Rebuttal to Azumi Koya's Remarks

By David Aldwinckle

Few have really addressed the ninkisei issue as well as Dr Azumi. I am very pleased that we have such an eloquent writer bringing forth the pro side, and I hope he will realize that it is with all due respect that I tackle his points one by one.

This posting is organized thus:


Quick Review for Those Who Came in Late

The Japanese government (Monbushou) since 1992 has been instituting a system of fixed-term renewable contracts (ninkisei) for foreign educators in all of its National and Public Universities, but not for Japanese educators (it is yet on the drawing board for them), who still get automatic tenure (in an open-ended appointment) when hired. The ninkisei drive has been successful -- a full 91% of all gaikokujin kyouin are now on it in the National Universities alone. The problem with ninkisei is that when foreigners make any trouble or get too expensive, they can be easily fired (through contract nonrenewal) and replaced with quieter, cheaper foreigners. This has happened in practice: as far as we know, there have been over 40 cases of questionable firings of long-term qualified foreign teachers over the past year or so. It promises to get worse: as of November 1995, according to the University Deliberation Council "Shingikai" report, Monbushou wants to do the same to foreigners in Private Universities (over which they have less mandate), and is outlining a policy to accomplish this.

Now let's go on and talk about Dr Azumi's points:

POINT ONE: THE SHINGIKAI IS NOT A PART OF MONBUSHOU, SO..(they are impartial, not a mere rubber-stamper of policy, I think, was your point)

Dr Azumi stresses the independence of the Daigaku Shingikai: a body of 18 people, mostly educators, giving advice on policy to Monbushou.

Impartial is not the word I would use to describe a shingikai. Even a little research on the historical role of shingikai in policy formation (Nakasone's and MITI's use of them to push policies through) will find that assertion quite dubious. Shingikai have basically been means for the government to legitimize their policy drives with claims of feedback from concerned, informed, and judicious intellectuals. Ways for the government to claim that they have gotten impartial opinions from outside, when in fact it had gerrymandered the agenda from the start.

I have a friend in a high place who is a member of one of those "kokusaika" types of shingikai. In his words, this is what happens:

So much for impartiality.

Lke the other shingikai which address important problems, the Daigaku Shingikai is controlled by Monbushou, I assert, and I ask for evidence to the contrary. Questions to answer: Who are the people on this shingikai? (their names and qualifications are nowhere listed in the report) Who appointed them? Who decided the agenda of this report? That information is not readily available and to me it means something. Call me paranoid, but there are plenty of ways for Monbushou to influence the outcome of the shingikai's reports and those ways must be addressed. Just to claim that this shingikai is impartial doesn't convince me, especially given historical precedent.

Moreover, the very word choice of the report indicates that this shingikai is not just an "advisory panel". These people are hammering out policy ("housaku"). The word "toushin" in the title, used along with "houkoku" (both mean "report" in English), indicates that the policy is now in the pupal, not the larval, stage. And it is time now to act on it before it hatches into something enforcable and gains "shiyou ga nai" impetus.


Say that again a few times and feel how that sounds. Does anybody hear anything sounding like the old "gaijin are guests" argument? I thought the shingikai's concern was for teachers. Why is a qualified foreigner any less a concern for the shingikai than a qualified Japanese? Aren't foreigners also serving a purpose in the grand scheme of "university education for the entire nation"? Why is nationality a factor at all? Because Monbushou is making it one.

Moreover, if improving the quality of Japan's language instruction (and instruction in other fields taught by people judged worthy of hiring by the university) is the goal of the shingikai, I don't see how that will be served by enabling the school to replace its experienced faculty with younger teachers. A policy which can encourage wanton tsukai-sute (disposability) of teachers should not be something which a shingikai should support. It's counterintuitive. Unless there's political subterfuge involved.


I think you should talk to a lawyer. I have. The Roudou Kijun Hou does not apply to National and Public Universities (the place where the majority of gaikokujin kyouin work) because people there are employed as civil servants (koumuin). If your point is that the government has been tolerating the nonapplication of the law by giving foreigners a break and putting them on multi-year contracts, that is not the case. Instead, the government in the past year has made it clear that foreigners are not allowed to advance up to kanrishoku positions in the civil service. For kokkou ritsu universities, that means koushi, jokyouju, and kyouju posts. So in fact it is illegal to treat foreigners like Japanese and put them on a university career track. That is systematic discrimination.

The loophole is that the Private Universities ARE covered by the Roudou Kijun Hou, meaning foreigners can be given tenure the same as Japanese. Now, as you say, they want to modify the Labor Law and spread the damage? Labor laws should not be so easily modified to suit political expediency.


Insinuating that foreigners are put on contracts because of a lack of qualifications is a dubious assertion at best, and rather insulting to the foreigners in Japan who have graduated from some of the best universities in the world. I'd like to see your evidence for that. Besides, a the necessity of a PhD as employment qualification is going to make Monbushou's policy of "shakai jin no saiyou" (hiring people from the business world to bring in more varied nonacademic experiences -- noted in the same report), harder to carry out. Shakaijin probably aren't going to have a Doctorate either. Doctorates necessary for foreigners but not necessary for shakaijin? Sounds to me like the real qualification necessary is citizenship.

And only noting that a university's situation and policies treat foreigners differently from the rest of the Japanese faculty is glossing over cruelty. What about the foreign teacher's situation? Kids, loans, schools, medical care, etc--just the same as any other Japanese. Taking over 10% of a foreign teacher's salary for social security and taxes, then paying for his ticket home is hardly what one would call a fair trade. And there is no clear way, yet, to legally force the school into taking into account the foreigners' conditions. Like there are for the Japanese.


Not yet, they don't. But wait. That's precisely what the ultimate goal of this ninkisei policy drive is: to get the power of contract over all Japanese as well.

Okay, I'll give you the Oliver Stone scenario again. Say Monbushou's goals get carried out, and all foreigners get put on ninkisei. Next, as Monbusho has stated, why not put the Japanese faculty on ninkisei too? All those already tenured stay tenured, but starting from now, new staff are on ninkisei, actual employment conditions left up to the school. After all, this is for the "enlivenment" of Japan's academic world, and we shouldn't treat Japanese differently from foreigners, now, should we? Oh, and say that this is in the name of kokusaika, too (Monbusho has) -- great all-purpose slogan.

Sure, good idea, say the old kyouju, since they are out in a few years anyway and it won't affect them. The Monbushou-appointed and paid staff member resident in all the National and Public universities helps hammer out a policy for the school, and presto! Everyone who comes in is on a contract. But look what happens next.

It turns out that new recruit Suzuki is a communist. Hey, don't renew his contract. How about young Tanaka? Well, he's okay, but don't give him tenure yet -- let's renew his contract a few times and wait and see. Saves us money -- we don't have to pay him anywhere near the same as a seiki kyouin. Let's keep renewing those contracts in case the school has to downsize, given that the student body is decreasing year after year. Soon, as the tenured reach teinen taishoku and the contracted numbers increase, it becomes apparent that they'll have to give tenure to somebody. And who will decide?

Half the faculty don't like middle-aged Tanaka's argumentative style or taido much so they opt for contract renewal. Habatsu appear in faculty meetings, fighting for who gets tenure, and it starts tearing faculty environments apart. So eventually they need an impartial judge. And who will take that on?

Monbushou, of course.

And now with the power of contract, they will be able to meddle in individual appointments. And if anybody is a member of Nikkyousou or some other group with unsuitable thoughts, they don't get tenure. This is Monbushou's latest trick to weed out the left from Japan's educational system.

It's just a pity that foreigners have to be caught in this power struggle between Monbushou and Nikkyousou.


Privately, Dr Azumi said that I had too much of a vested interest to see the ninkisei issue objectively. Fair enough. I admit I have a vested interest. I don't want to lose my job. More to the point, I don't want to lose my job just because I happen to be a foreigner facing a governmental campaign to save schools money by firing its foreigners. I have two daughters and a wife, all of whom are Japanese citizens, and as a head of a household I have the right to be the daikoku bashira and support them in this society, if that is what I choose.

Moreover, realistically, who wouldn't have a vested interest? The ninkisei policy, by its own claims, wants to affect all Japanese educators at all levels eventually. And anybody who cares about Japan's future lurch to the right should take heed. How many people does that leave out?

Anyway, to discredit my argument in the name of "objectivity" shows how malleable this word can be.

To answer fire with fire: respectfully, sir, you have your vested interests as well. You are a kyouju, which means you probably have worked your way up and are probably quite elderly, say, in your fifties or sixties. You've paid in your nenkin and could probably retire fairly soon with a pension. But for people like us with only koushi status and another twenty years to go, obviously our invested interests are going to differ. A policy like ninkisei has the ability to affect so many people's futures adversely, impoverish so many families, even cheat people out of their pensions simply because of their nationality. Moreover, it will endow Monbushou with even more control over the thoughts of its employees. Something this potent makes it hard to believe that somebody WOULDN'T have a vested interest.

So What's To Be Done?

Japan wants to revamp its educational system, and I can understand the need. But ninkisei is not the way. Using a fixed-time (five years?) up-or-out system like in America is one way to determine tenure, and I would suggest that. However, I would not trust Monbushou to hammer something like that out without some measure of political gain. So far, Monbushou has shown bad faith in its ninkisei for foreign teachers, guinea pigs for their policy. Their directives are notoriously vague, open to interpretation and abuse in their application. That is deliberate and by design. And unless checked it will continue. This will only bode ill for Japan's future.

Oft-occurring Tangent:

Discrimination like this is everywhere, so what's the issue?

Have people forgotten the old axiom of "two wrongs don't make a right"? Just because discrimination akin to this does happen in other countries does not legitimize, excuse, or disqualify criticism of Japan's actions as well. Moreover, it is not a national policy everywhere either, like it is in Japan. This is clear discrimination against minorities in Japan, with international implications, and it must be dealt with as such.

The fear of hypocrisy should not prevent one from eventually doing the right thing. Fighting the current manifestation of ninkisei, because it is a blatantly discriminatory policy, is the right thing. Don't try to blur this issue with a Mansfieldesque musing.

Sincerely,David Aldwinckle in Sapporo, Japan.

back to essay page comments
back to home page links page