The Open the borders to safe study in Japan Association​ was set up to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by international students who are unable to enter Japan due to restrictions. 

“I have bad skin, I lose hair, a lot of hair and I get my period every two weeks instead of four weeks”

Its website lists numerous stories from international students about their experiences – with many detailing their mental health struggles. 

In a video interview Leonie, a student from Germany, told the association’s executive director, Davide Rossi, that time zone differences have meant that she has been spending most of her waking hours in darkness. 

“I need to go to sleep after class, and then I don’t even sleep for eight hours, I sleep five and it’s already 5pm… I have what, three more hours of the sun,” she said. 

Leonie, who won a full scholarship to study in Japan, said that her first lessons start at 2am and on average end at 10am. She said that if she did not start her classes in April online then she would have lost her scholarship. 

“The stress messed up my hormones, so I have bad skin, I lose hair, a lot of hair and I get my period every two weeks instead of four weeks, which is very stressful and not healthy. 

“It all obviously affected me mentally because I don’t know when it is going to end and that was going to be my life,” she added. 

Japan has suspended new arrivals for almost a whole year since April 2020, with a brief exception for October through December.

Earlier this year a group of scholars wrote an open letter to Kamikawa Yoko, Japan’s minister of justice warning that students’ wellbeing and learning outcomes were at risk. 

“Undergraduate and graduate students stuck overseas and forced to attend online classes at absurd hours are under-slept,” the letter said.  

“Students who cannot enter to begin their studies are endlessly postponing their travel, unwillingly changing their research project, and losing their scholarships. 

“They are postponing their futures, putting their lives on hold, and watching their financial resources dwindle.” 

Rossi of the Open the borders to safe study in Japan Association​ told The PIE News that online study should not be seen as a long-term solution and that the travel restrictions were holding students back. 

“It’s hurting them from a mental point of view, from a financial point of view, from a career point of view, because you lose two years and they will all be two years older when they complete their study in Japan. 

“There is no real reason anymore because last year, OK, no one knew how to handle the situation, but right now, there are quarantine measures that countries are taking to let students in… Many students are vaccinating, because they know that this could be a factor to be able to enter a country or not.”

Rossi argued that given this, the risk posed by international students returning to Japan is not significant. 

“Japan is taking too long to prioritise them or to even think about them,” he added. 

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