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  • One NJ exchange student’s rotten experience as a J MOE-MEXT ryuugakusei

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 10th, 2009

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    Hi Blog.  What follows is a guest essay from a 3-year exchange student on the GOJ dime who has come to Japan to study and found it highly undesirable.  Others who have had similar experiences, please comment.  All names etc have been changed to protect the guilty.  If interested in getting in touch with the author, please contact me at and I’ll forward your enquiry.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo



    My name is Laura Petrescu, and I am a Monbukagakusho-MEXT scholarship grantee that has been living in Japan for almost three years. When I came here, I was expecting a high-quality academic environment and an overall positive experience. I was disappointed time and again by irregularities, double standards, absurd situations and blatant displays of racism.

    Therefore, I thought I’d share my ryuugaku experience so far. I think that by getting the word out I’m giving prospective foreign students a chance to learn ‘other’ truth about living and studying in Japan. On the surface, things might look good – after all, who would say no to going to college for free? Still, there are many things that can turn an average ryuugaku experience into a complete disappointment and a waste of time.

    A little background information:

    I came to Japan in spring 2007. I spent my first year in Japan at the former Osaka University of Foreign Studies (currently, the Foreign Languages division of Osaka University). Here, myself and other foreign students studied Japanese and other tangent subjects.

    At the beginning of our second year here, each of us was sent to a university (supposedly) of his or her choosing. Things went downhill for a lot of us afterward, and plenty of people have already given up their scholarships and returned home. Those of us who stayed are still dealing with the ups and downs of an inherenty flawed system that seems to care more about pretty numbers on a sheet of paper, and less about the overall well-being of each of us, as a person.

    What follows are the ten major reasons that essentially ruined the whole “Study in Japan! Free forever!” thing for me.

    #1. Double standards for Asian and non-Asian foreign students at OUFS
    At the OUFS foreign students’ dorm, Asian student groups were allowed to get away with pretty much anything, from shooting fireworks indoors and setting a curtain on fire (subsequently leading to foreign students’ parties being banned on campus grounds) to using shower stalls as public restrooms and even cheating on tests. Several students displayed an increasingly reckless behavior and walked away with a mild warning and nothing more.

    On a side note, the regular Monbukagakusho newsletter that gets sent to all foreign students mostly features Asians and information for Asians looking for jobs, etc. I think I’ve only seen a non-Asian interviewed once.

    Back to OUFS, non-Asian students were harassed and ridiculed by teachers and dorm staff on several occasions. One particular incident comes to mind, where a white girl’s Japanese language abilities were ridiculed in class by none other than her teacher, to the point where she broke down crying. The Asian students in said class (two Koreans and two Singaporeans) watched and laughed. For the record, the girl had passed the JLPT-1 examination and was one of the best Japanese speakers I know.

    Half a year later, Asian students had a barbecue. When non-Asians did the same thing one day later, the dorm supervisor called the campus guards and we were forced to “cease and desist” immediately. We asked why there was no problem if Asians did it, but if we did it, we were somehow in the wrong. Mid-conversation, he turned, said something unintelligible in English (even though we’d all been talking to him in Japanese the whole time) and stormed off.

    Another time, due to a faulty English translation of a notice, almost all foreign students ended up locked out of their rooms. All rooms were scheduled for a fire alarm maintenance, and al of us were notified. The Japanese notice (which most of us couldn’t read at the time) added, “出かけるときは鍵を持って行ってください”. The English translation was, “Please keep your key.” Guess who got yelled at when gingerly trying to point out the mistake: a native English speaker, who was told by the dorm supervisor something along the lines of, “I studied in the US for 10 years, I know English!” and promptly dismissed. I got yelled at too, when I politely asked the supervisor to please let me in my own room.

    #2. Pressure and “mind games” at OUFS
    As far as “mind games” go, myself and another student were in dire straits for having missed some classes (although it was never made clear that attendance mattered, and in both our countries attendance does NOT count towards a grade). On a side note, I missed most of those classes due to medical reasons. The program supervisor set up a “trial” with the two of us, himself and another teacher, and spent an hour and a half making us believe that we’d screwed up irrevocably and we’d face grave consequences, possibly even failing the year and being deported straight away.

    At the end of the meeting, he gave each of us a paper that said we renounced our scholarship benefits then and there. And all we had to do was to sign on the dotted line and that would be “better for us, right?”. Naturally, we both refused, much to the supervisor’s bafflement. Ironically enough, an Asian student had an even worse attendance record, but they never attempted to pressure him into giving up.

    #3. Poor-quality teaching and evaluation at OUFS
    Some teachers at OUFS were, in my humble opinion, hardly qualified to teach. One spent most of the class time talking about anything but what he was supposed to teach, and even going so far as to ask inappropriate questions, such as, “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?”. He’d skip from topic to topic, ramble for a bit, then move on to another topic before just as suddenly going back to supposed “teaching”.

    Towards the end of the year, the same teacher called me and another student to his office and proceeded to tell us that, due to poor attendance, he would be “forced” to fail us both. He then asked us why we missed so many classes. I answered first. “You weren’t teaching anything”, I said. “And also, your class has nothing to do with my major. It’s boring. And I don’t care.” The other student said nothing… and in the end, we both passed. The bottom line is, nobody failed their first year at OUFS. The program was simply made that way.

    Exams were a major pain for hard-working students. Students who couldn’t speak a lick Japanese scored top grades, while people who actually studied everything there was to study scored 80% or less. The reason? Exams always consisted of the simplest possible Japanese language questions, so that everyone would supposedy pass with flying colors. It was easy enough to lose sight of simple Kanji characters when you spent weeks drilling complicated ones into your head. To make things worse, classes moved at a pace too quick for anyone to actually understand everything, and revision time was basically limited to one or two pop quizzes a week, with new stuff to learn following straight after. The bottom line is, students who couldn’t speak a lick of Japanese got into top-level Japanese universities, while fluent speakers / writers had to settle for the “average” ones.
    Besides the language itself, we were taught Economy, Culture, History and Politics in Japanese from day one, even though more than half of us had zero Japanese knowledge (our orientation guide specifically stated that no previous knowledge of the language is required – apparently, that changed from 2008). Our textbooks were in intermediate or advanced Japanese with plenty of technical terms. Some of the teachers didn’t even speak English, so they couldn’t help us understand things better, either.

    #4. Disregard of personal university choices
    Myself and another student with poorer grades than mine both opted for Osaka University as our first university of choice. Inexplicably, he got in, while I was sent to Tokyo ○○ University (third on my list). I had solid reasons to stay in Osaka (Osaka University had the exact course I wanted to major in, while the other one did not; and also my fiance of that time lived in Osaka with his family).

    I went through every possible avenue to try and overturn the decision, but what chances would I have against a system that just doesn’t care? I wonder what was the point in making us write our “choice list” (入学希望大学リスト) in the first place, when it was clear that: a- “advanced” students were among the only ones who got into their university of choice, and b- the selection criteria were shady to say the least.

    #5. Misinformation by Tokyo ○○ staff at orientation meeting
    At a university orientation meeting (大学説明会) at OUFS, I asked the Tokyo ○○ representatives whether I’d be able to obtain a practice license if I completed a bachelor’s degree . The answer was, “Yes, definitely”. This is what made me include Tokyo ○○ on my options list to begin with. I only found out much, much later – after my entrance examination – that this was not the case, and I would need to also complete a masters’ course in order to get my license – maybe.

    #6. Injustice at Tokyo ○○ and no intervention by university staff
    This one still stings, even though it’s been more than a year and I’ve passed the class (courtesy of a much more understanding teacher) since. In my first year, my Information Technology (情報処理) teacher failed me, even though:

    – My highschool major was Information Technology;

    – I knew more about computers, operating systems, standard programs, programming languages and the Internet than anyone in that class, including the teacher;

    – I had a good attendance record that was not in violation of university rules;

    – I completed all my assignments on time, including my end-of-year presentation;

    – I’ve been using computers since I was 10, and sitting through half a year of, “This is a computer. To turn it on, you press this button… no, not that one!” was a sheer nightmare.

    The teacher came up with an extraordinary set of rules so he could fail me. I wrote to the teacher, then went to the Student Affairs division, then all the way to the head of my faculty — where I was promptly told that it was “his class, his rules”. The IT teacher even made an error while tallying attendance records (and I had proof). That was never even brought into discussion. In the end, I had an uncontrolled burst out (a sarcastic equivalent of “O rly?” in Japanese), for which I naturally had to apologize afterward. Nobody apologized for the “discomfort” this situation had caused me.

    #7. Little to no support for “gakubu” foreign students
    I’m a foreigner. I was only given one year to master the Japanese language so I could take courses in Japanese. Is that enough? With a complex language such as Japanese, definitely not. Sadly though, most courses were exclusively in Japanese, with tons of references, print-outs and projects in Japanese. Some teachers were very supportive, yes. But other teachers were not.

    Some didn’t even allow the use of electronic dictionaries (電子辞書) at end-of-term examinations. While my listening and understanding (聴きとり) are on a fairly good level, academic language has never been my forte. One particular teacher didn’t want to give me the extra time I needed to finish my paper (I write very slowly), and consequently, instead of getting an A, as I should have, I got a D. I knew all the answers. I just didn’t have time to put everything on paper.
    To put it bluntly, my grades sucked, and I gave it my all. At least in my first year. By the second year, I’d already earned myself the “honorable” status of being the perpetual “dumb kid”. In my country, I graduated high-school with full marks and was among the top 10 students in my promotion country-wide and with several national and international awards under my belt. Go figure.

    #8. Inappropriate (and sometimes racist) student attitude; teachers do nothing
    My first-ever group project at Tokyo ○○ was a four-people effort to do some research on a key Buddhist figure. After groups were made, one Japanese student exclaimed, “I can’t work with a ryuugakusei! You’ll just mess things up!”

    In my second year, on a different project, I became the resident ghost: I’d speak, and the others would pretend they didn’t hear a thing. Once, I gave a suggestion and was met with silence. A few minutes later, a Japanese made the same suggestion and was granted the standard “Oooooh, you’re so SMART!” response. On the same group, I was told, “You Americans don’t understand how the Japanese think, so your opinion means nothing.” Excuse me? I’m [Eastern European]. And my opinion should weight the same as everyone else’s – if not more, considering I’ve seen the world, whilemost of these kids have lived their whole lives in their own little fairytale bubble.

    #9. “If you’re sick, that’s unfortunate, but I don’t care.”
    This one nearly had me in tears. I missed a class twice, both times for medical reasons. I let my teacher know and brought proof from the clinic. His response after the second time? “If you miss one more class, you’ll fail the course” – which, by the way, is compulsory. At the time of my second absence, I was a flu suspect and was expressly told to go and get myself tested ASAP, and do NOT, under any circumstances, set foot inside the campus (this was during the swine flu hysteria). Hypothetically speaking, if I had any kind of flu, this could have started an epidemic at school. Guess who would’ve gotten the blame later.

    #10. “Me” vs. “them”
    I’ve had plenty of cases where I’d try to strike a conversation at university, only to be met with the standard “Wa~i! It talks!” response. Nearly all the conversations I managed to have were the invariable “gaijin”-themed discussions: where I’m from, what things are like “over there”, why I came to Japan, etc., etc., interlaced with the typical “Sugo~i! Your Japanese is SO good!” (and variations). This thing dragged on even with people I’d known for months. It gets tiresome after a while. I was never a part of my class, per say; always left out of conversations, decision-making in projects, “nomikais”, etc. And I tried. I really did. It’s almost like there is an invisible wall between me and the rest of the students in my class.

    To sum up…

    Some people might say, “You knew what you were getting into when you came to Japan! And if you didn’t, all you had to do was research!”. I got most of my information from the Japanese embassy and from general advice websites by MEXT and JASSO. I had no idea what I was in for. That’s part of the reason I decided to write this open letter.

    Yes, throughout these three years, I met some extraordinary people at both universities who genuinely tried to help. As an old [Eastern European] saying goes, “One flower doesn’t bring springtime.” It seems to me that foreign students are little more than pretty numbers on a paper as far as MEXT is concerned. (Oh, on that note, last year they cut down our scholarships in an effort to get even more foreign students into Japan, when our current scholarship was not enough to cover living expenses in certain areas to begin with – especially in Tokyo, where rent alone is sky-high. And they got away with it. Naturally.)

    On the outside, I may not seem like a “serious” student as far as the Japanese standards go. The truth is, I’m already starting to give up. I realized that even though I did my best, I would never raise to the expectations of my university – especially where written papers and attendance are concerned. It still puzzles me how Japanese students can drag themselves to class even when they’re  so sick they can barely stand. I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. Doctor’s orders. (Of course, I have no paper to prove it, because my physician back home is not Japanese).


    105 Responses to “One NJ exchange student’s rotten experience as a J MOE-MEXT ryuugakusei”

    1. Andi Says:

      I know someone who had a rotten time at Osaka Gaidai too, for much the same reasons, although not as extreme as Miss Petrescu’s case.

      I’ve had a very good experience at Kobe University as an exchange student so far, as have friends who are full time faculty students, but I think it definitely depends on the university, and despite my good experience I have no trouble believing that there are universities which harbour those kinds of attitudes in Japan (especially having perused your blacklist).

      I suppose the only input I can make is that it pays to search for testimonials from other foreign students before committing oneself to the four years.

    2. doubting.thomas Says:

      Respectfully, as someone who has gone through school…

      I have no doubt that the young lady has gone through some negative experiences, but this particular set of comments are unfocused and could use some editing.

      First, I have never encountered Japanese people who out-and-out laugh at foreigners to their face. Undoubtedly it happens in Inaka and in 4th rate colleges, but in Tokyo?

      Second, respect must be taken if it is not politely passed on. Foreigners generally have an easy time intimidating the Japanese; I do not suggest violence, but there is no need to out-and-out avoid the few beneficial aspect of memes that are spread about gaikokujin in Japan.

      Finally, I’m somewhat curious about how an IT major could have been failed by a teacher modifying her rules. That was the most damning point, but we are left without any sort of idea as to how it happened. I don’t want to cast doubt but…

    3. Allen Says:

      On your discussion about japanese being amazed that you could speak, I have to agree its annoying. Its like “gah! Why is it so darn amazing? We think nothing if someone comes to our country and speaks the native tongue!” I realize there are some who are sincerely happy that one can speak japanese, but for the most part, its like we are animals or something. “Wow, look at the weird gaijin! He talks!” Sorry, blowing off steam here.

    4. Hoofin Says:

      The shameful thing is that this small essay won’t be shared (in Japanese) with the people in charge of administering the program.

      Let them say, “one bad apple!”. But you know, if there are others, at some point the administrators will only look competent at saying “one bad apple!”

    5. Level3 Says:

      I’ve had mostly positive experiences at my school, though perhaps grad students get more respect than undergrads. But still, I think it probably depends a lot on the university and department.

      In my work and school experience, I’ve heard a lot of people using sickness (physical and mental) as an excuse for absenteeism. It’s the whole “Boy Who Cried Wolf” problem, except everyone (including the legitimately ill) is treated as suspect because of the actions of a few. Except, it’s not just a few, is it? It’s a majority who get out of work because of hangovers, or concerts, sightseeing, or (most likely) depression. Then throw in people who ARE actually sick, but stretch out the little vacation a couple extra days because they have a doctor’s note.

      But hey. Welcome to Japan. If you’re not hospitalized actually are in danger of death, you get to go to work. I am surprised that your school didn’t accept the flu excuse though.

      I also wonder if a few of these cases of “discrimination” regarding activities being cancelled were just cases of the girl and her friends having impromptu barbecues/parties without getting approval beforehand, which the “Asians” maybe had done. And she either remained ignorant of these kinds of common bureaucratic requirements, or just chose not to mention it.

      But even then, it does seem pretty good as an example of misinformation on the part of the monbusho people regarding the entire program.

    6. Astra Says:

      Everything happends for a reason, i belive you… if you are a tourist u will never live this experience, but if you live in japan, not all foreigner will live this, but for others will be a nightmare…

      I understand that for MEXT is only numbers, they don´t really care…
      Girl u can do it!!! so… gambate!!! :)

    7. Joe D. Says:

      I’m really not surprised. I think there is an abundance of international students in Japan who have a lousy experience. My wife did her grad studies in Japan and the blatant racism, double-standards (one prof referred to foreign students as leeches – try and sugar coat that!), poor pre-program language training (1 year is not enough – 1 1/2 to 2 years would be much more reasonable given the task of going from zero to high-level academic proficiency – and the JLPT is very flawed), and last lack of policies at universities for students to challenge grades and receive non-bias student services/support (which is a problem for Japanese students as well).

      I’m sure there are some good situations, but the problem is that there are many inadequate ones in Japan which make study there a dicey proposition for those seeking a meaningful and rich experience.

    8. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      I’m disappointed to hear about Miss Petrescu’s travails, and don’t doubt that universities a rung below the top ones can be less skilled in handling their students. I’ve had several other friends who’ve suffered unnecessarily at the hands of arrogant and prejudiced professors and administrators.

      The professors and class structure seem to be seriously lacking. There should also be a system in place for people with long-term sickness — my university has one, and while there are a few bureaucratic hoops to jump through, nothing like the nonsense that this unnamed university seems to be indulging in.

      I myself am lucky enough to attend a national university as a grad student (self-funded; not MEXT), and have literally zero complaints about my professors, fellow students, classes, tests, or anything else. I didn’t live in a dormitory, but the people I know who do have never complained.

      I’ve never felt left out of anything, academically or personally, and often feel that the atmosphere at this university is what keeps me in Japan. People here have the right attitude regarding foreign students who are, say, 95% competent in Japanese — they talk to you normally, with none of the silly praise for saying basic things, and respond rationally when you have the occasional word you don’t know.

      This probably doesn’t sound like much consolation, but perhaps a better plan might be to finish your bachelor’s degree, enter the working world for a few years, save money, and then attend graduate school on your own dime, so that the bureaucrats won’t be able to hold your scholarship money like a knife to your throat.

      Aim for the highest-quality school you can; don’t fool around with those places where the undergrads party for four years and then become salarymen. Go for an elite school. (If you’re from the US, national universities are cheap! I pay about Y540,000 per year; very doable if you have a job of some kind.)

      Were the other foreign students at the unnamed Tokyo university also treated badly in comparison to Asians, or was that just at OUFS?

    9. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For Doubting.Thomas,

      First, I didn’t get laughed at, but I was (and still am) considered a second-hand member of group projects because I am a foreign student. And yes, I was told that to my face.

      Second, I don’t really understand what you meant to say about those “memes”, but I don’t think I’m intimidating in any way. I tried my best to blend in and be friendly and respectful to everybody (I even use keigo with my senpais).

      As for the IT class, the rule change I was talking about was a last-minute change concerning the last two classes of the semester which I didn’t know about (it was either you attend both, or you’re considered an absent at both). That and the mistakes the teacher made when tallying the attendance e-mails (some e-mails got “mysteriously” lost even though they were right there in my “Sent” box, and I had screenshots to prove it) put me below the university’s 75% attendance norm. I hope this clears it up.

    10. Alsoskeptical Says:

      Yeah, I really hate to do it, but while at first I was very interested in this essay and Laura’s experiences (I am considering spending a year studying at an Osaka-n Uni), but for all the the touting she goes on about her academic capabilities and such, the essay manages to be lacking in rigor and focused points. She’s explicit about her conclusions, but misses details on the situation that might more convince the reader of her experience.

      It feels, no matter how well formatted, like a rant. And… I’ve heard enough rants about this subject to just be skeptical.

      And it’s not even that I doubt the xenophobia in many Japanese school institutions. I really believe she probably had some bad, highly injustice experiences. But I’m not really sure what to take away from reading this in the larger picture of understanding the problem.

    11. Octavian Says:

      Not casting doubt, but there are ways, in every country. Seen it everywhere. Miss Laura’s talents in informatics are pretty good, might even say she’s better than me, and I tehnically have a bachelor’s degree in that – but at the same time I saw people expeled for having the nerve of correcting their teacher. Won’t go into details either, cuzz that’s not the point here.

      The point is that I’ve heard about this kind of behaviour from japanese people (and their double standards) but I tried not to listen. And when I’m thinking that I know people that wanna go study there… just as misinformed as Laura. Sure, there are great people there too, but we can’t overlook the difference in culture either. Sometimes it’s just not possible but being laughed at and mistreated for something like this… heh! I’ll try to behave and not say anything to radical.

    12. David Chart Says:

      Andi’s right that it depends on the university, but MEXT should still have a set of standards and guidelines for universities taking the scholarship students. It ought to have a central complaints and arbitration procedure as well, for when the students have a problem with the university. I’ve not researched the program, so it may have these already, in which case they should be a bit more active. There are plenty of examples from across the world of how to (and how not to) deal with the issues that international students face, so they shouldn’t even need to work too hard to set it up.

      For someone to have had these experiences, both the universities and MEXT need to have failed to fulfil their responsibilities in quite a significant way. If it was a completely isolated case, it might have to be chalked up to the fact that even the best system goes wrong sometimes, but, really, it doesn’t look like that, does it?

    13. Kimpatsu Says:

      I, personally, hd a great time at Kyodai, but a contemporary didn’t. She moved apartments (paying key money out of her own pocket) because she was sexually harassed in the co-ed dormitory in which she was originally placed, and generally she had a miserable time. In the end, although she graduated, she didn’t stick around for the graduation ceremony, and instead took the first plane home. To be fair, however, one problem she had was with the weather, which is beyond even the university’s control. Kyoto can be very cold in the winter, and she came from the Australian tropics, so she was unused to snow. All I’m saying is that not everyone’s experience of Japanese university is negative; I had a good time.
      BTW, Ms. Petrescu, it’s per se, not “per say”. HTH.

    14. Kimberly Says:

      I can’t really do anything but take this student’s word about discrimination in grading etc. But as far as the attitude of the teachers and other students, I absolutely agree. I was only a student here for one year, at Waseda, but the exchange students had 90% of classes in a building that was actually off campus, and if you dared to set foot in the student lounge in that building, this:

      I’ve had plenty of cases where I’d try to strike a conversation at university, only to be met with the standard “Wa~i! It talks!” response. Nearly all the conversations I managed to have were the invariable “gaijin”-themed discussions: where I’m from, what things are like “over there”, why I came to Japan, etc., etc., interlaced with the typical “Sugo~i! Your Japanese is SO good!”

      Japanese students would hang out there trying to get free eikaiwa, or sometimes they’d actually been ASKED by their teachers to write a survey in English and go ask the students in the ryuugakusei lounge. Before long, no one wanted to hang out in that lounge anymore. If a Japanese student missed class or was late “Oh, they’re so busy with their real classes and job hunting” (yeah right, like Japanese university students are busy with ANYTHING other than constant drinking and dating), but there was no leniency for the exchange students. The English-language classes weren’t designed to teach us anything, but to give the Japanese professors and students a chance to practice English. The Japanese-language classes were merginally better (if the content was low-level at least we were learning the language), but there were no actual Japanese students in those classes… which doesn’t seem conducive to learning language or culture if all discussion is only with other non-native speakers.

      I’m going to stop there, no need to write another essay. I wasn’t a Monbusho scholar, but having been an exchange student in Japan… I definitely got the impression that WE were there for the benefit of the professors and school etc, not the other way around… even though we were the ones paying to be there.

    15. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For Level3,
      Neither groups needed any approval for activities such as parties and barbecues as long as we didn’t disturb other campus residents. Japanese students also did it very often, usually late at night, in the parking lot next to our dorm.

      For Alsoskeptical,
      This is just a sum-up my personal experiences, so what I wrote might look like a “rant” without any 3rd party information to back it up. It’s hard to stay objective when you’re treated like I was, though.

      For Kimpatsu,
      Sorry. English isn’t my native language… Thanks for the heads-up.

      For Mark In Yayoi,
      I’m the only second-year foreign student in my major, and there’s only two foreign students in the whole year. This university doesn’t have more than four or five MEXT students overall (that I know personally). I heard several stories of one MEXT student or another being treated poorly by teachers, and sometimes by students, too.

      For Kimberly,
      You’ve almost described my experience at OUFS word for word, except that the building where we had our classes was on-campus.

    16. Max von Schuler-Kobayashi Says:

      Personally, I think the young lady here is over sensitive, and thinks too much of her abilities. Despite the possibility that she may in fact have knowledge about her field, one of the purposes of a University is to teach discipline. Without discipline, she will be unable to function in the corporate world of employment.

      I know, I do employ people. I would rather have a person who is moderately OK at their work, but reliable as far as showing up or not creating problems, rather than hire someone brilliant but who showed up erratically or did not always perform as requested. And yes, sometimes clients do ask one to do things that are stupid or inane. The clients pay my company, and my company pays the employees. Yet that is the nature of life. Life is not always fair. And as far as dealing with the stress of idiots, that is what beer is for.

      As far as my University career, well I went to ICU for a couple of years. Before I went there, I had been a United States Marine for several years, and gee, if somebody said something to me, well my Marine Corps Drill Instructors had already smacked me with every insult humanly possible, (inevitably accompanied by zillions of punishment pushups) that I had a hard time feeling insulted.

      I dropped out of University to work full time at a Japanese security guard company, marketing Japanese made alarm systems. I pioneered the sales of Japanese made espionage equipment to the Thai Army. Sales trips to Bangkok were a blast.

      Sure, my immediate superior in the company insulted me a lot. That is the way in a company. I would get around it by befriending a higher superior, who would back my bid to go to Bangkok, and higher superior would accompany me to Bangkok to “mentor” me. Of course, immediate superior was insulted, so one trip I stayed in Tokyo and he went to Bangkok, even though he was an idiot. But I got four trips out of five.

      Laura, there is always a way to work things out, but you will find a lot of the same problems in the workaday world. It is human nature.

      — Hmm… I can see a lot of problems with this advice: “Discrimination is a matter of human nature, and victims are just being oversensitive about their plight. So go drink your way out of it.” I’ve heard that plenty of times, and don’t subscribe to it. Neither does the UN, and I’ll have an essay up on that by the weekend.

    17. Jeffrey Says:

      I went through a similar experience to this writer in high school. Up unitl middle school, I went to an internatinal institution and was a top grade student. However, even though my Japanese was still at the elementary school level, my parents thought it would be a “great experience” for me to enter into a Japanese high school. There, even though some teachers gave me special consideration, I turned into a complete C student (or “3” as the Japanese grading system goes). In all honesty, my school work there was at the F-level in most Western schools, but in Japanese high schools I learned that no matter how bad you do, you won’t get a D or F unless you really really screw up.

      At high school I also had experiences with teachers being unqualified to teach because their classes were unfocused, hard-ass teachers left over from the Showa-era when yelling at student like a Yakuza punk was a common, not being able to write kanji for the exams even though I knew the answers, and so forth.

      What most concerns me about the writer’s story, even though she has my sympathies, is why she had such poor attendance throughout her entire stay in Japan? I have found, in both high school and college, that Japanese teachers will be nicer to you if you attend every class like a loyal student, even the hard-ass ones. If there was a medical issue, the school should provide an official notice to the teachers so they will go easier on you. Also, what were the exact rules that that professor applied only to you so he or she could fail you? There are many unclear points in this essay that make it seem the writer is more bitter at her experience with culture shock and a language barrier than anything else. Perhaps her arguments would be much more pursuasive if she went into greater deatil about her ordeals.

    18. Scotchneat Says:

      Fortunately, I was warned by a professor in Canada of the inferior quality of Japanese university education (particularly in the area of Japanese studies!). When I received the Monbusho scholarship, I just treated as a vacation and a chance to study on my own time. I did take some classes from a few good professors, but that was definitely the exception.

      My worst experiences were with the “International Students Center” . It seemed that the staff were deliberately picked for their ignorance and bigotry. I remember one of the staff was going to refuse to sign my request for permission for part time work (already approved by my advisor), saying, “you receive a generous scholarship, so you shouldn’t have to work”. Having just graduated from law school, I wasn’t about to take that crap off a petty bureaucrat. I told him that I could easily make three times the scholarship amount working as an attorney and then shot him a look that said “you want trouble, I’m trouble!”. When I returned later that week, the request was duly processed.

      The staff at the law faculty treated me like royalty, because Monbusho was paying full tuition (at the time tuition was usually discounted) plus a generous research grant. I learned to stay away from the “International” Student Center…

    19. Kyle Says:

      I’ve had a good experience at Kansai Gaidai this fall. The faculty there seem to have developed a good program for international students, with kind, considerate teachers. The problem is that most of the exchange students are lazy and never speak anything but English unless forced and only hang out with other white kids.

      The whole “Nihonga ga jouzu!” thing is annoying but I find that people usually get over it if you meet them more than once. Given how little effort 85% of the exchange students here put into their Japanese study, I’m not sure their reaction is entirely unjustified.

      I actually applied for MEXT, but it looks like it maybe be better than not that I didn’t get it.

    20. Laura Says:

      I was also an exchange student here in Japan and I have to agree with some things and disagree with others. The level of teaching was, well, pretty bad with no syllabus and well no real direction. We also had ALL of our classes in one room in a building that was not a part of the main school, but over the cafeteria and next to the nurses office and band club room.

      As to the asian/non-asian double standard…..on some levels yeah they had it easier than us and were actually helped to find pt jobs in the area while the English speaking students (at one time…only me) were farmed out to elementary schools, etc for `volunteer English teaching`. There was no mandatory attendance keeping though and for the most part the teachers believed us if we said we were out sick.

      As for the `wah…it talks`..oh honey, you will get that no matter how long you live here. I have a Japanese husband and baby and my in laws still go…oh, wow you can speak in Japanese…*sigh*. I figure when they STOP saying that, then my Japanese will be truly good.

      Bottom line, there are good unis and bad unis here in Japan and overseas. Sorry you didn`t get the skinny before you came. I didn`t have a MEXT scholarship (didn`t qualify), so everything came out of my own pocket. Unfortunatly your write up does sound like a rant- but hey, we`re all entitled to a rant now and again!

    21. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For Max,
      So, being insulted or treated poorly is okay because “that is the way”? I’m sorry, but I disagree with that view. As a scholarship grantee, I came to Japan as a guest, and I expected to be treated accordingly. I did my best to fulfill my part of the deal. I studied hard, and I only “caused trouble” when I was forced by circumstances to stand up for my rights. Discipline and pretending everything is okay when it isn’t are two different things.

      For Jeffrey,
      I had attendance problems during my first year (the training year at OUFS) because of a chronic problem that got worse after I came to Japan. My academic advisor knew the full details. Later on, in Tokyo, I informed my teachers and academic advisor whenever I missed classes, and explained the reason(s).

      As for what happened with my IT class, see my comment above (#9). I forgot to mention there that he graded two of my assignments with 0 points for petty reasons. Even the head of my department said that wasn’t ground enough to mark said assignments as a failure.

      For Scotchneat,
      The same thing happened when I tried to get my papers for my work permit signed. I stood my ground until the lady at the office very reluctantly agreed to pass them on, since there was no legal ground for her to refuse me.

    22. Sento-kun Says:

      I’ve been here in Japan for about the same time and I must say life here has been a mix of great and terrible things. And I must say that most of the terrible ones came from the time I was trying to blend in the Japanese way.

      My experience tells that Japanese people can look at “the different” in two ways: they either worship it or they find it an anomaly that needs to be expunged. So, while I was in my “awe” moment, thinking that Japan was the next big thing and tried to be as Japanese as I could, I was faced with all kinds of obstacles: The “sugoi, you’re Japanese is incredible! and WOW you can read that word with kanji!”, the “I don’t speak English, I’m sorry” even though I’m speaking to them in Japanese, and that happens in classes too: I’m very happy that you care if I understand what you say but man! I’m speaking to you in Japanese! Not in English! And if you want to be nice, talk to me in Portuguese ’cause that’s my mother tongue. The person who ignores you for being a foreigner and the students who after having their gaijin-related curiosity satisfied, just never talk to you again.

      After that I got into my “I hate Japan” phase. I just decided to be as gaijin as I could and tell the Japanese to… yeah. And to my surprise, that worked. In the end I guess it was the fact that now I was looking at myself as an outsider in here and trying to get all the good things I can from that: Some times you “just didn’t get it” even though you DID get it. Or doing things Japanese people would be frowned upon, just to find myself getting the “oh, it’s ok, hey’s a gaijin, I heard in some places they go dancing on the train so that guy is still fine”.

      I’d be mad at all that before, but now I’m enjoying being a foreigner in Japan and not being mad at not being able to be “one of them” (seriously, why did I ever want to be one of them?).

      By the way, I’m looking for a job in a company in Japan and while being interviewed by four people from this company, most of the questions one of them made were “so, you could actually read our homepage?”, “Do you thing you can write an email to a client?”, “Do you think you can handle talking to a client in Japanese?”. Yes, the interview was in japanese.

    23. Douglas Says:

      I’d just like to emphasize that attendance is an important part of a 15 week course in Japan. On top of that, the very first class is a must attend. Each prof will lay out their syllabus in a written booklet (compete waste of printing IMHO) but the very nuts and bolts of the course, how the grading will be determined, attendance etc are all explained in this first class. It’s often refrerred to as ‘orientation’ but it’s in this class where you’ll be told if participation is part of the grade OR coming late three times is one absence, the 4th late is a straight absence etc. To change this half-way through (or towards the end of the course) is very un-professional AND it’s up to the prof. to fully inform all students taking that class.

    24. Mark Says:

      Having gone to a Japanese university myself, seven years ago, and had similar experiences, I can say that whether all the readers believe or not, or how the post reads, that this issue does exist and is an ongoing issue.

      There was a marked difference in systems in place at my home university in Australia and my host university here in Japan regarding student services. I studied for a year here as a law student. I can say that in regards to language support for my legal studies, I was told that “after six to nine months, it will get easier”. That’s it. My classes were all in Japanese. And as some of you probably already know, the kanji used in a standard legal document would present a challenge for most Japanese as they stem from the Meiji era rather than common usage.

      I will clarify though that the scholarship I received (I was supposed to go to Waseda, but my university messed up the application papers and deadline- another story ) was one arranged by the prefectural government. However, it was assumed by my Australian university that this was standard and equivalent to a Japanese government scholarship. We did not receive the same privileges that were extended to regular Japanese students, and could do little about it once here. After making the best of what was a difficult situation, a group of us on our return home made sure that when we got back, our universities were made aware of the situation, and the arrangement has since improved. I ended up supplementing my language study by taking classes outside of school during my own free time.

      All this does not detract from the fact that it wasn’t what I had been prepared for, which were reasonable expectations. I ended up having a very challenging but rewarding time of it, and hey- I live here now.

      As a general principle, home universities need to be prepared to confirm, check and monitor student experiences abroad in an ongoing fashion and facilitate a mutual understanding of the particular needs of any foreign student studying anywhere.

      In Japan’s defense, some of these universities are being thrown into the global student world without much preparation, others should know better already. But ultimately, that does not excuse or give any school the right to treat a student guest to an improper level of support.

    25. Kevin Says:

      I would like to say I am rather disappointed by my fellow Debito readers. It seems that an overwhelming amount of people have a ‘Love it or leave it’ attitude towards people that speak out about their negative experiences in Japan.

      I studied for one year at Jouchi (Sophia) University in Tokyo as an exchange. While at the time I felt my courses where good but overly demanding. The college wanted to live up to foreign university standards and thus made the courses, given in English, excessively hard while the courses given to Japanese not in my department passed if they had a pulse. Many of my teachers felt that their class was only one you where taking and tended to pile the work on thick. And yes, there were teachers that both proved the rule broke the rule, while I was studying there, however, my overall opinion was that it was too much. The reason I bring this up is because it feels very much like the stereotypical ‘tatemae.’ In other words they might put on a show that they felt one way, but in truth they felt quite the opposite. Being one of the top 10 colleges in Japan that they felt they need to display how good their foreign department is and how it could stack up (test wise) against other international colleges in the world, all the while their own standard for students that were not in the foreign department was much lower.

      When I tried to take classes in Japanese it was sometimes met with resistance. If a teacher really didn’t want foreigners in the class all they needed to say that your Japanese level needed to be JPLT level 1-2. I went to a class on the first day and despite that I understood everything, I was not allowed to stay because my Japanese level was somewhere below level 2.

      While my little rant might seem like a case of sour grapes, my point is that having two different standards for students in their foreign gakubu (department) and their normal students only further encourages racism. We long ago figured out separate but equal is not equal at all.

      I teach in elementary schools and being 6 ft.1 in. (186cm) tall I am quite tall by Japanese standards. Sometimes when I enter a room kids and might not have seen me immediately and actually recoil in surprise/shock/fear to see a tall foreigner standing before them. Now this is not a rare occasion, but repeatedly with the same kids I teach daily. The fact that elementary students are shocked like this by me simply entering the room goes to show that racism towards the foreign has already been instilled into them. I can also add that I have even been told negative things about foreigners, like that foreigners should leave Japan, from my students. While, work related discrimination is a whole another ball game…

      Many of us love Japan, so when someone say how discrimination basically ruined their college life we should listen instead of saying that is how it always been, so take it or leave it. Discrimination is no longer acceptable in this day and age, and we must speak out about it if we ever want things to change.

    26. JP Says:

      I also attended a Japanese University(grad school) and I am inclined to believe what Laura has written, but it does sound more like a rant.

      I experienced many of things she has, and the rest are not much of a leap. Some of these things seem petty, but when they are all added together they are not so petty anymore. The “oh it can speak” phenomenon never ends when meeting new people even after graduation. I have been here 11 years and it still happens almost daily. The prejudice both positive and negative exists. Arrogant, unprofessional, and incompetent staff and faculty are everywhere.

      If I could take back that time and spend it overseas at a different university I would. I could have learned much more from competent professors and a higher caliber of students elsewhere.

      If anyone reading this is considering coming to Japan for education, you should reconsider. Education is not necessarily what you will get, and if you are not Japanese, you will find that it is ever more challenging to find employment here and keep it.

    27. Max von Schuler-Kobayashi Says:


      I don’t mean to say that it is “OK” to be insulted, I am saying that it is part of life. I know Debito is trying change things, but in the end you cannot legislate people’s hearts.

      As far as Japanese, well I was never really bothered by people being surprised that I spoke Japanese. Whenever some person expresses surprise at my Japanese language, I always reply, “What do you expect, this is Japan! I don’t want to be lonely, so I speak Japanese!”

      Another thing I have had happen on occasion is the “English Language Showoff”. For example, I was at a Bonenkai for an MC company where I was MC’ing wedding parties in Japanese. That is a real challenge, you have a million things that can go wrong, and the hotel will always say it is the fault of the MC.

      Well, at the Bonenkai, some young lady wants to impress the boss with her English ability So she makes a point of ambushing me with the boss in earshot, and proceeds to regal all and sundry with her English language skills. And I replied to all of her remarks in German. She was so engrossed in her own conversation, and impressing the boss, that it took her a few minutes to understand that I was not responding in English. She then asked me why in Japanese, and I said, “Well today is Wednesday, and on Wednesday when I am not speaking Japanese, I can only speak German. If you want English, you will have to wait until Friday, that is the day for English as an alternate language.”

      The resulting grins of the other party goers was well worth it, actually very few Japanese people like the “English Language Showoff”.

      And if you can’t speak another human language when ambushed by the “English Language Showoff”, try Klingon. Tell everybody it was something you picked while hiking through the Peruvian Andes.

      Well, everyone has to find their own way to deal with everyday frustrations, but I have found that a humorous way works best.

      — Yeah, sarcasm and humor will surely work given the power relationships of teacher-student. (Note my sarcasm.) Maybe it’s your heart that needs changing, to allow for more empathy. Oh, sorry, we can’t change people’s hearts. Just give up and drink.

    28. rabuho Says:

      I can’t really do anything but take this student’s word about discrimination in grading etc. But as far as the attitude of the teachers and other students, I absolutely agree. I was only a student here for one year, at Waseda, but the exchange students had 90% of classes in a building that was actually off campus, and if you dared to set foot in the student lounge in that building, this:

      I went to Waseda on what I assume is a similar one-year exchange program. Just to clarify: the buildings that most classes are held in are technically outside the campus gates, but I would hardly call them “off-campus.” They are primarily for the SILS students, but there is plenty of foot traffic since they are located nearby the main library (which is also technically “off-campus”). As for the student lounge: if you’re referring to the SILS lounge, there were always plenty of foreign and Japanese students there, and when I entered I never received the “waa! gaijin da!”-type treatment.

      This is not intended to refute your statement, but simply to provide another viewpoint. I enjoyed my time at Waseda, but I spent my most productive time outside of school learning the language with friends over drinks and dealing with everyday life.

    29. Jeffrey Says:

      >>Reply to Kevin or post #25

      Kevin, I am currently finishing up at Jochi graduate school and just want to respond to some of the comments you made. I do agree that Jochi is quite sensitive about how its foreign student body performs, but I don’t think that are making things as hard as you make them out to be. Comparing the workload in English-spoken classes, for instance, I went to UCLA for undergraduate classses and the average workload there was much higher than at Jochi, so I don’t know what you are complaining about. Isn’t it part of college life to be swamped with studying and homework even though you want to be out partying and such? I remember at UCLA I had one stretch where I was studying 10 hours a day outside of class just to get a passing grade.

      Also, Jochi isn’t too strict about the academic level of the foreign students it accepts. I know I am bashing on some of my fellow classmates, but many of them are not exactly Harvard or Yale material if you know what I mean. But I think this is a good thing, it shows that Jochi is commited to increasing the number of foreigners studying in Japan.

      As for the relative easiness of Japanese classes, isn’t that how it is in most Japanese universities are? It’s well known that it is 10 times harder to get into Japanese university than it is to graduate from. I still see tons of students in the Japanese classes sleeping and talking the whole time and still getting a passing grade.

      You have a point about the Japanese bureaucracy at Jochi, but, again, this is the same everywhere in Japan. I have already passed the Japanese Level 1 Test twice, but the staff at Jochi said I had to be given one of their tests before they could I could enroll in a Japanese class. I told them that passing the JPN Level 1 test is a requirement for a foreigner to take the university entrance exam, but they said “sorry, we know you have a special situation, but these are the rules.”

      — Er, “Ten times harder to get into Japanese university than it is to graduate from”? Are you up to date about the number of slots at universities and the diminishing number of students that has been going on for more than a decade now? For some students, getting into college is a turkey shoot.

    30. David in Fukuoka Says:

      Studying overseas is trying. Miscommunications occur everyday. Expectations you bring will more often than not remain unfulfilled. Culture shock will, at some point and to some degree, likely drive you to depression. Academic standards and expectations at Japanese universities and are very different compared to universities in your home country.

      I would venture to say the above are universal for foreign students in Japan. Even more notably, replace ‘Japanese’ with any other nationality and you will see these same assertions on any exchange student message board the world over.

      There is reason to be concerned with and to criticize the poor quality of teaching and rather outrageous behavior related by the writer, but I have to say it as an indictment of that teacher and that program, not of overseas study in Japan as a whole. My study abroad experience some years back was quite fulfilling and enlightening, and the most trouble/drama I got was from the non-Japanese professors! I joined a university sports team and ended up with more Japanese friends than exchange student friends. I could go on but the point is I had an experience directly contrasting with the writer. I had difficulties for sure adapting to a new culture and language, but as I said I think that’s a universal issue. As for complaints such as placement requests, licensing requirements (I’m not sure what that is referring to), and tests that are so easy those that study hardest are at a disadvantage (???), these seem to be personal grudges and not examples of how terrible study in Japan can be.

      Regarding the Asian/non-Asian racism issue – I think it is more of a paying/non-paying issue. The Asian students (more accurately their parents) are most likely paying through the nose for the privilege to study in Japan at a university, and thus they have carte blanche to do as they please as they fill the university’s coffers. The scholarship students, on the other hand, are expected to be on their best behavior as ‘guests’ studying on the government’s/university’s dime. Given the examples related here, it would seem this program is more of a cash cow for the university rather than an academic program. I feel bad for the poster, but the line between genuine problems with the system and “doesn’t it suck to be me” is rather blurred here. This essay cannot be taken as a blanket indictment of coming to Japan to study. Rather, it is just another restatement of the above maxims you will see in any conversation about study abroad worldwide, mixed with one bad program and shaken well. I felt I needed to write to contribute a counter point to show that not all Japanese students and teachers are racist, bigoted, exclusionary, vindictive, and ignorant as this essay suggests. And I think Debito’s intro just sets up the story for a good ol’ Japan-bashing:

      “…who has come to Japan to study and found it highly undesirable. Others who have had similar experiences, please comment.”

      Note that it is “come to Japan to study” and not “studied at xxx university”. Let’s lump ’em all in. I also like how you are specifically requesting “similar experiences” rather than trying to examine the issue from multiple viewpoints. Hey, it’s your blog, but I like to think one dedicated to equality would not endeavor to promote so much bias.

      — No bias intended. Those with counter-experiences are also welcome to post them, as you have just done. Offer your counter-experience and leave me out of it.

    31. Peter Says:

      to what JP says.. why do foreign students even bother coming over here to study? It can’t be “for the experience” can it? Surely there are better schools in their own countries which would be a better fit for them. And even if they do stick it out and get employed here, are they willing to experience the glass ceiling that many foreigners have endured over here?

      and to what some other posters have commented on, I always experienced the “It Speaks!!” syndrome here, it seemed like almost every day. Was it so amazing that I could introduce myself and speak to some people? what the hell is wrong with society here? They don’t give credit to people who actually studied the language or something? what gives?

    32. Eric Says:

      Given my own experience in the PhD program at Osaka University, I tend to agree with Laura. It doesn’t matter which school you graduated from in your own country (in my field, it was one of the top universities in the world) or how well you speak Japanese (I did my dissertation defense in Japanese). If you are a foreigner, you will never be accepted or treated equally. My advice to students thinking of coming to Japan: don’t.

    33. Scotchneat Says:

      Even though my experience was basically positive, I couldn’t recommend study in Japan to anyone. The quality of instruction is grossly inferior to the US, Canada, Australia, England, France, etc. Most international students come relucantly after failing to get an opportunity to study in those countries and others are quickly disappointed. That’s the reality that escapes most Japanese people.

      Why does such a situation exist? One word- insularity.

    34. amber Says:

      My otousan and uncle were recipients of Monbusho back in the ’80s as well. My father did his masters in Osaka U for 3 years and concluded that he didn’t want to live in Japan. He said, Japanese’ll appear polite to you, but u’ll never be their true friend. they will won’t regard u with one. so, his friends are mostly international students from all around the world. he’s asian, btw.

      oh yes, my dad did mention everybody who was Monbusho scholars studied Japanese language in the place as u did. it’s standard

    35. Matt Says:

      I find all of this highly disappointing. As someone pretty early in teaching myself Japanese, now you all have me considering just skipping to French (that was next on the list).

    36. elena Says:

      Well, as a former Monbusho scholarship research student, then master course student, I can say that one could probably endure a lot of thing if there was indeed high-level academic environment where why could apply one’s abilitties – but far and wide so far I have not seen any single university here in this country that would even approximately approach my definition of such environment (having studied in Moscow University and Paris 1 University too, both of which were quite satisfactory), I think people should at least know that after all the trouble of learning Japanese they will have to struggle on their own if they wish to achieve any progress at all (even just a small step forward in any direction and field) in a generally hostile environment. Especially this refers to the Monbusho scholarship students who are largely viewed by “local” people at sites as “wasting government money” unless they buy the books that teachers wrote but whom nobody else wants…

      It’s been more than 15 years, but the steam is still bubbling… I’ve been telling everyone I know, but most people who have not been to Japan do not beleive me. I think it’s the contrast between how they advertise themselves (and maybe they beleive it?) and what one really finds to be the case…

      So unless someone knows real well what he wants to do and is intent on doing it no matter what, it’s a very bad idea to come here, I agree.

    37. Jeffrey Says:


      My “10x harder” remark was a figure of speech based on what people are saying rather than actual numbers, but the point is clear right? In Japan, the absolute goal is to get into a good university because name recognition counts when you apply for a job. It doesn’t matter if you slack off the 4+ years you attend college because the lax grading system will allow you to graduate eventually. Speaking from experience, if a lot of Japanese university students did what they are doing now in overseas universities, like in the U.S., they would be in serious danger of flunking out. I don’t recall students ever openly talking or playing on their cell phones during class at UCLA, because if that happened the professor would tell them to stop it or get out of the classroom. Never heard of that happening in Japan. Even had one professor that would drop the median grade for the class by one rank every time he heard a cell phone go off, like from B > B- > C+.

      Sorry for going slightly off topic.

      — Okay. I warn, then kick students out of my classes for cellphone use. There, you’ve heard of one case. We’re pretty strict about that at my university (we’re a techie place, after all, and we have to nip these things in the bud).

      BTW, I doubt that dropping median grades like that would be acceptable even nowadays in schools with strong anti-academic harassment programs. Would be interesting if somebody leveled an official complaint at him for overly-punitive classroom-order techniques. I would if I were a student there… But now I’m taking this really off-topic, sorry.

    38. Eric Says:

      @Matt: You should seriously consider switching to French. I have several research associates who report much friendlier reception for foreigners in France and much better support networks. I myself will likely be moving to a French research lab next year.

      And though I don’t want to open a can of worms here, Japan really has no future given the falling birthrate, massive increasing government debt, inflexible political system and xenophobic/racist society. To those already here I recommend leaving, and to those thinking of coming here to study I strongly recommend considering other options.

      I don’t want to be too negative, but that’s the reality of the situation.

    39. Doctor Cemento Says:

      One thing I find interesting: Most Asian NJs think that they’re discriminated against by Japanese and whites are favoured. On the contrary on this article and many others, it says that whites are discriminated and Asians are favoured. Which one is really true? Apparently there are cases of both. There’s this Asian-Non Asian divide between the NJs, I believe.

      — Of course there is. The Otaru Onsens Case proved that definitively, where Asian-looking NJ could get into the bathhouse, but Western-looking NJ (not to mention Western-looking Japanese and their Western-looking Japanese children) could not.

      There are different expectations put upon Asian-looking Asians (or rather, “Japanese-looking” Asians, however defined; includes Nikkei), where they’re often 1) expected to speak Japanese fluently and treated dismissively if they can’t, 2) expected to be from lesser-developed and less-rich (the SE Asians tend to get it pretty bad) and treated dismissively (since no Asian country is apparently as rich as Japan, therefore they’re here to make money off the society we Japanese built), 3) expected to follow “Japanese rules” (however defined, usually by whoever decides to become the cultural representative and enforcer in the room) to the letter if not more so, or face the worst types of punishments meted out to the uncooperative in this society.

      To give but a few examples. I of course can’t speak definitively because I’m not in this position. Others who are (particularly students, since that is the topic of this blog entry), go ahead.

      However, if the subject is Western-looking, take items 1), 2), and 3) and generally apply the converse set of rules — which further divides NJ amongst even themselves.

      The dichotomy is systematic and quite striking. Enough so that it drives some people, who wait in vain for exceptions to come along given enough time and experience in Japan, quite batty.

    40. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For David In Fukuoka,

      “As for complaints such as placement requests, licensing requirements (I’m not sure what that is referring to), and tests that are so easy those that study hardest are at a disadvantage (???), these seem to be personal grudges and not examples of how terrible study in Japan can be.”

      Let me clarify then. Placement requests were not made clear; according to the grading system at OUFS, I was comfortably ahead of the other student who applied for Osaka Univ., with an average of around 85-90 out of 100. He scored much lower, around 65-70 if memory serves. His Japanese language was still around the lower-intermediate mark. And still, he got in and I was bounced straight to the 3rd option of my “kibou” list. I was never told why.

      Licensing requirements: I’m majoring in a field where I would need a license to practice my work. No license means no job.

      The tests: Believe me, I know it sounds absurd. When I saw the subjects for my first exam at OUFS, I barely kept myself from laughing out loud — the sort of laugh you might expect when you’re in a situation where humor is the only thing that can keep you sane. I found it insulting how, after one semester of hard work, we were smacked with kanji such as “yama”, “hito” or “haha”. Some students knew only such simple kanji. They got 100%, but the sad truth was that those simple things were the ONLY things they knew. It didn’t matter that some of us actually knew more than those guys, since we never got tested for it. That’s the gist of it.

      “Regarding the Asian/non-Asian racism issue – I think it is more of a paying/non-paying issue. The Asian students (more accurately their parents) are most likely paying through the nose for the privilege to study in Japan at a university, and thus they have carte blanche to do as they please as they fill the university’s coffers.”

      By “Asian”, I meant non-Japanese scholarship grantees from Korea and Vietnam. So they were foreign students who, just like us, didn’t pay a dime out of their own pockets.

      “I felt I needed to write to contribute a counter point to show that not all Japanese students and teachers are racist, bigoted, exclusionary, vindictive, and ignorant as this essay suggests.”

      Please read my letter again. I never generalized. I never used the words “all”, “everyone”, “all the time”, etc. I even stated that there were people whose attitude and willingness to help was admirable. Experiences differ and, as some commenters already said, in the end it’s a matter of luck where you’ll end up. I seem to have had some very bad luck. Nonetheless, that does NOT make anything that happened to me any less true or any less wrong.

    41. Mark Hunter Says:

      To the original poster, I have only one response: Did you research this country before coming? It takes very little basic research in a town library to find out the basic characteristics of most Japanese people toward foreign people. There is nothing vague or misleading about the numerous authors who have put pen to paper about Japan, including Japanese authors. I would have much more sympathy for the ‘plight’ of this lady if she had indeed done the research, but I doubt she did. In the litany of complaints about her experience, she almost never points the spotlight on herself to examine her preconceptions about what higher education in Japan is like, what that means for foreign students, how Japanese faculty interact with foreigners, what dorm life is like, Japan’s historical relationship with the outside world, etc. This is baffling. Is none of the problem of her own making / lack of flexibility / lack of research prior to coming / dare I say it, attitude of superiority? I don’t doubt she felt the feelings she expresses, but the whole rant is too one-sided to be taken seriously. If the system was so bad, the positive stories expressed above would have to be ignored. Again, I’m not denying her feelings, but I question why she expresses so much surprise. In my experience, a good dose of humility, a willingness to learn about Japan, including its history, a sense of humor, and a casting off of one’s preconceptions will take one a long way. Japan is not like the western world at all. The gloss of modernity that pervades most things in life is only that, a surface level gloss. What lies beneath is a very different beast. This is what one can find out if one does a even a bit of research on Japan before coming. Do this research, then come if you choose.

      — Yes, you are denying her feelings. I think your assessments are highly presumptuous of this person’s background. But I’ll let her speak for herself.

    42. Protoph Says:

      Eric @38,

      I agree that Japan generally seems to be in various states of ‘going down the toilet’ and that it’s pretty behind by some measures. But, I’m not learning Japanese because Japan is some magical land where I can escape too and be happy away from the barbarism of my native land. I’m learning because I want to, because I want an extra language and because I want to be able to watch/read/play anime/manga/videogames. Whether or not I end up moving to Japan is irrelevant to learning the language.

      Although, it should probably be taken from this essay (and website in general) that you should know what you’re getting into before you do it. Every country has its own problems, it’s a matter of deciding what to live with and what to change.

    43. Doctor Cemento Says:

      Point taken, thanks. Different people have different experiences according to circumstances and that makes them know the one side of the situation and not the other. And of course there’s this divide between foreigners in another country based on locality and culture, that cannot be denied.

    44. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For Mark Hunter,

      Yes, before coming to Japan, I did a lot of research. I’ve been fascinated with Asian cultures since I was young and I saw my mother’s travel books (mostly photos with very brief descriptions, but they did the trick). Later on, in high-school, I studied the history of Japan as a tangent course, focusing on key periods and event like the “sakoku”, the Meiji revolution and the pre- and post-WWII society. I read books that presented many views about Japan, ranging from a closed, discriminating society (as seen in works by Amelie Nothomb which, although fiction, do hold some truth), to a possible explanation of the modern Japanese society and how it incorporates traditional values everywhere (as analyzed by Pierre Fayard, whose book I found fascinating), to the wide range of problems Japan faces today (if I remember correctly, the author was John Nathan). I still have some of these books with me. At any rate, I was familiar with many aspects of Japanese history, traditions, culture and contemporary society. And all I read, heard and saw painted a pretty picture — a modern society which, despite its flaws, could still offer a better alternative to my home country (which was, and still is, in a deep economic and political crisis and with very few opportunities in my field of study).

      As a key point, I read about several foreigners who made it big in Japan despite initial skepticisim and were recognized for their hard work (one name that comes to mind is Carlos Ghosn, who worked wonders for Nissan). Aside from Amelie Nothomb’s novels, there was very little talk of specific cases mentioning severe discrimination, the “glass ceiling” problem, or how the society would react to a foreigner in an everyday situation.

      My fatal mistake, I guess, was that I focused on general facts about Japan and I did very little research for actual testimonials of MEXT students. I stuck to the MEXT and Jasso-operated websites for general information about living and studying here, and of course those stuck to the benefits of the program while failing to mention its flaws. Yes. This one’s my fault. I think I paid for it tenfold, though.

      One final note — you mention I have an attitude of superiority, but I assure you that is not the case. I know my skills and abilities, and I mentioned them where they were relevant to the topic I brought up.

    45. Koch Says:

      Eric is probably right.

      I’ve been in Japan for a couple of years as a full-time employee in a large international company, software developer. Speak/write/read Japanese just fine, and for other reasons not so much ‘culture shock’ to speak of. If I am here long enough, I will probably naturalize – I can resume my old citizenship if I need it, so why not? More security is always better.

      I really don’t think many people arrive in Japan with the intention to ‘become Japanese’ (I mean, in ways other than getting naturalized). The question is, do I want to stay that long?

      To add to Eric’s list:

      * Uncertainty about the future – for everyone. The ongoing collapse of the economy, the job market, looming disasters (earthquakes and debt repayments), the huge wave of boomers about to retire;- and the usual problems of being an immigrant.

      * Too much emphasis placed on not being Japanese, by both the natives and many NJ. Engenders the thought that only way to ‘normality’ is to try to ‘become Japanese’, which apart from being an exercise in frustration and self-hate, is wrong. What I object to is being made out to be different almost *all the time*.

      And for Laura:

      * Yes, you don’t have to be white to be racist. I’ve heard a lot of stories about “well, you may have it bad, but at least you are not Asian, they have it worse..” – I call BS. Being visibly foreign is a huge issue in Japan, and East Asians don’t have to face it. Look at all the Mr James fallout.

      Personally, although it’s sad, the more I read Debito’s site, the more disillusioned I feel about staying; and yet I am compelled to read, and today to post this comment.

      Do I regret coming to Japan? So far, not more than I would have regretted not having the chance to come and experience living here. But I want to leave before I rue that decision.

    46. Japonia..frontiera finala.. « Andrei Ciortan Says:

      […] să faci asta citeşte acest articol mai apoi gândeşte’te dacă chiar vrei să faci asta […]

    47. Mark Hunter Says:

      Well, Debito, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I don’t deny the original poster felt those feelings she expresses. I just think she bears some responsibility as an educated person to not be so surprised at what happened to her in the Japanese higher education system. The flaws of the system are widely known and can be read about by anyone who does a little research. Ditto the flaws that some individuals showed toward her. I guess, as you will sense, I have little sympathy for relatively wealthy, educated people who come to Japan and then show surprise that it is not what they expected or that people or the roles they perform do not match their expectations. Japan is different. However, for the lesser educated, exploited laborer, I have all the sympathy in the world.

      — Yes we will. I think you’re projecting a “relatively wealthy” shawl over this poster, and trying to say she doesn’t have a leg to stand on when decrying foul treatment. Even if she does from a relatively wealthy background, does that delegitimize her voice? I’ve had the same criticism leveled at me because I graduated from an Ivy League school (Cornell) (and I have always been far from any wealth, FWIW, save for the time I attended a dinner at the Saudi Embassy). Would you say that is now similarly discredited because of my background?

      Point: Should people who get educations at good schools be automatically dismissed as privileged and therefore without privileges to complain? If so, yes, we will have to disagree.

    48. Mark Hunter Says:

      Laura, I just saw your post above. Thanks for clarifying. The issues you point out like poor teaching, racism, the me vs them thing, lack of support and misinformation are hardly surprising issues when we consider Japan’s education system. These are well-known and have been well documented by people like JET Programme participants, visiting professors, parents of international children, and others, like yourself. I don’t deny that you feel you have been hard done by. I do think, however, that you shouldn’t be so surprised at a lot of what happened. That doesn’t make it right that it happened and it’s good to expose these things. Be angry, but don’t be surprised. I wish you all the luck in the world, but have far more sympathy for the poorly educated foreign worker who is brought to Japan under clearly false premises and then used and essentially thrown out. Really, I wish you good luck.

    49. Mark Hunter Says:

      Debito, all people have the right to complain. Even well-educated people who don’t do their homework have the right to complain. Ms. Petrescu has admitted she might have done more delving into people’s actual experiences on the MEXT program. That is to her credit. I don’t think she can really be so surprised at what happened, particularly in terms of the racism, misinformation, me vs. them thing, poor support and poor teaching. These are well-known issues and taking a closer look would have shone a light on these issues for her, possibly allowing her to decide if she really wanted to study in Japan. She should complain about these issues, but as an educated person with access to resources, she bears some responsibility for being surprised when the bad stuff happened. Angry yes, surprised, no.

    50. A Says:

      #Mark Hunter Says: he should complain about these issues, but as an educated person with access to resources, she bears some responsibility for being surprised when the bad stuff happened. Angry yes, surprised, no.#
      I think you’re missing the point. She’s informing us of her experience, and she did that perfectly well. Criticizing her for being surprised is ridiculous. There is always a gap between knowing something mentally and experiencing something emotionally. And what are these resources she has? Unless her parents are incredibly wealthy and influential it is no easy task confronting an institution.

    51. AET Says:

      I too was an exchange student in Japan, at a “prestigious” private university in Kobe. Although the Japanese classes were excellent, those in English were nonsense. Just like Kimberly said, it seemed those classes were more for the teacher’s benefit than ours. Even the two classes taught by an Englishman and an American respectively were at about the 7th grade (American middle school) level. Granted, we were there primarily to learn Japanese, but that was ridiculous.

      Also, I used to think of our student lounge as a fish bowl. Some Japanese students would come and simply stare, point, and giggle at us. We would even go so far as to stand up and make gestures for them to come in, but they would just laugh and walk away.

      Then again, we did make friends with the Japanese students in what you might call the “International Club”. Some wanted to learn English, yes, but most just wanted to be our friends and were genuinely good people.

      Overall though, I made a lot of international friends, and was lucky enough to have the best host family in the program (I may be biased on this point ^-^ ). But I had very few Japanese friends after the program. I also didn’t feel very positive towards Japan. Neither did many of my fellow 留学生, even those who came here already speaking and writing Japanese and loving the culture. After even the best students got more than enough flattery and shock when speaking Japanese, we all realized how universal the attitude toward gaijin was.

      My only advice is that you decide what it is you really want from Japan. I’m asking myself that too. I’ve come a long away from being unable to use an ATM to taking JLPT 1 and faced a lot of negative experiences. But I’ve also become an adopted son to my host family, been a well-loved boyfriend, become a respected teacher, and made some real friends I trust, Japanese and NJ. I can only hope you’ve received or will receive enough blessings to balance out all of your negative experiences. Good luck.

    52. Joe D. Says:

      I think part of the problem is that many posting here do not have a strong sense of what policies at reputable universities in Canada/U.S. actually are. There are clear policies, ways for students to challenge grades etc., and not to mention significant resources put into integrating international students into the university. I’ve worked at both J and Canadian universities and there is a real difference.

      The checks and balances simply do not exist in Japan for the most part and it is a disservice to the institutions and their students.

      As for racism at J. Universities – it exists on many levels. Hiring policies for a start, but the way faculty treat foreign students really does differ based on their ethnic background. It took me a few years of watching my (Asian) wife while she was doing her M.Sc. and Ph.D. to really understand how abusive and segregating the system is in many cases.

      I’m sure there are places in Japan that are better, but as a whole it’s student beware.

    53. Desperated Away Says:

      After reading through all the comments, I find it rather disconcerting most people have focused on the author and not the problem. The article is an ongoing experience for Laura and, clearly, one does not simply switch to objective mode. The other curious point is that most criticism is by people who have studied under a different program than MEXT’s one and I believe there’s a difference. I’ve met my share of Australian students (for example) that come to Japan for 6 months or an year (I tend to believe that’s quite common) and it’s definitely an alternative experience for them.

      Coming to study in Japan (for a westerner) is a meeting of two worlds, not quite ready for each other. And putting the blame on the student (Laura as is the case at the moment) is not really the solution. The institution is doing its job only half-decently. They provide us with the money (and a heartfelt thanks for that), they give us an year to adapt, etc. But they also lack any idea what to do with us. During my first year, I was appointed a Japanese student to help me with my studies but she didn’t know what to do, barely spoke (Japanese only) and was easily intimidated by the simplest things (like me getting a juice out of the vending machine for both of us). My advisor did not know any English himself. There were a couple great teachers that acted as my mentors but it was not their job. Even though our classes were small (one teacher per 8 students), there was no personal coaching – the difference between failing or succeeding was a short “study harder” remark. Or a longer as useless one, depending on teacher. Basically, even though I had Japanese 5 times a week, I actually comprehended the material only once per week when I had the pleasure to be lectured by someone who actually understood the mechanics of their own language.

      Later, at my “real” university (and nobody explains to you the how and why of qualifying) they cut me no slack. I was promised English lectures (there was one English-speaking teacher in Humanities but not my faculty) – got none. Tutor? Nope. Dormitory? Neither got that. At the beginning of the school year I was spit out of Osaka and into the real world with no place to stay. And thanks again to one of my teachers who volunteered (not HIS job, again) to help me move and find something liveable with affordable rent. At my Japanese Language classes at the university (which I hoped would help me improve on my current level), we basically studied what the crash-course the previous year covered in a fortnight. And, more importantly, the subjects that actually mattered to my speciality covered only the most rudimentary aspects of the discipline, more of an ABC than an actual science.

      And that’s just the basics. On top of that you have the countless hours of studying and trying to catch up with the badly-conceived program. You have the racism issue that never lets you feel at home. You have the completely different social system of Japan that turns something like making friends into a strange riddle. But the original article already covered that.

      So.. (TL;DR version)

      Is studying in Japan supposed to be hard? Yes, it is. Naturally. But the MEXT scholarship is not gifted, it’s earned by a handful of people from around the globe, and that means the students are supposedly above the average. Still, almost all of us struggle with the crash-course first and with the real university later because of an educational system not really suit for us foreigners.

      Is living in Japan supposed to be difficult? Yeah! It’s such a completely different culture most people don’t actually realize it before going there and experiencing it for themselves. But why is it that the people supposed to assist us with that don’t manage to do it? Some great teachers and friends helped me along but those were not the ones in charge but just good people at heart. People I was lucky enough to make a connection with.

      Is it our fault for not knowing all that? A third time yes. But if nobody speaks up like the author, word won’t get out. And you really want to focus your arguments on the fact that a 19-year-old (usually the age of MEXT undergrads when they arrive Japan) rushed into an opportunity without careful research?

    54. Jerry Says:

      Ms. Petrescu,

      Welcome to the world of Japanese education. You need to remember a couple of things. Yes, you might very well know the subject matter better than your teacher. You might know 20 different ways to do it and get the same answer. The only thing you are going to graded on, though, is the way the teacher showed you to do it not the other 19 (perfectly correct) ways to answer the problem. So for your IT class if the teacher started every lecture with “turn on the computer” “wait for the screen with XYZ on it to appear” do xxxx” then your answers to the test should include all of those things. Annoying, I know.

      Kanji – probably the same thing, the more advanced students who were studying more advanced things probably forgot the very simply progressions the teacher was doing (because they were so obvious to them as to be ignored) and lost points because they didn’t include them.

      My oldest goes to an English and a Japanese school. He’s studying algebra. There are more than 1 way to get to the answer to a problem and he knows several ways to do them. First homework he had he got a very low grade, even though all the answers were correct (and the method he used was correct). Why? Because he didn’t use the method the teacher wanted him to…

    55. Mark Hunter Says:

      A, an internet connection is really all one needs to get ample reviews on Japan and to find opinions of those who have experienced Japan. Ms. Petrescu has admitted she didn’t read testimonials of former MEXT program participants. This is basic homework that should have been done. No one is saying she didn’t have some bad experiences, but a lot of her letter is not at all surprising, considering the information that is availablle on Japan. Also, no one has talked about ‘confronting an institution’, as you put it. Let’s just hope that the systemic problems can be cleared up for future foreign students who might wish to study here. Cheers.

    56. Taylor Says:

      I am finding the comments more interesting than article.

      Many of the comments blame the writer. Think about this. She was young, ambitious, and eager to learn. Should she really have been expected to know so much about a place that she had not experienced first hand?

      In Japan, just like in every other country, there is a way to get things done. Most of us have experience in this area. Her learning to navigate the system happened in a place where there were people who were supposed to help her, but largely did not.

      I have found that Japanese people’s treatment of and reaction to foreigners is largely based on their physical appearance. A friend of mine once told me of a good restaurant in Shimokitazawa where the owners treated him like a regular person, rather than a foreigner. When we finally went there together, he was shocked to see the way they reacted to me (tall, blonde) was so different than the way they treated him (short, dark hair). From the moment I walked through the door, I was “Mr. Foreigner”. Although we were both foreigners, we generated different reactions/treatment from Japanese people based on how we looked. It is very possible that another foreigner in Ms. Petrescu’s situation would have been treated differently – but who are we to blame the victim?

      Japan is often about fitting in, and not making waves. I think some of the comments here are from some of the fortunate NJ who don’t experience the uglier side of Japan, on a daily basis. I am fortunate that early on in my stay in Japan, I befriended many Brazilians, Iranians, and other foreigners. The contrast in how they were treated, vs. how I was treated, was eye opening.

      To Laura Petrescu: Thank you for sharing your experience. I wish you well.

    57. Frodis Says:

      As the title suggests, this is “One NJ exchange student’s rotten experience as a J MOE-MEXT ryuugakusei” and is indicicative of nothing more than ONE (emphasis mine) NJ exchange student’s rotten experience. Few, if any, generalizations can be made from this but it certainly adds a picture to the collage of a varied NJ life in Japan. Let’s hope it acts as an example for future vigilance for students wishing to study here and not as a deterrent. Reading this as representative of “the way things are” is giving too much weight to one case — not taking anything away from the thread’s author’s experience.

    58. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For Mark Hunter,

      I agree that the exploitation of foreign labor, lack of transparency in regard to contracts and regulations, etc. are all very serious issues. I read about several foreign workers who died of exhaustion in the news, and I think that’s yet another epic fail of employees and relevant authorities.

      I was expecting to have trouble fitting in, to a degree. I was also expecting to be able to sort out any issues by taking it with university professors or staff. After all, that’s what you would expect in any civilized country, anyway. But some of the situations I ran into would take “absurd” to the next level. Sweeping an issue under the rug when it could be resolved in a few simple steps is so cheap that I’d expect it from 3rd world countries, but not Japan. That’s what surprised me. I guess it’s how commenter #50 put it… “There is always a gap between knowing something mentally and experiencing something emotionally”.

      Oh, and also, on the topic of wealth, my parents are both middle-school teachers, so I come from an average background. I wouldn’t dream of suing anyone in Japan, since that would probably cost an arm and a leg back home.

    59. David Chart Says:

      The issue here is not Ms Petrescu’s skills or preparation for coping with a foreign culture. Any scholarship program that is actively recruiting foreign students, particularly if it is saying that no prior knowledge of the language is required, has a responsibility to provide support for students who have no knowledge of the host culture and no knowledge of the language. Is the first lecture of a Japanese course vital? Is attendance assessed? Then make sure you tell all the scholarship students in advance. Don’t bury it in a 100-page orientation pamphlet, either. Actually, this is also true of a university actively recruiting paying foreign students. The existence of these issues is well known in the English-speaking world, at least, so neither the university nor MEXT has any excuse for not being aware of them and trying to deal with them.

      This isn’t a new program, right? If it was the first year, I’d cut them a lot more slack, because it’s very difficult for natives to a culture to predict what newly-arrived foreigners need to be told, and what just sounds patronising. It could easily take a few years to get it right, but the institutions should be doing a lot of apologising to the students, and bending of rules, while they’re getting it wrong.

      (Of course students have responsibilities as well, but, again, that’s not the point here.)

    60. Mitly Says:

      It is a curiousity how foreigners living in Japan have the capacity to be so captious and sour towards their own kind. I would be curious if someone could explain the psychology behind that. It is both repellant and fascinating; it’s like some kind of death wish. As willing as the Japanese are to protect one another even when in the know that someone is actually at fault, foreingers circle round like a group of vultures when it comes to another foreigner.
      Is it territorialism?

      Where does this complacency come from? It amazes me how quick people are to protect decrepit systems that are more self-serving than not. Hey, that’s just the way it is here. You’re one example; I had a marvelous time. But the fact remains that there is a terrible unprofessionalism. What boundary lines must be crossed before some of the cranks on this post finally determine that it’s WRONG? It seems that outsiders in Japan develop a particular and virulent form of spite, or they were closet masochists all along.

      — Or perhaps because NJ (primarily Western NJ) tend to be trained to be culturally relativistic (and less jingoistic about their own societies — the more jingoistic won’t have the same propensity to live overseas), while the J tend to see their own Japaneseness approaching a form — shall I say it? — of religion. Remind me to develop my budding theory of “Japaneseness as a religion” sometime.

    61. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For Taylor,

      You’re right when you assume that there were people who were supposed to help me, but did not. As Desperated Anyway pointed in his/her comment, the usual, standard remark that is given when asking for help with studies is “study more” or “study harder” (“motto ganbatte kudasai”). The only instance in which I was given help was in my second year at the university in Tokyo. Only one teacher actually cared enough to invite me to his office and offer me some English books and a term correlation in Japanese. That’s one out of the 20 or more teachers I’ve had to deal with so far, not counting OUFS.

      For Mark Hunter (comment #55 – just saw it now that it got approved),
      I invite you to do an Internet search with the terms “Study in Japan guide” or “Study in Japan MEXT”. I assure you that you will not find any reference to discrimination or hardships within the top results, unless someone Google-bombed (I think that’s the word for meta keywords spamming) a negative testimonial into the results.

      For David Chart,
      I can only speak for my university here, but in the official foreign students’ guide (bilingual), there is no information about what is expected regarding courses, aside from “Students should study hard”. Considering foreign students come from different academic backgrounds where requirements differ, there should be – in my opinion – a special section dedicated to that. Things that Japanese students know, but foreigners might not, regarding attendance, procedures when you miss a course (I didn’t know I needed a “shindansho” from the hospital for a sick leave until second year, because nobody told me), evaluation, general behavior in class, etc. Such information can be partially found in the Japanese-language study guide, which may be too difficult for foreign students to read (when I arrived at this university, I still couldn’t read or write well because of the faulty one-year program at OUFS).

      For Mitly,
      You raise a very interesting point. I can only speculate here, but I think it’s because I based my letter off my own experience, and other readers might not share the feelings of disappointment, surprise, or downright outrage sometimes, because they didn’t have any experiences that could relate. Something along the lines of, “I have it better here, so it IS possible to live better, so quit whining”. Or maybe this problem seems minor in comparison to others (like int’l child abductions or more widely-spread forms of discrimination in other environments). I don’t know.

    62. Mark Hunter Says:

      Hi Laura, just to clarify, I wrote “relatively wealthy”, not just “wealthy”, which you have confirmed by sharing your family background. Also, I didn’t write about suing anyone. One things is for sure, your post has generated a lot of feedback and it would be great to hear from you again as your situation evolves. Cheers.

    63. level3 Says:

      I’ll just ask, is the author prepared to maybe start a blog, or write “The Unofficial Foreign Student Guide to XXX University” and post it on the Net for other to find someday?

      Keeping the tone fairly positive (a negative tone will make people turn away) and giving advice about those things like being sure to attend the first class, get notes from doctors for illness, etc.

      Obviously she has the will to write a lot. But when posted on debito, it does not really help anyone who isn’t already reading the site (and probably doesn’t need the advice), and not knowing the name of the school won’t help others in Google searches.

      How about making the rant constructive and helpful for next year’s students?

    64. Michael Weidner Says:

      There certainly has been a lot of comments on this topic. I have been fortunate enough to come to Japan as an exchange student twice; once in high school (Gifu) and once in University (Hokkaido). While I didn’t have the fortune to come here as a MEXT student, I have applied for it in the past and from what I recall, while Japanese language ability is not required persay, it is VERY strongly encouraged. Otherwise, it would not really make sense to have a Japanese test as part of the application process.

      However, that is neither here nor there as the author was selected based upon her performance on that test to come here to Japan as a MEXT student.

      I personally have suffered many of the same things that she did: double-standards between myself and other asian NJ students, as well as between me and other regular students.

      While I don’t think that discrimination is something that should be really tollerated, there is a way to rise above it, and I think the author didn’t do well in that department. It’s unfortunate because her experience was ruined so far because of it. That being said, as an adult, there are many times when we come across things in our life that suck. A crappy boss, stupid co-workers, bad pay, etc….. Most people do what I percieve that the author did; complain about the experience but not actually try to effect some change. MEXT actually has a governing and councilling body known as CLAIR; the people that work at CLAIR are there for her to talk to and can bring about changes in the problems that she faced, but it looks like the author either didn’t contact them, or even knew that they existed.

      Having been an exchange student, worked, and lived in Japan for some time now, I’ ve come to know the gamut of what to expect while being here. Yes, it’s not fair, and yes, we should work to try to change things that are bad to make them better. With this I do agree whole-heartedly. However, the experience is completely up to you with how you want to make it. It is indeed *your* life and *your* time in Japan, so if you are okay with playing the victim and just letting things happen to you in the face of adversity, then that’s the kind of experience you will get. However, if you work against that and not settle for either being the victim or standing for being treated that way, they perhaps your outcome will be better. I know mine was and I’m not seen as the “token gaijin” by either my classmates, nor by my co-workers at my current job. It takes time and a lot of work, but it can happen. I’m proof of that.

      — Oh boy, CLAIR. Don’t get the JETs on this list started on how ineffectual CLAIR can be.

    65. Kimberly Says:

      Regarding rabuho’s comment about Waseda:

      I was there 8 years ago, and the building was outside the campus gates. We had classes when the rest of the campus was shut down for entrance exams, etc. According to my old host family, who still hosts Waseda students, the exchange program has since been moved to a different building, which probably accounts for our different versions of the story… progress, perhaps, but I think the attitude is still there.

      It was a huge shock for me, having known and been friends with exchange students in high school and at my home university… they were only there for a year, sure, but for the purposes of that year, they were members of ouor class and included in everything, the only difference was that they were taking ESL classes as well. I came to Japan expecting to experience life at a Japanese university for a year, and eight years later I STILL don’t really know what an average Japanese university student’s experience would be like.

      It seems that including foreign students, whether Monbusho scholars or short-term exchange students, in regular student life would be more beneficial both for the foreign and Japanese students, in terms of getting an actual cultural EXCHANGE. Segregating these students isn’t really benefitting either party, in my humble opinion.

      I wrote a lengthy letter to Waseda, in my Japanese which was at the time understandable but far from universtiy-student level, telling them exactly what I thought of their program… I’m sure that the opinion of one student didn’t make the difference, but some things HAVE apparently changed (the building being moved on campus for one thing), if they are still not what I’d call “inclusive.” I think all of us who’ve had an unsatisfactory experience NEED to speak up, in blogs, in letters to the people in charge, in whatever form we can. The worst they’ll do is ignore us, best-case scenario the next generation of J- AND NJ-students get a better education because of it.

    66. rabuho Says:

      Kimberly: Ah, that makes sense. Yes, from what I’ve heard from foreign OB/OG, things have indeed changed since SILS was created in 2004 — the segregation problem is largely gone, with Japanese and non-Japanese students in mixed, English-language courses. My biggest problem with the program was how inflexible it was for those (like me) who already had advanced-level Japanese abilities. They wouldn’t let me take or even audit courses taught in Japanese, which kind of defeated the point of being at Waseda in the first place. (Part of that was the fault of my home university for making me take so many credits, but I digress…)

    67. Kimberly Says:

      “the segregation problem is largely gone, with Japanese and non-Japanese students in mixed, English-language courses…. They wouldn’t let me take or even audit courses taught in Japanese”

      Unless I am totally mistaken about the meaning of the word, that sounds like the very essense of segregation. Exchange students who are in Japan, probably at least partially because they want to study Japanese, are not allowed to take classes in Japanese? Sounds like the problem has gotten WORSE since I was there. I was there 2001-02, and at the time there were also Japanese-language classes offered, but they were classes in Japanese, FOR the international students. So you had Japanese students taking the English classes because they wanted to study English, but the Japanese language classes that the foreign students were allowed to take were ALL exchange students, the professor was the only native Japanese speaker in the room. Either way, doesn’t seem like much of an EXCHANGE to me… the Japanese students get to experience an English-speaking classroom environment without leaving their own university, but the students who spent the money and took the risk of coming to a foreign country for a year don’t get to experience the university culture of the host country???

      The bigggest problem I have with this is what it is (however tacitly) teaching the Japanese students – that the NJ students are somehow fundamentally DIFFERENT than them (whereas the Waseda students who go on the exchange program to USC – my home university are welcomed as a part of the student body for that year). It’s just continuing the process started by ALTs and eikaiwas (Japanese teachers can teach grammar but native speakers can’t, native speakers aren’t allowed to speak Japanese in class although Japanese teachers can switch back and forth, etc) and continues into the workplace… there is no such thing as seperate but equal, what in the world are they teaching our children?

    68. elena Says:

      Dear Debito,

      (Please forgive my tone – no intention to sound condescending or anything) “Japaneseness as religion” – I think you are getting there at last. If you follow all the rituals (including “fitting in” in terms of appearance, I was told a Japanese girl with naturally brown hair was told at Chugakko to dye her hair black to look as “proper Japanese”), you are “one of us”, you get good treatment, otherwise, you are “one of them” – you are not regarded as someone deserving any attention at all (this includes Japanese who do not follow the rituals, of course). We are lucky they have not invented something like jihad in Islamic religions, a war against non-believers. But that’s basically all there is to it, as far as I was able to discern. Any personal matters, humanitarian spirit, human rights etc. are not relevant to the people who are into this religion.

      We should be glad, however, that not everyone in Japan is a beleiver to this religion, but most are tainted in one way or another. This is a very interesting topic for a sociological research – try to compare this situation with that of another Asian country, Korea would probably be quite similar, while Southern countries like Vietnam would be different… But I think the world deserves to know this particular aspect about “Japanese culture”.

      I sympathize deeply with Laura, but my advice would be just not to take all this personally, they only have rituals in mind, and some people fail to fit into them, and others do – without their own knowledge, as noone has studied this religion yet in much detail.

    69. Laura Petrescu Says:

      This might be a bit “too little, too late”, but I finally found the official Monbukagakusho note that “explained” why they cut our scholarships (in reference to my closing paragraphs):

      “Amidst increasingly severe financial conditions, the Ministry of Finance and various other related quarters have requested reconsideration of the amounts of the stipends for Japanese Government Scholarship Students. Therefore, to promote “300,000 International Students Plan”, in consideration of the actual living expenses of international students and regional differences in the cost of living, the amounts of monthly stipends, regardless of the year of selection, will be changed as follows after April 2009:

      Undergrade, College of Tech, Special Training, Japanese Language Students: 125,000 per month
      Research Students: 152,000 per month
      Masters Course: 154,000
      Doctoral Course: 155,000

      That’s down 10.000 to 18.000 yen from the amount stated in the orientation documents we received before coming here, and they offer an added 3.000 yen for “living expenses” to students in Tokyo.

      According to JASSO, there were 123,829 foreign students in Japan last years, and the top five countries are — not surprisingly — Asian. So, they want to double the number and then some, at the cost of making it harder for those of us who are already here. As I said before… all of us are just pretty numbers on a paper… Sad but true.

    70. Max von Schuler-Kobayashi Says:


      Well, I have to say that I think treatment in Japan is pretty fair. Certainly standards are different, but in 35 years the number of instances that I could say were prejudicial are few. In 35 years, I have been refused a rental once for being a foreigner. Once, out moving at least 30-40 times.

      OK, three times, a cop asked me to see my ID.

      I have never encountered discrimination on any workplace, and I have worked many places. My main point is that having been in the Marines, it gives you an internal self discipline to deal with situations.

      I will take Japan over the US, where people are blatant with insults and discrimination. And frivolous lawsuits, like if they feel insulted by something they said.

      I am not trying to insult Debito or anyone else on the commentary, but different people experience different things in different ways, and in a society, every person must learn a degree of patience, or we have anarchy.

      By the way, I was in Iwakuni, MCAS Iwakuni, where were you based?

      — Your admirable amount of discipline in interpersonal relations is sorely lacking in your ability to stick to the point. Practically none of this blather is related to the points at hand in this blog entry.

      We are not interested in hearing how good you have it so therefore everyone else who doesn’t have it as good must have something wrong with them (while trying to commune with Marine buddies).

      Address the points raised or don’t bother commenting. Else we’d have anarchy! (yeah, right; fiddlesticks!)

    71. JP Says:

      How many times do we need to go through this? If it didn’t happen to you, doesn’t mean it does not happen. Just because it doesn’t bother you doesn’t mean its ok. Comparison to “how it is” in other countries, does not make it right or wrong. Good ideas are good and bad ideas are bad in their own right. Can we get past this? And most important to everyone is this: it is never right to blame someone who feels that they have been wronged.

      @Max V, you have been stopped 3 times, Mark in yayoi has been stopped over 100 times, should he just suck it up? I am tired of people blaming this crap on the victims. End of rant. This post started with a student who need to get her story out and she has, but please don’t ignore the fact that this is not her fault, the circumstances of higher education in japan have been corroborated by many of us here.

    72. Biffy Says:

      “It is a curiousity how foreigners living in Japan have the capacity to be so captious and sour towards their own kind. I would be curious if someone could explain the psychology behind that. It is both repellant and fascinating; it’s like some kind of death wish. As willing as the Japanese are to protect one another even when in the know that someone is actually at fault, foreingers circle round like a group of vultures when it comes to another foreigner.Is it territorialism?”

      Mitly hit the nail on the head. I have been in Japan for nearly ten years. I am from a western country and have not attended university here. Instead, I have been working in a high school. Of course I have encountered hardships here, but I must say that I encountered many more hardships while living in South Korea.

      My point is this. I think that many westerners living here in Japan having a feeling of insecurity. Reflecting on the time I have been here, there have been countless times when I have passed a fellow westerner on a train or on the street where I have casually said, ‘hello’ without any response. Then, while talking to western colleagues or acquaintances, they have to show how they are better than me by telling me what great jobs they have. What it says to me is, ‘I’ve got mine!” This insecurity or fear tends to alienate westerners from one another here in Japan.

      I have an African-American friend who whenever we encounter an African or African-American on the street, says ‘hello’ and waves at the stranger and gets a warm reply. This is not to say that these examples are the rule, but they certainly are prevalent.

      So, what I have to say about Laura and Debito is that they voice their opinions based on experience. By sharing their experience they giving us forum to talk about these issues. By talking about these issues we become empowered. By becoming empowered we can help fuel changes in our relationships with people. As a community in Japan we can affect change.

      I am a bit envious of how other minorities seem to have such strong bonds in Japan, for example Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos. There doesn’t seem to be much support within the western community.

      My one recommendation for Laura is to, as another poster has suggested, make a blog to share her experience pertaining to her life here in Japan.

    73. Jerry Says:

      ANARCHY ANARCHY ANARCHY – lights a virtual trashcan on fire and kicks it over (giggle and don’t publish this)

      — Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Humor will get you everywhere.

    74. GlitterBerri Says:

      Mark Hunter – I think Laura has every right to expect equal treatment as a foreigner in a developed country. The world we’re working to build holds tolerance and equality as the norm. As such, there is no shame in being surprised and outraged at Japan’s less-than-developed attitude towards “outsiders”.

      Laura – I agree with some of the other posters that your essay was more of a rant and I think it deserves a rewrite to include more detail about the incidents you mention. As you have proven yourself in your posts to be reasoned and intelligent, I look forward to seeing a polished version written with less of the heat-of-the-moment frustration (though I definitely sympathize). Also, thank you very much for tipping me off about the Monbukagakusho-MEXT scholarship, I’ll be sure to look into that.

      Max von Schuler-Kobayashi – Thanks for the humorous tips on dealing with social situations. I’ll be sure to make use of them.

    75. Hoofin Says:

      After years of reading this board, I’ve never understood the need of some visitors to try and shut down the debate with the “suck it in and take it” offering. It’s the site of a civil rights activist.

      You would never go to Southern Poverty Law Center and say, “hey, what’s a little discrimination! I don’t see it! Why don’t you guys knock it off already!”

      Since the space to communicate on the internet is vast and essentially “free”, why don’t these folks set up an “Everything is A OK everyday in Japan” board?

      I appreciate Laura’s story because it supports what you also see going on in the business world here. Once the deal is sealed, how quickly things do change . . .

      — And the ones I let through were the milder ones. You should see how nasty some of the “comments” I deleted were…

    76. pseudonym Says:

      Somewhat tangential to the main article, but relevant to a couple of points made earlier. How easy is it to get into a Japanese university? Can you get into a jr. high?

      I work at a relatively famous university affiliated jr./sr. High school (most of the Japanese people I mention it to recognize it). Once you are in the jr. high, unless you do something horribly, horribly wrong you are in the university.

      Just yesterday morning I had a conversation with one of the Japanese part time teachers who is teaching the grade 12 students. She was complaining about the pressure she is receiving from the administration to alter the grades of some of the students who are failing. Because the grade 12 students are now only on half days (the afternoons used to visit universities and, uh, study (supposedly)) she has no opportunity to give extra lessons, give make up tests or do anything else to increase the students knowledge or ability. The only thing she can do to make them pass is to alter their test scores…so they can enter university.

      Oh yeah, the passing grade is 40%.

    77. K.A. Says:

      GlitterBerri – “I look forward to seeing a polished version written with less of the heat-of-the-moment frustration”

      I wonder why. That’s the best in the whole thing.

      Laura, thanks for taking the time and the courage to publish your story. It’s more than a rant of a “frustrated individual”. I hope it will encourage others to do the same and speak up may be through different channels, too. And don’t worry, just talk the way you are. It’s fine.

      [litany of declaratory “us vs them” sentiments about Japan and the Japanese deleted. craft your criticisms more carefully]

    78. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For Pseudonym,

      From what I know, it’s very hard to enter a national (国立) university, and very easy to graduate afterwards. As long as you have attendance, there’s no way you can possibly fail (at least that’s what I hear from Japanese friends). I can imagine how your friend feels… and in all honesty, she’s right, but there isn’t really much she can do against the system now, is there?

    79. Biffy Says:

      Pseudonym. I teach at a government school in Tokyo. I am advised by home room teachers or the administration to give passing grades to students who fail tests and/or don’t come to class. I quickly do what I’m asked because that is the way that the system is. I have no way of affecting a change and don’t have any motivation to do so either. It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is.

    80. 茶亜瑠図 Says:

      As a ryuugakusei of the University of the Ryukyus, I did not experience a high degree of discrimination per se. I would say that the classes I went through were actually balances and any mistakes are attendences issues I had was on my end.

      On that note, I would like to express issues I did have with teachers. One is that my grammar teacher for my presentation would scream at me for not being able to write a bunshou correctly in English. You would think that since he went to school at UC Berkley he was going to be open mined towards Americans right? Nope. Was not the case at all. Also when I did the entrance exam that same teach placed me in a second semester elementary class even though I knew every thing that was being taught out of that book. I finally started to learn towards the end of basic and beginning intermediate level Japanese. Yet if my level did not “suffice” why did they give me permission to take a conversational Chinese class. The teachers in my classes themselves were helpful and they allowed me to do additional classes one of them even said I could enroll into the intermediate conversation class but it conflicted with the conversational Mandarin class. At the end of the semester I was told by the basic grammar teach that “I should have went into the intermediate class like you wanted”.I take it he was just following orders and I have had a wonderful time in his class.

      Not being unbalanced I want to end that speil with the nice parts about the MEXT-JASSO scholarship. First of all, the teachers I was assigned to were actually fair in grading. If I misplaced a particle it was definately my fault. I was definately given a balanced education at university of the Ryukyus from the teachers that were forced to teach me 2nd semester basic Japanese and intermediate Japanese.

      The problem was definately the Law and Letters teacher there. And he even got mad when I tried to use Japanese around him. At times he told me to just use English and although smoking was prohibited inside the buildings he was partically chain smoking during his whole shift. But one teacher can sometimes ruin and other wise perfect experience. Honestly I wanted to go to Japan and I did not care where. If I had to do it over again, I would have still gone to Ryukyuu Daigaku, but knowing what I know now, I would have forced his hand and go through the kaiwamesetsu shiken with another teacher or perhaps voiced my complaints to student affairs. I should not had to suffer for two and a half months based on a biased evaluation. Had I gone through the intermediate classes the whole year, I would have aced the level 2 JLPT instead of barely missing it by a few points.

      — Berkley?

      Er, given your writing and spelling above, I think I see your grammar teacher’s point.

    81. Tamy Says:

      I think Laura’s experiences are horrible. The actions of all the staff and officilas involved are deplorable and full of administrative oversights and bungles, as well as numerous incidents which question the professional integrity of the teaching staff. However, these sorts of incidents are unforutnately the norm for minority international students all around the world, not just Japan. Converse to the situation she narrated, in most “western” institutions Laura would have been an English speaker who probably passes as “white” and part of the dominant culture, and would have been greatly offended by an Asian international student writing what Laura did about Asian students.

      Which comes to my point: I’m frankly disturbed with Laura’s blanket statements and her insistence upon finding disparity where there probably isn’t between Asian and non-Asian international students. The job publications are made on the basis of available employers – it is reasonable to see that there would be more established Asian employers than English-speaking employers in Japan. The Asians didn’t have a barbeque the day before the non-Asians did just to prove a point on what they can get away with. The non-Asians were probably caught in the same way cops only chase the last car in a chain of speeders. Asians probably didn’t go absent more often to mock their non-Asian classmates outside the window. The two Asian males laughing at the poor woman were being immature pigs, not partaking in the Japanese Race Conspiracy. The Asians weren’t to know that the exams will consist of simple kanji and purposely didn’t study (which in and of itself is unjustified: learned Koreans and Vietnamese, two “races” Laura specifically pointed out for scorn, have a working knowledge of about 200-600 Chinese characters. The only difficulty they would have is the alternate meanings and pronounciation.) Asians didn’t cheat, individuals who had the gall to cheat did. Since Laura didn’t cheat or observe a non-Asian caught for cheating, how can she say whether non-Asians would have received worse punishment?

      The budget wasn’t cut just to continue getting more students from Asian countries, the Asian students also got the same budget cuts. There is nothing to suggest that the racial demographic of intake students have changed. The Asian students who happened to be part of Laura’s classes, contrary to what she may believe, weren’t getting any preferential treatment or hindering her study. Chances are, they probably aren’t the constantly absent, dumb-as-rocks cheating dropouts mollycoddled by the teachers. They were probably people just like Laura, coming from a middle class family and were top of their classes back in their home countries with a fascination for the outside world.

      It is simply not true that Asians receive preferential treatment in Japan. Many Asians will attest to the fact that Japanese are taught to have a strongly colonialist attitude towards other Asians, and they are discriminated in a different fashion. If Asians are allowed to get away with anything, it’s because they’re seen as the retard kid who hasn’t seen the light yet. Direct confrontations are only avoided because Japanese don’t want to be contaminated by third-world cooties. If Asians ever show as being adept in the language or culture, they are cheered on as having accepted the superior nature of the Japanese spirit, and are actually expected to denounce every aspect of their inferior Asian country with their newfound Japanese language skills. Even ethnic Japanese people who are born overseas experience discrimination, so I am surprised to see people agreeing that there is some mythical preferential treatment for Asians. If Asians are visually assessed and “pass”, that’s not giving Asians preferential treatment, that’s giving Japanese (or people they have mistaken as being Japanese) preferential treatment.

      Like many countries with strong cultural ideals and norms, Japanese tend to have a rather ethno-centric view that being human equals being Japanese. They think foreigners are people who think and act exactly like Japanese, but just not happen to know the language. It appears that the reason Laura had problems with the administration and learning experience of the scholarship program was because the Japanese organisers stuck a few English words in the program booklets, then structured the lessons and academic policies in a Japanese fashion. While the issues Laura highlighted certainly need to be raised and aired, I personally think the Asians were also the victims of the same policies which facilitated an adverse environment for learning, and creating this mythical beast of preferential treatment for Asian students only detracts from her main argument and the serious nature of her experience.

    82. rabuho Says:


      Unless I am totally mistaken about the meaning of the word, that sounds like the very essense of segregation. Exchange students who are in Japan, probably at least partially because they want to study Japanese, are not allowed to take classes in Japanese?

      All students within the SILS program, Japanese and non, are all together in classes; in other words, there are no classes for non-Japanese only, except for Japanese language (日本語講座) classes. In that sense, there is no segregation. However, since all exchange students attending Waseda under the one-year bilateral exchange program are placed in SILS, they don’t take courses with students from other schools within Waseda. This is not unusual — most Japanese students don’t mix with other schools except for some university-wide gen-ed classes.

      My criticism was that, with my Japanese language ability, I would have had little problem taking a regular course taught in Japanese (say, 政治学) with students from that school. However, there were two reasons I was given why this wasn’t allowed. First, I was in SILS, so I was limited to taking SILS classes — all of which were taught in English. Second, my own ability notwithstanding, the opinion was that 99% of exchange students’ Japanese ability was not of sufficient level to take courses taught in Japanese. I found that to be a load of garbage, frankly, but that was the reasoning.

      That said, that’s a far cry from “segregation” based on nationality, but rather due to language ability and the way the school was organized.

      the Japanese students get to experience an English-speaking classroom environment without leaving their own university, but the students who spent the money and took the risk of coming to a foreign country for a year don’t get to experience the university culture of the host country???

      Japanese studying abroad in the US were mixed in with everyone else and taught in English, with extra ESL courses available as necessary. As far as I know most exchange students in Japan are taught primarily in English since the average NJ exchange student’s Japanese ability not being as good as the average Japanese exchange student’s English ability. Also, at least in the US, there are certain requirements that must be met for transfer credit to be accepted (whereas my most Japanese exchange student friends were not expecting any credit at all, and in fact the year they spent abroad did not count for anything back home). As I mentioned, I believe this is more pragmatic than anything else, but still irritating to those wanting a deeper experience.

      The short version of my comment: if you want to be treated like a Japanese student when you study at a Japanese university, you must have equivalent Japanese ability before you go. This is a tall order in a country (the US) where most competent Japanese language study only begins at the university level. Fix that, and convince the Japanese universities that your language ability is fine (perhaps with the EJU), and the problem will fix itself, IMO.

      — I’m siding with Kimberly on this one. One of the arguments made, for example, for keeping NJ on contracted work only for full-time academics in Japan (the “ninkisei” Academic Apartheid issue) was that NJ allegedly were not able to perform the same as Japanese academics due to language ability (hey, after we raised the issue with overseas governments, it sounded better than just saying unequal conditions are justifiable by “nationality”). That’s why job descriptions have gone from gaikokuJIN kyoushi to gaikokuGO kyoushi. Same wine, different bottle.

      In any case, it’s a separate system for Japanese and NJ, as you acknowledge. Moreover it’s a tautology: keeping the NJ hermetically sealed (read: segregated) in an English-language bubble just because it’s a different school within the university is but a convenient excuse to keep NJ further dysfunctional in the Japanese language.

      I’m quite frankly shocked to hear you buying into the system by not only accepting the presumptuous arguments the bureaucrats are making, but also *overtly presuming yourself* that NJ (just by dint of being non-native speakers, as far as I can discern) can’t function in Japanese. Who are they (and you) to decide? Let the NJ student try a class taught in Japanese if he or she wants — it’s their time and grade, right?

      Sorry, but attitudes like these will never fix themselves, unless the students (as paying customers) demand it.

    83. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For Tamy,

      “However, these sorts of incidents are unforutnately the norm for minority international students all around the world, not just Japan. Converse to the situation she narrated, in most “western” institutions Laura would have been an English speaker who probably passes as “white” and part of the dominant culture, and would have been greatly offended by an Asian international student writing what Laura did about Asian students.”

      I agree that studying abroad is hard, no matter what country you go to. Still, I have friends studying in Germany, the UK and the US, and we keep in touch. The problems they deal with can’t be compared to what’s going on in the MEXT scholarship system. As for the hypothetically reversed situation you proposed, please don’t assume things about me. If an Asian student had a rotten time at a Romanian university and got the word out, I’d support them. When you leave everything behind to study in another country, especially if it’s a culture radically different from yours, you have certain expectations. Assuming those expectations aren’t met, and even worse, if you have a problem and you’re treated with an overall “We’re sorry, we understand, but this is the system, so deal with it” attitude, it’s a horrible experience. You can’t just wish it all away or go home and sweep it under the rug. There are a hundred loose ends to tie first, plenty of papers to go through, and in the end, when you do go home, there’s a sour feeling that you wasted away precious years of your life. Nobody deserves to go through that.

      Back to the main topic, maybe I read too much into what happened at OUFS. Certainly, Asian (non-Japanese) friends studying at other universities after the training year have also complained about bureaucracy, lack of support from the staff and (in one instance) trouble with a group of classmates because of ethnicity.

      Incidents such as the ones I described, and others that I left out (because there were many more smaller, but equally disturbing things that happened) may have been isolated. That doesn’t change the fact that non-Asians, particularly the very numerous group of Vietnamese students, were allowed to get away with many things which — I dare say, in any other self-respecting education program — would have ‘earned’ certain people a one-way ticket back home.

      “The budget wasn’t cut just to continue getting more students from Asian countries, the Asian students also got the same budget cuts.”

      I never said that they did it to get more Asian students. They want to increase the number of students overall, and each and every foreign student has to suffer for it.

    84. rabuho Says:

      I’m quite frankly shocked to hear you buying into the system by not only accepting the arguments the bureaucrats are making, but also *overtly presuming yourself* that NJ (just by dint of being non-native speakers, as far as I can discern) can’t function in Japanese. Attitudes like these will never fix themselves, unless the students (as paying customers) demand it.

      Read my comment again. I am not “buying into the system”, just saying that I understand why the system works the way it does. As I said, I was not pleased with the way I was shut out from taking courses in Japanese, and I would hope that changes — but that has to be done through more education both prior to coming to Japan and after getting here.

      Also, I was referring primarily to non-Japanese students on the standard one-year exchange program at Waseda, the vast majority of whom (my year there, at least) did not have Japanese ability high enough to take courses taught in that language. As I mentioned, there were exceptions, but the majority were not of sufficient ability. That’s not really a problem since most of them learned a great deal of Japanese while they were there while still being able to take coursework that they could take back to their home universities.

      As for your statement regarding NJ teachers, I have nothing to on the matter, being outside the scope of my comment.

      Since it seems that you don’t fully understand how the exchange program between Waseda and other schools works (e.g. students generally pay their home school’s tuition, not Waseda’s), it would behoove you to not assume what my motivations or intentions are and simply take my comments at face value. If you have questions or concerns regarding them, I will gladly elaborate and have a discussion with you and others in good faith. I appreciate you allowing this discussion on your blog, since it sheds badly-needed light on the situation of both short-term and long-term exchange students in Japan.

      — I of course read your comment several times. I don’t think I misinterpreted it at all. Sorry.

    85. Kimberly Says:

      “All students within the SILS program, Japanese and non, are all together in classes; in other words, there are no classes for non-Japanese only, except for Japanese language (日本語講座) classes. In that sense, there is no segregation. However, since all exchange students attending Waseda under the one-year bilateral exchange program are placed in SILS, they don’t take courses with students from other schools within Waseda.”

      This may be another case of the program having changed since I was there, but at least 8 years ago it was called 国際部 (kokusaibu, or international division), and there were no Japanese students IN the kokusaibu, they were students of another “gakubu” (the school of law or literature or economics or whatever their major was), taking one or two classes in English. They were either on a pass/fail system or possibly just auditing, the kokusaibu was NOT their “home” gakubu. However, as a kokusaibu student majoring in IR, I could not do the opposite, take a full load of kokusaibu classes PLUS one extra in the regular school of IR at Waseda. Therefore, at least in my experience (and things may have changed), Japanese students got an EXTRA language-related benefit out of the program (English immersion in a classroom setting), international students not only did not get the reverse benefit but were expected to help the Japanese students with their English.

      I paid Waseda’s tuition, not my home university’s too, so you’re either wrong about that or it’s another thing that’s changed… USC’s tuition is twice Waseda’s, I remember getting that half-price year quite well.

    86. Luis Says:

      I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve had such a bad experience. You certainly didn’t come half-way around the world to be treated this way. If it’s not too late, I’d suggest getting out of that program.

      I spent almost 2 years studying at Keio University in Tokyo and I totally recommend them. The faculty and staff treated the students very well. It’s just a language program (a very good one at that)… no degree offered, but you are allowed to take a class or two from the normal curriculum. The International Center will also help with the application process if you’d like to go there for graduate school.

      Another added benefit, is the reduced (but not completely removed) “sugoi~!” response from the Japanese students. They are quick to take you seriously once you show that you can hold your own in their language. Possibly because these students are more educated (cream of the academic crop) and exposed to foreign cultures (Keio is somewhat known as a school of rich kids, who often have many miles of international travel under their belt)?

    87. AET Says:

      Just my two cents on exchange students taking classes in their host country’s language –

      When I was an exchange student, there was very little opportunity to take classes in Japanese. In fact, the only policy in place was that if a student wished to sit in on a class taught in Japanese, they could bring it up with one of our teachers. A few of the top students did sit on a class or two, but I don’t think anyone regularly attended any class outside of our exchange program. It just “wasn’t done”, as it were.

      I think the reason for it was because:

      1) Most of the students in the program were beginner/intermediate at best. Contrast this with my home university where you had to have a relatively high TOEFL score and take a number of classes on reading and writing at the college level before you could join regular classes.

      2) All classes within the program would recieve academic credits back at our home universities. Contrast that with exchange students at my home university that only learned English for their personal/career benefit.

      I think two different programs are getting mixed up in the discussion. Being an exchange student and being a international student at a university are two different things, at least at the schools I attended. If I wanted to take courses in Japanese, I would have to directly apply to a Japanese university and become a student of that institution, just as international students did at my home institution in the U.S.

      That being said, I think there should be more opportunities for NJ students, exchange program or not, to be able to join regular Japanese university life. If you have the Japanese ability, then it should simply be a matter of passing an exam to get into regular courses taught exclusively in Japanese.

      And I don’t mean mastery of the Japanese language as a prerequisite either. My international classmates at my home institution certainly did not have perfect English, especially in their writing. But how else would they get better unless they were in the same class with native speakers like myself?

      I only hope more institutions in Japan will realize that it can be a benefit (not a bane) to Japanese students to have NJ students in class along side them. I certainly benefited from having a Korean classmate next to me in International Management to tell me how life and business worked in South Korea, a German in my martial arts club to share his life experiences, and so on and so forth. It opens your eyes to the world. Isn’t that what a university is about??

    88. AnotherViewpoint Says:

      I’m sure I’m not the only university professor opining here, but I, too, studied in Japan and now teach in its university system and have the following to add:

      1) One year to go from zero to university-level proficiency is absolutely preposterous. Utterly and totally preposterous, and completely unfounded by the psycholinguistic literature. You would think that people who study a minimum of 6 years of English (provided they go to high school) but who can barely say “hello” would know that. Luckily, I learned most of my Japanese in the US from Japanese teachers who graduated from language pedagogy programs in the US. My time as a ryuugakusei was almost a complete wash in the Japanese language learning sense.

      2) As a university professor here in Japan, the total lack of planning and accountability in Japanese universities appalls me. I have taught here and in the US, and I have to say that the system is better in the US in every regard I can think of. I think that blathering professors and totally unfocused lessons are the norm in Japan, because no one has ever deigned to tell these people what they are to teach and what skills they are to impart. My biggest issue right now is that, after a few years teaching at a highly-organized program (that was still not as organized as either of the programs I taught in in the US), I have found myself in a top-tier university and there effectively is no program. This has been sold to me as “you have complete freedom,” but what it really means is that I have to dream up things for students to do, completely unaware of whether this is helping them or not, because it isn’t clear what any of this is supposed to do for them. That isn’t meant to excuse time-wasting professors, but remember that these people usually have not gone through any kind of teaching certification and honestly have no idea what they are doing.

      3) Finally, I need to talk about the poster’s attitude. Laura, as a professor, I don’t give a flying rat’s rear end if you studied something similar to the content of my class. I’M the one with the advanced degrees. I’M the one who passed vetting of this university’s selection committee. I’M the one who has arranged the hoops I think it is in your best interest to jump. If you fail my class, it’s not because I’m an idiot; it’s because you didn’t do what I, in my position of authority, have determined you must do before I sign off on your ability to do what we’re doing in class. I have failed students of English who grew up in Ohio, and I’ve failed students of Japanese who grew up in Osaka. Why? Because they failed tests or didn’t show for class, and basically just blew the class off. That isn’t me being petty; that’s me being fair. You’re in my class, you follow my rules, and you’re not getting any special treatment. Here is what I get from most of your academic complaints: You are a student who does not know as much as she thinks she knows and who misses so many classes that she fails. Every university in Japan that I know of (and that’s a lot, running with the crowd I do) has attendance rules, and I’ve never heard of failing for missing twice. It’s usually 4 times. For a class that meets once a week. That’s a month of class. No, you are not passing my class if you miss one month out of 3. I’m sorry if that’s not the way you do things back home, but you aren’t back home. I’m sure it’s on the syllabus and/or the student guidebook. This one is all you.

    89. Laura Petrescu Says:

      For AnotherViewpoint,

      You’re absolutely right when you say that attendance matters. As I said before, this one is my bad. Aside for medical reasons (I have a chronic condition), I started skipping more and more classes as I became more and more disappointed with the flaws of the system (part of which you described in your post). As for failing if you miss twice… The teacher said that if I missed one more time, no matter the reason, I’d fail. I had proof that I missed the two classes for legit reasons. I followed his rules and notified him, then brought the “shindansho” from the hospital as required… There really wasn’t much else I could do.

      As for the teacher who failed me in IT (that’s the one you’re referring to, I think?)… I really wish I could upload and link the two assignments I supposedly “failed”, and the e-mails I exchanged with the teacher after I got my grade, some of which were borderline insulting towards me. One assignment was a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that taught us basic functions (sums, averages and the like). My numbers were correct. My assignment was marked as “failed” because of a “bad formatting” issue… even though the requirements did NOT mention anything about formatting (alignment, colors, w/e). The other was working in pairs and asking for our partner’s opinion about a presentation work-in-progress. I wrote the opinions my partner expressed. Short and concise, word for word. I failed that one because it was “not enough”. Even though the teacher didn’t mention anything about length. Petty, isn’t it?

      I guess one of the things that really irks me is that teachers are free to abuse their position, and even when you make a legit claim (such as contesting my grade in IT), you’re slapped with the usual “His class, his rules” remark.

    90. Mark Hunter Says:

      Interesting that Anotherviewpoint doesn’t get thrashed for blaming the victim, while others do. By the way, I agree with most of the post.

    91. Abdul Haq Says:

      As an graduate of the very same program as Laura (the MEXT scholarship for undergraduate students) and a longtime Japan resident afterwards, I would like to give my impressions.

      The one-year language course was one of the best experiences during my time in Japan. Contrary to the impressions related by others on this topic, one year at the school (mine was at the Tokyo Univ. of Foreign Studies) IS enough for a dedicated student to learn academic Japanese from an almost zero base. I have nothing but praise for my instructors who were knowledgeable, dedicated and fair. For prospective students considering this course, I would like to advise, however, that while it is a comprehensive and very intensive course, it is academically-oriented. The circumstances only give very limited opportunities for mixing with Japanese students, learning ‘everyday’ Japanese, and getting used to the social customs here. Personally, I was lucky to become a member of an international association which gave me a lot of practice with the locals. It is often too easy to mix only with those from your own country or others from a similar background – the ones who do so invariably run into adjustment problems once they continue into Japanese university. Even with this preparation, I also encountered some social difficulties during my undergraduate years, some similar to Laura’s problems (difficulty in making friends, the Gee Whiz It Talks phenomenon, some student/staff racism)… but nothing incommensurate or worse to what I would experience if I had gone to any other country. [unsubstantiated claim deleted]

      Yes, I can confirm that the program has its flaws. But the flaws did not include racism or discrimination against “non-Asian” students. I have absolutely no experience that suggested the staff and teachers gave preferential treatment to “Asians” over “non-Asians”. Asian students from certain countries did have a head start on the Japanese language and kanji, and also come from cultures that share some features to that of Japan. But other Asian students, such as those from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia etc., including myself, did not. Yet I did not experience any difference in how they treated both groups, nor the non-Asian students, on the basis of nationality. We were treated equally by the staff and teachers, equally well when we were following rules, and equally punitively when we disregarded them. Some people, of course, were more culturally conditioned to accept the sometimes arbitrary and illogical rules, some others regularly protested and insisted on ‘logical explanations’ for the rules, and yet some others had no intention of following them at all. I did observe that more Westerners fell into the second group, which may partly explain Laura’s feeling of discrimination.

      I agree with Tamy’s comments ; “The budget wasn’t cut just to continue getting more students from Asian countries, the Asian students also got the same budget cuts. There is nothing to suggest that the racial demographic of intake students have changed. The Asian students who happened to be part of Laura’s classes, contrary to what she may believe, weren’t getting any preferential treatment or hindering her study… While the issues Laura highlighted certainly need to be raised and aired, I personally think the Asians were also the victims of the same policies which facilitated an adverse environment for learning, and creating this mythical beast of preferential treatment for Asian students only detracts from her main argument and the serious nature of her experience.”

      Now in reference part of Laura’s experience, which is at university: dear prospective MEXT scholarship students, yes, there are stringent attendance requirements. Yes, the schools (second-tier national universities in particular) often have inadequate support systems for undergraduate international students. Yes, the way you are assessed is not the same as how a Western university would assess you. Yes, the standard of instruction is variable especially at some of the second tier universities. And finally, YES, even though you are a foreign student, as an undergraduate student in a Japanese university there is an expectation that you conform to the same set of rules – both written and unwritten – as your Japanese counterparts, however illogical, discriminatory, ill-thought-out, childish, or arbitrary they seem to you. Expect no special treatment. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

      — We’ve discussed this phenomenon at least twice before in this blog entry. I think you’re trying too hard to blame the victim based upon the lack of overlap between your and her experiences. Basta.

    92. Thomas Simmons Says:

      I really have no trouble believing Laura’s experiences were real. I have heard this story many times from many segments of societies in Japan. I also think there are two sides to everything. Having said that, much of the double standards and silliness and abusiveness on the part of faculty and mangement related in the letter is inherent in Japanese institutions to the extent that it is to be expected–by students or employees. Finding a reasonable and consistent group of people is possible just not likely. Many of the comments in response to Laura here are personal anecdotes of limited experiences by writers who might have us lend greater credence to those who tell of wonderful experiences which, as they often contend, negate the negative aspects related in the open letter. I heard that a lot while working in and with labour unions in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka and Nagoya for nearly 15 years.

      There are good experiences. I know that to be true but the letter conveys an accurate description of what many–students and employees and tenents and tourists–have experienced.

    93. darridge Says:

      In my experience teaching returnees at a Japanese high school, there was absolutely nothing in the way of language or pastoral support for students who were essentially overseas students, who spoke next to no Japanese and who were way way down on kanji level compared to their classmates. The attitude was one of sink or swim, you look Japanese so you can speak it and act like it despite your 13 years in America.

      I have no trouble at all in believing Laura’s story, and can’t help but reflect on the difference between support levels I saw in the Japanese school to those I saw in kiwi schools and universities. Overseas education is about the 3rd biggest foreign currency export earner in NZ and as such the support systems and pastoral care are second to none – they give people every reasonable chance of succeeding.

      Until Japanese universities wake up and start realising that foreign students have special problems and need specialised support and pastoral care in particular, they will NOT attract the overseas money they need to stay open in what is a very shrinking market.

      That market will shrink more when Japanese parents realise that foreign universities offer more in the way of academic support and degrees that mean something than Japanese ones and start sending their kids to China, where there are plenty of foreign university campuses and living is cheaper.

      There is no way in hell I would be sending a kid to university in Japan.

      — What’s pastoral care?

    94. 茶亜瑠図 Says:

      […] Adding on to my previous post, I am sure people who work in Japan year in and year out knows what it means to be a “外人”. When Japanese people call me that, I just ignore them and do not talk to them anymore. [invective deleted]

      I must mainly emphasize Japanese as in people not from Okinawa. Most establishments there actually let me in their facilities mainly because of my student status. Military personnel were indirectly given the 3rd degree if you know what I mean. Most Okinawans on the other hand, were very open-minded and kind-hearted towards foreignors. That is not to say that I did not get bad treatment too. Let me just clarify this: I was also rejected from “kyabakuras in Okinawa and bath houses in Kyoto” along with a couple of restuarants which was based on solely my ethinicity and not my function in the Japanese language. “申し訳ないですが、外人様はお断りです。” was the norm. In school I was rejected from certain school clubs based upon my inherenet inability to “understand Japanese people” eventhough they had nothing to do with Japanese people or the language itself. In conjunction with the Koreans in Kyoto, some Koreans actually tried to commit ijime against me, but the teachers in my intermediate class actually prevented most of the occurances thankfully. I was well received by the Chinese of all the other international students because I actually knew some Chinese before going to Japan eventhough my Japanese was better. Other Asians, treated me well. Americans were naturally a mixed bag, but I think it was mainly due more to me being a lower class student and some were a little jealous that I was in the intensive Japanese language studies program and not the cultural studies program. Other Europeans treated me okay, but what I noticed was that there were a lot in the cultural studies program. I think the government purposely placed the Europeans in the program to inflate their numbers.

      There were only 3 Westerners in the intensive studies program. Those people were me, a person from Germany and another French speaker (whose country I forget at the moment). It was like they use that program as an excuse to exclude other Europeans and Americans from ever learning Japanese. The people placed in that program actually regressed in their language studies. Their level of advance was my beginner II.

      I cannot totally speak for their treatment in MEXT because I was under JASSO. However, one of the rules that really got to me was that I could not move into the Japanese dorm due to some ambigious litigation in my scholarship. That really brought the gaijiness full circle. I could have applied for the Monbukagakusho, but didn’t because that was one of the things that actually annoyed me the most about the JASSO. I was afriad to face simular stipulations again.

      The dorms were infested with roaches, hornets, and several of those feral cats. I was just thankful there was neither bats nor giant hornets in the vicinity. There were signs for Habu snakes, but University of the Ryukyus actually did take care of them at least. The dorm was in okay condition; it just seemed certian levels were a little run down. I did not go into the Japanese dorms much so I cannot make an accurate comparison, but I probably could gamble their dorms were in better shape then the ryuugakusei dorm.

    95. Yonatan Says:

      I would say most of what Laura wrote on the ball. My experience is a little different, in that I did the 1 year JASSO scholarship at a rural Kyushu university, and now work there semi-part time. Besides the geographical setting, what makes my experience most different is that I had some past Japanese experience, worked VERY hard to improve it while attending (not taking pot shots at Laura, instead I’m going somewhere with this…), and ended up being the only so-called “non-Asian” in my Japanese language classes.

      What I did was circumvent the university’s international office in every way possible. They “placed” me (afterward, I found out that all students from my home school are placed in the same 2nd semester Japanese classes by default regardless of test scores) in a low Japanese level- I instead went to the high levels and struggled but passed. They told me I was only allowed to take sports-related normal Japanese classes like racquetball (the university maintains its own segregated normal student/foreign student classes)- I asked a teacher permission to take his class directly, and even though it was an essay-intensive course (and I was expected to write like a normal student would), I still got a ‘S’ (highest mark possible) and had an easier time there than in the actual language classes. I was initially laughed at by the Chinese and Korean students in my sub-JLPT1 & JLPT1 level classes, but in time they came to cheer me on when they realized that I was serious and not afraid to admit being the lowest in the classes. Apparently, they had been harboring the (possibly true, possibly untrue) idea that the students from Western countries simply come over to soak in Japan, enjoy themselves, and return home proud of their newfound JLPT4 level abilities (because the Chinese and Korean students had been working very hard to get where they were.) When it became obvious that I was in the same boat with them in that regard, everything changed.

      The language program and teachers at the university are top-notch. What is not top-notch is the international office and their various unnecessarily cumbersome and racist policies. My point here is that to make my experience work, I basically had to MAKE it work by going around the office’s rules and attempts to stop me every step of the way. Which is somewhat counterproductive, considering that it’s supposed to be their job to make things easier…

      And on a non-related note, even now, I still get sneered at daily. Ignoring people only works sometimes (what do you do when they decide to call the police for being a “suspicious person” after tiring of talking about you to you face?), so sometimes it is necessary to stare them down the second “gaijin” and a snicker escapes their lips. Sometimes the sight of me reading a Japanese novel in Japanese will be enough to end that kind of thing. The funny thing is that people who act that way stop immediately when 1.) they realize you understand them fully, and 2.) you make it clear that you don’t think they’re cute. It’s only fun because they initially think they will get away with it thanks to the (imaginary) language barrier.

      I have personal ties to Japan and I do intend to stay. I don’t discourage anyone from trying to come here either- but I do strongly warn everyone that some days you have to fight hand, tooth, and nail for just about everything. And realize that since most Japanese don’t know what to think of foreigners, you have to be the one to set them straight. Don’t let them get away with the bad, but treat everyone with respect and warmth the rest of the time. It’s true that the best way to live in Japan is going with the flow, but sometimes you’ve got to paddle around the rocks if you don’t want to end up capsizing…

      — I nominate this for best comment of the year. Thanks for it.

    96. darridge Says:

      Pastoral care is all the other stuff – the making sure people are ok, living in a good place, not having legal hassles, that if they aren’t coming to class they’re ok etc. Basically taking care of people and making sure they get the support they need to be successful.

    97. Kespanto Says:

      In my MEXT experience, Asian students were treated more badly than Non-Asians by administration officials, Japanese language teachers, people on the street, etc but the interesting part is that Asian students expected such treatment. I had long discussions with SEA friends about it, that they still kept the colonial mind-setting but changed it towards Japanese instead of Westerners.

      However, Japanese professors and students were more pan-Asians. Guess it was/is fashionable to be Anti-American, Anti-Israeli and Anti-Westerner but the real reason was Asian students were majority. Given the situation, the Japanese professors and students were then discriminating towards Latin Americans and Easter Europeans; sort of loser Westerners in their eyes.

      I said it before and I say it again, there are no rules and no laws and no principles in Japan, only power. You muscle in your status and influence and you will see how the Japanese will leave you alone and respect you in the surface. That’s the way people treat each other here. I would recommend people to play the same game, you would be surprised how Japanese can’t stand when they are treated in the same way they would normally treat gaijins.

    98. Kespanto Says:

      For Yonatan,

      I also had the same experience with the international affairs officer. They had the clear objective to control and monitor foreign students, not to help them. And they were making every possible effort to prevent foreign students from joining sports clubs or any other groupie activity for Japanese.

    99. Michael Cashen Says:

      I’m a graduate of the Monbusho program, spent 1 year at Osaka-Gaidai followed by 4 + 2 (undergrad + masters) in Tokyo at the University of Electro-Communications.

      I definitely enjoyed my time and learnt a great deal, although perhaps more of that was through my own studies than from professors.

      However, I do know that the network of Kiwi and Australian senpai who were on the scholarship before me was crucial in getting the right information and helping me out of binds throughout all my years as a student.

      Perhaps Laura has not had this support from her fellow senpai, or has no senpai in Tokyo. Either way, as a Monbusho senpai in Tokyo, I’d love to help out any way I can. Laura, please contact me if you want – the same applies for any other monbusho students that think they need a bit of senpai support.

      michael at hypotize dot com

    100. 3rdParty McEyeroll Says:

      As a totally impartial 3rd party observer, who has never studied abroad and just came across this blog by chance, I’ve got to say: the comments are not only filled with trolls, but some of the most well-read trolls I’ve seen in a while. Way to go, ganging up on the poster [incorrect claim of “sock-puppeting” deleted]. And kudos on hiding behind your flowery, eloquent speech to bully Laura into silence. Not to mention going off topic by attacking minor assertions in the post to detract from the main point. You must be so proud of yourselves.

      Max von Schuler-Kobayashi, Mark in Yayoi, Doubting Thomas, Tamy, et. al.,[…] joining in open season on the whistleblower? Mitly got it dead on. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves.

      Laura, don’t bother feeding the trolls by responding to their attacks on your every syllable. They’re just trying to fluster you until you shut up.

    101. Darina Says:

      I read Laura’s article and almost all of the comments with interest.(I mostly agree with Mark Hunter and AnotherViepoint, these two fully comprehend the situation!) I really feel I should react.

      I have been a MEXT scholarship student for more than 5 years, and I also share the same East European background with Laura. I have also studied in Western Europe, so I can compare the academic situation there and in Japan. I will add that I also worked in Japan, so I know well about the work situation and what problems a foreigner inevitably faces.

      First of all, as a fellow student, I do feel sorry for Laura’s experience. It is completely different from mine, because the day I was given the scholarship has been the happiest in my life. I have never ever for once regretted coming to study to Japan and I had a very good and rewarding experience here and I still like the country as before, even though I did encounter difficulties too and many times wondered why things work the way they do. OK, some people will now dismiss me, saying that “because it did not happen to you, it does not mean that problems do not exist”, but I promise to get to the point.

      I do NOT disregard Laura’s experience, but things DO happen for a reason.

      Let me put it bluntly- if you come to study to Japan, your experience will largely depend on the degree of your Japanese language ability. I think it is only natural. People who come with zero Japanese ability WILL be confused hundred times more than those who mastered the language before coming. Laura, I AGREE: it is abolutely impossible to master the Japanese language in 1 year to academic level, no language genius could do that. I did study Japanese before coming to Japan and passed my JLPT Level 1 before coming here, and in my opinion it is natural to master the language of the country you want to study in, is it not? England, US are very strict on the TOEFL scores, are they not? Japanese language is complex and has many nuances, so unless you reach it to a high level, you will always have problems understanding what is happening around you and how people are treating you.
      So even if MEXT brochures do not tell you explicitly you need to know suffucient Japanese, the reality is: Yes, Japanese people will treat you differently according to the level of your Japanese language ability.

      Laura’s experience would have been MUCH different if her research before coming to Japan had included more study of the language itself. Now, one thing where I DISAGREE with Laura and I wonder why noone until now reacted to this is:
      “It was easy enough to lose sight of simple Kanji characters when you spent weeks drilling complicated ones into your head.” This is ABSOLUTE NONSENSE, anyone who ever seriously studied Japanese would disagree with this statement! You just completely miss the point about the logical structure of the kanji system. So, you really insist that the students who scored highest were those who knew only the basic Kanji like Yama etc? And you-who knew more-got lower marks?? This is ridiculous and completely twisted!!

      Another thing: Laura always says she did this and that. Does she ever say: Perhaps I should have done this and this better? You know, people are humble and do reconsider the way they did things and should try their best to be objective.

      I will give you 2 examples at least:
      1) “My assignment was marked as “failed” because of a “bad formatting” issue… even though the requirements did NOT mention anything about formatting (alignment, colors, w/e).”

      Well, I consider it normal to check any requirements in detail before submission. Anyone accustomed to Japan will know that the Japanese pay attention to small details and this is true for university as well as any company. Not everything is served to you on a plate with detailed info, you know. If you are asked to submit something, just check the requirements to the slightest degree possible, this is my best advice. You will learn that many things (if not most) are not said to you so clearly in Japan as in the West, so be attentive to details and do not blame others for not giving you the information!

      2)”It still puzzles me how Japanese students can drag themselves to class even when they’re so sick they can barely stand. I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. Doctor’s orders. (Of course, I have no paper to prove it, because my physician back home is not Japanese).”

      Laura, I am sorry that you have some chronic health problems. I think if you have some health issue, you should reconsider studying abroad before coming in the first place.

      Another thing is that if it puzzles you how Japanese students attend classes even when sick, then you still do not understand the Japanese way of thinking and taking responsibilities. I was puzzled too at the beginning, but now I understand their way of thinking, so I consider it proper to attend my classes WITHOUT FAIL, even when I do not feel well, have a cold or anything else. I would never miss my class, unless I had a serious accident and could not move my legs. It is a sense of responsibility. And in companies you get it even in a harder way, you would be puzzled million times more, I guess: Let me give you an example: You were really sick and missed a few days of work, so when you come back to work you DO apologize to your colleages in a Japanese company for putting them into trouble by your absence.
      For any teacher (Japanese or any other nationality), absence of his/her students is surely a problem, so I cannot see why you complain about the warnings you got.

      Overall, I think you are still not able to see your experience objectively enough. It is not so nice to discourage some prospective MEXT students from coming to Japan by your experience which (I guess) you wrote while feeling things too intensively.

      People are responsible for their choices. Your account will never be fair unless you revise it with reconsiderations (as I wrote, your experience would have been different if you HAD studied the language before coming and you should not write just like a victim of some incomprehensible circumstances: I did this and that, but the result was…)

      In my opinion, you basically lacked communication with your academic advisor. You say: “I was also expecting to be able to sort out any issues by taking it with university professors or staff..” Just how much did you really try?

      I just hope not too many prospective MEXT students will be discouraged by Laura. I think MEXT students should be grateful for the scholarship (even if it was reduced, yes) and try their best to make most of their time spent in Japan and use their experience in their careers. I had to do part-time job while studying in the UK, so I felt grateful for my chance to devote all my time in Japan to my studies, thanks to the MEXT scholarship. I come from a poor background in Eastern Europe, so I would never have been able to study here without the scholarship.

      Last but not least, I am in no position to comment on how adequate Japanese language classes are (or are not). I did not have to attend these, so I have no personal experience of them. I still believe you should have a fair level of Japanese before coming to Japan (JLPT 1 or at least JLPT 2). This will help you avoid Laura’s experience and confusions.

      If you studied in the UK or US and published your account, I think you would get a comment: Take it or leave it! I was in the UK and only once I did voice my small complaint, but was told: If you do not like it here, just go back home. I think you would never have any Japanese telling you that bluntly in your face, or would you?

      No country is flawless or perfect, is it? It is easy to find faults with the system (I agree some things should be improved indeed), but instead of bashing Japan and MEXT, why not to give it a try and get to the bottom of things- there is a reason for the Japanese behaviour which puzzles us, foreigners.

      So if you come to Japan, just do try your best to adapt yourself, which is, after all, true for any country, is it not? Laura thinks she did try to do what she could, but I disagree.

      — And I disagree with your overrosy rendition of things here. You had me until you wrote:

      “If you do not like it here, just go back home. I think you would never have any Japanese telling you that bluntly in your face, or would you?”

      Are you seriously saying this? Or have you been that insulated from debate in Japan despite your self-advertised fluent abilities? I’ll approve this comment, but there’s something definitely suss about you, as if you’ve been entrusted with the role of damage control for programs with a lot of flaws.

    102. Meat67 Says:

      I’m always fascinated by the Japan other people live in. What I mean by that is that their experiences are so different than mine that it seems that are living in another country.

      “Anyone accustomed to Japan will know that the Japanese pay attention to small details and this is true for university as well as any company. Not everything is served to you on a plate with detailed info, you know.”
      A co-worker and I have had many conversations about how the Japanese teachers spoon feed the students everything and the students take almost no responsibility for anything. Admittedly, we’re teaching high school, but some of the students are only a month or two away from university. It must be a real shock to go from no responsibility to total responsibility.

      I’ve also had the experience of having students make some sort of mistake, that when I look at, is a legitimate misinterpretation of my instructions and so have to give the student credit or go out of my way to help them fix the problem. It’s my fault for not explaining properly. I do, however, get really irritated when the students make mistakes that I explicitly told them to be careful of, three or four times.

      Japanese people apologize for being sick? Yes, some do, but then, so do I, to the people who have to do my classes when I’m gone. On the other hand, I have teachers that I’m supposed to teach with who don’t even bother to tell me that they have planed absences and I go to class and spend the first 10 minutes wondering why they are late and the last 40 minutes wondering where the hell they are.

      I would way rather have my students stay home when they are sick than come to school and give me and their classmates whatever it is they have. Besides, they just spend the whole class with their heads on the desk, feeling miserable and not paying any attention to what I’m teaching anyway. I have no problem giving them some tutoring to get them caught up when they get back to school.

      — Well put. The person you responded to send another long scribbling saying once again how he felt for Laura yet it must be her fault. I deleted it. There’s something fishy if not screwy going on.

    103. Daniel Says:

      Reading this post and the following letters has been an interesting experience.

      While as an exchange student for a year in ’05 I did not have anything like Laura’s experience, I can relate on the level of education quality.

      Coming to Japan with two years of decent quality language study in an Australian University, I was placed into a relatively high level language class at my host university. Unfortunately I found that my teachers were almost entirely unqualified to teach. Two in particular were flat-out weird/on the edge of some kind of mental break-down. Classes generally consisted of photocopied textbook pages given with no particular system in mind at all. One guy would just alternate between rambling at us or playing a video. Furthermore, between the different teachers there was no overall curriculum in mind.

      Now, what happened next might sound familiar to a lot of readers. Myself and my Australian friend from the same uni were disgusted with the overall situation and spent a lot of our free time venting in English to each other about how terrible the whole thing was. As far as language study went, we resolutely attempted to hammer together our own approach from word cards and various books, with some small (but relatvely measily) progress. If I hadn’t had a lovely Japanese girlfriend at the time I probably would have majorly lost the plot (instead of in a minor way at several points). The result of all this was that I came back to Australia with intermediate Japanese, when I had anticipated really reaching an advanced stage.

      This is the danger as I see it for people used to a quality university Environment. Funnily enough, some of less perceptive exchange people had an easier time (if not a more productive one), because they never really payed attention in their classes back home anyway. As long as their Japanese teacher smiled at them they were happy to go get drunk and talk in English about shopping at the local Izakaya.

      To get to the point: A bad university experience like this (among other things), can turn you against the country in general, and really guide your own behavior towards things which will only make it harder for you to have a good time. In other words, things compound on themselves. The more I hated classes, the more time I spent with my friend complaining about them in English, the less time I had to attempt to make Japanese friends, etc. This is why I think people can have widely differing experiences, such as expressed in the above comments. A good host family, a couple of drinking buddies, a half-decent teacher and somebody might have an absolutely fantastic time. That doesn’t make Laura’s experience any less representative of what can happen to you in Japan.

      I say to any students considering coming without already having a strong basis in the Japanese language: think again. I’m not saying don’t go, but you are running a big risk of having a majorly s**t time.

      To conclude, I’m actually applying to go as a MEXT student for next year. What I hope will make this time a different experience for me is firstly, that I’m expecting very little of my teachers or of the uni in general (even if I get into Kyoudai as I hope). I intend to use the time to focus on an area of research I have already spent a lot of time working on in Australia. So long as I keep up appearances hopefully I won’t have many impediments, even while I don’t expect much guidance. Secondly, I intend to arrive with as close to fluent Japanese as possible. Thanks to I have really re-thought my approach to language study over the last few weeks. I now only watch TV in Japanese, only read in Japanese (unless its for work), and listen to Japanese radio all the time. I also use an SRS (anki in my case). This has already started to make things flow a lot more naturally for me than I could ever get from grinding textbooks. I’m also on my way to making several Japanese friends here in Australia, some of whom I hope will be around when I get over to the country next year.

      While not at all downplaying what is wrong with the Japanese education system (heck, why stop with the education system?!!), I think that it can often be our own expectations and attitudes that (even while justified!) create the biggest barrier to you having a good time. The challenge is to find a way to somehow bottle or subvert the bad things and turn them into good ones.

    104. Northeast Japan MD Says:

      The Monbusho ( Monbukagakusho MEXT ) scholarship got slashed (or to be more precise, outrageously cut) again.

      Coming to Japan as a scholar and enroling in a MSc or PhD course is not a free ride, unlike some blissy ignorant will eventually comment.

      Rather than that, people who come to Japan under Monbusho scholarship are investing an important time of their life into it. And that is priceless.

      Personally, I only came to Japan to get a PhD through Monbusho because I used to be married to a Japanese local, and I promissed her that we would move from my home-country to hers. Despite he fact that in my homeland I used to make more than twice to three times the money I get here, had my own apartment with everything in it, a dog, and a brand new car.

      Love (or the shadow of it) makes people go crazy sometimes.

      Now that I am divorced, I am re-thinking about whether I should go on with this waste of time. Specially after getting the news of the 10,000yen/month decrease in stipend.

    105. Daniel Says:

      Bit of an old post, but #103 is me. Heehee. Oooh boy. Well that was naive of me. I did get into Kyodai, and then graduated safely with a masters degree. Met some very nice people. But the environment overall was quite tough. Emotionally it was harder than I anticipated, and then it got worse. Thankfully I met a lovely girl from China. Unfortunately she got a job here in Japan and now is paying dearly for it. We probably won’t be around for very long. What a country.

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