This was still only half the number going to America that year. But since then, the flow across the Pacific has dried still further, according to the Institute of International Education, dwindling to fewer than 30,000 in 2009.
Some analysts feel this is almost inevitable. As Japan's economic ties with China strengthen – China has been its biggest trading partner for the past four years – numerous opportunities are springing up for people with the right language skills.
"Young people are asking where the jobs are going, and they see Japanese companies putting everything into China," says Richard O'Rourke, regional coordinator for EducationUSA, which brings foreign students to the United States. "An ability to speak Chinese and a knowledge of China are going to get you employed."
Sakane, whose parents initially wanted her to go to America for her studies, says that she persuaded them that "a lot of people in the world today can speak English, but very few foreigners speak Chinese. By starting to learn it early I am improving my chances" of a job when she graduates from Beijing Foreign Studies University.
Japanese parents are also sensitive to cost, says Naomi Tagashira, an adviser to the Japan Student Services Organization, JASSO, which helps place students abroad. "We've seen an increase in the number of students asking about countries where the fees and the cost of living are not so high as they are in the US," says Ms. Tagashira, and those concerns give China an advantage.