Does anyone know whether Japan is like the US and China in that you must only talk about a great candidate's strengths, or like the UK where letters are dismissed unless you also talk about weaknesses?

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    Are letters in the UK really dismissed if weaknesses aren't mentioned? Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 10:53
  • Letters of recommendation are not dismissed in the U.K. unless they mention weaknesses, they are just honest, unlike American ones which often contain overblown praise.
    – user438383
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 12:18
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    IDK if they still are, but it certainly used to be just thrown out. Everyone has issues and people want to know what these are. But more recent UK labour law has taken the view that knowing people who know how to write good letters is an unfair advantage so letters should only be read after a decision has been made to check that there's no reason to revoke the decision. But I don't believe the top tier follow that guidance. Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 12:18
  • I was strongly guided to always mention a "greatest weakness" for the UK, and have found it a useful technique even for the US if it's carefully phrased and something that would obviously be addressed in the present lab, e.g. that a candidate's background hasn't allowed them to have experience of X, which I hope they'll receive at your lab because I look forward to watching their career rocket... Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 12:39
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    @JoannaBryson in my experience that is incorrect. I have written and received successful LORs in the UK that mention no weakness. I think the advice you mention is a mutated form of the real advice for the UK: be truthful, write provable things with evidence of them. Don't say "Person A is very driven", say "Person A is very driven, for example when they landed a rocket in Mars in 2 days". Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 19:19

1 Answer 1


For Japan, you must focus on strengths, just like the US and China. If there are any weaknesses, rather than focusing on the weaknesses, focus on how they were overcome, without dwelling on it too much. Keep the weaknesses to a minimum, and be concise. Enthusiasm is good and advisable, but it is fine to tone it down slightly, when compared to the "ecstatic" US style. Note that this is generally the case for japanese public universities, but private universities historically established by foreign missions with strong ties to the UK might prefer the UK style. Since I'm not aware of the situation in these private institutions, I hope other SE users with more experience can pitch in.

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    Thanks for the nuanced answer, that's really perfect. This one happens to be for a public university anyway, but I also encourage further answers. Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 12:37

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