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College! The time in your life when you meet new people, try new things, and party! Oh, and I guess you’re supposed to learn a thing or two while you’re at it.

For better or worse, college is undoubtedly an important part of a lot of people’s lives. But in Japan, some people question if the university system is doing its job. Are university students getting the education they deserve?

Japanese Schools (In A Nutshell)

The Japanese school system is unlike most other school systems around the world in a lot of ways, and if you’re not familiar with it, let me give you an oversimplified summary:

Up until high school, Japanese schools up and down the country are pretty much the same. The curriculum is similar, if not identical, and the teaching methods don’t really change too much. The main goal is to give every kid the same opportunities and experiences.

Japanese high schoolAround high school, things start to change. Most people have heard about the “examination hell” (受験地獄) Japanese students go through applying to high schools and colleges, where Japanese students take incredibly difficult, memorization-based tests.

And then, once you’re done with the awful, stressful, seemingly impossible examinations, you get to college. Now what?

The Problem With Japanese Universities

You’d think that the insanely hard tests to get into university mean that university would be really hard too. Not always the case.

Japanese universities are very much a different beast than the rest of the Japanese education system. Some point out that Japanese universities often have motives beyond education.

One Japanese professor argues that because most Japanese universities are private, not public, that their standards aren’t very high. If Japanese universities raised their standards, they might squeeze out paying students and lose money.

University of TokyoThe ultimate mark of success for any school is what its graduates have gone on to do. If a school’s graduates have only gone on to work menial jobs or are, worse still, unemployed, then it makes the school itself look really bad.

That’s why many Japanese students graduate pretty darn quickly (three years), to give them a head start on job hunting. Some say that this emphasis on getting a job comes at the expense of education, which should be sole focus of universities. (Then again, try telling that to a recent graduate looking

Say you don’t like how Japanese universities work. Well, if you try to work outside of the Japanese university system, you might just be punished for it.

Are Japanese Schools The Only Way?

Recently, the New York Times wrote about how some Japanese students who studied abroad are punished for doing so.

Japanese companies worry that education abroad isn’t as good as in Japan and, more importantly, that a potential employee who’s studied abroad won’t play well with others.

With all of these problems, Japanese schools must being doing pretty bad, right? I mean, how do other countries stack up to Japan?

Not Just A Japanese Problem

I took a class in college that talked a bit about the problems with Japanese colleges, how students at universities goofed off for four years and didn’t really learn anything. The professor asked the class how the Japanese might respond to that.

Nobody answered for a bit, so I piped up: “Just like American colleges!”

Japanese universities definitely have their problems, but is that really unique to Japan? Countries around the world are always running into problems too.

Old School

US colleges: not always great, either.

Some have argued that the rise of for-profit schools is the US has been a huge problem; and with the ongoing financial crisis, Europe is having a huge problem keeping schools funded.

For better or worse, there is no perfect school system. Schools in some countries might have higher test scores or a higher graduate rate, but ultimately there’s no real, objective way to say what kind of school is the “best.”

While Japanese schools can definitely get better in a few places, I’ll reluctantly give Japanese universities a C. Hey – Cs get degrees, baby!

  • http://www.facebook.com/RyojiOtani2 Ryoji Otani

    interesting. i always thought at some point that college in japan was a lot more easier to get into, but I think you hit it right on the head. there are no perfect school system, there are only those that work, and there are those that dont.

    Hashi I love you <3

  • http://www.standingmist.com ikari7789

    I’ll definitely need to agree with this article out of personal experience at a Japanese college and from the views and opinions of my friends in various colleges around Japan. It almost seems to be the case that the harder the entrance exam, the easier the college courses actually are once you get accepted. But at the same time, you could argue that most graduates don’t really start learning how to do their job until indicted into their company, where they are forced to perform menial jobs over and over and over again to “teach” them how to do their job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1550596562 Alexa VanDemark

    So if education is not one of the major priorities of a Japanese university, do you think it’s still academically valuable to study abroad there? I’m looking to study abroad in Kyoto.

  • http://twitter.com/WackoMcGoose Kimura

    Is there a difference in quality between “regular” Japanese colleges (the ones you talked about) and foreign-owned Japanese colleges, like Temple U? I’d assume there is, but I’m not sure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cody-Dalton/27704471 Cody Dalton

    I’ve had this discussion with people and read some of the same articles that you mentioned in this article.  It seems to be a bit worse here in Japan than what I’d say it is in America in an average school.  There are exceptions in both countries-really outstanding and really awful, but I’d say the state schools in the US are quite a bit better at actually teaching SOMETHING than the average school here. 
    And as you said- the vast majority of ‘top’ schools are private here.  Obscenely expensive private schools. 

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    Hashi, you accidentally left one of your sentences incomplete. The last sentence in paragraph eleven: “(Then again, try telling that to a recent graduate looking” doesn’t seem to be complete and it doesn’t have any closing punctuation.

    This is a really interesting post. Every school system based on grades is inherently flawed, but that’s not an excuse for this level of failure. It’s definitely not just Japan either.

  • Lost and Confused

    I saw that too.  “(Then again, try telling that to a recent graduate looking…” looking for what, Hashi? LOOKING FOR WHAT?!?? D8

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607790802 Alex Napoli

    Ah! Discussed this in a class I took and heard the story of “the second my parents got into college, their friends did their homework for them.” That’s not to say the US system is perfect, but Japan’s system is very name/reputation-based (東大 graduates go to these companies…) and up until recently it seems the companies encourage this system, so your entire life is determined by college entrance exams. It’s starting to change and encouraging employment based on merit but Japanese education isn’t adapting. I’m doing a “design your own major,” so I’ve already accepted that I would have a tough time getting a job at a Japanese company and will probably never go to a Japanese grad school (but I don’t really want to anymore after learning all this).

  • トラビス

    I’m thinking about applying to University of Tokyo next year :P

  • ですこ

     The Yazuka owned universities got to him. Don’t worry, this happens every so often.

  • Foozlesprite

    Yeah, the US is getting really bad about dumbing down curriculum so everybody can pay out their butts for four years as well.  Degrees honestly don’t mean much any more.  I’m working my way through community college right now for a computer networking degree, and man is it intense—moreso than the classes I took in university.  I think that vocational classes may be the way to go if you’re looking for an actual education nowadays.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/3VBW5NLSA2Q4KZX3T73DKOGPBU Sydney

    That last statement reminds me of something someone tells me often: 

    Q: “What do you call someone who graduates medical school at the bottom of their class?” 
    A: “A Doctor.” 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=511987068 Eggers Christopher

    I always looked at it as a break between the soul-crushing life of a high school student and the soul-crushing life of a salary-man. 

  • mmmfruit

    Agreed! I started my university education in a community college and studied there for 2.5 years before transferring to a state university for my degree. I felt like in the end, I got a better education from my community college (smaller classes, more dedicated teachers), whereas state university provided me good networking (clubs, larger classes).

  • Aquariia

    I’ve never studied in Japanese University so I can be wrong but I think those Universities aren’t different than US/European Universities in terms of quality. People probably think that because everyone compare Universities with the ‘examination hell’.

  • Noah Hicks

    asdf

  • http://twitter.com/StarletShay Shay Shay

    I agree. I went through that system and I swear more than 1/2 the students in the class never showed up for ANY of the classes, but ONLY for the final exam. They passed it somehow and they all graduated somehow. 

  • Clarissa

    I’m starting college this fall, and I would like to study abroad.  My college doesn’t have an affliation with a Japanese college.  I was going to ask another college to help me, but I’m not sure my major will allow it.  After reading this article, I feel that studying in Japan would be beneficial in terms of experiencing another culture, but I’d probably be getting the same if not a lower quality education.  A lot of colleges do have that “party school” reputation, but I still have faith in higher education although they are looking to rob you blind.

  • grotesk_faery

    I’d be curious to know exactly how much it costs to go to college in Japan. Here in the US, college is super expensive, way more so than in Europe. My friend from Italy was floored when she found out how much it costs to go to college here. Is it more like Europe in Japan as far as cost, or is it closer to US tuition?

  • Robin

    Hi. I want to share a few thoughts on this.

    First, the quality of tertiary education in Japan is very high for job specific education that requires highly-skilled professionals. Medicine, architecture, engineering – those universities are top-notch.

    Second, it is true that a lot of Japanese students see college as a chance to finally study something that suits their interests, and as time-off between the structured advance through life in high-school and as an employee. Music, arts and languages are popular for that reason, and that’s also why students like to take it easy during that time.

    Also lets not forget that a much higher percentage of Japanese go to tertiary education than in the US or Europe. That doesn’t mean that Japanese people are more intelligent or even more suited for tertiary education. That creates a demand for less-demanding colleges.

    As so often,some things that go by one name in western countries and go by the some name in Japan – in this case, “university” – end up being quite different things under the surface and aren’t easily compared. If you are from the US and send your kid to a Japanese university, do not expect the experience to be the same as sending your kid to a university in the US.

    Having said that, yes, in general, holding a university degree in Europe or the US gives better testament to your academic abilities than a degree from a Japanese university.

  • Das

    Hi. I want to share a few thoughts on this.

    First, the quality of tertiary education in Japan is very high for job specific education that requires highly-skilled professionals. Medicine, architecture, engineering – those universities are top-notch.

    Second, it is true that a lot of Japanese students see college as a
    chance to finally study something that suits their interests, and as
    time-off between the structured advance through life in high-school and
    as an employee. Music, arts and languages are popular for that reason,
    and that’s also why students like to take it easy during that time.

    Also lets not forget that a much higher percentage of Japanese go to
    tertiary education than in the US or Europe. That doesn’t mean that
    Japanese people are more intelligent or even more suited for tertiary
    education. That creates a demand for less-demanding colleges.

    As so often,some things that go by one name in western countries and go
    by the some name in Japan – in this case, “university” – end up being
    quite different things under the surface and aren’t easily compared. If
    you are from the US and send your kid to a Japanese university, do not
    expect the experience to be the same as sending your kid to a university
    in the US.

    Having said that, yes, in general, holding a university degree in Europe
    or the US gives better testament to your academic abilities than a
    degree from a Japanese university.

  • Das

     Argh, double-post. Pls remove.

  • shiroi

    “Also lets not forget that a much higher percentage of Japanese go to tertiary education than in the US or Europe.” – do you have the stats on this? As far as I know college enrollment in Japan and the US are about the same (Google says around 70% of HS graduates).

    Of course, that’s of HS graduates. HS is not compulsory in Japan. For that reason, one might assume that a pretty high percentage of kids who bothered to go onto HS would also bother to go onto university, which accounts for their high enrollment numbers… “percentage of HS graduates”-wise, anyway.

  • shiroi

    I did spend a very brief year at Japanese university and while the quality of instruction seemed to be fine, most of the Japanese students were asleep.

  • Bill O’Dwyer

    I’m at university in Tokyo now, and I don’t know anyone who’s graduated after 3 years, like we do in the UK… Most seem to go for 4 years, but start job-hunting in 2nd or 3rd year so after graduation they can start a job immediately.

    I will say that for some of my classes, life is pretty easy and we don’t get much work to do in lectures, let alone for homework! But other classes really do pile on the work and we get enormous amounts of homework, reading, and/or research to do every week – so I think it depends on the professor/teacher.

  • Kiriain

    No. He accidentally said Candlejack’s name out loud. That guy has it in for

  • The Wombat

    I’ve just finished four years of Japanese and three years of linguistics in an Australian university.  Linguistics was way harder.  I just want to sit in a corner in the foetal position until the scary languages go away…
    Seriously, high schools in Australia have really crappy standards whereas the universities make my Brain Hurt.  A lot of kids get lost in the first semester

  • Pirate_King

    How respectable do you guys think gaining a degree at a prestigious Japanese University (lets take Tokyo U for example) will be when it comes to jobs outside Japan? (i.e US, Europe etc)
    Will it make a difference at all? I know the type of University you go to doesn’t hold as much merit as it currently does in Japan but I am still curious as to whether degrees can “cross over” to Western countries effectively or if employers will give you the cold shoulder for studying in Japan.

  • Jonadab

    > One Japanese professor argues that because most Japanese
    > universities are private, not public, that their standards aren’t very high.

    I don’t buy that, at least, not as a complete explanation.  

    In the States, private colleges consistently have higher (often MUCH higher) academic standards than state universities, and private schools at the primary and secondary level consistently outperform the public schools by a wide margin, producing students who score a full standard deviation higher on any standardized test you care to name.  Further, our colleges have been complaining for decades about the dropping standards of the public high schools — students get to college and have to be taught stuff they should have learned in high school and even junior high, before they can even *start* taking the classes they’re supposed to have in college.

    So I don’t believe that the mere fact of having a lot of private colleges would be the cause of low academic standards in Japan.  If the standards are indeed significantly lower than other places, then there must be some deeper reason, something rooted in the society or culture.

  • http://twitter.com/tamachan87 Richard Simms

     Honestly, unless you’re going for a Japanese-based job at a place that’s kinda snooty, it shouldn’t matter where you took your degree. Heck, a lot of the time, it doesn’t matter *what* you did your degree in these days.

  • Guest

    Good question. I looked at the cost to attend Japan’s most prestigious & expensive school, Tokyo University. It costs Y878,800 for one year of Tokyo U (includes tuition & registration fees); in today’s American dollars, it’s $10,653.

    That’s $20K less than the national average, especially for a top-of-the-line private institution. Heck, that a only $1,000 more than my state’s flagship school here in the South.

    Not really surprised though – I remember hearing a couple years back that with all the tuition bumps schools keep announcing, America’s now one of the most expensive places to go to get a degree.

  • Ray-chan

    Success isn’t dictated by the grades you get in school but by the way you deal with real life situations when you get to work. The Japanese, even if they sort of consider this a problem, actually has an advantage here… :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Yui-Hirasawa/100003960822915 Yui Hirasawa

    Thanks Hashi! reading this I feel better about not getting to study in
    Japan. Before I was stressed out that the college I’m going to is
    terrible and not nearly as good as the Japanese one I was going to, but there just is no
    perfect college anyway. I guess it’s more what you make of it :)

  • Elwood

    At my university we have a substantially large number of foreign students and there is something that I couldn’t help noticing after talking to students from europe and japan.  European schools like American schools are really easy to get into, but near impossible to graduate from (harder than american schools).  However, the Japanese schools are near impossible to get into, but really easy to graduate from.

    This is fairly well echoed from the fact the Scandinavian students were bored out of their minds while the Japanese students were seriously worried that they weren’t going to pass their classes.

  • Orange_Dude

    As a college student in the US, I can tell you I’ve heard that a lot. “College is for party-ing!”. Not for me! I can party when I’m out of school and have a solid job. My family and I are paying a lot of money for a higher education and I’m not going to party that time and money down the toilet. 

  • drayomi

    It’s interesting. In America and Japan there seems to be only one option for Post-Secondary Education. In America you go to College after High School. In Japan you go to University.

    In Canada you have two options: College or University (They are two different things). University is what you normally would think of when you are talking about education after high school. Universities are Academic Institutions. You go to University to become a Doctor, a Lawyer, a Psychologist, an Engineer, an Art Historian, a Teacher, etc. There are many more occupations than that of course, but what I am trying to get around to is that they are jobs that are academically driven. College on the other hand is Hands-on and Skill driven. You go to College to become an Animator, an Illustrator, an Interior Designer, a Movie Director, a Journalist, a Carpenter, a Welder, etc.

    Although University and College were completely seperate at a time, in the last 5-10 years or so they have come to realize that they are beneficial to each other. So a bunch of Joint courses have been created to accomadate the need for both academics and hands-on skills in the workplace. In Joint Courses you take the academic side of things at a University and do the hands-on work at a College. For example: There is a Nursing program that is between Mohawk College and McMaster University. Mohawk is known for being a top Trades school, and McMaster Univerisity is well known for it’s medical programs. So at McMaster you do all the medical academic stuff and at Mohawk you actually put that stuff to use. I believe that Mohawk has a co-op for that program where you go to long-term care hospital to get a experience in the actually industry of nursing. Here are some careers you would do a Joint Program to become: Graphic Designer, Nurse, College Art Teacher, Architect, etc. I can’t think of many more at the moment. But they are usually jobs where Knowledge and Skills are equally important.

    Since College is more Hands-on, the academic requirements are lower than Univerisity. Unfortunately because of that, people sometimes think that people who go to College aren’t “intelligent” or are “lazy”. In truth, College is just as difficult and demanding as Univeristy but in a different way. To get into an Animation program for example, you may not need to know any “knowledge” in terms of studying and taking tests, but you need to have drawing skills which I think are much more difficult to aquire than knowledge is. I took two years of “Visual and Creative Arts” at College, and now I am taking a year off to work (to raise money for next year), and to work on my Animation Portfolio so I can actually get in. Animation portfolios are very specific (Observation Life Drawing [Nude], Animal Drawings, Hand Drawings, Original Character Rotation, Action Poses, and Expression sheet, and Room Line Drawings [Room Drawings from Observation, not from imagination] among other things) and are very demanding in skill (You have to show your knowlege of structure, proportions, perspective, sense of spacial volume and you must have good line quality, compostion and believable characters). Also, Animation programs are very competitive. The one I want to get into accepts only about 130 students or so, but it gets 10,000 or more applicants every year. They have a scoring system, and there is minimum score that you have to meet. If too many people meet the minimum score, they’ll raise it.

    Anyway, just because I am going to College doesn’t mean I am too stupid to go to University. I took all Univerisity courses in High school (There are two levels of academic-type classes you can take in Grades 9 and 10: Applied or Academic and two in Grades 11 and 12: College and Univerisity [in Ontario, anyway]. Universities require at least 6 U or M classes [M are classes that don’t have those two levels such as : Art, Construction, Communication Technology, etc.] in your last year of High School and a 75% average at least). I took University English, Math, History, Science, etc. I got at least 80% in almost all my classes (92% or above in my Art classes: Visual Arts, Portfolio, Photography, etc.) and I graduated with Honours (with an average between 80% – 90% ). So I could have gone to Univeritsy if I so desired. But there are no programs in University that I am interested in. Also, I have wanted to be an animator since my Grade 10 teacher showed me that that was a viable option for me, having seen my drawings. I had never thought of that as a career path before.

    Sorry for rambling on. I thought someone might be interested in this. To readers and any fellow Canadians readers: I live in Ontario and only know about the Ontario education system. I am not making assumptions about education all across Canada (I know High School in BC is only from Grade 10 – 12). I think the things I talked about in regards to University and College are country-wide but I am not 100% sure so correct me if I am wrong.

    Thanks. :D

  • drayomi

    It’s great in Canada then (price wise). University is approximately $6,000 – $8,000 for Canadians and $11,000 – $14,000 for international students. A lot of American students say they came to Canada to study because it is much cheaper than in America. College is about $3,000 – $8,000 (depending on the skill: Animation is around the $8,000 mark) and I don’t know what it is for International students.