This morning, the Nippon Television network featured a report on the announcement of the Tokyo University (aka Todai for short) entrance exams. With 3,000 new Todai freshers, the focus of the feature was on three students, their study patterns and their families. Needless to say, all three students studied in the region of 16 hours a day, foregoing TV, friends and personal time for a year to pass these notoriously difficult examinations. Also, the students’ families were either Tokyo University, Ochanomizu University or other such high ranking alumni. These students were bred to succeed in a studious and university-goal focused environment—no wonder they made it passed the exams.
However, one can’t help but wonder, would we ever see this kind of media coverage and focus on students that get into Oxford, Harvard or Australian National University in their respective countries? Probably not. And these universities are much higher in the world rankings than Tokyo University*.
The media attention is reflective of the Japan’s worship of educational history. Prospective employers choose candidates based largely on their university, with strict guidelines as to the required numbers of new employees from certain universities. For example, Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ bank may require 40 Todai students, 30 Keio university students, 5 ICU students and 1 Shikoku university student. What is even more extreme is that a Shikoku university employee is likely to find it really hard to get promoted, regardless of how many years he has worked at the company.
Of course, educational history is important in any country. However, Japan is extreme in its respect for prestigious universities and the Japanese media do not question whether this respect really is as well deserved as they make it out to be.
*Times Higher Education World Rankings:
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