OS 1

Labels the country’s schools as stifling “salaryman training facilities.”

Hirotada Ototake has spent much of his life in the spotlight. Born without arms or legs, the 39-year-old Ototake rose to national fame while a student at Tokyo’s prestigious Waseda University. His autobiography received international acclaim, and after graduating he worked as a sportswriter and elementary school teacher before becoming a member of Tokyo’s Metropolitan Board of Education in 2013.

Ototake resigned from his seat on the board at the end of last year, while still in the middle of his term. In keeping with that, some of his recent comments about Japanese education show that he’s become extremely dissatisfied with the system.

In a series of tweets sent on February 16, Ototake made his feelings known to his nearly 800,000 followers.

You could call Japanese schools ‘salaryman training facilities.’ Because of how they are, for kids who aren’t cut out to be a salaryman, or who have no intention of becoming one in the first place, school is just a dull, boring place. I’m seriously thinking this is somehow connected to the low number of entrepreneurs in Japan.”

Ototake went on to describe two figures he admires who didn’t fit the stock salaryman (Japanese corporate businessman) mold.

“It’s been said that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had developmental disorders. If they had received education in a ‘salaryman training facility’ like the ones we have in Japan, Apple and Microsoft might not exist. Looked at another way, isn’t Japanese education squashing the latent abilities some kids possess to thrive internationally?”

“Of course, I am not trying to label salarymen as inferior to entrepreneurs or anything like that. Still, there are things people have an affinity for, and things they don’t. If only there were some way for kids who clearly aren’t suited to become salarymen to chase after their goals. I think the world would be better off with a greater variety of enterprises and ways of living.”

Ototake added more specific examples in yet another tweet:

“For example, almost all schools blindly push the idea of learning from predecessors and established methods. The students can’t select from menu options for the school lunch, and there are school rules that minutely regulate their clothing and hairstyles. I think that Japanese education strongly emphasizes following directions from others in order to facilitate group activity.”

▼ “Tanaka, get in here! It’s time for the weekly sales conference.”

OS 2

Ototake’s criticisms quickly garnered a large number of retweets, as a number of online commenters chimed in with their agreement.

“I feel exactly the same way.”

“This is so true. Parents are to blame, too, since their goal is to make sure their kids get hired by a good company.”

“I want us to have an education system that respects individuality, and lets children develop their strengths.”

However, not everyone’s opinion aligned perfectly with Ototake’s. Some Twitter users took issue with Ototake’s exasperation, and one theorized that adopting the completely opposite tack wouldn’t necessarily be any wiser. “And whose decision is it which kids ‘clearly aren’t suited to become salarymen?’ Their homeroom teacher?” wondered one Twitter respondent.

Others pointed out that Japan, to an extent, already has an educational framework for those pupils who don’t plan to move on to college and corporate life once they complete their secondary education. High school isn’t compulsory in Japan, and the country has a large number of trade and vocational schools for skilled blue-collar, service industry, and other occupations that require additional training of the sort not to be found in university course listings.

Still another dissenter was unsure if Jobs and Gates, while in many ways symbols of the ideals of entrepreneurism, were necessarily the most widely applicable symbols of the challenging realities of launching your own business.


You hold up Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as examples, but I think those two are extreme cases. If entrepreneurs are successful they can earn plenty, but they’re in for plenty of misery if they fail. I think there’s a higher chance of being happy if you opt for the stability of being a salaryman.

Stability, including the financial sort, is highly prized in Japanese society, and the desire for it has at least some connection to the country’s enviably low poverty rates. And while Ototake’s tweets imply that the Japanese education is forcing kids to accept becoming a salaryman as their lot in life, no small number of Japanese children have a self-expressed desire to do such white-collar work when they grow up.

In light of these opposing responses, Ototake sent out one more tweet on the subject.

“The tweets I sent out this morning appear to have caused the misunderstanding that I am partitioning entrepreneurs and salarymen off from each other. Some people have said to me that the thinking facilities and leadership that I explain the passive education system fails to provide are also necessary for salarymen. They’re exactly right.”

In other words, Ototake is of the mind that as long as the educational system gives more students the tools needed to learn how to lead, enough of them will still be able to follow.

Source: Grape
Top image: Little Princess
Insert image: Rakuten