Former student reports on how “Tokyo International University segregates and exploits its foreign students”

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Hi Blog. Continuing the summertime mode of posting without much comment from me, here’s another report on life in Japan from a student perspective. This time, how a Japanese university treats its international students. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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TOKYO INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY SEGREGATES AND EXPLOITS ITS FOREIGN STUDENTS

By “John Doe”, former student
Exclusive to Debito.org, published August 22, 2020

Tokyo International University (TIU), located in Kawagoe, Saitama, was founded in 1965. In 2014, they launched the new English Track (E-Track) program, where major courses would be taught entirely in English. The program catered to foreign students who did not speak Japanese, mostly from developing countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, or Thailand. This allowed them to study a supposedly rigorous curriculum for a cheaper price compared to those in English-speaking countries such as the U.S. or Australia. Foreign students can also apply for a scholarship which reduces their tuition in full or in part, making the program even more attractive to them. On paper, the E-Track program at TIU sounds good, and to me, it seemed so when I applied to it in 2017. But, starting from 2018, things changed suddenly and it is no longer what it used to be now. I will explain:

Before the E-Track program was established, foreign students could still apply to TIU, but they had to take courses entirely in Japanese, with Japanese students. The E-Track program attracted more of them, but foreign students in this program are separated from Japanese students and cannot take classes with them unless the lecturer consents to it. This resembles apartheid already, but there is more. 

When I first came to TIU in late 2017, TIU held a lot of events that encouraged Japanese and foreign students to get together. On one occasion, Japanese and foreign students were taken to an overnight camp near Mount Fuji, where we played team sports and then had BBQ together. Off-campus events, in addition to on-campus ones, were occasional, and open to both Japanese and foreign students. There would be at least one event a month, and a semester there usually lasts around four months. Starting from 2018, however, they cut back on the events, and off-campus trips were no longer on the agenda. As for the on-campus events, there is now only one per semester, and the effort put into organizing them is minimal and half-hearted. This is only the tip of the iceberg, however.

In addition to the events, TIU had two common spaces that encouraged interaction between Japanese and foreign students. One was the English Plaza (E-Plaza), where only English was allowed. Student interns would work as staff on-site, and they would greet visitors at the reception desk, practice English conversation with them, and serve drinks at a bar area inside the Plaza. The E-Plaza also contained a mini-library, with books in English to borrow and read. The content of the books ranged from novels to textbooks and English study materials. This gave students a “homey” and casual atmosphere to relax in. The other was the Japanese Plaza (J-Plaza), which had the same system as the E-Plaza, but in Japanese. Like the E-Plaza, it also contained a reception desk, a bar that served drinks, and a mini-library with books (for studying Japanese). Both Plazas would also hold on-campus events to encourage cross-cultural interaction. I had wanted to improve on my Japanese and make meaningful relationships with Japanese people, so I frequented the J-Plaza. I believe you can also speak from your own experience studying Japanese, but to me, textbook Japanese tended to over-emphasize being polite. Talking to a friend around your age, meanwhile, does not require you to be so polite, and the language you use is a lot more casual. Since I had already been studying polite textbook Japanese in class, I talked to student staff at the J-Plaza to improve on my casual Japanese speech. 

Then, when 2018 came, the J-Plaza suddenly closed down without warning or explanation, and I lost the only place where I could practice my casual Japanese. When they reopened the J-Plaza in November that year, they revamped it with a new atmosphere that is not beginner-friendly at all. The reception desk and the bar were no longer there, and the former was replaced with a wall decorated with traditional Japanese art. The purpose of the wall was, in fact, to serve as cover for what was hidden behind it. The mini-library was removed, and all of its books were put into cardboard boxes and hidden behind that wall. The cardboard boxes had “haiki” written on them, meaning that the books were to be disposed of. Student interns are once again working there, but they are now working under a new system. Under this new system, a foreign student would book a reservation for a 15-minute conversation session with a Japanese student intern, who is now called a Conversation Partner. A maximum number of two sessions could be booked per day. 

Let me go into a few side details. A typical day at TIU has five periods, beginning at 9:10 a.m. every morning, with each period lasting 90 minutes. Between each period is a 10-minute break. After the second period ends at 12:20 p.m., lunch break begins and lasts until 1:10 p.m., when class resumes and goes on until fifth period ends at 6:00 p.m. When I was at TIU, Conversation Partners were available between third and fifth period. Here is where it hits the fan, however. 

Before Fall 2019, new students at TIU were required to take two basic level Japanese courses, which were offered on periods 1 and 2. In Fall 2019, the basic level Japanese courses were moved to periods 4 and 5. And then starting from 2020, only one basic level Japanese course is mandatory. The thing is, most E-Track students come to TIU with virtually no knowledge of Japanese, and the number of students in basic Japanese classes was always significantly higher than in higher-level classes. 

Obviously, this meant that there needed to be an environment that would encourage beginner students to acquire motivation to study Japanese, which is what the J-Plaza used to be. Except now, it seems that TIU changed its ways, and no longer wants E-Track students to study Japanese. 

Maybe the people at TIU want their foreign students to only speak English to Japanese students, since the J-Plaza was obliterated while the E-Plaza remained intact with no changes. They are even seemingly trying to prevent beginner students from improving on their spoken Japanese by moving the timeframe of the beginner Japanese classes. 

Sadly, without knowledge of Japanese, life in Japan will be very hard if not outright impossible. TIU does have a team of student interns who help foreign students adjust to life in Japan by helping them with signing rent contracts or opening bank accounts, but even so, you cannot rely on them all the time. 

Apparently, the real reason why TIU started attracting foreign students aggressively is because it was not getting enough Japanese students, and they just wanted to save themselves from going bankrupt. Once they have recruited foreign students however, they leave them to rot in the dust. Not to mention, there is supposedly a high turnover rate among TIU staff. A lecturer at TIU told me that he knew several administrative staff members for the E-Track program who left TIU during my time there, because the work environment appeared to be too stressful and discriminatory.

TIU offers the following majors to Japanese students: Business, Economics, English Communication, International Relations, and Human Sociology. In 2018, they announced plans to build a new international campus in Ikebukuro and open it in 2023. The E-Track program and the English Communication major for Japanese students will be moved there, while the other Japanese majors will remain in Saitama. This seems to be even more evidence of TIU’s segregation and exploitation of their foreign students as tools to teach English to Japanese people. To further rub salt in the wound, TIU uploaded a video detailing how the eventual Ikebukuro campus would look like. As detailed in the video, the master plan for the campus included an English Plaza, but no Japanese Plaza. Looks like they are denying their foreign students an opportunity to study Japanese just to be able to survive there.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities have banned their students from getting onto campus for fear of cluster infections and moved their classes online. TIU was also one of them. However, it appears that TIU continues to discriminate against its foreign students. The move to online classes means that students are rendered unable to use any facilities on campus. However, E-Track students still have to pay the same amount of tuition that they usually would every semester. Of course, many E-Track students receive a tuition reduction scholarship, but there are also those who do not. Meanwhile, Japanese students affected financially by the pandemic are guaranteed a scholarship that will grant a 50 percent reduction on their tuition for the semester. [Related link] Is this discrimination? Is TIU trying to dig even deeper into the pockets of its foreign students? Does this count as scamming?

For these reasons, I do not recommend TIU as a place for foreign students coming to Japan to learn Japanese skills to study. You will only be used as a means to teach their Japanese students English. Not only that, if you are a foreign student at TIU, then it is possible that you are being scammed out of your hard-earned money. It appears that they are trying to exploit their foreign students not only academically but also financially. Sincerely, John Doe

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14 comments on “Former student reports on how “Tokyo International University segregates and exploits its foreign students”

  • David Markle says:

    “Apparently, the real reason why TIU started attracting foreign students aggressively is because it was not getting enough Japanese students.”

    This says it all. I still find it surprising that non-Japanese coming to Japan in 2020 are still unaware of what the true motives J institutions have in recruiting them to come here. I would have thought with the internet and SM information about Japan (and everywhere else) would be much more readily available, at least better than 1979 when I had my scales removed.

    — That’s why we’re trying to make information like this readily available on venues like Debito.org (where the Blacklist of Japanese Universities has been up for more than two decades). But even then, people are bedazzled by Japan and think its university system is authentic just because it’s in a rich country. So they ignore the cautionary accounts no matter what we do.

    Reply
  • The tuition fee issue needs a follow up, definitely. Concerning the closure of the lounge, it might be that TIU got a grant from MEXT to run it, and after the grant was terminated, they did not allocate internal funds. Happens all the time. We at CIST had an annual event weekend in a remote place that was stopped when the external funds stopped.

    Reply
  • Yes, I find this at other places. Why no J Plaza?
    Probably they would have to pay someone to teach Japanese. It happened where I worked in Tokyo. There was a Japanese class but it ended suddenly. One teacher for different levels. Yet this school has a big program for sending students to the US. I liked this class for teachers. I just felt we were disposable. It is strange how it seemed they do not care if foreign teachers learn Japanese and in fact fresh off the boat teachers were preferred.

    Reply
    • “fresh off the boat” = “will work for less”
      “can’t speak Japanese” = “will not understand anything beyond what we tell them, will not question, will not try to assimilate or expect equal treatment”

      This is the reason.

      Reply
      • I ll add to this a weird thnig I heard from several Japanese teachers. They said they liked the young, “naive” foreigners when they were beginners as they were “pure” and earnest but then when they had learnt some Japanese and lived in Japan a bit, they said they were not so interestedin teaching them as they were now “unpure” and “jaded”

        And one of these teachers had lived overseas for a few years.

        Reply
  • I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: anything marketed as “international” or “for foreigners” is inherently discriminatory and to be avoided at all costs.

    We do not need anything for “foreigners,” and interacting with people who live and work in Japan is not “international” unless those people are presumed external to Japanese society and only temporarily visiting. The underlying world view is inherently racist and exclusionary.

    Further, there is no such thing as an “international university.” There are only universities with enough merit and prestige to attract talent from around the world, and those that can only appeal locally. (Or, going back to the original point, those which admit any qualified applicant, and those which engage in some form of discrimination.)

    Yes, the Wajin students are using you for English practice. Thus, don’t speak English with them, and don’t go to the “E-Plaza” unless you want to. If you want to go there to speak English with other minorities, run any intruding Wajin off by always steering the conversation to the topic of Wajin racism, especially the university staff’s.

    You didn’t specify why you chose TIU’s “E-track” nonsense, but I don’t get the feeling they advertised it as a way to become a Japanese speaker. Your English seems native, so I don’t think you chose it to learn English either. If you want to make a life for yourself in Japan, graduating from an English language program at a Japanese college won’t help. If you don’t care about living in Japan after graduation, the most basic Japanese skills should suffice.

    Remember to spread your experience to others who haven’t heard the truth about Wajin racism.

    Reply
  • Yeah, they don’t care about people from overseas, and it’s just not the Universities, it’s the English schools. Without people from overseas, there would be no English school; the Japanese keep forgetting that part.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Well, it’s obvious that they only want NJ students for the ¥ they pay in tuition fees, and to show off how ‘international’ there are when attempting to attract Japanese students.

    I feel for John Doe, but I’ve basically thrown my hands up in the air too many times exasperated with Japan. It’s a failed state because it’s been run into the ground by a kleptocracy. Just that the media hasn’t let everyone in on the secret yet.
    (And before everyone accuses me of hyperbole, ask yourselves why fresh food is so expensive and there are butter shortages almost every year, while the bank of Japan is using money you haven’t paid in taxes yet to become the single biggest investor in the Nikkei 225).

    Reply
  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I remember I tried applying for teaching position at Global Teaching Institute few years ago to see how they would respond to. I was so sure that they would not contact me–since I’m a Japanese(!), and I was right. They didn’t even bother notifying me at all–while most Japanese universities do to all applicants who weren’t selected.

    I think they are good at baiting many young applicants from Europe, North America, UK, and Australia, since they offer a decent pay on the surface. I watched their GTI’s promotion video featuring several NJ instructors explaining what their ELT program looked like. Making it look like a housed gaijin cage! At the same time, I found it really odd to see their job ad offering several positions every single year. So, John Doe’s illuminating story pretty much fills in the blank.

    I call this globalization discourse in Japanese academic enterprise as the tyranny of ironic essentialism.

    Reply
  • Max Gonzalez says:

    Wondering how much of a pattern this is. A company I used to work for (not naming names) actually discouraged us instructors from learning Japanese. The Japanese staff said so, the foreign trainers they had said so. They claimed us learning Japanese would make the local BoE think we’re “not serious” about teaching. It was really bizarre. They said if we ever needed help with a letter or anything to just send a picture.

    Reply
  • yes I had a similar experience. I was once accepted for a security position and the shacho came to the table with all us gaijin and told us nobody in Japan speaks perfect Japanese. He was Japanese and some of the gaijin could speak near perfect Japanese. I think he felt threatened or a lack of control, since most everything in Japan comes down to control. Another weird experience.

    Reply

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