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Visualizing International Students in Japan

What are the most common countries of origin for those studying in Japan? How has the number of international students in Japan changed?

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4 min read
Visualizing International Students in Japan

In 2008, the Japanese government launched the "300,000 International Students Plan" (留学生30万人計画):

International students in Japan have been increasing in number since the Nakasone administration launched an internationalization campaign in 1983 to attract 100,000 students by the early twenty-first century. While international  students  were  expected  to return to  their home countries after  graduation  under  this  plan,  the government’s objectives later shifted, culminating in its 300,000 International Students Plan in 2008. Beside the quantitative goal to attract 300,000 international students by the year 2020, this new plan actively promotes the hiring of international students in the Japanese labor market after their graduation.

This number has already been met, if we include students at Japanese language schools as shown below1.

If we look at each type of school, we can see that the number of students at colleges has been increasing steadily. However, the number of students at Japanese language schools and vocational schools increasing at an even faster rate2.

Source: PDF from JASSO

The following graph shows where the most international students in Japan are from:

The top 3 are China, Vietnam, and Nepal
Source: Ministry of Justice

Compared to other OECD countries, Japan has a high percentage of international students who are from Asian countries (Graph).

There has also been a significant growth in the student population from many of the foreign countries in the above graph:

Source: JASSO

During this period, there has been an increase of 69,000 students from Vietnam, and an increase of 24,000 students from Nepal:

Source: JASSO

The increase in Vietnamese and Nepali students is a result of many factors:

  • Younger people having difficulties getting a job in their own country
  • Many companies advertise (sometimes in misleading ways) that you can "work while studying abroad in Japan"
  • In Vietnam, there are many Japanese companies that hire locals who understand Japanese. Therefore, more Vietnamese students are likely to (or at least plan to) eventually return home compared to Nepali students.
  • Many Japanese schools started recruiting more students from outside of China and South Korea

In the following scatter plot, the x-axis shows the number of people from a certain country in Japan, and the y-axis shows the number of students from that country:

Source: Ministry of Justice

We can see that not only is there a large number of people from China, Vietnam, and Nepal in general, they also have a relatively large student population within Japan:

On the other hand, there are many people who are a citizen of South Korea, the Philippines, or Brazil, but there is a lower proportion of students from those countries.

The following is zoomed into the rectangle from the scatter plot above3:

Source: Ministry of Justice

This graph still mainly shows Asian countries—mostly from South East Asia and South Asia.

The following is zoomed into the above plot4:

Source: Ministry of Justice

I found Uzbekistan interesting in this plot, because it stands out with their large number of students relative to the total population in Japan.

Close to half of the people from Uzbekistan (1683 out of 3686) in Japan are students.

Source: Ministry of Justice

Compared to other nationalities with a high proportion of students, there is a large number of people from Uzbekistan.

This doesn't mean that people from Uzbekistan make up a large percentage of the population, but it will be interesting to see how this changes.

Source: Ministry of Justice


Japanese Universities with the Most International Students
We visualize the Japanese universities with the most international students.

Software Used

R: ggplot2, hrbrthemes


1: There may have been major changes due to COVID-19, but the JASSO data used only included up to 2019.

2: These are the translations I used:

3: The Korea in this plot = Chōsen-seki

4: The region data in the original data set had countries in Central Asia as Europe, which seems to be consistent with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs page. However, it seems more common to classify Central Asia as Asia, so I manually changed the region for these countries.