Cautionary tale: Bern on how no protections against harassment in Japan’s universities targets NJ regardless of Japan savviness and skill level


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Hi Blog. Here’s a crie du coeur from an academic I respect mightily named Bern. He has spent umpteen years in Japan’s higher education, both at the faculty and the Dean level (there have been very few NJ Deans ever in Japan’s universities), and has complete fluency in reading, writing, and spoken Japanese. Yet even after all his work acculturating and developing the same (if not greater) job skills as native speakers, he could not avoid institutional harassment. As he says below, “until harassment and discrimination laws are clarified and given real teeth” in Japan, all NJ faculty and staff are at risk.

And I speak from personal experience that this can happen to anyone. For NJ educators’ mental and vocational integrity, due consideration should be taken before ever considering a career in Japanese academia. Someday I’ll give an opinion piece about why Japan’s positions for NJ academics are, quite simply, a hoax, and why Japanese educational institutions should be avoided, full stop. But not yet. Meanwhile, here’s Bern:


Date: April 9, 2017
From: Bern

While this post for your blog describes an attempt by one university to isolate and harass (including a false claim of harassment that failed in epic fashion) a foreign faculty member, it is also meant to be a reminder. As a foreigner in Japan, things can go wrong even with the Japanese language fluency, the cultural and legal knowledge, the degrees and publications, the connections, etc., etc. that we are always told we should get in order to be “safe.” In other words, and until harassment and discrimination laws are clarified and given real teeth, we are all at risk.

As stated above, I have over 26 years of experience as a university teacher and administrator, including positions at public, national and private universities in Japan and in the USA. I have also been successful in these positions. Among other things, I was the first non-Japanese in Iwate National University’s 120-year history to be made department head (英米パート主任), and then the first non-Japanese there to be made the head of a division (欧米言語文化コース代表). Previous to that, I was dean (学部長) at Miyazaki International College, at the time the youngest dean in Japan and one of just seven non-Japanese deans in the country. Finally, I’ve been a union member, including serving as officer, for twenty years, during which time I have helped well over fifty people with labor concerns.

I have just finished two years in the most bizarre employment situation I personally have ever encountered. Some background: I worked at Iwate National University until March, 2015. It was an exciting and sometimes challenging, position, with mostly great colleagues. However, the work demands were very high, and with the ongoing hiring freeze, coupled with multiple MEXT-mandated pay cuts and constant MEXT pressure to make wholesale curriculum changes to “fix” nonexistent problems, things did not look to get any easier in the years to come.

So when, in the late summer of 2014, Iwate Prefectural University (IPU) contacted me about possibly moving over to join them, I was very excited. The position was to be for equivalent pay but with far less administrative responsibilities, as well as teaching duties more in line with my research and education. Serious discussions started that August. I was to be replacing a good friend of mine, Christine, who was taking early retirement. I would be working with Ogawa, who I considered a friend, and who I ironically had helped to get her current position. I would also be working with Kumamoto, who I got to know when she suddenly had to take leave for a semester and I was asked to teach her 西洋文化研究法 class instead. (This is a course on academic writing and research methods in Japanese. In other words, and on just three weeks of notice, I had to prepare and then teach a class on Japanese academic writing and research methods in Japanese to twenty Japanese university students.) Moreover, I thought I knew Ishibashi, the current 学科長 (Dept. Head). I also knew the one other foreign faculty member–as he wishes for anonymity let’s call him “A”–who I felt was a good guy. I have an email account full of correspondence about how everyone at IPU was looking forward to working with me, and how we would work together to make IPU a better place.

And so I made the change over, unfortunately without getting everything formally in writing first. To say that actual conditions were different from the verbal offer actually understates what awaited me at Iwate Prefectural University.

I arrived at a department where nearly half of my new colleagues (five out of eleven) had in recent years filed 鬱病診断書 (official diagnoses of severe depression) and rarely or never came to work, a department where three people (again out of just eleven) had had formal harassment claims made against them in the past four years. However, more on that last bit later.

My first inkling of trouble came when “A” suddenly resigned his tenured position at IPU to take a nontenured position (for less money) elsewhere. He submitted this resignation at the end of February, about one month before I was to start at IPU. I was disappointed, so I asked him about his decision…and he responded only with “You’ll know yourself soon.” I asked Christine and Ogawa about this. Christine responded cheerfully with assurances that, while disagreements happened, most people got along fine. (In her defense, Christine had no Japanese language ability and so apparently was blissfully unaware of the seriousness of many of the ongoing issues. She also wrote written statements in support of me later.) Ogawa never responded, which was a huge red flag, but at that point I had already resigned…so had no choice but to move on.

March 27, 2015 was my moving day. While carrying boxes upstairs, I was seen by Ogawa, who reminded me that we’d agreed to meet that day to discuss the English curriculum. I dutifully stopped unloading boxes and went to her office–to be honest, I was excited about discussing curriculum reform with my colleague and friend. However, there was to be no discussion. Instead, Ogawa informed me that I was to use a collection of grammar exercises and other explanatory materials “she” (they were actually taken from multiple junior and senior high school textbooks) had produced to supplement my 英会話 (English conversation) activities. I was a bit stunned, as I wasn’t hired to teach English conversation, didn’t have any English conversation classes to teach, and had already ordered textbooks for my other classes (back in February!). I attempted to explain this, saying that we should discuss materials and methodology at length over the semester and try to make a joint decision by the summer…and she exploded. She told me that she thought I’d be more “cooperative,” and asked me again and again if I knew my “place.” Despite repeated efforts–often in writing–on my part, we would not discuss English curriculum reform (or anything else) again during my two years at that campus.

My “place,” by the way, was professor (教授). Ogawa was a lecturer (講師), as was Kumamoto. That said, and this was confirmed by Mr. Chiba at the Labor Board (労働局), the unwritten policy at my new department was that rank didn’t matter, nor was there shared faculty governance in the usual sense seen at most national or public universities in Japan. Nothing was discussed or decided openly; we would have 学科会議 (department meetings), which I would attend religiously, only to be told that everything had already been decided. At these meetings, for instance, I first learned I would be denied the opportunity to work with the overseas exchange programs and even denied the opportunity to meet people arriving from overseas. E.g., regarding the latter, Kumamoto, after handing me a Japanese document–a letter of appreciation to Ohio University–and giving me five minutes (she actually stood next to me checking her watch) to translate it, then told me that I would not be allowed to meet the visiting faculty and students from OU that year. “Maybe next year,” I was told. Similarly, when I volunteered (begged) again and again to be informed of and allowed to participate in faculty-student events, including the Fourth of July Party, the Halloween Party, etc., etc., I was refused.

While I’ve heard again and again about this happening to many other foreigners, while I’ve personally advised foreign faculty who’ve been treated in this fashion, this is the first time such a thing had ever happened to me. I was systemically denied input into decision-making about school activities, English program reform, etc., etc. Instead, I was given the work nobody wanted to do. For example, I was made the first non-Japanese member of the 入試 committee, a committee so challenging new Japanese committee members are assigned a 先輩 (veteran colleague) to assist them with the multitude of responsibilities. I, however, was provided no veteran colleague. Instead, I was simply handed a large bag with the over 1,700 pages of things I “needed to know” about my new responsibilities, and then sent out alone to do, among other things, eleven high school visits in my first four months. (My Japanese colleagues went out in groups, to an average of just five schools.)

Still, I soldiered on, trying to prove myself to my new colleagues. In addition to the eleven high school campus visits, I did three 公開講座 (special lectures) on three different Saturdays (my Japanese colleagues averaged one), completed the onerous data-collection/number-crunching tasks (compiling from Japanese language surveys submitted by incoming freshman, etc.), etc., etc. And then, when I asked one day about the differences between the promised and actual work conditions, when I more strongly requested inclusion into the events and decision-making process, two of my colleagues (Kumamoto and Ogawa) did something I still find stunning:

They called a number of my students in and asked them to file a false harassment complaint against me.

How do I know they did this? Because my students–bless them–balked at doing this, and because these students then told me about what happened in writing. And not just this, Ogawa, in her complete stupidity, told two faculty members at other universities that she and Kumamoto would be doing this to me. Those faculty members (both friends) then informed me…again in writing.

To say I was blindsided, that I felt betrayed and humiliated and scared, is an understatement. Shocked, I reached out privately to Ogawa (my friend!) and asked for an explanation. She never responded. I then documented the harassment and asked Ishibashi to intervene, to mediate a discussion; he refused. Instead, on March 9, 2016, apparently after consultation with Ogawa and Kumamoto, Ishibashi stripped me of all duties beyond teaching.

I filed a complaint with the Labor Board (労働局), which reviewed the evidence, decided that I had a case, and intervened multiple times on my behalf. The national and regional unions intervened as well. It was in consultation with the latter that I first learned how often false harassment complaints are used to intimidate/bully at universities in Japan. I then found out that the same thing had happened not just to me, but to the three other faculty members at my university who had been accused of harassment.

The way it works is this: The 窓口 (ombudsman) for harassment complaints (in my case Kumamoto) calls in your students either singularly or in groups, talks about unstated and vague concerns or rumors she’s “heard” about you, tells the students she’s become aware from “other students” that you have been saying or doing inappropriate things in or outside of class, and then pressures your students to file a formal harassment complaint. Note that there does not have to be cause–e.g., no student had ever complained about me, and my student evaluations for that semester averaged a perfect score. More troubling, the specific contents of these complaints are kept confidential, making it very difficult to fight.

Again, I was lucky. My students protected me, and they did so in writing. Four faculty members submitted written statements in my support. I also taped conversations with Ishibashi, with Kumamoto and with Ogawa. Finally, after 26 years, I have an extensive support network inside and outside Japan. I wish all of you reading this similar luck.

That said, even with all my evidence, backing and connections, the best I could achieve was an “armed truce” where I was excluded and isolated but not harmed further. Note that at no time did I request the punishment of anyone–all I wanted was the harassment to stop and to be allowed to do the work they’d hired me to do. IPU refused to investigate–no student witnesses were ever contacted, nor did they speak to the multiple faculty members who’d submitted written statements in my support. They further refused to allow me to work–basically, I was getting paid to sit in my office to do nothing.

While some (including a number of my friends) teased me that this was an ideal position to be in, I wanted to be allowed to do my job. The Labor Board and the union recommended continuing to fight. However, fighting it out in court would have taken years, with the possible payout limited by Japanese law to 3,000,000 yen–or just $30,000 US–with about one third of that going to my attorney. (This, by the way, is what I mean by these laws not having teeth.)

I went out instead and found a tenured position at a university elsewhere. I am currently outside of Japan. The funniest thing is that, in my last conversation with him, Ishibashi assured me that I would never be able to find work again, that he “would see to it.” Maybe I should send him a postcard, signing it “Andy Dufresne”?

Be careful out there. Best, Bern

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29 comments on “Cautionary tale: Bern on how no protections against harassment in Japan’s universities targets NJ regardless of Japan savviness and skill level

  • nameless for safety says:

    You have my deepest empathy. No, not sympathy, empathy. I’ve been in Japan 28 years, and am certainly not fully fluent, especially in writing. However, I have just been through an entire year very similar to yours. Folks, he is not exaggerating.

  • Damn. This really helps me think about my application for tenure (due June). I’m inclined to think that five more years as a contracted lecturer is better than stepping into the morass of committees and politics…

  • Pat O'Brien says:

    Wow, am I the first to comment?

    First, I’ll say I’m stunned. Bern has given me endless advice over the years, so I didn’t expect him (of all people) to get blindsided. Yet just read his account.

    It’s uncanny how much of what he endured mirrored my own situation before I got pushed out of my own university position.

    I guess I’m left asking the question WTF?

    What’s with these people?

    A bizarre upside is that in looking for work back in America, I’d hoped to use my background in Japanese culture, language and history to boost my chances of getting a job, but there is close to ZERO call for anything related to Japan.

    Serves Japan right. Let them recreate their beloved closed society yet again.

    After all, what can most Japanese men offer the world? Not much.

    What does the world want from Japanese men? Not much.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Shocked to read this story, and how false harrassment cases are being used as weapons in the workplace. On another thread I mentioned how these “buzzwords” were being misused in Japan, e.g. “DV” can be defined as just a raised voice in a domestic argument, or calling someone once who gave you their namecard at their office can result in being accused of “harrassment”.

    I wish Japan would stop importing and appropriating these western concepts…..wrongly. And this, in the country that prides itself on “unwritten agreements”, “human relationships” and the importance of “harmony”.

    Japan seems to have morphed into a hypersensitive, litigation happy, drama ridden Theatre of the Absurd.

    Looking back, I have seen some strange incidents of this though; “harrassment” claims simply being used to get rid of someone they didnt like. I remember one time I walked through a department store in Ginza, and someone looked at me. I said “hello” in passing and walked on. A few days later, my boss asked me if I had “approached” a student and she had complained!!!! The kicker was, she didnt even work in the department store, but it made me absolutely paranoid of ever shopping there again after that.

    No wonder everyone is paranoid and inward looking. No wonder hikkikomori cant be bothered to work. Paranoia then leads to hypersensitivity, and yet more spurious claims of “harrassment”.

    Still, I find incredulous that these so called friends would have used false harrassment to manipulate and exclude a colleague. I really feel sorry for Bern and all he went through, and thank goodness his students backed him up. I remember a similar case where the staff complained about us teachers, so in our defence we had to go around getting written complaints from students which we then faxed to head office.

    Meanwhile, Bern sat at the office, not allowed to work. What an absolute waste of time and money. Incredulous, but becoming more and more commonplace.

  • Bern,

    Great write up. Sorry thing worked out with those bastards, but the writing was on the wall. Glad you could decipher it! GRIN.

    For those reading this post, I went to negotiations in Iwate with Bern for the EWA, and can verify what was said in this post (not that it needs verification). It is a closed society, to NJ for sure, but to many Js as well.

    And thanks DA for publishing this. I know it was a pleasure for you to hear another voice saying the same truth.


  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Hello. Maybe I’m being a bit dim here, but after reading Bern’s atrocious story, I’m left wondering why they even bothered to sweet talk him into coming to work for them in the first place?
    I’m guessing that they just wanted an NJ Kaiwa class teacher? Why didn’t they just go the cheaper dispatch company route? Are the collecting NJ faces to present an international image? I don’t get why they bothered to recruit him in the first place. You got any ideas about that Bern?

    • Hi. I’m one of Bern’s faculty witnesses. I’m Japanese and my English isn’t perfect, but I’m writing this as I know some of the answers to this question.

      Why was Bern hired by IPU in the first place? Ogawa was the fist one to ask him for the possibility. (This is a very important part—will come back to this later.) My feeling is that Ogawa wanted a “pet” to replace Christine, someone who she could mentor and control, pretending to be the translator the whole time, while complaining behind her back how it was taking her time. Ogawa could do this with Chrsitine (who, despite being a Ph. D with lots of skills and experience, had almost no Japanese skills). Christine was also important to Ogawa in that by helping her, she could show off her English skills (the only area Ogawa surpassed Kumamoto, who used to bully Ogawa all the time before Bern joined IPU). Of course her plan never worked with Bern— who is far more experienced in the field, and whose Japanese is far better than her English.

      So, as his friend, Ogawa knew how constantly overloaded Bern was with work at Iwate National University, to the point he collapsed one day. By helping him move over to IPU, I think Ogawa also wanted to put Bern under indebtedness and use him as a shield against Kumamoto “the bully”.

      Ogawa saw that her plan had failed when Bern did not “obey” her “command” to use the material she had produced just before the new school year started. When I heard this episode, I couldn’t believe just how unprofessional and mistaken she could be, to think she, someone with only 4 years of experience in teaching full-time at a university back then, could “push” the material “she” had made to Bern, who had been in this business for almost a quarter-century back then, only because she was in IPU before Bern, and because she thought she helped him get his position at IPU.

      However, Bern was useful to Ogawa—while harassing Bern in cooperation with Kumamoto “the psychopath” (it’s the name Ogawa called Kumamoto), Ogawa was for the first time not a poor bullied child any more, but a bully herself. I think she really enjoyed this promotion.

      • Joseph Tomei says:

        Also, I believe that prefectural universities are in a very bizarre space in the university eco-system in Japan. The ken gikai provides a budget and often uses the uni as a landing place for amakudari, the university is under the nominal control of MEXT, and anyone who gets the ear of the governor can demand this, that or the other. When I first arrived in here, I started helping the teachers at the local prefectural, and when they went to the Ministry, they were directed to the private universities section, which at the time, everyone thought was quite odd, (I don’t know if that still holds with hojinka) but for Japanese, National university meant public, so anything else was private.

        After a long labour fight where almost all of the foreign principals left, the school began hiring with the precise conditions the foreigners who left wanted, which leads me to suggest that the person who replaces Bern (who may likely have very little Japanese) will be told what a bad person Bern was and how everyone just wanted to get along, but Bern stopped them. It wouldn’t surprise me if they granted the new person all of the things that Bern was asking for. It’s gotten so I very rarely credit any descriptions of problems foreigners cause unless they are multiply sourced.

  • A bit extreme of a case, but not suprising at all. Empathy for all parts, particuarily the part about using the gaijin for grunt task, not related to his/her position, threats of never being successful elsewhere (hostage control) and the part about being fluent, successful, holding elite positions, but having little merit. Good stuff for a newb to consider before taking on any career in Japan, but it will all be dismissed as just another troublemaking gaijins rant. Never worked in academia but had parallel expereinces. Know thy place and shut up; most imortant rule for any gaijin seeking a career in Japan. Thanks for this share, these “danger ahead” signs need to be summarized and known because no matter what the career, they are the same.

  • As they say, longtime reader, first time commenter, though debito and I go way back as do Bern and me. So I knew the outlines of the story, but to see it so starkly in black and white is jarring. I’ve had similar situations happen to me, but I think precisely because Bern is so accomplished and clearly qualified that he was gone after a lot harder than I have ever been (if that makes sense)

    How do I explain it? I think that Japanese have little or no problem with cognitive dissonance. Kissinger famously accused the Japanese of being liars when he and Nixon were negotiating something with then prime minister Eisaku Sato (maybe Okinawa, maybe textile imports?) and Sato said he would do his best. Which, as everyone here probably knows, means that he would do nothing.

    As to why they went with Bern, he was able to get a lot of stuff done that would have taken the Japanese teachers years if not decades. It’s a big clue that he was having to deal with people who were lecturers, because they were probably excellent at office politics, but couldn’t put together enough research to be promoted, though that is total speculation on my part.

    At my last job, where I was a gaikokujin kyoushi, I recall that one teacher who had just gotten back from a sabbatical from England, at his return party, expressed amazement as to how difficult life was for him in the UK and how he appreciated how many challenges we foreign teachers faced. Aww, someone who understands us. Of course, 2 years after I left, I come to find out that the remaining gaikokujin kyoushi, when asking for some sort of regularization of their positions, wrote a letter to the faculty, he was the most ardent arch conservative, denying that they had any place in the faculty except to teach blocks of classes that were handed out to them. Just like Bern’s colleagues, the Japanese faculty there could not understand why the foreigners didn’t want to take advantage of such a sweet deal. You get a great salary, you don’t have faculty meetings! We kick you out after 5 years, but complaining about that is just ingratitude!

    To try and further answer Jim Di Griz’ question, what they don’t realize is that with accomplishments comes an attitude that is willing to challenge, a mind that is looking at ways of getting around problems and basically a person who is not going to sit around with his thumb up his butt. Wow, a gaijin who is fluent in Japanese and has a great resume, surely he will understand why we are going to treat him like sh*t! Like I said, cognitive dissonance.

    • Jim Di Griz says:

      Thanks for addressing my post. I have long said here that cognitive dissonance induced mental illness is widespread in Japan, to the extent that it is regarded as ‘normal’.

  • I’m very glad the troubles faced by non-Japanese in HEI is getting out, as the harassment and mistreatment can be very severe. I’m glad you were able to get out of it, but this must have been horrible for you… My deepest sympathy and empathy.

  • Baudrillard says:

    “threats of never being successful elsewhere (hostage control)”- so many cases of Japanese of all ranks in the “heirarchy” thinking they can at least “lord it over” the NJs and shop them in at will to immigration or the police. Had an ex colleague trying to get the local koban to arrest me because my visa was still processing. Why? He blamed me for not being able to sell our products.
    A few interviews I have attended where the local school little Hitler would threaten to report any gaijin to immigration if they did anything he didnt like. Great interview technique…
    Then of course there was the snitch site, empowering all Japanese to anonymously inform on any gaijin, even just because they felt “uneasy” ( “不安”)

    This will continue until NJ rights no longer rest upon the fickle goodwill of Japanese colleagues. Lucky Bern had a support network of Japanese people to fight back with.

    P.s. What a waste of time and energy these occasional dramas are. Makes you wonder how any real work is ever done and if it is worth staying in Japan….

  • Louis Carlet says:

    Horrifying case. But the writer is a bit sloppy with details and translations. There is no 3 million yen limit on payouts if you go to court over a harassment case. I’ve seen and been involved in much larger settlements. Tozen Union has fought and beat several universities.

  • I could care less about the immi threat or any other childish hostage control tactic, I actually think they are funny and I put it back in his face. I got a much better place I could go to, no butter or potatoe shortages either or other protectionist nonsense that I need to “suffer” for , because one member of the group might loose their benefit. I do feel bad for those who cant leave though. The hostage control tactic is based on bullying and fear, once you expose it, watch them melt and start with the fake praise and admiration. poor guy can only dream of something better, thats the root cause of it all. I think its funny, but I have no symathy for him. If the hostage control is allowed to take hold, it can be serious. I check it and shut him down.

  • Power corrupts, absolutely.

    Power corrupts as follows:
    When one person knows that the unjust court system usually
    doesn’t properly punish people of his/her position in a hierarchy,
    he/she thus has the ability to selfishly harm various “lower” people,
    without the proper fear of fines or prison or any such justice measures.

    The court systems around the world gives police officers such power,
    to harm “lower” people without the proper fear of proper punishment.

    The court system in Japan gives Japanese citizens such power,
    to harm “lower” “gaijin” without the proper fear of proper punishment.

    Police officers, and Japanese citizens. Corrupted by power over other humans.

  • Japanese citizens WITH the sufficient amount of Yayoi/Jomon DNA/appearance, of course.

    Japanese citizens WITHOUT the sufficient amount of Yayoi/Jomon DNA/appearance, lack such power.

  • “Someday I’ll give an opinion piece about why Japan’s positions for NJ academics are, quite simply, a hoax, and why Japanese educational institutions should be avoided, full stop. But not yet”

    Debito, with all due respect. And I mean Respect! I’ve got to call you out in this. What motivation to delay writting this could you possibly have besides ass-covering? Your writting on this could save people serious career missteps. You could save good people, possibly with families in tow, from a brutal career black hole. This is seriously time sensitive info for people. Be heard!

    — I can of course think of other motivations. How about it’s a complicated issue that I would have to assemble a lot of evidence for from long ago to back up my claims? How about I have other writing projects that I would rather devote my attention and energies to? Or how about the fact that I might not yet want to revisit that part of the past when I’m enjoying the present so much? Please don’t presume ill intent on my part. I said it’s a hoax. So essentially has Bern. I will get to it when I am mentally ready, thank you.

  • “Your writting on this could save people serious career missteps. You could save good people, possibly with families in tow, from a brutal career black hole”

    Thats only if they “listen” , which can be very challenging. Many already have their mind made up on how things are, and apply their own cognitive disonance filter so its hard to connect and you end up wasting all your time and effort.
    Japan will teach you to be strong and trust yourself, you rarely have somebody next to you to help or share with. In order to survive you must trust yourself and challenge your own filters, usually ones have been created by somebody else. when talking to some of these uninformed people, you end up revisiting these filters again. Im not going to waste my time with somebody that doesnt connect, or wants a version of reality I cant give them. Its already a difficult enough experience to go through, then to relive it all over again, arguing with somebody, is insanity. I can understand why somebody would not waste time “saving” others when the others already have their mind set on how things “are”, I gave up on that nonsense a long time ago. This is an unfortuanate fact of life that is applicable in many other areas as well. All you can do is present it in a “take it or leave it” manner and walk away. Allot of great truths are lost or hidden because of this, but as you get older, you understand why. I get no satisfaction from the show that most likely will follow, the missteps and misery, but you come to the realization there is only so much you can do.

  • “it was in consultation with the latter that I first learned how often false harassment complaints are used to intimidate/bully at universities in Japan.”

    I had a similar experience, although of lesser gravity. Towards the end of an exchange program at a Japanese university, my supervising professor suddenly scorned me because he heard someone, whose identify I would never know, had reported I had been harassing him/her to the supporting staff office. I was enraged because I knew this accusation to be false, but how could I ever prove that it was false, given that nobody was willing to tell me anything about the nature of the harassment or identity of the person who complained. I had an idea of who could do such a thing: some guy with whom I have had some animosity, but just typical friction that are ought to happen from time to time and that remained in the category of civilized and polite dispute. I may be wrong, it might not be this person after all, but how to be sure ? From this moment, I learned that you could become the target of unjustified harassment complaints that would hurt your reputation, and that there is nothing you can do about it. By the way, I had the opportunity to stay at the university to start another position at the end of the program, but decided to move to another one in Japan because of this story…

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Yep. Institutional segregation writ large. Kind of like having a corrupted police department in the academia.

  • Bern here. Thanks to everyone for the comments so far. I’ll tell you, the frustration, confusion, sadness and anger I felt reliving the past two years as I wrote the piece above…there really are no words.

    @Jim, Why did they headhunt and then hire me? That’s a great question, one that was asked repeatedly by me, by the Labor Bureau (労働局), by the union (hi Rube!, best to Yuko as well), etc., etc. No answer–heck, no attempted reply–was ever given. My guess is that they liked the idea of having a bilingual foreigner on staff with the degrees, the experience and the CV…but then balked at the reality that, you know, I might want to participate in decision-making; that as the only foreigner then employed, I might want to, say, attend the Fourth of July Party or the Halloween Party; that strangely enough, I might want to use the textbooks I’d ordered months prior and teach the classes actually assigned to me on the schedule and in the handbook. (Seriously, when I write that I wasn’t assigned a class in English Conversation…I mean exactly that.) Etc., etc.

    @Louis, this website lists the judgements (included money awarded) for just about all the major harassment cases over the last twenty years:
    I cannot find a single example of a payout exceeding $30,000 US that didn’t involve job termination, physical injury (including sexual assault) or the suicide of the victim–and I hope you can understand why I did not want to wait around until I qualified under one of these latter categories! (If you know of specific cases which are exceptions, please do share.) Keep in mind as well that I was advised by the Labor Bureau, by a national union, by a regional union, and by an attorney, so I do feel I had a good handle on my chances. (Also, regarding my loose translations, the Japanese is correct as it is the original in each case; my contributions are the English.)

    @Joe, you make interesting points about Kendais in general and about my replacement(s) in particular. (Indeed, I think you warned me about this stuff before I took the job–should have listened!) The Labor Bureau made similar comments to me after its own research, finding (among other things) that much of the administration was amakudari and without prior experience in education. This helps explain some of the more surreal exchanges we (to include the Labor Bureau and the union) had over the course of this ordeal. University administrators just couldn’t understand why I felt I had a right to, you know, choose my own books, participate in activities and have a say in policy decisions–you can hear me on tape literally begging to be allowed to work, only to be denied. And yes, the replacement foreigner(s) are inheriting a much improved workplace. The first guy joined us last year–I was actually on the (bizarre) committee that hired him, placed there by the 教授会 (full-faculty meeting; note that this school had both 学科会議 and 教授会, with the latter including people outside my division who were quite friendly to me.) The circus surrounding that hire warrants its own book. That said, you mention badmouthing colleagues as policy–during our interview of the guy on November 25, 2015, Kumamoto and Ogawa (this is on tape) announced that multiple faculty members were “ghosts’ (幽霊) as they had submitted medical documentation excluding them from work. (This is how I learned of the うつ病診断書 submission percentages, by the way.) And then just before his hire–specifically, on March 9, 2016–he was given all the job responsibilities initially promised to me; when during the meeting (this is all taped) I protested, I was told I could “volunteer” to help as this guy was very new (much younger, no significant publications, no 専任 experience, no experience heading international exchange programs, etc., etc.), but that this would be uncredited work on my part.

    @N, that’s a good point as well…hadn’t thought about that.

    Finally, everyone here needs to remember that I wasn’t the only one to have been put through this. Just in my small department, four people (two Japanese) had had similar experiences in just the last six years. I have also been advising other faculty at other Japanese universities with exactly the same treatment. People here in this comment section have shared their stories as well. It’s a nationwide problem, and until, say, the Labor Board can FORCE employers to investigate and/or to negotiate, and until the limits on punitive damages are removed…this stuff will continue. As I found, intransigent employers will just dig their heels in and attempt to wait you out, knowing that the amount you can get from them is limited by law. (Unless, say, the victim commits suicide, one of the reason’s Japan’s suicide rate is so high–you literally have to die to get justice sometimes.) Keep in mind as well that I am leaving a lot of stuff out. I have taped conversations with Ishibashi, Kumamoto and Ogawa that are simply…stunning. I have emails too, including one where the dean (not the swiftest cheetah in the pack) admits in writing that the school didn’t contact my witnesses because Ishibashi, Kumamoto and Ogawa told them (administration) not to. Think about that for a second.

    You know, I had a great 26 years, but it’s an ugly system, and I’m happy to be gone. Good luck to you all.

    Best, Bern

    • Jim Di Griz says:

      Thanks Bern (and N), I appreciate you all of asking the time to reply.
      It’s all very petty and bizarre pride/racism/power game stuff. Best out of it Bern.

  • Joseph Tomei says:

    Bern, just a short note. As you know, I cut my teeth on the kumamoto kendai case, but things have improved quite a bit there, so I’m sorry I wasn’t more aggressive in my warnings (like driving up there and throwing myself in front your car to stop you) Seriously, your departure leaves a big hole here, and I’m sure all of will become more conscious of that as time passes.

    My personal definition of pioneer is ‘the guy you find on the trail with arrows sticking out of him’ (doesn’t have to be male, though I think women are a lot smarter in many ways then men and this might be one of them) Being a pioneer is always considered a high accolade in the West, but here, all I can say is think long and hard if you want to do that.

    But, as I said, they will probably bend over backwards to make the next foreigner feel at home, if only to convince themselves that they aren’t at fault. So, if you are a gambler, you might want to look for their boshu…

  • Why did the university president and administration allow these Japanese instructors to behave like this? It should have been handled by the administration and settled to end the harassment and bullying. But, yes, I have seen amakudari with non-related B.A. degrees slide into Dean positions in Japanese university foreign language departemnts, both private and national, and they have no business being there.

  • CandySweety says:

    My gosh I am just shaking reading your story Berns, and all the comments. I pray you find peace now. Thanks Debito.

  • Anonymous says:

    I posted a link to this story on the Reddit TeachinginJapan forum and one of the moderators of the forum removed it and it seems that the moderator team is debating what to do with it. There was only one reply to the thread accusing Debito of being a social justice warrior and not to trust anything that that he writes, etc. At any rate, I hope that the moderators ultimately choose to re-post it, because it is an interesting story and one that is useful for those wishing to teach TEFL at the university level and also those who are currently working at universities in Japan as English teachers.


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