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While I do not disagree with professor Takamitsu Sawa’s opinions in his Dec. 11 article, “The graduate school fiasco” — on the low quality of graduate education in Japan — I was taken aback at the following passage so blithely sandwiched in the middle of the article: “Since Japanese universities give specialized education to undergraduates, students usually have little need to advance to graduate schools to brush up on practical knowledge.’

I have attended and worked at Japanese universities, and while the tides are ever so slowly turning with all the hype over internationalization and depopulation, I still don’t see much evidence of “specialized” education, save for maybe the engineering schools. College, for the most part, is still a four-year club — relaxation time before students hit the working world.

Also, while I’m merely speculating, I don’t think graduate degrees are highly valued in Japan because of the overly bureaucratic system of official certification. I used to give guided tours as a volunteer, and I learned that you need to pass national certification to be a “real” tour guide. There are many more examples of ministry bureaucrats “certifying” everything under the sun. And, sadly, this is what holds more weight in Japan.

Meanwhile, academics and pundits continue to bemoan the brain drain to the West, but what other options are there if you want to do serious research in this country? It cannot be ignored that Japan is shrinking and should be focusing more resources on giving substance to higher education. But the way I see it, all that tax money is going to get you are more nice roads and shinkansen lines.

j.h. dechant

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