Editer l'article Suivre ce blog Administration + Créer mon blog

Reforms of the educational system in Japan between 1980 and 2010

par Matt 3 Janvier 2012, 18:06 English

Japanese high school graduation ceremony

Japanese high school graduation ceremony

 The case of the reforms of the educational system in Japan between 1980 and 2010: Toward a new reform model?




Today on the eve of the twenty-first century we are facing an age of transition – transition to an internationalized society, transition to an information-centered civilization, and transition from a filty-year span to an eighty-year life span. The further advance of science and technology in the twenty-first century will require a re-examination of our way of living and a careful effort to maintain our humanity. Education must respond to these requirements of the new age.”

- The Ad Hoc Council on Education, Japan, 1985


In its long history, Japan has been described as a country able to digest multiple elements of diverse foreign models, making a syncretism of Japanese culture and of a foreign one. At first, Japan adopted parts of the Chinese system (e.g. Taika Reforms in 645), then embraced the western system in 1868 (Meiji era) and finally encountered multiple changes with the US occupation from 1945 to 1952. Today, the biggest legacies of these absorptions, perceptible in contemporary Japan, include elements such as a Chinese writing system-type, a European Weberian state-style and a democratized and demilitarized society.


In each case, these changes were accepted by the Japanese in the long run, since these models, considered at the best of their times, were successfully adapted and implemented in Japan. How these absorptions occurred? It was always an initiative from the political power, in order to achieve a national goal, to reform widely the Japanese system using foreign models described as the best of their times. For example, the navy was reformed copying the organization of the British navy, the structure of the army came from the Prussian one, and the educational system was based on the French centralized system.


Nevertheless, despite these absorptions, a core of Japanese-ness still remains in every field of society.  It seems that “The power and prestige of a foreign culture seem as if they would overwhelm and transform Japan, but always there is a hard, non-absorbent core of individual character which resist, and in its turn works upon the invading influence.” (Sansom, 1978).  


An example of this Japanese-ness could be the reforms after the US occupation: Japan education was hugely reformed, but counter-reforms occurred in the post-occupation since some implemented elements by the Americans were not adapted to Japanese society. At the end, Japan came back to its roots after the occupation, e.g. reestablishing moral courses and coming back now to a sort of prewar multi-track system.


Nowadays, are there models that Japan can absorb in order to enhance its educational system? Probably not, since no model is clearly better than the Japanese system like it was the case in Meiji where the Togukawa system was clearly and obviously less efficient than the modern western educational system. Nevertheless, in contemporary Japan, there is a huge consensus that the educational system must be reformed since the beginning of the 1980’s. With no model to copy, will Japan, for the first time, invent its own new model?


I-                  The need of reforms in contemporary Japan




Before answering to these questions, it is necessary to explain why there is a need of reform of the educational system and what is at stake here. Like others western powers, Japan encountered economic problems at the end of the 21th century. After the Second World War, Japan knew a great economic growth, so great that it was called the post-war economic miracle – during this era, wages, production, national GDP, quality of infrastructures increased hugely. Nevertheless, this period lasts only thirty years. During the 1980’s, growth began to slow down. Then, in 1990, the Japanese asset price bubble collapsed and caused a major economic recession during at least ten years. This period was called the “lost Decade” by both Japan and foreigners. Japan was, then touched by the 1997 Asian financial crisis and by the 2008 global crisis.


Japanese usually consider that the Japanese crisis began in the 1980’s and keep worsen during the 1990’s and the 2000’s.  William Cummings (2003) describes two main explanations developed by the Japanese medias, politicians and people to explain their crisis: an external one, in which, it is often said that Japan needs to adapt to the globalization and to the new forms of competition of the end of 21th century notably with his growing neighbor: China. An internal one is however more prevalent: “the Japanese malaise look inward” (Cummings, 2003). In this second approach, the Japanese system is described as the roots of the problems that is now encountering Japan and thus need to be reformed in diverse ways.


The first part this paper will explain the perceived need of reforms that the Japanese educational system needs and will be structured around this external-internal distinction. I do not state that there is two separate approaches opposing each other, it is rather an ideal-type Weberian division, thus just a methodological division in order to offer a better explanation of the problems.


A.     The place of the Japanese educational system in the internal explanation of the crisis


As I just said, the internal explanation of the Japanese crisis lies in the thought of the failure of the Japanese system. First, what is the Japanese system? We can define it as the way Japan is socially and economically organized.


Ergo, in this approach, the place of the educational system is tremendous. First, education is very important symbolically for the Japanese, since it was always perceived at the roots of the success of Japan, e.g. the Meiji era. Moreover, during the Japanese economic miracle, the Japanese educational system was described to be the main element which allows Japan to be so competitive; plus the education was always used to reach national goals and a great tool for the Japanese authorities. Then, the corollary is that the educational system is seen as responsible not only when Japan succeed but when Japan fail as well. It is the case nowadays.


Next, the importance of the Japanese educational system is also material and financial. In this regard, the educational system is the target of a lot of attacks since it receives more than 15% of the Japanese total public expenditure which is very high even compared to other developed countries. Because of this huge investment, it seems natural that the Japanese expect a lot from their educational system.


1)      Perceived problems


In this internal approach; what the Japanese reproach to their educational system? Okano and Tsuchiya (1999) distinguished three major perceived problems in the contemporary Japanese education. The first one is the habit of bullying, the second one is the phenomena of school refusal and the last one is the existence of corporal punishment in schools. I will now study them.


a)      Bullying & corporal punishment


What is bullying in a Japanese context? Scholars distinguish mainly three types:

-          Teasing

-          Exclusion

-          Verbal threat


It is rather an old element of the Japanese education; for some scholars; bullying is a “natural part of the growing-up process” (Kawakami, 1995) and it is only the extensive and sensational media reports of youth suicide related to bullying which transform bullying into an educational problem (Noshige, 1985). Nevertheless, studies show that 12% of pupils were bullied and 17% inflicted bullying, these cases occurring often with classmates in 60% of reported cases.


In 1985: 55000 incidents were observed;

In 1993: 21598 incidents;

In 1995: 61000 incidents.


The causes used to explain bullying in Japan are particular features of Japanese society: rigidly structured school activities, large class sizes and a limited choice of schools contribute to bullying (Tanaka, 1995). Nevertheless, it is difficult to really describe these phenomena, since it is particularly hard to measure (Imabashi, 1995b). Moreover, the fast increase of bullying from 1993 to 1995 shows that it is more an enhanced awareness of bullying than a real change in society; in two years, it is not credible that the number of incidents tripled. If we use international comparison: it has been showed that there is no more bullying in Japan than in the US (Hirano, 1995).


Indeed, the question of bullying is more a question of the perception by the public than a real analyzable scientifically problem. In this regard, Medias or fictions are more important in this perception than observable reality.  Bullying became to be a public preoccupation when a school child committed suicide and left a note saying that he could no longer endure school bullying.


Moreover, another related problem can be added; the existence of corporal punishment made by teachers: “On average, 2.1 per cent of government schools practiced corporal punishment.” (Tsuchiya, p209).


b)      School refusal (futoko or toko kyohi)


School refusal is a long term absence from school for reasons other than poverty or illness. The operational definition for the Japanese ministry of education includes that this period of absence must be higher than 30 days. Makihara (1988) distinguished four types:


-          School phobia: It is the most notable type since it is the most common (Tsuchiya, pp203) – its roots are the fear of school 

-          School refusal involving mental disorder (such as schizophrenia or depression)

-          Ordinary truancy (due to laziness, and often accompanied by delinquent behavior

-          Intentional refusal of a positive kind


The number of school refusal keeps increasing greatly after 1975; The percentage of students in 1995 who refused to go to school was 0,20% in primary school and 1,42% in middle school where it was only 0,04% and 0,47% in 1985 (Monbusho, 1996). The touched are mainly urban densely populated areas (Tsuchiya, p203).


a)      The role of schools in the hikikomori and NEET phenomenon


Multiple phenomena developed in contemporary Japan. Two major are described to be mainly caused by the educational system. The first one is the development of hikikomori. The Japanese ministry of health (JMH) defines it “as people who refuse to leave their house, and isolate themselves from society in their homes for a period exceeding six months.”  It is difficult to give precise numbers since it is a new term appeared in the 1990’s. Nevertheless, the JMH made a survey and interviewed around 6150 hikikomori between May 8th and November 30th 2010. 


Dziesinski (2003) established their number to be between 50,000 and 1.2 million depending of the definition of the term hikikomori. Anyways, the fact is that this phenomenon is quite widespread in Japanese society. The common causes which are told to explain the existence of hikikomori are bullying, school refusals, failure to succeed exam, fear of the after school-years, depression, the lack of recognition and intensity of parental expectations (kyoiku mama). Thus, the school is often described as mainly responsible of this phenomenon. The NEETs (acronym for Not in Education, Employment or Training) is a near phenomenon in Japan, which touch around 850 000 people for the Japanese government.  


The difference with the hikikomori is the fact that NEETs are not totally socially isolated and actually accept to leave their houses; nevertheless the causes are often described to be the same.


1)      Supposed causes of the previously stated problems 


The main cause lifted by politicians and scholars (Japanese or not) is the Japanese educational system, particularly its selectivity and its rigorousness.  This high selectivity is described to take its roots in the Confucianist culture of Japan; nevertheless, the importance of culture must not be overestimated, the characteristics of Japanese education I have spoken about are in reality explainable by the current organization of the Japanese schooling system: it is the importance of universities exam entrance – exams which favor and promote hard work and learning by heart rather than other criteria such critical thinking (unlike for example the French Concours system which empathize general knowledge and dissertation methods). From this exam entrance, a double hierarchy can be noticed in Japan: the first one is mainly between universities, high-schools and middle-schools. The second-one is between non-compulsory schools.  


a)      Hierarchy between the universities


During the US occupation, political authorities deleted the pre-war multi-track system. It is a system described as unequal in which we can observe different tracks for the children, meaning that they are selected at a young age to join a certain type of school (some preparing to university, some to  technical studies, etc.). In the single-track system, the children selection process is later (i.e. at the end of middle-school) and only two types of school exist in their early compulsory education (i.e. primary school middle-school).


However, in post-war, Japan corporations were nostalgic of the old system because it was a great tool to classify employees: depending of your “track”, your professional career was drawn. Thus, they used academic rankings of university instead of the multi-track system discrimination.

-          Corporations adapted their organization to this new system to match the structure of the university hierarchy; graduating from a good rated university is often a synonym of an accelerated career. 

-          Then, students try to go in the universities with the highest ranks in order to have a better career. This circle reinforced and expended the importance of university entrance examinations.


Moreover, usually, there are three other explanations: the importance of the Confucian legacy, a powerful vested interest, and too few places for too many applicants.  This hierarchy in universities echoed in the high-schools as well: since some schools prepare better universities entrance exams than others, thus the best high-schools became more and more selective as well. This process took place in middle-school and even primary schools to a less intensive extent.


b)     Hierarchy between non-compulsory educational institutions


At the same time, a hierarchy between universities and different types of non-compulsory schools took place as well.

In 1962, the government created a system of 19 technical colleges designed to train technicians in a five-year curriculum, open to graduate of the lower secondary school, in order to train middle field technicians. Slowly, a highly differentiated education system in technical studies appeared:

1) Universities first, for the high technicians.

2) Technical college for middle technicians.

3) Specialized high school for low technicians.


It is indeed a move toward a more multi-track system, more unequal. It is a classical dilemma in education; how to provide a democratically structured secondary school while maintaining the traditionally high academic standards of the Nation?


  2)    Conclusion


In this internal explanation of the crisis, the educational system was described to be the roots of multiple problems, such as violence at school, bullying, school refusals and multiple phenomena such as the rise of Hikikomori numbers.

Nevertheless, these perceived problems by Japanese politics must be relativized. The educational system is not the only responsible for all the problems in schools; mutations in society, in families are important criteria as well. For example; pupils’ social life is very important, often more than problems in education, e.g. a psychological study clearly showed that troubles in relationships with other children is more important and cause more mental disorders (e.g. anger, anxiety, apathy and withdrawal) than troubled relationships with teachers, or poor academic performance.

Thus, it seems that the problems I have written about earlier are possibly only the visible aspects of more general problems occurring within Japanese society, and are not actually created by the educational system but by the Japanese society itself. These problems might be seen to be originated from the educational system, since they occur in schools, but are actually not originating from it, e.g. bullying and humiliation does not exist only at school, but as work as well. Nevertheless, for many politicians and Japanese, school is responsible, accusing its competition and selectivity, because it is a kind of scapegoat.  If this idea is true, then, it is not possible to solve these problems by reforming schools.


The reality is probably between these two theses: There is indeed a bad climate in schools which may aggravate existing problems.


Nevertheless, they are not the only problems; I will know talk about problems coming from the external approach of explaining the contemporary crisis of Japan.


A.     The place of the Japanese educational system in the external explanation of the crisis


The external explanation of the crisis states that the crisis comes from the fact that Japan problems do not come from the Japanese system itself, but from evolution that occurred all over the world recently and that the Japanese system need to be adapted to this new world.


1.      Perceived problems


a)      Lack of creativity & Lack of adaptation


In this approach, Japanese schools are criticized because they are considered as non-adapted to recent trends of globalization, e.g. a famous report published in march 1980 by The Ministry of International Trade and Industry said that the Japanese system “failing to produce the creative, diversely talented and internationalist workers needed to meet the nation’s new economic needs” (Schoppa, 1991). They are described to educate in a way reducing creativity, original thinking and critical thinking of their pupils, whereas these skills are seen as key-elements needed in the contemporary era (Cummings, 2003).

This lack of creativity takes the form of a lack of analytical reasoning, the difficulty to have critical conclusions, to analyze persuasively readings, to ask pointed questions, and to apply knowledge (Lewis, 1992). The lack of originality is indeed a low tolerance from the group for rejection of conventional thinking, e.g. “Japanese classrooms at the secondary level may focus on memorization of accepted ideas, rather than on creating a climate which permits their rejection” (Lewis, 1998).

The result of this lack of creativity and originality can be the number of Japanese winners of the Nobel Prize, between 1901 and 1982: only four. Moreover, two of these actually worked for an American company in the USA (IBM) (Duke, 1986).



b)     Low added-values of Japanese universities


Japanese is said to have very good high-schools students, but relatively mediocre university students, comparatively to other countries in term of academic performance (Duke pp217, 1986). Duke claims that, after entering universities in Japan, students do not work intensively because it is indeed very easy to graduate from a Japanese university. The difficulty is to enter universities since the entrance examination are very hard, not to be graduated. Thus, it is a generalized phenomenon that good students and teachers go to an American university.


The main idea is that the Japanese system is outdated in this regard, since in the contemporary era, universities are said to be key-institutions with the mass men phenomenon (i.e. more and more people go to universities) in term of economic growth and in the educational international competition whereas high-schools education is becoming less and less important. The goal nowadays of educational policies is to maintain the best add-values universities in order to form the best specialists and engineers in the world and attract the best students and teachers, not to form great high-school pupils with low-professional values. Duke insists of the fact that Japan should decrease the selectivity of the exam entrance and increase the add-value of their universities by asking to the students a more intense working study.


2.      Causes 


a)      Teaching methods


The main cause that is often stated is the way of teaching in Japanese schools, e.g.  Duke (1986) wrote: “Too few Japanese teachers recognize, stimulate and reward the creative response, the imaginative thought, the original idea that may deviate from the planned lesson”. Indeed, teachers are described to be generally not aware of the difference between instruction and education – education being instruction but also independent thinking, the molding of character and formation of personality. There is an overemphasis on rote memory and compulsive test taking in order to prepare for future examinations, which can stifle individual creativity, or imagination. 


The “drill, repeat, test” method is good for copying, but bad for creating and this is for this reason Japanese school is described as non-adapted. This method was good to copy the western world but not to develop new ideas. For Lewis, this demand of “behavioral conformity” and “low valuation of originality” may result in a decrease of the Japanese academic and economic competitiveness in the long-run. 


Nevertheless, an highly structured classroom, where the teacher follows strictly the teacher guide, standardized by government approval, allow even teachers with low amount of required personal skills to make classes (e.g. charisma and authority)  to be able to make acceptable lessons (Lewis).


b)     Too much students by class


Another explanation of these perceived problems is a number of students by class, which is often more than fifty. The direct consequence is that teachers have less time for each individual. Thus, they are needed to concentrate on important subjects – academic works and to ignore problems regarded as less important – character development. Another consequence is that teachers have less time to help slower students, which is regarded to increase inequality. Moreover, the fact that the test results are exhibited to all students, with all the rank orders – school often become a place of humiliation, suffering and shame for slower students. It can result in multiple problems such as school violence.


        C) Conclusion


Thus, the problems are as follows. In the internal approach of the crisis, critics are concentrated on bullying, hikikomori phenomena, school refusal, etc. In the external approach, critics claim that there is a lack of adaptability and incapability for the Japanese schools to enhance the creativity of their pupils.

We can now continue to the second part of my point: How the Japanese reacted and react now? How to solve these problems?


  II-                    Reforming Japan


A.     General statements – reforming education in contemporary Japan


Historical reforms in Japan share a lot of common point, whatever the field. First, they are generally not well-received and are seen as negative (Cummings, 2003).  Words meaning “reform” are usually negative in the Japanese language (e.g. kaikaku). In Japan modern history, we can distinguish two major reforms in the education field: the Meiji reform putting an end to the Tokugawa education and the post-war reform, which is still today the basis of the contemporary education in Japan.  Educational reforms are always an initiative from the political center and a part of a wider national reform. Here is a table showing what I state.


The thesis I defend here is that the educational reforms took place in three steps in Japan. The first one is the implementation process (I), which follow a success (II) and then a resistance and come-back in a form of counter-reforms (III). These patterns occurred with all the major reforms of the Japanese educational system. I stand that this pattern of reforms is not occurring with the current educational system reform and the current reform is different than the previous ones, emphasizing its original characters.


The current situation is different; nowadays there is no foreign model to copy, and there is no forced implementation to achieve. There is not forced implementation because it is the first reform under a democratic setting unlike the Meiji or US occupation reforms, which were “forced” reforms by top political authorities initiatives (up-down process) whereas the current reform is more a initiative and a demand of the Japanese people (down-up process). In this regard, political authorities cannot implement with the authoritative way he was used to use but a more careful and progressive set of reforms. Basically, it means that a movement of “come-back” is less probably to occur since the political authorities move more slowly, being careful to implement respecting the Japanese culture, which is another difference with previous reforms.


A.     The 1970’s-1990’s reforms


1.      First wave : rising an idea (1970’s)


The first try to reform the educational system lies in the 1970’s. It began the 3rd July 1967 when Kennoki Toshihiro, at the time minister of education asked advice to the CCE (Central Council on Education), an organ of the MOE (ministry of education) charged to deliberated on “basic guidelines for the development of an integrated educational system”. This initiative is mainly motivated by the protests in Japanese university at the end of the 1960’s.

Nevertheless, this tentative is widely considered as a failure. Of the proposed reforms and recommendations, the only real reform implemented was the Establishment of graduate teacher-training universities in order to form better teachers. Nevertheless, another result of this initiative is the increase of aid to private universities and schools, as well as the expansion of kindergarten and teachers rise.

The main element of this initiative is that it permits to launch a debate within Japan regarding a wide reform of the educational system, notably around the 6-3-3 system.
The political division was at this time as follow: the LDP (conservative) was divided on this subject, whereas progressive defended the status quo. This division stayed the same from the 1970’s to the 2000’s.


2.      Second wave: Changing the mind (the 1980’s and the 1990’s)


This second wave of reform was more influential than the previous one, and has carried a lot of hopes toward a major reform of the Japanese educational. First, it was built around a cabinet-level council rather just an MOE council; Nakasone promised to reform and it was an important element of its electoral campaign. Thus, the 1980’s reform had a greater opportunity to build government-wide support for education reform. Nevertheless, it failed as well.

In December 1980, the LDP created five subcommittees; the higher education problem, the textbook problem, the school system problem and the fundamental problems of education. Kondo Tetsu, the leader of these subcommittees, said it is needed to be more flexible and to allow alternatives to the 6-3-3 system. Nevertheless, no agreement to a specific plan for a reform of school system yet. Then, the MOE (Teacher Training Council) agreed with the need of a new reform as well.

Then, other actors entered in the debate and was in favor of reform: ministry of international trade and industry (1980 report: asked for radical education reform; ask for the abolition of upper-secondary-school entrance examinations and the merging of lower and upper secondary schools). Newly active: various business organizations on the “Keizai Doyukai” wing of the business community (recommendations in July 1984).  Kyoto group for the study of global issues published its radical proposal for liberalizing the education system in March of that same year.


In 1984, the LDP education zoku as strongly in favor of a new major reform.  The AHCE (ad-hoc council on education) was created by law in 1984 in order to reform the Japanese system.  Nevertheless, the result of this initiative is as I said, very modest. Schoppa (1991) summarized that from the 17 major propositions, only four have been “largely implemented or likely to be implemented” whereas four were “partially implemented or too early to judge”. He stated that the Moral education expansion reform, the teaching of respectful attitudes towards the national flag and anthem, a reform of the university council and multiple internationalization proposals were realized.


3.      How to explain these two failures?


In a simple sentence, we could say: Reformists failed to overcome the resistance of the status-quo orientated education establishment. The major question, then, is: why did they fail to do so?

The first reason is the absence of a conservative consensus.  There was a wide disagreement among conservatives. During the 1970’s reforms, problems were the divisions between the MOE and among the bureaucrats, which failed to implement key CCE reform proposals. Then, during the 1980’s, the division was between pro-Nakasone and LDP education Zoku and their inability to agree on reforms.

The second reason is the impact of one-party dominance. There was an attachment to the present system increased by the one party dominance and LDP rule. They built this system, reforming it will reduce their influence and it’s admitting they were wrong; they were unable to criticize the system. As an illustration, Kida Hiroshi, a MOE official stated a major generational difference: people who enter in the MOE at the time of the reforms (1950’s) are generally against the reform whereas newcomers (after 1970’s) want to reform it. Nevertheless, this comment must be taken with care since it is just not a scientific judgment.


The third reason is the narrow segmentation of the education sphere.

“Major reform takes place in Japan only when there is strong pressure from the outside. The inside has virtually no initiative, it’s all genjo iji. With economics, Japan has been fairly successful since the outside is so strong that it can force reform. But with education there is not any outside.” (Amaya, quoted by Pyle, 1996)

As Amaya said, in order to reform, there is a need pressure from the outside: e.g. the privatization of the national railways, it was a success since the Japanese elites were able to organize an alliance with the MOF and the business community. He failed in the educational reform; the businessmen, so useful during the privatization of the national railways were useless due to their lack of expertise and interest in the educational field.


Moreover, the role of public opinion slowed down the process. Kida Hiroshi made a survey about the interest of parents in the education. The conclusion was that: Public was not interested, parents were more concerned about the individual success of their own children rather than a reform of the system. . Their only concern in this field was to keep the egalitarian system.


Finally, the impact of history played a great role as well. As I said, the historical importance of education is major in Japan, thus it remains a very sensitive field. A common argument against the reform of education used by the opposition was that education is sensitive and reforms in education area must be a consensus of the whole Nation. Moreover, the MOE itself was particularly careful implementing reforms since the US occupation. The reason for this is polarized relations between the teachers’ union and other progressives; and local authorities and the MOE after 1945.  


B.      Third wave (2000’s)


1)      The reforms:


At the beginning of the 2000’s, a third wave of reforms occurred. Contrary to others, it was a success. In April 2002, new teaching guidelines “third educational reforms” included:

- Reduction of the school curriculum by 30%

 - Five day school week

 - Integrated learning classes (without book) (yutori kyoiku)

 - Emphasis on developing children interest in learning for its own sake

 - University autonomy (since 2004)


What are the main recent changes in Japanese education? The outcome is that the problems we already spoke about are resolving. First, the problem of selectivity is auto resolving since there is no longer competition to get into higher education because supply meets demand; this process was made possible because of the decrease of the number of students coming from the decrease of the rate of fertility and not because of the reform.


Then, in schools, we can distinguish four major trends in primary and secondary education, considered as results of these reforms:

-          More freedom (type of school, courses and for subjects): wider range of choice for parents and students,

-          a call for a renewed emphasis on the inculcation of the tradition and Japanese ethnic identity the privatization of education and the promotion of the needs of business and industry.

-          Greater accountability at the tertiary education level, and

-          The simultaneous devolution and centralization of the educational system.

Then, a recent study of Goodman showed and described the enhancement of Japanese university: Collegiate experiences are more interesting, they generally have Good rankings in international ranking and scientific productivity is up.


2)      How to explain this success: the role of the previous reforms 


The 2002’s reforms are the result of multiple works of the MOE during all the 1990’s.

“The opposition that initially met the PCER [rinkyoshin] proposals has gradually dissipated, and they have become the bible of education reform, providing the bases for almost all the specific measures that have been taken to improve the education system since the beginning of the 1990’s, when the reform program got into full swing.” (Foreign press center 1995: 52)

How to explain the fact the 1990-2000’s reforms were a success, at least, they changed greatly the Japanese system whereas other failed? It is commonly accepted by scholars and civil servants that Nakasone reform proposal was indeed was a preparation for the reforms. For Hood (2001), a “gradual acceptance of these ideas has made it possible for the more “radical” ideas to become seen as less “radical” and more necessary and natural”. The 1970-1980’s reforms were short time failure, but a long time success. Reforms under Nakasone made radical reforms less “radical” because of the continuing debates during ten years.

For Amano (quoted by Pyle, 1996): The MOE had an “old ideology” but it changed E.g. about the particular issue of liberalization of education: bureaucrats, teachers and parents were generally against it, but it changed slowly during the 1980’s and it was accepted during at the beginning of the 2000’s. Thus, the light 1980’s reforms had a great role in a change of mentality of Japanese society about education.




Contemporary reforms on the educational system are far away from previous reforms in their form, in their design and in their results. It explainable mainly with two reasons: the first one is the fact that Japanese tradition is to use foreign models, whereas there is no model to copy anymore. The second was is that the Japanese tradition is to forced implantation by the center in the pattern we already described: an implementation process (I), which follows a success (II) and then a resistance and come-back in a form of counter-reforms (III). The current reforms did not follow this pattern and took a new one; a progressive implementation: Introducing a new idea with slight implementation (I), changing the mind with continuing debates and light reforms (II), then reforming widely the system (III).


How to explain this change? The main reason is probably the new institutional system: Japan is a democracy. It explains why, in order to make this reform accepted, a long process was needed. The role of the education seen as a major responsible of the crisis Japan is currently under is probably another major factor. As we already said, the Japanese system has been criticized for being the source of the failure of the Japanese system (internal explanation of the crisis) and for being not adapted to the new globalized world (external explanation of the crisis). The result of these reforms is that is that Japan is getting away from classical Japanese way of education we already described for a more creative-based education.


Thus, we can say that Japan did develop a new model. Moreover, Japan did not only develop a new model: Japanese educational reforms are not only a new model of making, developing and implementing policies (way to do policies) but as well a new model of education (policies content itself).








Primary sources


Beauchamp, Edward & Rubinger, Richard (1989). Education in Japan, A source Book, Garland Publishing, inc.

Beauchamp, Edward (1998). Education and Schooling in Japan since 1945, Garland Publishing, University of Hawaii

Cummings, (2003). Can the Japanese change their education system? Education and Training in Japan (edited by Thomas Rohlen and Christ Björk), Routledge

Dore, R. (1984). Education in Tokugawa Japan, The Athlone Press

Duke, Benjamin (1986). Lessons for industrial America, The Japanese School, Praeger Publishers, One Madison Avenue, New York

Duke, Benjamin (2009). The History of Modern Japanese Education, Rutgers University Press

Hood, Christopher P. (2001). Japanese Education Reform, Nakasone’s Legacy, Sheffield Centre for Japanese Studies, Routledge Series

Lewis, C (1992). Commissioned as a Report to the National Institute of Education and published in R. Leetsoma and H. Walberg (eds) (1992) Japanese Educational Productivity, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies, pp. 225-66

Lewis, C (1998). Creativity and Japanese education, Education and Training in Japan (edited by Thomas Rohlen and Christ Björk), Routledge 

Okano, Kaori & Tsuchiya, Motonori (1999). Education in Contemporary Japan, Inequality and Diversity, Cambridge University Press

Sansom George (1978). Japan: a short cultural history 

Schoppa, James (1991). Education Reform in Japan, Leonard,  Routledge

Schoppa, James (1991b). Education Reform in Japan, Leonard p214,  Routledge

Vardaman, James & Beauchamp, Edward (1994). Japanese Education Since 1945, A documentary study, An East Gate Book



Secondary sources


Dziesinski, Michael. Hikikomori, investigations into the phenomenon of acute social withdrawal in contemporary Japan, Honolulu, Hawaii

Hirano Keko (1995). Yoroppa ni okeru ijime. In ijime Jisatsu: Gendai no esupuri bessatsu, ed. Hiroshi Inamure and Yukiko Saito, pp. 181-94. Tokyo: Shibundo.

Imabashi, Morikatsu (1995b). Ijime mondai to kyoku ho. Kikan Kyokuho, 101, 53-8

Japan, Monbusho, Shoto Chuto Kyoiku-kyoku Chugakko-ka (1994). Toko kyohi jidoseito ni kansuru chosa kekka 1993 (gaiyo). Gekkan Seitoshido, 24(3), 48-70.

Tanaka, Katsuhiro (1995). Naze miteminuhuri o surunoka: Bokansuru kodomotachi no shinri. Jido Shinri, 49 (9), 51-9

Japan, Monbusho (Ministry of Education) (1996). Seitoshido jo no Shomondai no Genjo to Monbusho no Sekaku Nitsuite. Toko: Mobusho.

Japan, Foreign press center, Tokyo. Discussions on educational reform in Japan

Kanekura (1996:7), 95-nendo Seitoshido jo no Shomondai no Genjo to Monbusho no Sesaku (Mondai Kodo Hakusho)

Kawakami, Youchi (1995). Kihonteki nin’shikini konran wa naika. Gendai Kyoiku Kagaku, 38(9), 27-9.

Makihara, Hiroyuki (1988). Toko kyohi no seiin to yogo. In Gakko ni ikenai kodomotachi: gendai no espuru 1988/5, ed. Shinichi Jinbo and Kumiko Yamazaki, pp. 142-152. Tokyo: Shibundo

Noshige, Shinsaku (1985). Ijime wa Nakusera. Tokyo: Akebi Shobo

Kida Hiroshi (ed.) (1987) Sengo no bunkyo seikaku, Daiichi hoki, Tokyo

Kanekura (1996:7), 95-nendo Seitoshido jo no Shomondai no Genjo to Monbusho no Sesaku (Mondai Kodo Hakusho)

Todai (university of Tokyo)

Todai (university of Tokyo)


Haut de page