Japanese Universities Draw Foreign Students With Manga


When Zack Wood produces his illustrated stories online, his Japanese classmates say they look like American comics while his American friends say they look decidedly like manga, the popular form of comics that originated in Japan.


That is precisely the blend Mr. Wood, who grew up in the United States and is now studying at Kyoto Seika University’s manga program, is angling for.


Mr. Wood, a 25-year-old graduate of Stanford University in California, and students like him have gravitated toward the modern Japanese arts, feeling they may help them advance their careers in animation, design, computer graphics and the business of promoting them.


And as Japanese universities work harder to attract students to fill their classrooms while the country’s birth rate declines, more are offering degrees in manga and animation.


“I like it here because you get totally immersed in the skill training” of manga and animation, Mr. Wood said. “It has turned out to be a lot of fun.”


Once they are armed with unique technical and industry knowledge, many international students are eager to gain work experience here upon graduation before heading back home.


Li Lin Lin, 28, a student from northeastern China who attends Digital Hollywood University, a school in Tokyo that specializes in animation and video games, said that upon finishing her degree, it would probably be “easy” to find a job in the animation field in China. The real trophy, she said, was getting job experience in the country of manga. Ms. Li is especially interested in working for a Japanese animation studio.


“I think you can do almost anything back home once you get a degree and animation working experiences in Japan,” said Ms. Li, emerging from her class on digital animation coloring one Saturday afternoon.


Hidenori Ohyama, senior director of corporate strategy at Toei Animation, said it was possible that international students could end up at Japanese companies like his. “If they apply, take our tests and pass, they will become employees just like anyone else,” he said.


His company, a leading animation company that has produced “Dragonball” and “Slam Dunk” films, has Romanian and Korean producers, among other foreign citizens, Mr. Ohyama said.


None of the animation-themed Japanese university programs seem to be on the international radar yet, said Kison Chang, a training manager at Imagi Studios, an international animation production studio based in Hong Kong.


But he said students studying in Japan who ended up with solid work experiences at Japanese studios could be prime candidates for international recruitment.


“They would certainly be a great benefit to our professional line,” he said. “They might bring in some kind of spirit which we may not know, or something we didn’t realize that would be a benefit to us,” he said.


Such individuals are not yet on his teams, nor at any of his rivals, he said.


Another possible reason that the programs have not received international attention is that the language of instruction is Japanese.


Tomoyuki Sugiyama, president of Digital Hollywood University, conceded that language might be a serious barrier, especially for Western students.


“If we had an English-based program at the graduate level, for example, we would be inundated with Western students almost instantly,” he said.


Nevertheless, at Kyoto Seika University, which established the country’s first manga program, the number of foreign students in it has risen to 57 currently out of a total of 800 students in the program from just 19 in 2000.


Since it was founded in 2005, Digital Hollywood University has seen its international students grow to 84 this year, roughly 20 percent of its student body, from just one when the school began.


SOURCE: Tanikawa, Miki. “Japanese Universities Draw Foreign Students With Manga”. NY Times. December 26, 2010.