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Education in Japan: Overview, Internationalism & Control. Dr Christopher P. Hood (Cardiff University, [email protected]). All photos, diagrams & maps by presenter except where noted otherwise – no copying without permission. Introduction. What is the role of education?

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Education in japan overview internationalism control

Education in Japan:Overview, Internationalism & Control

Dr Christopher P. Hood

(Cardiff University, [email protected])

All photos, diagrams & maps by presenter except where noted otherwise – no copying without permission.


  • What is the role of education?

  • Basic information about the Japanese education system

  • Reforming the education system

  • ‘Internationalization’ of the system

  • Control of the system

Role of education
Role of Education

  • It’s not just about learning facts

  • Learning to be an member of that society

  • So of great interest to governments wanting to change that society

Basic information
Basic Information

  • ‘6-3-3-4’ system

  • First nine years compulsory

  • Over 96% continue to upper secondary (“senior high school”)

  • 41% continue to university (up from about 25% in 1990)

  • More and more now going on to Masters and Doctorates

  • Literacy rates one of the highest in the world

  • Classroom sizes still tend to be large, despite falling population

Reforming the system
Reforming the System

  • First reform was the Meiji Reforms that created an education system

  • Second reforms were the Occupation Reforms that aimed to get rid of the elements that were seen to have helped lead Japan to war

  • Third reforms started in 1980s with Prime Minister Nakasone. These reforms are still on-going, although many may not be aware that they started so long ago

Internationalization of the system
‘Internationalization’ of the System

  • What is ‘internationalization’?

  • Nakasone’s view is key in modern times (discussed in previous lecture)

  • Hence a seeming mixture of ‘nationalist’ elements with ‘internationalist’ elements (even in textbooks)

  • For example

    • 100,000 Foreign Students Plan

    • Creation of Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme

    • But also increased usage of Hinomaru & Kimigayo

  • Imbalance between where foreign students come from compared to where Japanese students go to

Kikokushijo 1
Kikokushijo (1)

  • One of the most discussed issues of the ‘healthy internationalism’ debate was that of kikokushijo (children returning from living and studying abroad), for they represented the new vision of an internationalised Japanese youth.

  • This is despite the fact that, as Kobayashi (1990:190–1) points out, ‘it would be erroneous to assume that all children residing abroad automatically become internationally minded’.

  • However, they are perceived to be ‘internationalised’ and the problems surrounding them also reflected the balancing act that had to be done in order to satisfy those who wanted more ‘healthy nationalism’ to be introduced into the system.

  • Roesgaard (1998:213) points out that in 1985 – the second year of Rinkyoshin (the ad hoc body that Nakasone set up to deal with education reform) – there were only around 40,000 Japanese children studying abroad, compared with the 15 million children in Japan.

Kikokushijo 2
Kikokushijo (2)

  • Each year about a quarter of the children abroad return to Japan (Horie, interview, 21 November 1997), and in 1997 there were 12, 569, of whom 62.0 per cent returned to elementary school, 22.6% to lower secondary school, and 15.4% to upper secondary school (Shimizu et al. 1999: 294).

  • It is also worth noting that there has been huge regional variations in the numbers of kikokushijo, with Kanto accounting for 63.0 per cent and Kinki 13.4 per cent of the total number, for example (Shimizu et al. 1999: 295).

  • Roesgaard (1998:213) argues that one of the reasons for the amount of attention that the kikokushijo issue enjoyed was due to the relative importance of their parents and the influence that they enjoyed.

  • Special provisions have been made to help kikokushijo get back in to the education system – both formally and also in terms of allowing them to ‘readjust’ to the system.

Control of the system
Control of the system

  • Control over the teachers – Nakasone reforms aimed to end the strength of the Japan Teacher’s Union (JTU)

  • Control over educational content through the controversial textbook authorization system

  • Not that controversial domestically, but internationally due to what is – or is not – written in some social science text books

  • Moral education

  • Fundamental Law of Education

Textbook authorization 1
Textbook Authorization (1)

  • Much is made of the authorisation and the possibilities of government abuse and many argue that the system is unjustifiable (Horio 1988b:173).

  • Opponents of the system believe that it is censorship and ‘improper control’, which is prohibited under Articles 21 and 23 of the constitution and Article 10 of the FLE (see Horio 1988b:176).

  • Indeed, Herzog (1993:200) concludes: ‘If this is not censorship, I do not know what censorship is’.

  • However, it should be noted that the system is not peculiar to Japan, although it tends to be less subtle.

  • Howarth (1991:123–4) points out that such practice also occurs in the United Kingdom, where it is ‘rare to find accounts for classroom consumption, of Britain’s nineteenth-century opium trade and the misery it inflicted upon China. Our [British] invention of the concentration camp during the Boer War, African races dispossessed of their lands and some near genocidal attacks on indigenous populations in various parts of the world are equally hard to find in our [British] school books.’

Textbook authorization 2
Textbook Authorization (2)

  • The importance of the system is further emphasised by the fact that the textbook market is so large in Japan.

  • Sato (interview, 17 November 1997) believed that ‘publishing textbooks is one of the safest and most profitable things to do’.

  • In fiscal 1994, 177.96 million copies of nearly 1,500 different titles were published and distributed in Japan.

  • The budget for the free distribution of textbooks to elementary and lower secondary schools was ¥43.4 billion in the same year, which accounted for 136.15 million textbooks.

  • With textbooks at the compulsory level being provided free, it is understandable why the government would want to ensure that the quality of the product is satisfactory.

  • Need to remember that there is no problem with most books – just a small part of certain history books, on the whole.


  • The system is still changing

  • Education in Japan is not merely about teaching of information, but also about developing the ‘whole person’ (kokoro)

  • This lecture has covered some of the more ‘nationalistic’ and ‘conservative’ areas of the reforms.

  • The next lecture will look at the areas of ‘liberalization’ and the areas that initiated the debate on education reform (e.g., bullying and ‘exam hell’)


  • Herzog, P.J. (1993) Japan’s Pseudo-Democracy, Folkestone: Japan Library.

  • Horio, T. (1988b) Educational Thought and Ideology in Modern Japan, trans. S. Platzer, Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.

  • Howarth, M. (1991) Britain’s Educational Reform: A Comparison with Japan, London: Routledge.

  • Kobayashi, T. (1990) ‘Educational Problems of “Returning Children”’, in J.J. Shields Jr, Japanese Schooling, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

  • Roesgaard, M.H. (1998) Moving Mountains: Japanese Education Reform, Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.

  • Shimizu K., Akao K., Arai A., Ito M., Sato H. and Yaosaka O. (eds) (1999) Kyoiku Detarando 1999–2000: A Databook of Educational Statistics, Tokyo: Jiji Tsushinsha.

    Many of the ideas, comments and text in the lecture are taken from Hood, C.P. (2001) Japanese Education Reform: Nakasone’s Legacy, London: Routledge

Recommended reading
Recommended Reading

  • Cummings, W. K., 1980, Education and Equality in Japan, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

  • Cummings, W. K. et al. (eds.), 1986, Educational Policies in Crisis, New York: Praeger.

  • Duke, B., 1986, The Japanese School: Lessons for Industrial America, New York: Praeger.

  • Goodman, R., 1990, Japan’s ‘International Youth’: The Emergence of a New Class of School Children, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Haiducek, N. J., 1991, Japanese Education, New York: Praeger.

  • Hirano, M., 2008, History Education and International Relations: A Case Study of Diplomatic Disputes on Japanese Textbooks, Folkestone: Global Oriental.

  • Lynn, R., 1988, Educational Achievement in Japan, Basingstoke: MacMillan.

  • Marshall, B. K., 1994, Learning To Be Modern: Japanese Political Discussion on Education, Boulder: Westview Press.

  • Nakano A., 1989, Moral Education in Modern Japan, Tokyo: International Society for Education Information.

  • Rohlen, T. P., 1983, Japan’s High Schools, Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Schoppa, L. J., 1991, Education Reform in Japan: A Case of Immobilist Politics, London: Routledge.

  • Stephens, M., 1991, Education and the Future of Japan, Folkestone: Japan Library.

  • White, M.,1987, The Japanese Educational Challenge, New York: The Free Press.

Education in japan overview internationalism control1

Education in Japan:Overview, Internationalism & Control

Dr Christopher P. Hood

(Cardiff University, [email protected])

All photos, diagrams & maps by presenter except where noted otherwise – no copying without permission.