While School With has focused on sending Japanese students abroad, the company’s new service, NihonGo, aims to bring students to Japan
Hideki Ota is a serial entrepreneur, globetrotter, and author of four books in Japan.
He ran a successful startup during his university that let students make photocopies for free by using sponsored advertisements on the paper. But after growing the team to 20 people, he took off to find himself when a seminar on international business made him feel like he knew nothing.
“My friends didn’t really understand,” Hideki says. “They had no idea or thoughts about the world.”
Looking for an economic way to brush up on his English skills, Hideki studied in the Philippines. During his three months there he met young people from all over.
“I was surprised when they would say, ‘I want to work in London’ or, ‘Oh Tokyo looks fun.’ They were thinking about working in other countries or going to other places. Most Japanese people are not thinking about that.”
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“I thought about writing a book at that time,” explains Hideki. “Just going on a trip is boring. I wanted to do more.”
To better help his friends understand and see what’s out there, he started a project called Samurai Backpacker. On his blog and in his books, Hideki wrote about his adventures in 50 countries and the 150-plus couches he crashed on.
“I had such a great experience in the Philippines,” he says – but he was concerned other people might not enjoy it. “I thought if people weren’t placed in appropriate schools then it wouldn’t be good.”
From the time Hideki studied in the Southeast Asian country, the number of Japanese students going to the Philippines climbed from 4,000 to 35,000. What started as a volunteer project to gather information and reviews on schools became a business opportunity. In July of 2013, Hideki founded School With.
While School With has focused on sending Japanese students abroad, the company’s new service, NihonGo, aims to bring students to Japan.
“There are tons of Japanese language schools, but it’s difficult to pick,” says Yoshu Urano, head of the new NihonGo program. “The inbound market is heating up right now. The government is very active in trying to get people to come to Japan.”
Yoshu estimates there are around 210,000 young people studying abroad in Japan right now. The government said in 2008 it wanted increase the number to 300,000 by 2020.
“We need to start this now to be ready,” Yoshu explains. “It feels like it’s an order,” he laughs.
But he realizes that “Japan in comparison to China and Korea right now is not as appealing to students” around the world.
“If I learn Japanese, will that lead to a job?” Hideki jumps in. “What will I be? An animator, a manga artist? Learning Japanese is hard and even if you learn it, there is no guarantee to getting a job.” Hideki believes there also needs to be a support system to get non-Japanese work and “create a route for a successful career.”
2020 is a big year for Japan. With the Olympics coming it feels like every business is throwing the number around. Government plans are centered around the time and grants are available for companies looking to do business targeting tourists and other visitors.
School With has been doing its part these past 12 months. The company has sent 1,200 Japanese students overseas. That’s 0.6 percent of total outbound students – or 3.4 percent of students studying in the Philippines, according to Yoshu.
But this isn’t the first time promises have been made surrounding the Olympics. The 1964 games didn’t bring more internationalization, so what’s different this time? Prime Minister Abe’s Mario appearance at the Rio closing ceremony was well received, even bringing him into Google Trends. But the games are facing similar problems – including a disinterested public and lack of responsibility from officials – seen 52 years before.
Hideki thinks it will be different this time.
“Let’s increase the number of people playing on the world’s stage.”
This post was originally published on Tech in Asia.