FGU on how Japan’s employers are circumventing new contract law protections: poison pills in contracts


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Hi Blog.  We’ve talked about Japan’s Academic Apartheid at the university level (i.e., NJ on perpetual contracts, J on permanent tenure) for decades now on Debito.org (especially since employment standards of NJ in academia set precedents for employment everywhere).  And thanks to decades of pressure, as of April 2013 the GOJ built in safeguards to stop perpetual contracting — where working five years continuously on fixed-term contracts now gives the contractee the option for more stable contract work.  But employers are now getting around that by capping their contracts at five years with a “non-renewal clause”, building in a poison pill for employees no matter how hard they work or contribute to the company.  It’s one more reason to reconsider ever working in Japan.

Keep an eye out for it in your next contract, and don’t sign one that has it. Text, translation, and commentary courtesy of CF at the Fukuoka General Union. Arudou Debito


CF at PALE: There was an article in today’s Nishinippon Shinbun which stated that many of the “main” universities in Kyushu (most of the national universities) have changed their work rules to make all fixed term contracts (ie non-tenured) limited to only 5 years. This means that they can sack you (non renew you) just before you become eligible for non-fixed term contracts after 5 years of continuous employment.

This will drastically affect all non-tenured teachers, while tenured teachers are not affected. The new contract law which gives more security to those on fixed term contracts will be circumvented by this movement. I think there will definitely be a flow on effect to private universities in the “National universities are doing it so we have to too” approach.

Universities to non-renew after 5 years
“Goes against the purpose of the law” say experts
Avoiding Permanent Employment of Educational and Administrative staff
A Number of Major Universities in Kyushu Countering the New Law
By Taketsugu Minoru, Nishinippon Shinbun 23 June 2013
Courtesy http://fukuoka.generalunion.org/news/limit.htm
Original Japanese scanned at http://fukuoka.generalunion.org/news/LIM-CONTRACTS..pdf

With the amendment of the Labour Contract Law which came into effect on April first this year which stipulates that those who have worked for more than 5 years continuously on fixed term contracts may request to change their status to a contract with no fixed term (no-limit status transfer), a number of major universities in Kyushu are amending their work rules to insert a “non-renewal” clause. With government subsidies to universities are decreasing, the aim is to avoid locking in permanent personnel costs. Experts have criticized the move saying it “Goes against the purpose of the amendment of the law which is to provide stable employment to workers on fixed-term employment contracts”.

The amendment to the law does not apply to any specific industry, but to all workers. These countermeasures may have a flow on effect to other industries. Whereas the reason that universities have taken such protective measures in advance is that that already have a large number of teachers on fixed-term contracts who will be subject to the amendment to the law. Work rules (amendments) have been drafted for such teaching and administrative staff.

The Nishinippon Shimbun interviewed private and 7 National universities Kyushu, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki and Kagoshima. Of these all except Kumamoto said that they had taken measures to deal with the amendment that came into force in April. Kyushu University has amended related regulations to state, “Employees on fixed term contracts cannot be employed for a period that exceeds 5 years”. Previously, the rules stated “Limited to 3 years and 5 years with the possibility of renewal”, with continuous work over 5 years possible.

Saga University has followed Kyushu University in amending their work rules relating to fixed-term contracts in April. The University explained “We understand that the purpose of the law is to improve working conditions for workers, but with the limited amount of government funding, managing human resources costs is our top priority”.

However, each faculty in the University of Kagoshima held discussions and in the faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Science etc. have abolished the upper limit on fixed term contracts, leaving the possibility of transfer to no-limit status. Nagoya University has taken a similar line, but on a national scale it seems to be the exception. The Ministry of Education said they do not have a grasp of the actual situation.

With the amendment to the law, even a person on a 1 year fixed contract, which is renewed, in the 6th year the employee can demand non-fixed term status, which comes into effect in the beginning of the 7th year.

However, the Labour Contract Law, different to the enforceable Labour Standards Law, has no penalties or ability to issue breach notices like the Labour Standards Law. The Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare has stated that “It is not illegal for a company to set a limit on the number of years a worker can continuously work, but I really hope that if at all possible this it would be avoided.” The Vice Minister made this statement in the Diet last year.

According to labour law specialist lawyer Natsume Ichiro (Tokyo), “If you don’t make an issue of this clause now you won’t be able to fight it in court. I think teacher’s unions should make more of an issue of it.”



XY at PALE: Teachers at Waseda University are suing over this, according to this Mainichi Shinbun article from a few days ago.

早大:非常勤講師15人が刑事告訴 就業規則巡り
毎日新聞 2013年06月21日 20時54分(最終更新 06月21日 23時50分)





CF REPLIES: Ah yes, this is sneaky, changing the work rules by nominating a company brown-noser to sign off on behalf of all employers. Also it is the tenured teachers protecting their territory and throwing the contracted teachers to the wolves. Everyone should be careful when work rules (shugyo kisoku 就業規則 are changed and find out what the changes are.


49 comments on “FGU on how Japan’s employers are circumventing new contract law protections: poison pills in contracts

  • Why is the Japanese legal system so broken? I know that in my country (Australia) when a law like this is promulgated to address a particular shortcoming in the present system, care is paid to make sure that’s its not possible to simply bypass the new law by a simple sidestep.
    There are provisions included that specifically say that any attempt to bypass the effect of the laws by ‘clever’ dating of contracts etc, will be regarded as a volation of the law.

    Why don’t they do that in Japan too?

    It’s almost as if they want the laws to fail.

  • giantpanda says:

    The problem is that the labour laws on termination of regular employees are so strict it is almost impossible to terminate poor performers. So, to avoid that legal risk, employers are forced to use fixed term contracts. The government then gets flak about how many “non-permanent” employees there are (particularly when large numbers get laid off in a financial crisis) and decides that the best thing to do is tighten up the laws about how long you can use contract employees for, and try to force employers to take on more permanent employees. The net effect is the opposite – employers aren’t going to magically decide to employ more permanent employees – they will simply get rid of contract employees at the end of five years, creating even less job security. This affects NJs, but also huge numbers of J-citizens. I do not see it as a racist issue – merely a stonking great problem with the labor law that the government will not touch with a barge-pole, because it is too political, and will incite the unions like mad.

  • @post 3:

    I absolutely DO see it as a racist issue. But this is precisely the point (of this entire website in fact): Race issues affect all society sooner or later. That’s why they are human rights issues. The J Gov have let employers get away with exploiting foreigners for years. As long as it was confined to underpaying and overworking gaijin, putting them on contracts so they could get away with not paying pension and health contributions and firing them at will, the authorities looked the other way. As a previous post said: It was almost as if the Gov didn’t want foreigners to put down roots in society (Gasp). But of course, greedy employers do what greedy employers do best: They use the situation to screw everyone, regardless of race. So this issue has now spread to affect large numbers of Japanese. So, to me, this law is really the ruling elite saying to employers: “Sort out your Japanese staff, but there’s still a get-out for dealing with those pesky foreigners.”

    But TBH,this doesn’t surprise me in the least. This has being coming down the line for years, and anyone who looked at the situation clearly would have made preparations to get out years ago (if possible). You also have to point at foreign university and college employees who have been complicit in accepting short term contracts and doing nothing when long termers have be let go/re-employed etc to save money. It will be interesting to see how many cheerleaders for Japan there will be when they all start getting fired from their jobs in a few years.

  • TJJ

    “..Why is the Japanese legal system so broken?..”

    It is not that it is broken, it doesn’t really exist in the first place. The Laws that exist here are just lip service to the “outside” world to say hey we have laws too we are advanced and civilised, and have not advanced since their major introduction in the Meiji period. It is still about harmony and balance. Right and wrong, civil liberties etc, has no meaning in Japan, with or without laws to enforce them.

    Perhaps you are making the same mistake I too made thinking that because Laws exist here, they are the same as anywhere else that abides by the rule of Law. I learnt to my cost that nothing could be further from the truth!

    BTW..a friend of mine has just signed his 3rd, yup, 3rd, 5 year revolving term as a teacher. It is a practice that has been going on for some time!

  • Douglas Meyer says:

    This is the kind of problem that makes me seriously consider not returning to Japan after my PhD is complete here in Wellington. And it is a major reason why I left in the first place. Everywhere I looked, qualified experienced teachers had their loyalty rewarded with short-term contracts & dismissal.

    An EFL job satisfaction survey I did a few years ago showed ‘job security’ to be the number one concern of university and Jr/Sr High EFL teachers (NJ). Looks like little is changing. Sigh.

  • @#6
    That’s really interesting, considering “job security” is probably dead last on the list of concerns of Japanese staff at junior and senior high schools.

  • Kirk Masden says:

    The following Asahi article helped me understand the issue a bit better. This article focuses on policy toward hijokin (part-time) teaching staff. Judging from what Matsumura Hinako (head of a union mentioned in the article) is quoted as saying, five or more years of continuous employment would only bring the part-time teacher the assurance that he or she could continue to teach the same course as long as the university continued to offer it. So, we are not talking about part-time teachers being entitled to full-time employment because they taught the same course for more than five years. As Matsumura says, the university would still have the right to cut the number of classes (or courses) offered and thereby eliminate the job(s). Universities, however, say that they are concerned that individuals will demand continuation of their part-time status even if classes are eliminated.

    Of course, if someone is being employed in a fixed-term full-time position, then going more than five years would mean that the position becomes a permanent full-time one.

    If I’ve got something wrong, I hope someone will correct me.

    大学、5年でクビ? 非常勤講師、雇い止めの動き


    ■無期契約 避ける狙い








  • So if I have got this right, up until this amendment was enacted last year, employers were supposed to make their contract workers permanent workers after 3 years. Now it’s 5 years. Some improvement that! Not that employers will take any notice of this amendment anyway.
    Why are all these “improvements” to Labor Laws enacted without any penalty for non-compliance?? Start throwing directors and owners of companies in jail with massive fines and we might start to see some progress at last.

  • giantpanda says:

    @DeBourca – are you serious? You think the Diet and the MHLW enacted these amendments just to screw NJ? Pity about the effect on the other 98% of the population if that’s the way they formulate policy. If employers go out of their way to decide what employment conditions to offer based on race then that is an entirely different issue, and one that already existed way before the 5 year rule, and which will continue to exist.

    By the way, if you have already been employed on several fixed term contracts that have been rolled over, and your employer wants to sign you up to a new 5 year one – go ahead. You are probably protected already – the odds are that you would be deemed to have permanent employee status. But you will have to fight for it. Just like a J-citizen would. See the Mazda case: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/03/14/national/mazda-temp-staff-practice-ruled-illegal/#.UcrbLxYfnzI
    Yeah, it sucks that you would have to litigate this for 4 years to get your rights recognized, but it sucks equally bad for J-citizens.

    — I disagree with the statement that it sucks equally bad for J-citizens. It is not, and has never been, a level playing field in Japan’s job market when it comes to nationality concerns. And to detract from the problem by saying it is equally bad for everyone is not part of any solution.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @TJJ, #2

    Japan’s labor laws are weak because there is no principle of EOE (Equal Opportunity of Employment) applied to any workplace in general. We all know that NJ are in the main part of the stories due to different standards set by whimsical academic employers who have no ability to make clarification from ‘tenure’ to ‘non-tenure.’ Technically, annual-based contract is equivalent to ‘non-tenure’ contract, which is typically 9 or 12 month-appointment. It has limited job responsibilities compared to executive/administrative position or ‘tenure-track’ position. This is not exclusive to Japan, but most international academic employers in the west do offer several positions ranging from ‘non-tenure’ to ‘tenure track’ depending on school financing situation. Even though some of them offer limited contract, they usually clarify their language on employment classification–unlike most Japanese academic employers.

    @Giantpanda & Debourca, #3&4

    It depends on how you look, and this means, both of you have a point. The issue is up here because NJ has become a main part of story about simulated school system (i.e., Brian McVeigh) or ‘academic apartheid (i.e., Ivan Hall). This new labor contract law certainly affects the interests of race. Perhaps our concern is that the law may stifle the conversation on race as it begins to affect Japanese employees?

  • @John K (#5):

    “BTW..a friend of mine has just signed his 3rd, yup, 3rd, 5 year revolving term as a teacher. It is a practice that has been going on for some time!”

    This highlights a key problem with the 2012 amendments to the (2008) Labor Contract Law. There are any number of employees on fixed-term contracts who have met the continued renewal standard. If they meet this, they are regular employees, and the issue is whether the employer is acknowledging that.

    Instead, what these employees are being faced with is a NEW fixed-term contract with a solid end date. This is being done to add confusion into whether they are regular employees already.

    For NEW employees presented with a fixed-term contract, the only options are either to accept the terms or ask that the end date be removed. My personal advice is always to have the end date removed–this is the biggest game that the Japanese play with us, because the native Japanese (and longtime gaishikei companies) know the significance of the end date. But they will expect that YOU don’t know.

    If work rules are being revised to force a default end date on any fixed-term contract, then THAT is your reason for not wanting the end date in the paperwork.

    The sad fact is that the Japanese Labor Law is not there to protect you if you need it. Sure, there is a law, but the employer will tend to force litigation as your only option. (The more aggressive (or aggressively stupid) gaishikei companies are even doing this to native Japanese, with results that are unclear at this time.) You have to understand that knowledge is power, even if it’s relatively little power. Buy the Debito Handbook as well.

    — Ooh, thanks for the plug! 🙂

  • @John K (#5):

    “BTW..a friend of mine has just signed his 3rd, yup, 3rd, 5 year revolving term as a teacher. It is a practice that has been going on for some time!”

    For another example of a totally disgraceful situation. I know of a foreigner at a private high school in Hokkaido who has been there since 1999 and been subject to 14 renewals of his 1 year contract! When he asked to be made permanent which is his right, he was told bluntly no and that you are welcome to leave at any time!

    — Time to get a lawyer and take that one to court.

  • Just signed my 9th 1 year-contract (and probably last as I intend to move back to Canada next year) at a private high school. Two years ago I was told I was about to be hired on full time. That all changed with a new principal who this past March informed me I wouldn’t be hired full time (no explanation why) and instead had a maximum 5 more years. Is this perfectly legal?

  • @Bob: That sounds to me like a direct consequence of this enforced five year term for contract workers. If the Government are going to clamp down on it (for the sake of Japanese workers, I believe), Japanese employers are simply going to fire foreigners and hire others to replace them when it gets too “mendo kusai”. This is going to get worse as forigners discover that they have no job security. IMO, the only two options are

    a) concerted unionized activity involving a vast number of foreign workers in a certain sector (ALTs at high schools for example), but I don’t see that happening as most foreign workers have been successfully set against one another and will undercut others and accept continually worsening conditions. or
    b)leave Japan, cut your losses and attempt to build a new life in another country. IMO, the sooner you do this, the better.

    Of course, one could always stay in the current situation and hope that things improve, but there’s not much sign of that, and besides, what kind of life is it?

  • This probably deserves a post of its own, but it helps clarify the point I was trying to make RE employment rights (or lack of them) spreading from the foreign community to affect larger sections of society:


    Check out his section:

    The Preamble to the Constitution, for example, declares that human rights are universal in nature and that power and sovereignty reside with the people. The LDP draft rewrites the entire Preamble and contains no reference to this “universal principle.”

    Instead, the LDP-proposed Preamble emphasizes Japan’s uniqueness, saying it “is a nation with a long history and unique culture, with an Emperor who is a symbol of the unity of the people.”

    “The Q&A prepared by the LDP states quite frankly that the idea that human rights are natural rights of the people is not acceptable,” Higuchi says. “It basically suggests that (the phrase) ‘the fundamental human rights’ reflects the thinking of Westerners and that Japan should have its own approach to people’s rights. This runs counter to the longtime LDP policy of sharing the basic (values on human rights and democracy) with the West.”

    Debito has previously written about human rights being applied ONLY to Japanese citizens: The state feels no responsibility for any others living in Japan. The employment apartheid existing between J and NJ workers is merely one example of this. But now this qualification is spreading to include not just foreigners, but whoever the state feels is not Japanese.

    “First they came for the Jews, but I said nothing because I was not a Jew…”

  • @Bob #14

    According to my (American) friend who’s a bit of an expert on labour law, having fought a couple of cases himself over the years, while it’s perfectly legal to have you sign a contract every year, it would be illegal to suddenly stop offering you that contract.
    So you’ve basically got a job for life… if you want it.

    — Joe, it’s not that simple. As any NJ member of a labor union can tell you. Sometimes I wonder if you’re living in the same Japan, or whether the two-by-four that is the eminent unfairness of life in Japan (which smacks everyone on the side of the head eventually) has somehow missed you, or whether you’re oblivious to how other people live simply because you haven’t experienced it yourself. Anyway, “a job for life” on contracted status is simply wrong, so belay the bad advice.

  • Goodness gracious, Joe, you do need to go out more in Japan…

    The practices described by Debito are rife, and are even endorsed by prestigious universities which should know better and be ashamed of hiring people in this way. Just look at this supposedly “cutting-edge” programme at Todai (which I know all too well, alas):


    You can be sure that there was no way – except perhaps strong personal connections – that you could continue once you reached the 5-year cliff. (But they would make sure your were pushed well before that!)

  • Jesus, Joe, that is utter rubbish. If all these workers on one year contracts have jobs for life, then why are their employers so reluctant to offer them permanent contracts? The main point in offering people one year contracts is so that they can basically fire you or change the terms as the employers see fit.This has happened in numerous cases and is one reason why I would not recommend people coming to Japan to work if they are only offered one year contracts.

    You should not be peddling untruths about this situation. You could land people in serious trouble.

    — I think it’s time to call Joe out for trolling.

  • The most shocking thing about this kind of job is the stringent requirements – a PhD, publications, teaching experience (for a “position” that involves repeating the same class 8 times a week and being totally cut off from the rest of the faculty, in a separate buiding!) – and the number of highly qualified NJ that actually apply and are willing to undergo the ordeal.

    Even though the employment situation in many academic fields, namely in the Arts & Humanities, is bleak pretty much everywhere, my advice is this: unless you have personal/family commitments that force you to stay in Japan and make a living in this way, DO NOT come here and accept this kind of deal. It’s unfair, humiliating and reveals, beneath the polite façade and the 国際化 pretence, Japanese Academia’s total lack of respect for NJ scholars who often invest so much of themselves in these jobs and then are kicked out without a single word of appreciation.

  • giantpanda says:

    @Bob and @Joe, Having fought more than a few cases over the years, let me clarify things for you:
    1. It is not illegal for the employer to deny you permanent status
    2. It is not illegal for the employer to give you a 5 year contract
    3. It is not illegal for the employer to put you on 14 successive 1 year contracts.

    The law says that if you have been put on contract after contract, then after a certain period of time (no-one can tell you exactly how long this period of time is – but the more renewals you have had, the better, and especially if those renewals have been automatic, with no real renegotiation of terms) you can be deemed to have de-facto permanent employee status. Now how does this help you? It doesn’t, until your employer suddenly decides to not renew your contract next time it comes up. That is when you must take action. Consult a lawyer, start writing some threatening letters full of legalese. If the employer is in any way reasonable (not all of them are), they will cough up a severance package, knowing that they stand a good chance of losing should it go to court. If they are not reasonable, then it has to be litigated. This is not the end of the world, and it does require some resources and good Japanese skills, but the law is on the employee’s side and 90% of the time the employer will eventually cough up a decent severance package rather than have the employee reinstated. If you are worried about years of litigation, don’t be. The average length of time for a labor tribunal case is 2 months.

    While I’d love to hang up my shingle and help guys like you, unfortunately most of the time I’m working for “the other side” (aka the employers).

  • Joe, I will come right out and say it. I think you don’t live in Japan, and if you ever did, you have never lived there for more than a couple of months. Why? All your comments reveal that you have experienced nothing beyond a superficial, theoretic knowledge of Japan, and read like a collage of soundbites from Japanophile message boards across the web. Weren’t you the guy who tried to disprove JDG by saying that it was impossible that a certain (perfectly normal colloquial Japanese) quote from an immigration officer he once posted could ever have been muttered by Japanese person?
    I imagine you to be a Japanophile who has never spent more than a couple of weeks in Japan and is busy studying elementary Japanese somewhere overseas, and for some reason takes criticism of Japanese society personal.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Joe, #17

    It’s not the matter of whether contract is made in a written format or not. It’s a type of labor practice that really matters most in the case. You should do some research on separate-but-equal doctrine applied to Japanese academic labor market. Describing a position as assistant professor with limited contract string attached as if it were tenure-tracked through repetitive renewals, as the link shown in DK(#18)’s posting, is a classic example of employment misrepresentation.(Tokuninkoushi equals to assistant professor?? This inter-lingual transfer error is very serious problem.) That is exactly why so many NJ employees have become the victim of fraudulent hiring practice by Japanese academic institutions.

  • @Debito

    To accuse me of “trolling” is ridiculously harsh. I’m just going against the general trend on this particular thread. I made a very simple, more or less trivial observation.

    1) My friend (let’s call him “Mike”, not his real name) spends hours and hours of his free time working for the general workers’ union in Fukuoka.

    2) He personally won a case against a major eikaiwa school and received substantial compensation for unfair practices.

    3) His suit against a well-known university in Fukuoka was won before it even started; the university agreed to pay him damages rather than go to court.

    4) “Mike” tells me that, under current labour law, in Fukuoka at least, if as contract is renewed for a fourth time in succession, then the job is recognised as “permanent”, and the employer is forbidden from refusing to renew it without due cause.

    Now, maybe “Mike” is deluded or a fool (he absolutely isn’t) or maybe I’ve misinterpreted what he told me, but it seems to me that, at least according to law, then Bob (#14) has a very solid case for being considered a full-time, permanent employee.

    If my opinion offends anyone (and it’s not really an opinion, just a couple of facts), then I’m sorry. But I’m no troll.

    Tell me your nearest train station. I’ll meet you there any Saturday or Sunday night and I’ll buy you a beer. Hell, you might even like me. Anything to prove I’m in Japan : )

    — Your observation about labor standards or labor law for NJ contract employees was neither simple nor more or less trivial. You are saying that renewed contracts eventually amounts to “a job for life”. It’s just not that simple.

    Anyway, for topics such as these, we don’t want your opinion, we want facts. I do believe that you are getting your information from FGU (a union I respect mightily), but you are clearly misinterpreting “Mike” to the point of being factually incorrect. This is not the place or topic for amateur hour, Joe. Enough from you on this subject.

  • Perhaps Aso is happy that English teachers are only getting 1year or limited contracts. It reinforces his theory (gaff) why Japan “escaped” the banking crises:

    “..Japan’s banks emerged from the 2008 global credit crisis largely unscathed because senior employees did not speak English well enough to have got them into trouble, the country’s finance minister said Friday…”

  • “those who have worked for more than 5 years continuously on fixed term contracts may request to change their status to a contract with no fixed term”

    This seems a rather misleading way of putting it.

    The law is not retrospective, the 5 year clause only starts ticking on the signing of a new contract, and then applies to people who are renewed beyond 5 years from the start of that contract.

    My wonderful employer JAMSTEC, which is basically a govt research lab under MEXT (though technically sort of pseudo-independent) has even re-written contracts so that rather than being renewed ever year (up to a 5 year limit) as used to be the case, we now have 4.5 year contracts that are deemed to have started last October, meaning the clock won’t even start ticking for another 4 years. They had the gall to present this as a “benefit” to us, because it means they won’t “have to” sack us finally until about 2022 or something like that.

    — UPDATE: Hey Joe, I contacted the leader of FGU today (the one who inspired this post, CF), and he says the following after reading your comments:

    Debito, After fighting 2 unfair dismissal cases in court, one of them going to the High Court on the issue of non renewal, I would never, nor would anyone (with authority) in the FGU make such a statement. But thank you for pointing this post out.

    So Joe, I call FOS.

    What comes to mind now is a scene from Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL, where I have so long wanted to be in this kind of situation (it takes a while to get to the part with Marshall McLuhan, watch from 1:45).

    So that’s that, then, Joe. Nobody in the FGU ever said what you said they said. And now you’re off this site. Bye.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    RE: “those who have worked for more than 5 years continuously on fixed term contracts may request to change their status to a contract with no fixed term”

    @James Annan, #26
    >> This seems a rather misleading way of putting it.

    Quite. That is the euphemism for “飼い殺し.” It can’t be, and hardly ever be, the same as secured “job for life.”

  • @James Annan #26, Loverilakkuma #27:

    “those who have worked for more than 5 years continuously on fixed term contracts may request to change their status to a contract with no fixed term”

    “This seems a rather misleading way of putting it.”

    “The law is not retrospective, the 5 year clause only starts ticking on the signing of a new contract, and then applies to people who are renewed beyond 5 years from the start of that contract.”

    Points I want to make:

    A fixed-term contract may be modified at any time. Just drop the end-date. What makes a contract fixed-term is the fact that the parties have stated a date when the employment relationship ends.

    The law firm Baker & McKenzie explain it here: http://www.bakermckenzie.com/files/Uploads/Documents/Supporting%20Your%20Business/Global%20Markets%20QRGs/Termination,%20Discrimination%20and%20Harassment/qr_japan_terminationdiscriminationharassmentguide_2009.pdf

    Note that the obligation is on the employer to present the valid, term-limited contract, as a safe harbor versus regular employment.

    The 2012 amendments only create a date certain, after which a fixed-term contract must be considered a contract for regular employment. It did nothing to the “repeated renewals” doctrine except codify the doctrine. But in no way did it restart any clock on repeated renewals for people who have already been working under the fixed-term regiment. This is a new shade of gray, which, like many Japanese shades of gray, will disproportionately affect the foreign employee.

    “Retroactive contracts” (if it even bears pointing out) are a form of fraud. If establishments like companies and schools are trying to go back and re-work documents to fit a final date before April 1, 2018, it sounds like they’re just creating more confusion in a few years. Moreover, trying to paper over regular employment — either with “new” contracts or ignoring the fact that fixed-term contracts have been renewed (“repeated renewals”) — also insert an element of dishonesty into what the actual employment contract is.

    No one discusses that the disagreement is often NOT between employer and employee, but rather, employer and the law. This disagreement is then shifted on to the employee, and the employee is (usually) forced to litigate or give in.

  • @#28

    Reminds me of when the JET contract changed its wording from “recontract” to “reappoint” in their ridiculous attempts to circumvent the previous changes to the dispatch worker law.

  • Loverilakkuma #23,

    “Describing a position as assistant professor with limited contract string attached as if it were tenure-tracked through repetitive renewals, as the link shown in DK(#18)’s posting, is a classic example of employment misrepresentation.(Tokuninkoushi equals to assistant professor?? This inter-lingual transfer error is very serious problem.)”

    It’s true. But there’s more: the whole purpose of such “cutting-edge” English programmes is to lure highly qualified foreign teachers – with vague promises that there will be plenty of “future opportunities” and the fake English title of “project assistant professor” -, to use them up until they burn out, and then to get rid of them before they can acquire any rights to be treated as J faculty members. Only the well-connected arse-lickers and toadies are eventually given “opportunities” to stay, regardless of their CVs or teaching flair.

    You’d be surprised, however, to find out how many NJ teachers go along with the charade and fashion themselves, on their webpages and to the outside world in general, as Todai “professors”; out there, in the ordinary world, they’d be known as “adjuncts”, but while spoil the dreamy day? Needless to say, the whole work atmosphere is toxic and the malcontents who don’t go along with the camouflaged but prevailing incivility are quickly made to feel unwanted.

    This is all to say that I disagree with your conclusion that “many NJ employees have become the victim of fraudulent hiring practice by J academic institutions” and are thus entirely innocent or naive; or maybe there’s something in these places, in the way everything is based on secrecy, manipulation of information and social control, that brings out the worst in people and erodes any form of character and solidarity. (And isn’t this endemic to Japanese society as a whole? Just saying…)

    The phenomenon I described above is now widespread in academia (and beyond), but in Japan, due to a number of … er… cultural habits, it assumes particularly deadly traits. After a couple of years, you’ll a shell of your former self: either a broken, frustrated human being or a disgusting toady ready to accept any crumbs from the master’s table and sell out cheaply.

    As things stand, I don’t really think there are many options in between.

  • Winning Gold at Dressage Doesn't Count says:

    It may come as a shock to some people here that I’m posting this, because, well, whenever I pop up with an alternate opinion on this blog, in its conceptual binary universe of apologists versus race relations heroes, I’m usually characterized as the former – check out this little gem, from good old Todai:

    “International applications are invited for the position of Associate Professor, to be based in the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, at the University of Tokyo (http://www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/eng/index.html)…”

    Do go on!

    “Main responsibilities include:
    1) Constructing and developing an agenda related to the internationalization of the University of Tokyo in general and the Institute in particular.”

    Sounds great. What do I have to do to apply?

    “5) Research plan: provide your vision on how to achieve… a) the organization of an infrastructure of Japanese Studies at the University of Tokyo and b) the consolidation of its outreach towards an international audience. Describe which strategies are to be considered.”

    But wait!

    “Position opening: Associate Professor (100% contract, 5 year contract, no tenure track; extension impossible)”

    Oh. I have one concrete suggestion about “Constructing and developing an agenda related to the internationalization of the University”, and about building up the staff to “reach out to an international audience,” but I bet they won’t like it.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Winning Gold. Amusing notion, but the Japanese perspective would not see the irony. They want to “reach out to an international audience” means it is a performance, a postmodern going through the motions to appear international, not to have any deep and meaningful penetration (ahem) of “their” society, by you, the NJ. Aso and co. would doubtless approve.

    A bit like wanting to try something out without making a long term commitment.

    Or like that other typically Japanese experiment with international education to get Japanese to be more “creative thinking”, but only up to a point, and certainly not up to the point where, e.g. Sophia University grads want to promoted along with the men! Hashimoto forbid!

    This is the same, a kind of controlled spontaneity, and is pure postmodern tatemae for appeasing an American audience, or more hopefully, was written by a left leaning professor with good intentions not aware (or with the power or interest to change) of the 5 year cap and lack of tenure opportunities for NJs.

    Kind of “Oh well Gaijin san, in the 5 years you are here as part of the revolving door of NJs, perhaps you could help outreach to an international audience, but just not to benefit you or anyone like you, the NJ individual” but rather an vaguely defined notion of a homogenous mass of “foreigners who come to work in Japanese universities on a revolving door status, (and after all,individualism is going to be written out of the J “constitution”, soon-see new thread).

  • There is an interesting article on the Japan Today website, titled, “No. of highly skilled foreign professionals in Japan remains low”. In response to it, I posted the following comment, which I do not consider to be offensive or vulgar in any way. However, the Japan Today moderator removed it saying that it is offensive/vulgar. This type of censorship should not be tolerated. I post my comment and the email I received from Japan Today below:

    This is to inform you that your message on JapanToday.com
    has been removed for the following reason:

    “As an Ameican who has lived in Japan for a decade and has had significant experience working at Japanese companies, I would advise foreigners NOT to seek employment in Japan. Foreign workers are treated extremely poorly at Japanese companies and are considered to be third class employees (Japanese men being first class, followed by Japanese women as second class).

    In my experience and that of my many foreign friends and acquaintainces in Japan, their Japanese employers have engaged in highly unethical, illegal and discriminatory behavior against them. The Japanese employers get away with this because they know that foreign workers have no recourse, since they are not given basic equality and human rights protections in Japan. The Japanese judiciary, legal system and courts do not uphold Japanese laws when it comes to foreign residents of Japan, which gives Japanese companies the green light to abuse their foreign workers.”

    JapanToday.com Moderator Team

  • Hi all,
    I’m new on this blog and I’m also new in Japan. I’m coming to work in a Japanese University in August. I’m reading a lot of things about how NJ are poorly treated and I’m starting to have a lot of doubt. Could you help me with a couple of question?
    I decided to come after a Japanese Professor invited me to come over the last 3 years (at the end I accepted his offer). The position should have been a Lecturer tenure track, tenured in 3 years. But when I received the contract it was a 3 years not renuable contract without any bonus, pension etc…(even if I have very few courses and this should be good) without any right to attend any kind of Faculty meetings. I found very few about the average salary for such a position (even if the few I have found seems to prove that my salary is not so good as they pretend it to be. It is around 8milion Yen all included). When I asked for explanation (based on suggestion I found here), they told me that this is the standard procedure for my kind of contract.
    I trasted the Professor that invited me but right now I don’t know what to do and if he is trustworthy anymore.
    Do you have any suggestion for me? Do you think I should trust him? Are japanese trustworthy on these matters? Since I’m afraid they will kick me out as soon as the 3 years will finish.
    Thank you very much for your help and suggestion.

    — You sign this contract, you’re out on your ear in three years, pretty much guaranteed. If they promised you different, then you should not take this job. Otherwise people like this will continue to believe that people will come under any conditions to live in Japan, and continue to promise one thing and abrogate later. Don’t encourage it.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Tommy, #34

    >The position should have been a Lecturer tenure track, tenured in 3 years. But when I received the contract it was a 3 years not renuable contract without any bonus, pension etc…

    That’s exactly what happens when you come to the other side of the world to know the truth. Welcome to the planet of mystery! There’s always a contradiction between writing and verbal agreement. Many Japanese employers are notorious for practicing this kind of discrepancy. In higher education, ‘tenure-track’ means you’ll get multi-year contract and be reviewed for the possibility of promotion. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for Japan. They typically stretch the meaning of language in the contract, making it abstract, confusing, and incomprehensible (even to native speakers of Japanese like me). If you’re ensured that you’ll be locked in for three years, then stick with it. And always keep your eyes on your employer while you’re on contract. Limited contract means your job security is just as vulnerable as American teachers (in both public and charter schools) or temporary workers in Japan. As Debito says, it is NOT recommended to encourage your friends to seek employment in Japan for the guaranteed job security. I suggest you start making your plan and gather relevant information about academic employment(especially, this site and General Union’s website) for careful deliberation on whether your three-year investment is worthwhile for you to make a life-long commitment to Japan.

  • Tommy #34

    “Are japanese trustworthy on these matters? Since I’m afraid they will kick me out as soon as the 3 years will finish.”

    It’s not only the legal context and the term(s) of the contract that should worry you. It’s the whole psychological atmosphere in which you’r going to find yourself during those 3 years – the atmosphere that your colleagues might deliberately create to test you or to get rid of you, if they come to resent you for some reason – that you should be wary of.

    Most likely, you’re going to be totally cut off from any meaningful interaction with the rest of the faculty, regardless of your Japanese language skills. (They might approach you, though, when they need you to revise/proofread their usually poor English papers.). You’ll be made to feel that tenure-track opportunities will be given to you if you *endure* and prove to be a good gaijin; that is, if you are accommodating, keep your head down and don’t speak up or take any initiatives for change, whatever the circumstances. For fast(er)-track tenure, suck up to those who have the power to promote you. Constantly.

    And even if/when you are given tenure, don’t think you’ll be out of trouble: the same “unspoken contract” rules will still apply, overall. I always remember the cautionary tale of an American friend who was a tenured associate professor at a well-known university in Tokyo. After a couple of years at his tenured position, he made the naive mistake of dropping the mask he was forced to wear everyday, and reverted to his former self for a moment, by openly criticising the establishment and making some positive suggestions for improvements at a faculty seminar he was asked to give. Without a single explanation, in the following academic year he was “deported” to the university’s farthest campus, near Narita (with a daily 4-hour commute), where he worked in exile for the next 10 years or so. When he was already a broken man considering early retirement, then a Japanese acquaintance offered him a better position, in which he, well into his 60s (!), seems now happier.

    The lesson is, then: if you want to be “successful” in Japan, be ready to be shitted on for years on end in utter isolation and misery; if you can endure all this, then you’ll be duly rewarded. But, most likely, you won’t be able to look at yourself in the mirror by then…

  • One more thing concerning research: it might be naive to think that, because you have a light teaching load and will therefore be a very productive researcher, that your university/department will be interested in and value your work & publications. They won’t, most of the times. By being “too productive”, you are likely to be regarded as a threat, or at least a terrible embarrassment, to your less productive tenured J colleagues.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Tommy #34

    I have been through the same thing, and I agree with DK’s comments 100%.
    Either come with the attitude that you’re here for 3 years, and then moving on to bigger and better things, or don’t come at all: you will be exploited, humiliated, insulted, devalued, demotivated, and disillusioned. Japanese employers treat Japanese employees pretty badly (why do you think 30,000 commit suicide every year?), they treat NJ even worse.

  • I’d just like to add a “me too” to most of the above, from the perspective of a working scientist in Japan (google me and/or email if you want, I’m not shy). By all means come here for a 3 year trip if you want, but make sure you have a viable exit strategy, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can turn your hosts round by being productive. If anything, they’d probably prefer an ineffective space-filler (“look how international we are”!) over anyone who actually outperforms the local deadwood.

    As for “trustworthy”, well you can trust that if your contract is defined as being 3 years in duration, you will get (barring exceptional circumstances) 3 years. And no more. Even if your professor is really your friend, you should expect him to shrug his shoulders apologetically and explain that there is nothing he can do.

  • Baudrillard says:

    “he made the naive mistake of dropping the mask he was forced to wear everyday, and reverted to his former self for a moment”

    So true, the “Noh mask” (“Behind the Mask”, “Confessions of a Mask”) of Tatemae J culture dovetails so perfectly with postmodern false labels and re branding to create perhaps the most enduring illusionary and ultimately confusing society on earth. I mean, Uso mo Houben, Olympus etc.

    The ultimate language as anti-communication; do not take anything we say literally, it is all to save face, to keep up appearances. Hence the popularity of fictions through Yoko Heart Speak “personal” interpretations of historical events. Hence arguably also the aversion to written contracts, constitutionally enshrined human rights, and adherence to laws and treaties, though I digress here.

    noun. a false idea or conception; belief or opinion not in accord with the facts; an unreal, deceptive, or misleading appearance or image:

    I don’t need to go into how important images are in Japan. Of looking the part. “You’re American? You don’t look American…” (one of the most annoying comments I have ever received. My answer: what does an American look like, Will Smith, Arnold Schwarznegger, Lucy Liu?)

    Holidays outside the country are often fatal; you step out of Japan and the character you created there, laugh or scratch your head from the fresh, outside perspective, and then make the mistake of acting naturally on your return; until someone sharply rebukes you for speaking or standing out, of course. My boss also said my Japanese “was better before” after I took a year out of Japan, but actually my reading and writing had been non existent at that time. It was just the different mindset I was now in, and how it was perceived.

    At least, that was my experience over 15 years. Incredible pressure to live up to not only J people’s expectations of what you should be, but to also look, act the part 24/7. So if you are a good actor, by all means come to Japan.

    No wonder there are so many hikikomori. But I don’t have J parents to support me, so I had to work.

  • What is truly amazing in this vicious circle of NJ employment in Japanese academia is how all the warfare, incivility and ‘ijime’ described above are invariably perpetrated behind one’s back, and often under the guise of an extreme politeness – good ol’tatemae – that avoids any form of head-on clash or conflict. In the end, you always leave of your own accord, of course. Because they didn’t really want you to leave, did they? What an idea!

    It is this extreme hypocrisy, this elaborate pretence that makes working at Japanese universities so insufferable; otherwise, as I said above, academic incivility is widespread and on the increase everywhere these days.

    But since I don’t want to be called a naysayer, I’d like to say something positive for a change “;o). There is one situation in which I vividly recommend you come to work in J academe: when you’re near retirement age, have acquired a worldwide reputation in your field with a solid, impressive list of publications, and are offered a sinecure via institutional and/or personal connections here. Because you’ll be considered ‘erai’ and ‘yumei’, your J colleagues will be the ones who suck up to you. Incessantly. And because you don’t depend on the sinecure for your subsistence and can always go back to where you came from and thrive (or simply retire), you can always tell your J bosses to go to hell when they annoy you for some reason and slam the door in their faces. (I have another friend who once did at Todai, gloriously.)

    This is to say that what you can NEVER expect here, under whatever circumstances, is a healthy environment of genuine, relaxed intellectual exchange, give-and-take discussion and critique.

  • Thank you very much for your comments. Unfortunately I have no choice: I have to come. In my research area we are very few and I cannot disengage me from this position without lose my reputation with other colleagues (the good news is that this is true for both, even if he is more important than me).
    I will do as you suggest: I will come thinking that I will leave in a couple of years (this is not a problem, since I don’t want to stay in Japan).
    Another good news is that I checked and, indeed, all people that had my kind of contract became tenured in 3 years. Then maybe it is true. Moreover I know the professor that invited me before almost 10 years and he has always been a very kind and supporting person. But, all the same, I will be more careful, I will follow your suggestion and I will plan my job in order to be able to leave in a couple of years before becoming “humiliated, insulted, devalued, demotivated, and disillusioned” which sounds not so good.

  • I think there’s a bit too much pessimism here, actually. I’m sure that the majority of researchers who visit Japan enjoy their time here – generally, the facilities are good and there’s enough (sometimes generous) funding. Just be realistic about the long-term prospects, and don’t expect anyone to care about your career prospects other than yourself.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ James #43

    Re: too much pessimism.

    With all due respect, I did say that if you plan to come over for 2-3 years AND LEAVE, than its not such a problem. The point I was trying to make is that if you think you are going to find the same security, atmosphere, and academic culture that you would find in the west, along with career paths and some basic human respect, then you should forget it.

  • James Annan,

    The thing is that we’re not focusing exactly on researchers who come to Japan on scholarships. Those might have a good time indeed, if they have only short to mid-term expectations concerning their stay in Japan.

    If I understood it, we’re talking here mainly about NJ who are hired as lecturers by J universities and who should be given the same conditions and career prospects as J faculty but seldom are, as Debito has being pointing out for years. Concerning the latter, I don’t see much cause for optimism.

  • Just adding my 2 cents regarding life as a researcher in Japan:

    Even if you come to Japan on a short-time scholarship, you are not guaranteed to have a good time. There are many that have a blast and have a memorable and fun 2-3 years, but in the same way there are also many that grow to hate Japan (despite liking it in the beginning) and have a relatively traumatic experience.

    The reasons are many:
    -No long-term prospects. Any work offered to NJ is short-term, and it is unlikely you’d get any kind of job security.
    -“pet gaijin syndrome” (i.e. you are to be seen and not heard) in the workplace, school or outside. At work you are but the token gaijin used to make the company/university look international. At school, no teacher/professor will take you seriously. Outside, any eventual Japanese friends will treat you like you are “different” and somehow impossible to relate to.
    -lack of a scholarly environment (no academic discussion and exchange of ideas). Having an interesting discussion with your superiors about scholarly subjects? Forget it. Either agree with every single word they say or be told to shut up and remember your place.
    -“us-versus-them syndrome”. If anyone has anything against you, they will have absolutely no problem in getting people to gang up on bullying in order to get you to do what they want. Odds are that despite being on the right, no one will take your side. That usually gives any of your superiors carte-blanche to harass and abuse you in any way they see fit.
    -strict society that expects, nay, demands you act a certain way and punishes you for every single misstep.
    -absolutely no hopes of integrating into society on the same level as a native despite experience or linguistic capabilities.

    This might be “just hearsay”, but having experienced this situation myself and seen plenty of others on the same boat I think it’s best to let anyone considering working as a researcher in Japan know.

    Debito, a friend of mine is compiling cases of academic harassment of international students/researchers at a major Japanese university, in case you are interested.

    — Very.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Since we are talking about employment, let me throw this out there, and you tell me if it makes you laugh or cry (I still can’t decide which to do).

    Do you remember that last year the DPJ launched a scheme to attract 2000 ‘elite foreigners’ to come to Japan and be granted PR status? You know, highly educated, Japanese speaking, wealthy types. They would be ‘fast tracked’ to PR visa status (if they scored highly on a points system), and they could bring their spouse, relatives, and even (and I quote) ‘servants’ with them. You remember that, right? we discussed why it was self defeating and unrealistic on debito.org at the time.

    Do you remember (also discussed on Debito.org) a couple of months ago, the LDP reviewed the scheme, and said that it had (big surprise) failed to attract ‘elite foreigners’, and was in need of amendment? Well, yesterday, the LDP revealed it’s amendment; reduce the time required to be resident in Japan in order to apply for PR status from (already reduced from 10 years) the current 5 years to 3 years (‘Only 3 years?!?’ I hear you gasp).


    Now, for exactly the same reasons that the super wealthy are not lining up to live in Japan provided they were willing to take the risk that they only ‘might’ get PR after 5 years, they are hardly likely to take the same risk with a 3 year wait, are they? better to go to one of the BRICS counties (with ‘servants’ in tow…).


    The move to change from 5 years residency to 3 years before accepting PR applications has drawn fire! Some are worried that these ‘elite foreigners’, having gained PR status so ‘easily’ will, if they become unemployed (do people who have servants become ‘unemployed’ in this day and age?), be forced to work as day laborers on construction sites and the like (to make ends meet, and pay the servants, no doubt), and thus ‘steal’ jobs that are vitally needed by Japanese workers!

    I cannot imagine being so rich that I can have a servant, and then bothering to go through even 3 years of BS Japanese ‘gaijin da!’ culture on the off chance of getting PR status. Should I be able to do that, why would I (as an elite, and apparently rich, foreigner) then feel that there’s nothing else for it, I shall have to work on a construction site, if I lose my job? Surely there would be other ‘elite jobs’ that an ‘elite foreigner’ could do in Japan? Manage Olympus, or something….?

    Or do they honestly believe that Japan is so attractive that the kind of people who have servants would be happy to work on construction sites if it meant that they could stay in this veritable paradise on earth; Japan?

    Clearly, these people have some Mickey Mouse understanding of the way the world works, and Japans place in it.

  • @ Bruno # 46

    “Debito, a friend of mine is compiling cases of academic harassment of international students/researchers at a major Japanese university, in case you are interested.”

    I have also compiled extensive documentation of systematic harassment and extreme bullying of non-Japanese regular full-time Seishain employees at one of Japan’s largest and most well respected companies (outside of academia).

    Furthermore, I have also carefully documented the way the Japanese courts ignored and violated Japanese employment laws, and refused to uphold these laws, when the non-Japanese plaintiffs brought lawsuits against the Japanese employer. The conduct of certain members of the Japanese judicial system (lawyers, court clerks and judges) was truly shocking, since they flagrantly violated their fiduciary responsibility, Japanese laws, legal precedent, and court procedures (even going as far as “losing” extremely important evidence document which the non-Japanese plaintiffs had submitted).

  • @Jim: I noticed that very same section of the article. I didn’t post about it on the JT site due to the arbritary censorship imposed on posts there. It stood out for me because if you read it carefully, it tells you a lot about what Japanese employment policy is, just as if you know how to read promised “terms and conditions”, you can understand what the conditions in your job will “really” be like:

    Basically, the authorities know full well the impact of their employment policy RE foriegners. I believe that this reinforces my thesis that employment apartheitd is a deliberate policy, as opposed to a lack of thought and foresight on the part of Japanese policymakers.
    Basically, the authorities want a revolving door of foreign workers at all levels in society: so terms and conditons are fixed at three to five years. The problem is, that many people have been lured into Japan and have put down roots here, so they don’t go home, as was the assumption, so this is leading to a depression in pay and conditions across (for example) language teaching industries (There are two industries particularly in need of foreign workforce: Jobs that the Japanese don’t wish to do or are unable to do. Language teaching is an example of the latter)
    So, in a way, the commentator is being honest. There is a very real danger that forging workers, should they wish to stay long term in japan, will indeed start competing for poorly paid exploitative jobs. Working a late shift in a fairly successful izakaya now is worth what, around 1,200-1,500 yen an hour? That’s more than the (real)hourly wage of many teaching jobs, plus you can get enrolled on the health and pension system. What he doesn’t say, however, is that this is due to a deliberate State policy of refusing to grant secure employment and benefits to foreigners.

    Of course, any sensible person would suss this out quickly and leave Japan, but a large number of foreigners are staying, putting up with it in the hope that conditions will improve.


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