Published in Sociological Viewpoints, Volume 10, Fall October 1, 1994, pages 66-78.
This paper examines the status of Japanese higher education to understand the impact of important characteristics of Japanese culture and social organization on the development of the university system and its function in the society. From a year and a half of "participant observation" in Japanese universities by the author, basic sociological principles from theorists such as Simmel, Coser, Park, and Gouldner are applied in an analysis of the Japanese culture and universities. A restraining and tradition bound group orientation within the Japanese society has made innovation and the individual competition of ideas within Japanese universities difficult. But though less actual education and research may be achieved in Japanese universities, these universities play an extremely important function in elite selection, and occupational attainment more generally. More than other countries the elite selection process goes through only a few universities, primarily Tokyo University, and to a larger degree than elsewhere is based upon "contested mobility" rather than "sponsored mobility", at least at the level of university entrance and completion.
Social and Behavioral Sciences