How can Japanese Universities become Leading Universities in the World?

Japanese top universities are at last coming of age and visualizing themselves to rank among the world’s top universities. I believe that this can happen, although, not without some major changes both in infrastructure as well as in educators’ and students’ consciousness.

One thing that is already beginning to happen now in Japanese top leading universities is for certain subjects to be taught directly in English. In order for students to be successful, they will need to increase their ability to understand English. Also they will need to increase their reading skills in English, as many of the best and most up-to-date, new textbooks in all subjects are written in English. I feel that bright students at elite universities in Japan will be able to overcome these obstacles in a relatively short amount of time.

There is, however, another very crucial aspect of the classroom experience that students will have much more difficult overcoming in order to become real world leaders of the future. At the crux of this is a big black box of CAN’T DO and CAN’T SPEAK that is very difficult to explain in words, although I experienced it daily with my students.

One student presented a paper titled “Japanese nature.” He listed four major aspects that he felt characterized Japanese nature: 1. Japanese are negative, 2. Japanese don’t like difference [I think he meant to use the word ‘diversity’]. 3. They themselves don’t want to stand out as different, and  4. They also shun others who are different.

Because I have been living and working with students in Japan for so long, I have learned various techniques that work well to get passive, reticent Japanese students to speak out in English, even if their language proficiency is very low, and also even if they are very withdrawn and shy. I can even do this quite well with large classes of 45 or more students. For example, I might call on a student by name, ask them a direct question, and then guide them with a few prompts. If they just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, further prompt them with, “because . . .”.  I usually go down the attendance list (in a random fashion) and call on each student during every class at least once, or I go down a list of their names on a seating chart and use eye contact to encourage them. There is peer pressure to answer correctly. Elite students reflect deeply on themselves when they are not able to answer well. They also look to their fellow students who can answer well as models that they strive to emulate. Techniques like this and peer pressure help to stimulate learning in the classroom.

However, this is not getting anywhere near to the problem of the black box. What is that thing that is so different in a Japanese classroom among the Japanese students compared to, for example, most of the foreign students in the same class? What is different that I see in the Korean, Indian or Bangladeshi foreign students in that English class from the Japanese? Could it be their worldview perhaps? What is it that holds back even the brightest of Japanese students? And how can this problem be overcome? Do Japanese people hope to ‘overcome’ this ‘problem’? Do they see this as a problem for themselves? Are they even conscious of what this is? I am not sure, but what I am sure of is that if they can overcome this inability to come out of themselves, so speak up, to rally themselves that they will greatly benefit in the end.

As expressed by Prof. Laurel Kamada. She worked at Tohoku University as a lecturer-professor of English and had classes in general oral English, reading and so forth from 2009 until she retired in 2016.

Presumption of Innocence

“Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty”. Universal Declaration of Human rights, article 11.

Though it may appear that everything has been said and done regarding the drug-related incident that involved students of Tohoku University last year, the circumstances of the arrests are still a blur. In order to clarify on what grounds the students were taken under custody, the team of The Sentinel contacted one of them for an interview. The student, decided to stay anonymous.

  • According to the police reports, all the students involved in the incident consumed an illegal drug, allegedly cocaine, in parties either in a night club or in the University dorm. Were you actually in one of these? If so, what happened during the event?

“It’s true that all detained students consumed illegal drugs at some point. We did it in the club one night where we got it from Australian guy who was arrested first. None of us planned on doing that, it’s just that we were pretty drunk and at some point he offered us drugs. Also that night, other people who were not found by the police used drugs that he possessed but they were not students and known to me.”

  • When the police took you into custody, were you, at any moment, told the reason why you were being detained?

“It’s their obligation to tell you why they are detaining you and explain it all, so yes.”

  • Were you in possession of any illegal substances when you were detained?

“No. None of the other 6 students possessed or bought drugs. Only the guy who was arrested first and who bought them had drugs when police came.”

  • Did someone, at any moment, told you the charges you were accused of?

“After police arrested a couple of our friends, we suspected we might be next. Also some other students were just brought in for questioning and we were informed that police might arrest us too.”

  • Did the police provide you with a translator?

“Yes. Even during the arrest, and later when I was held in custody, during every interrogation there has to be a translator. “

  • Were you subjected to any form of mistreatment while you were under custody?

“No. Police was nice to me. They tried to help even though communication was a bit difficult due to the language barrier. “

  • Did you have a trial? If so, were you allowed to contact a lawyer?

“We had government assigned lawyers but we didn’t have a trial. On the second day of the custody, police took me to talk to the prosecutor and judge where I admitted that the thing I was accused of was true.”

  • Under what conditions were you left free?

“I believe me and my friends were pardoned by the judge since it was our first crime and it wasn’t anything serious. I wasn’t convicted of anything or paid any fine to be released. Also, I think university assured police that I and my friends will leave Japan after we are released. I also wrote an apology letter to the judge where I stated my intention to leave Japan if released.”

  • Were you officially expelled from Japan?

“I’m not really sure cause after I got out, people from Tohoku University helped me with moving out and all that and after that I went to Tokyo for the airplane. I wasn’t under any surveillance by the police, I met with friends and even spent a day in Tokyo before I left. Also my lawyer told me that we can return to Japan as tourists if we want. Maybe it will be more difficult to get a job and a permanent stay but I don’t think there is a problem to come back and I intend to do that one day.”

As per this statement, the student was treated with respect and kindness while under custody.  However, all of the 6 students were arrested without any physical evidence against them. Whether or not they were presumed innocent is, perhaps, a point open for discussion, but the crux of this matter is if there is no incriminating evidence against someone,  on what grounds is this person arrested?

Disclaimer : The Sentinel is unbiased regarding any incident that takes place within or outside the university. It seeks to state the facts and not take any side. It respects the law of the land but at the same time, seeks to have an open discussion about the same from opposing perspectives.

The Sentinel is not obliged to reveal any details about the interviewee to anyone. No requests regarding revealing of details shall be entertained.