Return to site

International students

attracted by

animation culture

By Suvendrini Kakuchi for Univeristy World News:

The global outpouring of grief for producers and other workers killed in a major arson attack on one of Japan’s most acclaimed animation companies – Kyoto Animation Studio – in July, in which 35 were killed and 30 injured, illustrates the strong universal appeal of Japanese animation, that has also attracted increasing numbers of foreign students to study in Japan.

International donations have climbed to more than US$1.6 million amid ongoing calls for the rapid recovery of the production house noted for its artistic creations and unique business management – hiring full-time employees rather than the common industry practice of using freelancers, and with women the majority of its staff.
The company won awards for its films in recognition of its intricate and realistic imagery that combines Japanese traditional cultural aesthetics and high-quality technology.
Students from China, South Korea and Southeast Asia in particular often cite a passion for Japanese manga (cartoons) and anime (animated films) as the main reason for seeking enrolment in universities and colleges in Japan.
Japanese animation was first promoted as a national export by the government under its ‘Cool Japan’ concept in 2012 to highlight Japan’s status as a cultural power.
The Japan Student Services Organization reports that in 2018 almost 4,000 of the 50,000 foreign students in vocational institutions in Japan were studying in a Cool Japan field. The number is 60% higher than it was in 2017.
Nguyen Thuy Huong, 22, from Vietnam is studying Japanese language in Tokyo. “It was my dream to come to Japan and study manga and watch Japanese animation films, which is my future work,” she said.
Animation courses
Professor Takuma Sakamoto teaches 3-D animation skills at Kyoto Seika University. The institution is a pioneer in offering four-year animation courses, and includes graduate and research programmes.
“My classes have seen a rapid increase in foreign students who are studying in Japan and want to become professional animators. Their preference is to work in Japanese companies,” Sakamoto said.
The university’s programme enjoys a high reputation with its courses taught by academics who are also engaged in the production of animation.
Foreign students, the majority from China and South Korea, are enrolled in Kyoto Seika University’s undergraduate and graduate programmes and numbers are growing annually. This year overseas enrolment comprised 655 students, up from 263 in 2017.
Despite the huge popularity, analysts also point out that the boom has been fading in recent years. According to a report by Teikoku Databank issued in August 2017, the average revenue of anime production companies has declined by around 40% over the last 10 years (between 2006 and 2017) despite the increase in total market revenue.
According to the Association of Japanese Animations, declining revenue per company is linked to shrinking budgets as companies cope with mass production and cheaper international competition.
Other dampeners, according to institutions, include the difficulty for foreign graduates to gain employment visas. According to Masayuki Uchida, spokesperson for the College of Digital Arts, based in Sendai, this is a serious hurdle to increasing foreign enrolment. The college is one of many two-year institutions in Japan that focus solely on animation courses.
“Foreign students study Japanese language first, before enrolling in animation schools. Their goal is to find a job after graduation in a Japanese manga company so they are often disappointed,” he said. Foreign students in the college are from China, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.
New university courses
Despite the challenges, the continued popularity of Japanese animation has led to the launch of new animation courses in traditional arts universities, previously the domain of two-year specialist colleges.
Musashino Art University, a top-ranking institution in Tokyo, offers new courses such as graphic design and other animation motion courses, attracting foreigners who now comprise 120 of the 300 students enrolled.
University spokesperson Takahiro Nishi explained that Japanese animation has an edge over Asian competitors, especially in motion technology expertise, given its focus on developing flexible movement production in comparison with the international norm where the technology follows uniform movement styles. “This is a key reason that attracts students from Asia to Japan,” he said.
Nishi added that the advantage for students studying animation in a traditional university was the combination of courses that included philosophy and art history.
New areas for animators
New areas that can counter the downturn in traditional animation relate to the growing popularity of Japan’s ‘streamers’ or virtual YouTubers also known as VTubers who combine digital avatars with interactive anime. Some star streamers have millions of fans who interact in real time.
In a bid to retain Japan’s edge, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in April launched its 2019 Project for Development of Environments for Creating New Content, with steps to expand the development of a healthy and multilateral eSports industry – which refers to competitive gaming tournaments.
Seiichiro Kakehi, head of Esports Communication Company, views the industry as a growing market in Japan that will interact internationally given the growing investment from leading Japanese companies ranging from automobile company Toyota to beverage company Suntory and electronics makers.
“The financial interest in this industry is youth, who are becoming interested in developing these online games as well as becoming players,” he explained. He added that Japanese eSports expansion lagged behind as players were attached to game consoles that led the market in Nintendo games.
New eSports complexes and hotels are planned and, among other activities, the much-anticipated PlayStation 5 gaming console is about launched by Sony with improved feedback for a variety of physical sensations.
The Japan Esports Union was formed this year and will issue professional licences earmarked for Japan to gain an edge into the global market.
“Development of e-games is focusing on Japan’s cutting-edge animation technology and culture and research into this sector is encouraged at manga colleges,” Kyoto Seika University’s Sakamoto explained.