International vs. Japanese school: Which is top of class for mixed kids?

Some readers’ thoughts on the dueling Jan. 10 Zeit Gist columns by Charles Lewis (“Local Japanese school is the obvious choice if you want your child to fit in“) and Lisa Jardine (“International education a triple-A investment in your child’s — and Japan’s — future“):

Bicultural treasures likely to leave

I agree with Lisa Jardine’s comment that “bicultural children educated in international schools who go on to university outside of Japan and then return home will bring this diversity back to Japan.” Very much agree — in theory, that is.

In practice, however, Japan’s business world is not ready for this kind of diversity and these bicultural and bilingual treasures are currently being chased away, to find refuge with the very few truly global foreign multinational companies in Japan, or are going overseas.

We all know that Japan is in dire need of “going global.” Just serving the domestic market is no longer an option. Running Japanese overseas units as if they are still in Japan is not a long-term solution, either. But change is so hard and we are still not convinced that the good old days will not come back if we are just patient and continue doing what we have been doing for the past 50 years.

Please, Japan, wake up. Those days are over!

In the eight years I have been in Japan, I have met many young bilingual/bicultural graduates. The stories I have heard from them are sad and show extremely poor talent management.

One fully bilingual and bicultural young Japanese man applied for a finance job in one of Mitsubishi’s international departments. He was hired and put to work as a salesman in the domestic escalator business. He was looking for another job within a year.

One young Japanese lady in a consulting firm was never able to use her bilingual/bi-cultural skills and was told off for being “too international.” She applied for another job after struggling for 1½ years and feeling weak because she could not work until 11 every night.

A young, Canadian-born bilingual Japanese graduate applied for a job in a truly global (multinational) company in Japan because he felt very unwelcome in the domestic companies that he had spoken with. The examples go on.

One of the reasons why fewer students are going abroad, apparently, is because domestic companies do not like hiring them. When they come back, they are too Westernized and cannot be molded into the Japanese young-graduate fix. They have an opinion, think for themselves, come with ideas to improve long-standing practices and, most appallingly, want work-life balance!

Clearly, these are not the kind of people that the domestic Japanese business world is looking for. They want people who conform, execute orders without questioning them and, most importantly, sit in the office until the boss has left. True commitment to the job is working long hours!

Again, in theory these young bicultural/bilingual people own the future and are the key to Japan getting a grip on its deteriorating economy and becoming truly global. Unfortunately, unlike in many Western countries, Japan is still ruled by the old generation and the young people have no voice.

Coming back to Lisa Jardine’s recommendation, international education may be the right choice for bicultural students, but parents should be aware that their children will very likely not feel at home in the Japanese business world and will seek a career elsewhere.


So what’s with all the cramming?

Mr. Lewis makes some good points in his article. However, he fails to account for the fact that Japanese schools do not adequately prepare students for university.

If they did, why do Japanese students as young as junior high school need to start “cramming” for university?

Children in Japan who hope to go on to postsecondary schooling must spend hours cramming for entrance exams, often several nights a week and weekends.

These cram schools do nothing but teach kids to memorize material that they will need to pass entrance exams. Many students tell me that the material is soon forgotten. Is this really a useful way for them to spend their time?

Is cramming also in the best interests of the child? Shouldn’t children be enjoying time away from the classroom, on sports, hobbies, hanging with friends, family, etc.?

If Japanese schools are such a great option, why do kids need to cram?


Much more on this issue, please

I enjoyed the article by Charles Lewis, but it was too short.

For those living away from their country of origin (a large chunk of your readers), this article touches a deep part of ourselves — something most of us have already faced or most likely will be facing in the near future.

In just a few words, Charles did a wonderful job in clarifying some of the myths, but to give this article the same length as other “entertaining” features just to keep within the preplanned layout is a pity.

Hope one day you will tackle this same problem but in a longer and more detailed manner. Nevertheless, a great article, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Kamakura, Kanagawa

Internationalization on the cheap

Lisa Jardine’s article raised some interesting issues. I myself have raised three (bicultural) children in Japan, and I agree that an international education does open doors. However, I have been able to do this by sending my kids to the local Japanese public schools at a fraction of the cost of what the international schools charge.

Jardine quotes that 98.6 percent of kids at public schools are “ethnically ‘pure’ Japanese”, but I’m pretty sure my kids are in that statistic because they have Japanese nationality. In fact, the percentage of bicultural kids at public schools is much higher than statistics lead us to believe.

For a fraction of the money I save (from not sending my kids to an international school) I have been sending them back to Australia in their holidays where they assimilate perfectly. I can’t see how sending them to an international school would make them assimilate even better.

Club activities in public schools can lack variety, but this can be compensated for easily with parental involvement. I also think that the number of bicultural kids who are products of the public school system outnumber the number of international school kids in Waseda, Sophia and other “brand” universities mentioned.

However, the most important advantage of going to a local public school is growing up and going to school with the same kids in your neighborhood. Having a local community to belong to and support you may not add to your “internationalization,” but it doesn’t stop you getting an international education.

As far as I’m concerned my kids have got a triple-A education, without the huge investment.


To keep ‘halfs,’ Japan must change

A good article from Lisa Jardine, but one thing you have forgotten to mention is the citizenship laws here in Japan. You’ve mentioned the advantages for Japan to have bilingual kids, but at one point in life these kids must decide on where they will be living.

I have a bicultural child. She has dual citizenship now but she will need to select one or the other soon. As you may be aware, Japan does not allow dual citizenship after 21 years old.

Also, life for most of the “halfs” (ridiculous name, by the way) isn’t easy. Japanese still regards them as gaijin. If you live in a small town, having a Japanese boyfriend or girlfriend as a “half” is almost mission impossible. I have met a lot of halfs that have decided to be Japanese, and most of them complain about discrimination, difficulties in finding work (not all of them become celebrities), relationships, marriages. My question is, why should they choose to stay here and be discriminated against and lose their second citizenship?

Sadly, I have advised my daughter not to choose Japan as her only citizenship due to future hardships she might face. How do you explain to your crying kid that Japan is also her country? People still call her “gaijin.” Explain to her how a Japanese citizen can still be called “gaijin.” What is the point of trying to fit in?

Life is hard for those who are “half.” Until it changes its immigration and citizenship rules, Japan will remain in the same limbo it is in now.


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