Tokyo Medical University’s Gender Discrimination: Japan’s Shame


Tokyo Medical University’s policy of lowering female applicants’ test scores to maintain a male-heavy student body is now global news, to Japan’s shame. But the real shame is not that this secret is out—it’s that the country has been home to this sort of sordid culture in the halls of power for far too long, writes journalist Ninoseki Yoshio.

Shame Heard Around the World

A look at global news coverage of Japan over the last day or so reveals headlines that make one embarrassed to be Japanese. “Tokyo medical school ‘changed test scores to keep women out,’” blared the British daily The Guardian in a story dated August 2; other papers had similar stories to tell, many of them sourced from the Associated Press and other wire services with a global reach.

These being wire stories, most of them touched only briefly on the Japanese domestic coverage of this story—Tokyo Medical University’s practice, beginning around the start of the decade, of deducting points from the entrance exam scores of female applicants so as to maintain a male-heavy student body out of concern that women TMU graduates would just go on to leave their medical posts behind after giving birth. But this only served to underscore the lack of serious attention that problems like this receive in Japan, which appears woefully behind when it comes to women’s position in society.

This is, of course, a matter of considerable shame for our country. And I do not mean that it is shameful that the overseas press is sharing this story with a global readership. While the university has yet to issue a formal statement on its behavior, the fact that it was allowed to continue unchecked for years is a black mark on Japan’s record.

Time for a Lawsuit?

I spoke with one lecturer at a different private medical school who was similarly surprised at the TMU scandal. “I’ve never heard of a case where scores were manipulated across the board like this.” He notes that there are some male physicians, particularly in the field of surgery, who claim that having more women doctors makes it difficult to secure the specialists they need to staff their hospital departments, but he finds little to sympathize with in that point of view. 

“We are in fact seeing growth in female applications to medical school, along with a rise in the number of women doctors who seek to move into surgery. If there’s a problem with women doctors not staying in their positions for the long term, then we need to beef up the support systems that can help them to stick around. We can’t let TMU get away with the way it’s approaching the issue, though.” He is, of course, entirely correct.

Imagine for a moment that a situation like this had come to light in the United States. In short order we would see the women applicants who had been rejected mount a class-action lawsuit, demanding astronomical sums from the medical school. And it would be far from surprising to see this result in the financial ruin of the school involved and any hospital attached to it.

When something like this—behavior so sordid that any normal person would see it instantly for what it is—has taken place at one of our country’s educational institutions, what can we do but hang our heads in shock and shame? It is only right that the female applicants who should have gained admission to the school, but did not, receive their proper restitution.

No More Muddy Water

Tokyo Medical University has been in the news recently for more than this latest event. In early July, Sano Futoshi, a former director-general of the minister of education’s secretariat, was arrested on charges of receiving a bribe from the school (in the form of having his son’s entrance exam score inflated to ensure his admission to the program) in exchange for facilitating a major government grant to the university.

Looking at this string of scandals, the lecturer I spoke with had this to say: “It boils down to a question of the quality of the people in charge. I can sense common threads in all sorts of recent scandals—the dangerous football tackle ordered by the coaching staff at Nihon University, the dirty business at the Japan Amateur Boxing Federation. What we have here are people who, even if they didn’t build up their organizations, see fit to treat them as their own personal playgrounds once they reach the top, doing just as they please.”

Sano Futoshi, a senior Ministry of Education official arrested for arranging for TMU to receive a considerable grant from the ministry in exchange for score-padding on the entrance exam that got his son admitted to the school’s medical program.

Mizu kiyokereba uo sumazu, goes the old saying in Japanese—if the water is too clean, fish cannot thrive there. For too long Japan has been home to the thinking that leaders must be ready to handle all sorts of business, both clean and dirty, to be considered truly capable. So long as the results are solid, goes the all-too-common thinking, we can overlook the odd broken rule or bent sense of ethics along the way.

But we no longer live in this age. Indeed, the time has now come for us to bring it to a swift end. Today, what Japan needs most is for the people who still cling to this outmoded thinking to leave the stage.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on August 3, 2018. Written by Fuji TV News Analyst Ninoseki Yoshio. Translated by

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