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FOCUS December 2019 Volume 98

Nepalese Children in Japan: Facing a Great Opportunity or an Uncertain Future? (2019)

Dinesh Prasad Joshi Ratala

Japan has emerged as a new popular destination for Nepalese migrants, who now constitute the largest South Asian community in the country.1 In a span of a decade, the number of Nepalese migrants in Japan has increased by over seven folds from 12,286 in 2008 to 88,951 in 2018.2

While Nepalese migrants are found to reside in all forty-seven prefectures of the country, they are heavily concentrated in the Kanto region (about 60 percent) and mostly in the four prefectures: Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama of the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area (about 53 percent).3 Based on visa categories, 43.3 percent have either a dependent (29.2 percent) or a skilled labor (14.1 percent) visa.

The Nepali restaurant trade grew rapidly during the 2004-2012 period that increased the number of Nepalese chefs or cooks4 under the skilled labor visa; which proportionately increased the number of spouses as well as children under the dependent visa category. From 1,436 in 2008,5 the number of Nepalese children increased by about six folds to 8,3476 in 2018.7

It has been observed8 that the Nepalese community in Japan has created a so-called “parallel society” that is isolated from and/or has difficulty integrating with the host community. In this situation, a serious question arises: what is happening to the children in the “mini-Nepal” of Japan?

Education of Nepalese Children - a Great Concern

Immigration data on the number of registered or documented Nepalese from the age of 0 to 18 as of 20189 yield the following results: Table 1

Table 1. Education of Nepalese children (2018)

Age (Years)

Grade level

Number of children


Early childhood



Primary school



Lower secondary school



Upper secondary school





One of the key concerns for Nepalese parents living currently in Japan is related to the education of their children.  A report10 states that Nepalese children born and raised in Japan may speak Japanese but often are unable to speak or write in their native tongue. The following cases highlight the educational trajectories of the Nepalese migrant children in Japan.

Case I:
M. S.,11 now sixteen years old, was brought to Japan when she was six months old. While her father is currently enrolled in a post-graduate program, her mother completed her undergraduate in Management from a Nepalese college long before. Her family has a good source of income from investments in restaurants, remittance service and agriculture in Japan. M. S.  stayed for four years in a Japanese nursery school (hoikuen), and completed her primary school education at the Global Indian International School (GIIS) in Edogawa, Tokyo (under the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program [IB-PYP]). She was then sent back to Nepal where she spent two years in two renowned private boarding schools in Kathmandu. For the third year in lower secondary school, she came back to Japan and was admitted at the Indian International School in Japan (IISJ) in Nishi Ojima, Tokyo, which has Indian government authorized curriculum. She is currently studying in Grade 11 at the International School of the Sacred Heart (ISSH) in Hiro, Tokyo, whose curriculum is accredited by the Japan Council of International Schools (JCIS) and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). She plans to continue her further studies in the United States of America in the future.

Case II:
B. K., now twenty years old, was brought to Japan in May 2016. His father, a cook, and his mother, not employed, have no tertiary education. He studied at the Futaba Junior High School (yakan chugakko) in Katsushika ward of Tokyo from April 2018 till September 2019. When he was preparing for secondary school entrance examination for Japanese high school, his teachers praised him for his good Japanese reading and writing abilities. However, due to visa problem, he had to go back to Nepal in September 2019.  His lawyer in Japan is working for his return.

Case III:
R. G., now sixteen years old, was brought to Japan when she was three years old. Both her parents have secondary school education. While her father works as a cook in an Indian restaurant, her mother works part-time for a Japanese company. She joined the 6th grade at Toshima Ward Ikebukuro Elementary School, a public school in Toshima ward in Tokyo in 2015. She spent three years at Nishi Ikebukuro Junior High School, a public lower secondary school. Upon her graduation, she entered the Dai Yon Syougyou High School, a public business secondary school located in the same ward. She attends an evening study-group (benkyoukai) organized by the Non-profit Organization (NPO) “Toshima Kodomo Wakuwaku Network” every Tuesday with other Nepalese friends pursuing their studies at Tokyo Metropolitan Asuka and Tagara High Schools. She does not have a clear plan about what she wants to do in the future.

Case IV:
S. K.C. was born in Nepal and brought to Kobe city when he was six months old. While his father is a lower secondary school graduate, his mother has completed her secondary school education in Nepal. When he was three years old, his family moved from Kobe to Arakawa in Tokyo. His parents have two restaurants in Tokyo. Because the public nursery schools were full, his parents resorted to using a more expensive privately-run child care facility (recommended by the city government) while waiting for public nursery school slot.
In a span of a year, he was first taken cared of by a Nepalese woman before subsequently entering two nursery schools. In addition, he went to Minerva’s International Course for six months where he was taught English for two hours a week. He was later admitted to the upper kindergarten of IISJ where he studied until the second grade. In 2013, he entered the Everest International School in Japan (EISJ), which followed the Nepalese government authorized curriculum, and is now an eighth grader there. His parents are not sure about his higher education.

Case V:
S.U. was brought to Japan in 2006 when she was three years old. Her father has completed technical college education (senmon gakko) in Japan while her mother has an Assistant Engineer/Overseer degree from Nepal. She spent four years at a nursery school where she felt discriminated due to her dark skin color and lack of fluent Japanese language ability. Thinking that S.U. might be isolated in a Japanese school, her parents decided to enroll her in the newly established EISJ where she studied from Grade 1 until the middle of Grade 7. She left Japan with her parents in November 2019 and is continuing her studies in a private school in Kathmandu. In the future, her parents want her to pursue further studies in Nepal.    

What can be Inferred from these Case Studies?

There are eight important lessons that can be drawn from these case studies. First, Nepalese parents who have a good source of income and educational background are heavily investing in the education of their kids. Their hope is to secure a better education and thus better future for their children. However, they represent a small fraction of the Nepalese parents in Japan. Second, most Nepalese parents have the tendency to send their children to Nepal during their early childhood to help them retain the Nepalese identity. However, the extent to which children have well adapted to the Nepalese society and culture during their short stays there in the absence of their parents is arguable. Third, early entrance in local schools leads to better adaptation to the Japanese education system of the Nepalese children. However, the extent of adaptation depends upon individual ability as well as on conducive environment in the school. Fourth, the children who come to Japan at school age have to overcome a number of socio-cultural obstacles to fit into the Japanese education system. This hampers the continuous study of many Nepalese children, and often results in bad performance at school. Fifth, some parents spend limited time with their family, including the children, owing to their busy work schedule. Such situation deprives many children of parental attention and monitoring on a regular basis. Sixth, some parents are still not sure about their future plans in Japan. They keep on transferring their kids to different schools based on information obtained from social network. This situation can possibly ignore child psychology and delay the learning process as the children frequently adjust and adapt to new environments. Seventh, the few parents who think that education in Japan does not match their expectations rarely return their children to Nepal. In the process, they risk many uncertainties in Japan. Eighth, NGOs may play a vital role in facilitating the learning process of migrant children but their number as well as educational focus is limited.

The kind of education Nepalese children in Japan obtain depends on their parents’ social network, level of education and income, expectation and future goals, and degree of familiarity about the educational system in the country. These children would benefit much from the existing educational resources provided the family has a clear future plan in sending them to school. Lack of such a long-term plan has the potential of pushing these children into the web of an uncertain and volatile future.

Dinesh Prasad Joshi Ratala is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Human Security Program, Graduate School of Arts and Science, The University of Tokyo.

For further information please contact: Dinesh Joshi, e-mail: dinesh692@hotmail.com.


1 See Shakya, P., Tanaka, M., Shibanuma A., and Jimba, M., “Nepalese migrants in Japan: What is holding them back in getting access to healthcare?” PLoS ONE 13(9), 2018. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0203645 on 22 November 2019.
2 The Ministry of Justice, Japan (2018). These figures exclude those who have short-stay visas for less than 3 months (such as visitors, diplomats, etc.) and the undocumented residents. See E-Stat, www.e-stat.go.jp/stat-search/files?page=1&layout=datalist&toukei=00250012&tstat=000001018034&cycle=1&year=20180&month=12040606&tclass1=000001060399.
3 Ibid.
4 Kharel D., “From Lahures to Global Cooks: Network Migration from the Western Hills of Nepal to Japan,” Social Science Japan Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2016, pages 173-192; Takeshi and Munenori, “日本におけるネパール人移民の動向 (Trends of Nepalese Migrants in Japan),”  Journal of Immigration Studies, Vol 13, 2017,  University of the Ryukyus, pages 23-48.
5 According to the Ministry of Justice, there were a total of 1,436 Nepalese children (0-4 years: 358, 5-9 years: 304, 10-14 years: 255, and 15-19 years: 519) in Japan in 2008.
6 Aged 0-18, ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Thapa, S., “Diplomatic Practices in Nepal-Japan Relations: A comparative Study Based on Regime Change,” Bulletin paper of the department of Asian and African Area Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 2018, pages 100-106.  Cited in a presentation entitled “Extension of Nepalese Society in Japan? A recent trend of migration from Nepal to Japan” by Tanaka Masako on 23 May 2019 at the Embassy of Japan in Kathmandu.
9 Ministry of Justice, op cit.
10 Dave Hueston, “Welcome to Tokyo’s ‘Little Nepal’: A microcosm of Japan’s evolving identity,” The Japan Times, 30 June 2019, www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2019/06/30/issues/welcome-tokyos-little-nepal-microcosm-japans-evolving-identity/#.XesvEegzY2w.
11 The names of the Nepalese children are in abbreviated form to protect their privacy.