The article is curiously void of cogniscent recognition that they are getting paid to WORK. It is not considered acceptable in countries to which Japan holds itself standard to for a prisoner to be used as slave labor. They are there to be incarcerated. However, if they work, at least they are not slaves in that they are getting paid something. Furthermore, if Japan were to not receive that labor, they would have to pay 10 times or more the cost for a non-prisoner to do it. Mr. article writer isn't looking at the big picture. Japan's not giving them a break... Japan's taking advantage of them.
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niku and WDM - I think you're missing the point.
Asking the question "Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?" is not as ridiculous a question as you think. You're trying to portray that it's similar to saying something like "Why don't English people speak Japanese better than they do?". In that case your logic of 'Well, because it's a different country!' makes more sense. If you said "This is England, not Japan!" would make perfect sense.
But when you're talking about Japan there's a reason why Japanese are expected to speak better English, which is that it's obviously a huge deal in Japan, with an enormous emphasis on studying English, and unfathomable money spent on the endeavor, often pointlessly. First of all, it is somewhat commonly accepted that the primary so-called "international language" is English. Therefore, whereas it would be considered ridiculous to assume you should speak foreign languages in places like the United States, England, etc., there is more of a perceived need, especially for internationally-involved countries like Japan to learn the international language.
You apparently are trying to make some principle-based point that people in a country should not be expected to learn a foreign language. That's fine... but the reason this question has come up is related specifically to the dynamic of English in Japan, which doesn't fit perfectly into that principle-based thinking.
Anyway, if Japanese didn't have such an English fever, and then everyone asked "Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?", I'd say 'who cares'? But the point is that they blow countless years of their lives and tons of money and still end up with mediocre (at best) English comprehension. Given the amount they seem to care about English, they frankly suck at it. If they don't care about it, then they should stop wasting their time trying to "learn" it. The truth is, they don't truly care about actually learning real English... they just wanna learn pseudo-English that will earn them esteem among their Japanese peers.
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Japanese are socially highly sensitive and intelligent, and, at least the old generation, has a somewhat uniform and consistent, good education. So, as someone above posted, in the same way tatemae will cause someone with a serious opinion on something to just get walked all over, or go through life silent and unhappy, the Japanese are by and large very aware of how they are perceived in the world, actually.
They know that they wrongly went around conquering Asia, and then got smacked down by a foreign power, deeply shaming Japan, almost like a child that misbehaved. They know that they are, physically, significantly shorter and smaller than most of the first world nations' people. And they know that they have a very poor English ability. Even with Xenophobia aside, if they didn't know the truth about their English ability they wouldn't vehemently resist trying to practice speaking it for real instead of making a pop culture full of playful nonsense words designed to make light of the value of English as a serious thing.
In short, if you haven't figured out my point yet, it's mostly about inferiority complexes.
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