Japanese Warabeuta: Nursery Rhymes of Body, Mind, and Soul

By Morrone, Michelle Henault; Matsuyama, Yumi | Childhood Education, September-October 2012 | Go to article overview

Japanese Warabeuta: Nursery Rhymes of Body, Mind, and Soul


Morrone, Michelle Henault, Matsuyama, Yumi, Childhood Education


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Throughout the world, young children are introduced to some form of nursery rhymes. In Japan, the first type of rhyme a child encounters is called warabeuta--songs created through play. The English translation fails to accurately capture the degree to which warabeuta include body movement, touch, and interaction with other singers. A unique aspect of warabeuta is that they are not merely sung to children; the caretaker physically touches and moves the child, emphasizing skinship, or physical/emotional bonding. Japanese caretakers consider warabeuta critical for child development, as they help establish the environment for healthy growth, like "preparing the ground for a growing plant" (Yamada, 2010, personal communication). Additionally, warabeuta give the child a sense of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]jibun, self within the larger entity of a world that includes other people and nature.

According to Itami (1992), warabeuta were a traditional part of learning among families in rural areas of Japan long before preschools became the ubiquitous experience for children in the mid-1970s. The country's rapid urbanization brought warabeuta into the school curriculum, and teachers have either learned the hand and body movements or created their own. As one early childhood teacher educator explained,

The caretakers usually learn a song that goes with a choreographed dance. Even if a baby cannot dance, he/she can bounce on the caretaker's lap as the caretaker gently moves his/her arms to the music. This requires knowledge of the child's development at that particular stage. (Yamada, 2010, personal communication)

Early childhood teacher education programs often rely on a set of core songs designed according to a child's developmental stage, illustrating the fact that these songs serve as essential teaching tools in interactions with young children. Itami (1992) divides warabeuta into five distinctive types:

Komoriuta--songs to teach history and culture through stories.

Asobiuta--game-like songs to encourage friendship.

Hayashiuta--songs to strengthen social skills and cultural mores.

Nazonazouta--songs to teach language skills, sounds, and rhythm.

Yobikakeuta--songs to define the child's relationship with nature.

The question that may arise then, is, what exactly do warabeuta teach? Studies on Japanese early education reveal that various aspects of Japanese socialization are facilitated through the warabeuta experience (Lewis, 1995; Omi, 2001; Peak, 1993). Based on the reviews of existing literature, a few personal communications with local professionals, and our own observations, we propose that warabeuta addresses five goals that are considered vital in Japanese child development:

Goal 1: Securing Skinship

Goal 2: Encouraging Gradual, Natural Development

Goal 3: Emphasizing Physical Movement

Goal 4: Achieving a Sense o f Oneness and Harmony With Others

Goal 5: Understanding Notions of Past, Present, Future, and the Unknown

GOALS OF WARABEUTA WITH ILLUSTRATIONS

Goal 1: Securing Skinship

In the wake of World War II, in an effort to encourage demokurashii (democracy), Western ideas about education became commonly supported as Japan overhauled its education system. As a result, a greater emphasis on individual child development was injected into the pedagogy (M. Ushiogi, personal communication, 2011). The theories of Piaget and Erikson were widely discussed, much as Dewey and the Progressives had been in a previous wave of Western educational influence, decades earlier. Soon, concern arose that excessive Western influence could threaten indigenous notions of being Japanese (Buruma, 2003). Even today, efforts are made to preserve nihonjinron, or Japaneseness. For instance, group activities are encouraged over individual activities in order to preserve Japaneseness (K. …

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