Noble Gas

Subterfuge has a rich history in Japan.
Taken at the Ninja Museum in Iga Ueno


I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed.
Tenzin Gyatso
14th Dalai Lama of Tibet
1989 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate


No discussion of a country would be complete without mentioning all the internationally recognised (even if obscure) people who contribute to humanity as a whole through their academic works. The reward for this activity typically rests with the Nobel Prize. Canada, my native land, has won a total of 8 to date in the fields of chemistry, physics, and medicine.Two were solely Canadian, with the rest being shared with researchers of other countries. Japan has achieved a total of 7 prizes in these categories. Two of these were solely Japanese prizes, with other countries (typically America) sharing the rest. The interesting thing about this is the fact that, within the lifetime of the Nobel Prize, Japan has won comparatively few prizes. When you get a country as financially powerful and seemingly technically ept as Japan, this seems really amazing. Compared to Canada, Japan has about 4 times the population, and (in the grand total) about one third the Nobel prize-winners. If this does not strike you as amazing, consider that Japan has spent about 18 times as much as Canada in research and development.

No strangers to international controversy, the Japanese have decided to do something about it: They have decided to exert undue influence over the Nobel Foundation. (Note: It is scientific not political, so, technically, 'lobby' is not appropriate). The article by the Guardian is relatively informative, but, I can go further. The reason that it will take generations for Japan to catch up to the likes of America, or even Canada, is that the basis of their entire education system (and to a certain extent their entire society) is fundamentally inappropriate and counter-productive to achieving Nobel prizes; or, indeed, any significant innovation. As previously discussed, it is entirely geared to rigorous standards, conformity, and information 'regurgitation'. Virtually all who 'succeed' academically in Japan are, in effect, severely disadvantaged in comparison to their peers in other countries. On entering university most are physically and mentally exhausted and spend the next three years or so recovering. With little learning possible in the remaining year. Likely to the non-Japanese observer, nothing is more strange (or absurd) than symposium and conference proceedings. In Japan, there appear to be microphones set up at distances (about 5m apart on all aisles) convenient for anybody to question (challenge?!?) the material presented, but this never (or very rarely) happens. I have attended two scientific conferences. The speakers read their paper (I suspect verbatim), and there seems no time allotment for questions and answers. And when there is some time, the chair may (rarely) request some tiny points of clarification. But nothing that challenging. Other participants, based on my queries, would be simply mortified if questions were asked --either by them or to them. It seems to me that, obviously, 'harmony' is stifling 'science'. Basically, in academic terms --it is a complete joke.

Traditionally, when any country has a problem that is related to the educational system, it takes far longer to correct that anybody can imagine. Not only does the education bureaucracy resist change with the same fervour that any bureaucracy resists change, but it should be remembered that those who teach have, themselves, been taught (and then taught to teach). Japan would do well to take note of the Canadian system where all the schools share some commonality in the core curriculum, but differ vastly in terms of specialities (Toronto even has a high school that offers a course in aerospace). It is only through diversity and individualism that advancement is enhanced and accelerated. Japanese society, in its fostering of contempt for these has critically wounded itself in terms of its future. Because, even though they have set up specific places to encourage and try to foster just this, they have proved fruitless (as yet) because of the underlying societal constraints (and the damage is already done).