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By Sherry Zheng

Whilst in the West, most college students are encouraged to pick up a second language, students in the kyouyou gakubu (liberal arts) at Komaba, are pushed to pick up a third language, on top of English. The choice is made from a plethora of languages: French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Korean and more. However, despite Japan being an Asian country, the choice for a third tongue is surprisingly limited in the Asian languages, with only Chinese and Korean. For those adamant about taking on Vietnamese, Thai or any other Asian languages, they would have to roll up their sleeves for a fourth language.

Picking up a third language. Photo by author.

Picking up a third language. Photo by author.

With the Hallyu[1] (Korean Wave) sweeping people head over heels for K-Pop idols all over the world and China’s economy booming at an astounding annual rate of 10%[2] for the past decade, demand for these two Asian languages up must be through the roof. Yet on the Komaba campus, contrary to belief, this only appears half true.

Chinese leaners have been on the rise ever since twenty, thirty years ago, particularly picking up pace in the last decade, for a number of reasons. Amongst Todai students, reasons range from wanting to read the menu in Chinese restaurants, to having been or lived in China before, to wanting to explore the roots of Kanji, even.  However, the all-time popular motive for studying the Chinese language appears to be career driven. Students claim Chinese to be the “top language” chosen to aid the ever imminent job-hunting after graduation.

Whilst the number of Todai students studying Chinese has shown a steady rise, Professor Naoki Ogoshi, Korean language professor at the university, reports that Korean learners have also steadily grown, since the 1990’s. Unlike the majority of Chinese language students, these students are drawn in by an interest in the Korean culture and few link it to their future career.

The trend of Korean leaners has experienced several peaks in line with major events that have drawn Korea to the spotlight. For example in 2002 the number of students hit its peak with not only both Japan and Korea hosting the 2002 FIFA World Cup, but also the airing of the Korean television drama, “Winter Sonata” starring the famed actor, Bae Yong-Joon (otherwise known as “Yon-sama”).

Whether for authentic Chinese food or for Yon-sama, there are plenty of good reasons for studying our neighbouring Asian languages, however with only two to choose from, is there a push towards the more European tongues?

Sherry is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.


[1] A worldwide rise in the popularity of the Korean culture beginning at the end of 1990’s

[2] Average of 10% in GDP growth per year – World Bank (2014)

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