Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The "operating system" of Japan is most probably out of date.

It is with a deep sadness to acknowledge that the "operating system" of Japan is most probably out of date. The nation is lagging behind, and I would like very much to do something about it, but judging from the daily encounters with people, especially those in the "elite" positions within the nation such as the academia and the media, the national disease is a deep and serious one, albeit not incurable.

I find some hope and solace in the fact that young people are increasingly disillusioned with the status quo. There are mounting pressures, still invisible but certainly going up, to change the current situation. One should have one's principles, and do daily chores, to bring about the change however gradually.

In Japan, the more established a system or an institution is, the deeper the problem lurks. Take University of Tokyo, for example. I have been a proud graduate of this prestigious academic institution, but recently I have my serious doubts about the nature of its constituting principles. The overwhelming majority of its undergraduate students are Japanese. Entrance to the university has been considered as a ticket to success for many years. Some weekly magazines even carry articles about how many students have entered the university from which high school.

Compared to other excellent universities in the world, however, the closed nature of the university is scandalously singular. Harvard University in the United States, for example, gathers its graduate and undergraduate students from all around the world, as a natural reflection of the global nature of today's world.

In the Times Higher Education Ranking (2009) , the University of Tokyo is ranked 22nd. The University is performing very poorly in "International Staff Score" and "International Students Score". Should the university amend this defect, the ranking position would be improved considerably.
When I discussed this point with a few University of Tokyo professors, they invariably answered that "the entrance examination for undergraduate is sacred, and cannot be changed". According to their views, the current entrance examination, conducted in Japanese, effectively limiting the undergraduate students to Japanese or people brought up within Japan, is the raison d'etre of University. If they change the entrance exam, the constitution and the nature of the University will be transformed beyond recognition. And they have no plan to do that. What a shame!

Probably it is not fair to single out University of Tokyo, but the status quo of the academic institution is the symbol of the sinking nation of Japan. University of Tokyo has been traditionally producing high officials in the government, the cream of Japanese system. There was a time when the world marveled at its efficiency. Sadly, no more. The cream is rotting.

It is never too late to bring about the necessary changes. As an alumnus of the university, I would very much like to see its entrance exam changed, so that it is at least partially based in English, to admit more international students. The time is ripe.
It is now time to rewrite the "operating system" of Japan. I hope those people in responsible positions would realize the need, and act quickly.


Unknown said...

I surely share your concern. This problem is not only with universities but with all the leading companies in Japan. Japanese organizations are just way too rigid and are afraid of changes. Or rather they cannot realize the seriousness of the present situation of Japan. My husband is an American and my son went through international school system. I myself has been teaching English in Japanese and American ed system. I believe the situation is serious.

kirai said...

Japan needs to change its operating system... the problem with it is the word CHANGE. The Japanese mind (in general), and not only Japanese, the human mind (in general) tends to be afraid of change. I think it must be in our genes, we like stability that will increase our probabilities of survival. Japanese institutions, companies, government and people in general are VERY slow CHANGING. If the entrance exam CHANGES then the university and everything will CHANGE beyond recognition.

Yes, we can?

Ruru said...

Kudos to your entry from a current Harvard grad student! Most of the Japanese students I have encountered on campus are highly motivated and determined to change the current system in Japan. Although the number of these individuals are rather low, I'm rather optimistic about the future of Japan. It will take time, and there are going to be pressure from various agents, but these bright individuals carry with themselves a sense of responsibility to change Japan - something that I personally feel lacks in the U.S. because of its heterogeneous composition. Thank you for your continuous thoughts and updates!

necosan said...

I agree with you. I suppose the key of resolving this problem is to change the mind to "Open and share". In particular, the people who have high educational background.
We Japanese usually have an unconscious mind which is a strong sense of belonging for land, community and family. Of course it is important sense. However it also isolates us in several areas.
When I went to Silicon Valley in California, I realized the importance to open and share our own knowledge and mind with people who are gathering this area. There is a diversity of races.
We Japanese is lack of view as sharing our knowledge or information beyond our community. Why we learned English in compulsory education? The reason is not only to pass the entrance examination. I state to open my mind and share my knowledge or information beyond my community.

Sugu Sakaguchi said...

Some years ago, I went to university of Tokyo to hear the Mr. Komiyama's lecture. When he was the president. He strongly said that, "we promote our university's internationalization".
But some professors are still indifference globalization.
This is a UT's reality.

Bonheur88 said...

I really agree with you. I think that students of University of Tokyo are good at solving the problem, but weak to find a problem. So we must transform all of Japanese educational system for globalization. I think that learning English is not only sake of the entrance examination but also the linguistic education to communicate with the world.

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

I'd like to expect Google will change or beat these rigid systems in the near future.

Yuzu said...

I agree with your commentators and you.
Our country's system is closed and negative for exploitation.
By the way, nowadays many foreigners came to live in Japan.
I don't know which our country's academic person or politician can answer and traction to sensible way strongly.But some young powerful citizen's network is moving strongly.
How to growth of country is changing from somewhere to somewhere.
It is flexible and hot. It is come from a dream.

Shinya Watanabe said...

Dear Mogi-san,

I would like to the be one of active member of this renewal. I think that the systematical/structural problem of Japanese society is in a critical level, and we need to change this by everyone's subjective act.

I also started the English blog, so please stop by whenever you have chance.


I hope to see you soon, and have a chat about the plan of these renewals.

Ryan Layman said...


I read this article and loved it. I`m currently living and working in Japan as a teacher of English and an aspiring entrepreneur because I deeply love this country but there are some necessary changes that need to be made.

I`m really hoping to be able to see some of your talk tomorrow. If I can`t watch it live, I really hope I`ll be able to find a copy of it.

Thank you for your hard work!


Gerhard Fasol said...


very interesting that you are looking at Tokyo University and that you went to Cambridge. I was University Lecturer at Cambridge University, and later Associated Professor at Tokyo University. So I can talk for a long time about the differences of both Universities from the viewpoint of a teaching & research leadership/management position.

Some years I gave a talk about these issues at Stanford University:

I'm now the only non-Japanese on the "Post Galapagos Committee" - next week on 29th May I give a talk at the Swedish Embassy about this work. Please come along if you like:


Anonymous said...

Thoughtful article. I can understand your frustration. It is always more dynamic to have a multicultural university environment.

Though I have the feeling that comparing Japan to USA is not fair. USA is an English speaking country, in the current state of the world, they do not have to make efforts to open to the world because… well most people learn English languages for communicating (as we both do right now you Japanese, me French).

It would be more interesting to look at 1) entrance exams and 2) diversity of student population in countries having a minority language (not English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese).

That would give a fair image of the situation for Japan. That said opening is indeed good.

Christopher Carr said...

My wife, who is Japanese, agrees that the present generation is Japan's best hope. I agree with you that the education system is rigid and often pointless. Many people in positions of authority are afraid of being fired for unjustified action and so avoid taking on responsibility, but the emperor has no clothes.

People have lost track of the Confucian underpinnings of the Japanese Education system, and confused means with ends; the methods which in the past have created good government workers and the system which in the past has pushed the best and brightest towards solving the nation's problems has been preserved because people think that the system is the cause rather than just correlative. The true cause was the work ethic and courage of the Japanese people. And no that work ethic and courage is sadly absent from the province of government.

Japan still continues to lead the world in much more private, technological forms of creativity.


Japan age is coming actually, I suppose think about The University in Japan could be act globaly in whole all the worlds, because Japan Age is coming... Think global with use local positioning.. It will be placed to Tokyo and Japan the unique differentiation, university and school in Japan was seeing nice form in world's heart.. anyhow..

Anonymous said...

Hello! nice blog!

Anonymous said...

i think i was reading about that on NYT last week