in rural areas lacking wives, but hardly coherent government policy.

    Instead we just get guilt tripped into staying a bit longer in Japan. Hence the whole “flyjin” thing about which pet/token NJ is the more “loyal” to the Empire.

    How about an article, Debito, on this whole culture of “you cannot leave Japan”- its almost like the mafia, lol. It really beggars belief.

    — I think an article on that would sound like a retread of my Flyjin columns… probably best if someone else expanded upon that. But nice idea, thanks.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    The Yomiuri is such a right wing rag. I still can’t believe that I see so many NJ who can’t read Japanese reading the English versions on trains and such. Read a proper newspaper FFS.

    ‘the town of Ichinohe felt it necessary to look overseas to find medical staff’ (Oh, shame on the town for not wanting J-doctors).
    ‘many people must visit hospitals in Morioka, about 100 kilometers away’ (and, presumably, they should continue to do so rather that accept even one more NJ into the country?)

    Debito’s first comment is correct. This is s strange way to go about things. But the town has no choice. All the J-doctors are disregarding the ‘wa’ of ‘ware-ware’ Nohonjin, and choosing not to apply for the job at an innaka hospital. This symptom (which the Yomiuri is implying is a case of carzy local govt. spending) is a direct result of lack of immigration policy.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Debito`s friend #1, no,it makes perfect sense they woudl hire an untested teenager.

    Consider the J Gov-wishlist I posted commenting on the article Debito posted on July 1st about “Japan’s last chance for immigration”.

    1. The reliance on the “Exotic Japan” factor- foreigners will come for the “Japan experience”, not the money.

    Grandmother loves Japan, so CHECK.

    3. The Confucian Obligation factor

    Granny again, CHECK.

    6.The Youth Cult; the Japanese like their gaijin young, and young people will accept lower salaries. So, someone with an MA fresh out of Uni with no work experience who just wants a year or two of a Japan experience.


    7. The Genki factor- a major Japanese job requirement is that the gaijin is “genki or forget it” (words of my former employer). The younger the gaijin, the genkier they are.Genki trumps content.


    8. Related to #6 and #7, the “experience not so necessary” consideration. Just as new recruits in Japan are preferred so they are not ‘tainted” with outside ideas, and are easier to “mould”, though the “tatemae” is to acquire specialists, these specialists may bring unusual ideas that customers in fact do not want to hear.


    9. Japan wants the image, not the substance. Its all about prestige; a Japanese official wants to boast that Japan attracts the best of international talent.

    Check. Sort of. OK she isnt a high roller but “Vietnam National University’s High School for the Gifted in Ho Chi Minh City. The school is one of Vietnam’s most prestigious.”

    6/10 criteria fulfilled, with emphasis on the youth factor.

  • betty boop says:

    this idea is not so new in the world. they even had a TV show about this same type of thing in the states – it was called Northern Exposure. and it is too bad that most don`t want to live out in the sticks – but hey, what are you going to do?

  • It is quite odd.

    Clearly there are practicing physicians in China, and Japan could monetarily attract such a physician.

    However, I assume that the youth factor is because the town wishes to acculturate her and have her an 18 year old, spend the next 8-10 years becoming more J in her demeanour, and erase or reduce the effects of being NJ.

    I further think it likely that a woman was chosen because of assumptions that a woman will be more submissive to such requirements, and that if she does remain that she will marry a J man and thus even further acculturate.

    Other societies import women on such a basis.

    It is intriguing that Vietnam rather than China was chosen, given the much larger number of talented youth in China.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Yomiuri is giving a signal to right-wing conservatives. I generally don’t trust what they say. The editorial is a perfect place to instigate their anti-gaijin sentiment. They will never miss any opportunity to take swipes at NJ for the problem created by Japanese (i.e., lack of J-doctors; industrial hollowing-out). Young Japanese disregard of “ware-ware nihonjin” mentality is just a tip of the iceberg.

  • this is hilarious and proof positive why japan needs a fair and balanced immigration policy.

  • Baudrillard says:


    Young women from East Asia (not China) from good high school and loyal to Confucian values who has a dream of being a doctor (no experience necessary),to work in Japanese countryside serving older farmers kindly and with TEAM SPIRIT! Above all must be “GENKI” and love Japan! Able to read some Kanji a plus. Must commit for seven years or longer.
    Salary commensurate on age and ability (no medical ability necessary) but candidates should not be “money oriented” type -this is a cultural experience to learn about Japan’s unique culture.
    Housing and full training provided.

    Send resume (with recent photograph and vital statistics) to Mayor Inaba Personal Office,City Hall, Inchinohe, Iwata not nr.Fukushima, Japan.

  • Baudrillard says:

    “Inaba visited Ho Chi Minh City after a local sewing plant began accepting Vietnamese vocational trainees. Ngoc’s grandmother served as the mayor’s interpreter in Ho Chi Minh City, and told him that her granddaughter hoped to become a doctor overseas.”

    So its all about personal connections and who you know? Hardly a coherent program open to all then, but definitely in the tradition of how Japan does business (with NJs) -personal introduction from a trusted elder. Not possible on any meaningful mass scale to solve Japan’s labor shortage.

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