The question How should I approach a Tokyo University professor to join their lab? has an answer by RoboKaren saying:

For professors in Japan, taking on students is a tremendous responsibility and burden. Unlike in the United States or Europe, professors are responsible for even the extracurricular activities of students (i.e., getting arrested; showing up drunk and groping someone; having an apartment so messy that the landlord complains, etc.). They are also responsible for the student's career after they graduate.

This sounds very interesting as I have never heard such things about any other country before.

So, I want to ask:

  1. What happens/could happen to a Japanese professor if their student has e.g. a messy apartment?

  2. Is there something similar for undergraduate students (who, I suppose, do not have a professor in the sense above)? Is the university somehow responsible for them?

  3. Where is this responsibility stated? Is it e.g. in the law, or is it rather some non-official convention that everybody follows, or something in between?

  • 2
    Perhaps you should look at Japanese traditions regarding employment. I do not think this is specific to academia. Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 1:01
  • @SSimon: I hope you read this here, your comment unfortunately got removed:( you said something that you don't believe this to be the case? Do you have experience with Japanese culture? Could you post it as an answer or comment?
    – user111388
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 23:09
  • 2
    @user111388 Yes. They don't care about students so much as people are incline to believe. Because of oppression during the high school and primary School, Japanese students know to be wild during University and college years.
    – SSimon
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 1:57
  • @SSimon: Would you post it as an answer?
    – user111388
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 9:44

3 Answers 3


Are Japanese professors responsible for their students' behavior outside the university? Legally perhaps not (I'm no expert), but culturally, yes.

What happens/could happen to a Japanese professor if their student has e.g. a messy apartment?

The professor gets disgraced. It's like being the father of someone who later goes on to become a serial killer. Nothing directly happens to you, but it's still going to be very unpleasant. Did you fail as a father? Even if you think you didn't, perhaps your neighbours will think you did.

Is there something similar for undergraduate students (who, I suppose, do not have a professor in the sense above)? Is the university somehow responsible for them?

Yes, if they are being directly supervised by the professor.

Where is this responsibility stated? Is it e.g. in the law, or is it rather some non-official convention that everybody follows, or something in between?

It's a social expectation, similar to how in many societies children are expected to take care of their parents in their old age.

Check out what happened to stem cell scientist Yoshiki Sasai in 2014: his student faked data, leading to a scientific misconduct probe. Prof. Sasai was cleared of misconduct, but he felt deeply ashamed and later committed suicide. Granted, this was an academic issue, but it illustrates what Japan's expectations of their teachers are.

Edit: for a non-academic situations:

Probably the strangest tasks (in the eyes of Western teachers) are things like guarding the campus and ordering the fuel oil. They are also partly responsible for their students outside school. Japanese students have to follow several rules in their leisure time: they are not allowed to smoke and to drink alcohol, to go to discos or to have a job by the side. In case of disregarding these rules, the teacher is obliged to inform the parents or even to make home visits (cf. SCHÜMER 1999, p. 34). As one can see from all this, the tasks of a Japanese teacher go far beyond giving lessons.

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    Hello and thank you for your answer! Could you maybe provide references that this extends to non academic issues. I still have problems to understand this japanese way of thinking. I can understand the "father of serial killer"-example (father has not raised kid properly), but not "professor of messy tenent" (what does society expect here?)
    – user111388
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 16:26
  • @user111388 I put in a source.
    – Allure
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 6:42
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    @Allure Is that for high school or for university students?
    – kate
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 6:44
  • @kate based on the source, it's for high school and younger students. I couldn't find anything for university students, I'm afraid.
    – Allure
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 6:18
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    A lot of misinformation in such a short answer. Eg. you are citing a text that is clearly not about university students (may not be your fault, as the original text is pretty low quality and seems confused, too). Your other example, Yoshiki Sasai would have been an academic paria in any other country, too (other, even less involved Profs were forced to resign in the same incident), and his suicide is nothing about "his students' behavior outside of university".
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 4:21

The involvement of Japanese professors with the everyday life of students is excessive compared to eg European or North American universities. However, I feel a lot of exaggeration and see a lot of incorrect statements.

First of all, responsibility means a lot of things, not just legal responsibility. University groups in Japan are very tight, similar to other school-based groups, school clubs, or workplace environments. Since many university students are far from home, and they suppose to spend long hours in the university lab, the lab is their home in many ways. Because of these strong ties, if you have a problem, ideally others try to help. If you do stupid things, it also reflects badly on the others.

The positive side is that you often have more personal help than other places where dedicated offices are the ones who mainly take care of you. Since foreign students are generally pretty helpless, accepting a foreign student generally means a lot of extra pampering from the point of view of the host lab. This is from translating every single document for you to helping you to find apartments, doctor etc when you need and when your local knowledge is not enough to do so.

While these strong personal ties between lab members may be unique, the whole idea that any educational institution cares about its reputation when you do something stupid is far from unique. The difference is that if there is any problem, the Prof/head of the lab is your mediator between you and eg the university, and she/he can be in a hard place if he has the reputation to have problematic students in a country where reputation is everything. No one wants to be the professor who has to tell the university or the journalists why did you steal/rape/got into a drunken bar fight.

About specific statements:

  • No one cares if you have a messy apartment. That is your problem. The owner of the apparent may not even see the place ever, neither who was your boss. Most apartments are trashed, anyways, that is why you have deposits to cover it.
  • If you ask your professor as guarantor for something, then yes, she/he can have legal troubles related to the specific contract, but it is a less common scenario.
  • If you commit something illegal then police contacts the university, and your prof is most probably involved in the "what to do now?" discussion. She/he will be not responsible in terms of any punishment, but it is unpleasant work and guaranteed a bad reputation. But this should not be the main reason to not rape or grope imho. Note, other universities will also be upset if you do anything illegal and will kick you out.
  • Undergrad students belong to a lab from 4th year. Before that, you belong to a department, causing them the headache with your problems.
  • Research misconduct is a separate scenario, but if you hire and hype a talent who turns out to be fake all through her carrier, you will get burned, independent from the country.
  • About the COSMOCOMMUNICATION article: those statements are definitely not true to universities(the writer talks about high schools/middle school teachers) Campuses are guarded by security; above legal age, students can smoke, drink freely. In fact, campuses now have separate smoking corners (before you could smoke wherever), and students often drink in the lab together as it is the cheapest option. Official drinking parties are part of university life, often in excess. Drunk students may cause trouble, but Japanese society traditionally very tolerant of anything that happens under the alcoholic influence (it is recently changing). Note in other countries, too, your mid or high school will be upset if you turn up drunk or you smoke. "Discos" are packed with university students, and since scholarships are rare almost all university students work on the side ("baito"). Even foreign students with scholarships can have work permits (with restrictions).

From my little experience studying in Japan,

(1) No, the professor doesn't even go to your apartment room. Why would they? Unless you two are really close.

(2) If they are arrested, maybe the university will feel somewhat responsible too.

(3) Never heard of it. But they do have the culture of responsibility: don't burden other people.

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    I am sorry, maybe my question is unclear. I am not asking if professors go to rooms, but rather if they can be fined etc. under the argumentaion that they should have "raised" (?) their student better - just as in some countries, I believe, parents can be fined/held responsible for misdoings of their children.
    – user111388
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 8:00
  • 1
    What do you mean by (2)? Is someone at the university (or the university as such) going to face any action if a student gets arrested (apart from publicity which is also the case in other countries)?
    – user111388
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 9:22
  • 6
    @user111388 From my knowledge of Japanese culture, I wouldn't expect the consequences to be formal -- no fines if your student has a messy apartment. It's more that such situations might reflect badly on the supervisor, or the supervisor might be contacted and expected to somehow resolve the situation. You might be able to get good answers on a site devoted to Japanese culture (rather than academia).
    – academic
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 14:43

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