Two Harvard-graduate friends of this blogger have sent their joint op-ed Why can’t Japanese kids get into Harvard? and made me green with envy with the news that they have received what would be a princely sum if that figure had been paid in dollars, not yen for their efforts, for I am still waiting for the $100 owed me by a certain conservative monthly for two short pieces since a couple of years ago. (And you wondered why they say, “Never trust a Republican”.) In any case, I decided to write a thorough rebuttal as part of my anger-management exercise.All you say may be true, Drs. Honjo and Dujarric, but snotty little ex-pats matriculating at Hahvahd, resentful Todai-graduate soldier-ants running Japan Inc., and tongue-tied semi-literates enduring slow times at Azabu High are far from the only elements preventing Japanese high school students from swarming the hallowed halls of Ivy League colleges. First, Japanese courts have made it highly difficult to fire employees. Second, the Japanese school year ends in March. Third, many of the best Japanese universities are national universities
Read the op-ed, please, then read on.
The other side of the first coin is that reputable businesses exercise enormous care in hiring. It is not unusual for such businesses to make an undergraduate go through ten, twenty interviews by different employees at a variety of levels before they actually take him/her on. It is hard enough to do this with the thousands of, say, Kyushu U. undergraduates; imagine what it’s like with the smattering of Japanese national Ivy Leaguers scattered around the boondocks of New England and the Tri-State area. Many Japanese companies now do make an effort to reach out to overseas undergraduates, but it’s still a huge chore, on both sides.
The second point combines with the first to magnify the difficulties. New Zealand apples and Chilean salmon make sense in Japan because we want them fresh year-round. Not so wide-eyed graduates; it takes time and effort to draw, quarter and cure them before they are ready to be ingested. If you’re a human resources director, you don’t want to have to run an additional counter-cyclical orientation-assignment-training program for what is likely a handful of newbies three months after the main group has scattered to the four corners of the corporate empire.
The third point is significant because it means that many top Japanese schools are exceedingly cheap. They have become increasingly expensive in recent years, but I would be surprised to hear that they have reached the level of the in-state costs of an education at the cheapest state universities. Yes, Ivy League schools have generous scholarships, but how many of the best and brightest Japanese students are likely to meet the need requirements?
These are structural factors that have nothing to do with the human and cultural factors cited in the op-ed. They would have the same effect for a gang of teenage mutant ninja turtles.
All this begs the question though: (actually paraphrasing the thoughts of another friend, a Japanese ex-pat) Why would a guy graduating from an Ivy League school who is not short, shy, or Japan otaku want to go back to Japan to find work?
*psst, Wall Street imploded*
Jun Okumura is an indigent blogger living on the wrong side of the Tama River. He is willing to divulge his plans to remedy the three flaws for the price of a nice lunch, preferably warm. He says that you can expense it as “structural impediment talks.” Trust him. He is an unlicensed lawyer*.
* ADD: Disclosure: The blogger spent two years at Harvard Law School.