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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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New tactic for struggling school

Kazushiro Yano

Jul. 5, 2017

Japan's low birth rate has put the pinch on schools. They are struggling to get enough students. One school was meeting less than half of its student quota when it decided to shoot high, to try to turn things around. NHK World's Kazushiro Yano covered the story.

At the entrance ceremony this year, this private high school in the western city of Kochi welcomed new students, including 8 from Nigeria.

The administration decided to open admissions to international students from Africa, with a focus on athletic students. The aim is to build a reputation of the school being strong in sports.

Tryouts were held across Nigeria. The school spent about 8 months to find promising athletes. The school promised a full scholarship.

"Japan is so nice," says one student Paul Agnes Ada. "I couldn't wait to come to Japan. I am so happy. I'll do my best. I'll play strong basketball."

But their life in Japan is not always easy. After their regular classes, they study the Japanese language every day.

The dormitory can be a bit cramped for someone nearly 2 meters tall. Even eating can be a challenge. They are not used to using chopsticks.

One student is having trouble adjusting. Adeola Seun Adelola is a member of the basketball team. His teammates are not happy that he is often late and listens to loud music in the morning.

On the other hand, Seun is not happy with the strict discipline, which is common in Japanese schools.

"In Nigeria, rules are loose, so people don't think "go with it". Japanese rules are so tight," he says.

The situation is troubling the team captain, Rikuto Nakaoka.

"He gets excited easily, suddenly disappears, or even tries to hit you," he says. "He won't take you seriously unless you put your foot down."

A month after the students started school. A window in the dormitory was broken. Nakaoka and Seun got into a huge fight, and crashed into the window.

"He was speaking harshly and tried to hit me," Nakaoka says. "I was so fed up."

"I didn't hit the guy's shoulder," Seun says. "I didn't fight with him."

The exchange student recruiter called the whole team to a meeting.

"Please try to understand that he feels stress in the team, as well as having to deal with the language barrier," he told them.

The school urged the international students to be patient, too.

A month later, Nakaoka was visiting Seun.

They were trying to communicate more often, and their attitude towards each other was getting better.

"Seun's behavior is getting better," he says.

The team went all the way to the final qualifier match for the national high school competition.

Early on, Nakaoka's team took control of the game. In the 2nd half, Seun was called into the game. He helped the team rack up 42 points.

His team overwhelmed their opponents 115 to 35. They're now qualified to play at the national level.

"We've now set our sights on the national competition," Nakaoka says. "We'll keep trying to communicate better with the international students."

"We're going to become Japan's No.1," says Seun. "I'm proud."

The win gave the team the momentum they needed to aim for the national championship title. Their next goal is to become the strongest school basketball team in the country.

The students are going to stay in Japan for 3 years. After they graduate, they are expected to stay in Japan and play for Japanese professional or corporate teams. The school is planning to invite new students from Africa next year, as well.