Mar 262011

I intended to be a professor of philosophy and became a student/postgraduate of three Japanese Universities. At first, I wondered why there were so many incompetent professors. It was not until I went on to the postgraduate course, where professors educated their successors, that I saw why the faculties which I belonged to did not function as education and research systems.

1. Strong and Weak Areas of Japanese Universities

I do not say all the Japanese universities do not function as education and research systems. The figure below shows that the percentage of research areas where Japan occupies more than 15% of the world core papers is fourth highest after U.S., Germany and U.K.

Science Map 2004
The distribution of the share of core papers in 133 research areas in each countries [National Institute of Science and Technology Policy : Science Map 2004 – Study on Hot Research Areas(1999-2004) by Bibliometric Method –, p.52]

This might not be something that Japan can take pride in, because its GDP beats that of Germany and U.K. Still we can safely say that Japan is competitive in some research areas. The figure below indicate in what area Japan is strong and weak.

Science Map 2004
Percentage of Japanese papers for all core papers [National Institute of Science and Technology Policy : Science Map 2004 – Study on Hot Research Areas(1999-2004) by Bibliometric Method –, p.48]

The worst three are psychiatry/psychology, social sciences in general, and economics & business, of which all except psychiatry belong to the department of the humanities and social sciences in Japanese universities.

In short Japanese universities are storng in natural sciences and technology and weak in the humanities and social sciencies. This reflects the double structure of Japanese economy, the strong manufacture industry and the weak service industry. Unfortunately philosophy that I majored in belongs to the weak areas of Japan universities.

2. The causes of sterility

The following are what I believe makes the humanities and social sciences in Japanese universities sterile (Some of them may not apply to the current situation, because things must somewhat have changed since I left them in 1994.)

1. The seniority system

Japan is a seniority society. For example, you must be at least thirty to take the doctor’s degree. Most of Japanese professors take Ph.D. in their fifties or sixties, namely before they retire from the university. In most of organizations, so long as you are faithful to your organization, you can get promotion, as you get old. This is a Japanese way of equality, because everyone can get old. But the seniority system makes an organization conservative, increases cases of a square peg in a round hole and gives no incentive to work hard.

2. Little incentive to study

The Japanese university adopts a strict seniority pay raise system and professors’ ability and achievements are irrelevant to their salary. Once you obtain your position even as an assistant, the university guarantees your employment to sixty. The university never dismisses them from their profession, unless they are sent to prison. Even if they give up their study and have never written a paper for decades, neither their salary nor subsidy to study decreases.

3. Little incentive to educate

Whether professors are good at teaching or not does not affect their appointment, salary or promotion at all. Let’s peep in a classroom of an average Japanese university. During a lecture, some students are sleeping, some are reading comics, some are chatting with each other, and some leave the classroom midway. Almost no students are listening to the lecture. The professor is just reading his yellowish notebook and talking to the blackboard. As it is quite easy to graduate from the university, students have no incentive to study.

4. Sectionalism

Students must decide what they major in when they enter university. It is quite difficult for students to change their specialty thereafter. So, most of scholars are bound to one specialty for life and cannot freely investigate over specialty. It is rare for scholars to communicate with those of other specialties. That’s why they cannot see the wood for the trees.

5. Nepotism

Japan is a closed island nation. Japanese universities with long tradition are reluctant to invite scholars not only from other nations but also from the other universities to be their professors. Some scholars are bound to only one university. A newly established university tends to be a colony of an old one. In that case, professors from one home university occupy most of positions in the colony university.

6. Political Bargaining

In Japanese universities, personnel management and subsidy allocation are matters of political bargaining. When the university adopts the teaching stuff, it makes much of how politically powerful the recommender is and what university the applicant is from. It is not so important how able the applicant is or how many achievements s/he has produced. This is because the university has no obligation to produce achievements or have an educational effect.

7. Hostility toward Originality

The Japanese word for "learn" derives from "imitate". Most of Japanese scholars are authoritarian and they despise the originality of their younger generation. I majored in philosophy but creating an original philosophy was a taboo. The professors of philosophy permitted the students only to engage in exegetic studies of classical literatures.

3. So I became a free philosopher on the net.

Though I was disappointed that the Japanese university was not a place to study, I still clung to it, because I didn’t know any other way to publish my works than to get a position there. It was the Internet that made me decide to leave the university. Now I can study freely, publish my theories and have many people read them (about 2000 people per day). I do not need universities any longer. That is why I became a free philosopher on the net.

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