Educators in Japan fear declining interest in Russian language

University professors in Japan are worried about a possible drop in the number of new students learning Russian language and literature following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

But a national organization says the war makes learning Russian even more important, citing the need for dialogue with people who speak the language.

The Japanese Association for the Study of Russian Language and Literature said in a statement that “some may be worried and regret learning the language and culture of a country that does such a thing.”

Studying Russia “does not mean endorsing the Russian government‘s military aggression,” the association said.

Hibi Watanabe, who teaches Russian and is a professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Tokyo, stressed the importance of learning the language in an article aimed at new students.

The article pointed out that a language and a state are not the same thing and that the Russian language is important because it allows people to listen to the voices of people in war zones and refugees.

“The number of people who are interested in Japanese-Russian relations and want to build bridges may increase, but the number of people who choose to study Russian for economic and pragmatic reasons will probably decrease,” Watanabe said.

Students currently studying Russian might lose interest in the language, he said, stressing the need to support such students.

A 19-year-old from Oita Prefecture who plans to enter the University of Tokyo and study Russian as a second foreign language this spring, said the war in Ukraine has heightened his interest in Russian.

“I became interested in communist bloc languages ​​because I wanted to know what the opponents (in Japan and the United States) thought,” he said. “My motivation to study Russian increased because of this war.”

“Russians probably have their own way of thinking,” he said. “Perhaps I can get accurate information about the situation in Ukraine by understanding even a little of the language.”

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Sylvester L. Goldfarb