It doesn't have to be about increasing their "global competitiveness."

In 2015, Japanese and international media broke news of the impending demise of the humanities in Japan's national universities. The education minister had apparently ordered university administrations to abolish humanities departments or "convert them to serve areas that better meet society's needs." Following a domestic and international backlash, however, government officials appeared to backtrack; the humanities would not be axed. Like a certain bewigged British monarch, they remain destined to be a long time a-dying.

University of Tokyo Vice President and sociologist Shunya Yoshimi, author of the 2016 book "The Abolition of the Humanities 'Shock,' " has observed that this controversy was partly based on media misunderstandings of the intentions of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Science and Technology. Nevertheless, the intensity of the ensuing debate confirmed for him the need to clarify the usefulness of the humanities, in evaluating values and value change in contemporary society.