I was really glad today that my host, Murata-sensei, had mentioned to me when they provided my visiting professor’s ID tag that I would need it in February. They’ve just finished this year’s exams for current students and have started the entrance examinations for prospective students to enter in April. Japan’s academic year is very different to that of the West.

Japanese schoolchildren who are expected to go to University will typically start extra evening (and weekend) classes to prepare for University entrance exams at around nine or 10. Although things may well be changing due to the over-a-decade-long recession, it is still that case that many aspire to a lifelong job with one of the major companies. The way to get one of these jobs is to graduate from one of the top universities. The way to get into the top universities is to do well in their entrance exam. Since many of the others you’ll be competing against for those places will take extra classes for eight or nine years, you have to do so. Unfortunately, after the effort of getting in, many of the students will coast through their degrees and come out the other side with a reasonable pass (some of the academic writing I’ve seen really shows the frustration of the staff at this attitude and the system that allows it to continue by not placing any significant stress on the students to learn). Once they’ve gained their degrees and their places in the companies, promotion is mostly on a strict seniority basis. Hence the lack of movement between companies.

There’s some research I’m looking into that suggests this has begun to change. Certainly the recession in the 90s caused the first examples of large scale layoffs of permanent workers in Japanese companies. This may well be one of the major factors in social change in Japan at the moment, though it may take a further 20 years for the ramifications to become fully apparent.

Anyway, since they had security at all the doors and a number of places inside the building today – they take security during the entrance examinations very seriously – I was glad I was expecting it and just stopped outside, popped my badge on a lanyard around my neck, and was waved through with no problems.

It does generate a minor problem with my other collaborator, Orito-san, who has just completed her PhD and is now a post-doctoral researcher. She’s still classed as a student and so is not allowed in the building where I have my office at this time. So, we’ll have to meet with her at her work-place for the next few weeks.