Is Japan abolishing social sciences and humanities departments?

It’s now being widely reported in Western mass media that Japan is abolishing its social sciences and humanities departments. I am not actually annoyed by these reports, because in this instance the Japanese media have done no better. Here’s the Yomiuri Shinbun attempting to explain:

The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a survey among the presidents of all 86 national universities across the nation to ask about their faculty reform and abolition plans as of the end of July, and how they reacted to the education ministry’s notice. The Yomiuri received responses from 81 universities.

Of the 60 universities with humanities and social science faculties, 58 responded to the survey and 26 said they had plans to abolish such faculties or convert them to other fields.

Of the 26 universities, 17 plan to stop recruiting students for these departments, which contain at least 1,300 students.

Many universities plan to abolish “no-certificate” courses that do not require students to obtain a teaching certificate in their teacher training faculty and allocate their existing quota to newly established faculties.

There’s a lot of stuff making this report confusing, so here’s a full rundown.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: September 23rd, 2015 | Academic mumbo jumbo

Problematic damashii

When I was last in Japan I wrote a series of blog posts on foreign reporting about this country. (1, 2, 3) At the time I was interested in the rather mundane matter of how individual reporters or their sources might spin a real problem and selectively exclude inconvenient facts. But after I left Japan in mid-2013, the problem of spin very abruptly ceased to matter.

I don’t really mean that it ceased to matter to me. Certainly, I’m still annoyed with one-sided reporting. But there is now a much larger problem at hand. The daily petty crimes against journalism on the streets of Öffentlichkeitburg have rather lost their relevance as the city is being actively destroyed by Godzilla. Or, to be really precise in my metaphor, a kind of katamari thing that keeps getting bigger and bigger and rolling everything else into itself. The poor people it sweeps up may try as hard as they can to put both feet on the ground, but it is no longer possible. They are not putting a spin on the world; they are the ones being spun.

With that rather ambitious prelude, I have a new Japan reporting story to tell. I don’t know how many of my readers have heard about the Japanese guy who spent over a year living entirely off contest winnings, so if you aren’t familiar, check out the story of Nasubi. This was an interesting story when I first read it around 2004, but 2014 has a very different take.

To be specific, he was made the subject of an episode of This American Life. Act One. I Am the Eggplant.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: September 8th, 2015 | Res pueriles