Your academic history still your ID card in Japan


Among the fettering circumstances of life is the binding character of the past, inherited and created. A poor genetic inheritance inclines you to disease. Your parents’ poverty stands to hobble your course in life. A criminal record acquired before you knew better is with you always. And so on. Equality is an ideal but, as the cynical old saying goes, some are more equal than others.

A peculiarly Japanese de-equalizer to add to the list,  says Spa! (June 13), one’s academic history – meaning not academic performance or academic erudition but simply the name of the academy. Some names carry weight, others don’t. Tokyo University is first among the handful that do. Those that don’t are the majority of the rest. It’s not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the work done in them. Spa!’s point is that graduates of “name” universities get better jobs, earn more, and have richer sex lives than those who graduated from just anywhere, or from nowhere past high school.

“Japan supposedly has got beyond making a fetish of academic history,” the magazine comments, “but the fact is, it’s as fixated on it as ever.”

Its information comes largely from its own poll of 2,900 men aged 30-49, from which it computes that Tokyo University grads earn most (average annual income: 6.32 million yen, as against 4.93 million for 26th-place Mie University) – though sexually, if the number of partners is the measure, it does not rank conspicuously high.

Let’s consider the economic angle first. In May, the government announced that 97% of university graduates had found jobs. This was proof – or was presented as such – that the economy was recovering and social problems, stubbornly festering through a long recession, would soon melt away. Spa! begs to differ. How many grads now being hired, it asked, would see their wages rise? Those from name universities would. The rest risked falling ever farther behind. Psychiatrist Hideki Wada offers a hypothetical explanation which in effect blames an effort to tone down cutthroat competition for increasingly cutthroat competition. Twenty-odd years ago, he says, children competed fiercely in the annual school sporting events known as undokai. When this came to be thought corrosive to the pleasure of the event, the importance of winning was de-emphasized in favor of just having a good time, satisfying many but leaving those who were hyper-competitive by nature only one outlet: that of school tests, high marks in which get you into the name universities.

Now more than ever, says economic analyst Keiichi Kaya, “your academic history is your ID card.” Most high-ranking government bureaucrats, he notes, are graduates of Tokyo University law school. So much for diversity. It’s happening in other developed countries. Not in Japan.

Not that name universities offer better education, or even that employers or anyone else thinks they do. “Japanese university education is childish,” says Wada bluntly. The name universities must offer something, though – some quality, whatever it is – that sets them apart. Major corporations that don’t ask job applicants about their studies find, says Wada, that a preponderance of those who pass their tests turn out to be graduates of just those universities that were unabashedly favored in the days before it was fashionable to question that favoritism.

Sex. The well-worn image of the shy studious young virgin buried in his books and oblivious to (or terrified of) eros is not borne out by the facts, Spa! finds. Academic credentials count here too, and no wonder. “However it may be for men,” says Keio University sociologist Tomonori Watanabe, “for women, sex  tends to be bound up with romance and marriage.” An alma mater promising a high income is a sexual as well as an economic advantage.

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Most high-ranking government bureaucrats, he notes, are graduates of Tokyo University law school

Given all the corruption, lies and amakudari practiced by the same bureaucrats says a lot about the lack of ethics taught at Tokyo University law school.

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I agree with Charles P. In my state of California, having returned after been in Japan for 30 years, I'm bemused how UC Berkeley still ranks above UCLA in people's eyes.

In the place where I worked in Japan, an applicant's worthiness was questioned because he graduated from a local university. The accuser was a Todai graduate.

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