Japan is Running Out of Engineers (?!)

From the New York Times:

After years of fretting over coming shortages, the country is actually facing a dwindling number of young people entering engineering and technology-related fields.

Universities call it “rikei banare,” or “flight from science.” The decline is growing so drastic that industry has begun advertising campaigns intended to make engineering look sexy and cool, and companies are slowly starting to import foreign workers, or sending jobs to where the engineers are, in Vietnam and India.

It was engineering prowess that lifted this nation from postwar defeat to economic superpower. But according to educators, executives and young Japanese themselves, the young here are behaving more like Americans: choosing better-paying fields like finance and medicine, or more purely creative careers, like the arts, rather than following their salaryman fathers into the unglamorous world of manufacturing.

Mike’s Take: how can the Japanese build a Gundam now? Are all the techie talents too busy writing Clannad viruses than actually, well, building a tech economy? Japan is doomed I say. DOOOOOMED! The Holy Empire of Britannia will take them over with their Knightmares.

I say this as a person, in many ways, who fits the profile described in the third paragraph. I have a computer science degree, but also an English degree, and after two unsatisfying years as a programmer, I’m studying theology now. Computer science at the University of Maryland was often grueling and for me overly challenging, and about half of my classmates dropped the major by the time I graduated. Engineering and comp sci is hard, and it will always be so unless you are naturally talented at it; I felt like quitting many many times throughout and desperately wished, like Zhong also does, that I had magic powers that would suddenly fix my programming projects and retroactively hand them in on time without memory leaks. I never really had a head for it, so I ended up doing something else.

One wonders if the note that many are pursuing the “arts” instead really means pursuing a career in the anime and manga business: the new destination for geeks. Instead of actually having to design things that work, with all that pesky math and science…you can just imagine them! As a fantasy writer myself, believe me, I understand the appeal. One is much easier than the other.

As for making engineering “sexy and cool”: good luck, fellas. Those are not the two words I would use to describe my classmates in computer science–I got along with them well, don’t get me wrong. We were nerds, and we were proud of it. And since the only kind of person anywhere who would actually want to go through the ordeal of becoming an engineer in Japan is a nerd, I’m taking bets the recruiting poster will look something like this:

That should attract the right people to the profession! Japan: get moving. Or else the glorious future full of giant robots, ass-kicking stoic cyborgs, and android maids who look like 15 year old girls will never come true.

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at mike.huang@animediet.net. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

13 thoughts on “Japan is Running Out of Engineers (?!)


    Mech eng undergrad here. It is very hard to market engineering, it’s among the hardest disciplines and isn’t as well paying as say business or commerce. I went into it because I found physics fascinating, also, I was just about ready to claw my face off in boredom sitting through accounting classes.

  2. Wow, did you take both of them at the same time, or something? Your CS + English degrees, that is.

    Today’s capcha is “revivals not”. How strangely apt.

  3. @IcyStorm: yes. And bring back two cute Persocoms for me and Ray. THANK YOU!

    @Shirukii: I think I’d claw my face off in an accounting class too. I remember kinda liking physics in high school, but it was also always a struggle for me as well, because I’m not terribly great at math.

    @Owen: I had a lot of college credits going into undergrad, having taken a huge battery of both IB and AP exams. I basically had enough room to take both majors and finish within 4 years. And believe me, one was much more fun than the other. I’m very thankful I had the room to do that, since I think CS would have been a lot more unbearable had I not had an outlet to do what I really wanted to do.

  4. Geotechnical Engineering undergrad here. It’s very different here at my university. Engineering continues at a steady rise every year, although Science is slowly declining because very few people are able to get into Pharmacy.

    Do the Japanese pay their engineers poorly or something? I’m merely a 2nd year and have a trainee job right now (basically the engineer’s data collection bitch)and I’m already making 70k CAD a year with overtime included. Canada seems pretty generous now. Even though Japan probably has a lot of geotech jobs, I don’t think I would want to work there. =/

    Edit: Wanted to add that the job is very easy too. In an 8 hour workday (which is rare though and overtime is expected), I would spend maybe 4 hours driving or waiting around in my car reading or playing games, 1 hour doing actual field work and 3 hours doing paperwork. Pretty sweet deal.

  5. I’m a CompSci graduate myself and I can understand where you’re coming from about it being difficult. At first I found the course to be pretty easy and straight forward. But once I got to my 3rd year with some of the more intense courses I started to struggle. In the end I managed to graduate but instead of developing programs, I’m a web developer. I just didn’t have the mindset for an application programmer.

  6. Coming from a guy who was an art guy to begin with, this is kind of discouraging : /

    I’m pretty sure the majority of people in japan that are pursuing the ‘arts’ aren’t just into anime and games, but also into other media. (for one thing, the ‘indie’ music community in japan is thriving and has a lot of history behind it)

    So I believe there are other factors as well.

  7. Well I guess my PE license in Civil Engineering is sexy and cool! At least if I was in Japan ;]

  8. You’ve dragged out all the engineers for this one. I guess I gotta put my two cents.

    As a recent Computer Engineering graduate, engineering was no easy task in college, but it’s not impossible. It’s still very dependent on one being natually capable in learning it. I remember both fundamentals and signal processing wiping out most of my class.

    As for job and salary, I got the highest starting salary among my friends most of which are business majors. Engineering does have solid money. It just doesn’t have the kind of profile that business, medicine and law have. When you see big name CEOs get ridiculous compensation payouts for destroying companies’ stocks, engineering can easily be put on the backburner in one’s career decisions.

    It’s kinda sad that Japan is also going through the engineering “brain drain” like the States. As someone who volunteered for open houses and prospective student events in college, we were told to sell both the university and the college of engineering. It’s hard since high school does not showcase engineering as much as the sciences (AP Comp Sci being the closest thing to a major high school engineering class). Although, shows like Mythbusters are helping a bit.

  9. Japan does not pay its engineers or even CCIEs very well at all! I taught a student with CCIE and he was getting like, what, $40,000 per year? No wonder he was trying to get better at English – I advised him to study English harder so he could move to the US and get paid the right amount of money.
    My students told me that everything was run like a corporation and you have a solid degree, you get solid salary, and that’s the only benefit.

    Also, we all know that the AMERICANS and NOT the JAPANESE will build something advanced like in anime! Mwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!! Expect replicants and not boomers to take over jobs and the world!!!!!!! Oh ho ho ho ho ho ho ho!!!

  10. yeah! I plan to be an engineer, and I also want to live in Japan so this is good news for me: as there might be a reason for Japan to want me to live there 😀 Then again, engineers are in much higher demand worldwide over researchers etc. Although, there’s is always a want for scientists and the like: because there are always new things that need working on right? I can understand why people woulnd’t want to go to engineering or something like it, I’ve seen my dad’s textbooks from university and its really hard. You’d definitly have to like it, atleast slightly or have a reason to want to it. I heard the money was good though…

  11. Wow, who needs Viagra when you can have your very own Fem-Bot! (^_^)/

    I found this really cute YouTube video that pretty well sums up why we need Persacoms. It’s titled, “The Purpose of Persacoms”

    This is not my video. so make sure to give credit to the person who made the video.

    Now, speaking of Persacom’s. I read in a Japanese on-line news service that by the year 2012, we could very well be owning a Persacom. hehehe I hope I live that long so I can buy one.

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