Thursday, June 07, 2007

Japanese system stifles foreign scientific talent | The Japan Times Online

There's a wonderfully cynical and negative article here about the situation for foreign scientists in Japan. I don't by any means think the author is wrong, but he may be generalising a little too broadly based on his own (and presumably his acquaintances') experiences. Typical comment:
However, despite the government's statements to the contrary, many government initiatives actively prevent the integration of foreign scientists into the Japanese research and university environments.
And he goes on to grumble about the revolving door syndrome and exclusion of non-Japanese researchers from the decision-making process or indeed any reasonable career structure.

There's no specific government initiative preventing my integration, at least none that I know about. I'm employed on the same basis as my Japanese colleagues - however, this was achieved by dramatically downgrading their status, career prospects and job security, rather than raising the foreigners to the standards that most Japanese scientists can (at least could, until recently) expect. I've not even got any complaints about the salary, although I am suspicious of the extent to which pay scales are kept secret from us.

What exclusion there is, is generally based around the language barrier (at least, that's what they say). In the view of the management, the benefits of speaking in Japanese when planning and running their projects outweighs the "loss" of my (and almost all other foreigners') input. More on that in a subsequent post, perhaps...obviously it is a decision they are entitled to make. Of course you could also turn it round and say that in my view the benefits of being able to speak (and read and write!) Japanese do not justify the massive investment of time and effort that would be required to achieve sufficient fluency. I might get there slowly...but it's hard to remain motivated. It's not like I need it to do my research or to communicate with people who actually want to communicate with me.

To be honest, I don't know how much the language barrier is a real reason versus being used as a convenient excuse. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that even after this hoop is jumped, there is still no promotion pathway for foreigners. And frankly, given what I've seen of Japanese management, I wouldn't much want to be part of it. For now I can get on with my research relatively unimpeded, and it's not like the rest of the world doesn't have its own problems.

1 comment:

Fergus said...

Perhaps it is an unfair generalisation, but there appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that 'foreigners' are placed into readily definable pigeonholes which fit with the existing structures of hierarchy, unless they are VIP. Therefore, your 'place' is as predefined as any Japanese citizen. Whilst this makes dealing with outsiders easier, it must be horribly frustrating. It also means that career progression will inevitably be an issue at some point in the future.
Keep posting the photographs.