Friday, February 06, 2009

Fantasies past

From a 1987 article. Oh, the memories of that era:

In 1984 the university's graduate school of business administration began offering a master of business administration degree combined with a master of arts degree in Asian studies. The aim was to fill a gap: Too few American college graduates can speak Japanese as well as offer a solid business background...

During the three-year program, the participants study not only the Japanese language but also the culture and the economic and political history of Japan, in addition to completing the requirements for an M.B.A. program. Six months are spent in Japan, working for a Japanese company and completing a master's thesis.

''We got back from Tokyo on Dec. 9,'' he added. ''We knew enough of the language to continue studying it there, and we got to the point that we could get around Tokyo easily.'' (JLPT 3?)

''I chose it because of claims that the equipment market is closed and I was skeptical,''...for example, that too many American companies have been slow in printing good instructions for equipment in Japanese...

...He found a difference between American and Japanese customers. Americans were satisfied as long as a product functioned properly, he said, but added that ''the Japanese users tore it apart and wanted to know what made it work.''(Wonder why?) NYT Archives 1987.

It seems that any time that the media starts proclaiming that there is a need for more university students to become proficient in a certain field it is time to avoid that field. Even if there should turn out to be a real need for the expertise---in this case there was not---by the time anyone graduates, there will be about 2 zillion other fools who fell for the same line and apply for the 37 real openings. Another fool won't be needed.

Let's see, in the 80s, there was a big future demand for people with knowledge of Japan and who could also speak Japanese, for lack of familiarity with Japanese language and culture was the reason that US (and other country's) companies had a hard time penetrating the Japanese market. It was all a misunderstanding on the part of stupid, arrogant, ill-mannered, and pushy foreigners. (Of course since many believe that non-Japanese cannot really understand Japan's uniquely unique, deeply mysterious culture, we should have questioned the point of wasting time studying it. Ask Edward Seidensticker.* )

In the late 90s in the US, the press was clamoring for the need for new IT professional. Then the Internet bubble burst, and suddenly there wasn't such a need. At least that field has recovered, mostly because it was a field in which a large number of people with expertise was and is and will be needed. Unlike Japanese Studies.

What will be the next hot field? Tax law specialists to help those who make US tax law pay their own taxes? Going nowhere.

*Seidensticker was a well-know Japanese-English translator, known for his translation of The Tale of Genji and Snow Country, among others. I particularly remember an incident he wrote about years ago. He was in a bar in Tokyo discussing the Tale of Genji with some of the patrons when one half-drunken sod asked him, "Yes, you translated it, but do you REALLY understand it?" implying, of course, that only a Japanese could really understand it. Seidensticker did not especially welcome that fool's comment. Edward had an attitude that many non-Japanese residents of Japan could sympathize with. Others would sympathize with the half-drunken fool and write absurd Japan Times columns defending bigotry.

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