Japan’s Education Ministry Says to Axe Social Science and Humanities

PM Shinzo Abe
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, second from left, has called for ending university-level support for studying and training teachers in social science and humanities.

At least 26 of Japan’s 60 national universities that have departments of the humanities or the social sciences plan to close those faculties after a ministerial request from the Japanese government, according to a new survey of university presidents by The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

A June 8 letter from Hakubun Shimomura, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, to all of Japan’s 86 national universities and all of the nation’s higher education organizations asks them to take “active steps to abolish [social science and humanities] organizations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs.” The call focuses on undergraduate departments and graduate programs that train teachers, and includes the areas of law and economics.

To back up the request – which was made “in the light of the decrease of the university-age population, the demand for human resources and the quality control of research and teaching institutions and the function of national universities” – the ministry pointed to the financial support it provides the schools in the coming fiscal year.

This focus on bending universities to serve “areas which have strong needs” (and the implication that social science and humanities can’t help in that regard) are of a piece with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic ideas, or ‘Abenomics,’ that focus resolutely on direct and immediate industrial and employment benefits, argues an editorial in The Japan Times. The newspaper recalled Abe’s remarks in 2014 before the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in which he said, “Rather than deepening academic research that is highly theoretical, we will conduct more practical vocational education that better anticipates the needs of society.” (With Abenomics now stalling, Abe has also portrayed Japanese science and technology as in peril, telling the nation’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation in June that “the frontlines of Japan’s research fields have weakened, causing our research capabilities to lag behind others).”

The Times criticized Abe for shortsightedness:

Pursuing studies of humanities and social sciences may not produce quick economic results. But shunning them risks producing people who are only interested in the narrow fields of their majors. Studies of literature, history, philosophy and social sciences are indispensable in creating people who can view developments in society and politics with a critical eye. In this sense, Shimomura’s move may be interpreted as an attempt by the government to produce people who accept what it does without criticism. Abe, Shimomura and education ministry officials should realize that a decline in the study of humanities and social sciences will likely hamper the growth of creative work even in the fields of technology.

According to The Yomiuri Shimbun, of the 26 universities cutting their humanities and social science offerings, 17 intend to stop recruiting students in the areas and all of the 26 plan to stop offering so-called “no certificate” courses that don’t require latent prospective teaches to obtain a teaching certificate in those areas.

While some organizations, such as the executive board of the Science Council of Japan, made quick and strident objections to the ministry’s request, even some ostensible supports of the disciplines couched their support deferentially. For example, Shojiro Nishio, the new president of Osaka University (the largest national university in Japan), both backed the idea of the value but also encouraged them to “think proactively about what you can do,” reported Kiyomi Arai of The Yomiuri Shimbum.

According to Arai:

Nishio says achievements are not easily seen in the fields of humanities and social sciences, but these studies are indispensable as they bring diversity to society. Specializing in data engineering, Nishio is a world leader in information technology, particularly in analyzing big data. As a researcher, he believes studies in the humanities field do not tend to have a “strong focus on responding to the demands of society.”

Not every university was so circumspect, and some notable institutions, such as the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University, said they had no current intention of complying. The president’s office of Shiga University told Nomiura that, “Democracy cannot be preserved if the ‘intellectual knowledge’ of humanities and social science studies is cast aside.”

The Science Council of Japan put out a statement late last month expressing its “profound concern over the potentially grave impact that such an administrative directive implies for the future of the HSS {humanities and social sciences] in Japan and the very idea of the university itself, irrespective of whether it is privately or publicly funded.” That statement acknowledges that HSS could do a better job of clarifying its value, even as it stresses how integral HSS is to a “balanced” university and to the larger Japanese society.

The International Social Science Council (to which the Science Council of Japan belongs) applauded the council’s statement and for addressing how HSS is “integral to advancing knowledge on the challenges facing society today, both in Japan and internationally. They play a unique and vital role in critically thinking about and assessing the human condition, and for the understanding, foresight, governance and continued development of contemporary societies.”

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Lucas Krupp

“At least 26 of Japan’s 60 national universities that have departments of the humanities or the social sciences plan to close those faculties after a ministerial request from the Japanese government, according to a new survey of university presidents by The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.”

Where can this survey be found?

Are there any citations for this article? I am not finding this survey post Anywhere on the Yomiuri Shimbun.


The link to the original news story from The Japan Times (an English-language product of Yomiuri Shimbun) has died, but thanks to The Wayback Machine we can show the original Japan Times article we cited: http://web.archive.org/web/20150827202450/http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0002376592 . That’s not the survey (we’re looking), but it’s a step closer


Japanese ministry denies this rumour.
There are some misunderstandings among the public concerning the notice issued by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology that: “MEXT thinks that academic disciplines related to the humanities and social sciences are not needed for national universities.” This is in fact untrue. The thoughts behind what were issued as a notice by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology are as follows.

Earl H. Kinmonth

This would be a much better story if it was based on fact. Unfortunately, it is not. I have looked at the original Japanese language text of the Ministry of Education directive to Japanese national universities. There is no call for the abolition of departments or programs. Even if there was such a call and even if it was implemented, it would not mean much. The prestigious Japanese national universities have been since their 19th century inception been focused on engineering, science, and medicine and in some cases agriculture. For example, at the most prestigious institution, the University of Tokyo,… Read more »

Will Stewart

This is exactly what the Kishi government proposed in 1960. You will remember that Kishi was the former Class A war criminal, released by the Occupation and then rehabilitated, who had previously been the minister of armaments in the Tojo govt, and prior to that had been head of ‘pacification’ of Manchuria -since Vietnam, we know what that means! Kishi also happens to be the grand father of Abe, and for many yrs Abe lived with Kishi. , The directive that the AbeAso govt is now imposing on Jpn universities is a carbon copy of what the fascist Tojo govt… Read more »

Earl H. Kinmonth

Kishi was NOT a class a war criminal. He was detained but not charged let alone convicted.

Socrates Johnson

lol the japanese are too smart to fall for “progressive” education like stupid and communist americans put into place here in the last century creating the dumbest and most useless generation of americans of all time.

Wm Holden

Aristocrats like Abe do not expect the average citizen to understand or participate in governance (an interesting take on the meaning of “democracy”) nor to have the ability or temerity to express their own personal views and support them with evidence. They are instead expected to unquestioningly follow the dictates of their betters, who are in turn expected to follow the example of tradition. Those who are educated to think and who criticize the existing social and economic order foment disharmony and upset the all-important “wa” – a “wa” that serves the interests of the plutocracy.

Tracy Lightcap

Minister Shimomura and Prime Minister Abe can’t see the noses on the front of their faces. All they have to do to see the relevance of the social sciences is turn on their computers and look at the ads on websites they frequent. Those ads are the direct result of political scientists and sociologists who wanted to find a way to manage increasingly large datasets and analyze their contents. The applications – Hadoop is a good example as is R – they developed allow companies that collect data – website scraping is also the result of social science research –… Read more »


I studied political science research methods in school and am currently learning R and SQL and hopefully someday soon, Hadoop. Currently I work in marketing, analyzing large datasets and tweaking overall marketing strategy for Fortune 500 companies every day. I believe my education has allowed me to not only think broadly, but uniquely position me for a career in big data. Outside of the humanities where else can you learn multivariate regression, significance testing, types of error and biases, game theory, and other concepts that allow you to look a data and understand it? Therefore I agree 100% with what… Read more »

Harvinder Singh

Objective of Education is cultural upbringing of the younger generation and not employment generation only. Employment is only one component of it. There is difference between skill development and education.

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