Japanese education explained

Why do Japanese teachers have cho rei?

total involvement with job and children

Why uniforms for pre-school kids but not primary school kids?
Uniforms also help pre school kids mark the difference between school and home and so learn the behaviour suitable for both

Why do Japanese kindergarten and elementary schools have so many school bags?

Many different uniforms, slippers and shoes to carry

Why are Japanese school textbooks so controversial?

They all have to be approved by the central government, who have a diametrically opposed view to the teaching unions, who are usually the first ones to kick up a fuss- a fuss which is soon picked up by the scandal hungry Japanese press and nationalistic foreign governments.

Why is the enchousensei (kindergarten principal) usually an old guy?

They are usually someone who has retired from elsewhere in the education field and whose main use is having contacts in the ministry etc. 

Why does the enchousensei, theoretically the highest position in the kimdergarten usually do nothing or just odd jobs?

It’s mainly a symbolic figurehead role, with occasional uses as the only man for interaction with the males in the world outside. As he has no pualifications in pre-school education, there’s not much he could do anyway

Why do some cram schools have entrance tests?

By only taking students who are likely to be able to enter a good university, they make their stats much better, and the exclusiveness of having an entrance test makes their juku even more desirable to parents. Having smart kids and good results probably doesn’t hurt with recruiting good teachers either

Why don’t Japanese kindergarten teachers discipline kids for hitting each other?

Why do Japanese schools and kindgartens spend so much time and energy on seasonal stuff?

It can be done without asking for permission and fits in with longer term planning while allowing freedom and flexibility to follow the interest of the students. It also fits in with the ministry guidelines (and nationalist myth) on teaching a “Japanese” love of nature.

Why are Japanese kindergartens student centred but JHS teacher centred?

Actually, good science and maths classes are quite discovery based

Why do future top bureaucrats study law at Tokyo University?
Despite the name, the main focus of the course is public policy

Why do stories on Japanese education in the Western media always mention that the “exam hell” education system leads to suicide?

To be fair, many of the stories start in the Japanese media, where there is culturally even more of a focus on children as innocent victims than in the West. Add to that the need to add something negative to a positive story on Japanese education to provide “balance”. There is a lot of evidence to suggest, however, that university entrance exams are not a major cause of suicide, including the fact that teen suicide is higher during Junior high school than high school.

Why are some many Japanese academic Marxists?

For one thing, the Japan Communist Party was one of the few organisations that did not get involved in the Japanese war effort, which made the then party leader incredibly popular when he was released from jail at the end of the war. Another is perhaps that in Marxist terms the war and its capitalist aftermath can just be seen as steps on the road to communism, and it is therefore a way of looking on the bright side of a disasterous half century for left wingers in Japan.

Why do Japanese primary school children have to clean the school?

Why is education usually such a national and personal priority in Japan?

People are the only resource in this “small island nation”, or at least that is what the children get taught at school.

Why is which university you go to so important in Japan?

First of all, it should be obvious that it is important everywhere. However, the only urban myths I have ever heard of in the world of primary school children being taken outside the gates of the university on their first day of school to show them what their task is from that day forth is for Tokyo University in Japan. Partly, that sometimes obsessive focus is due to the fact that social classes are based mainly on money and so much more fluid than in the UK if a family doesn’t keep up its financial position. There are also specific circumstances that have reinforced this interest (some of which are slowly disappearing), like some government ministries only recruiting from Todai (Tokyo University) and being by far the best jobs in the country. The main reason, though, is that Japanese companies don’t put any emphasis on specialist skills as they want someone who is more or less a blank slate and a generalist, so they can train them in the company philosophy and place them anywhere. With which subject being studied therefore being more or less out of the equation, and a lack of focus on hobbies as a show of character as well, this basically only leaves which university you go to as a way of judging job applicants- something which is reinforced by a recruitment interview which is more based on speeches by managers than probing personal questions. The fact that helping out people in the same group as yourself and a general focus on personal contacts also makes it very important to go where the other successful people will go.

Why do Japanese students fall asleep in class?

Some teachers in Japanese schools let their students get away with it, either due to a feeling that the humane thing to do is to let a tired person sleep, lecturing the students without really paying attention to what they are doing, giving personal attention to one student and ignoring the others, or having given up on the laziest or least academic students in a mixed ability class (which is all classes in all Japanese schools as there is no streaming). Perhaps for the same reasons, other students are unlikely to wake them unless prompted to do so by the teacher.

Falling asleep and other signs of apathy and ennui are also the most common forms of protest in modern Japanese schools, as compared to the more active forms of pranks and other bad behaviour that might be expected in a Western school or even with previous generations of Japanese school kids. Another relevant factor is that in most Asian countries switching off and sleeping whenever and wherever you can is seen much more natural than rushing around trying to do something in your free time, and if that is your natural reaction to a lack of stimulation on the train or in your bedroom, it can seem almost as natural in the classroom. Add all that to some genuine tiredness from long hours of homework, juku cram school and part-time jobs, and there you have it. When it comes to the classroom, a culture where closing your eyes when listening in order to concentrate and show concentration also doesn’t help. You will find the same effect from almost the same reasons with Chinese students too.
Why are Japanese Junior High School kids so different in class to Japanese Elementary School kids?

Perhaps because they know the exam hell that is waiting for them later, when children are in kindergarten and primary school is a time when the emphasis is on being nurtured, personality forming and feeling part of a group. When students get to JHS and start to enter a world with the tension of possible failure, some sense of competing with each other for the limited number of places in Tokyo University etc. etc. the shock can be very great, as can the fact the type of class also changes to one where they need to cram information for that (as yet vaguely defined) future. Once students have got used to it and the goal draws near (or becomes clearly impossible), students can strangely start to chill out a little once they get to High School.

Why are academic standards in Japanese schools dipping compared to the rest of the world?

First of all, it is very difficult to look clearly through the mist of international educational statistics and the hype surrounding them and decide for sure if there has been a comparative and/ or absolute decline in, for example, the Maths ability of Japanese kids, but the fact that most people believe such statistics must mean that belief reflects something in society. While the media, the government and (usually subsequently) some parents blame it on dropping classes on Saturdays, indulgent teachers, junk food etc. etc, the simple reason is that this generation is unmotivated and is not getting much of push either from their parents, who are less motivated to force their kids to do things than their parents were- all very understandable with the comfortable lifestyle that many Japanese are still enjoying after a 13 year recession.

Why are Japanese kids so well behaved?

Japanese mothers seem to control their kids with an absolutely expert use of the kind of emotional blackmail that a Western parent might feel embarrassed about, plus a good dollop of indulgence and other manipulations. The net total result is a kid who will feel so upset themselves at displeasing their parents (mainly the mother), that no other punishment is needed- a child that will often grow up into an adult with much the same mentality. Another reason you would rarely see temper tantrums etc. if you are not part of the family is that a Japanese child quickly learns that different behaviour is suitable for different circumstances, and there is no such thing as “acting naturally” or “being true to yourself”.

Why are juku cram schools such a big thing in Japan?

The history of juku can possibly be traced right back to masters of the tea ceremony, kendo etc. teaching their pupils in similar private schools in the Edo period. The present necessity for them, though, comes from a more than 30 year stand off between an educational system that runs on exams and a teachers’ union that does not agree with those exams and therefore refuses to teach what students need in order to pass the vital and highly competitive entrance exams for top universities. Once a few people got the competitive advantage of extra tuition, it was inevitable that everyone else would have to do the same to even stay in the same place in the university “league”. Perhaps the only thing that could have stopped the juku phenomenon is a shortage of teachers to teach them, but the difficulty of getting a state school job for life means there are plenty of people available for the private sector.

Why is there so much individual and government focus on the development of young people in Japan?

For one thing, the Japanese are taught that the talent and training of their workforce is their only resource, seeing as how they are short of arable land, oil, coal etc. The fact that Japanese people can change social class in a generation or even less also means that the whole family’s status depends on the future of the children more than in class-based societies like the UK.


  1. January 11, 2008 at 8:11 am

    […] of this ilk in Japanese Education explained and Japanese English […]

  2. Rebecca said,

    June 11, 2012 at 5:19 am

    “Why are Japanese Junior High School kids so different in class to Japanese Elementary School kids?”

    In addition to the explanation offered above, older elementary school students (4th-6th graders) are given much more responsibility than 1st-3rd graders, including lunch broadcast, leading cheers for sports day, after school clubs, etc. This makes them much calmer and more serious than younger grades, and much more “Japanese.” When they go to junior high school, they might be rowdy as 1st graders because they’re now the youngest in the school, not the oldest, but they’ve got a lot heavier expectations placed on them for daily school life than elementary school kids, and it shows.

    This being said, there are junior high school kids you could plop down in the West and they’d fit right in, and some elementary school kids who are so quiet you wonder if they’re eating OK. The character of that class, and that school, also makes a difference.

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