Japan Today

How universities are trying to help worried parents by babying their students

By KK Miller

University means a lot of things to people, but most of us have the same initial thought when we receive that glorious acceptance letter: FREEDOM! You are rid of your parents, can ignore those pesky siblings and finally carve out your own space in the world. You get to experience all sorts of the highs and lows, like living on your own for the first time, cooking for yourself and being the only one who cares if you make it to class.

All the responsibility lies with the student; university is the time for coming of age and shaping the adult that you will be. Recently though, Japanese parents have become increasingly vocal about their concerns for their children and the fact that there are not many support systems in place to give the parents some peace of mind. Well, as it turns out, the universities are listening and bowing to parents’ wishes.

Programs that support incoming students at universities are a great idea and can go a long way to increasing student retention and graduation numbers. The new freedom and lifestyle can be extremely stressful for students, but it’s the parents in Japan who are the most concerned. They’re worried about whether their children are attending classes, eating properly and/or able to adapt to their new environment. Fear not, fretting fathers and mothers! Some Japanese universities are willing to calm your anxieties with some of the most over-protective programs you can think of. Here are the top four.

1. Smartphone applications to check your child’s attendance

Worried that your irresponsible child isn’t going to class regularly? There’s an app for that. At universities in the Kinki Region (Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, etc.), many are turning to digital forms of taking attendance, which are promptly uploaded to a server where parents can access the information. Easy symbols are used to denote attendance records so parents can get all the information at a glance. “○”means the student attended, an “x” means they were absent, a “△” means they were tardy, and a “▽”means they left the class early.

2. Free or practically free breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s hard telling that to a university student who can barely roll out of bed 10 minutes before their class starts. A clear incentive is to make the first meal of the day free, which some universities do, while others offer a breakfast for only 100 yen which is still a pretty good deal. This program is an attempt to reassure parents that their children are getting enough sustenance to maintain a healthy body and mind while studying. What many people might not realize is that most universities in Japan don’t have on-campus dormitories and thus don’t force students to purchase a meal plan. So while breakfast might be on the house, lunch and dinner leave the students fending for themselves. Cup noodles, anyone?

3. First year university students attend a homeroom-like class

Homeroom in Japanese schools is a very important part of a student life. Attendance is recorded, the students’ well-being is noted and any important or disturbing news is announced. It fosters a sense of community in students that also makes it easy for teachers to keep tabs on their pupils. Things are extremely structured, so some parents are worried that their children might be having a hard time getting used to the completely new and unstructured university atmosphere.

In some universities, homeroom-style classes have been introduced where all the freshmen gather once or twice a week to do exactly the same things they did as little children. The “homeroom teacher” (read “annoyed professor”) consults their records on each individual’s attendance and test scores and gives students a talk if they need some encouragement.

4. A support system for students and parents for job hunting (AKA “Do you want someone to hold your hand?”)

The most stressful time in a Japanese university student’s life is when they have to start job hunting. It requires impeccably pressed suits, a number of stressful interviews and an almost equal number of disappointing results. However, most people see it as a rite of passage to adulthood. After spending two or three years on your own, it’s time to show the world what kind of person you are and get a job!

Needless to say, parents worry constantly about whether or not their offspring are doing all the right things necessary to get a good job at a good company. That puts extra pressure on the students, which in turn makes the parents worry even more.

To alleviate these pressures, universities are creating programs that will help guide students from the very first day of enrollment. Students and parents will be required to attend classes on job hunting together, and while it seems like this “nanny state” of affairs would cause more harm than good, it has actually garnered successful results thus far.

We suspect that many students would say, “No way!” to practices like this at their university — except for the free breakfast, of course. But what about you? If you are a student, would any of these programs be of use to you? If you are a parent, would you use any of these programs if they were offered?

Source: Naver Matome

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Has any consideration been given by the universities to introducing more courses that actual pertain to the modern world and that involve a bit more academic rigour?

20 ( +20 / -1 )

I can't even anymore with this. Can we seriously not do this Japan?

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Hurrah. We've sharpened the cookie cutter!

15 ( +15 / -0 )

Perhaps the universities should just make special provision for mothers to attend with their children, all nervous about having unstructured, unsupervised time and finding a friend.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

This is messed up. Stop the pressure not add more. It'll never end. Probably going to turn into "take your scared kid to work day"

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I'm a parent, call me cold but I'll let my kids fail many times before I even start considering to help them. Also, #2 is the only sensible one here.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

All for the free breakfast though!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's not just universities. It's all schools from kindergarten. In Jr/Sr high their home room teacher becomes a proxy parent who does everything for them. There's also the issue of testing. Tests are adapted to the students' level and not to show what they have learned. The students know they will get mediocre tests and don't have to study too hard and then, a failing grade is under 30%! I've worked in the private and public school system for many years and have seen some mind-boggling ways of coddling students through school. It's virtually impossible to fail any subject! I have never heard of any student having to repeat a grade either. I've also noticed a major difference in average scores between men and women. Women 'generally' do much better than men in all subjects. I don't think this is because they are more intelligent. It is because in Japanese society men are guaranteed a future career. They just coast through school, get accepted at a company and spend the rest of their life coasting through their career. Women however, do not have thei luxury and it's much harder for women to succeed, which leads to much stronger commitment to their education. This also keeps many young men locked in 'mummy syndrome'. They don't marry for a successful partnership. They marry to find a replacement 'mummy' who will do their washing, cook for them, wake them up in the morning, manage their finances and make them funky little bento boxes with ampanman faces in their rice. In such a make dominated society, it seems the women have all the brains.

14 ( +14 / -1 )

I must be a bad parent then, because the only thing I do is help my daughter with her homework...provided she asks for it. I've never held her hand, maybe that's why she's so independent.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I have no problem with any of these. It seems to be an article attempting to sell itself on the notion that "these gosh durn young'uns are too gyat dang coddled!" with loads of colorful adjectives used to push that notion and not a lot of facts or context for support.

1. Smartphone applications to check your child’s attendance Fine by me. Most parents in Japan foot the bill for their children's education. It's only fair then that they know if their kid is skipping out on the education they spent vast amounts of money to pay for. When the kid takes out a loan he'll have to pay for the rest of their life or when the government subsidizes education for all, then the kids can have their privacy back.

2. Free or practically free breakfast Fine again. It doesn't need to be anything elaborate. Most unis already have a canteen (and the one's I've seen have shockingly short hours anyway). This is nothing.

3. First year university students attend a homeroom-like class No objection here. The homeroom is the primary place in all of Japanese school pre-university for students to get organized, have regular contact with an adult outside the home, and build relationships with classmates. It makes sense to phase it out rather than just cut it off entirely.

4. A support system for students and parents for job hunting (AKA “Do you want someone to hold your hand?”) No problem with this either. We all know that Japanese employers don't usually look to hire uni grads based on their academic record, but based on a Byzantine evaluation of family, university reputation, ability to look mold-able, and blood type. As long as students are free to disregard the advise to help them into this backwards system of employment if they want to, I'd say it's a genuinely worthwhile service to have someone around to explain it to them. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that if educated adults feel it's such a confusing system that they need help navigating it, that's fair evidence the system is broken.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Talk about apron strings all the way to the grave.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

DisillusionedSEP. 22, 2015 - 10:21AM JST I've worked in the private and public school system for many years and have seen some mind-boggling ways of coddling students through school. It's virtually impossible to fail any subject!

I've personally failed many a student at my schools. There might be some higher-ups who question a failing grade from an off-the-boat ALT, but in my own classes all I've ever had to do is show the homeroom teacher the extensive records I've kept on student performance and all doubt of my judgement disappears. Perhaps you are confusing your personal experiences with how the system works as a whole?

I have never heard of any student having to repeat a grade either.

That's just how the system works here. Though even that I'm seeing very small signs of slow change. But don't think for a second that just letting a child progress with their grade absolves them of poor study habits. If anything, it makes them more cutting. A student gets lazy and can't be bothered to figure out the easier subject matter is in my experience guaranteed to be lost on the more difficult matter unless they get motivated to revise outside of class. Those students who do later revise deserve to be in the same class as classmates. Those who don't are basically condemned to fail every class for the rest of their school career that relies on the fundamentals they didn't study for.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Now then, where was that article just the other day about how independent kids are in Japan?

8 ( +8 / -0 )

I don't care if students attend my classes or not, but if they don't get at least 60% in the homework and exams they will be failed.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Katsu78 - Please do not patronise me with your blind ALT ideologies. Your 'failed' students in your eikaiwa classes do not fail English! Your mastery of failing students in your eikawa classes only makes up 10-15% of their final English grade. Eikawa class does not even appear on their grade sheet in many schools. Only a self-satisfying tyrant would brag about failing students in a subject that has very little bearing on their lives as a whole. I'll also bet you only grade on ability and not effort as well. Am I right? Of course I am! By the way, I am a qualified English and humanities teacher and teach in one of the highest level high schools in Japan, so please do not put me in the self-righteous ALT boat. Possibly, the reason your students fail is because your lessons are uninteresting and lack any academic merit. Just a thought. ;-)

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

Home room is often extended to the fourth year at university. At private universities especially the mommy and daddy factor is very important because they are paying tons of money as tuition. Even if the student is an adult the home room professor still has to contact mommy if something is amiss. University is the extension of childhood.

Parents can now have an app to see if their brats are attending class. I wish there was an app to check if the apples of theirs eyes are sleeping in class, chatting or playing computer games. I wish I had an app that could send an electric shock through those students. There should be special app for students who escape after roll call. Something that makes a virtual mommy materialize and lead the miscreant back to class.

One thing you have understand. Standardized testing is everything in Japan. Teachers teach to test, students spend years preparing for examination hell. By the time they are in university many, if not most, are learning resistant. They equate study with misery and university as a place to regain their lost childhoods.

But the mommy culture does not end at universities. I can tell you stories of eighty year old mommies who make lunch bento for their fifty year old unmarried children before they go to work.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

Loved my kids' education in Japan - elementary at a public school, then JHS and HS at a Lutheran school - and so did they. When it came to college, though, I sent them to the States, partly so they could fill in that portion of their life but also as I have experience teaching at universities in Japan and am far from impressed.

Skyped my daughter the other day, now a college freshman - 23:00 her time, and she was studying in the library - and she was bemoaning the fact that Japanese kids often study hard in HS but get to slack off in college, while she's having to do both. That comment in itself validated my decision.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

Japanese universities are not the same as universities in Western countries. The idea of university is a western concept but the Japanese have done what they usually do and taken the idea and "made it their own" Universities here are not a place of true learning but rather a system of branding an individual's level of of potential success and a social club whereby that individual can make relationships with people of the same rank and level. It's also a competitove business whereby graduation is virtually guaranteed and actually failing a student or denying them graduation is unheard of. But continue the chirade Japan....That's what you do best...

10 ( +10 / -1 )

I did my final year of uni in Japan and can honestly say it was like going back to H/S. "free thought" isn't exactly what comes to mind.

12 ( +11 / -0 )

These are just four of many examples of how universities are making themselves irrelevant. Tuition is ten times more expensive than it should be. You can get pretty much the same content on the Net or YouTube. Most profs are very good when compared to their tenured salaries.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

This all seems a bit back to front. We have a son at university. When he first went, we thought "great". Freedom for parents. And now we find we call him all the time for help - how to get discount travel tickets, whether Netflix is better than Amazon Prime, which supermarket sells the cheapest beer, is it all right to throw out that bag of leaves we found in his bedroom, etc.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

How universities are trying to help worried parents by babying their students

No wonder Japan is over-run with "herbivore" men who are: afraid to date; live at home until they are well into their 30's; have little or no interest in marriage; don't have kids when they do marry; want to be paid on seniority rather than merit; and, are so afraid to innovate. Japanese society is producing "men" who cannot face the pressure of a fast-paced, cut-throat global economy, and it will be their downfall. Look at how many companies are failing, and their constant excuse is "Instense foreign competition from SK and China". Scary.

10 ( +9 / -0 )

They don't marry for a successful partnership.

Why would people marry with having a "successful partnership" in mind? Sounds more like a business venture than a real, loving committed relationship.

Though, I agree with the article that there seems to be too much hand-holding with the students that starts from way back in middle and high school. It does nothing but stifles their growth and maturity. Instead of coddling these young undergraduates perhaps the universities should be offering courses on building individual self-confidence and fostering independence. Now that would be nice to see, though I'm not holding my breath.

2 ( +3 / -1 )


0 ( +2 / -2 )

Am I the only one here who actually thinks some of these ideas are pretty good??!

Free breakfast?! An app that makes sure the little tyke is attending the classes YOU are paying for??! Homeroom happened at my British University in the 90s - we called it tuition group.

Once you're a parent, you are ALWAYS a parent. Doesnt matter how old they get.

Perhaps the universities should just make special provision for mothers to attend with their children

Oh HELL yes! I would love that! Best days of my life!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

How universities are trying to help worried parents by babying their students

How are they going to baby them when they enter the Rat Race after graduation? What about the "Gou-gatsu byo" ??(the infamous syndrome occurring in May in which these sissies start dropping out of Japan Inc, left and right like flies).

All the lack of responsibility and worrisome parents only reflect how whacked out the higher education system is here.

Japan is a country where getting into a decent university is the hard part. LoL, and basically all they really have to do is show & they'll graduate. Pathetic.

6 ( +5 / -0 )

Helicopter parents, Landing in a university near you.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japanese university is training, not education.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

sf2kSEP. 22, 2015 - 09:19AM JST This is messed up. Stop the pressure not add more. It'll never end. Probably going to turn into "take your scared kid to work day"

Give me a break. Next to no meaningful work goes on in Japan's undergraduate programs to begin with. How much help to these poor, put upon children need? You want to help your children? Then make sure their elementary and secondary school years are meaningful rather than spent mostly preparing for graduation and university entrance exams.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Children learn by taking risks and scraping their knees.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Wasn't there a recent article about how parents like to let their children walk to school alone?...........

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Wasn't there a recent article about how parents like to let their children walk to school alone?...........

Wow. Excellent point. Thinking about that article and criss-crossing it with the above article is truly baffling.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

shallotsSEP. 23, 2015 - 03:35AM JST Japanese university is training, not education.

It's neither one. Why do you think major Japanese corporations just take in (until recently) hoards of graduates regardless of their majors? For example, an ambitious Japanese kid could earn a BA from and an Ivy or Oxbridge and is less likely to get a job offer than some kid who spent the better part of four years at Todai or Waseda doing f-all. Most corporation used to not care a whit what you "majored in" as they'd plug you in to whatever department was needing new blood.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Jeff Huffman Yes, I agree. I don't mean it's skills training. They do not learn anything specific. It's a kind of socialization training where students learn to do many things poorly. Obligation is the opposite of responsibility. So students can fulfill many obligations in a shallow way. Perhaps there's a better word for it. I mean training in more of a propagandistic sense. Students don't know there is another way. They are trained in it's meaningless. I think it did serve as a kind of salaryman training where you enter a company as a blank slate and express no meaningful opinion for 20 years.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

My uni also had PTA meetings several times a year. At first I was like, "Say whaaaat? Don't PTAs end in high school?" But in all honesty, at no point in a Japanese person's life do they become fully independent, so why should we expect universities to push students to be so?

In one example given above, they talk about homeroom class. Why not? They had it in high school. And they will have it again for the rest of their lives when they do the daily morning meetings at work where they just do a "gambarimasho" and maybe some stretching and yelling out some key phrases in unison that are key to customer interaction. They'll also have pre-meeting meetings for just about any organized activity outside of work. Even drinking sessions have someone stand up and do introductions and speeches before they get started into the beers getting warm on the table in front of them.

People also never have full independence from parents, having parent intervention and/or financial support when they marry, buy homes, go on vacations, choose schools for their children, etc etc ad infinitum. So again, that schools are acting as surrogate parents seems a logical service to provide given how much schools in Japan ask in tuition.

Is this all a good thing? I don't think so. Indeed, I would say that it explains Japan's economic and social decline during the 23 years I lived there. The rest of the world is speeding toward creating multi-skilled critical thinkers, and Japan is still bent on hammering down those pesky nails that are sticking out. And now Abe is going to rip the humanities away from universities as well. So I guess the thinking is that Japan's economic saviors will be a generation of coddled engineers taught not to think, but just build what they're told to. I don't think so.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

@Mike Critchley Right on. Well put. I wonder what are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for Japan over the next hundred years.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Shallots and @Critchley - better said than my typical knee-jerk bitch reaction.

I've been traveling to and living in Japan off and on for 36 years and had hoped to spend part of my retirement there. I'm not so sure any more. I almost miss the Bubble years as it was the last time that even in it's ass backwards OTT way Japan was engaging and challenging the world and itself. But since the mid-90s the country has been in this funk that it just can't seem to shake. It's disheartening to say the least.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Regarding individualism:

Japanese have been struggling with this one in earnest since WWII. Although Meiji supposedly ended feudalism in Japan, the hall marks of feudalism remained in force, namely the values of collectivism and hierarchy.

Since the bubble, both of these feudal values have been in rapid decline. Conservatives lament this decline. A few intellectuals -- who tend to be on the left -- think about it, or write about it. But on the whole, the society seems complacent to simply drift along without giving it much, if any, serious consideration.

This is a real problem.

One of the primary reasons for this drift is the lack of what one observer termed a "public individualism" in Japanese society. That is, Japan, of course, is nation shy of 125 million people, all of whom are individuals. But they do not go about their lives primarily as such, but rather as members of groups.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Womp101SEP. 22, 2015 - 12:26PM JST Japanese universities are not the same as universities in Western countries. The idea of university is a western concept but the Japanese have done what they usually do and taken the idea and "made it their own"

This is very much a post-war thing. From the Meiji Restoration through Taisho, Japanese universities were every bit as rigorous as they were in the West as their models were German and British. Not sure what happened.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Not sure what happened.

What happened was after such a devastating defeat in WW2, the traditional mindset of anything rigorous- like you've mentioned- was frowned upon.

Could you imagine the suicide rates among students if 1/3 of them were to flunk out of their higher education because they weren't cutting the mustard?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

For the most part, the system seems to work. I'm all for free or inexpensive breakfast, and for help with the job hunting process (for a first generation college student, not knowing how to do this is a huge stumbling block to social mobility). I'm even for "homeroom" - it gives lonely kids a group of familiar faces and at least one mentor who can see whether they're integrating into college life well.

I disagree with the attendance checking app. College is where students learn to establish an identity apart from their parents and hold ultimate accountability for their own actions. I feel that the "homeroom teacher" mentor is a more appropriate person to address attendance issues, as this is closer to the boss-subordinate dynamic students will encounter after college.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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