In the best of all possible worlds, the formulation and implementation of language policy would respond quickly to change in on-the-ground circumstances once sufficient time had elapsed to establish the permanence of that change. In modern bureaucracies, however, this is only infrequently the case. If we consider language policy in its formalised, overt incarnation, i.e., as ‘the formulation and proclamation of an explicit plan or policy, usually but not necessarily written in a formal document, about language use’ (Spolsky, 2004: 11), then examination of past policy formulation in Japan – relating, for example, to standardisation, script reform and the revival of the Ainu language – makes it clear that the process is usually slow and often tortuous. The presence of deep-rooted language ideologies means that change is something to be carefully scrutinised for agendas both overt and hidden that have the potential to upset the status quo. On a practical level, the implementation phases of new policies must be carefully planned and costed. Change at the national level of language policy often involves many years of discussion and consultation on issues that affect the nation as a whole.
We have seen in earlier chapters of this book that growing multilingualism in local communities, the negative effect of the overwhelming national promotion of the study of English on the teaching of other languages and the changes to ways of writing Japanese enabled by electronic text production all raise questions about the way language is currently managed in Japan, i.e., about language policies. The preceding chapter discussed the only one of these to have been addressed at national level so far. In this chapter, I will examine to what extent the will to move in the direction of change can be discerned at national level in response to the other issues. As will become clear, a discursive shift is under way in relation to the old ideology that the Japanese language is the exclusive property of the Japanese people.