TT-651 -- Todai and a Rigid Education System, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, February 26, 2012, Issue No. 651


- What's New -- Todai and a Rigid Education System
- News -- Tighter permitted radiation levels in food
- Candidate Roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming Events
- Japan Business Q&A (NEW FEATURE)
- Corrections/Feedback
- News Credits

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On January 20th, Japan's most prestigious university, Tokyo
University (Todai), dropped a bombshell on academic Japan
by announcing that it would change the start of the
university year from spring to fall. A number of reasons
were given for the decision, but harmonization with
universities abroad seemed to be the main one. That means
not only being able to have Todai students go on to higher
education abroad, but as importantly, especially in the
face of a declining birthrate, the ability to recruit more
foreign students to Todai campuses in Japan.

It is no secret that Japan both as a source and a
destination for foreign students is not doing well when
compared to other industrialized countries. In terms of
outbound students, there has been a lot of hand-wringing in
recent years about the fall-off in Japanese kids going
abroad to study. The latest figures from the Ministry of
Education are from 2009 (slow data is in our opinion an
excellent indication of the systemic malaise infecting
Japanese education...) and show just 59,000 students going
abroad. The number this year will probably be nearer

There is a fierce debate over why the numbers studying
overseas are dropping. Is it because Japanese kids are more
timid, economically poorer, held back by their professors
(the Nikkei alleged some Todai professors try to hang on to
bright kids), or just generally this generation is having
too good a time with their friends in Japan?

For what it's worth, we think the problem is two-fold: 1)
Japan is a mature economy and the kids are not "hungry"
enough to put themselves out. 2) Japanese kids are
indoctrinated to not stand out. So unless you're elite,
Todai thought processes don't come into the equation.
Instead, you want to do what all your friends are doing.

Given these two very deep psychological factors, we don't
see the falling numbers reversing until Japan has an
economic shock of some kind -- which forces change.
Unfortunately, with the incoming consumption tax increases
to cushion against change and decision-making, that shock
probably won't be for another 10 years or so.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

On the inbound side of things, there has been a 75%
increase in the number of foreign students coming into
Japan over the last ten years, and the number studying here
hit 138,000 recently. However, while the numbers are
encouraging, what we're seeing is kids mainly from Asia who
come to Japan as a second choice, while their luckier
compatriots get to go to the USA. This is especially true
for Chinese students.

Nothing wrong with this situation for Japan, though, since
it means that often the "hungriest" kids wind up here,
learning to speak Japanese, and entering Japanese
corporations before being dispatched back to their home
countries. But one disadvantage is that such students
provide meager additional income for Japanese Universities
and Vocational Schools, who are already scrimping on
facilities and curriculum to make up for falling domestic
enrollments. This is a far cry from UK universities, for
example, which host about 250,000 non-EU students and make
around US$5bn in fees annually from them.

Getting back to Todai, apparently when first established it
and other Japanese universities did work on a fall start to
the academic year. This was a pragmatic decision based on
the fact that the Meiji Era reformers were busy trying to
absorb as much as possible from international centers of
learning, and were sending students abroad to study at a
great rate. Then in 1921 the school year was changed to
spring, to match the government's fiscal year.

Not coincidentally, this was the same period during which
the Japanese education system started to become insular and
nationalistic, trying to remove outside influence so as to
indoctrinate kids into obedience to the flag. This pattern
of insularity by Japanese academics persists even today and
we think is THE major contributing factor to the glacial
pace of change. There is still no real sense of crisis in
the comfy towers of learning.

We have personal experience of witnessing the difficulty
that the Japanese calendar year can cause for talented
students seeking advanced education abroad. A member of our
own family, studying at Todai, wanted to do a Masters
degree in the USA and had to make the difficult decision to
discontinue during the middle of the Todai academic year in
order to make the start of the US institution's one. Either
that or waste a year waiting to synchronize with the US
university's intake. Yes, degrees thus interrupted can be
resumed after the student returns, but sync'ing the
Japanese education system with the institutions abroad
means much better mobility.

Apparently the Todai announcement is causing ripples
throughout Japanese academia, with some universities
electing to join the fall start, while others are
steadfastly saying they will stick to tradition. In the
big scheme of things, the decision to change is a small
drop in Japan's academic bucket. Because even through Todai
students may find it easier to go abroad to study from now
on, they represent just a fraction of the hundreds of
thousands of other Japanese kids who are stuck with an
education system that hasn't changed in 60 years. Education
in Japan is a huge ship of tradition, cash, and vested

Let's not forget that the "ship" includes schooling before
university -- where rigidity and meaningless rules are the
order of the day. We have practical family experience here
as well, with other children who have switched from foreign
to Japanese then back to foreign schools. Sometimes the
rules have no practical purpose other to represent the way
things have always been done and so why should they change?
Other times, the rules were made without consideration that
some kids may be different -- clearly a problem for anyone
not 100% Japan-schooled (e.g., returnee kids and foreign
kids, of which there are an increasing number).

So let us finish off with several in-family examples of
rigidity in the education system

1) In the Japanese school that our teenage daughter
attended in 2011 there were rules about the type of bicycle
helmet that had to be worn. Not that you had to meet a
specification. No. Instead, you had to buy the exact
product specified -- meaning that the few kids riding bikes
wore 1950's style helmets that looked like a balloon
perched on the kids' heads. Zero fashion and limited
functionality -- no wonder most kids either elected to walk
to school or had their parents drive them in.

2) In that same school they had a computer classroom. But
while in the rest of the world PCs are becoming an everyday
tool as training for adult life, in Japanese schools PCs
are regarded as a curiosity that are only turned on during
the computer class, once a week, to learn how to type.
Actually, even the teachers were banned from using email,
because of concerns that they might misuse the accounts
(we must have control!). Little wonder then that in many regional
universities, teachers STILL set student assignments that
are handed in with pencil and paper... (that's pretty

3) Then there is the issue of meaningless mandates for
various activities: military style uniforms that are
temperature inappropriate, especially at the end of summer;
swimming pools that close and are drained at the end of
August; lack of shade for kids too sick to participate in
sports events but forced to hang around; forced consumption
of whale meat (although these days you can simply refuse to
eat it) in school lunches and other dietary issues; and
endless school ceremonies that try to invoke a sense of
tradition rooted in patriotism.

We know that the Japanese universities are able to turn out
some brilliant minds, so we're not totally "down" on the
education system. However, it is clear that Japan is not
preparing kids to function at the same level as other
advanced and advancing countries, and if it wants to stay
competitive these issues will need to be addressed. This
unfortunately means having to uproot an entrenched academic
and bureaucrat system, and that Todai, while a good start,
is the tip of the iceberg. The deeper you dig past the
elite, the more resistant the willingness to change.

... Until, that is, someone takes away their funding.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Government to make TEPCO board stand down
- FSA takes action against AIJ fund
- HSBC to dispose of Premier banking unit
- Tighter permitted radiation levels in food
- Birthrate Minister is for immigration

-> Government to make TEPCO board stand down

In what seems to be an unprecedented move, the government
is requiring that the entire board of the Tokyo Electric
Power Company (TEPCO) stand down before it provides up to
JPY1trn in public funds. The requirement comes as the
government seeks to have TEPCO management take public
responsibility for their actions that led to the Fukushima
nuclear disaster. (Source: TT commentary from,
Feb 24, 2012)

-> FSA takes action against AIJ fund

The latest money scandal to rock Japan is the possible
collapse of a JPY200bn fund called AIJ Investment
Advisors. The FSA has instructed the firm to stop all
operations until the agency has had a chance to review AIJ's
books and financial situation. This latest scandal is
particularly embarrassing as it involves a number of
bedrock pension funds, including those from Advantest and
more than 100 other companies. ***Ed: We imagine the FSA
will be moving quickly to ensure that another potential
Olympus situation doesn't occur.** (Source: TT commentary
from, Feb 24, 2012)

-> HSBC to dispose of Premier banking unit

HSBC has announced that it will either sell off or shut
down its Premier banking division in Japan. The move comes
after a global review of operations and a decision to shut
down not only Japan but also South Korea, and Thailand,
because of rising costs and stricter capital rules. HSBC
has been pursuing customers in the mass-affluent segment,
which means people with savings of at least JPY10m. With
the closure of the division and the sale of its private
banking business in Japan late last year, HSBC will remain
in securities and asset management only. (Source: TT
commentary from, Feb 24, 2012)

-> Tighter permitted radiation levels in food

While some might claim that the Japanese government is
hiding the real situation with radiation in food, in fact,
we think the DPJ is doing its best to renew trust with the
public. The Ministry of Health is introducing new rules
limiting the amount of cesium allowed in food to levels
significantly below (just 20%) the current allowable
limits. Meat, vegetables and fish will have a limit of 100
becquerels/kg, milk and baby food will be 50 becquerels,
and drinking water 10 becquerels. The producers of most
foods will be held to the new standards from April 1, while
rice and beef producers have until October 1st. (Source: TT
commentary from, Feb 24, 2012)

-> Birthrate Minister is for immigration

It will probably take a lot more than one minister's
musings, but it's encouraging to hear that the Birthrate
Minister (i.e., the minister for increasing the birthrate),
Masaharu Nakagawa, has been quoted saying that immigration
into Japan is a probable solution for the declining
birthrate and that there needs to be public debate on the
topic. He also said in the same interview that foreigners
receiving technical training were really a guise for cheap
labor and implied that the practice needs to be reviewed.
(Source: TT commentary from, Feb 24, 2012)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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=> Here we start a new feature in Terrie's Take, which is
basic business and work advice for foreigners living in
Japan. While most of the commentary will be our's, some
will come from guests -- such as today's Q&A on tax, which
comes from Jun Nagamine of Nagamine & Mishima.

Question: I’m a US citizen living in Japan less than 5
years, and I have rental income from an apartment in the
USA. Do I have to declare this income in Japan?

Answer: If you aren’t a Japanese national and have lived in
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income tax law.

Non –permanent residents are subject to Japanese income tax
for the following types of income:
* Income generated from business operations in Japan
* Proceeds of sale or rent generated from real property
located in Japan
* Certain types of interest (i.e. interest received on
Japanese Government Bonds, Japanese Local Government Bonds,
loans rendered for the business operation in Japan etc)
* Certain types of dividend (i.e. dividends received from
Japanese companies)
* Royalties received for certain rights related to
businesses operated in Japan
* Salaries received for services rendered in Japan
(salaries for services rendered outside of Japan are
subject to Japanese tax if the salary is remitted to Japan)
* Other revenues received in Japan or remitted to Japan
from overseas

In your case, you don’t have to file rental income from an
apartment in the USA since it does not fall into any of
the above categories.



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