Tour guide exams another example of national licensing frenzy

Colin P.A. Jones wondered if he was alone in laughing out loud at a question about impaired thinking in the national nursing exam (“Stop thinking — the exam is about to start,” Zeit Gist, Dec. 18).

There is no end to this national licensing frenzy, and it brought to mind another fiasco: tour guide certification in a foreign language.

Jurisdiction for the guide system was hotly contested between two ministries — transport and welfare — in 1949, the same year when the national bar exam was made law. Parliament debate records show that the welfare ministry, which decided which hotels could be labeled “international tourist class,” eventually ceded some sovereignty to the transport bureaucrats, who started scoring tour guide candidates in subjects such as foreign-language ability and character assessment (jinbutsu kōsa), my fatal flaw.

From its inception, the pass rate for English-speaking guides in this most populous nation was deliberately kept under 300 for almost 40 years, except for the period before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The reason was simple, as with other vocational certifications: tightening supply despite demand meant better job security for English guides. The guild got the upper hand over people’s right to a job.

You would be a fool if you tried to cite the Constitution’s Article 22 here (“Every person shall have freedom . . . to choose his occupation to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare”). As the Liberal Democratic Party began to lose its grip on power, the supply of English guides started to show wide gyrations, making the staggering swings seen in recent parliamentary election results appear almost sober-looking.

The Japan Tourism Agency reports a first peak of the pass rate of English guides at about 12 percent in 1990, from a low of 3 or 4 percent. The rate again bottomed out as low as 4 percent in 2003, and, behold, shot as high as 21 percent in 2008. During those years, the Japanese Supreme Court had the effrontery to rip me off for ¥50,000 when it declined my appeal for an English-speaking license in just one cliche-ridden sentence. Despite my strategic change from English to the Korean language, I have been a perpetual test-taker for the national license for more than 40 years, except for my expatriate life of 22 years.

Jones-san, of course you are not alone in wondering about the absurdities of sitting for the bar exam.


Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

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