University lecturer calls out his lazy Japanese students, praises his hard-working Chinese ones

By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

Japan places a tremendous importance on education. Many would even argue that studiousness is part of Japan’s national character, and diligent students are seen as source of pride and an object of respect in Japanese society.

Nevertheless, a lecturer at one of Japan’s renowned universities is calling out the lazy Japanese youths he says he encounters in his classes, while praising his hard-working Chinese and Southeast Asian pupils.

Koji Watanabe has worn many hats in his professional life. After graduating with a degree in literature from Waseda University, one of Japan’s top institutes of higher learning, Watanabe has been a musician, copywriter, video game journalist, and author. He’s also a part-time instructor in at his alma mater.

It must feel good to help students at the same school he attended, but Watanabe laments that some of them don’t seem at all interested in their teacher’s assistance. In a recent tweet, he said: “When I give undergraduate or graduate lectures, it’s almost entirely exchange students from China and elsewhere in Asia sitting in the front rows of seats. Even the ones who aren’t so proficient with the Japanese language enthusiastically take notes and ask questions once the lecture is over.”

“The back rows are occupied by Japanese students who are playing with their cell phones and munching on pastries. Those guys don’t even show up to class if it rains, in which case it’s just the students who sit in the front rows.”

Considering that he’s speaking from his own experiences, it’s hard to dispute what’s happening in Watanabe’s classes specifically. Some other Japanese Twitter users, however, took issue with his scathing dismissal of his unenthusiastic Japanese students as being simply lazy.

“In impoverished Asian nations, it’s only the elite of society who go to university. Japanese people can get into university as long as they can write their name. I think that’s all that’s going on here. People like you, who feel like you’re better than others and say ‘I’m so cool and socially aware because I can disparage Japanese people’ make me want to puke.”

A student from Tokyo University added: “Isn’t this just a case of your Japanese students deciding ‘There’s no point in taking this lecture seriously’? If it’s a poorly designed lecture that they’re just taking because they have to get the units, students will naturally lose motivation.”

Not having sat in on any of Watanabe’s classes ourselves, we can’t speak to his skill as an educator. The claim that anyone who can write their name can get accepted by a Japanese university is pretty far off, though, given the notorious difficulty of the country’s college entrance exams (and Waseda’s test is no exception).

On the other hand, there is some validity to the comment about international students often coming from backgrounds where financial success, many times built on a foundation of scholastic achievement, is expected. There’s also an additional factor in that Japan has much higher costs of living and education than its Asian neighbors, meaning that many foreign students see their time at Japanese universities as a serious investment that they hope to earn a return on.

As such, it’s hard to say that the disparity in effort Watanabe is observing is strictly a product of his foreign students putting more effort into their education. Still, those kids in the back row might want to put down their snacks and take some notes now and again.

Source: Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Are Japan’s efforts at internationalization succeeding or not? -- Awkward: University lecturer found naked on campus in Tokyo -- Students go nearly a year without textbooks after teacher forgets to hand them out

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I suppose it depends in part on the quality of the lecturer, but I have many friends who speak with pride about how little they studied in college, and how much they got away with in terms of skipping classes. Granted, these aren't graduates of Todai or one of the other prestige institutions, but ever since I was a college student here decades ago, the assumption seems to have been that you work your butt off to get into a good school, then cruise for the next four years.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

a lecturer at one of Japan’s renowned universities is calling out the lazy Japanese youths he says he encounters in his classes, while praising his hard-working Chinese and Southeast Asian pupils.

True as it probably is, I don't like this. It is the oldest motivational scheme in the book — instilling shame and spurring motivation by creating an "us vs. them" mentality. I often see this in Japan, particularly in companies that have non-Japanese employees.

This "you are Japanese, don't let the foreigner outdo you" call to action typically has unintended negative consequences. It acts as an alienating force, creates animosity between the Japanese and non-Japanese student body/workforce, and I would cite it as a major factor in why Japan does such a horrible job of incorporating foreign talent into corporate and academic research settings.

Largely because of this approach, a non-Japanese person in a Japanese-dominated environment is treated as the competitor and the one to beat, which ultimately hampers the success of group's Japanese and non-Japanese alike.

11 ( +14 / -4 )

My favorite are the Japanese doctors I know who tell me they slept through classes or skipped them all together.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

What was it they say in Japan ? "Once you get into 'good' university, you're set for life", wasn't it ? I guess the youngster still believe that's true in Japan.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

nailed it Sensato! I've worked on some menial part-time jobs myself and you can hear here and there comments such "hey (random japanese part-timer)-chan, the guy is doing better than you! How come is that??" "are you really gonna let the gaijin do better than you?" , specially on the first day. I would add that it's not even only in schools and workplaces... as soon as you step into a japanese-dominated "nomikai" with some cute girls (that you didn't even notice) automatically all the guys get all defensive and competitive, with kind of a complex or urge to "not let the gaijin take their women away", starting barking at you silly questions to make you look bad such as "ooh how many girlfriends do you have??" etc.. And you came just to have a drink with a friend..

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Simply put students who cross the ocean to study in Japan are highly motivated but it's in high school and earlier that students should be learning study habits and the idea of showing respect for those who teach them.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

It is a given. Japanese university students sleep in class. Or they talk in class, which is worse. Or they play video games or text. The usual excuse is that the lectures are "boring." The truth is that because they have been raised on standardized tests and suffered examination hell they are learning resistant when they come to university. Because standardized tests only require but one right answer their imaginations and intellects are shot. This now happening in the U.S. thanks to so-called educational reform.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Kidz in da Univercities iz dumb.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I have the same experience as this lecturer but I would never point out this fact! And I teach at an old and rather respectable national university. My Chinese students are almost always more motivated and eager and actually better equipped (my advanced English A material [for 3rd and 4th year students] was what they had learned in junior high school--so I was told). Even my "halfies" or (doubles as I like to say) are doing better, but this is not to say that ALL my Japanese students are doing poorly. I would say around, at least in my class and from the others that are in my part-timers classes, that only 5% to 7% could be called lazy. And out of 30, maybe one will be repeating the class. Not a bad ratio, and the English here is actually harder at a higher ranked university, as my son goes there and tells me what is going on in class! But the issue actually is that while my students will actually do the work, but LIKING English, wanting to really master it, well, that is all together another issue. My second son (also 100% American) is a second year student in a special elite class in a private high school, so it is free, but again, you have what we can say--intellectual laziness. Yes, these students can do the figuring, the complex kanji, the math, but there is not a love of learning. My son is into Tolstoy, and the classics and as well as jazz; and recently we have ended up talking philosophy, Socrates, etc. Basically, there is little or just maybe superficial curiosity. THAT is the problem. Even if all of your students are "performing," are they doing it just for the grade or because they actually want to improve themselves.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japanese people can get into university as long as they can write their name.

Heh- this here quote from the article just summed it all up.

The back rows are occupied by Japanese students who are playing with their cell phones and munching on pastries.

Of course. In japan, all university student have to do is "show up" and they'll graduate. Pathetic. What's to entice them to actually show proficiency in their major area of study?

3 ( +7 / -4 )

This is a silly claim from a supposed university lecturer, there could be any number of possible groupings like this lecturer conveniently divides everyone into:

Japanese are smarter therefore they don't need to be attentive during lectures

Other Asians have to pay more so they want a better ROI

Other Asians have put in more effort to get into these universities

Japanese students have the opportunity to switch courses

Lectures make up virtually nothing in the overall university course system

The quality of the lecture is poor and is the lecturer's own fault

University study is 99% self-study so students don't see any point in lectures

Any one of the above reasons seems more appropriate than laziness based on race. What a true fool this lecturer is and no wonder no one bothers to show up

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

I was a research student at a prestigious women's college in Japan. When I first arrived, I was astounded to find that classes met for 90 minutes once a week, that the library was open 9:00 to 5:00 weekdays and 9:00 to 1:00 on Saturdays, and that I had to special order academic and textbooks from the bookstore, which sold snacks, electronics, and a few paperbacks for light reading.

I was supposed to be doing dissertation research, but I spent a lot of time exploring Tokyo, so I felt that I was slacking off, at least by U.S. graduate school standards. But after I'd been there a few months, the department secretary told me that the other students in my department thought I was 熱心 nesshin, or "really into my work."

I went to the campus coffee shop for my caffeine fix twice a day, and every time, there were the same students sitting at large round tables, sharing a box of cookies or candy and reading fashion magazines. The same students, morning and afternoon.

I decided that the students, having studied themselves silly to get into this university, were burned out. Freed from the looming terror of entrance exams, they simply decompressed for four years, devoting themselves to club activities or to just sitting around, secure in the knowledge that they would graduate no matter what and that the sometimes grim world of adulthood lay before them.

The only students I saw who really studied were the ones aiming for graduate school.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I teach at a high school and I had several 4th year students visit last week. Anyone in Japan knows that university "education" in Japan is a joke, but that 4th year is even more so. One of our grads has one class all year. ONE and it's on Mondays. She has nothing else to do. Another has two classes, but one is a "seminar" and he already has a job for next year. I used to teach at the university level and students did their damndest to find job information meetings so they could get excused absences from class. The school finally had to limit them to six a semester. Even six is ridiculous. Japanese students who choose to study overseas (a dwindling number) do seem to study hard, but that's because they have to. Most universities in Japan and/or professors have very minimal expectations/standards.

12 ( +14 / -2 )

In my years working at a small university I had the exact same problem. My foreign students (majority being Chinese) came to every class, participated, studied... While many of the Japanese sat at the back watching TV or playing games on their cell phones and that was before smart phones.. Girls were doing make up and hair. My girls were too busy with their Gucchi and LV bags and fake nails which were so long they said "sorry I can't take notes, I can't hold a pencil with these nails." They also couldn't come to school in adverse weather... Some of the non Japanese students told me that 1) their study visas would be cancelled if they missed school or got bad grades &2) they were mostly paying for school themselves. The Japanese students said their parents paid for everything and most only worked part time jobs to pay for cigarettes and booze. I could understand the motivation difference to not only study but to show up! It was sad.....

15 ( +16 / -1 )

His experience mirrors mine. By the time they get to university most students have learned that information is on a "need-to-know" basis in Japan. Don't need it, then don't need it. Any curiosity has been deemed superfluous. I'd even say this was the main aim of the education system. It can be rekindled but not quickly and for some this is traumatic since they believe they basically already know what they need to get on.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Calling a spade a spade. Most of my coworkers, and myself, can be overheard making the exact same remarks.

Japanese people can get into university as long as they can write their name. And this is exactly the problem. Most universities here are run as companies and anyone with the money, can go. Then the government and public wonder why Japan ranks so badly worldwide and why international students are not interested in coming here to study. I've honest taught students thay can't even spelled their name correctly from time to time. I wish I was joking but I'm not. And I supposedly work at a "good" university.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Well, lazy people never study abroad.

It's sad to know that there are pupils who can't appreciate the academic opportunity even in one of the famous universities in Japan. Although, this is a predictable outcome of a society which focuses overly on academic credentials.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Given that university in Japan is considered a 'four-year vacation' after the hell of rote-memory learning to get in, I'd say that the lecturer is on the mark for the most part, but it still remains a pretty gross generalization, and other factors mentioned in the article are also important points: namely that those students from other nations, especially SE Asian countries, are either elite or have already studied enough to be at scholarship level. It's not entirely fair to compare, as such.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

All you need to do to gauge the quality of a university "education" in Japan is to try to talk with a current or former student about their studies. Most of them know hardly anything about the subject they supposedly studied.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Pretty much spot on ..... I teach at a private university and students tend to flock to the back of the classroom. And yes, they often play with their cell phones or eat. I guess it is up to the lecturer to prevent that. Something that can be mentioned the first day of class. I have classes in a smaller room and am thankful for that. However, even in a smaller classroom, student will sit as far away from you if allowed. Unfortunately for them, I tend to call on students in the back more than students in the front of the classroom. I often find myself moving away from the board just to get closer to the students and when I do that, I have to make a U-turn and go back to the board if I need to write something on it. I did find one common characteristic about my classes, though. Students will sit in the same seat every class! I do not remember doing that in my college days.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

goodluck to any well meaning professor trying to actually teach his students. An acquaintance of mine tried to put his foot down and impôse a modicum of learning discipline on his class. The "students" complained to their mamas , the mamas complained to the university and the university gave The prof a reprimind and a warning.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

“The back rows are occupied by Japanese students who are playing with their cell phones and munching on pastries. Those guys don’t even show up to class if it rains, in which case it’s just the students who sit in the front rows.”

At first I couldn't imagine that a professor or lecturer would even tolerate such behavior in class. In universities in other Asian countries, that would be either met with a sharp reprimand or a flying chalk to the head. Apparently, for many students, university in Japan is a time for coasting after years of rote-memory learning in middle and high school. Quite a waste of learning opportunities as well as money (mostly for the parents).

I hope this mindset changes so that it'll develop educated, independent thinkers who will someday be leaders of Japan. I'm not holding my breath, though, to be honest.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I find it almost impossible to give someone's comment a thumbs up without pressing their avatar by mistake

1 ( +1 / -0 )

with kind of a complex or urge to "not let the gaijin take their women away", starting barking at you silly questions to make you look bad such as "ooh how many girlfriends do you have??" etc.. And you came just to have a drink with a friend.. ive had similar problems like that back in my dating years, best answer you can give them is, witha serious face. "Actually Im a porn star im looking for some new girls to star in my next movie" watch there jaws drop in shock, if they think your joking keep a straight face and tell them your serious. Never hear a peep from them the rest of the night! If you get the guy that thinks he might have what it takes to be a porn star also, just say with a serious face again, sorry youll need to have a minimum size requirement to make it past auditions.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

What is the value of the lecture likely to be? For the foreign students, excelling in the class is going to impress the instructor, the peers, and the foreign and Japanese students. Just to get some place in Japanese society, they have to do better. The Japanese students? Combine a birth right with escalator schools and a jaded view of scholarship and mix well with zero necessity to perform well in a course, and of course you are going to get apathy.

You know who I feel sorry for? Surprise! The Japanese students. They would be better off taking a class in woodworking or welding. Anything mildly motivating or useful might be appreciated. Instead, their parents pay a bunch of money to have their kids waste their time to fill a seat and get a unit.

I have been there and done the academic thing, and numbing one's brain for four years just to get a crummy job in a soul-crushing Japanese large company is not going to motivate anyone.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree with 5Speedracer5 that the value of a lecture is worth zero, especially with regard to learning English. Set the rules at the beginning: no phones, no Japanese and no-one speaking while someone else is speaking. Of course uni-imposed rules have more weight (e.g. 5 times absence and you fail), but if you explain this to students without patronising them, while expressing a genuine desire to improve their skills, then, in my experience you and the students will have a smooth semester.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have to agree with TheRat on the small percentage of lazy types. Sadly it is those lazy types that always get my annoyed attention. I never forget the really bad students or the really good ones. Which leaves 90% of the students (who do well or OK and cause no headaches) not leaving a strong impression.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I teach at a national university part-time and have classroom style lessons rather than lectures, but do not allow students to use their phones in class (unless it's the dictionary or similar) and certainly to not let them eat during lessons. I can't believe teachers who say or do nothing when this occurs and think it shows weakness on the part of the teacher. If you want the students to make an effort you have to lay down some rules at the start and make it clear that they have to come to class, not be late etc. in order to pass. Any bad behaviour has to be nipped in the bud early on otherwise you don't have a leg to stand on as a teacher. Also it's up to the teacher to make the class as beneficial/ interesting as possible for the students to encourage them to turn up. Make the classes meaningful and they'll come. If not, no great loss because those students are probably the troublemakers anyway and are best off out of the class.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The truth hurts!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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