Universities in Japan force most of their foreign instructors to play an unnerving version of musical chairs. Every year the music starts and instructors with expiring contracts scramble for an opening at a new school. University administrators force teachers to play "musical jobs" by offering limited-term contracts.

The game has lots of players — many with permanent residence and families — searching for a vacant chair. There are about 5,700 foreign instructors working full-time at Japanese universities, the vast majority on limited-term contracts.

Contract conditions for foreign instructors at Japanese universities vary widely. Some offer bonuses, housing, private offices and research allowances, while others don't. However, contracts share certain common features.