Edev_501 Response wk9_5

Thanks for inviting me to answer the question of the differences I encountered between English and Japanese leadership in school administration. The Scottish school (primary and secondary) system and the England & Wales system have different education overseeing bodies, separate curricula, different national exams (nation referring to the individual nations within the UK) and even different starting and finishing ages. There is no UK school system, although typically the England & Wales system is the one international sources mean when they use that erroneous term. I never taught in the Scottish system, so my comments must be related to the one south of the border (with apologies to Wales).

My name is Jim Smiley, but it wasn’t always so. Like many born in the Christian West, I was given a biblical given name and a middle name in tribute of an elder family member. I was James Peter Smiley. Following the tradition of using a diminutive version of the biblical name, I was never called James but Jim. Only official documents relating to my existence used my full name, for example my passport and birth certificate. The Peter in particular was never felt to be my name. In my adult life I never used the full version. Even my bank books and Master’s certificate had Jim Smiley.

Of course, everyone called me Jim, and as most people were aware of the tradition of non-use of the middle and full versions of the given name, there never was any problem. My wage slips from the English schools where I worked were (of course) addressed to Jim Smiley.

Fast forward to my first job in Japan. I was asked to show my passport for proof of residential status and for the spelling of my name for the school records. Explaining that I should be called Jim was useless. Officially, I was James, and as Japan doesn’t officially recognise pet names or nicknames, only my full ‘name’ was used. The culture is different, and I could not explain that Jim is neither a pet nor a nickname. This is my name. At one school all of the staff lockers and pigeon holes had the full tripartite names of the Western staff, a source of amusement to some and annoyance to others. In Japan, the official name is defined as the name on one’s birth certificate. There can be no other. Showing my Master’s certificate or my London bank account books did not sway their opinion.

I hated being called James Peter. That is not my name. It’s one method of referring to an individual within a wider cultural environment in which many other forms of address are common. Indeed, the ‘official’ name is not a form of address! There was only one thing to do; I went to the British Embassy in Tokyo and changed my name. (This, by the way, wasn’t possible under English law, but because I’m Scottish and Scottish law recognises the colloquial form of address as one’s name, I could change my name simply by showing my Master’s certificate.)

I took my new passport to the school and from then on I’ve been Jim Smiley in both countries!

This issue highlights a number of attitudes to culture, but I’d like to discuss just one aspect as it applies to higher education. This is the degree to which officiality is able to interfere with individual liberty.

Many will be aware that Japanese has its own word for ‘death through overwork’ (karoushi). Most will not know that many Japanese companies have internal rules and regulations that are in direct conflict with national laws. If a company rule is challenged in court, it is very difficult for an individual to retain their job even if they win the case. At one Japanese university I worked, there were no holidays! It was against the Board of Directors wish to give teachers holidays. Some teachers questioned this in court, won the case but lost their job. In general in the university setting, there are no fixed working times. Teachers are required to attend campus for Open Campus, for parents meetings, for entrance exams and other sundry events without extra pay.

The university rule book contains items that surprise(d) me. It stipulates a dress code for lecturers. It requires teachers to report any traffic violation they are involved in. It limits the areas of residence. These rules, and others, point to a code of ethics that infringes of civil liberties that (perhaps) a Westerner may take for granted.

For me the worst aspect of this system is that the rules are handed down from the Board of Directors without any consultation with the teaching staff. Their is no critical engagement with routes to authority, and once a rule is in place, it is seldom questioned; its authority is supreme. The teaching staff are sensitive, intelligent individuals, and their reluctance to become involved with rule-creation is symptomatic of the general apolitical malaise that is perhaps necessary in a top-down culture where questioning the level above is a faux-pas. Of course, a number of Japanese and many Westerners have made the argument that this non-questioning is itself an instrument of subjugation. Changing my name from James isn’t simply a matter of personal volition, it hits at the very heart of this rule-based society.

–name withheld

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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