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Why the Japanese MBA Situation is “Different”


When speaking with professors who have been involved with MBA program implementation overseas, one learns that something is “different” with MBA programs in Japan. “Different” here is not intended to mean good or bad, but is merely used for a simple comparison. The first question to ask, then, is why is a change occurring in MBA programs in Japan?

Why is there no MBA program at the University of Tokyo?

MBA programs are found at famous universities worldwide, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford, and so on. Why, then, doesn’t the University of Tokyo, generally acknowledged to be the top university in Japan, offer an MBA? I’ve been asked this question numerous times by professors and colleagues from overseas, but in fact, I truly do not know the answer. Certainly, the University of Tokyo does have a Graduate School of Economics, where famous management scholars teach. Maybe it has been established that educational activities are designed to foster the development of researchers, rather than focusing on entrepreneurs and others involved in actual business. Or, perhaps the University of Tokyo is, even now, preparing its own MBA program?

Ordinary people who participate in an MBA program without informing their company

Many MBA programs in Japan are focused chiefly on lectures performed at night or on weekends, so-called “part-time MBAs.” In Europe and North America, however, the main MBA programs are full-time, in which students attend lectures during the day. Participants take a leave from their jobs, live in dormitories on campus, and dedicate themselves for one or two years to acquiring an MBA. In Japanese companies (especially among managers and human resources personnel), there is an incomplete understanding of MBAs, or a lack of full-fledged programs for them. Business schools in Japan, too, need to make a greater appeal to the general public as learning institutions, including to people employed in companies, enabling them to learn with confidence. Below is yet one more aspect that makes the Japanese MBA “different.”

Many MBA programs located near a train station for easy access?

We know that for busy Japanese people, easy access to a school is important. Regardless of whether this is benefit or a drawback, it is a fact that overseas business schools are often situated in what can be considered as “gorgeous” spaces. Examples are a university in Africa located on a mountaintop and surrounded by walls, or a business school in the United Kingdom that is located in a castle (word has it that there are still undiscovered “secret doorways” in this castle!). Surely an additional representative wonderful location is the IESEG business school in Paris, which is located under the iconic Grande Arche building (I know that’s a fact, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes). Try it yourself: when you arrive at the Grande Arche, do not take an elevator upstairs, but instead, look for a descending staircase. How interesting: there is an entrance to a business school in such a location! If you are ever in the vicinity, I strongly recommend you check it out.