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Japan's Universities Are Failing (foreignaffairs.com)
157 points by Arkaad on Mar 3, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 196 comments

Being a PhD student in Japan (and a non-native English speaker) I agree with many points in the article. Some frustrating things about my own experience:

- In my lab, all of the papers written by Japanese students have to be checked by foreign students (which are mostly non-native speakers). The quality of the writing is typically less than mediocre, with a few exceptions.

- We have a seminar every week in which the Japanese students talk in Japanese and will get questions only by the Japanese, while the foreign students present in English and will only get questions from the other foreign students. The environment is a bit toxic.

- I have a monthly meeting of 30 minutes with my supervisor (should be bi-weekly but he almost never has time for it). Those meetings are usually about which journal or conference we should submit an article to, seldom and barely scratching the surface of what my research is about.

- Teachers who give their classes in English will get many complaints from Japanese students. In the end most of them switch (back) to teaching in Japanese again.

- This year I will probably have to go to some sort of job hunting myself, but I'm mostly considering jobs in academia because of the job hunting process for companies seems inhumane. I have heard of cases where students join a company and end up working on projects not remotely related to their research interests.

I often blame myself for not speaking enough Japanese and because of that missing opportunities, but at the same time I am of the opinion that education on the masters and PhD level should be given in English because that seems to be the de facto language of international academia.

I've worked in Japan in a mega Corp R&D division.

There are candidate pools that are "potential hires" with no assignment pre offer, and there are "specialist hires" where you know the team you'll be assigned to. Only accept the latter.

The job hunt process isn't nearly as bad for technical hires as it is for humanities grads.

I completely agree that grad level work should be done in English. I know a few brilliant researchers at Stanford who will likely head back to Japan to take academic posts because their English (and mainly politics of academia) skills just weren't good enough, and their taking the "wiser route out".

I don't know your field, but I hear good things about places like Hitachi Chuou Research.

- I have a monthly meeting of 30 minutes with my supervisor (should be bi-weekly but he almost never has time for it). Those meetings are usually about which journal or conference we should submit an article to, seldom and barely scratching the surface of what my research is about.

Don't worry, this is about par for the course (if you have a great graduate advisor, treasure them).

>I have heard of cases where students join a company and end up working on projects not remotely related to their research interests.

This is normal worldwide - they hire you for your problem-solving skills, not for your tiny research niche

I would have to disagree with "normal"-- many phd students at top (CS) univs in Europe and US can get hired for research-relevant work - e.g. off the top of my head Goog Research, MSR, FAIR, Uber, Snapchat, AirBnB hire a non-trivial # of Phd researchers for relevant fields -- that said some fields are better fits, e.g. a typical exmaple being stochastic modeling tends to align well /w finance.

Then apply to those companies. If they're willing to apply for visas for Indian and Chinese grads, there's no reason they'd have a problem doing the same for Japanese grads.

I graduated one of the top schools in Japan and went to the US to get a PhD. (But somehow I got patriotic and came back to Japan after that, don't judge me.) In many ways, Japan feels like a gridlocked country. And people (especially young) already know it but can't do anything about it. I'll point out that the heart of the problem is its lifetime employment system, which the entire economy and social system of Japan is optimized for and depending upon.

So you wanna change schools? You have to change the system and reposition many teachers, but nope, it's not allowed. Teachers are well protected by the Japanese labor law and they can't do any other job (and from what I saw they're particularly inflexible work force). You want more diverse students? Good luck with finding a good career path for them, because under the lifetime employment system you can get good choices only when you're young, and you have to stay in the same company for the rest of your life. Again, many people assume that way and many financial systems in Japan are built upon this assumption. And finally, you want many more competitive researchers? Nooo, because there are too many mediocre researchers that have tenure already. You can't compete with them. Again, blame the lifetime employment system.

I, too, honestly don't know what's a good exit path from this. Personally I think having more immigrants is a way to go, but then there's this right-wing people and Trumpism going rampage right now. Sigh.

I think the way you fix a situation like this is to create new, informal institutions. Young people have to feel empowered and have pride in building small communities, and by extension, small businesses. There will always be pressure from others to stop screwing around in the dirt, but you have to preserve and have the desire to want to be living with uncertainty. Over decades I think you can chip away at the fossilized foundations of old institutions (big government, big business, the schools that feed into it and the cultural lockdown they have on young people)

Adding more immigrants is a good way to destabilize the country. Just be the change you want to see. Man up, and create. Building things rather than destabilizing or disrupting other people is always the best thing for everyone. Just saying "oh all of you need to change, so let's bring in immigrants to force you" is a really strange mindset. It sounds quite unpatriotic to me.

I’ve always heard that uni is a bit of a formality in Japan, and that most career-minded individuals expect to be trained and mentored on the job when they enter the corporate world.

Not sure how true that is or if the article touches on that, since it’s paywalled.

Japanese universities are relatively easy to graduate from (frankly, this is true for many Ivy-league departments as well), but that doesn't mean people don't try.

First, many folks, especially at the better schools, are genuinely interested in the topics they are studying. As such, they will go above and beyond in some or all of their classes.

Second, in many programs, the professors have contacts in the field that can lead to premium jobs. These are often the most-adored professor in a given department -- mainly because they add a human side to the sometimes bookish disposition of many of the professors... and they make it rain. The student know who these professors are via their senpais, and they go way out of their way to make a good impression in those professors classes. This effort usually reaps huge dividends for talented students.

Sorry I have a bunch of questions (biased heavily for CS + STEM fields)

1) Do you know anyone from the West who would go to Japan for a professorship? I just asked around my univ (which is top 3 publication-wise) and it seems like if you go there, you basically drop off the face of intl-quality CS work

2) What is the funding model generally (e.g. Gov Grants vs Industry partnerships/grants vs Nonprofits/External Sources like the Wellcombe Institute or Knight Foundation in the US)

3) What is the hierachy like in terms of research group? One thing I currently appreciate is in (at least the US univs I've been to), there tend to be many professors that will let you act as a senior-phd if you can prove skill rather than be subordinate / help other phd's gradute)

4) How important is advisor/field and what is their relationship? (In the US it's ok to go to a mediocre overall univ frequently if your advisor is "big" in that field -- is this similar?) From my understanding pulling something like this in China (i.e. Tsinghua, Peking, Shanghai Jiao Tong vs the rest) isn't really possible.

5) Is there funding and interest to go abroad for conferences? I would argue many conferences (in CS and Bio at least) tend to be North Americas-Euro Centric based? Also could you explain the large aversion to project failure? Research has failures by definition - only slight increments in progress isnt really a top tier paper or generally a best-paper/honorable mention award?

Note that I am not in STEM/CS, but I have many friends who are. My answers are based on what they have told me, so I suggest getting a second opinion. Also note that most of this is answered for someone intending to be a professor. Post docs and grad students might have different answers.

1. There is a very high likelihood that you will "drop of the face of the earth" in terms of research if you go there for a long-term professor gig. You will most likely find that the quality of your everyday peers will be less-than-stimulating academically compared to your everyday peers in a top US program. Note that there will be exceptions, but they will be exceptions. Japan is fine if you think that you will be a third-rate or lower researcher in the US (i.e., no publications that will be highly cited either for broad topics (first tier) or niche topics (second tier) -- those are my terms that I find convenient for differentiating academics). If you just want a taste, one option is to go as a post-doc. Aim high in terms of school prestige if you do this, and try to get on a project in which you can do your own thing or that has a topic that you love. There are some schools (or affiliated research orgs) that do international-level STEM research and definitely want western researchers on their projects.

2. Funding varies, but unless you are Japanese or highly integrate yourself into Japanese society, you are very unlikely to get substantial funding directly from the government or industry. As such, the best way to get funding will be from a sponsoring professor in Japan (this is not uncommon) or piggyback on something from your US contacts. Some schools (e.g., Aizu) seem to have a good gig going in terms of funding for their foreign faculty, but I don't know who is pulling the strings (e.g., in terms of actually applying, etc.).

3. It varies by research group. In general, it works as a hierarchy based on experience on the team. Special treatment for exceptional students/researchers is rare unless they are a hired gun (usu. a temporary gig). Post docs might be a slightly different story. It really depends on the field and the school/professor, but I encourage you to set your expectations for respectful treatment to be very low.

4. Not so possible in Japan... sort of. Basically it is possible to bounce around the Type A schools in the "Top 30" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Global_University_Project) as a Japanese professor. There is a pecking order within those schools (usu. Todai, but sometimes others in specific fields), and grad students typically filter down (i.e., the best usually stay at their school on a space-available basis, and the others take a step down the prestige ladder within the Type A schools). It's tougher to move from a Type B school to a Type A school (but possible with stellar work and/or the right connections). I think it's almost impossible to move from a non Top 30 school to a Type A school regardless of who your advisor is. Note that moves as a professor will likely require strong personal contacts at the target school as well as strong bona fides. If you are coming from the US, a recommendation from a very well known international researcher will likely get you some sort of a job if you work the right channels. I can't tell if you're asking this as a potential grad student in Japan (don't do it if you want to come back to the US) or as a US grad student wanting to go to Japan, or something else.

5. Professors often have funding for conferences. My school had a "research budget" for each professor for such things. There was also a departmental general fund that could be tapped into for special cases (not routine conference attendance). Other schools handle it differently. Regardless, there is money there.

5a. Project failures. Hmmm... maybe "failure" wasn't the best way to phrase it. First, any research that has a legitimate chance of being published in a western journal can 100% be published in something in Japan. As such, it's not really a failure if you have a paper. Actual failures can come in two forms (that I have seen) in Japan. One form is just not getting results in a series of experiments in a given time frame and not having anything "meaningful" to publish. A second sort of failure is simply not publishing regularly -- for example, it is often considered poor form to work on something potentially substantive for several years and not publish a few small (and probably meaningless) things in the interim. The unwritten rules on this are pretty clear. Frankly, I think this is why some people "drop of the face of the earth" when they go to Japan -- they get wrapped up in these limited-scope papers and forget how to move towards more substantive research. The myopia is real.

Misc. I read a couple of your other comments about "target" schools and whatnot. Be careful thinking that things like "top 3 publication-wise" mean anything in Japan. Your school may be a big deal in Japan or at the specific school you apply to, but the reasons will often be due to less academically substantive reasons and possibly due to something random (e.g., someone in the department studied there). Also be careful about being too proud of what you've done in terms of research/publications -- the frames of reference are different.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Thanks for the reply, and the point of view! I definitely need to be able to orient myself better. And this was more of the question "would it be worthwhile to spend a year doing research at a Riken or similar" in terms of growth, scientific viewpoints and output.


Interesting—thanks for your in-depth perspective.

I didn’t mean to imply that nobody tries in Japanese university, of course, especially since I have no first-hand experience. I’d just heard that the culture is, in general, less rigorous than in Western universities.

The point about networking through professors is really interesting to me. Alongside other replies about the intensity of the job hunt for Japanese students, it does sound like the system is geared as a bit of a ‘hiring pipeline’—to an extent at least.

Note: I skipped out on attending university altogether, so I don’t have a strong sense for the extent to which Western universities differ in these regards.

- Glad I can help. Feel free to ask more questions -- I love this topic.

- The rigor in most Japanese universities is in the entrance exam. It's quite tough and is a decent filter for intelligence and study skills. STEM degrees in Japan can sometimes be rigorous as well.

- I would humbly argue that most US degrees (not sure about Europe) are not terribly rigorous outside of STEM fields and STEM-wannabe fields like economics. I have two degrees from two Ivy schools and many professors as friends, so I think I have a decent feel for who has to study hard to graduate and who doesn't.

- The schools are definitely a hiring pipeline, with the main factor being gaining admission. There are two problems with this. First, the average quality of entering students has fallen rapidly in the past 25 or so years. As such, a degree from any school not called Tokyo University has decreased in value and prestige by quite a bit. While a big Japan megacorp may have been willing to hire 20 graduates from a second-tier national university in 1985 (because they were high value-add individuals), they may only see 5 graduates in 2017 from the same school with the same level of value add. Second, there are just fewer salaryman jobs available today. As such, schools that used to be a strong part of the hiring pipeline are now only mariginal parts of the pipeline. Many parents and students are very frustrated by this. Japanese megacorps have started leaning much more on low-prestige temporary workers to replace the missing warm bodies that they are not hiring (compared to the past). These temp jobs are terrible for Japanese society since they are relatively low wage jobs with low stability and low prestige -- it's almost like not having a job other than the fact that you have to be at work. As I have said in another reply, I hope the youth of Japan get sick of this and rebel -- the older generation is massively screwing the younger generation in a gaping societal generational divide.

Someone told me that the hard part about universities in Japan is getting in. Once you're in, you have to try to fail. Conversely, High School, while rote, is hard. In that sense, it's a bit opposite of other places like the Us where High School is not hard but typically University is hard.

This is largely a misconception about Japanese high schools.

Most Japanese high schools are ridiculously easy to graduate from.

That said, most of the _competitive_ Japanese high schools -- that is, the ones who send their students to the best schools -- require quite a bit of work to graduate from. There is a reason for this.

High schools are divided into tracks in Japan via entrance exams, so the competitive high schools get students who are largely on board with rigorous study. Their goal is to crush the college entrance exam, and the best schools are quite good at test prep (and often go beyond test prep into "proper" learning of the topic). The students know they will have to work hard, and they mostly do. I humbly suggest that the students in these high schools work about as hard as high school students in the US who are trying to get into highly competitive universities.

That said, most high schools in Japan are not terribly competitive to enter and don't have high academic ambitions for their graduates (and that's totally ok). These students often have a lot of fun in high school, much like American high school students who are aiming at low competitive universities or no university.

Yeah, I worked in a low level high school in Japan. People don't realise that for every high level school (where students are virtually all prepping for university entrance exams), there or 4 or 5 high schools that are prepping students for trade schools and/or jobs.

Having said that, high level high schools in Japan have a bigger curriculum than what I was familiar with (in Canada). They will cover quite a lot of the stuff that you'd cover in first year university. However, I'll agree that it probably isn't that much different than what students voluntarily cover if they are trying to get into competitive universities in the US, for instance.

Finally, I'd like to echo that students in low level high schools in Japan generally have a lot of fun. It was probably the best atmosphere of any place I've ever worked. Obviously there are some students that are having problems, but the vast majority really enjoy this time. You can see it on their faces -- smiling all day long.

I'm not planning on having kids, but if I were, I wouldn't hesitate to put them into the Japanese school system. Personally, I love it. There are advantages and disadvantages, but as long as the parents aren't pushing their kids into places they don't want to go it offers a lot more opportunity, IMHO.

Just one last point, since it was raised above: employers do spend a lot of time training. I had a friend who graduated from a prestigious university as an engineer. She went to work at a fibre optics company. She spent the first 2 years there building cables and studying. The company wanted to make sure that she understood everything about the business from top to bottom. Now nearly 10 years later, she's managing an engineering group. Very different environment.

>> There are advantages and disadvantages, but as long as the parents aren't pushing their kids into places they don't want to go it offers a lot more opportunity, IMHO.

In practice, parents who would like their children to keep their options open, struggle in the Japanese system. You have to decide from an early age to either go for it and work like a dog, or to slack off and enjoy life until entering the work-force but then having very clear limitations on your career.

One personal observation relevant to some HN folks concerns Kousen (technical college). The competition to get accepted is only moderate while the quality of education there is high, I feel. It's not the standard route, but it is definitely worth considering for those who wish to pursue a STEM field.

Also true of undergrad at so-called elite universities in the U.S. The "top schools" have something like 95% graduation rates.

> Also true of undergrad at so-called elite universities in the U.S. The "top schools" have something like 95% matriculation rates.

I think you mean "graduation rates", but I completely agree.

That said, there are some majors at elite schools that are very tough. The catch is that the enrollment in these majors/programs decreases rapidly as the weaker students change majors to something that is easier and/or requires less work.

^ this! Though I would argue not all top schools make it easy to change majors also the in major matriculation rate (people who start and dont transfer/change majors) vs school matriculation rate (do they graduate) is very important especially with the current focus on mental health at many universities.

Generally true to my knowledge, but I believe University of Tokyo and a few other top universities are an exception, especially in the sciences.

Tokyo University puts out some seriously badass researchers. Think Caltech, MIT, and ETH Zürich quality.

Sorry in what field? I would argue the number of these (as a %) on average are much lower (metric: top tier publications)

Also if you're looking at Asian univs, Tsinghua, Peking, SNU, NUS, KAIST and (CUHK/HKUST) should be there too ;)

My Japanese friends have told me that it's difficult to get in, and requires a lot of study for the entrance exam, but you don't have to work hard after you get in.

that would seem to make it comparable to a number of "elite" American universities ;)

Do you spend like six hours studying after school and eleven hours in weekends for several years? Then it is comparable :)

I'm sure it's a similar regimen to get into Stanford, except that time is spent towards research and other extracurriculars in addition to SAT prep.

It's not even close... it's... soooooo much more intense, and social/professional consequences are quite a bit more impactful.

Really? Most people going to 'target schools' for CS in the /r/cscareerquestions subreddit describe their experience as very intense and demanding.

So called 'target' schools for CS are largely not elite. People will be impressed by a degree from Harvard or MIT but I doubt you'd ever get a reaction for UIUC or the University of Texas.

(as someone who went to a CS target school) I would disagree with this, I would argue what you did also matters and who you're trying to impress

Yes, I would agree with your statement that what matters is who you're trying to impress. If you want to impress a graduate admissions committee, they are going to prefer certain schools for various reasons. When I think of an "elite" school, I am thinking in a more traditional sense. You aren't networking with the offspring of the people who are running countries and industries, the overall reputation and the type of students who attend are what separates "target" and "elite" schools. Outside of job interviews you don't really have the option to go through your CV and explain your research and related publications. Telling someone that you went to school in New Haven is much more impressive than telling them you went to CMU for this reason. I doubt Mark Zuckerberg would have met an Eduardo Saverin at CMU or UIUC.

Ah I apologize for misunderstanding -- I agree with this point quite well

you are a lot more busy in elite american Universities than in japanese ones.

super true. Hard to get in the best one, but once you are in no challenge whatsoever and they have so much free time they have time to have a baito (part time job) on the side. And after graduating you can easily see the new recruits arriving In companies and knowing nothing at all. Thats why cOmpanies dont even care what they did and have no problem putting folks who studied biology in sales.

I really don't see a way out for Japan that's not immigration. It might lead to social upheaval, but it sounds like that kind of change is sorely needed. A well executed immigration policy could inject fresh blood into that country.

I believe your hypothesis is correct, but I think the likelihood of significant levels of immigration is very low.

The reason is that while Japan tends to treat "westerners" quite favorably, it does not treat folks from developing countries nearly as well.

Japan is inviting many immigrants from developing counties -- ethnic Japanese from Brazil, undergrad and grad students from a variety of countries, laborers from a few low-cost Asian countries -- but this hasn't really had any positive long-term effects that I could see in terms of immigration. One problem is that these folks are treated like third-class citizens in their day-to-day lives (pay, prestige, news coverage, social treatment, etc.). This makes them feel not terribly welcome and sometimes a little bit scared (e.g., of being blamed with little recourse for a wrongdoing that a fellow countryman committed).

As a result of this treatment, many of the folks from these developing countries just aim for a money grab before they return to their country with a decent pile of f u money.

While many Japanese people I know and have known are interested in different cultures, they do not seem terribly interested in folding these cultures into Japanese culture melting pot-style. As such, I doubt that immigration will move the needle in terms of being a source of change in Japanese.

My only hope is that the youth of Japan get frustrated enough to have a 1960s-style social revolution that the US experienced (although focusing on slightly different vectors).

Source: Me. I was a professor in Japan in the past. I left because I witnessed the beginning of the universities failing (largely due to a massive lack of leadership), and I wanted to get out while the getting was good.

yes, and maybe immigration could actually be a good thing by creating problems to solve... a circular logic, but it may help unravel centuries of mono-culture and its idiosyncrasies such as mistrust and racism.

so all japan needs to do is completely destroy their own culture, its so simple now

You're really underplaying how much extant "Japanese culture" sucks for young people, and women, and everyone who isn't a wealthy old man. There's so much pressure to get a particular type of job (or marry a dude who has that type of job) and jobs of that type are quite unpleasant. Mis-investment on an immense scale (roads to nowhere, tearing down 20-story office buildings to build slightly fancier 22-story office buildings, ever-more-remote Tokyo suburbs while other cities wither, etc.) has deprived the rest of the economy of needed resources. That's left formerly-successful industrial organizations unable to reorganize for the "knowledge" economy. Big brands like Sony have been soundly beaten by Korean brands like Samsung. Those in charge are out of ideas, save for ideas about how to stay in charge. Everyone else is on the outside looking in.

There is such a huge gap between your incredibly bleak image of Japan and the lively, optimistic and impressive Japan that I live in. I've lost count of the number of gaijin experts on Japan who want to tell me about how wrecked Japan is, and how Japanese people are in denial, and all the ways they need to emulate the West to get with the program. I've also lost count of the things that Japan does measurably better than every other country I've lived in. In the real world, the Japan that I live in is a country that by almost every measure is unrivaled in terms of intelligence, thoughtfulness, convenience, social justice, curiosity, work ethic, respect for tradition, ambitions for the future, and the ability to live your life in peace.

But of course, Japan is very hard on itself and sets insanely high standards for itself at every level of society. If you are bullish on Japan, you're easily dismissed as a nationalist or racist or as living in denial.

I guess the ultimate revenge is living well, so I've already won from that perspective. I feel genuinely sorry for people who can't see a good thing for what it is.

>unrivaled in terms of intelligence, thoughtfulness, convenience, social justice, curiosity, work ethic, respect for tradition, ambitions for the future, and the ability to live your life in peace.

What about wealth and income inequality? And what is there to show in terms of social justice? And why is respect for tradition something to be valued? And the lack of laws that prevent discrimaniton (except for the constitution, which I've read only applies to the citizens)? I'm curious, not trying to come accross as attackative.

> Why is respect for tradition something to be valued

You strike me as somebody young, uninformed likely never raised a child. Tradition is what ties together the past present and future of humans. Most would say tradition is a major part of quality of life and in some cases, the only thing in life and part of living life in peace. The world is built on tradition, patterns, cultural ties. It's almost like asking 'what's so wrong with complete chaos in your life?" Seriously?

What about wealth and income inequality? Income inequality is everywhere and will always be, unless you want communism, in which case you end up with disastrous conditions and likely mass murder. What is there in terms of social justice? Well considering that people there live their lives making their own choices, that they have ample opportunity by and large for education and choosing careers, what's the problem? Nothing really, unless of course a western liberal shows up and tries to invent problems like they always do in order to usurp unearned power over others.

> There is such a huge gap between your incredibly bleak image of Japan and the lively, optimistic and impressive Japan that I live in.

Yet you manage to tackle not a single one of those criticisms head on. Of course, nobody read anything into that.

And revenge? For what? For someone not liking you? That right there points directly to what I don't find particularly sexy about lots of Asia but Japan especially, the obedience and the obsession with appearances, apart from not dealing with WW2 a whole lot. Why would you need revenge the opinion of someone else?

And you are saying that Japan among other things is unrivaled in ambitions for the future.. how do you measure that? By almost every measure even. I don't care if you lost count, I'll have the list of those measures the areas in which Japan is number #1. Not because I agree or dispute it is, I just find that in itself so odd that I'd even be just keen on hearing the dimensions you think there is a clear "best" at all.

Meanwhile, here's my first association when it comes to ambitions for the future:


And to tie in with the above,

> Cultural tolerance of suicide in Japan may also be explained by the concept of amae, or the need to be dependent on and accepted by others. For the Japanese, acceptance and conformity are valued above one’s individuality.

Is this totally off the mark? Edit the article then.

> I feel genuinely sorry for people who can't see a good thing for what it is.

It's not about not seeing the good, it's about seeing the bad. In my case, it's about saying "thanks but seriously, no thanks". People who think patriotism or friendship include blindness should start with being a friend to themselves. I don't behave differently towards individuals of any stripe, why should I treat individuals cloaking themselves in the vague word "culture" or "tradition"? If it helps, you can consider that my culture, my personal one.

"The best revenge is living well" is a well-known expression in English. I don't literally need to exact any revenge. If you want to dwell on shortcomings, that's what you'll do.

The graph in the article you've linked to [1] shows that suicide rate in Japan is comparable to Switzerland and New Zealand. Maybe this problem in Japan just gets more media attention?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_Japan#/media/File:S...

It does get more attention because liberals have been trying to crack Japan for a long time through propaganda, trying to insist that Japan NEEDs to change. Of course these liberals are racist and hate cultural and tradition and always want to create upheaval and are rightly disregarded by Japan BECAUSE it has strong tradition.

So I have been a Japan watcher/liver for the past 30 years. I might resemble some of the negative nellies you refer to, but not in precisely the same way. That said, you are about 180 degrees from what I and most of my trusted Japanese friends believe. I would like to better understand why we see things differently. Please help me understand.

So to define my beliefs in your terms:

- Japan is not currently wrecked economically, but they are rolling the dice with a ridiculously high debt to GDP ratio. Some of this can be reasonably explained away due to the specifics of Japanese saving in Japan, but not all of it.

- I don't think most Japanese people are in denial at all. They are largely cautiously pessimistic except for two groups (see below).

- I don't think that emulating the west is the best path forward. Many of my Japanese friends agree with me on this front. In fact, I think the manner in which Japan deregulated in the 80s and 90s under western-influenced guidance was a very bad move -- it gutted the core of the Japanese socio-economic structure without providing a reasonable replacement.

- I agree that Japan does many things better than the west. It also does many things worse (paging patio11).

- The only Japanese people I know who don't feel terribly concerned about the state of Japan are upper class people and folks who work for foreign companies or governments. The quality of their day-to-day lives is largely independent of the state of the Japanese economy.

So I wonder a few things about you. How long have you lived in Japan? How well do you speak Japanese? How many close Japanese friends do you have that don't speak English beyond short simple conversations? What do you do for a living?

My guess is that you work with the group I mentioned in my last bullet point, or you are just new to Japan.

If not, I am very very interested in learning from you.


1. How is Japan handling the debt to GDP ratio issue? This is genuinely an issue that is somewhere between scary and terrifying.

2. How are the folks in their 20s and 30s getting stable jobs at the same relatively high rate that they did in the 80s and (to a lesser extent) the early 90s? Note that anyone who went to an international school or a western university is not the target of my inquiry (those numbers are very small in aggregate).

3. How are Japanese banks handling the low/non-performing loans on their books? The last time I checked, they were just engaging in some polite fiction and hoping that a miracle will happen and/or they will be bailed out by the government via free funds or a devalued currency.

I genuinely hope you can show me the bright light of Japan's present and future. I left there because I saw that light dimmming rapidly. I will happily move back if I see any real potential. Please show me that potential in a compelling and convincing way -- I love Japan and desperately want the country to succeed, but I just don't see it now.

I'll indulge your request but I doubt it matters. My experience is mine and yours is different. The point I make above is that the relentless doomsaying about Japan is totally outside my experience and has no reality in my daily life. Am I just lucky? Yes and no.

First, I'm not an authority on Japan. I've lived here for three years about but have a history of spending long stretches of time here that goes back over a decade. My current situation is more that of a typical Japanese person than a typical gaijin--i.e., no one in my world speaks any English and I see another gaijin about once every few weeks at most. I live in Nagoya, which is obviously a big city, but also a very Japanese city, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I'm not in some satoyama paradise.

I have a lot of money by local standards. I run my own businesses which are state-side from here. My friends here range from taxi drivers to factory workers to CEOs. I would like to think I have a very interesting and diverse cross-section of people in my life. I'm well aware of the intense pressures of life here for people who are just scraping by. I know a lot if people who work in jobs that are soul destroying. They deal with bullies and stupid bosses and so on. I doubt anywhere is free of that kind of nonsense, though. I definitely don't think it's unique to Japan.

I've also never seen a ghetto in Japan, and there's one in every major American city. Japan has a working middle class that should be the envy of America--affordable and good housing, cars, food, healthcare, etc. Lots of unskilled jobs, arubaito, etc. Somehow, this is characterized as abject failure. You say that only upper class people live well in Japan, and I say that by any reasonable standard, everyone in Japan lives pretty goddamn well.

Everyone, everywhere worries about their future. That's not the point. The point is that Japan is not going anywhere. It will adapt, as it has done for thousands of years, but it is uniquely good at preserving some core values and those are what keeps me in this place. Values like being civil to one another, not being a crazy, selfish asshole, trying really hard to do a good job--you know, little things like that.

Coming from America (New York City), I find my life here far more gratifying, and less anxious. I don't care in the slightest if people need to justify their hangups by writing me off as a dupe or weeb or whatever self-inflicted misery they harbor.

I'm not going to answer your enumerated questions because I don't purport to write social or economic policy statements. There is a lot of wealth in Japan tied up in personal assets of old people. If Japan can weather the storm of providing a soft landing for the current generation, the future is bright. I will tell you that I'm moving my business here, and I'm involved in other startups here. I'm more bullish on Japan than the US long term. You are free to call me a fool and disagree.

Thank you for your response. It has made clearer to me the view of Japan from a newer generation of Americans (small, but definitely non-zero).

Some comments:

- Japan, as you see it now and to a large extent as I saw it when I most recently lived there, has a lot of quality of life (QoL) benefits that are common. Things like safety, nice people, high attention to detail, relative lack of poverty, etc. are so common in Japan that it is easy to take them for granted if you've been there for a while. (snark incoming) Note that you come from NYC, so improving these types of QoL aspects are a very low bar. ;-) All joking aside, I think you could find similar qualities that you like about Japan is some second-tier-sized US metropolitan area (much like Nagoya is a second-tier-sized metropolitan area in Japan).

- As a slightly seasoned Japan hand, I can tell you that you seem to lack the perspective of relatively recent Japanese history. From the 50s until the 80s, there were constant and substantial QoL improvements across the board in Japanese lives (in aggregate) -- better housing, better transportation, better food, better economy, etc. Parents always wanted better for their kids, and society delivered in spades. These days, kids are rarely better off than their parents, and holding the line is largely considered a success. As such, those with knowledge of Japan's recent past (perhaps before you were born) don't really see things as that great in the grand scheme of things. The present may not completely suck, but the future outlook isn't particularly rosy either. (Note that a similar comment can be made about the US from the 50s to the 00s with a slightly less negative outlook for today's youth, and I would agree, but the details of the rise and fall strike me as being vastly different -- a topic for another post). I encourage you to talk to older Japanese people about the 60s to 80s and compare that to how Americans (esp. non-New Yorkers... NYC is just different) talk about the same time period.

- On a personal level, I can say that the robustness of the Japanese economy is just a shadow of it's former self. This is most easily seen in the moribund state of the drinking districts (once bustling areas now seem like ghost towns), but it can also be seen in the heavily reduced footprint of light industry and logistics if you poke around the right places. Anyone who was alive in the 80s (and even early 90s) in Japan is kind of hoping for some of that economic swagger to return.

- Japan will certainly adapt, as you say. That's not really the worry. In fact, most Japanese people don't really have a good feel for Japan's rise and (the beginning of the) fall of Japan in the world political and economic scene. That said, those that do understand have been on a wild ride the past few decades, and I think the descent will continue quite a ways. This is and will be distressing to the Japanese elite (e.g., the folks who are internationally minded in terms of business and politics). Maybe this is the facet that you see differently than the negative/doomsayer folks.

- I'm glad to hear that you are in startups. This is one of the potential outlets that Japanese youth have for their talent (since Japan Inc is largely snubbing them). That said, the lack of social status of start up jobs is a potential problem. Maybe Japanese society has moved forward in this area recently and I haven't noticed (a couple of the tell-tale signs will be the quality of marriage prospects for Japanese founders/employees and the ability of Japanese start up founders/employees to rent nice places on reasonable terms when they are making decent money).

- FWIW, I think Japan will become an even better to host a US-based tech business moving forward. I personally believe that earning dollars and spending yen is very solid right now and will be ++++++++EV in the future.

- (side note nitpick, but there's a point) Note that I didn't say that "only upper class people live well in Japan". I don't believe that one bit. I said something like the upper class people and people who work for international companies and governments (note that you are one of these) are the only folks I know who don't worry about the Japanese economy, and that is largely because their/your day-to-day livelihoods are not tightly tied to the vagaries of the Japanese economy.

- It seems like you have a lot of appreciation of some of the dentouteki values of Japan -- I do, too. Sadly, compared to even 20 years ago, the institutions that support these values have deteriorated substantially. Thankfully, there are some diehards who still hold these values dear. I hope that they are able to pass the best of these on to future generations.

So this was a reply that was part for you and part for other readers. If you would like to continue the interaction, please let me know. Throw some sort of site or e-mail in your profile and I will contact you.

Thanks again for your reply -- it has helped me look at Japan from a different perspective.

Thank you, too, for a civilized back-and-forth. In the end, we all carry the perspective of whatever personal gauntlet we've run. To say that one man's trash is another man's treasure is not much a condemnation of garbage lovers as a celebration of our ability to keep things alive, I think.

Good for you; I also treasure the time I've spent in Japan. I'm not so worried about how Japan is different from other nations, as about how it seems to fall short of its own values. Don't get me started on USA... b^)

Some of the best events in history have been the destruction of cultures.

14th amendment.

VE Day. VJ Day.

The collapse of the Soviet Union.

I would characterize the Japanese social changes after world war 2 as far... far... more intense than the destruction of cultural institutions described by the comment above yours.

Japan has been influenced by the rest of the world for millennia - just recently there was an article posted to HN about ancient Persia having envoys to Imperial Japan[0,1], to say nothing of China, which is probably responsible for just about everything you associate with "Japanese culture," or the Western influences behind the Meiji restoration and postwar government.

All cultures change over time, even the ones that some people, for some reason, hold up as icons of homogeneous purity like Japan. A culture which isn't an expression of the people who currently live in a certain place and time is dead. That immigration would inevitably alter Japanese culture is a sign of health and evolutionary progress, not destruction.

I mean, the Ainu might even consider it karma, since they were already there before the Yamato showed up with their weird foreign ideas.



Being 'influenced' by other places is definitely not the same thing as mass migration.

We often think of 'Tea' as a very English thing (and it is in many ways now), but of course it has it's roots in China/Asia i.e. global trade.

The Japanese borrowed ideas from elsewhere for quite some time (as has everyone of course), but they would view 'building Western warships' as something very different from 'importing millions of Westerners'.

Also, one could argue that Japan, for a variety of reasons, was far more isolated than other places.

One could also argue that the rate of cultural change by immigrants is lessened by the need for those immigrants to operate within the system, and by their relative lack of influence on the culture as a whole.

You're probably going to have a hard time finding a job in Japan that isn't "English Teacher" if you can't speak Japanese effectively - which is an example of the parent culture exacting a price in the form of partial assimilation for the opportunity of cultural exchange.

Plus, most immigrants to Japan are probably going to be from China, Korea or other Asian countries, simply because of proximity. Immigration doesn't necessarily have to mean millions of Westerners.

How does immigration mean that you're "destroying their own culture"? Please stop talking in hyperbole and being sarcastic, it isn't helpful.

I can't see why a unique culture ought to be 'preserved' as people say, either. And I can't see why the 'bad' parts cannot be slowly eroded over time. Nor do I see why certain 'races' ought to be kept. This has always been an argument that's been relatively ignored - why exactly is it desirable to keep a certain race or culture, especially when certain elements of that culture are horrible?

Please do not misinterpret me; I do not speak in terms of some 'white man's burden' in a colonial way. It is ultimately the decision of the Japanese citizens. But I do not see why they should be motivated in the name of nebulous and vague concepts of pride rather than what is best pragmatically.

> It is ultimately the decision of the Japanese citizens

I mean, that's exactly it. Why is it so shocking an idea that the Japanese apparently prefer to retain their homogeneity even if it weakens their economy?

I don't think it's fair to assume that 'lack of immigration' = 'bad economy'.

There are tons of places in the world with fairly massive immigration and/or multicultural societies - that are far worse than Japan.

Brazil is a very, very multi-ethnic and blended society - and it's not exactly a paradise.

In fact - the opposite may be true: Japan is not a huge-huge country, and they hit massively 'above their weight' on so many things.

One could possibly argue that their ethnic cohesion and national identity are actually drivers of their success.

On the whole I guess it's hard to tell, but again I don't think it's fair to always assume 'immigration = good for economy'.

>Why is it so shocking an idea that the Japanese apparently prefer to retain their homogeneity even if it weakens their economy?

Is this true? How do you know?

I'm mostly judging by the fact that Japan is a democratic country in which immigration is incredibly restricted. The country is over 98% ethnically Japanese.

Immigration here is incredibly relaxed. If you have a college degree, you can find someone willing to offer you a job, and you haven't committed a felony, you're welcome. People just choose not to come to Japan because they endlessly hear how supposedly racist it is here and how difficult it is to get over the language barrier.

And it may be a surprise to many westerners who find a need to push their cultural and political perspectives everywhere, but some people do indeed prefer protecting a cultural or national identity over quick economic gains. A non-insignificant portion of the world looks at America and and instead of thinking, "Wow, this is what we need to be", thinks, "This is what I don't want to become."

> "This is what I don't want to become."

Very much doubt this is due to our history of immigration.

Is this the same kind of logic that says gay people shouldn't have kids people the bigots will bully them?

> gay people shouldn't have kids people

Come again?

> Very much doubt this is due to our history of immigration.

The south is full of racists anyway, according to media portrayal.

> Is this the same kind of logic

Since the US is a multi faceted country you can reasonably assume that it's not all ideally awe-inspiring.

> the bigots will bully

Whereas you take extra care to remain neutral or at least not to flame offensively in an unrelated thread? That doesn't seem to be working for you either.

I appreciate your insight. I think that's a big part of the difference -- in the US "relaxed immigration" would mean people without money or skills.

That's not evidence; you'll have to show that at least 50% of the population believe in 'preserving Japanese identity' and have voted as such to limit immigration, for that purpose. Otherwise you're talking from nothing, just your intuition. It's an easy intuition to have, I'll give you that.

I thought the use of "apparently" would imply it was intuition.

countries In europe with massive immigration levels are not doIng extremely well. Lets not pretend immigration solves everything please.

I assume you are referring to the refugee crisis. Nobody claims that refugees help with the economy. Nobody is saying immigration solves everything.

Actually there are people in this thread who think that destroying culture is a positive thing, so people are in fact saying that and sometimes they are pushing for it whether they say it outright, or they do it without knowing it will be the consequence.

And as far as the places that have refugees where people are not happy about it, many people are insisting that refugees "help the economy" as a reason it should continue of course it's a narrow assessment and totally invalidates citizens concerns and that's the problem. Not to mention those pushing for refugees never seem to live in the neighborhoods where the burden or problems will need shouldered. It's always some moral stance rather than an empirical one and frankly a citizens preference to not have to deal with the trouble should be the first consideration but lately it hasn't been.

It's not.

Accepting more immigrants doesn't have to mean destroying own culture. I don't see why Japan can't promote and preserve its own culture while accepting immigrants. Is coexisting that hard?

>Is coexisting that hard?

Yes. Because of culture clashes. New Culture B doesn't like how existing Culture A "does things" and demands a change. While they are some small minority, they often get ignored by the majority (Culture A). Over time, as more and more of Culture B immigrates into Culture A, they become large enough of a group that they can no longer be ignored. If Culture B was totally fine with adopting Culture A and adding to the culture rather than demanding things be done their way "culture killing" wouldn't be as large of an issue.

If each culture was 100% identical they would be the same culture, not different cultures. So there will always be culture clash.

One such example of cultures clash is Japan's "cute culture" is often seen as perverted from the outside world and there are often calls to censor things that are seen as being totally innocent in Japan.

What side you think is "right" or "wrong" is largely opinion in most cases and the two sides will fight - and hopefully (but rarely) those fights never escalate past yelling at one another.

>If Culture B was totally fine with adopting Culture A and adding to the culture rather than demanding things be done their way "culture killing" wouldn't be as large of an issue.

What if those in Culture B face problems? Should they not ask for change? What if those in the culture are citizens? The idea that people can't ask or demand for things just because they are of a different culture is ridiculous.

>and there are often calls to censor things that are seen as being totally innocent in Japan.

What are you referring to? At a guess, I'd say lolicon/shotacon pornography (which often faces calls to be censored and has been censored in many countries), which is hardly seen as innocent anywhere. That said, I very strongly disagree with the idea of censoring it.

I find the idea of 'culture clash' to be ridiculous, and the reason is that even within cultures there is a huge aemount of variation as to how things should be done. So why are those people legitimate (such as the Japanese Marxists) but those of a different culture are not legitimate? How is 'culture' even defined, and what elements must one have of it?

It's a very nebulous concept so I do not think that drawing the lines you are drawing makes much sense with regard to actual human interactions. Or I could be misinterpreting you, in which case please correct me. I'd say that ignoring people who are complaining is a very dangerous thing to do, in terms of the happiness and benefit for all in society, not just those of your tribe/race/hair colour/football team/culture.

> What if those in Culture B face problems? Should they not ask for change? What if those in the culture are citizens? The idea that people can't ask or demand for things just because they are of a different culture is ridiculous.

Sure, they should absolutely ask for change. I think the point is that if Culture B wants to change the course of the nation to something that the currently dominant Culture A really doesn't like, it's not crazy for people of Culture A to not want to import a whole bunch more people who subscribe to Culture B and in the process give said culture way more power.

I'm talking different countries (re: immigration) and not minority groups within a country. If you don't like Culture A and want Culture B, stay in Culture B's country. If you think Culture B has problems and that's why you want to leave, pause and think that maybe the culture plays a role in those problems and that's why other people don't want it brought to their country.

There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with huge portions of a foreign culture. For example, I have an issue with Sharia Law. Especially the whole "I should be stoned to death" parts of it. As such, anyone who supports Sharia Law can stay the hell out of my country and I will fight to keep it that way. I'm aware there is some number in my country who already support Sharia Law - and I do not want to swing them from "minority with no power" to "majority dragging me into the streets".

>What are you referring to? At a guess, I'd say lolicon/shotacon pornography...

More innocent things, not sexual things. Even in Japan, lolicon/shotacon is not seen as "innocent". I used to get in conversations about these things with a Japanese friend, as he couldn't see what was the problem American's had with certain things. I'll see if I can't find some examples in my old chat logs for you.

>I find the idea of 'culture clash' to be ridiculous, and the reason is that even within cultures there is a huge aemount of variation as to how things should be done. So why are those people legitimate (such as the Japanese Marxists) but those of a different culture are not legitimate?

>It's a very nebulous concept so I do not think that drawing the lines you are drawing makes much sense with regard to actual human interactions.

I'm fine with admitting my line is not very well drawn. In fact, you could call the line I draw completely arbitrary, illogical, and even downright unfair.

I don't identify strongly with any particular culture and am very open to learning from other cultures. I love other cultures. I love the "melting pot" culture of the U.S.A which is, ironically enough, the very thing I disagree with in most other countries. I do not pretend to understand or know the reasons, but the blend of cultures seems to mostly "work" in the US while being a complete disaster in many other countries overall (a few exceptions for some cities/regions that have successfully managed multiculturalism).

This is largely my opinion. I base my opinion on how I see both history and the modern day playing out, from country to country. My issue stems entirely from the "how" they get mixed and not that they "shouldn't mix at all", although I believe some cultures do not "mix as well" as other cultures.

I think we can all agree that there already are vetting processes to screen for immigrants who are least likely to receive and give cultural shocks with existing cultures within the country. These should be given appropriate weight as desired by citizens of the country.

>These should be given appropriate weight as desired by citizens of the country.

Which is precisely the decision that has already been made that people not part of the culture disagree with. Surprise, surprise, people with different cultural values are disagreeing with the decision made by another culture regarding their own cultural values. Going so far as to argue that they should change their cultural values to more align with the cultural values of the criticizers because their cultural values are "not worth defending" and should be changed. Color me unsurprised.

This is still the most accurate and most depressing comic I've seen regarding timeless topics such as these [0]. You can look into history and see something play out in the exact same way dozens if not hundreds of times, across many cultures and even differing centuries, yet people will insist it won't happen that way this time for whatever reasons they can contrive.

I can list out dozens of cultures that have disappeared with time due to (1) invaders or (2) assimilation. There are many cultures that have changed with time, on their own terms, and those cultures are among the oldest in the world with the oldest traditions - and often are very isolated cultures with few immigrants. You can list out drastic changes in cultures, which often follow wars (for the losing side) or genocide. You can argue some drastic changes in culture due to losing war is overall good (re: Nazis. They lost.) but that isn't the case every time for every war.

I'm all for sharing cultures and learning from one another. I'm not one for destroying cultures because they hold different cultural values than some other group of people who think they are "right". Most of the world's greatest evils have been committed by groups of people who were certain they were the ones who were "right".

[0] http://i.imgur.com/AerTpYJ.png

The better question is why should they have to? Because Western countries decided their economy is more important than their autonomy to decide these things?

They don't have to. I just wanted to point out non-sequitur conclusion.

I think it's better to have a little less money then have a higher crime rate that migrants would bring.

Hmm, so if Japan was to accept a bunch of Muslim refugees from Syria but ban the women from wearing hijabs would you call that racist?

Japan wants people living in Japan over the long term to adopt Japanese value and mannerisms.

They value this because they want a harmonious society.

Is it not at all conceivable that "people living in Japan over the long term to adopt Japanese value and mannerisms." might actually exist? We're picking extremes here, I am sure real data will reveal better picture.

> I really don't see a way out for Japan that's not immigration.

That's a pretty small-minded and dogmatic statement; it basically amounts to "copy US policy, it's the only way." At some point, someone in the world is going to actually have to solve the problem of stagnant or declining populations, without copping out and just importing new populations from elsewhere.

I mean, the US way works. Immigration, especially of skilled labour, lends real tangible benefits to the US, its growth, and its culture.

Immigration of skilled labor is always valuable. Japan, the US, France, Germany, etc should always welcome it, and should have policies that allow people with verified and needed skills to immigrate.

However, drowning your citizens in a sea of immigrants is cultural suicide. If your culture is such that it has allowed your ancestors to build a country that immigrants want to flee their own countries to live in, then your culture is worth preserving, rather than allowing it to be replaced by the culture of those who would happily flood into it.

That means, you can't solve your demographic problems by opening the floodgates. Instead, you need to fix the economic problems that are making people hesitant to have children in the first place.

It's not a floodgates vs nothing situation. You can certainly decide on an appropriate rate that you're comfortable with - enough to jumpstart the economy but not enough to completely drown out the host culture.

Hasn't Japan already done that? Secondly, I think it's very Western-centric viewpoint that your country's economy comes before everything else.

I mean without a strong economy everything else around it kinda goes to shit.

As an American I'm inclined to agree, but I still think that's for the Japanese to decide.

Well, that "US way" has worked better than every other developed country in that respect, why not adopt it?

The US was amazingly gifted by geography and natural resources.

Trying to credit America's success on the "US Way" is fallacious - I don't think we'd be much worse off if we were ruled by a monarchy, or even an extremely ethnically homogenous culture, since we're protected by two oceans, have massive oil and mineral and forest reserves, and had the native population decimated by infectious diseases before we moved in.

Because there are huge side effects by copying the "US way". If you want a much smaller scale and a weaker version of the US then adopt it. That is definitely not what the Japanese people want.

Right, and the current situation is one such consequence of that. Of course they could try something else - they've been trying since the 90's from what I understand, with mixed results at best.

We do not live in a one variable world.

You can't ascribe the position of the US solely to its immigration policies. Especially since it's impossible to correlate immigration trends in recent years in the US to economic trends.

japanese culture predates "the US way" by thousands of years.

Modern Japan was founded in 1868 and then destroyed and rebuilt again in WW2. The people have been there that long, but the country and culture haven't.

i dont even know where to begin with how wrong this is. what culture is something like Todai-Ji a part of? since japan was apparently invented in 1868

Modern Japan isn't building Shinto shrines, they're making ugly concrete towers and those houses that seem to be made out of bathroom tile.

>what culture is something like Todai-Ji a part of?


whatever you say

You're not aware that Buddhism isn't native to Japan? And here I thought you were a cultural expert on all things Japanese.

Although I did make an error - it's both Korean and Chinese.

its a japanese buddhist/shinto temple. an american church isn't roman.

and buddhism isn't chinese.

The point, which you seem to be missing, is drawn somewhere on the arbitrary line between "true" Japanese culture, and foreign culture. Buddhism isn't Chinese, but it reached Japan by way of China and Korea.

So, yes, it's a Japanese Buddhist/Shinto temple. But the religion isn't originally Japanese, and neither is the architecture. The only thing native there is the Shinto.

No one considers modern Japan to not be Japanese, despite it being, in some sense, an American reboot of a Prussian remix of Imperial China. If you want to say Japanese culture predates the US by "thousands of years," fine - except you would need to ignore the thousands of years of European culture that America is based on to do so.

And also ignore the fact that, yes, modern Japanese culture is very much a product of the postwar period, making it both older than, and newer than, the US. And the aspects which are newer are likely the more relevant to Japanese people.

You are absolutely right. Korea and Japan are investing heavily into robots.

Korea has a lot of immigrants.

not as many as Japan. Korean is a lot more homogeneous than Japan.

'The only way for Japan to progress is to abolish Japanese culture in favour of multiculturalism'.

... is how many people in the other parts of the world would view that position.

Maybe it's hard to understand for 'New World' people, who don't really have a sense of their own ethnicity, but it's very different elsewhere.

'Japan' is not so much a 'nationality' in the modern, Western sense.

'Japan' is the place where the 'Japanese' live.

The 'nation' of Japan is a legal construct around an ethnic group.

While I agree some degree of openness will definitely help the 'GDP' and on some other measures, it's important to grasp that other people will see it differently.

In new 'New World' - we generally focus on culturally secular measures, such as 'the GDP' i.e. a benchmark for the economy, which 'helps everyone' - and it avoids difficult socio-cultural arguments.

But almost everywhere else it's not like that.

I live in Quebec - and the Quebecois are an 'ethnic group' - and so politics here is totally different. We have state-sponsored child care for example - partly due to the very socialist political perspective, but partly because of the coherence of the community: it's really easy to get others to grasp the social benefits. They naturally seem themselves as part of a community, at least more so than the Anglo universe.

No culture has escaped appropriation and mixing, especially not Japan. So much of modern Japanese life has been molded by the American occupation.

Why do you think more non-Japanese people in the country means the end of Japanese culture? I know many foreigners who live long-term in Japan and have absorbed many ways of working in the society. Why do you think they stay?

Ultimiately, the base belief behind the anti-multicuturalism position is that culture cannot/will not be learned.

Think about the trope of all the people moving to the US for the American Dream. Have they not accepted American culture? People move place for reasons beyond economics.

I think your example is more a case of the Protestant work ethic coming into play (people should help themselves)

" So much of modern Japanese life has been molded by the American occupation."

Very true. But it's also fundamentally different than if the American influence were to have come from 10 or 20 million actual Americans living in Japan.

"Have they not accepted American culture?"

America does not have a culture in the classical sense of the term, or to be more fair - it's a new kind of culture.

Ergo - there is a 'lot less to accept'.

In America, you can 'do as you please' so long as you're not out go hurt anyone.

In Japan, there are a myriad of rules, spoken and unspoken, that one must adhere to.

It's easy for immigrants to 'get along' in the New World.

It'd be exceedingly hard to do so in places with more established classical culture.

This can be seen in Europe: they are very much intellectually and political open to newcomers, and yet have a really, really hard time integrating them.

There are dangerous, 'no go' zones in Sweden.

There are zero 'no go' or dangerous places here in Canada (or at least not based on migrant residence), where we have a lot more immigrants than Sweden.

In Canada we don't have our own language, customs, no cuisine, few social expectations other than fairly secular ones: go to school, get a job, be good, pay your taxes.

It is demonstratively untrue that the US doesn't have a culture. You think the people on the Mayflower had mindwipes before landing? The country is full of people with a certain mindset.

One could argue that American culture is shitty, but it's a direct extension of western European culture. Why else are so many movies retellings of Shakespeare and not Romance of the three kingdoms?

Obviously Canada also has a culture.

Every 'no go' zone claim I've seen is followed by debunking , so forgive me if I take that with a grain of salt.

No go zones are not a thing, seriously.

> no cuisine

I dunno. Poutine is pretty tasty.

Poutine is Junk Food sold at McDonalds and CostCo. I would not call it "Canadian Cuisine".

If you go to any food court in Canada what you will find is a myriad of ethnic foods: Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Lebanese, etc.

that's the same everywhere. Tokyo's department store restaurants contain a bit of everything. Paris is filled with ethnic food.

I was confused about your use of the word "nation in the modern Western sense" first there. It used to mean more or less same thing in the West, especially in Europe. Of course the construction of nation-states and their borders in Europe during the 19th century was often quite arbitrary compared to the Japanese who live on an island and have done so for ages.

Until at what point? Eventually the entire world is going to have to face a demographic change in the form of population reduction considering the whole 9 billion+ thing. You can't just continue to import more people from abroad and believe that it's a long term solution.

There's also a case to be made for culture, and preservation of unique ethnicity.

Addressing your first point: the problem is that they're stagnating /now/. They don't have the means or will or resources to deal with their problems. There's not enough labour to support the elderly population.

I'm sure they can decrease inflow at an appropriate time, but for now, they need fresh blood and fresh ideas.

They are "stagnating now" but the long term problem isn't solved even with immigrants. So the point is that humanity itself needs to find a sustainable solution. They definitely have the resources to deal with their problems, they just don't have the labour to utilize those resources. For example migrant labor is definitely a solution that Japan is working on.

>There's also a case to be made for culture, and preservation of unique ethnicity.

These are two different things. Make the case for the latter.

I'm not making the claim in question, but I thought it might be interesting to try to give a not-obviously-completely-wrong line of reasoning for why a /variation/ of the claim could be plausible.

Could there be some advantage in having multiple populations with some positive and non-negligible but still not super high amount of mixing, over having a single population which, uh, mixes with itself "uniformly" ?

Like, what if random genetic variation over time in the different groups going in "different directions" but always mixing with the others a bit might allow for more diversity of things being "tried" than in the single group, and maybe this would result in "good ideas" being "tried"/"discovered" more often, and which could then spread to the other groups.

The "good ideas" would of course spread to the other groups more slowly than if it was all in one group, but maybe there could be some level of mixing where an improvement in the rate of "good ideas" being "found" was enough to outweigh the cost of "good ideas" taking longer to spread to different groups, so that all the groups benefit?

HOWEVER: note that I am not advocating making any decisions based on this argument. Even if such a level of mixing/not-mixing exists which would be better than having it all be one group, that doesn't mean that that level of mixing is less mixing than would happen if this argument were not considered, so this argument does not mean decreasing mixing would be good. If the level of (genetic) mixing has an impact at all (I don't know if it does), it seems equally possible that the optimal level is greater than the current level.

(Maybe if the level of mixing were "too low", then the mixing would become less effective? In the extreme (unrealistic) case, if the different groups became almost unable to mix, as a result of mixing too rarely, that might be very bad, because then "good ideas" couldn't spread from group to group?)

And even if some levels of mixing would result in better results (e.g. in health) over time than others, and even if a different level were better than the level that would be the result if no one tried to influence this level, that doesn't mean it would be good to try to influence the level towards that "better" level. Attempting to influence that level might be e.g. dehumanizing or un-virtuous, or bad for other reasons.

I want to make it very clear that I'm just talking about this as an intellectual exercise, and am not advocating any actions based on this argument. These lines of reasoning were ignoring the fact that the groups being considered are people, and really, the fact that these people are /people/ makes things relating to that much more important than any of the other considerations, and when they conflict, the fact that these are /people/ takes priority over any concerns about like, "gene flow" or whatever.

If you are concerned that the ideas in this comment might be repeated in harmful ways I am willing to delete this comment upon request, as long as this website lets me do that.

Nation-states, at least large ones such as Japan and the United States, might not be the best level to apply a "diversity without, uniformity within" policy though. It probably makes more sense to control mixing at the city or county/prefecture level.

They have a massive untapped reserve workforce in women that they're completely inept at incentivizing and mobilizing.

No, it seems they have decided they prefer robots to immigrants.

It actually makes more sense with all the talk about the ai revolution.

It is much easier to immigrate into Japan than the US. Well, only if you can take a pay cut.

Finishing the gender role revolution (i.e. men also take care of home and the kids, not getting drunk with coworkers every night) and ensuring that income security for the younger generations is at least as good as for the older generations would go a long way even without immigration.

I think most people who do not live in Japan would be very surprised at how far this "revolution" has progressed. The problem is that Japan's older generations, Japan Inc in particular, have given these folks the collective middle finger (e.g., no stable and/or prestigious jobs for these folks).

You're right that income security (and status security, imho) would go a long way towards addressing the problem. That said, that digs much deeper into Japanese social issues -- for example, small business owners (e.g., small restaurant/bar owners, consultants, tech entrepreneurs, etc.) are often perceived as having lower social status than salarymen even though they sometimes make bucket loads more money. Folks in lower prestige careers have a harder time getting married, getting loans, moving into good neighborhoods, etc.

As such, the men who embrace the revolution are ipso facto marginalized in society.

Once Japan can embrace more individualistic careers more favorably, then I think their economy will be able to move forward more aggressively, and the "revolution" folks will have a more prominent and visible role in society.

Japan's policy problems seem to be (a) underinvestment in people, (b) poor labor policy leading to over work and (c) population decline due to people's difficulties facing such an environment.

How does immigration help? Say some people immigrate next year. They stick around. They become Japanese. Their children are (a) trained in the Japanese way and (b) find themselves subject to the same labor policy as other Japanese. What has changed?

Is immigration related to education quality? And people with good skills would rather immigrate to places like California because the salaries are higher there.

Also japanese language (writing and reading) is very difficult for foreigners because one has to learn thousands of kanji characters.

A way out of what?

The collapse of the Japanese population, and with it, its economy, education system, and way of life?

Japan's GDP per capita, which is IMO the only real measure of wealth, ranks the country at 37, above Finland and France.

The education system, as the article points out, is underfunded not because they don't have the money, but because they're spending it on other things.

And one sure method to destroying your way of life is to let a bunch of people in who are there for the money and aren't particularly interested in your way of life. If you're a Japanese person in Japan and you don't want to live in another country, why would you want other countries to live with you?

Japan is a resource-poor country without much arable land. They could stand to have a smaller population. From what I can see the only real downside to a smaller population is military power, and in the age of nuclear weapons I'm not sure how much it matters, particularly for an island nation.

Hmmmm.... you make a prima facie good argument, but I'm not really convinced.

While Japan may not presently be gutted in terms of GDP, I wonder if we are witnessing the slow rotting from inside right now.

The older generations are demanding to be supported by the younger generation in a number of ways, but they are not giving the younger folks the means to do so via decent-paying jobs and jobs that are stable enough to encourage the start of a family (i.e., future generations).

Right now Japan is printing money hand over fist to try to make something -- anything -- happen economically. I don't see that it's working, and I wonder how long they can keep doing this before they take a hit on the economic side (GDP or otherwise).

If Japan can make it 25-30 years with something like their current GDP, then they will be fine -- their population will have shrunk, and there will be no big bubble on the top of their population by age pyramid. That said, think their economy will take a huge hit a some point in that timeframe.

Do you see much positive hope on the economic side moving forward?

if you want to collapse the japanese way of life then opening up immigration is probably the fastest way to do that.

Immigration is not all or nothing. You can allow in a set number of immigrants a year - enough to inject new ideas but not enough to drown out Japanese culture. They're your borders, no one's stopping you.

it WILL lead to social upheaval. People calling for massive immigration to Japan to "change things" is ludicrous. "oh you aren't good enough, we need to flood your land with unfamiliar people" so you can change to fit x standard. Absurd and racist.

As an Asian and knowing many Japanese friends, I just said this report is true. However not only universities in Japan, all the universities in asian countries are facing structural problems in college education.

People treat college degrees like their passports/certificates to get higher positions in society and better works. They are willing to study harder to enter colleges, and then play for 4 years in university.

It's about cultural problems, especially bureaucracy. It exists in asian blood. People would not like to face the truth, but obey the order. Maybe it's originated from Prussian education system and chinese bureaucratic system(former Roman Empire in Asian), and finally cause the failures of education and creativity.

As an Asian, it is true that most of the countries in Asia work hard to enter college but in Korea, this is no longer true that they party in university.

Tightening job market drove students to study job-related certificates and tests such as Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). This is so grueling for young generations with grow student debts.

Students often defer their graduations to appear fresh in the job market. http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/south-korean-students-delayin...

Why would the Japanese look to a London based publication for validation of their rankings among Asian universities? This sort of thing is not an exact science and it's a shame Asia (I know India does this a lot) continues to hold the West (UK/USA specifically) as some great arbitrator and moderator of the world when they may have their own vested interests about things - and of course vice versa.

The question should be does that report have merit, not which nationality produced it.

How would you measure if it has merit? No one can know for sure if the report has merit, it's their opinion based on their metrics and what they consider to be important properties to measure, like I said it's not an exact science.

I don't know anything about the report, but one would hope that these metrics are published and have some verifiability. One could create empirical metrics based on research output, monetization, patents, keynote speeches, citation counts, etc. It doesn't have to be so fuzzy.

My point is not to be knee-jerk about the nationality source, but rather look at the claims and evaluate them. If they previously ranked Tokyo University so highly -- should we throw that out too?

"One could create empirical metrics based on research output, monetization, patents, keynote speeches, citation counts, etc. It doesn't have to be so fuzzy."

Would it really help the average student? I went to Berkley for a semester, and in some courses we watched the professor on video. He literally phoned it in.

I actually had a better learning experience at my local community college.

This is just my subjective experience.

I have known too many people who literally drank/hallucinated their way through an Ivy League school. They graduate, and don't tell anyone the truth about their fancy college learning experience. There's no test at the end to correlate into an empirical metric. It's just, "I graduated from this UC, or Whatever!".

I would like to see every school that accepts federal/state tax money give their students a standardized test, and future funding would be based on the collective students score. It would have to be a fair balanced test. Instead of I graduated from MIT; it would be I graduated with a 95%.

It might level out the playing field? It would prevent networking--maybe? It would prevent having to "kiss ass"? It would prevent me from throwing up in my mouth when a new Princeton graduate puts on the horned rimmed glasses shortly after graduation, and just expects respect.

Indeed, postmodernism is not a science at all.

Test of us non-postmodernists value an education system capable of producing competent elites, who in turn produce value for society (measure that how you like). By that measure, it's pretty apparent that Japan's universities are doing poorly.

And the Japanese agree with this, in case you missed it. Please stop with this nauseating pedantry.

Japan is going pretty well last I checked. It's one of the few places that is successfully transitioning to a lower birth rate via population shrinkage rather than mass immigration, enabling them to maintain their own culture and people.

Serious question... do you or have you recently lived in Japan?

Japanese people don't think things are going so well.

Many knowledgeable non-Japanese don't think that things are going so well.

My personal take is that Japan is taking a huge gamble by taking on a massive amount of debt relative to their GDP. The piper will need to be paid at some point.

John Mauldin had described the Japanese economy as a bug in search of a windshield. Based on what my Japanese friends in the financial sector say, they agree. Everyone is just crossing their fingers now and hoping that something... anything... happens to force a redirect. No one is quite sure what this will look like (I personally think yen will take a big hit, but that's just a guess).

I have lived in Japan since I was a teenager and people have been predicting an economic collapse leading to the end of Japan since before then.

Not saying that you're wrong but it's not the first time I have read that comment.

Agreed. This demise had been predicted for a LONG time.

Trying to time a short has always been a fool's game. I don't think it's different this time.

That said, I don't see any reason on the ground to be optimistic at all.

I've been told that the olympics in 2020 is one such possible happening.

Well, for a very unintuitive value of "maintain their own people". A low birth rate has pretty direct effects on that.

And why should we discount an opinion just because the source is from outside the country? Internal biases are every bit as severe as outside biases.

> Why would the Japanese look to a London based publicatio

This is playing identity politics at its worst. You're saying that a London based publication might have vested interest about things, and therefore somebody from a foreign country shouldn't care about their rankings at all.

You don't address how the rankings are formed, if they're accurate or not, or if they're useful in measuring the economic value of the graduates.

You also don't propose another ranking system/methodology/evaluation system. You're basically bringing nothing to the table except "Asia has an inferiority complex" which is a statement you don't back up with facts.

Yup, those rankings are completely subjective bullshit. Something like 50% of the score is based on asking a selection of academics what their opinion of a university is.

I agree, although reputation is closer to 25% of the score. The rest is based on factors like number of citations, impact, which in my opinion benefits institutions from English speaking countries.

Are you suggesting they should ignore perspectives outside of "Asia"?

  > London based
It's US based. Perhaps you're thinking of The Economist?

"Uiversity of Tokyo lost its number one ranking, falling to number seven, in the Asia university rankings published by the Times Higher Education of London"

See the first paragraph of the article, the rankings are by Times Higher Education.

The article says the rankings were published by Times Higher Education of London.

I applied to a university in Japan and got in.

Essentially it's hard to get in, once you in, you pass. Work culture in Japan and school is a bit toxic.

If Japanese universities are failing, how they are leaders in science?

Brilliant research universities can be terrible educators, and vice versa.

Are they? I hear more about American, British, and Chinese universities and research institutions than Japanese institutions.

Can you qualify 'leaders in science' ? It's hard to quantify a broad statement :)

Looks like an interesting article after the first couple of paragraphs, but the paywall makes it hard to say really.

This seems to be a copy-paste of the article: https://sanrikufukkou.com/2016/11/08/japan-gets-schooled/

seems to be offline

Click "Web" at the top, and click the non-Hacker News link

Thanks for pointing that out, it's a useful feature, but that doesn't get around the paywall here.

Try opening the 'web' link in a different browser, maybe in private mode. That worked for me.

No go on incognito, but switching browsers did it. Thanks

Still paywalled?

One little-known fact is that to be accepted by todai is not that difficult compared to be accepted by todai risan (the medical doctor course). About 3000 people enter todai every year but only 100 are accepted to risan. Recently as a trend, almost all of the top students in the very top high school try to go there and it is a problem which is considered a huge waste of intelligent people in Japan. I have heard that one todai dropout took 10 years to be accepted by todai risan. The trend continues for students entering other medical doctor courses at other prestigious universities, such as Kyoto University and so on.

According to the same survey by Times Higher Education, Harvard is #6 in US! So why is Harvard in such decline? /s

As soon as their economy picks up, I bet that THE and others would start praising the virtues of the Japanese education system again, regardless of any changes (or no change) in education.

As soon as their economy picks up...

Japan had their real estate and stock market bubble in 1990. The Nikkei index reached nearly 40,000. People in Japan speculated that Japan would pass the US in GDP in a few years.

Then came the long crash.[1] The Nikkei index dropped all the way to 7000 by 2003. Then it recovered some, but crashed again in 2008. There's been considerable recovery since; it's now around 20,000. But that's still half of the peak.

(The US market is back above its all-time peak before the 2008 crash. It's probably overinflated, but not as badly as before 2008.)

Japan was the first country to hit the "postindustrial wall", or "what are all these people going to do"? I'd hoped they'd come up with a solution the US could copy. But the best Japan has been able to come up with is heavy spending on infrastructure to keep people busy.

[1] http://finance.yahoo.com/chart/%5En225?ltr=1#eyJtdWx0aUNvbG9...

The problem of Japan is caused specifically because of its make work culture.

Jobs are focused on shoe face, NOT on producing value.

What matters is not how good you are it is how many years you have put into the company working 80 hour weeks.

It is unsurprising to me that a culture not focused on producing value wouldn't produce much value.

Shoe face?

You know, shoe face, the classic make work gambit where you employ people to makes shoes with their faces because it's inefficient you have to employ a lot of people to have any sort of production. It's pretty common in the East.

This is unlikely. Japan has some legit research facilities and actually quite good academic resources. The problem is that the professors/researchers are heavily leaning towards small wins that get published locally rather than research that would get attention abroad.

The people I knew did this in order to improve their job security and/or job prospects. Basically, having a long list of largely meaningless publications was better received by tenure and hiring committees than making fewer but more substantive contributions. To use a baseball metaphor, they value through their actions the singles hitters more than the doubles or home run hitters.

The government is trying to encourage people to take more risks, but for most of the academics, it just doesn't make sense. The reward for good international-grade research is essentially zero, but the cost of going bust (e.g., a big project without strong publication outcomes) is perceived as being high (although I'm not sure it actually is).

Furthermore, the very best researchers are going to the US and Europe. Research labs there value their Japanese peers more than Japanese labs do in terms of both money and research prestige.

I've heard that one of the contributing factors is that the domestic academic publication industry is big and strong enough that careers can be supported while never publishing internationally. Many countries' academics have no choice but to publish internationally.

Analogous to how a strong domestic economy has impeded a need for better English education and international business skills.

The domestic Japanese publication industry certainly does carry enough weight to build a career as a professor on. The question is whether is actually should.

Many of the journals are essentially pay to play -- join an organization, present at the conference, write a paper for the proceedings that is not completely absurd (slight absurdity is ok), ship $100, and you will get published.

There are journals that are more rigorous, and getting into these at last once is often a key to better employment, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Furthermore, I would say that most of the work published in the competitive domestic Japan journals would not be publishable abroad both due to limited impact as well as (in some fields) questionable methodology.

As a simple example of the low quality that I found in some journals, many academics were unable to interpret standard t-tests correctly in their evaluation of their research. It brought a tear to my eye.

Appreciate the insider insight!

I spent a thanksgiving back in junior year with a japanese student (along with a jewish bro) in my american uni smoking chronic and covering led zepplin guitar in between turkey eating. Japan needs to send more college students to the US.

I suspect (and I read this somewhere) that all the huge investment in infrastructure (dams, trains, highways) has not paid off.

And now they're stuck with the debt associated plus the ongoing cost of maintenance.

Anything growing in current Japan except their age?

I hear they dabble in video games...

I heard their anime is also kicking ass too. Recent anime like this one http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5311514/ is best anime I have seem lately.

Some of their car designs are rather great.

The fashion scene there is pretty big.

Idol groups and robot development.


Why should we need to attend universities? Apart from the inexplicit or hands-on component of technical training, learning can be done via the web. Leaving home and becoming independent can be rehearsed by travelling or taking a job elsewhere. Finding a spouse can be done online. Credibility and commitment can be measured by some combination of IQ testing and sitting outside the employer's office (a la Fight Club). The idea that universities will help you to think independently is untrue. They create conformity. Indeed, as historical religious institutions, they were founded for this purpose.

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