BEIJING - Chinese students are taking a wait-and-see approach toward studying in Japan because of fears about radiation and aftershocks following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the country.
"Chinese students who are still in China and who have applied for students visas to study in Japan are showing the strongest hesitation," said an official surnamed Yanase who was manning a hotline at the Japanese embassy in China. "Among Chinese students who have been living in Japan for a while, the situation is better."
She said many Chinese students flew home after the March 11 earthquake and subsequent leak from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant but they have started to return to Japan to continue their studies.
"My parents in China were worried about my safety after the earthquake and asked me to leave Tokyo," said Chen Yasai, a PhD student studying communications at Waseda University. The 25-year-old woman returned to China on March 22 but went back to Tokyo on April 20.
"I returned because I did not want to fall behind with my studies and I felt that the earthquake was not having a significant effect on my life in Tokyo."
An official surnamed Wang with the education department at the Japanese embassy said demand for visas was still strong but noted that some students who get visas may choose not to use them.
"The number of Chinese students getting visas to go to Japan did not decrease between March and April but many may have changed their overseas study destination after they collected their visas," said Wang.
According to a survey by the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan has seen an exodus of foreign students. The paper said at least 4,330 international students who had been enrolled in the country's 71 universities had left because of fears about aftershocks and radiation exposure.
The number includes students who left Japan earlier than scheduled and those who had not yet started their studies in the county and who decided against going there.
Universities affected by the outflow of students include not only those in the disaster-hit region but also institutions in the Tokyo area and western Japan, according to Yomiuri Shimbun.
Overseas education agencies in China have also reported a decline in the number of students planning to study in Japan.
"The number of students and parents coming to talk to us about studying in Japan fell by 30 to 50 percent after the disaster struck," said Yan Min, manager of the Japanese education department at Shanghai CIIC Education International Co Ltd.
"The earthquake scared away some students who were worried about the nuclear accident and the frequent aftershocks."
There was a similar picture at other overseas education agencies.
"Since last month, we have seen a decline of about 40 percent in the number of clients planning to study in Japan. Many students have been told by their parents not to go to Japan, even though they want to do so," said an employee surnamed Li at Beijing-based Wiseway International. "Now, students are taking a wait-and-see attitude and holding back to see what might happen in Japan in the future."
One such potential student, a woman surnamed Wang, said she is hoping things improve so her parents will support her decision to study there.
"I hope the situation will get better in Japan because I still want to study there, even though my family is worried about it," she said. "Actually, the calmness and discipline of the Japanese people following the disaster left me with a good impression."
He Dan contributed to this story.