Japan's New Tactics for the Twenty-First Century

By Lamont-Brown, Raymond | Contemporary Review, February 2000 | Go to article overview

Japan's New Tactics for the Twenty-First Century


Lamont-Brown, Raymond, Contemporary Review


FOR Japan, 1998 was the 130th anniversary of the beginning of the Meiji Era. At this time Emperor Mutsuhito, bynamed Meiji for his reign, presided over the destruction of the old Tokugawa shogunate, whereby Japan had been governed by shogun (generalissimos). The new policies accelerated the demise of the country's feudal society. So, a few months ago Japanese intellectuals began re-assessing what had been achieved in the past thirteen decades since Meiji's dragging of Japan into the modem world, with a speculation on what the next century might hold. Such forward-looking contemplation is a traditional Japanese activity, even though culturally they hold on firmly to old customs.

Today Japan's so-called 'economic miracle' has passed, and the asahi (rising sun) has toppled from its zenith, but the nation has not lost its seasonal taste for futurology and commentators are sharpening their wits and pens to speculate, extrapolate, predict and forecast if the twenty-first century will be 'Japan's Century'. It is a time, too, when Japan's movers and shakers are looking for new tricks to help the nation prosper and survive the next centennial.

One area in which Japan's asahi may be coaxed with new tricks to a greater height is in superior training and education. There are many voices raised in Japan's business cadres blaming the country's current malaise on an education system that is deemed kyu shiki no (out of date). Consequently it is thought that young people are not properly prepared to take on a competitive, computerised and internationally thinking world. One company manager recently complained in the international press: 'Japan now wants more creative, individualistic and imaginative employers'. The plasticine graduate of the 1960s would no longer do. He further averred: 'The kind of homogenous, conformist individual who could be easily moulded for the prosperous corporate post-war period won't succeed in today's world'.

More industrial managers believe that too many fellow Japanese employers encourage students to accept the gakubatsu system, the old-boy networks that cherry-picked the best graduates. Thus employers are more interested in where a recruit had been educated, with the old imperial universities of Tokyo and Kyoto being at the top of the heap, than what a student has been taught.

In 1998 the Japanese daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun polled a group of parents. Results showed that almost three-quarters of parents were unhappy about the standard of education on offer. The data was read with some puzzlement by western educationalists brought up to believe that Japan's strict rote-learning disciplines had always placed the nation amongst the leaders of the world's educational systems. Japanese parents back the industrial spokesmen, but the Mombusho (Department of Education) have dragged their heels because the suggestions for new tricks in education have come from commercial interest sources.

Nevertheless an important advisory body to the Mombusho, called the Curriculum Council, have put forward several new ideas for the department to act upon. Of these three stand out as being the most radical since the influential Imperial Rescript on Education in 1890.

First they cite the need for kosei (individuality) in today's students which they say will come from kyoiku no kokoro (education of the heart). As kokoro is really 'a seat of the emotions', the advisers wish to give students of all ages this kosei mixed with feelings of seito (justice as in justness), tsukuridasu (creative originality), dojo suru (being able to sympathise with fellow-sister humans) and all towards kokusaiteki (international) empathy. The advisers wish to promote 'child-centred learning', and suggest the radical idea (for Japan) that children be taught 'to think for themselves'.

A key factor in carrying out this new idea, the advisers feel, is to cut the pressures on Japanese children/students. …

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