Media Mix, Nov. 18, 2012

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about Education Minister Makiko Tanaka’s decision to approve three applications for university status after originally rejecting them. In the column I didn’t talk much about Tanaka’s political reasons for either the initial rejection or for changing her mind, only that she received a lot of pressure to do the latter. The latest issue of Shincho reports that she may have been thinking of the upcoming election, which at the time wasn’t set yet but was certainly something she had to think about. Regardless of whether her initial decision to deny these three school certification as 4-year universities was suggested by her subordinates at the education ministry, as Aera hypothesized, there was probably still an element of spontaneity in her action, since that’s part of her working style. But as Shincho itself hypothesizes her reelection is not a done deal. The LDP is backing Tadayoshi Nagashima, the popular former mayor of Yamakoshi-mura, for the constituent seat that Tanaka currently occupies and Shincho thinks he has a good chance of winning. Though supported by the ruling DPJ, Tanaka is nominally an independent, and Nagashima, who won his own Diet seat last time as a proportional candidate, may have more immediate support in the contested Niigata representational district since the locals seem to be drifting back to the LDP, which Makiko’s father, Kakuei Tanaka, once headed as a kingpin. Tanaka might have thought that sparking controversy as an anti-bureaucracy maverick would stimulate her base again and help her win.

Nevertheless, her ostensible reasoning for rejecting the schools doesn’t seem to have been a particularly deep one. She must have known that the three institutions would put up a fight, since their applications were already rubber stamped by the advisory panel, which is made up of current and former members of the “education industry” I mentioned in the column. It’s also possible she knew, at least in the back of her mind, that she would eventually reverse her decision. In that regard, the initial media interpretation of her actions, that she was just showboating again, wasn’t far from the mark, and people who have since criticized her for the eventual about-face may be missing the point. Some have interpreted her rejection of the three schools as a rejection of education policies in general. There is little evidence that that was the case. She simply wanted to point out that the process of approving new universities was not effective since the panel approved everything. On the NHK radio discussion I mentioned, someone said that Tanaka probably knew her decision wouldn’t make a difference in the short run, but that it would at least draw attention to the problem. That problem, however, is mostly financial. The bigger problem of Japan’s education policy — about whether or not young people are benefiting from school as it’s now structured — was not her concern. And while she did change her mind, she doesn’t seem repentant. Tanaka said something about how the three schools should be able to derive some “good PR” from the controversy and recruit more students than they would have without the publicity, and who knows? Maybe they’re happier than they would have been had they just been automatically approved.

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7 Responses to Media Mix, Nov. 18, 2012

  1. Balefire says:

    Thanks for the (as always) interesting article. I thought you should know, though, that contrary to what you wrote in the 11/18 _Media Mix_ column, there was indeed a Tokyo Metropolitan University. My wife graduated from it, and she used to have an apartment within a short walking distance of both the university and the train station that still bears its name. It has since merged with three other institutions, changed its Japanese name–but not its English one–and moved to Hachioji, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Metropolitan_University

    • philipbrasor says:

      Thanks for the comment and the correction. I was aware of the university being in Hachioji but thought it had moved from a different location and that the school near Toritsu Daigaku station was never completed, a meaning that got garbled (along with some other points) in the editing process.

  2. Balefire says:

    You’re welcome. No worries: the whole station and university naming situation is, as you pointed out, very confusing. I only happened to know by chance.

    You’re probably also aware, by the way, that sometimes when a university moves into the neighborhood the train station is renamed. I remember, for example, when Tokai Diagaku-mae Station was Ohne Station. The locals were displeased if you innocently asked directions to “Daikon Station”, having never heard the name pronounced.

    • philipbrasor says:

      The stations that are now Toritsu Daigaku and Gakugei Daigaku had different names when they were originally built, and Tokyu changed them when the universities started putting facilities nearby because the proximity of a university was deemed to be good for property values and attracting commercial interests. After one of them left (or both? I forget) local officials solicited residents as to whether or not they should change the name again, since it didn’t reflect reality, but I guess no one wanted to change it again.

  3. Balefire says:

    It’s just as well, I suppose. There are a lot of place names, including station names, that no longer reflect reality. I don’t believe that any of the trees for which Roppongi was named still exist, for example, and few if any of the places named Fujimidai still provide a view of Fuji-san. Perhaps the residents think the university association of their station names retains some attractive cachet. Or perhaps it just seems too bothersome to change them.

    • philipbrasor says:

      Since most private railways are also land developers station names tend to be aspirational, or at least stretching the truth a bit. In our research into housing and urbanization we learned that whenever you find a place with the characters “dai” (high place) or “oka” (hill) in the name it means it was probably built on top of a marsh.

      • Balefire says:

        Ironic, isn’t it? Older places that once deserved the names have been urbanized out of their original identities, and developers have, as you say, stretched the truth–and the topology, often as not–to affix attractive names to newer ones that they have made, and often not made terribly well.

        It’s almost enough to make one cynical.

        I’m glad to see that the results of your research haven’t disillusioned you enough to prevent you from continuing to write your excellent pieces about housing and related issues, though. By all means keep up the great work, there and in the other areas you’re writing about.

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