More junjapa heading out for world’s top colleges these days

The word junjapa probably requires an explanation here. It is Japanese slang for traditional pure-blooded Japanese (as opposed to hanjapa which means half-Japanese and refers to those with one biological Japanese parent and one non-Japanese parent – the term has no derogatory meaning).

More and more Japanese are opting for overseas universities instead of local ones. Below is an article published in the Daily Yomiuri that takes a look at one junjapa‘s choice and experience …

World’s top colleges no longer seem remote to young

It was probably an ordinary chemistry class for British students, but it was far from normal for Tomoki Otani. In fact, it turned out to be a life-changing experience for the 16-year old Japanese boy.

“There were only eight students in the class! Each of them brought them own experiemnt kit to the class. Not only that, but they were allowed to plan their own experiments,” Otani said, recalling the class at Whitgift summer program organized by Urawa High School in Saitama Prefecture.

In most Japanese schools, only teachers conduct experiments. The students–numbering about 40 for an average class–only get to watch from a distance.

“In England, even at high school level, the way of teaching and studying is so different from Japan, and I naturally thought the same would be true of universities there,” he said.

Otani eventually decided to seek enrollment at Cambridge University, one of the world’s most prestigious universities–a decision that he says probably had its origins in that chemistry class at Whitgift.

Now 20, Otani will this autumn start a new life at Peterhouse College, Cambridge University’s oldest and smallest college, after being accepted to read Natural Sciences.

He becomes one of a  growing number of high school students who directly enter the best colleges and universities in English-speaking countries, eschewing top-notch Japanese options such as Tokyo University.

Otani decided to go back to Whitgift to take the International Baccalaureate  (IB) course for a year–a courageous decision as he says his English was not great at the time.

He ended upstaying for yet another year after going back to Urawa High School to obtain his Japanese high school diploma — a difficult step, as the stay in Britain had left him behind his classmates.

Urawa High School, known as one of the best schools in the prefecture, sent about 30 students to Tokyo University this spring, and Otani felt mounting pressure watching his friends start their college life in Japan while he persevered with his attempt to get into Cambridge.

Staying in Japan to seek entry to a Japanese university would definitely have been a safer course of action than studying to enter a British university, he says. Agonizing over his best course of action, Otani thought about applying to several Japanese universities that accept IB scores, in addition to British universities.

But his worries proved groundless when he received the happy news that he had been accepted by Cambridge in January this year.

The striking thing about the trend that Otani represents is that these students are so-called jun japa–Japanese whose parents are both Japanese and who never lived abroad as a child.

“Students nowadays compare universities in Japan and abroad to find the best place to pursue their studies,” said Naoki Kadonaga, who heads the International Department of Shibuya Senior & Junior High School in Tokyo, which also has witnessed the trend.

The high school was chosen as one of the Super English Language High Schools designated in 2005 as a part of the Education, Science and Technology Ministry’s program that offers three-year grants to schools focusing on English education.

All the Shibuya students take essay writing classes to develop their ability to think and write logically in English about social issues. After school hours, native English speakers provide classes to those hoping to get in to overseas universities. In such classes, they study for Scholastic Assessment Tests required for entry to some overseas universities, and learnt how to write applciations.

Thanks to such efforts, the school sends three to four students every year to overseas universities, including Harvard University, and some of them have been jun hapa students. “Students these days have a much wider vision than before. For them, studying at overseas universities is no longer out of the ordinary,” Kadonaga added.

But the trend also has its negative side, according to Masayasu Morita, president and chief executive officer of  hitomedia, inc.

“There is a talent drain. Japanese society is failing make use of its best and brightest, so such people are going abroad. This isn’t just a failing of Japanese universities, but a failing of Japanese society as a whole,” Morita said.

Having studied at Harvard, Cambridge and the university of California, Berkeley, Morita has written “Todai yori Harvard ni Iko!?)–a book intended to encourage more Japanese to see Harvard as an option.

“Kids need to have dreams. Society should make them aware of the great and wonderful options that exist. There’s a whole world across the ocean with money movers like [Donald] Trump or [Andrew] Carnegie!” Morita said of global-level opportunities open to young Japanese.

Otani is still thinking about what to do after graduation from Cambridge, admitting that he never had a settled goal as a child. “My childhood dreams changed all the time from sushi chef to police officer or pilot,” he says, but adding that he currently wants to work for an international organization, hoping to give back some of what he will learned.

Now only four months are left before he starts his new life–a departure that he never imagined as a child.

“I made up my mind after consdiering the [advantages of] the British education system and the possible risks. Now I’m happy with my decision to go to Cambridge.”

–Atsuko Matsumoto


Editor’s note: Another term synonymous with junjapa is honjapa. Henjapa refers to a Japanese “who is a little strange in that they have mannerisms a bit different from the typical Japanese, specifically because they have spent an extensive amount of time living overseas”. Nonjapa refers to non-Japanese. Source: Bent over Bauer Kansai Time Out.  The full list of vocabulary is at or Google 流行語大賞

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