Nobel Prize winner Dr. Shuji “Slave” Nakamura urges Japan’s youth to “get out of Japan”


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Hi Blog. A discussion about the following article has already started here, so I thought it prudent to promote it to its own blog entry for proper discussion. First the article, then my comment.  (N.B.: people who commented before who wish to repost their commment here, go ahead.)


Nobel Prize-winner Shuji Nakamura to Japan’s young people: “Get out of Japan”
RocketNews, January 23, 2015
Nobel Prize-winner Shuji Nakamura to Japan’s young people: “Get out of Japan”
Courtesy of lots of people

In 2014, Dr. Shuji Nakamura, along with two other scientists, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in creating bright blue LEDs. In 1993, Nakamura held only a master’s degree and worked with just one lab assistant for a small manufacturer in rural Japan, yet he was able to find a solution that had eluded some the highest paid, best-educated researchers in the world.

If his story ended there, he would no doubt be the poster boy for Japanese innovation and never-say-die spirit, but in the years since his discovery, he has instigated a landmark patent case, emigrated to the US, given up his Japanese citizenship and become a vocal critic of his native country. Last week, the prickly professor gave his first Japanese press conference since picking up his Nobel and he had some very succinct advice for young Japanese: Leave.

Although Nakamura praised the Japanese culture of cooperation, hard work and honesty, he called out the education system for focusing too much on the limited goals of exams and getting into big companies. He pointed out that it is failing to give young people the English skills they need to function on a global level.

“Zero incentive”

“In the world, Japanese people [have] the worst English performance,” he said. “Only they are concerned about Japanese life. That’s a problem.”

He also said that lack of exposure to foreign cultures breeds a parochial ethnocentrism and makes young Japanese susceptible to “mind control” by the government.

Nakamura slammed Japan for failing to ensure that inventors are fairly compensated for their work, something that stifles innovation and provides “zero incentive” for employees to be creative.

Article 35 of the patent law says that patent rights belong to the inventor, but in practice, companies dictate the terms of compensation to their employees. In fact, Nakamura’s former company paid him the equivalent of just US$180 for his Nobel-winning invention. Nakamura sued in 2001 and a Tokyo court determined that his patent had generated about US$1 billion in revenue. Nakamura settled with the company for US$8 million.

“The most important thing is to go abroad and…see Japan from outside the country.”

Since the litigation, many companies have switched from giving employees a flat fee for patent rights to a percentage of royalties, but the Japan Business Federation has also begun lobbying the government to clarify the law and place patent rights squarely with companies. Prime Minister Abe has hinted that he would like to do so.

“If the Japanese government changes the patent law, it means basically there would no compensation [for inventors]. In that case, I recommend that Japanese employees go abroad,” said Nakamura.

In general, Nakamura encouraged young Japanese to leave, whether to get a better education, to expand their world view or to be better compensated for their work. Despite his criticisms, he is not advocating a wholesale abandonment of Japan either. Rather, a more internationalized population could be the key to meaningful reforms.

“The most important thing is to go abroad and they can see Japan from outside the country. And they understand, …oh, now I can understand bad thing of Japan. That’s the most important thing, no? Japanese people have to wake up about Japanese bad things, you know. I think that’s very important.”


COMMENT:  Wow.  “Slave” Nakamura not only refused to settle for the pittance regularly doled out to inventors in Japan that transform innovation and profit for Japan’s corporate behemoths (yes, he sued — millions of people do in Japan every year — and he won!), but also he wouldn’t settle for life in Japan as it is.  He emigrated and now publicly extols the virtues of not being stifled by Japan’s insularity (and governmental mind control!?).  Pretty brave and bracing stuff.  Bravo.

It isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened within Japan’s intelligentsia.  How many readers remember the “Tonegawa Shock” of 1987?

When the 1987 Nobel Prize was given to [Susumu] Tonegawa, who had moved to the US so he could be inspired and free to carry on his research, Japanese academics took notice and some were humiliated. Tonegawa had asserted that if he had remained in Japan, he would have had to spend years courting favor with mentors and dealing with disinterested colleagues, lagging unchallenged and unmotivated, certainly never to attain Nobel laureate. The press labeled the phenomenon as “Tonegawa Shock” which described the actions of similar Japanese scientists, such as Leo Esaki, a 1973 laureate in physics, who left Japan to work at IBM in the US. [Source]

The Tonegawa Shock set off a chain of events that led to the despotic Ministry of Education deciding to “enliven” (kasseika) Japan’s education system by doing away with tenure.  Sounds great to people who don’t understand why tenure exists in an education system, but what happened is that the MOE first downsized everyone that they could who was not on tenure — the NJ educators on perpetual contract eemployment (ninkisei) — in what was called the “Great Gaijin Massacre” of 1992-1994 where most NJ teachers working in Japan’s prestigious National and Public Universities over the age of 35 were fired by bureaucratic fiat.  It was the first activism that I took up back in 1993, and the underlying “Academic Apartheid” of Japan’s higher education system exposed by this policy putsch became the bedrock issue for when it was established in 1996.

With this in mind, I wonder what reverberations will result from Dr. Nakamura encouraging an exodus?  Hopefully not something that will further damage the NJ communities in Japan.  But if there is more NJ scapegoating in the offing, you’ll probably hear about it on  That’s what we’re here for.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

10 comments on “Nobel Prize winner Dr. Shuji “Slave” Nakamura urges Japan’s youth to “get out of Japan”

  • Mr_Alex123455679 says:

    Debito maybe I will inform you over in Hong Kong and Shanghai, they have a pretty big Japanese community there.

    — Not sure what you’re suggesting you will inform us about, but please sound around and let us know if you find something of interest, thanks.

  • j_jobseeker says:

    Sadly, with the ISIS hostage crisis, his press conference at the Foreign Journalist Association of Japan never made it to television…the one place that young people get their “information” from. I didn’t even see any mention of it in those insipid little “mini” news blurb corners almost all of the major news programs have. Unfortunate timing…yes. Would have it been mentioned otherwise? My pessimistic self says “no.” It’s definitely a message Abe doesn’t want getting out and the article even states he favors big business with regard to the patent rights issues to which Nakamura had successfully drawn attention.
    But I’m glad Nakamura said it, and with social networks, this article and his message can get out there. Big round of applause from me for his bravado and frankness.

  • It must come as quite a shock to the apologists and relativizers when a Nobel prize laureate confirms that there is mind control going on in Japan. I personally think “mind control” is a little too esoteric as a term. I think what is going on is plain and simple propaganda, and it works so well because of the insularity of Japan that nowadays is held up artificially by the “conservative” people who run the country (which I personally think of as mild fascism rather than just conservatism).
    When I lived in Tokyo, I lived in a building where for some reason many families with little (pre-school) children lived. It was eye-opening to see that these little children behaved *exactly* like their Western counterparts. They were completely “unjapanese” in behaviour. I saw it as further proof that the Japanese are subjected to what Nakamura calls “mind control” as soon as they enter the machine. The older they get, the more their livelihood was replaced by becoming “Japanese” – like shadows of their real selves whose only reason for being was to fit in and take part in “the project”.

  • Mr_Alex123455679 says:

    I should have written is it due to the economic situation in Japan that places like Hong Kong and Shanghai and other parts of Asia have become a option for some Japanese people to relocate to because of the prospect of finding a job and etc?

  • I wonder how much of racism also plays into this story where 8700 Japanese professors, teachers, lawyers, and journalists who are suing the Asahi News for the Comfort Women story.

    This story just reminds us how much of a isolation there is between the people of Japan and the rest of the world. It’s as if the Japanese live in another dimension, another world made out of Japanese viewpoints of the world. Perhaps if many of them got out of Japan, and started seeing the broader world, Japanese would put up less with these isolated views that their government seems to be able to successfully plant.

  • He is right but I am sure he will be criticized for it.

    I notice this ethnocentrism with some of my students and they study science and engineering at a national university.
    Some of it is just ignorance and I hope they get the chance to really travel outside of Japan and learn.
    They need to open their minds.

  • Am I the only one who was offended when NHK/etc. included Nakamura in the number of Nihonjin who won the Nobel prize? I guess if you win the Nobel prize, Japan gets to claim you as one of its own, even if you had renounced your citizenship. Especially offensive given the circumstances of Nakamura’s emigration.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ DW #9

    If it fits with their nationalist narrative, they’ll never let you go!
    Nakamura is one good example.

    You see, the Japanese crave international affirmation (as a society), and anyone who can give them that positive affirmation that they are seen as ‘worthy’ in the eyes of the west has adulation forced upon them (after all, how is Nakamura really that different to Hanyu the skater who lives in Canada, Nishikori the tennis player who lives in California?).

    It’s blood. Nakamura has a piece of paper that says ‘US Citizen’, but his blood is Japanese! That’s how a ‘no immigration’ policy could justify letting in thousands of Brazillian blue-collar workers. It’s the same logic that makes a NJ who naturalized still not ‘proper’ Japanese, and their kids ‘half’, as opposed to ‘Japanese’.


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