If you visit a Japanese university it will feel different. This
page discusses the reasons.
Most campuses are surrounded by walls, with the gates closed
at night, and manned for ID check on entrance-exam days.
It's easy to see a metaphor for the traditional relation
between the university and society.
Most campuses are crowded of course, but beyond that, the buildings
are cluttered. Campus planning, along with other responsibilities of
the central administration, tends to be weak. This is in part due to
the fact that deans and even presidents tend to be rotated every few
years (presumably for fear that longer terms would allow them to amass
power at the expense of the faculty, and of the Ministry). As a
result an entrepreneurial professor who has conjured up some building
funds will probably get the green light to start construction.
A contributing problem at national universities is the
"supplemental budgets" designed to pump money into the economy in the
final months of the fiscal year. Whereas planning in general is
glacial, easily held up by any vested interest, supplemental budgets
are cobbled together in a rush of excitement and time pressure, and
university administrations are in no position to do anything but say
yes to whatever manna the Ministry and the politicians chose to
provide. This takes the form of a politically appropriate amount,
based only loosely on any real need, which then translates fairly
rigidly into a square footage, with the result that a building of that
size gets plonked down on whatever parking lot, tennis court, or grove
of trees is not yet built over.
Buildings tend to be ill-maintained, at least in public universities.
The national budget includes (at least until the reforms of 2004)
line-items for each specific university department or center, with
little or nothing for the university as a whole. Within each
department faculty interests dictate that the bulk of the money
goes to research, with things like grounds upkeep, building
maintenance, cleaning, and soap in the bathrooms done on the cheap or
In the dirty buildings the research laboratories are often
overflowing with shiny expensive equipment. In Japan, as elsewhere,
faculty are evaluated in part based on the funding they bring in. In
Japan, however, faculty salaries are for 12 months, grad students
traditionally do not expect to be supported, technicians generally
cannot be hired with soft money, and overhead is very low, so the only
real possibility for spending is equipment. It is also the case that
grant reviewers smile upon proposals where the budget
is mostly for equipment, perhaps reflecting the fact that
in the Japanese economy overall capital investment is
highly valued, and indeed forms an unusually large fraction of GNP.
Visitors are often presented with a bound volume of all the lab's
publications over the past fiscal year or two. The point of this is
of course the size; a large number of pages proves that the lab is
productive. These bound volumes exist also for another reason: multi-year
research awards typicaly require a formal report at the end and
include a budget item for a large print-run. The extra copies are
mailed off to various interested (or uninterested) researchers and
libraries, with the remainder stacked up to await visitors. It's often said that
Japan is a country where producer interests take precedence over
consumer needs, and research is not entirely an exception.