2010-08-13

Different advantages and disadvantages of being a researcher in Israel and Japan

As I am about to finish my sixth year as a full-time lecturer at an Israeli university, I am now more aware of what I consider advantages and disadvantages of being a researcher in Israel and Japan, where I taught for about ten years, though only as a part-time lecturer. It is sometimes the case that some advantages in Israel are disadvantages in Japan, and vice versa.

We as researchers have to continue to buy scientific books (whether we actually read them or not), and more and more of the most important ones are published in English, so both in Israel and Japan we have to order them from abroad. The similarity ends here. Japan does not impose tax on books imported from abroad, while Israel started to do so some time ago (I do not know when, but I do remember that when I was a student here in the late eighties and early nineties, there was no such tax). Unfortunately, we earn much less in Israel than in Japan or the United States, but we have to pay far more for such books. I know that the Israeli government has to squeeze money by all possible means, but every time I am forced to pay tax for book I buy from abroad, I cannot help being disgusted with this shameful policy. I wonder what other countries in the world have the same policy.

But apart from this disadvantage, being a researcher in Israel has more advantages than in Japan, at least in my areas of expertise. On the one hand, Israel is a very small country, but on the other hand, it is one of the world centers of Hebrew and Jewish studies. So by being in Israel I have many opportunities to meet leading experts, including Israeli and non-Israelis, and be exposed to the state-of-the-art research, while researchers of Hebrew and Jewish studies in Japan suffer doubly in this respect, and the worst problem of many of them is that they are so inward looking, that is, they neither participate in conferences held outside Japan nor publish in languages other than Japanese. I regret to write this, but Japan as a whole has little or probably no impact on the world map of Hebrew and Jewish studies.

Perhaps the biggest advantage we researchers in Israel have over our Japanese counterparts is the fact that we have more free time at our disposal, mainly during the annual summer vacation. We can spend almost four months every year being disturbed by nothing else and concentrating on our own research, while they barely have one month, even which is often torpedoed by rather stupid tasks, which are handled by non-academic staff in Israeli universities.

I do not know whether this is an advantage or disadvantage, but the biggest difference between these two countries is the system of promotion and tenure. As a person who had to work so hard to be promoted from a lecturer to a senior lecturer and finally receive tenure in Israel, I find the Japanese system quite ridiculous. Japanese universities should also stop giving tenure automatically to their new faculty members. Their system of promotion is full of loopholes. How can someone who has published no book and no refereed article with the total number of publications less than ten become a full professor in Japan?! This is a disgrace to the title "professor". Many of these "professors" in Japan would not be able to become even lecturers in Israeli universities for lack of enough (refereed) publications.