The following article appeared on page 13 of the Nov. 26 issue of the Asahi Shinbun as one of a series of "Tsukuba no Kaze" (Tsukuba Wind) articles by astronaut Mamoru Mouri.
Not long ago, I was talking with a foreign researcher who is here in Tsukuba with his family, and he said the following: "I really like the research and living environment here in Tsukuba, and so I would like to find a good job that would allow us to stay here long-term. However, when I consider the educational needs of my elementary and junior high school children, the fact that there is no public international school forces me to consider sacrificing the living environment and moving to Tokyo or even to some other country where my company has a research lab." Few foreigners with families are willing to consider long-term overseas assignment by themselves. Thus, can we say that for them Tsukuba has finally become an attractive place for them to locate long-term?
Recently the Liaison Council for Research Institutes in Tsukuba Science City released a report on its survey on the situation of foreign researchers in the Tsukuba area. According to the report, the number of foreign researchers has been increasing an average of 180 persons a year for the last few years, and during last year, there were a total of 3,417 foreign researchers who stayed for at least 2 weeks.
Of that total, 1,388 or close to half were here on stays of more than 1 year, and this figure was double what it was only 4 years ago. The increase in the number of researchers who are accompanied by their families has been particularly large, with the figure being 4.8 times what it was when the first survey was made 7 years ago.
Likewise, there are probably many times more Japanese here in Tsukuba who have lived long-term with their families overseas. Thus, I feel that there are many people who understand first-hand the deep meaning that living in a foreign country with a different language and environment has both for the family and for the societies involved.
Nevertheless, the number of such people who likewise felt anxiety concerning the education of their children was no doubt high. After all, unless someone was going with the intention of spending their lives there, such persons are planning on returning to their home country and thus want their children to grow up feeling at home in their own culture.
During my astronaut training period, my family and I lived in the United States. As my children were in their early elementary school years, I was not so concerned about that and planned to simply have them go to the local schools. That soon changed, however, as before even a year was up, they were no longer able to write a simple letter to their grandparents in Japanese. Thus, we quickly tried to rectify that by having them attend a supplementary Japanese school on Saturdays, but as that was a 60 kilometer trip each way, it was quite a burden ferrying them back and forth. Thus, looking at it from the opposite perspective, I can really identify with the situation of the researcher mentioned above.
Many of the foreign researchers in Tsukuba are from Asia, and while the ideal would be to have a school available for all of the various languages, that obviously isn't practical. Of the researchers who cannot speak Japanese, however, almost all can speak English. Thus, I feel that at the very least a (public) international school that uses English as a medium of communication should be founded as soon as possible.
There already exists in Tsukuba a small, private international elementary school founded by concerned private individuals, but it receives no help from public funding. Thus, it is faced with such problems as being forced to charge high tuition. Tsukuba is unique in all of Japan, as a city of 150,000 with such a large number of foreign researchers, and thus it is has unique attributes for taking a leading role in the process of internationalization.
The founding of a publicly funded international school in Tsukuba would encourage the further development of foreign companies and research labs in Tsukuba with ripple effects reaching into a wide variety of other aspects.
The gap between those people living in this area before the development of Tsukuba Science City and the newcomers has often been highlighted in various discussions. Compared to the gaps that are brought about by rapid internationalization, however, that gap is small, and it is as that gap is overcome that a new energy and sense of values develops.
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