An Empire of Schools: Japan's Universities and the Molding by Robert L. Cutts

By Robert L. Cutts

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Take democracy, for example. "The Japanese may tell the world they are a Western democracy," writes Robert Cutts. "But this invites judgment of far more than their electoral political system. . The implication is that Japanese society ought to perform like a student of America. But these judgments can't help but make hypocrites of both sides. The Japanese never asked for democracy and never said they wanted to be like anyone else at all. And the same judgments make it very hard for outsiders to understand that the real social purposes of Japan's institutionsits own brand of elitism, the academic ladder that leads to it, and what it defines as democratic functionare to meet demands very, very different from those Western societies face.

This book is about much more than the Japanese educational system, important as that is. It also explains why Japanese leadership has seemed paralyzed in the face of the political and economic flaws that have become apparent in post-cold war Japan. Robert Cutts is the ideal Japan hand. He does not come to his study of Todai with preconceived "theoretical" propositions about the functions of universities in advanced industrial democracies or of the relationship between education and democracy. His methods are empirical and inductive, not formal and deductive.

This was probably in self-defense. With the school system and the exam system the only upward social path in Japan, and with education now compulsory, the problem quickly changed from selecting the very best to winnowing out all the rest. The System That Keeps On Going Even when their world is turned upside-down, societies no more than people change fundamental values rapidlywhich really is what the Americans expected of the Japanese after August 1945. Westerners today will have to look closely at the needs and purposes of the societyif not of the stateto understand what is taught in Japanese universities now, and why people go to them.

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