TOKYO — Japan isn't accustomed to underachievement, in government or anywhere else.

So it's significant that the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is worried about the abilities of its diplomats to negotiate in English at a level comparable to counterparts from other parts of the world.

To remedy the problem, the ministry has decided to begin requiring new staff members to score at least 100 (out of a possible 120) on the TOEFL English proficiency test, or at least 7 (out of a possible 9) on the alternative IELTS test.

Diplomats who have not achieved the required proficiency level will be asked to brush up on their English "so they can exchange opinions as equals with their counterparts from Europe and the United States," Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun reports.

Photo: Niko Kitsakis

Only 30% of the 30 or so prospective staff members scheduled to join the ministry in the spring have met the standard.

The new requirements are meant to set a higher goal so that the new staff's English fluency is strong enough that members would be eligible to enter prestigious universities abroad. In China and South Korea, many students become diplomats after attending universities in Europe and the United States.