Standards and Practice for K-12 Physical Education in Japan: In Both Content and Approach, Japanese Physical Education Exhibits Similarities to, and Differences from, Physical Education in the United States
Nakai, Takashi, Metzler, Michael W., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
The following two articles conclude this two-part feature. In the August issue, after an introduction by feature editor Lynn Dale Housner, Guoli Liang, Richard T. Walls, and Chunlei Lu discussed physical education in China. This was followed by Sang Suk Yoo and Ha Young Kim's review of physical education in South Korea.--Ed.
The national curriculum for Japanese schools has been revised by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology (MEXT) about once every 10 years since the end of World War II. The first post-war revisions were designed to change the schools from a militaristic educational system to a democratic system, with the main philosophy based on American educational values and ideals. In those revisions, the Japanese physical education system adopted the same main objectives for physical education that are used in the United States: education for physical, mental, and social development (Takahashi, 2000). To reflect this broad mission, Japanese schools also adopted the American multi-activity approach to physical education curriculum, much of it anchored in recreational activities.
The next revision to Japanese physical education came in 1958, when "culture-oriented physical education" took hold. This approach emphasized Olympic sports and other sport forms valued in the Japanese culture, in anticipation of the Summer Games in Tokyo in 1964. The 1968 revisions were based on "fitness oriented" activity for physical education in schools, motivated by decreasing levels of fitness in Japanese youths and the acceptance of the role of fitness and exercise science in the country and around the world.
The next two revisions, in 1977 and 1989, emphasized the learning of lifetime sports and games in the physical education curriculum. Special attention at that time was given to the development of sport skills and physical fitness, as well as to sport concepts, such as fairness, cooperation, and responsibility. The national physical education curriculum in Japan was last revised in 1998 for elementary and lower-secondary grades and in 1999 for upper-secondary grades. The two main purposes of these revisions were to reduce the curriculum content and the time allotted to each subject in order to implement a five-day school week (in place of the previous six-day week) and to meet new social needs for education.
It is interesting that the changes in the major goals and objectives of physical education in the United States and Japan have been quite similar since World War II. However, in the United States these changes have occurred as a result of a grass-roots approach from teachers in schools and professional organizations. In Japan, the same changes were mandated by the government.
The objectives and content of physical education programs are determined by the national curriculum established by MEXT. Conceptually, this national curriculum sets minimum requirements and leaves discretion for creative practice in each school. However, the MEXT guidelines for teaching in physical education outline specific details about the content, teaching materials, and teaching methods to be used.
Japanese children have compulsory education in elementary school from grade one to six, and in lower-secondary schools from grade seven to nine. After finishing compulsory education, students voluntarily go to upper-secondary school for grades 10 to 12.
Time Allocation and Class Size
The school year in Japan has three terms, beginning in April. Classes are 45 minutes long in the elementary grades and 50 minutes long at each of the secondary school levels. Thirty-five class hours of physical education count as one credit. In the transition to a five-day school week, the time allocation for physical education (including health education) in elementary and lower-secondary grades was reduced from 105 to 90 hours per year. In the lower-secondary grades, physical education and health are allocated 270 hours over the entire three years; 222 of those hours are for physical education and 48 hours are for health education. …