Elite universities no longer mean as much to students

TOKYO —

Satori sounds like a good thing – it’s the enlightened state, a state beyond desire, that Zen Buddhists aspire to and train arduously to achieve. But in the popular catch-phrase “satori generation,” it’s pejorative. The meaning here is lethargy. Young people nowadays, their elders note with some dismay, don’t seem to want anything – not wealth or its symbols, not love and its emotional turbulence, not career advancement with its struggles and rewards. What becomes of society and civilization without the restless striving for more, greater, better? Wait a few years until the “satori generation” comes fully of age, and we may know.

Linked to “satori” in this sense is “yutori” (relaxation) – specifically “yutori education,” which the education ministry devised in 2002 as a supposed solution to various problems arising from school curricula seen by many at the time as too demanding, competitive to the point of warping children’s’ character. Yutori education’s “relaxed” curriculum became a problem in its own right – it was accused of dumbing education down. It lasted nine years and was scrapped in 2011. Now we’re back to intensive education.

Next term: college. Traditionally the struggle was always to get into the very best universities as a pathway to the very best careers. Yutori and satori have changed that, says Shukan Asahi (Jan 31). Move over, Todai, Waseda and other elite citadels of learning that are prestigious but hard to get into. Step forward, regional, lesser-known universities whose names may not impress but whose entrance gates are wider and whose academic degrees are accessible with minimum fuss and bother.

It’s the economy, stupid. The yutori-satori generation grew up in a tepid economy characterized by layoffs and a hiring “ice age.” It didn’t matter how impressive your academic credentials were. Companies were not hiring. They couldn’t afford to. They automated, or relocated their operations abroad where wages were low, or made smaller staffs work harder. This is the world this young generation knows and has adapted to. Ambition with no encouragement to feed on withers.

This year brings a special problem, Shukan Asahi finds. Many students in the past who couldn’t get into the top flight universities of their dreams didn’t simply settle for what they could get; they stayed out for a year, sometimes more, studying on their own, or attending prep schools whose courses were geared toward the requirements of university entrance exams. These students were called “ronin,” which originally meant masterless samurai. Sakuji Yoshimura, the eminent Egyptologist and archaeologist, was a ronin for three years, holding out for admission to Todai – but that was back in the 1960s. A high school senior today – the last of the yutori generation – who takes a year off for private study will be in competition next year with a new generation of college aspirants whose education was more rigorous.

Some parents the magazine speaks to shake their heads over their children’s lackadaisical “any university will do” attitude, but Yoshimura, 70, understands it and sympathizes. “Dreams are all very well,” he says – but facts are facts.

The magazine quotes a proverb: “There’s no satori for those who don’t lose their way.” But the last of the yutori generation has no time for that. They feel they’ve grown up in a country that has lost its way. Broadly speaking, their main goal as they enter adult life is the security of a full-time job. They can’t afford to take it for granted, and they know it.

  • 3

    Novenachama

    As a graduate of a elite university I believe that it's not the school that is responsible for the success. That you go to college is more important than where you go. Unfortunately some parents set their children up to consider themselves a failure if they don't get the acceptance letter from a super-selective school. However there is abundant anecdotal evidence that any of a wide range of colleges can equip its graduates for success. But indeed there are significant advantages to elite schools. You do earn more than those of comparable ability who attended other colleges and clearly connections made at top school matters. You are also able to meet specialist and experts making networking much better. Going to a elite university was marvelous and help me to get my foot in the door of life. However what I learned many years later was most valuable. The only true security is in developing your talents, skills, and abilities and being a life-long learner bringing value to your company and your life including being the author of your own destiny.

  • 2

    Peacetrain

    This is good. Maybe from now on people won't have to suck air through their teeth and say "eeeee" when someone tells them they or their husband or their kids went to an elite university.

    And maybe people won't look embarrassed when they say which university their kids went to.

    And better still, maybe girls will have a better chance of getting married younger. I've lost count of how many women I know who are desperate to get married but could have a decade or two ago but didn't because their limited their choices to guys who graduated from about 5 universities.

  • 0

    555Book

    I believe Zen or Satori could also means doing what is best given a set of prevailing conditions. Younger people in other countries got softer and more complacent because they feel that it is no longer rewarding to work hard I guess. In the past if you put in a dollar of effort, you may receive 2 dollars of reward; but now the rate of return is diminishing and in some cases, yielding a negative return. So given such a circumstances, there is no harm in consuming less but take on lesser stress in life. The other phenomena which a councilor in a youth center told is that young people these can get most of their satisfaction from the internet in the form of game, movies, music and social networking. As such, there do not have such a strong motivation to get the real stuff if you know what I mean. Do you think this intimate relationship with the 2-D world has in any way affected the characteristics of the adults too?

  • 4

    Alphaape

    I have has this discussion with friends here in Japan. It seems that they want their children to go to one of the elite universities, and to a larger extent the feeder high schools, elementary and kindergartens that feed into these schools that the children and parents forget the time to focus on other things and miss out on life. As stated by Novenachama, you do make different connections at elite schools, but you also make those connections at a lot of other schools too. People are amazed here in Japan when they see the story of a successful person in America, and when I tell them that they graduated not from Harvard or Yale, but some state schools and other instutions that they have not heard of they are amazed.

    It's not so much the school, but the students who go there and their individual drive that determines success. True, a lot of movers and shakers have gone to elite Ivy League schools in the USA, but it is also these people who have helped to make a mess of a lot of things that are wrong with the USA and the world. Yet, they went to an "elite school."

  • 0

    555Book

    By the way, 'doing what is best given the prevailing conditions' does not mean doing what is wrong and unreasonable, otherwise people will do anything to meet their goals and Zen Buddhism would become an evil religion. So, is this the source of confusion with regards to the meaning of Zen?

  • 3

    frank07

    Seems to be the natural response to lack of opportunities because after all, why try harder if nothing good comes out of it?

  • 1

    Kabukilover

    I am suspicious of anyone who says or writes something with the phrase "young people nowadays." What follows this phrase is a when-I-was-your-age diatribe. To the complacent with selective memories the younger generation does not measure up to their own. I well remember how the older generation that sold out to McCarthyism hated my generation. Demonstrating instead of studying. Burning draft cards instead of volunteering to fight in Vietnam. Growing long hair so you can't tell the boys from the girls. What's going keep civilization from going to the devil? Blah, blah.

    This said, I take the following with a grain of salt: "Young people nowadays, their elders note with some dismay, don’t seem to want anything – not wealth or its symbols, not love and its emotional turbulence, not career advancement with its struggles and rewards What becomes of society and civilization without the restless striving for more, greater, better?."

    I am sure civilization will somehow get by. If it survived my generation it will survive this one. It might even make civilization more peaceful and ecologically better.

    Though I take the above pronouncement with a degree of doubt, I nevertheless see certain truths in it.

    One thing that has remained constant over the years is that whether secondary education was rough or soft Japanese university students are lazy. Today, they are as lazy as they were when the generation scolding them was at university. The thing that I and others have witnessed is that there is no longer a core of students who are enthusiastic about something they are studying. A fact: Japanese students wishing to study abroad are at record lows.

    I think a major problem is the drop in the number of young people. The Japanese are not producing enough. Universities now are forced to accept more and more dummies and thus dumb down the curriculum. The next generation of those overworked by secondary education will not be any better than the so-caled yutori generation. They will be as scarce and as lazy.

  • -2

    tmarie

    **Broadly speaking, their main goal as they enter adult life is the security of a full-time job. **

    And good luck to that if you go to a university that anyone an enter and everyon gets out of. Frankly, as much as I hate the entrance system here, where you go to university is an indication of our work habits. There are many univerities out there that don't have a right to call themselves places of education. Time wasters and companies? Yes.

  • 0

    555Book

    To collate the things I have said above, Zen is to do what is naturally best given a certain prevailing conditions. Zen is not 'killing is not killing' or 'stealing is not stealing'; true, Buddha did say something like this but this is true only if you are doing it after reaching a very advance state of cognition/being when action does not produce a karma and when action always give more benefits to everyone. But this is very advance material and should be taught and practised by the real master, I am just beginning to scratch the surface only. In the meantime, we should just try to do what is generally regarded as good and reasonable given the imperfect and unbalanced world we live in. If we do not allow some flexibility in our lives, we will pin ourselves to a dead end corner one day and become very extreme.

  • 2

    battambangbound

    I do not see anything in the article or the responding letters that questions the level, quality, or type of intelligence that goes into passing the entrance exam that admits one to an elite or any other level of university in Japan. As all know, the Japanese entrance exams test temporary rote memorization. Also, the system typically results in a university student whose attitude is "by going through the examination hell that enabled me to pass the exam, I have earned the right to relax for these four years." Thus, the term "Pachinko Daigaku." Perhaps the reason so few Japanese students are interested in attanding college in a foreign country, such as the United States, is that outside Japan, university students actually have to do homework, produce research reports, and pass tests in order to graduate.

  • 0

    sf2k

    what about the entrepreneur scene in Japan? The expectation that you will work for someone else is the only concern at that age everywhere but I'd like to see more consider self employment. That's a way to get the work you want if you are doing something others value. Japan is way down the list on the GEDI index though.

  • 1

    battambangbound

    Since sf2k brought it up, I think it is appropriate to mention that after graduating from a Japanese high school, my son failed the Japanese university entrance exam, went to California and established residency, enrolled in San Francisco Community College and then San Francisco State, made the Dean's list, and established his own web design and branding business in San Francisco. At first, when he tried to establish business connections in Japan, they were not at all interested in what he could do, only in what major corporation he was with: Mitsui? Mitsubishi? Sanyo? No major corporation we have ever heard of? Thanks for coming in. After making a success of his business in San Francisco (btrax.inc), he opened up a branch in Tokyo and now when he periodically goes to Japan on business, the Japanese side introduces him as "Silicon Valley" since that is a term they recognize and respect.

  • 2

    JTDanMan

    It’s the economy, stupid.

    Well, yeah. Japan's "lost decade" is now three years into its third decade. That's a whole generation that doesn't see the pay-off for dedicating a life to being a salaryman or a salaryman's wife. Can you blame them?

    Still, I think there it is more than just economic. I think Japan's troubles are deeply rooted in very long-term social and political trends.

    Students of Japanese history wonder how is it that such a dynamic and restless nation during its modern history from Meiji to the Bubble became so listless and flabby. This is a nation that uniquely responded to the threat of Western Imperialism by abandoning tradition and adopting everything and anything from the more powerful West. Status weighed heavily on the minds of the Meiji oligarchs, who were nearly universally conservative political thinkers. They modernized Japan to be the equal of the Western powers. The following generation attempted to surpass the West, reached for Empire, and were crushed.

    But as we all know, Japan bounced back. Post-war Japan took maximum advantage of the protection and, more importantly, trade opportunities the US provided, and thus boomed. The "miraculous" growth under the so-called Yoshida Doctrine from the 1950s onward enabled Prime Minister Nakasone to pronounce in the mid-1980s that Japan had "Caught Up."

    Despite Nakasone's and like-minded conservative LDP politicians' attempts, though, Japan failed to transition from a industrial/manufacturing export-led economy to a post-catch up economy. The MITI guided Japan Inc., which had proved so dynamic and productive became an albatross. So too was the status quo of relying on the US for its defense needs.

    Japan stalled. Its domestic economic and political system ossified, unable to meet the challenges of the radically different domestic and international economic and political environment of the late 20th century onward.

    Or, more accurately, Japan is on cruise control. I would argue it has been for a long time.

    Japan has been on cruise-control for a very long time.

    Long before the Bubble Burst, going all the way back to the early 1960s, when Ikeda and then Sato cemented a domestic consensus which focused entirely on economic growth in the greenhouse provided by US power. Later termed the Yoshida Doctrine by US Historian Ken Pyle, I believe this "strategy" was the result not of leadership, but the lack of leadership in Japan. Now, this is a contentious point I make here, currently being hotly debated by the new generation of historians. Nevertheless, I am coming around to the position that Japan stumbled into the steroid driven catch-up growth in the same manner that it stumbled into war with China and the US. No one guy, or group of guys, ever sat down and planned anything out. It just kind of happened, where different groups vied for power and control and responded to events rather than make them. Because no one guy or group of guys can make things happen in Japan.

    How does this work?

    When the course is plain, Japan responds. Witness Meiji's response: the West is knocking at our door. Get strong, or be crushed. To get strong, we modernize. And away we go. Again, after defeat and occupation, Japan's leaders saw the need to get down to business and rebuild. And that they did. But Japan, has ALWAYS had a devil of time charting its own course when the path is not clear.

    The lack of leadership in Japan goes all the way back to Meiji, and even deeper into Japan's feudal past. In many ways, Japan -- only 130 years out of feudalism -- still is beholden to the decentralized feudal structure of the Tokugawa hegemony. No one guys ever calls the shots. And no one group ever gets too much power. Its not the nature of the way they have ever done things. Tojo was no dictator the likes of Hitler or Stalin. No way, no how. He was one guy who represented a compromise spokesman for a highly fractured domestic order. And that was essential the problem with the system Japan's Meiji oligarchs set up: no one calls the shots. There has always been a donut hole at the center of Japanese power.

    Japan remains entirely incapable of shaking itself out of its economic doldrums, I think, because it is entirely incapable rectifying the long-term social and political shadow cast by Meiji Japan's incomplete modern revolution.

    I think this current generation of “slakers” may do just that. The previous generation, those born after 1975, crossed the important threashold of seeing no conflict between being modern and being Japanese. (Japanese toilets/Western Toilets, if you see what I mean). But they still were partially wedded to the catch-up mentality, as their parents were the post war children. Not this new generation, who have, as this article argues, no interest in being salarymen or their wives. So I am optimistic.

    But cautiously so. Cautiously optimistic, because they may fall for the stupid nationalist drek being spooned to them by the old farts who have entirely failed Japan.

  • 1

    sf2k

    @battambangbound

    that's great! if more people realized their worldwide opportunities then maybe they wouldn't feel shackled.

    I've also been to SF in the IT scene there and it's a lot of fun.

    Sounds like he'd make a great JT interview on the graduation situation and a new possible outcome vs ongoing Japan Inc. denial.

  • 0

    Alphaape

    I've lost count of how many women I know who are desperate to get married but could have a decade or two ago but didn't because their limited their choices to guys who graduated from about 5 universities.

    This is what amazes me about Japan sometimes. We get this image that it is a country were people are all united, and personal ambition in regards to "bragging" and trying to oushine your fellow neighbor is frowned upon, yet you have people who will go to all efforts to at least be able to show that they have the "best" of something, and yet trying to be humble about it.

    I remember a few years ago a Japanese scientist won the Nobel Prize, and the comments on this board were along the lines that he will not be held as an example, but just go back into the grind of "the company" and facing the scorn of his collegues for "sticking out" all the while the "company" will be able to claim it has a Nobel Prize winner working for it. It seems contradictions seem to be the norm.

    Bottom line, if you can get a university education, then no matter where you go it probably is worth it. You need to go there and enjoy the learning experience, enjoy some of the final days of truly being a "student" and carefree and open your mind to new ideas and make new friends. I have never understood the Japanese system where you try to keep up with the same group of kids from the university feeder schools and try to go to school with them for all of your educational years.

  • 0

    sighclops

    I understand all that comes with attending an elite university, but sometimes I feel here there's too much emphasis put on this single point.

    "Did you hear? OO-san went to Tokyo Uni!"

    "Yeah, and?"

    Like, what's the big deal, seriously? Just grinds my gears that this is often the first thing to come up when meeting someone here in Japan.

  • 1

    genjuro

    @JTDanMan Great post. Thanks for writing it.

  • 0

    James Dean Jnr.

    @JTDanMan - What a lovely read! You must be a writer...

  • 1

    House Atreides

    Young people nowadays, their elders note with some dismay, don't seem to want anything - not wealth or its symbols, not love and its emotional turbulence, not career advancement with its struggles and rewards.

    Sounds like a certain group of people described in The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. Where's a time traveler when you need one?

  • 2

    KazHirai

    I see it in a different way. Back in the day, elite universities were elite due to their exclusive resources and libraries. Technology has leveled that playing field. Nowadays, a simple internet search will yield you scholastic articles and contacts to collaborate with from all over the world. Why get worked up about attending an "elite" university, when Google and Facebook can take care of all the enriching knowledge base and networking needs, respectively, to augment the possible shortcomings of going to a "lesser" university?

  • 1

    battambangbound

    sf2k: My son has been interviewed a few times on Japanese television. He arrived from San Francisco at Haneda Airport about 30 minutes ago. He is in Tokyo again for another SF-Japan Night to promote StartUp companies. 7 years ago his was a StartUp company no Japanese company was interested in talking to. Now he is a mentor for young Japanese entrepreneurs.

  • 2

    kaimycahl

    Elite universities no longer mean as much to students

    That's because kids now are beginning to think outside the box!! It's not about the University it's about being able to think logically and express your ideas. Look at today's Bill Gates and other tech start up companies, they QUIT their elite colleges and they are millionaires and billionaires well over. You don't need a college education to do what these colleges are teaching students today!! Been there and done that! Have several degrees and to tell you the truth I have learned more on my own verses sitting in a classroom or my head buried in a book. People need to think more logical and get more hands on experience to be more creative, instead of just reading a piece of paper or listening to a lecture from a professor telling you what to do!!! That's my take and I am sure those who went to the Stanfords and Harvards will tell you the same!!

  • 0

    JTDanMan

    Genjuru, James Dean, Jr.

    Thanks for you kind words and for reading it.

  • 1

    ka_chan

    It is not like Gates and Jobs didn't go to elite colleges. Jobs dropped out but still attended classes because he couldn't afford it. Gates got a 1590/1600 on his SATs. He went to Harvard and was involved in computers during his time there. He dropped out because he thought it was getting too late to start a computer business. No matter how you get it, education is the only thing they can't take away from you. Elite colleges get you contacts. But I'm talking about the US, Japan is a little different. Paraphrasing, "it may be hard to get into a Japanese University but a monkey can graduate from one". That may be the problem, there doesn't seem to be a goal at university. How many go to graduate schools? Japan is a country where don't need to be a lawyer to be a judge, you don't even need to know anything about law. Companies require all to agree and sign off. If everyone approves, no one can be held to blame. Look at TEPCO, they messed up, said they are sorry, no penalty. At list in the days of the Samurai, the leaders of a failed battle, usually took responsibility, well the story goes.....

  • -1

    toshiko

    @kachan The time Jpb went to communiy college, everywhere in community colleges were free tuition and 5 dollars a semester to enroll if you were CA residents. The same with CSU everywhere. Even HS kids could attend Community colleges. My oldest daughter complained Oranve Coast College cheated her and her classmates. She said that school charged $6 for HS children same as adults, It is different now after Arnold became Governor, I heard.

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