Japanese Elementary Classroom Teachers' Experiences of Teaching Gymnastics in Physical Education

By Iwaki, Sadaomi; Sato, Takahiro et al. | Physical Educator, Spring 2020 | Go to article overview

Japanese Elementary Classroom Teachers' Experiences of Teaching Gymnastics in Physical Education


Iwaki, Sadaomi, Sato, Takahiro, Tsuda, Emi, Wyant, James, Physical Educator


School gymnastics (gakko taiso) is an old concept connected to current school physical education (gakko taiiku) in Japan. After the introduction of Shogakko Kyosoku-taiko (the outline of the rules for teaching in the primary school) in 1891, classroom teachers began to understand physical education lesson plan development including three components of teaching gymnastics: (a) the rule of teaching (kyosoku), (b) the details of teaching (saimoku), and (c) the lesson plan development (kyoan) in physical education (Kishino & Takeshita, 1959).Then, in 1902, the Swedish system of gymnastics was introduced (Mukoyama, 2006) and was used as a part of the Japanese physical education curriculum as well as in military education (Collins, 2007). Since then, gymnastics has played an important role in Japanese physical education, with classroom teachers using the Swedish system of instruction in Japan to help students develop pedagogical skills (Kishino & Takeshita, 1959). To further improve the quality of instruction of gymnastics, Heizaburo Takashima (1865-1946) developed "the principles of physical education," which consisted of the components of preliminary exercise, main exercise, and final exercise for gymnastics lessons in physical education. He also introduced the law of physiology and psychology model (connection of body and mind of individual adolescents; Sasaki, 2017).

Since 1891, gymnastics has been a major content area in elementary physical education in Japan. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) requires that all teachers include specific content areas within gymnastics such as a mat exercise, a horizontal bar, a balance beam, and a vault horse. These requirements are stated in the national curriculum issued by the MEXT (Nakai & Metzler, 2005). More specifically, three objectives of gymnastics in elementary physical education state that students will be able to (a) acquire fundamental skills of gymnastics (psychomotor), (b) create different movement patterns and convey thoughts to peers (cognitive), and (c) cooperate and collaborate with peers and be mindful of surroundings for safety (affective; MEXT, 2018). Therefore, gymnastics is expected to help elementary students recognize the body and mind as a whole and to contribute to the development of motor skills, physical fitness, lifestyle choices, and participation in lifelong physical activity (Kirk, 2005; HaydnDavies, 2005). With this, learning gymnastics in elementary physical education is beneficial for students' holistic development including physical, cognitive, emotional, and social aspects (Morgan & Bourke, 2008).

Physical Education in the Japanese Elementary School System

Japanese public elementary schools provide 6 years of education for children aged 6 to 12, which is also called primary education (Grades 1-6). The school year in Japan starts on April 1 and ends the following March. Students aged 6 or above on April 1 are eligible to begin their elementary education. The elementary curriculum consists of Japanese, social studies, mathematics, science, life studies, music, arts and handcrafts, homemaking, moral education, and health and physical education (health and physical education are combined as one subject area in Japan). One teacher is assigned to a classroom, and the classroom teacher instructs all subject areas, including physical education (MEXT, 2018). Physical education lessons are typically 45 to 50 min (2-3 classes/week). Across the academic year, 90 mandatory hours are allocated for health and physical education in all public elementary schools (Nakai & Metzler, 2005).

According to Takahashi (2000), Japanese physical education is underpinned by the characteristics of (a) democratic physical education, (b) culturally oriented physical education, (c) fitness-oriented physical education, (d) directing to a lifelong participation in sport, and (e) physical education for mind and body. …

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