Dear readers,

Today, in addition to our regular news summaries, I am also weighing in on the class size debate and other ideas expressed in this article: Are Japan’s public school teachers paid too much? (Japan Times — Nov 18 excerpted immediately below my opinion piece).

The finance ministry thinks that the maximum class size for first year elementary school students should be increased from 35 to 40 …  it concluded that class size has no effect because the DPJ earlier changed it to 35 in order to address the bullying problem, but found that bullying incidents increased slightly despite the reduction in class sizes were reduced.

The claims made by both the education and the finance ministry in the article need to be examined. The finance ministry considered that reducing it to 35 had no effect because the reduction was too small to make any impact, and that classes need to be kept to ratios of between 12 to 20 students to a teacher to be well-managed?

Has the finance ministry referred to studies based on proper medium- to long-term research on the effects of smaller classes and optimum class size for Japan ? If reducing the class size to 35 had no effect in Japan, what about reducing them to 30, 25, 20 or below 20??? The finance ministry doesn’t want to go there for obvious reasons, it would burn an even larger hole in their pocket.

Some studies have in fact shown that class size reduction has no impact unless reduced to below 20 per class. But according to Peter Blatchford‘s survey from head teachers’ experiences there is a magic number for the student age group 7-11 years and it is 25.

What the studies have shown, according to are that the benefits of class size reduction are these:

  • Gains associated with small classes generally appear when the class size is reduced to less than 20 students.
  • Gains associated with small classes are stronger for the early grades.
  • Gains are stronger for students who come from groups that are traditionally disadvantaged in education — minorities and immigrants.
  • Gains from class size reduction in the early grades continue for students in the upper grades. Students are less likely to be retained, more likely to stay in school and more likely to earn better grades.
  • Academic gains are not the only benefit of lowering class size. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that reducing class sizes in elementary schools may be more cost-effective than most public health and medical interventions. This is because students in smaller classes are more likely to graduate from high school, and high school graduates earn more and also enjoy significantly better health than high school dropouts.

NIEER (US-National Institute for Early Education Research):

“What We Know:
• Class size reduction is a policy that can
increase educational effectiveness.
• Small class size and better staff-child ratios
offer health and safety benefits.”

Is the education ministry framing its budget requests in the wrong way, perhaps the question is not small class size for higher academic achievement per se, but more financial resources for better teacher-student ratios, quality student AND teacher pastoral care.

Irving Flinker’s “Optimum Class Size: What Is the Magic Number?” and  Ehrenberg (et al.)’s “Class size and student achievement” suggest there is no magic number and conclude that reducing the class size in itself does not necessarily produce increased student academic achievement and that the factors are complex. The National Education Association weighs in on this question stating:

“The research shows that learning increases as class size is reduced, especially in the early grades. NEA considers 15 students to be the optimum class size, especially in kindergarten (K) and first grade. Researchers have documented benefits from class sizes of 15-18 students in K and of fewer than 20 students in grades 1-3. Studies show that students in smaller classes continue to reap academic bene?ts through middle and high school, especially minority and low-income students.”

It has been suggested that canny teachers can handle larger sized classes by creating small groups in large classes, and this appears to have been the secret why large classes have thrived in Japanese schools, with its system of dividing classes into han groupings (the idea of the han cooperative grouping is also a cultural characteristic see Japan: Land of Cooperatives).

“Within each classroom, students are organized in small, mixed ability groups called han. These groups of 4-6 students are cooperative study and work units. Teachers frequently ask the class to divide into han to work on specific assignments and have them report the results to the class. The han is also the primary unit for discipline, chores, and various other classroom activities.”

Peter Blatchford’s book “The Class Size Debate: Is Small Better?” makes a number of interesting and surprising observations and conclusions including:

  • a reduction in class size improves math learning across the board, even for marginal reductions;
  • regarding the magic number, from surveying head teachers, 25 appears to be the magic number that teachers appear to think they can handle for students aged 7-11 years;
  • it is also possible for a class to be too small.

OECD Education Today has a good writeup summing up the matter of class size-academic achievement in view of its good grasp on comparative class-size and achievement statistics of OECD nations.

“Smaller classes are favored by parents and teachers alike. But they come at a price, countries can spend their money only once and money spent on smaller classes can’t be spent on better teacher salaries, more instruction time, better opportunities for the professional development of teachers…

Between 2000 and 2009, many countries invested additional resources to decrease class size; however, student performance has improved in only a few of them.

Apart from optimising public resources, reducing class size to increase student achievement is an approach that has been tried, debated, and analysed for several decades. Some countries like Finland favour smaller class sizes (20 students of fewer) and are among the most successful countries in the PISA study. However, other countries like Korea have much bigger classes (34 students and over) but also feature at the top of the PISA ranking. What other variables than class size may explain the success of countries like Korea?

Findings from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) suggest that systems prioritising higher teacher salaries over smaller classes tend to perform better, which confirms research showing that raising teacher quality is a more effective measure to improve student outcomes.”

Joseph Berger’s NY Times article is old but is still good for today…

“There is no optimal class size, they suggest. The critics say experience has shown that smaller classes do make a difference with certain groups of students. Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, an educational expert at the Rand Corporation, says smaller classes help pupils in primary grades, low achievers and students from low-income or ethnic minority families. For these children, she said, ”decreases in class size to about 22 and below do consistently result in gains in achievement.” Difference in Effectiveness”Kids who are older, kids who are ready to deal with material that’s being dished out, can probably learn reasonably well with a standard lecture and seat work approach in a large class,” she said. ”But it is not an effective way to teach young children and children who are having learning difficulties.””There is a growing body of evidence that kids needs to be talked to less and engaged more,” adds Stanley Litow, director of the Educational Priorities Panel, a civic group that monitors New York City’s schools. ”If what you want to do is increase interaction and draw kids into a process of learning, then you’ve got to have smaller classes.”Dr. Darling-Hammond acknowledges that school boards and teachers’ unions have often squandered the benefits of reductions in class size by insisting upon cuts that reduce the size of all classes without focusing on those students who most need help…”

See Peter Blatchford’s paper  “The effect of class size on teaching pupils aged 7-11 years” (School Effectiveness and School Improvement, Vol. 18, No. 2, June 2007, pp. 147 – 172) – one of the things he notes is that reducing class size results in the reduction of time teachers spend on procedural matters and increases instruction time.

This is most relevant for Japan. Why? Because occupational stress and mental health of Japanese female teachers is currently a key hot topic of concern for Japan – in 2011, more than 5,274 primary-middle-and-high school teachers missed work due to mental disorder  see paper by on Kataoka Mika et al., on occupational stress among teachers, and Japan Times news article “Teachers bolt jobs over mental angst “.  According to a 2013 Tokyo Times report, the situation doesn’t seem to have made much improvement,

“More than 5,000 teachers in Japan had to take sick leave during the last fiscal year because of depression and other mental disorders, a government survey said.

The study was conducted by Japan’s Education Ministry on teachers at public elementary, junior and senior high schools, and special schools. While 8,544 teachers had taken sick leave, 62 percent (5,274 teachers) had to take some time off from work due to depression or other mental illness, the Japanese press comments.

It was the fourth consecutive year when the number topped 5,000. The survey’s conclusions also showed the number of mentally ill teachers had doubled compared to the one registered ten years”

For more on this, see “Poor mental health associated with job dissatisfaction among school teachers in Japan” J Occup Health. 2007 Nov;49(6):515-22.

Summing up my opinion here, the finance ministry is making a mistake in dissing the need for smaller classes (for they benefit younger children; they show benefits in specific subject areas; most of all there are important benefits such as helping to relieve stress and to improve the mental health of teachers, unless the finance ministry is suggesting they are happy to continue with the status quo of having  more than 5,000 schoolteachers annually posting a no show in school due to schizophrenia and major depressive disorder (MDD)).

The education policy-makers must share the blame for the way they always show such weak muscle and clout when facing the finance ministry, and for failing to frame their budget requests and objectives in more nuanced, better study-supported and aggressive ways. It should have been clear to them by now given how the debate has swung in the US, that a mere request for more money for more classes with reduced class sizes would not work.

There should have been more working committee reports or studies done and relied upon showing what would work – more money to improve quality of teaching, improved teacher-student ratio, two to a class perhaps, so they can relieve one another, or team teach with one teacher coordinating groups for those students who need more remedial work or attention and care.  There should be actual studies done on the amount of procedural/administrative work done by teachers vs. actual instructional classroom time and tabulation of the work hours, and a report on how more budget money could be spent to relieve teachers of administrative and teaching workload of teachers.

They should have studied and shown how, with more budget money, in line with the Prime Minister’s initiative to foster a more creative, thinking and globally-attuned student population, schools could set up smaller classes with new teacher-student ratios to bring about more interaction, instructional time for students in the classroom along with other more interactive-style classroom design, resources and spatial setups.


I suggest the finance ministry and the Prime Minister’s initiative to move resources to provide mandatory and universal preschooling could be misguided and needs to be rethought or at least reworked. We know from many studies done on Scandinavian schools which typically do not even begin school till age 7, that early education isn’t considered necessary for improved student learning and academic achievement.

The country’s leaders want more global and outward looking youths, more creative Japanese students who have more analytical skills and are able to debate eloquently in public global forums, more students who can speak foreign languages.  You don’t get all this by puffing up school textbooks and making students stay longer and from an earlier age in school, you get people like this who have time and freedom to relate to their parents, their grandparents, siblings and other members in their community. You get creative, individualistic and opinionated people who are interested in the world around them, because they have had Saturdays and Sundays (more than that if possible) off to go camping into the wild with their parents or interest groups, to have free time to pursue, explore and investigate with some depth all sorts of diverse, real or odd, interesting and creative passions or phenomenon, to read interesting books and to hear them read aloud to, so they have something interesting and somebody to think and talk about with. And this is particularly true and important for the development of the younger set. More and earlier institutional care … err …how is that supposed to create a more globally-oriented mindset and creative thinkers, when they just spend more time in the group, and learn to think like the group?

The younger preschool years are the only time parents in Japan can take their kids camping or traveling overseas off-season without having to worry about holiday and school schedules, and at times when the airfares are still affordable and within reach. The minute you make institutional preschool mandatory, you remove a huge chunk of children’s most pleasurable, stimulating,  and memory-making moments of their calendar lives. You remove huge chunks of hours of their “skinship” and bonding years with real personal human contact and role modeling. For families and mothers who willingly stay at home for the sake of their children, they want more time to interact with their children in the early years, not less.

More money shouldn’t be thrown on universal preschool education or childcare – instead, resources should be targeted on those who need and want better quality preschool support and early childcare and education, however, this usually means for households with career women or for financially strapped single parents or double-income householders who typically need to work to support the household and have no time or energy to raise or interact with their children. Throwing money on early preschool childcare and education where it is not needed is therefore a waste of resources. They had better be spent addressing the workload and stress situation and mental health for teachers — and the need to improve quality pastoral care within the classroom so as to address the schoolbullying issues which still have yet to go away. We should also pay heed to what one of Shanghai professor says is the secret of its schools’ top worldranking performance in OECD tests, is to “lessen teachers’ workload”, (the professor said as a math teacher he only taught 10 – 12 classes a week). And besides. who wants to send their kids to schools where their teachers could be mentally ill?

Japan’s politicians and top civil servants are typically creatures of privilege, and who themselves attend and send their own children to private schools that have marvelous facilities and smaller classes, so they should remember that the average person in society would thank them to inject some money into improving classroom conditions in public schools so that the ever widening economic gap doesn’t increase further between their privileged class and that of members-of-society at large. As for cutting the pay of teachers, OECD reports show that teacher remuneration, quality and status is a top predictor for academic achievement. The only reason we can surmise why Japan can attract teachers at all to teach in its schools at all under the currently stressful conditions and workload, is the remuneration and stable job condition and status (although this is eroding somewhat). The ministry wants to remove what it considers the access that Japanese teachers receive over what other OECD counterparts receive, but have they factored in that Japan is an expensive country to live in, that teachers here get shuffled around the regions a lot (which increases personal and financial costs for them), that they put up with a lot more than what other teachers have to, in terms of managing afterschool club activities, work much during school holidays and deliver a great many childcare and holistic services for their young wards, than do their counterparts?

The desire to throw money on something new, unnecessary glitzy new projects than to fix old broken problems, and the obsession to make financial cuts in areas where it really counts the most – is always a penny-wise pound-foolish trait with public policymakers figures. The age for salaryman and samurai minions is over. The current leadership must learn to treat their teachers more like people, to value their human resources, like those in Finland and Singapore that have the best educational systems and then learn to put its wallet where its mouth is.

Are Japan’s public school teachers paid too much? (Japan Times — Nov 18)

Last month the Ministry of Finance presented a policy recommendation based on studies made by an advisory group. Such recommendations are fairly common, but this one caught more than the usual amount of attention because of where it was directed.
The ministry thinks that the maximum class size for first year elementary school students should be increased from 35 to 40. In purely economic terms, such a change would result in a reduction of as many as 4,000 teachers, which would translate as Y8.6 billion in savings for the central government alone. However, the ministry’s explanation for why the change should be implemented was not made in fiscal terms. It was made in educational terms.
Until the Democratic Party of Japan became the ruling party, maximum class size was 40, and the DPJ changed it to 35 in order to address the bullying problem. But the finance ministry says that bullying incidents have increased slightly since class sizes were reduced, so obviously it has had no effect.

Obviously, this sounds more like something the education ministry should tackle, and, predictably, the education ministry objects to the recommendation, saying that increasing class number back to 40 runs counter to world trends, which favor smaller class sizes so that students can get more individual attention from teachers.

The finance ministry has countered the objection by saying that the money saved by increasing class size can be spent on “pre-schoolers,” since the education ministry is now promoting tuition-free pre-schools for some households but have no budget for it.

As several other media have pointed out, the finance ministry isn’t really interested in education programs. It is simply moving the money from one area to another. It’s a matter of bookkeeping.

The ministry’s justification for cutting teachers is also problematic. It says that Japanese public school teachers’ salaries are higher than they are in other countries, which is a conveniently misleading truth. The salary of a median age 45-year-old full-time public school teacher in Japan is about Y7 million, though a 2010 OECD survey found that Japanese teachers made on average the equivalent of $44,337 a year, which is $7,000 more than the OECD average. That’s probably what the finance ministry is talking about.

What the ministry doesn’t mention is that this average salary was 8.6 percent less than it was in 2000, which is perhaps a reflection of the fact that more teachers are now non-regular part-timers. Moreover, as a percentage of total public spending on education, teachers’ pay in Japan is higher than it is in other developed countries – 86 percent compared to 81 percent in the U.S. and 67 percent in the U.K. – and as a portion of GDP Japan’s spending on education is the lowest of the 31 OECD countries, and has been for five years running - See more here.

Other news stories of interest:
Japanese students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities decreased by 1.2 percent to around 19,000 in the 2013-2014 academic year, although they remained the seventh-most numerous in the country, the New York-based Institute of International Education said Monday. (Japan Times)

Scores of fully-clad riot police raided a dormitory at one of the nation’s leading universities on Thursday, in an apparently heavy-handed response to a left-wing movement that may involve students.

Ranks of helmeted officers carrying shields and wearing protective clothing converged on the dormitory at the prestigious Kyoto University, backed up by plain-clothed officers.The operation was being carried out by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police in connection with the arrest earlier this month of three leftist activists, including at least one Kyoto University student.

The three were arrested on suspicion of obstructing public officials and were accused of using violence against riot police on the sidelines of a labor rally in Tokyo on Nov. 2.

Thursday’s raid showed no evidence of any violence. Riot police were reportedly brought in to “prevent confusion.”

- - See more here

The University of Tokyo came in 24th in the top 500 global university rankings compiled recently by U.S. News and World Report magazine.

The institution is ahead of any other universities in Asia. The magazine produced the top 500 rankings for the first time.Harvard University topped the global rankings. Massachusetts Institute of Technology came second and the University of California, Berkeley was third. Eight of the top 10 universities are U.S. institutions, and two are British.

Including the University of Tokyo, 17 Japanese universities are among the top 500. Of them, Kyoto University ranked 60th, Osaka University 111th, Tohoku University 129th and the Tokyo Institute of Technology 164th.

68% of 2015 university graduates secure job offers (Jiji Press)

As of Oct. 1, 68.4 percent of university students set to graduate next spring had found jobs, up 4.1 percentage points from a year earlier and improving for the fourth consecutive year, according to the education and labor ministries.

The figure was the second highest ever for the month of October, after the 69.9 percent for students who graduated in March 2009. The improvement reflects a situation in which more companies have stepped up new recruitment amid earnings recoveries and labor shortages, ministry officials said.

The proportion of male students who had secured jobs stood at 67.6 percent, up 3.1 points, while the rate for female students showed a significant increase of 5.4 points to 69.4 percent.

The rate rose to 67.3 percent for students with arts majors and to 73.5 percent for those with science and engineering majors.

The proportion improved in all six regions of the nation, according to the survey. The Kanto region, including Tokyo, had the highest rate with 74.5 percent. Chugoku and Shikoku posted the lowest at 56.9 percent.

Corporate recruiting uptrend must continue for sake of young people

The Yomiuri Shimbun The informal recruitment rates for students soon to graduate from university and high school have improved significantly against the backdrop of brisk corporate performance. Read more here 

High school students in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, had the opportunity to contemplate gender identity when male and female students exchanged uniforms on Tuesday. Nearly 40 percent of all students at Fuji Hokuryo High School, or 299 students – 117 boys and 182 girls – participated in the exchange.
Elsewhere in the world, here’s other news on education:
And that’s a wrap…
Digitally yours,
Aileen Kawagoe

Hello readers,

Is the WALL-E-esque world depicted in the Pixar movie creeping up upon us?







A futuristic scene from the Pixar movie Wall-E

In the future world of WALL-E, “humanity has become completely reliant on technology. Humans literally spend their lives lying on moving chairs, rendering them obese and unable to walk. Even in their way of life, they seem not to enjoy living; they are completely apathetic. They eat through straws, have no physical contact with each other, and can only talk to one another through a holo-screen. In the future, consumerism and technology turned humans into pieces of meat living life lying in front of a screen. … The humans have no intellectual curiosity or monotony.” – Wall-E (Pixar Animation)














Above:  NHK reported (Oct 16) internet addiction to be on the rise in Japan. A panel of experts in Japan says more than 4.2 million people in the country are addicted to the internet.

Meanwhile, Yomiuri Shimbun reported on the steadily declining physical ability of today’s young…ten-year-old boys 50 years ago could throw a softball six meters farther than boys of that age today, the sports ministry’s annual survey on physical strength and athletic ability revealed (see article excerpts below):

image (School children playing dodgeball, photo: Yomiurii Shimbun)

Boys’ ball-throwing ability declines 6 meters in 50 years (Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct 15

Ten-year-old boys 50 years ago could throw a softball six meters farther than boys of that age today, the sports ministry’s annual survey on physical strength and athletic ability revealed.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry released the results of its 2013 annual survey on Sunday, ahead of Health-Sports Day on Monday. Physical characteristics such as height tended to improve over the past 50 years, and the results for the side-step exercise also improved. However, boys’ throwing ability dropped noticeably compared to other surveyed movements.

Starting with the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, the survey marked its 50th anniversary this year. In the overall analysis, the physical and athletic ability of those surveyed in the range of children to adults improved until about 1985, and then there was a downward trend until 1998. The records for primary and middle school students have been recovering comprehensively since then, but remain lower than the 1985 level….

In this year’s report, the ministry compared the 10-year-olds’ average records at intervals of about 25 years — 1964, 1989 and 2013 — for the movements that have been surveyed from the outset. In grip strength, the boys and girls of 1989 were best.

The 1989 cohort was also best in the 50-meter-run, with times of 9.20 seconds for boys and 9.41 seconds for girls. However, the differences between those of 1964 and 2013 were less than 0.2 seconds.

In the results of the 20-second-side step, a movement to check instanta-neous power, the numbers for the 2013’s cohorts were the best, with 42.97 times for boys and 40.69 times for girls. The numbers for 1964’s boys and girls were the lowest.

The results of boys’ ball throwing have been gradually declining, from 30.38 meters in 1964 to 28.37 meters in 1989, and 24.45 meters in 2013.

The throwing ability of 10-year-old girls is about 50 percent to 60 percent of boys’ ability, even though girls were taller than boys at that age for all three generations.

According to an expert, the results for ball throwing depend greatly on factors such as experience and technique in addition to arm strength. The loss of playgrounds in modern life is behind such declines, as they had offered the opportunity to play catch and other games involving throwing movements, the expert analysis concludes.

Fewer chances for outdoor play

Decreased opportunities for children to play outside and a lack of such experience due to the declining numbers of playgrounds for exercise seem to be contributing to the lower level of children’s athletic ability.

On Oct. 8, students of Yamanashi Gakuin University taught children how to play outside during a break at Nanaho Primary School in Otsuki, Yamanashi Prefecture. Children played a game combining rock-paper-scissors with tag, and also a version of dodgeball with slightly complicated rules. The children were running and screaming, and when play time finished after 30 minutes, they said they wanted to play more.

A sixth-grade boy, 12, said, “Usually I stay in the library or do work for the student council during break time, but physical exercise makes me feel good.”

The activity was started last academic year as part of the education ministry’s project to support schools’ efforts to improve children’s physical strength, in cooperation with parental guardians and local residents. As the primary school is comprised of three schools that were integrated in 2009, more than half the students use the school bus. Friends’ houses are far from each other, making it difficult to play in groups after school. The school’s vice principal, 58, said: “As children use cars and play video games at home in their daily lives, their opportunities to play outside are declining. In particular, they have problems with throwing balls and their sense of balance.”

Mitsuru Senda, chairman of the Association for Children’s Environment, has been conducting a survey of children mainly in Yokohama on his own for a long time, which shows how outdoor spaces where children around the age of 10 can play have significantly decreased over the past 60 years. “Though opportunities to play outside have declined due to the decreased number of playgrounds and the spread of video games, playing outside with friends can naturally develop [one’s] social nature, and physical strength and ability.”

According to Prof. Kazuhiko Nakamura of the University of Yamanashi, who specializes in human growth and development, presently both boys and girls at primary schools spend less than one hour a day playing outside, about half of what was typical 30 years ago.

Mature scores improve

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry conducts a national annual survey on physical strength and capabilities of the people. “We consider our survey, conducted over half a century and covering such a wide range of ages, to be rare in the world,” a ministry official said.

Currently, eight events for primary school students aged 6-11, nine events for middle school and older students aged 12-19, and seven events each for those in the 20-64 and 65-79 age groups, are conducted for the survey.

The fiscal 2013 survey was conducted from May through October last year and results were collected for 63,783 people.

A major trend of the results collected for 50 years is a constant increase in both physical strength and capabilities of all generations until around 1985, as well as a constant decline of both strength and abilities from then until around 1998.

In 1998, some survey activities changed, and “sit-ups” and “standing long jumps” were added. Since then, the physical strength of primary, middle and high school students has moderately increased. However, standard levels of their abilities, except for the 50-meter dash by male middle school students, have remained low compared to the peak standards around 1985.

The physical strength and capability of women in their 20s to 40s has shown a declining trend since 1998, while men in their 30s and 40s have shown the same level or decreasing tendencies. …

Read more here

New daycare centers held up by residents opposing noisy kids (Japan Today, Oct. 13, 2014)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to help women juggle work and family are hitting a roadblock: opposition to building new daycare centers from residents who fear noise from children playing will spoil their quiet neighborhoods.

The number of Japanese children is falling due to a low birthrate but many pre-schoolers are nonetheless on daycare waiting lists because of a shortage of facilities. Abe has vowed to fix the problem as part of plans to get more women working to offset a shrinking, aging population and boost economic growth.

Doing so, however, may not be easy given that locals often greet plans for new daycare centers with Japan’s version of the phenomenon known as NIMBY – “not in my backyard” – frequently associated with facilities such as military bases or prisons.

Take Setagaya ward in western Tokyo, which has the longest daycare waiting list in Japan, with over 1,000 kids.

“We are trapped between parents who are crying out ‘we want daycare centers built as soon as possible’ and those who say ‘we don’t need daycare centres in our quiet neighborhoods,” wrote Setagaya Mayor Nobuto Hosaka in a recent blog entitled “Are Children’s Voices Noise, or the Sound of Hope?”

Setagaya ward needs to build between 70 and 80 new daycare centers over the next four years to accommodate an estimated 6,500 additional children who will need daycare, said Kota Tanaka, head of a 15-person team set up to speed up the process.

But complaints from noise-allergic residents are an obstacle. “They say children’s voices are too loud and are wrecking their quiet neighborhoods,” Tanaka told Reuters.

Some residents elsewhere in Japan have filed suits seeking compensation for “noise pollution” from nearby daycare centers, prompting Hosaka, a former MP, to suggest Japan learn from Germany and change laws to prevent such lawsuits.

“The number of children is declining so people think daycare centres have nothing to do with them and see them as something that could cause unpleasantness in their lives,” Kansai University Professor Fumiharu Yamagata told NHK public TV.

The noisy children problem could, however, resolve itself if steps to boost the birth rate fail. A government think tanks forecasts just seven percent of Japan’s population will be under age 15 in 2060 in a worst-case scenario that sees the total population shrinking more than a third to below 80 million

Japan’s Divided Education Strategy (OCT. 12, 2014 NY Times)

Japan’s conservatives returned to power last year with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at their head.

TOKYO — Japan’s simultaneous embrace of nationalism and cosmopolitanism is generating ambiguous signals from its education policy makers. They are rewriting textbooks along what they call “patriotic” lines, alienating their Asian neighbors in the process. But at the same time, they are promoting Japanese universities as globalized and open, in a bid to compete internationally.

“There is an obvious contradiction between Japan’s rightward shift on education policy and its strivings to internationalize,” said Thomas Berger, a professor at Boston University and an expert on Japanese politics.

“Japanese textbook policy is increasing tensions with Asia, undermining the willingness of Japanese to study in neighboring countries and of foreigners to come to Japan,” Prof. Berger said. “Education policy is caught on the horns of a dilemma: On the one hand, there are powerful economic and political pressures that favor internationalization — yet, in reality, Japan has been moving in the opposite direction.”

Following a rare term out of office, Japan’s conservatives returned to power last year with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at their head and an agenda to recast wartime history with a less apologetic tone. A more critical version of history, which casts Japan as an aggressor in World War II, has been replaced by material that is more “patriotic.”

Critics say the new government is trying to impose a rightist agenda on the nation’s schooling system. They point out, for example, that new state-sanctioned text books play down the death toll of the Nanjing massacre in China, which is now referred to as an “incident.”

There has been some resistance to the changes, but by and large, education boards across Japan are accepting them. One of the first boards to adopt the new textbooks was that of Yokohama, the country’s second-largest city.

At the same time, a formidable drive is underway by the same conservatives to globalize Japan’s inward-looking education system. Mr. Abe has stated that he wants 10 Japanese institutions to rank among the world’s top 100 universities. Currently only two make the cut in prominent lists like that of Times Higher Education: the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University.

The government’s plans include strengthening teaching staffs at universities by hiring foreign professors, initiating a certified evaluation system and expanding resources.

There is also a move to improve bilateral relations with the very countries that the new textbooks have irked — the United States, China and South Korea.

Japan’s Asian neighbors fear that its new emphasis on patriotism will lead to nationalism and a teaching of history that obfuscates wartime atrocities. They also accuse Mr. Abe of reviving past militarism. Tokyo is “attempting to deny and even beautify” the country’s history of military aggression, a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry said this year.

China and Japan — which are also facing off over territorial claims — both say that biased history textbooks and education are among the causes of a deep-grained hostility that threatens more than 50 years of peace between them.

Even allies like the United States are dismayed at the new textbooks, said Mindy Kotler, director of Asia Policy Point, an independent research center in Washington.

“Disappointment stems from the realization that Japan’s leaders hold a retrograde, discredited and offensive view of not just history, but also of race, women, war, peace and reconciliation,” she said. “Simply put, the issue is whether or not Japanese decision makers are capable of sound judgment.”

But the government says Japan has done enough to satisfy its neighbors’ sensitivities over Japanese aggression during the war years.

The education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, denies that the government wants to enforce a particular view of history. He says Japan’s textbook examination is undertaken fairly and impartially, “based on expert and academic deliberations.” But he concedes he is looking for a more patriotic take on Japan.

“History has positive and negative aspects,” Mr. Shimomura said in an email. “We believe it is important to teach a balance of the good as well as the bad parts so that children can be proud of and have confidence in our country’s history.

New tests aim to help more pass bar (Oct 13, The Yomiuri Shimbun)
With the passing rate for the bar examination hovering at a low, the education ministry plans to have all graduate law schools in Japan carry out a common achievement test to determine if students are fit to advance to the next year, according to ministry officials.

In particular, this common test would be designed to enhance the academic level of students who are attending the three-year graduate program but did not major in law as undergraduates. The bar exam passing rate for these students has been lower than those with undergraduate law experience.

Several law schools are expected to participate in the common test on an experimental basis during the current academic year. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry hopes that the test will be introduced by all law schools within a few years.

Tentatively called the “common test to confirm achievement,” the test will gauge if students have basic knowledge and legal minds. Questions will be created by instructors at law schools.

The results of the test will also be used by students to identify their academic challenges. Students with substantially low scores may be asked to seek different career paths.

In February or March next year, several law schools will give a test on three subjects — the Constitution, Civil Code and Penal Code — to first-year students in the three-year program, according to ministry officials.

In the next academic year and beyond, the test will be expanded to the first-year students who are enrolled in the two-year program for those who majored in law as undergraduates, as well as second-year students in the three-year program. The ministry plans to ask law schools to add questions on the Criminal Procedure Code and the Civil Procedure Code, among other subjects.

Although law schools are supposed to play a core role in training students to be legal professionals and nurture diverse human resources through thorough instruction, the bar exam passing rate for law school graduates has dropped to as low as 21 percent this year.

The passing rate for those who have completed the three-year program was 12 percent, considerably lower than 33 percent for those who completed the two-year course.

“The common test will serve as an indicator to determine which academic level each student in the three-year course has in the nation,” said Prof. Kazuhiko Yamamoto of Hitotsubashi University’s School of Law. “The test results can be utilized by instructors to change the educational contents, which in turn will improve the passing rate for students without undergraduate law coursework.”


Waseda International School’s rapid metamorphosis

Waseda International School, in only its third year since its establishment, is experiencing a rapid metamorphosis from a school starting out with a few students and a vague curriculum and direction, to a learning institution with a student population nearing 100, defined curriculums, and a clear and certain path to educating children without borders.

The school’s core reading program is predominately a balanced literacy approach supplemented by Houghton Mifflin’s Journey reading/language arts program, which is aligned with American Common Core Standards. Waseda aims to use an eclectic approach to teaching reading and writing. The school’s instructional approach is to understand each child’s learning style and academic and developmental needs, and then devise an individualized plan to systematically and strategically set goals that are achievable by that child within a reasonable time frame.

Waseda’s student population is currently spread over two locations; both the kindergarten and elementary annexes are less than a 10-minute walk from Takadanobaba Station in Shinjuku-ku. The newly acquired elementary annex has six classrooms prepared to teach science, art, library/computers, music, and Japanese. The Japanese program is unique in that it’s taught every single day at grade level. In addition, Waseda offers swimming and physical education during school hours and an assortment of after-school clubs.

Read more at Japan School News here: Waseda International School’s rapid metamorphosis

Beyond Japan, news links that might interest our readers include:

Cats, take notice: brain study uses trivia to look at how curiosity works - shows how curiosity fosters better learning.(Washington Post, Oct 5)

TTFN, digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe



Kumitaisou or human pyramid exercise at my daughter's middle school, 2014

Kumitaisou or human pyramid exercise at my daughter’s middle school, 2014

Autumn is here, and many schools are holding their sports festivals (undokai, taikusai) roundabout now. Showstopping and heartstopping events like the human pyramid gymnastics formations are the most popular(watch on Youtube here) but statistics show they also generate the third greatest number of injuries during physical exercise classes in schools nationwide(see news article below). My son broke his wrist one year after a fall over a hurdle that had been wrongly set up back-to-front. Accidents are so common in school that nobody bats an eyelid especially from middle school onwards … i didn’t so much as receive a phonecall from anyone at the school to explain how my son got his injury.

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe

Human pyramid accidents on rise

The Yomiuri Shimbun, September 27, 2014, via Newsonjapan

Students had more than 6,500 accidents while doing “human pyramid” gymnastic formations at primary schools in fiscal 2012, a public organization promoting sports found recently.

According to the Japan Sport Council, 6,533 accidents occurred in 2012 during such formations, a popular event at sports festivals at primary schools.

In the 10 years to fiscal 2012, there were 20 serious accidents resulting in permanent injuries. One expert said the rise in the number of accidents has a lot to do with the tendency to form higher human pyramids at schools.[watch a human pyramid collapse at Youtube here]

“There have been a number of serious accidents, so thorough safety measures need to be taken,” said Associate Prof. Ryo Uchida at Nagoya University, who analyzed the data.

Under the injury and accident mutual aid benefit system — one of its major programs — the council provides benefits in cases of injury, accident or death that occur to students and younger children while under the supervision of schools.

Receiving reports from schools that the number of accidents during gymnastic formations has been rising, the council collected relevant data. It found there were 5,976 accidents in fiscal 2011 and 6,533 in fiscal 2012, excluding those that occurred during after-school club activities.

Uchida found that accidents during gymnastic formations were the third largest in number, following those involving vaulting box events and basketball.

Out of the top 10 sport events with the most accidents, gymnastic formations are the only one not included in the sports programs covered by the education ministry’s official guidelines for school teaching.

In recent years, there has been a growing tendency to build higher human pyramids, with some primary schools attempting to create a nine-level formation and some middle schools an 11-level formation, reaching as high as the height of the second or the third floor of a building.

One child at the bottom stage of an 11-stage formation was calculated to have supported the weight of up to 4.2 children.

“In recent years, sports meets at [primary and middle] schools have taken on an aspect of being for the benefit of teachers and parents, rather than for the students themselves. The higher levels [of gymnastic formations] may be related to this tendency,” said Noriko Mizoguchi, associate professor at Shizuoka University of Art and Culture.

No. of accidents at primary schoolss during physical exercise classes or sports festivals (fiscal 2012)

1. Vaulting box         15,315

2. Basketball.            10,890

3. Gym. formation.      6,533

4. Mat exercises          5,789

5. Soccer, futsal.          5,631

6. Dodgeball                5,105

7. Horizontal bar          3,176

8. Hurdles                    2,946

9. Jump rope               2,897

10.Sprints                    2,956

*Compiled from Japan Sport Council data. Accidents exclude those that occupied during extracurricuoar activities, such as club activities, and warm-ups, exercises.

Experts have said it is important to secure a sufficient number of native English speakers, and utilize them to enhance the learning environments for students.

About 800 ALTs first came to Japan in 1987 when the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program was launched as a state international exchange project. As of 2002, the number of ALTs had increased to about 5,600, but it began to decrease after that due to financial problems. The current number is about 4,100.

Besides ALTs on the JET Program, about 8,000 ALTs hired independently by municipalities and other organizations have been dispatched to local primary and middle schools across the nation. In some cases, an ALT teaches at several schools.

According to experts, considerable disparity exists among the nation’s 21,000 public primary schools. While some schools have resident ALTs, some schools are visited by an ALT once about every six months.

The government therefore plans to increase the number of ALTs in the JET Program in stages. From the 2020 school year onward, English lessons will increase from the current once a week to three times a week for fifth-grade and sixth-grade students. Third-grade and fourth-grade students will have English lessons once or twice a week, and the education ministry plans to have ALTs frequently instruct students in English classes.

The budget for English education utilizing ALTs is expected to increase from about ¥30 billion this school year to about ¥50 billion a year eventually. The government also plans to launch a subsidy system for supporting municipalities that independently hire ALTs.


An ALT assists Japanese teachers in teaching foreign languages such as English at primary, middle and high schools. In addition to ALTs who come to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, a state international exchange project, others are directly hired by municipalities or private organizations contracted to dispatch ALTs.

From the 2011 school year, foreign language studies became compulsory for fifth-grade and sixth-grade primary school students. The role of ALTs has expanded to include assisting with pronunciation and listening comprehension.Speech

Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sep 22, 2014



In other news:

Kyoto University ranks No. 2 in iPS research (The Yomiuri Shimbun, September 25, 2014 via

Among world institutions influential on research into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, Kyoto University has been ranked second — behind only Harvard University — in a field that is rapidly capturing global attention. The results were revealed in a recent survey conducted jointly by The Yomiuri Shimbun and Elsevier, a Dutch information service company.

In the broader category of regenerative medicine, however, Kyoto University ranked much lower, at 17th, while the University of Tokyo ranked 54th, Osaka University 93rd and Nagoya University 94th — their rankings suggesting inadequate presence in the field among Japanese institutions. The most influential institution in the category of regenerative medicine as a whole is again Harvard University, with 17 U.S. universities and institutions dominating the top 20 ranking. Other Asian universities also made their presence known in the survey with National University of Singapore ranked 26th, South Korea’s Seoul National University 40th and China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University 80th.

The survey was conducted by analyzing more than 60,000 articles published in the 2008-12 period. Japan is one of leading nations in iPS cell research — as was recently demonstrated by the world’s first transplant of retina cells on a patient suffering from an “incurable” eye disease on Sept. 12. The transplant was performed by a group led by a researcher at RIKEN.

The Yomiuri-Elsevier survey results will be presented at the Regenerative Medicine Forum to be held Sunday in Tokyo. The event is organized by the Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine and co-organized by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Tsukuba University climbs to 13th in global new university rankings
Japan Times, SEP 24, 2014

The University of Tsukuba has been rated the 13th best new university worldwide, in a ranking that compares the merits of such institutions set up within the past 50 years.

Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd., a London-based education services company, compared institutions of higher education for their academic research, teaching, international outlook and — of crucial interest to many students — the employability of graduates.

Tsukuba placed 13th in the QS Top 50 Under 50 list.

Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University came first, followed by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in third place.

The University of Tsukuba was the only Japanese university to feature in the top 50. It climbed one place, from 14th last year.

QS has been ranking institutions of higher education since 2004. The company says the principal aim is to “help students make informed comparisons between their international study options.”

Its flagship list is the QS World University Rankings, a ranking of more than 800 colleges around the world, selected from more than 3,000 surveyed.

The institutions are rated on the same factors as the Top 50 Under 50.

The rankings also consider the international student ratio, which measures the international diversity of the student community, and how many foreign teaching staff are employed.

The University of Tsukuba was founded in 1973 as a state-run institution. Education experts in Japan commonly rate it as among the nation’s finest.

Tsukuba is also credited as a pioneer in university reform, for having designed its academic and research units to encourage interdisciplinary research and education.

Moreover, the university has embraced internationalization by offering a variety of degree programs taught in English to attract overseas students, and by opening liaison offices in nations such as Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, China, and Germany, which aim to promote student exchanges.
(Source: Japan Times, Sep 24)

211 municipalities offer unified education

September 20, 2014 The Yomiuri Shimbun

Twelve percent, or 211, of the nation’s municipalities offer combined public primary and middle school education, an education ministry survey has found.

The first of its kind to be conducted, the survey found such an education system in use at 1,130 combined primary and middle schools. Of this number, 30 percent utilized an unconventional division of the first nine school years, such as using a 4-3-2 system — four years at one school, three years at another and two at another — rather than the more traditional 6-3 system.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has been trying to legislate the integrated primary and middle school system, so use of a unified system may rapidly spread in the future.

The current system mandates six years of primary school and three of middle school, but a consistent curriculum could be provided over the mandatory nine years for the unified primary-middle school education.

Under a unified system, the higher grades in primary school can take classes from subject-specific teachers, which could lead to higher academic achievement. It could also help avoid the problem in the conventional system in which some newly enrolled middle school students drop out because they cannot adjust to their new environment.

Utilizing the nation’s system for preferential measures to establish special schools, Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward created the first integrated primary-middle school in the 2006 school year, and the city of Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture did so in the 2007 school year.

This triggered the spread of such schools across the nation.

In the survey conducted this May, municipalities across the nation were asked about their implementation of a consistent nine-year curriculum as an integrated educational system.

Of the 1,130 schools that had adopted a unified educational system, the largest number, about 40 percent, had a combination of one middle school and two primary schools. This was followed by about 30 percent with one primary school and one middle school.

Of the total, 27 percent divided up the nine years in other ways than the 6-3 system, with 293 schools using a 4-3-2 system and two schools using a 5-4 system.

About 90 percent of municipalities said they had achieved good results through combined school education, such as solving the issue of middle school students dropping out.

September 09, 2014
Jiji Press via Japan News

Japan remained at the bottom among 32 comparable Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states in public spending on education in 2011, an OECD survey showed Tuesday.

Public expenditure on education represented only 3.8 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, compared with the OECD average of 5.6 percent. Japan ranked bottom for the fifth consecutive year. Denmark and Norway ranked top, at 8.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the total amount of education spending per student in Japan, including spending by households, stood at $10,646, the 13th highest among the countries surveyed, according to the survey.

Between 2008 and 2011, only five countries cut their education spending, read more here:

U.S. is often an outlier in global education (ScienceInsider 9 Sep 2014)
2014 OECD report tracks trends around the world in spending and outcomes

Below is a poster being distributed by UNICEF, bearing information and illustrations on the symptoms of Ebola virus disease (EVD) and best practices to help prevent its spread in this 2014 UNICEF handout photo. As of July 27, 2014, a total of 1,323 cases, including 729 deaths, had been attributed to EVD in the four West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Liberia has borne 329 of these cases, including 156 deaths. [Via source: China Daily]

UNICEF infographic

UNICEF infographic


The US and China have issued advisories and alerts for Ebola (CDC guidelines for the US), Japanese authorities are strangely complacent by comparison.

Universities in the UK, have also put out an alert in case of Ebola cases surfacing among students.


See …
Will a summer vacationer bring back Ebola to Japan?
KUCHIKOMI AUG. 12, 2014 –

As of Aug 2, the number of known fatalities from Ebola hemorrhagic fever—a disease with a mortality rate ranging from 50 to 90%—was 729. That figure has since increased by several hundred.

In the United States, the Atlanta, Georgia-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Aug 6 that it had raised its alert level to 1, the highest of six levels, and issued an advisory that Americans refrain from travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“Ebola HF is contracted through direct contact with the excretions, saliva, blood and other bodily fluids of an infected person,” Dr Kiichi Inoue, director of the Setagaya Inoue Hospital, tells Shukan Jitsuwa (Aug 21-28). “Its incubation period can range from three days to three weeks, and for that reason it’s difficult to grasp where the patient was infected. Also, at the initial stage, many symptoms of Ebola—such as fever, diarrhea, headache and so on—resemble those of influenza, making diagnosis difficult.”

In a July 31 telebriefing, Dr Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, was quoted as saying the reason for issuing the advisory against nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was “… because the ongoing Ebola outbreak in these countries poses a potential risk to travelers particularly if you are traveling and happen to fall ill or be injured in a car crash and needed to go to a medical facility which might have recognized or unrecognized spread of Ebola.”

“People living in the infected countries are known to eat the meat of monkeys, gorillas and other wild game, and this is believed to be how the infection initially spread to humans,” an unnamed science writer tells the magazine. “The first cases in the current outbreak were traced to an area of jungle proximate to Conakry, the capital of Guinea. It’s likely that infected individuals then traveled from there to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.”

Since then, the media has reported that a man from Liberia flew to Nigeria, where he was diagnosed with Ebola. He has since expired from the disease.

“Fundamentally Ebola is not spread via airborne infection, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that passengers who were on the same plane won’t become infected,” the science writer explains. “In Africa, medical workers have been contracting the disease one after another, and over 100 have reportedly been infected, despite the protective gear they were wearing, with half of them dying. That alone shows how easily it can spread.”

The aforementioned Dr Inoue concurs.

“The possibility of Ebola reaching Japan is not zero,” he remarks gravely, adding, “Once a single case makes its way into the country, it’s feared that it will spread like wildfire.”

With the summer season for overseas travel set to peak just a few days from now, Shukan Jitsuwa concludes, an extra level of vigilance is called for.

Meanwhile, Yukan Fuji (Aug 9) worries that given the disease’s incubation period of up to three weeks, it may not be practical to spot an infected person upon arrival at an airport.

What will happen if a carrier of the virus enters Japan? A staff member at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare tells the newspaper, “Considering that Ebola HF is only transmitted through direct contact with the affected person’s bodily fluids, it’s unlikely that it would spread.” So while it appears there’s no need for excess worry, Japan still cannot let down its guard.” End of excerpt, read more here.


How strange that in the JT report above, the Ministry of Health official should have been so complacent and overly confident in his assessment that Ebola was unlikely to spread in Japan. The Ebola virus is highly contagious and spreads through contact with bodily fluids, it should remind us of the very similar way in which the Noro virus spreads in Japan. The latter is a debilitating and wearying disease for children that many of us parents in Japan have had some experience with.

Viruses like these are horrifying for the primary carer, anyone who has to care for an infected family member, especially children. Containing the bodily fluids, urine, vomit and cleaning up, while trying not get infected yourself, is a nightmare. You have to stockpile tonnes of kitchen towel paper, bottles of bleach, detergent, you have to not only clean, but contain and decontaminate everything within the radius of the infected, you scrub and wash every surface, toilet, toilet floor, sink or wash basin. You have to wash separately and decontaminate (or burn) every single piece of clothing, bedding, towel, hanky, and eating utensil, cup and dish…and then do the same with your own (which had been exposed to the patient’s germs). All your gloves and washcloths and brushes need to be disposed of.

When you care for sick children, they will hug or hang onto you, spill their tears, snot and vomit projectiles over you. CDC advises eye-goggles because your eyes can become infected too. So you need to constantly shower and wash your hair, scrub every bit of your exposed skin. The garbage has to be tied securely and disposed of without infecting the garbageworkers. When you clean, you need to put on a double layered mask the whole time. You can prevent yourself from being ill – and it is imperative that you successfully quarantine your patient, and keep yourself free of infection to prevent the infection from spreading to yet another member of the family, and continuing the terrible cycle and if you are the only person your family depends on or who knows how to care for the family. The infected individual needs to be confined or quarantined to a single room, and his or her footprint trail reduced to as little as possible. See the CDC guidelines to see the level of care required for healthcare people.

The kind of care required is thus very onerous for at least a week from the onset of the infection, and at least a week after recovery during which time the patient remains infectious, and at the same time, you have to also run out and get the groceries, medical supplies, so the burden is very great if you have no family or community support. But when a disease like Ebola strikes, it is exactly when you need the most support, that everyone around you will disappear and avoid your house like the plague, pun intended. Who will care for the singles, homeless and destitute or elderly living alone, when they get infected. You can also see that good healthcare requires a certain level of financial resource as well, which is probably the key reason why Ebola is losing the battle in Africa. You also require a well-educated and compliant population (like the Japanese) who will follow all of the quarantine and care instructions to a T. Even after recovery, the patient remains infectious for a time, typically, infectious flu’s and viruses spread in Japan through public nurseries and elementary schools, because parents aren’t conscientious, considerate or knowledgeable enough to keep their kids at home till the danger period has passed.

In Japan, when you bring the infected individual such as a norovirus or other flu-of-season sufferer to the clinic or hospital, most clinics have a separate waiting area, and that helps limit the spread of the disease within medical facilities. But you may notice that even the UNICEF poster fails to suggest precautions to preempt the likelihood of turning the hospital into a hotbed for contracting the virus.

Even for diseases like rotavirus and the more notorious noro virus, it typically takes the second year after a new disease has made its rounds, and lots of public information dissemination and TV programming campaigns before Japanese people learn how to cope with the disease.

The disease can be contained and prevented from spreading, but how many people (even for the compliant Japanese) will actually do all it takes to contain it? Once Ebola gets a toehold into just about any country, it is hard to see how the disease cannot help but spread quickly. Either the health official mentioned above deliberately wished to prevent a public panic or else he was certainly greatly lacking in imagination in saying the Ebola disease was unlikely to spread in Japan…

This will not be Japan’s first brush with the Ebola threat. In 1992, members of Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo cult considered using Ebola as a terror weapon. Their leader, Shoko Asahara, led about forty members to Zaire under the guise of offering medical aid to Ebola victims in a presumed attempt to acquire a virus sample. Because of the virus’s high morbidity, it is a potential agent for biological warfare.

Japan would probably survive an outbreak of Ebola, for with first-world care, Ebola might not even take any lives, see the case of the British victim in Ebola outbreak. But that is no excuse to be complacent. …

See Japan Times’s Prompt treatment can stop Ebola

Further news and other article links on Ebola:

Africa’s Ebola outbreak is officially “spiraling out of control”

U.S. and international health authorities admitted Tuesday that the West African Ebola virus epidemic may soon outpace the ability of medical teams to contain it. “It’s spiraling out of control. The situation is bad, and it looks like it’s going to get worse quickly,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden told NBC News. “This is different than every other Ebola situation we’ve ever had. It’s spreading widely, throughout entire countries, through multiple countries, in cities and very fast.”

Ebola in Nigeria: Japan to soon deliver experimental Ebola drug
- Zmapp After, U.S., Japan becomes the next country to offer an experimental Ebola drug for containing the on-going Ebola outbreak in West …

Japanese researchers develop 30-minute Ebola test- Nikkei Asian Review, Sep 1, 2014

TOKYO — Researchers at Japan’s Nagasaki University, in collaboration with Eiken Chemical, have developed a method that can detect the presence of the Ebola virus in just 30 minutes. The new method is simpler than the current one and can be used in places where expensive dedicated testing equipment is unavailable, said professor Jiro Yasuda.

He and his team of researchers hope to tie up with companies to make the method available in countries hit by the virus. Ebola hemorrhagic fever has a high fatality rate and is now seriously affecting West Africa, where more than 1,500 people have died in the current outbreak.

Yasuda’s team developed a substance called a primer that amplifies, or increases, only those genes specific to the Ebola virus. There are five types of the virus, which differ in the base sequences of their genes. The team selected the six sections of these genes with the fewest differences in sequence among the virus types and made primers that combine with them. “The method can probably be used on new types of the Ebola virus,” Yasuda said….

What is Ebola?


The incubation period can range from 2 to 21 days but is generally 5–10 days. Symptoms are varied and often appear suddenly. Initial symptoms include high fever (at least 38.8°C; 101.8°F), severe headache, muscle, joint, or abdominal pain, severe weakness, exhaustion, sore throat, nausea, dizziness, internal and external bleeding. Before an outbreak is suspected, these early symptoms are easily mistaken for malaria, typhoid fever, dysentery, influenza, or various bacterial infections, which are all far more common and reliably less fatal.

Ebola may progress to cause more serious symptoms, such as diarrhea, dark or bloody feces, vomiting blood, red eyes due to distension and hemorrhage of sclerotic arterioles, petechia, maculopapular rash, and purpura. Other, secondary symptoms include hypotension (low blood pressure), hypovolemia, and tachycardia. The interior bleeding is caused by a reaction between the virus and the platelets that produces a chemical that will cut cell-size holes into the capillary walls.

On occasion, internal and external hemorrhage from orifices, such as the nose and mouth, may also occur, as well as from incompletely-healed injuries such as needle-puncture sites. Ebola virus can affect the levels of white blood cells and platelets, disrupting clotting. More than 50% of patients will develop some degree of hemorrhaging.

Methods of diagnosis of Ebola include testing saliva and urine samples. Ebola is diagnosed with an Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay (ELISA) test. This diagnosis method has produced potentially ambiguous results during non-outbreak situations. Following Reston, and in an effort to evaluate the original test, Dr. Karl Johnson of the CDC tested San Blas Indians from Central America, who have no history of Ebola infection, and observed a 2% positive result. Other researchers later tested sera from Native Americans in Alaska and found a similar percentage of positive results. To combat the false positives, a more complex test based on the ELISA system was developed by Tom Kzaisek at USAMRIID, which was later improved with Immunofluorescent antibody analysis (IFA). It was however not used during the serosurvey following Reston. These tests are not commercially available.

There is no standard treatment for Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Treatment is primarily supportive and includes minimizing invasive procedures, balancing electrolytes, and, since patients are frequently dehydrated, replacing lost coagulation factors to help stop bleeding, maintaining oxygen and blood levels, and treating any complicating infections. Convalescent plasma (factors from those that have survived Ebola infection) shows promise as a treatment for the disease. Ribavirin is ineffective. Interferon is also thought to be ineffective. In monkeys, administration of an inhibitor of coagulation (rNAPc2) has shown some benefit, protecting 33% of infected animals from a usually 100% (for monkeys) lethal infection (however, this inoculation does not work on humans). In early 2006, scientists at USAMRIID announced a 75% recovery rate after infecting four rhesus monkeys with ”Ebolavirus” and administering Morpholino antisense drugs. Development of improved Morpholino antisense conjugated with cell penetrating peptides is ongoing.

More on Ebola:

Here’s are some interesting facts about the Ebola virus that make it so deadly.

It can kill within seven days: Unlike other viruses (like HIV) that can remain dormant in a person for years without causing the disease, Ebola violently multiplies until the viral particles are amplified to about 100 million viral particles in a droplet of blood. Further, without resting in a dormant stage the virus kills the host to find a new one. The fatality rate of the disease is 60 percent.

There is no vaccine or treatment available: What makes this virus deadly is the fact that researchers have not been able to find an effective treatment or preventive technique to combat the virus and the spread of the disease. The experimental drug Zmapp has shown promising results but the safety and efficacy of the drug are to be evaluated. So, as of now, neither do we have an effective form of therapy nor do we have a vaccine to prevent the disease.

Attacks every part of the human body: Ebola only needs a host cell that can help it produce multiple copies of itself. What worsens the condition is the fact that the virus does not need a specific type of cell to multiply (unlike other deadly diseases). According to studies, except for skeletal muscles and bones, the virus is known to infect every part of the human body. Connective tissues, the ones that hold your internal organs in place, are primary targets of the virus.

Disrupts your immune system: Viral proteins present on the outer surface of the Ebola virus are what destroy the immune system. VP35, one of those proteins, interferes with the production of some important components of the human immune system, like interferons. Another protein traps the white blood cells inside the circulatory system by limiting their movement. As a response to the virus, whatever molecules the immune cells release are used by the virus to devastate the vascular system and activate blood clot formation. Here are 10 reasons that make the Ebola virus deadly for humans. – The Health Site

A Japanese Middle Schooler's Schoolbag on an average school day weighs more than a 10 kg pack of rice

A Japanese Middle Schooler’s Schoolbag on an average school day weighs more than a 10 kg pack of rice

I weighed my junior high school daughter’s schoolbag and the weighing scale registered 12.75 kg (this only approximates an average day, and this is MINUS her afterschool club gear). For comparison, a regular household sack of rice that roughly feeds a family for about a month weighs 10 kg, so it is as if my daughter were lugging a bit more than a sack of rice to school everyday. And nobody ever walks around lugging a sack of rice on their back, not even full-grown adults, now do they? Nope, they use trolleys. Yet, we expect our schoolchildren to carry these loads like mules.

My daughter is petite, at 150 cm and has to walk for 30 minutes daily to arrive at school and then there’s the walk back home — come hot-and-humid summer, typhoon or snowy day. There is neither bus nor train service to her local public school.

Now, a few years ago, when my daughter was still in elementary school, I had already indicated that Japanese schoolbags were overweight for kids, and posted an article “Heavy schoolbags to be banned in the Philippines as detrimental to child’s growth … & other educational news“. Back then, my son’s (also a middle schooler) schoolbag weighed 8 kgs then … and the (same) schoolbag has ballooned and now weighs almost 5 kgs more.

Since then, the education ministry has increased the content of the national curriculum and padded the textbooks by around 10-20% depending on the subject, and increased the number of workbooks, so schoolbags have gotten fatter and heavier. Nobody’s speaking up about what these bags are doing to kids’ poor shoulders and bags. Not only are the schoolbags ridiculously overweight and injurious to the kids’ bodies, schoolchildren also have other afterschool gear and bentos and waterflasks to carry to school, especially all those who choose some sport. My daughter carries three medium-sized waterbottles to school in the summer when she has athletics and afterschool sports activities. These add considerably more weight to the already heavy school loads, although the walk home is lightened with the empty flasks. My daughter frequently asks that I massage her sore shoulders and back (as did my son back then).  The kids suffer these pains the most between their upper elementary and mid-junior high school years, when their bodies are still growing in their awkward pre-teen physiological frames. By the time the schoolchildren reach high school, their physical frames seem to catch up and manage the loads fairly OK.

All this additional padding of the National Curriculum is turning Japanese kids into packmules, and if you look around you can hardly find a Japanese teenager with good posture or a straight back/shoulder today. In case you don’t know, Japanese public schools don’t have lockers unlike American schools … Japanese schools do provide cubbyholes, but the students clear those out everyday and have to bring nearly everything home and back again. In some other countries with heavy curriculum loads like Singapore, they have digitized textbooks to a great extent, and also permit students to bring schoolbags on trolley wheels, much like those that airplane captains and air stewardesses carry on board their planes. With typical Japanese stoicism and great ‘gaman’ endurance for corporate suffering, Japanese schools and parents haven’t even begun to address the question of back and shoulder injuries yet. Recall that the Philippines government acted to ban by law overweight schoolbags.

In last week’s Huffington Post, is the highly relevant reading…and caution: “The dangers of heavy backpacks — and how to wear them safely”

“The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that the weight of a backpack should be less than 10-15 percent of a child’s body weight, but that isn’t always the case. Too often, children don’t wear their packs correctly, increasing risk of injury. “Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints and can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems,” orthopaedic surgeon and AAOS spokesperson Daniel Green, MD, told The Huffington Post. (Though, backpacks will not cause scoliosis, Dr. Green stressed.)

It’s easy to spot symptoms of a load that’s too hefty for your child, adds Dr. Rob Danoff, an osteopathic family physician. If kids grunt when putting on or taking off the backpack, have red marks on their shoulders from the straps, or if they complain that their shoulders, arms or fingers are “falling asleep,” those packs might just be too heavy.

But don’t fret, injury is preventable and it is possible for kids to carry backpacks comfortably. First thing’s first: Dr. Elise G. Hewitt, president of the American Chiropractic Association’s (ACA) Pediatrics Council, recommends shopping at a sporting goods store because employees know how to fit backpacks.

And though kids might object, Dr. Hewitt stresses the importance of using waist straps. “Shoulders are not designed to hang things from,” Dr. Hewitt told The Huffington Post, pointing out the reason indigenous people carry things on their heads. By using the strap, the bulk of the weight can be carried on the hip bones, rather than on the shoulders.”

Some years ago, I broached the subject of my son’s sore shoulders and the schoolbag and asked if it would be possible for my son to carry a different schoolbag, either a more aerodynamic one or one that would redistribute the weight of the books, or perhaps use a trolley bag — at least till the pain went away or till his frame grew larger to be better able to match the physical load. But the teacher said that that was not possible without a letter from the hospital stipulating that such measures were necessary due to serious injury.

Will nobody speak up for the poor suffering backs of Japanese schoolchildren?


Evening jogs by the Ibarago wind farms inspire a summer science project

Evening jogs by the Ibaragi prefecture wind turbines inspire a summer science project


Hello to all readers of our regular roundup on educational news in Japan.

It’s the end of the local summer break and back-to-school for everyone. This past week saw my daughter completing two days of “apprenticeship” work experience at a nearby DIY store, and lugging her Jiyu kenkyu (lit. ‘Independent Project’) Summer Project back to school yesterday.

Only a week ago, my husband and I were still wondering if she would actually ever come up with any ideas for a project. Remember Michelle Pfeiffer’s role in One Fine Day as the interfering super-mom who takes over her son’s summer project?  Well, we bit our lips, unnaturally and strenuously held back our suggestions for a summer project. And then after a week spent jogging with her Dad by the Ibaragi coast where a row of wind turbines line the sand dunes, she came up with her own original ideas for a science project. I was pleasantly pleased by her choice of the science project, as she seemed to be entering her girly anti-science/math phase. Below are thumbnail bits and pieces of her written report on her experiment.





The project involved a simulated miniaturized wind turbine, and the measuring of how much energy force could be produced with the different types, sizes and shapes of propellers, with single blades or double or triple, and more… All parts were handmade or home-assembled, except for the propeller parts, without pre-bought kits, and the process of thinking through, organizing the test, building it, testing and writing it up was a priceless learning experience for our daughter. Best of all, it was truly her own “Independent Project”.

The moral of this little lesson for us was that it is well worth giving our child a lot of leash, (or better still, unleash them altogether) so they can run on their own creative juices and ideas. Our self-restraint turned out to be a good call.

In the same spirit and quest for nurturing creativity in our kids, read Yasunori Kameoka’s paper “Cultural dimensions of outdoor education in Mt Koya, Japan: Co-existing patterns of universalist and local outdoor education approaches“. This study (as the title suggests) highlights the cultural dimensions of Koya outdoor education, including its historical development and future possibilities, and examines the geographical, historical, social and cultural aspects of outdoor education.

By the way, for parents with elementary students who still haven’t got the hang of it, check out p. 12 of this handy Guidebook if you still need an idea of how to prepare for the start of school.


Now for the regular wrap on what’s been happening on the educational scene in Japan.

It used to be believed that Education was a recession-proof field– especially the juku businesses, well, apparently it’s recession-proof no longer …

Cram school operator Yoyogi Seminar to shut majority of schools (Kyodo – Aug 23)

Yoyogi Seminar, one of the country’s largest cram school operators, plans to close the majority of its schools for children preparing for university entrance examinations, possibly next spring, a school official said Saturday.

In a move apparently reflecting the shrinking pool of children in the country as society rapidly ages, the cram school operator plans to close around 20 schools, about 70 percent of the total, including those in Yokohama, Kyoto, Kobe and Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture.No students will be sought for such schools from next spring, the official said, adding that the plan was conveyed to teachers on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, other opportunities appear on the horizon with news that the Japanese retail giant Aeon plans to open day care facilities inside its nationwide network of shopping centers and general merchandise supermarkets for its employees and other parents. (Nikkei)

See also related news: Nursery schools add services to survive (The Japan News – Jul 27, 2013)

With the number of privately run nursery schools increasing in Japan, many such facilities are working to come up with novel services in order to survive, including original educational materials and English conversation classes.
While the number of children on nursery waiting lists remains high, nursery school operators are keen to find ways to differentiate themselves in order to stay in business as Japan’s birthrate continues to fall.Major nursery service provider JP Holdings Inc. started using new educational materials for children aged 1 to 3 at its nursing schools in June. The new workbooks are linked with picture books and are designed to develop social skills and language ability.

Regional gaps in academic results shrinking in Japan (Jiji Press – Aug 26) 

Regional disparities are narrowing in the academic achievements of final-year students at elementary and junior high schools in Japan, reflecting significant performance improvements in low-ranking prefectures, recent national examinations revealed Monday.

According to the achievement exams conducted in April by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Okinawa Prefecture advanced to sixth place from last year’s 47th of all 47 prefectures in the average score on basic understanding of arithmetic.Part A of the exams evaluated basic understanding of the subject, while part B gauged the ability of students to apply knowledge in a practical way.

Sixth graders in Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture, raised their rankings by more than 10 places in all subjects, reflecting improvements in school classes.

The exams also found that sixth graders in the central prefecture of Shizuoka showed better performances in all subjects after the prefectural government stepped up efforts for improvements. The Shizuoka governor released the names of principals of some low-ranking schools after the prefecture ranked lowest in Japanese language A last year.  See more

Assistants help 1st-graders adjust to life at school (Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug 25, 2014)

KOCHI—As many primary school students struggle to adjust to their new school life when they enter first grade, local governments are introducing a “first-grade assistant” system to address any problems they encounter.

The Kochi municipal government, for instance, deployed first-grader assistants this fiscal year at 13 city-run primary schools.

According to the city education board, such problems as students constantly talking during class and wandering out of classrooms have occurred at eight of 41 city-run primary schools in fiscal 2011, and at four schools in fiscal 2013.

To remedy the situation, the education board asked 36 people, including former teachers, homemakers and university students hoping to become teachers, to assist struggling children for ¥1,000 a day. They were sent to schools for three months in the first semester.

On July 15, about 30 children in the first grade at Yokohama Primary School in the city of Kochi were learning arithmetic from their homeroom teacher, Maya Higuchi, 48. While the class tried to solve a problem using plastic blocks, a boy started playing with them instead.

Yuri Tone, a 43-year-old homemaker who was in the classroom as an assistant, approached the boy and gently told him with a smile, “It’s problem-solving time. Come now, look ahead.”

The boy nodded, replied “Yes,” and looked at the blackboard.

Tone was the only assistant at the school, helping out in classrooms from second period until the end of lunch break.

Making her rounds to three homeroom classes, she gently nudges distracted children to pay attention and helps with note-taking when they cannot follow what the teacher writes on blackboard.

She also helps with setting school lunches on tables and changing clothes for gym class. She has scolded misbehaving children and even stopped a fight.

“It’s worthwhile. Being with the children, I could feel them growing up,” said Tone, who has a boy at the primary school.

“It’s difficult for a homeroom teacher to check on how all the children are doing in class. Supporters are a big help,” Higuchi said. “And it seems the children find it easy to talk to her.”

Similar systems have been introduced in such municipalities as Tokyo’s Katsu-shika Ward, Sendai and Okayama… Kochi city plans to increase the number of primary schools with assistants from next fiscal year…


More university students prefer repeating senior year over working (The Japan News – Jul 21, 2013)

A total of 102,810 students did not graduate from colleges and universities nationwide this spring, with many choosing to repeat a year because they had decided to decline job offers they were reluctant to take, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

This means one in every six students in their final year will repeat that year, exceeding the 100,000 mark for the first time in two years. According to university officials, an increasing number of students are apparently inclined to repeat a year if they are displeased with the job offers they receive, and they try to find jobs they will find satisfactory instead.

Eighty-nine percent of colleges and universities across the nation responded to the Yomiuri survey.

According to the results, 102,810 university students who were in their final school year as of May 2013 did not graduate this spring. This figure represented 16.3 percent of the total and was up 3,445 from last year.

According to university officials in charge of assisting with student job hunting, many of the repeaters had been unable to secure the credits necessary for graduation or chose not to graduate because they had not gained job offers from companies.

But there was also a conspicuous number of students this spring who chose to repeat their final year after turning down job offers, the university officials said… Read more here.

Obokata’s case reveals faults of lenient Japanese academia (The Japan News — Jul 24)

Amid a series of research misconduct cases involving universities and research institutions in the nation, such as the recent controversy over articles on stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells, there is increasing criticism over insufficient investigations into suspected research misconduct.

For example, an investigative panel at Waseda University probed the work of Haruko Obokata, a unit leader at government-backed research institute RIKEN, who is at the center of the scandal over STAP cells. It said there was no need for the university to retract her doctorate although the panel admitted the doctoral thesis contained misconduct and irregularities.

Meanwhile, RIKEN’s internal investigative committee that was in charge of reviewing the STAP articles had overly narrowed down the range of issues to be covered, raising one new doubt after another since its investigation was closed.

These cases shed light on the lenient attitude of research institutions and universities toward their colleagues and fellow researchers.

“I can never go along with such a result. Japan’s academics will lose trust if this goes on,” a Waseda professor in a department related to science and technology said with anger after the university’s investigative panel announced its final report on the probe of Obokata’s doctoral thesis Thursday.

The panel identified intentional misconduct in six parts of Obokata’s thesis, including the fact that text on 20 pages-about one-fifth of the entire thesis-were copied from the website of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, while also pointing out a total of 20 irregularities such as fraudulent use of images.

More at The Japan News



On  health, safety and societal issues:

Causing quite a buzz is the news of the 3 dengue fever infections blamed on mosquitoes in Yoyogi Park, and that of the …

On 19 July the Noda City department of the Chiba Prefectural Police announced the arrest of 49-year-old elementary school teacher Masaki Yabusaki on charges of intimidation.
The suspect had allegedly sent around half a dozens emails to the Noda Board of Education with oddly-worded threatening remarks such as “I will blow up bad guys and their government buildings” if they didn’t rescind a decision to extend the school week to include Saturday classes introduced this year.

Yabusaki reportedly confessed to the charges but no explosives were found in his home during the investigation. The suspect who once served as the school’s curriculum coordinator allegedly sent around six emails to his board of education with various threatening remarks.

Among the messages’ grievances are “There’s no way to recover when you’re working until Saturday” and “All that can be done on Sunday is sleep.” These complaints were followed by threats of violence such as “On behalf of the faculty of Noda, I will blow up bad guys like you and your government buildings. I’m ready.” Even in Japanese the wording seemed pretty immature for a teacher nearing his fifties. - See more at:

The child poverty rate is at a record high (16.3%) in Japan, one in six children live in poverty in Japan:
The Japanese government adopted at a cabinet meeting Friday a set of guidelines for comprehensively promoting measures to reduce child poverty in Japan, which has grown into a serious problem in the advanced economy.
The guidelines are aimed at saving families trapped in a poverty cycle for generations.
Noting that the poverty facing Japanese children is particularly severe among advanced countries, the government pledged in the guidelines that it will create necessary environment and ensuring equal education opportunity so that family situations will not determine children’s future.
The guidelines set 25 poverty-related indicators, including the employment rate of single parents and the percentage of children on welfare who go on to high school or college, and list concrete measures to support children. With the indicators, the government will check progress in implementing such measures.
Efforts in the fields of education support, livelihood support, job assistance for parents, financial aid, etc are being contemplated …– See more here

A 10-year-old girl in the fifth grade of primary school in the Chubu region now looks forward to weekends after she started going to a tuition-free tutoring school organized by former teachers and other local volunteers in May.

At the tutoring school, she studies Japanese and arithmetic on a one-to-one basis.

“I can ask questions whenever there’s something I don’t understand. It’s fun because I can also play with other children,” said the girl.

She ended the first term with a better grade in Japanese, a subject she used to struggle with.

The girl lives with her 15-year-old sister and her 44-year-old mother, who divorced her father this spring because of his chronically excessive spending.

“At a meeting with my daughter’s teacher, I was told to help her raise her grades, but I was annoyed because I can’t afford to send her to a private tutoring school due to lack of money,” the mother said. “The free tutoring school has also become a place for my daughter to hang out as she only has a few friends.”

Free tutoring schools have been attracting attention as a way to help restore the confidence of children struggling with their studies, and to offer them an alternative place to spend time besides school or home. But compared with the number of children in poverty, there are only a small number of free tutoring schools with insufficient public support.

Hachioji Tsubame Juku, a nonprofit organization headed by Takayuki Komiya, started a free tutoring school two years ago in Hachioji, western Tokyo. With many children hoping to attend, the organization increased the number of classrooms to four by using space in public buildings and the home of an acquaintance of Komiya.

The number of children attending the school has increased to about 50, but the organization does not receive any public support and relies entirely on donations to pay rent and utility costs. “Many children hope to come to our school, but it’s hard to immediately increase the number of classrooms due to cost increases,” lamented Komiya, 36.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, only 12.9 percent of municipalities provide support for organizations that offer such free tutoring services or other programs to children. Though the central government plans to boost support for such organizations from next fiscal year, the decision to provide support ultimately lies with each municipality.

“If the issue is just left for each municipality to deal with, there won’t be an increase in these kinds of organizations,” remarked Tokyo Gakugei University Prof. Susumu Kase, an expert on special needs education. “There are many children with no interest in studying, unable to take that step toward attending a free tutoring school. There need to be more ways to encourage them, through such measures as providing free meals with classes.”

An even bigger challenge is reaching out to the children who can’t even attend these free schools. Some municipalities have therefore started dispatching so-called school social workers to primary, middle and high schools to seek out SOS signals from children at school.

Miwa Nakayama, 45, is a social school worker in Osaka Prefecture. She quietly observes children for signs of bullying or if they’re wearing damaged clothes or shoes. If she spots a child with signs of trouble, she observes them during class. Nakayama then plays with such children, inquiring about their day-to-day living. If she thinks could be facing financial difficulties, she advises their parents on public support provisions such as child-rearing allowance or school expense subsidies.

But according to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, there are more than 34,000 public primary, middle and high schools across the nation and only just about 1,000 school social workers. Nakayama, who works at primary and middle schools in four municipalities in the prefecture, said: “Problems in these children’s lives don’t really surface unless I meet with them many times and build up trust, making it hard to offer the right kind of support. But under current circumstances it’s difficult for me to go to the same school even once a week.”

According to Osaka Prefecture University Prof. Noriko Yamano, who is familiar with child welfare, many school social workers are part-timers or work on a commission basis, while only about 40 percent of them have qualifications as certified social workers.

If they identify possibly needy children, cooperation is necessary with municipal welfare offices and child consultation centers to determine whether their households receive livelihood assistance or if they are being abused.

However, no system currently exists to carry out such endeavors. The central government is planning to boost the number of school social workers, but Yamano said, “Even if there’s more, it won’t be possible to provide sufficient support as the situation stands today.”

Open University of Japan Vice President Michiko Miyamoto, who chaired a government panel of experts tasked with working out necessary measures for child poverty, echoed similar sentiments and said, “Child poverty is intricately intertwined with various issues such as divorce, employment and the education of parents, so it’s impossible to resolve the problem with just one measure.” — Read more here.

One in six children live in poverty in Japan, supposedly one of the most prosperous countries in the world.
The nation’s child poverty rate was a record-high 16.3 percent in 2012, according to figures released July 15 by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
Some children give up on advancing to higher levels in school due to poverty, while others do not get enough to eat. How can we create a society in which a child’s economic situation does not control his or her future?
The government plans to release an outline of child poverty countermeasures this summer. In anticipation of this, The Yomiuri Shimbun is examining the current state of affairs and exploring the issues involved.
Rise in divorce boosts child poverty
The child poverty rate represents the proportion of children whose families have incomes below the level that would allow them to live an average life. The criteria are set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Household income is divided by the number of people in the household and each individual is placed into national rankings. Then authorities count the number of children under 18 years old whose families have less than half-Y1.22 million in 2012-the median income.
The child poverty rate has been worsening since 2003. It rose 0.6 percentage point in 2012 compared to three years before.
The increase in one-parent households due to the rising divorce rate is thought to be one cause of the situation. There are thought to be about 1.24 million single-mother families nationwide. They have an average annual income of Y1.81 million, half that of single-father families.
Yet only about 10 percent of single-mother families receive welfare benefits. Read more here

Govt to promote preschool exercise (The Japan News, August 23, 2014)

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe education ministry plans to produce booklets and videos to encourage young children to enjoy physical exercise, and distribute these teaching aids to lo-cal governments, nursery schools and childcare centers nationwide.

The plan is aimed at encouraging exercise among children of preschool age, a time when their athletic abilities rapidly develop. This will help them acquire a fondness for sports, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry believes.

In recent years, the average physical strength of primary, middle and high school students in Japan has been improving. However, they still compare poorly with the peak seen in about 1985, according to a ministry survey.

The ministry believes this may be partly due to insufficient exercise by children during their preschool days, although no studies have been conducted of children at this age.

In March 2012, the ministry drew up a set of guidelines for encouraging young children to exercise. Proposed measures seek to ensure that:

—Children spontaneously play in different ways, thereby becoming comfortable with a wide range of bodily motions.

—They engage in fun exercise for 60 minutes or longer every day.

—They are provided with opportunities to play in a manner that does not put an excessive burden on their bodies.

In some areas, various attempts are being made to encourage young children to enjoy exercise on their own.

One idea is to have children quickly walk on a balance beam while wearing a ninja costume. Other suggestions include playing tag while wearing some sort of animal mask, as well as exercising one’s whole body by pretending to be a fish or other animal.

Nursery school personnel who have no experience with such activities have said they need specific, easy-to-understand visual materials.

This prompted the ministry’s decision to compile examples of children safely enjoying exercise, and produce pamphlets and DVDs useful for guiding them to enjoy physical activity


Why teachers have a tougher job than doctors

“…many Americans assume good teachers are born, not trained; that teaching well requires innate talent, or recruiting the best and brightest to begin with.

Elizabeth Green, who founded the education news site and serves as its editor and CEO, spent five years researching those assumptions. She visited the classrooms of talented teachers and charter schools renowned for high test scores, and traveled to Japan to watch math teaching methods in action. Her book, Building a Better Teacher, argues that teaching is perhaps the most complex profession there is, but that training, not talent, can create exceptional educators.”  Read more of the interview with Elizabeth Green here

On the topic of School-refusers and Bullying:

The University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology and the Nippon Foundation will launch a project to find highly talented children who refuse to go to school and to educate them to be future Japanese leaders.
The project aims to discover human resources like renowned inventor Thomas Edison, who dropped out of an elementary school. Edison’s talent bloomed after his mother supported his studies. In some cases, children lose interest in their classes due to difficulties communicating with others or they are only interested in particular areas and eventually stop going to school. Read more here
The body of a second-year high school girl was discovered in the sea off Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, on July 8, in what police believe may have been a suicide caused by bullying. TBS reported Thursday that the girl was last seen at school on July 4 but by lunchtime, she was nowhere to be found.
School officials said Wednesday that the girl’s parents had told them their daughter left a note in which she said she had been bullied at school for several months. However, teachers said they had not been aware of any bullying.

On technology & education:

 Tokyo, Aug. 25 (Jiji Press)–A government survey has revealed that nearly half of third graders at junior high schools in Japan spend one hour or more per day using smartphones, with over 10 pct spending four hours or more.

The survey was the first by the education ministry that asked about the length of time spent on mobile phone use.

The survey also found that over half of sixth graders at elementary schools have mobile phones.

Students who spend more time on mobile phone use, such as e-mailing and browsing Internet sites, tend to have poorer results in terms of academic performance, according to the survey.

An expert warned that certain rules on smartphone use need to be established immediately. Read more here

A total of 741 smartphone users under 18 became victims of sex crimes in Japan in 2013 as a result of the use of social networking sites, up 4.6-fold from the previous year, the National Police Agency said Tuesday.
The NPA advises parents to regularly explain the dangers of such sites, especially as youngsters tend to use their smartphones much more during the summer holidays and have more chances to make contact with people they only know online. Only 11 children became victims of such crimes as child prostitution, child pornography and abuse through the use of SNS on their smartphones in 2011, but the number grew sharply to 160 in 2012, according to the NPA.
Amid China’s repeated intrusions into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands, Okinawa Prefecture, the government has decided to strengthen “maritime education” in school curriculum.
Aiming to enhance further understanding of Japan’s sovereignty over territories, territorial waters and marine resources, the government will incorporate related contents in its educational guidelines, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. Read more here

More readings related to Historical perspectives: War as a path to hell or the glorification of war

An Aug 28 Yomiuri Shimbun editorial focuses on the new proposal that moral training be upgraded to a “special subject”, see:

New subject of moral training should nurture children’s thoughtfulness (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 28, 2014)

It is important to ensure that the proposed idea of introducing moral training as a school subject will result in substantial improvement in the quality of our nation’s ethical education.

An subcommittee of experts at the education ministry’s Central Council for Education has basically adopted a report proposing that the current “moral training hour” at primary and middle schools be upgraded to a “special subject.” The new subject would use education ministry-authorized textbooks but not grade students numerically.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry hopes to introduce the new subject in fiscal 2018 at the earliest, after revising its official teaching guidelines and laying down criteria for screening moral education textbooks.

As circumstances stand today, classes for moral training are not part of the ministry’s regular curriculum. Some schools tend to pay little heed to the importance of offering moral training, as shown by their practice of switching such lessons to Japanese language, arithmetic and mathematics classes. The idea of making moral training a subject is intended to rectify this situation.

It is very meaningful for children to be encouraged to learn social rules and develop a sense of thoughtfulness toward others, as they are certain to play a leading role in shaping our country’s future. Some critics have said that making moral training a subject is tantamount to forcing certain values on students. Such criticism must be dismissed as pointless.

The latest report cited “the frailties of people” and “the courage to confront difficulties” as examples of topics to be taken up in the new subject, reflecting the fact that school bullying is becoming even worse nowadays. It also proposed addressing contemporary issues such as the morals to be observed when using information on the Internet.

The question is what should be done to improve the quality of moral training lessons. Teachers will not gain a favorable response from children if they only read out from a textbook.

Imaginative ideas needed

One of the proposals put forward in the report focused on school bullying and other problems involving students. The report suggested encouraging students to think about what to do by having them role-play such scenarios. It also proposed getting children to debate a single issue to the fullest. We find it reasonable for the proposal to emphasize the need to come up with imaginative ideas about how to give moral training lessons.

The introduction of the new subject is certain to test teachers in terms of their instructional skills. However, the status quo is hardly promising. In the teacher training courses offered by colleges and universities, there are only a few lectures on moral education. Therefore, many teachers remain unsure about their teaching methods.

Moral training lessons would be conducted by homeroom teachers as they are well acquainted with students. Such teachers should not be left to their own devices or become complacent about how to conduct moral education. With this in mind, the principle of each school should take responsible steps to ensure this does not occur.

One focus of attention is examining what kinds of standards should be set for screening textbooks, as well as how to assess the achievements accomplished by each student.

Full rein must be given to the originality and ingenuity of private-sector textbook publishers, to ensure that the contents of their textbooks are worth reading. At the same time, however, it is necessary to lay down screening criteria conducive to securing the ideological neutrality of the contents and attaining a proper balance in other aspects of the details.

In conducting moral training lessons, it is not appropriate to use scores to grade students’ achievements. Moral education differs from other subjects in which students are assessed through tests and other scores. Classes for moral training are intended to improve their mental attitude. Given this, the latest report is correct in saying that teachers should describe in writing the attitude of each student toward the lessons and his or her accomplishments. We hope the education ministry will set specific guidelines for that purpose, to provide teachers with some illuminating information.

Study pours cold water on blood type view (WSJ, Jul 22) [See original study link]

Stereotyping people based on their blood type is a near obsession in Japan, with books on the topic selling millions of copies. But research indicates that the science doesn’t back up this popular belief.

A study published in the latest issue of the Japan Psychological Association’s Shinrigaku Kenkyu magazine dismissed the view that ABO blood types are a major factor in determining a person’s character.

For his study, Kyoto Bunkyo University’s Kengo Nawata conducted a questionnaire of over 10,000 people in both Japan and the United States on a variety of subjects including personal preferences and thoughts on future plans, religion, gambling and relationships.

Of the 68 questions, 65 of them showed no specific pattern depending on the person’s blood type, Mr. Nawata wrote, pouring cold water on the idea of blood as a determinant of character. Even with these three questions the study showed that blood types “explained less than 0.3% of the total variance in personality.”

“There is no correlation between blood type and a person’s character,” Mr. Nawata wrote in the study.

The belief that blood types influence personality appears to have taken root in Japan in the 1970s. The widely held view in Japan is that people with blood type A are meticulous, type Bs are optimistic and Os are social animals. AB types are seen as having highly individual characters.

Among references to blood type to describe a person’s failings, former reconstruction minister Ryu Matsumoto blamed his blood type for a gaffe that cost him his job in 2011, saying that he was “a type B with a tendency to be simplistic and too straightforward at times.”

See also:

Blood type ‘plays no role’ in personality via Newsonjapan (The Japan News — JUL 31)

A belief widely held in Japan that blood type is linked to personality has no scientific basis, according to a recent statistical analysis conduced by a Kyushu University lecturer. Kengo Nawata, who specializes in social psychology, analyzed survey results encompassing more than 10,000 people from Japan and the United States to draw the conclusion.

Many Japanese people believe that character is determined by blood type-for example, that “people with blood type A are serious” or “type B people are selfish.” Observers point out that such a belief has lead to “blood type harassment,” in which people face discrimination in job-hunting, personnel issues and other spheres on the basis of blood type. These findings are likely to raises questions about the popular belief.

In other educational news outside Japan:

Read about the interview “Why teachers have a tougher job than doctors” with Elizabeth Green, author of “Building a Better Teacher” who says teaching is perhaps the most complex profession there is, and that training, not talent, is the key. Green traveled to Japan to watch math teaching methods in action.

See Melissa McCartney’s study on the benefits of having students write their own test questions, Students produce assessment materials:

If teaching someone else is the best way to learn, what will students gain from writing their own test questions? Every week, as part of an introductory undergraduate physics class, Bates et al. required students to contribute one original test question, answer five others, and critique an additional three. The researchers used Bloom’s taxonomy criteria for cognitive level and quality of explanation—a standard scale—to rate the questions. Seventy-five percent of questions produced by first-year students were of high quality, with a large portion of the questions constituting true problems, as opposed to simple multiple choice questions. Overall, involving students in the summative assessment strategy for their own course increased both engagement and learning.

Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.10.020105 (2014).

And that’s it for now folks!

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe

Times have changed.  Kids in Japan today aren’t interested in the safe jobs of yesteryear of the doctor-accountant-and-lawyer set, they are hankering after the ‘star factor’. So much so, acting and singing schools for kids are now thriving enterprises.

Local talent variety shows and ‘Glee’, the American drama, are the most watched shows on TV in Japan. Acting, singing and dancing skills and abilities are considered far cooler things to have under their belt than stellar grades in math or science. Most high schools have dance and drama afterschool clubs, many of them call themselves the Glee Club. Even the middle and high schools that my son and daughter attend have terrific hiphop and other performance arts clubs, and their teen club groups out on heartstopping shows for their school Open Day concerts. Last time I attended my son’s school event, I saw a packed gym of girls screaming their hearts out as a group of ikemen (good-looking) boys gyrated and sang on stage.

Proof of the popularity of all things showbiz and theatre and performing arts among the young, is the burgeoning growth of acting, singing and dance classes for kids, especially those at the Teaturo Akademi or Theatre Academy. It now has seven branches around the nation.

Watch this incredible clip (or the Youtube clip at the top of the page) which starts of showing the young talent-wars between China, Korea and Japan (in which Japan wins), and then it goes on to show the interviews with the young prodigies of Japan, how they prep for a part memorizing lines in one minute, and the classes of Teaturo Akademi at work.

Another school said to be possibly the most successful performing arts schools in Japan is the Okinawa Actors School. The school which has around 500 registered students has produced 30 pop stars.  “Namie Amuro, the super-idol whose fashion look caught on wildly among middle- and high-school girls in 1996, and who inspires religious adoration among teens. . . Speed, a group of four girls aged 14 to 17 that reigns supreme in the hearts of young people. . . Rina Chinen, who sings, acts, and appears in commercials. . . and Max, another four-girl group, whose wild dancing and singing captivates fans” — “What’s cool in Japan -The Okinawa Actors School

A placement at the school is harder to get than an Ivy League college … almost, in the summer of 1998, by popular demand, the school held nationwide auditions. Some 53,000 boys and girls aged 8 to 20 from around the nation applied; after the final selection, held at the Budokan (one of the largest concert halls in Tokyo) in August, only nine remained and were accepted at the school.

The Okinawa Actors School was founded in 1983 by Masayuki Makino and is focused on practical performing arts. The students range in age from elementary school kids through to high school age. The kids attend regular school for general education and The Actors School for dance, music, acting and English. The philosophy of the school is quite unique in that it concentrates on emotion and freedom rather than just technique although of course this important… Read more about it at ‘The Spill’| The Okinawa Actors School and see also The Okinawa Actors School – Looking to the future of education (by Kenny Ehman).

And actually, it isn’t just kids who are dazzled by the star factor, parents too. They call it an oyako-boom (a parent-and-child boom).


Finding such strong genetic influence does not mean that there is nothing we can do if a child finds learning difficult – heritability does not imply that anything is set in stone – it just means it may take more effort from parents, schools and teachers to bring the child up to speed.”


From UCL News, Same genes drive maths and reading ability 8 July 2014

Around half of the genes that influence how well a child can read also play a role in their mathematics ability, say scientists from UCL, the University of Oxford and King’s College London who led a study into the genetic basis of cognitive traits.

While mathematics and reading ability are known to run in families, the complex system of genes affecting these traits is largely unknown. The finding deepens scientists’ understanding of how nature and nurture interact, highlighting the important role that a child’s learning environment may have on the development of reading and mathematics skills, and the complex, shared genetic basis of these cognitive traits.

The collaborative study, published today in Nature Communications as part of the Wellcome Trust Case-Control Consortium, used data from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) to analyse the influence of genetics on the reading and mathematics performance of 12-year-old children from nearly 2,800 British families.

Twins and unrelated children were tested for reading comprehension and fluency, and answered mathematics questions based on the UK national curriculum. The information collected from these tests was combined with DNA data, showing a substantial overlap in the genetic variants that influence mathematics and reading.

Both analyses show that similar collections of subtle DNA differences are important for reading and maths. However, it’s also clear just how important our life experience is in making us better at one or the other. It’s this complex interplay of nature and nurture as we grow up that shapes who we are.
Dr Oliver Davis
First author Dr Oliver Davis (UCL Genetics), said: “We looked at this question in two ways, by comparing the similarity of thousands of twins, and by measuring millions of tiny differences in their DNA. Both analyses show that similar collections of subtle DNA differences are important for reading and maths. However, it’s also clear just how important our life experience is in making us better at one or the other. It’s this complex interplay of nature and nurture as we grow up that shapes who we are.”

Professor Robert Plomin (King’s College London), who leads the TEDS study, and one of the senior authors, said: “This is the first time we estimate genetic influence on learning ability using DNA alone. The study does not point to specific genes linked to literacy or numeracy, but rather suggests that genetic influence on complex traits, like learning abilities, and common disorders, like learning disabilities, is caused by many genes of very small effect size.

“The study also confirms findings from previous twin studies that genetic differences among children account for most of the differences between children in how easily they learn to read and to do maths. Children differ genetically in how easy or difficult they find learning, and we need to recognise, and respect, these individual differences. Finding such strong genetic influence does not mean that there is nothing we can do if a child finds learning difficult – heritability does not imply that anything is set in stone – it just means it may take more effort from parents, schools and teachers to bring the child up to speed.” Read the rest here.

Excerpted from Math Nerd Or Bookworm? Many Of The Same Genes Shape Both Abilities
by MAANVI SINGH NPR Health news, July 10, 2014

“…But it turns out that about half the genes that influence a child’s math ability also seem to influence reading ability, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

“You’d think that cognitively what’s going on with math and reading is very different,” says Robert Plomin, a behavioral geneticist at Kings College London, and one of the authors of the study. “Actually, people who are good at reading, you can bet, are pretty good at math too.”

Twins Data Reshaping Nature Versus Nurture Debate
The researchers looked at 2,800 pairs of 12-year-old British twins who were part of the larger Twins Early Development Study. Some pairs were very nearly genetically identical; the other pairs were fraternal twins, meaning they are the same age and shared a quite similar early environment, but are no more genetically similar than other siblings.

As Genetic Sequencing Spreads, Excitement, Worries Grow
The scientists assessed each child’s math and reading skills based on standardized tests. To gauge how genes influenced the students’ aptitude, the researchers compared the test results of twin siblings as well as the results of unrelated children.

The researchers also analyzed the participants’ DNA, in hopes of turning up a particular gene or set of genes shared by people with high math or reading ability — genes that were, perhaps, missing in people with low abilities. (Some earlier, smaller studies had suggested such highly influential gene variants might exist). But no particular gene or sets of genes emerged. That may be because a lot — maybe thousands — of genes may be involved in helping to shape these abilities, Plomin says.

What the study did find was that children’s reading ability and math ability seem to be related — and much of that relationship can be explained by genetics.

The research also showed that genes can’t explain everything about our abilities, Plomin says. “These genetic propensities are like little nudges,” he says. Slight variations in your genes may nudge you to read more for pleasure. “And that can snowball,” Plomin says.

Deceptive Cadence
Teachers Who Made A Difference: Marin Alsop’s Math and Music Mentors
These kids who like reading may spend more time at the library or may ask their parents to buy them more books — and all of that practice reading will push their skills even further.

Other kids may find reading to be a bit harder due to genetics, Plomin says. “It’s not that the child just isn’t motivated, or that he’s just not trying hard enough.” But with some extra encouragement and support, these children can become good readers as well…” Read the rest of the article here



My editorializing begins here …

Hmmmm… What are we as parents to make of the above information? Sooner or later, parents find out whether their child has an aptitude for academics(in relation to others in conventional schooling), whether their child is a reluctant reader or has any learning disorders …

We know blaming academic inaptitude on genetics is neither here nor there, after all, there are any number of studies that show us what are the significant factors that help children to succeed academically … See some of the following articles:

Reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom, study finds (11 September 2013)

Children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers, according to new research from the Institute of Education (IOE). …

Books in home as important as parents’ education in determining child’s education level

Asian excellence shows how cultural factors influence results

Why aren’t low-income students succeeding in school

Developing vocabulary  in language acquisition…

Cultural diversity and academic achievement

I think what all the diverse studies serve to show us, is that “talent is as talent does”, “giftedness is as giftedness does”, and might also we say (as a movie reference to Forrest Gump)… “genetics is as genetics does”.

One of the books that has influenced me more than others regarding education, knowledge and ability, and a academic success, is Geoff Colvin’s “Talent is Overrated“. In his book citing studies involving the largest number of test subjects and carried over the longest time period ever, he showed that what wins out at the end of the day in every field without exception, is hard work and diligent practice(though not blind and mindless work), motivation, commitment and tenacity, rather than inherited talent or giftedness. No matter how talented or untalented our child may be at reading or at math, our task is not just to help our kids find passionate areas of learning or a good environment for learning, but also to help each child realize that academic success (like success in many other areas of life) cannot be had without hard work, focus and concentration and “practice”(a loaded term in view of Colvin’s book), as well as to innately understand that the process of learning and knowing is in itself the reward.

A farmer's field bordered with sunflowers, and peppered over with signboards of cheer and encouragement

Here’s an idea for your schoolgardens: A farmer’s field bordered with sunflowers, and peppered over with signboards of cheer and encouragement

Hello readers,

Here’s our regular roundup on the educational scene in Japan:

Sasebo girl says she wanted to see what it was like to kill someone (JapanToday, Jul. 29, 2014)
A 16-year-old high school girl who was arrested Sunday for the grisly murder of her 15-year-old classmate in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, told police on Monday that she wanted to see what it was like to kill someone.

The suspect was sent to prosecutors as police, educators and psychologists tried to determine her motive for killing Aiwa Matsuo.

Officials at the school that the two girls attended expressed shock Monday and said there was no indication of any trouble between the two, Sankei Shimbun reported.

Police said the suspect told them that she and Matsuo went shopping on Saturday afternoon and when they returned to her apartment, she killed her. Police said the girl admitted striking Matsuo on the back of the head at least 10 times with a hammer. She then strangled her with a cord, before hacking her head off with a saw. Matsuo’s left hand was also severed, police said.

After Matsuo failed to return home on Saturday night, her parents called police who came to the suspect’s apartment to look for her. They found the suspect with Matsuo’s body.

The suspect also told police that she bought the tools she used to kill Matsuo a few days prior to the attack. … more here

More university students prefer repeating senior year over working (The Japan News – Jul 21, 2014)
A total of 102,810 students did not graduate from colleges and universities nationwide this spring, with many choosing to repeat a year because they had decided to decline job offers they were reluctant to take, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.
This means one in every six students in their final year will repeat that year, exceeding the 100,000 mark for the first time in two years. According to university officials, an increasing number of students are apparently inclined to repeat a year if they are displeased with the job offers they receive, and they try to find jobs they will find satisfactory instead.
Eighty-nine percent of colleges and universities across the nation responded to the Yomiuri survey.

According to the results, 102,810 university students who were in their final school year as of May 2013 did not graduate this spring. This figure represented 16.3 percent of the total and was up 3,445 from last year.

According to university officials in charge of assisting with student job hunting, many of the repeaters had been unable to secure the credits necessary for graduation or chose not to graduate because they had not gained job offers from companies.

But there was also a conspicuous number of students this spring who chose to repeat their final year after turning down job offers, the university officials said

Meanwhile, heavy-handedness and wrongful eviction are issues coming to bear upon the decision by the Tohoku U. to evict all 105 dormitory residents regardless of whether they were proven guilty of infringing the no-drinking rules of the school…

Tohoku University evicts entire dormitory for rampant drinking (National Jul. 28, 2014)

TOKYO — On July 15, Tohoku University sent eviction notices to all 105 residents of Meizenryo, a student-governed dormitory in Sendai. The school claims that the students violated their “promise to abstain from alcohol.”

Although asking a building full of college students not to drink is like asking a building full of tigers not to scratch the furniture, the school is taking a hardline stance of incredulousness at their behavior. Nevertheless, students are appealing saying that not everyone in the dorm drinks and some should be allowed to stay.

According to Professor Odanaka, a representative of Tohoku University, the problem began back in April when a large number of empty beer cans were found in the dorm and there had been reports of intoxicated vomiting in the common areas. He says that since then the situation has shown “no improvement” leading to the current eviction notices.

The dormitory houses first and second year students most of whom are under the legal drinking age. However, the school feels that there is a longstanding atmosphere of “this is a place to drink” in Meizenryo which is placing peer pressure on students who wouldn’t normally want alcohol.

Meanwhile, Meizenryo committee chairman Shunto Kaneko flatly denies the university’s claims and says that the situation has gotten better. “The university is trying to wipe out an outdated image of widespread drinking with brute force,” he said.

Kaneko requested to discuss the issue with the university further and try to prevent students who didn’t drink from getting kicked out, but Odanaka declined saying, “The decision has been made. It will not be overturned.” The students have until 30 September to move out and the school has offered to help by mediating with other dorms in the city. … more here.

Trimester system makes a comeback (Japan News, Jul. 27, 2014)

At the end of June at Ushioda Middle School in Yokohama, Japanese language teacher Miyoko Baba returned the graded final exams to students in her third-year classroom, speaking to each student in turn.

Under the two-semester system that was used here until last school year, the final test of the first semester was carried out in mid-September, after summer vacation, and report cards were given to students in October. Under the recently reintroduced trimester system, however, the first term’s final test comes at the end of June and students get report cards before summer vacation.

“I can talk with students and their parents in a private interview before summer vacation, based on a firm evaluation of the student’s academic performance and their daily behavior,” said Baba, 56.

Student Daisuke Tsukayama, 14, said that thanks to the trimester system, “I can determine my weak points earlier and rethink my way of studying for the high school entrance exam.”

The middle school adopted the two-semester system in the 2004 school year and increased its classroom hours by about 20 hours. Ten years later, however, it has reverted to a trimester system. According to the school, classroom hours will not decrease due to such measures as offering lessons on the same days as closing ceremonies.

More and more schools are reverting to the trimester system from the recently popular two-semester system, whose adoption has been promoted at primary and middle schools across the nation since about 10 years ago.

The aim of adopting the two-semester system was to increase classroom hours by reducing the number of opening and closing ceremony days and regular test periods. However, an increasing number of schools have coped with the required classroom hours by shortening long vacations and offering Saturday classes.

The trimester system revival also likely reflects complaints from parents who are dissatisfied with the fact that they receive fewer report cards under the two-semester system.

According to the Yokohama municipal board of education, the majority of municipal primary and middle schools shifted their school system to the two-semester system after the five-day school week system was fully introduced in the 2002 school year. However, an increasing number of schools began to shift back to the trimester system from about 2010.

During this school year, 23 primary schools out of 342, or 6.7 percent, and 58 middle schools out of 148 middle schools, or 39.1 percent, have adopted the trimester system.

A national survey conducted by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry also shows a decreasing trend regarding the two-semester system. Public primary schools that adopted the two-semester system in the 2013 school year accounted for 20.9 percent—a 1 percentage point decrease from the 2011 school year—and public middle schools accounted for 20 percent—a 1.9 percentage point decrease—according to the ministry.

In the 2013 school year, municipalities that returned all of their public primary and middle schools to the trimester include Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, and Takamatsu. This school year, municipalities including Kanazawa and Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture returned to the trimester system at all of their public primary and middle schools.

In Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, where about 40 percent of primary and middle schools adopted the two-semester system, all of its public primary and middle schools have adopted the trimester system this school year. According to a questionnaire for parents, which was conducted in advance of the change, 47 percent favored the trimester system, triple the number who preferred the two-semester system. One reason given was that they received fewer report cards from the school under the two-semester system.

An official at the Kuki municipal board of education said: “Many parents may think their children will be able to concentrate on studying more under the trimester system, as there are more chances to improve if their performance is evaluated in shorter increments.”

The education board plans to secure classroom hours by such measures as shortening winter vacation by two days.

Meanwhile, the Sendai municipal board of education said it has no plans to review the current two-semester system. One official said: “Under the two-semester system, it’s easier to secure classroom hours. We have to provide detailed information to parents regarding their children’s study and daily life habits during interviews with parents before long vacations.”

Bunkyo University Prof. Masaaki Hayo, an expert on school curriculums, said, “If schools change their term system, it’s important to fully explain the intent of the change so that students and parents are not left confused.”

Nursery schools add services to survive (The Japan News Jul 27, 2014)

With the number of privately run nursery schools increasing in Japan, many such facilities are working to come up with novel services in order to survive, including original educational materials and English conversation classes.

With the number of privately run nursery schools increasing in Japan, many such facilities are working to come up with novel services in order to survive, including original educational materials and English conversation classes.
While the number of children on nursery waiting lists remains high, nursery school operators are keen to find ways to differentiate themselves in order to stay in business as Japan’s birthrate continues to fall.
Major nursery service provider JP Holdings Inc. started using new educational materials for children aged 1 to 3 at its nursing schools in June. The new workbooks are linked with picture books and are designed to develop social skills and language ability.

Japanese education minister Hakubun Shimomura said Tuesday that the government plans to introduce an income limit for free preschool education for five-year-old children.

Families with an annual income of less than 3.6 million yen are expected to be eligible for the free schooling from fiscal 2015, Shimomura said at a press conference.The measure requires a state budget of some 30 billion yen per year. The proposed income ceiling may change as a result of talks between the education ministry, the Finance Ministry and the welfare ministry expected to begin next week, government officials said.

Japanese high school students shine at Intl Science Olympiads (The Yomiuri Shimbun, jul 19, 2014)

Japanese high school students racked up a number of medals at this year’s International Science Olympiads (ISO), a group of worldwide competitions in such scientific disciplines as math, biology and geography.

This year, Japanese students brought home 10 medals—five gold medals, four silver and one bronze—in the ISO’s mathematical and biological divisions. Other categories include physics and chemistry.

Medals are normally given to the top 60 percent of all participants. Of that 60 percent, those in the top 10 percent receive gold medals, silver medals are awarded to the next highest 20 percent and those in the bottom 30 percent are given bronze medals.

Medalists tend to have a strongly inquisitive nature. Naoki Konno, a second-year student at Komaba High School in Tokyo, an affiliated high school of the University of Tsukuba, won a silver medal in the International Biology Olympiad. He has been fascinated by such animals as snakes ever since he was a primary school student, when he thought they were cool because of their poison.


    The Yomiuri Shimbun


“When I first looked through a microscope, I was surprised at the sight of so many creatures. That changed my world,” Konno said.

Another silver medalist was Nobuhiro Kurata, a third-year student at Hiroshima Gakuin High School in Hiroshima Prefecture who wants to be a psychiatrist.

“The thoughts and emotions of humans are incredibly complex,” Kurata said. “I want to find mental happiness, which can’t be measured in terms of lifespan or material wealth, for each individual.”

As highly qualified students from all over the world compete as rivals, extensive preparations are required. This year, 560 participants from more than 100 countries and regions took part in the International Mathematical Olympiad. Takahiro Ueoro, a third-year student of Waseda High School in Tokyo, picked up a gold medal in the fierce competition.

“Last year, I ended up with a silver medal, so I started gearing up in February,” Ueoro said with a smile….Read more here.


School’s Out and small and big kids everywhere will want to know that …

Harry Potter world [has] come to Osaka The Japan News, July 28, 2014

OSAKA (Jiji Press)—)—A new area of the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka focusing on the Harry Potter series opened Tuesday.

“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” area includes a carefully reproduced Hogwarts Castle, home to the school of magic where Harry Potter and other characters from the series study, as well as the wizard village of Hogsmeade.

Visitors there can enjoy attractions incorporating 4K ultra high-definition video technology and drink Butterbeer, a favorite beverage within the fictional world … more here



Angel Gurria, Secretary-General of the OECD defends the usefulness and role of PISA (Excerpt follows) in “PISA’s Promise” (The Japan News, Jul 24, 2014):

” … By exposing weaknesses in a particular country’s system, PISA assessments help to ensure that policymakers recognize – and, it is hoped, address – remaining deficiencies.
The sense of accountability that PISA fosters among governments and education ministers has helped to spur them into action. They increasingly turn to one another to learn how to apply innovations in curricula, pedagogy, and digital resources; how to offer personalized learning experiences that maximize every student’s chances of success; and how to cope with diversity in the classroom.
The OECD established PISA as a global assessment, because in today’s globalized world students must be able to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds and appreciate different ideas, perspectives, and values. To give students the best possible chance to succeed, education must prepare them to handle issues that transcend national boundaries.
But PISA’s most important outcomes lie at the national level, because it inspires innovation and broadens educational perspectives within countries. Education systems as diverse as those in Finland, Japan, China, and Canada – which seldom registered on policymakers’ radars before – have become global reference points for excellence in education, helping other countries to design effective reforms.
When Brazil emerged as the lowest-performing education system in the first PISA assessment, released in 2000, many people rightly questioned the fairness of comparing an emerging economy to advanced countries like Finland and Japan. But Brazil rose to the challenge, making massive investments in improving the quality of teaching. The country now boasts one of the world’s most rapidly improving education systems.
Germany also featured in PISA 2000, recording below-average performance and large social inequalities in education – an outcome that stunned Germans and initiated a months-long public debate. Spurred into action, the government launched initiatives to support disadvantaged and immigrant students, and made the notion of early childhood education a driving force in German education policy. Today, PISA reports confirm that the quality and fairness of Germany’s education system have improved considerably.
Even in the world’s best-performing education systems, PISA helps to pinpoint areas for improvement. For example, PISA assessments have revealed that, while Japanese students excel at reproducing what they have learned, they often struggle when asked to extrapolate from that knowledge and apply it creatively. The effort that this has inspired to create more innovative learning environments was apparent last April, during a visit to the Tohoku schools destroyed by the 2011 tsunami.
This experience offers yet another lesson: even in cases where social and cultural factors seem to be the main force shaping a country’s education style, improvements are possible. Countries like Japan do not have to change their cultures to address their educational shortcomings; they simply have to adjust their policies and practices.
Creating a global platform for collaboration in education research and innovation has been the PISA initiative’s aspiration from its conception in the late 1990s. Since then, policymakers, researchers, and experts have built the world’s largest professional network dedicated to the development of robust, reliable, and internationally comparable information on student learning outcomes.
At the same time, PISA measures students’ social and emotional skills and attitudes toward learning, as well as educational equity and parental support – all of which provides indispensable context for understanding scores on international assessments.
Of course, assessments do not cover every important skill or attitude. But there is convincing evidence that the knowledge and skills that the PISA system assesses are essential to students’ future success, and the OECD works continuously to broaden the range of cognitive and social skills that PISA measures … Read more here.


That’s it from folks,  stay cool..


Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe


Given the popularity shown for the previous year’s animation courses at the Kawasaki Art Center in Kanagawa (with easy access from Tokyo-Shinjuku)  the center has expanded its range of workshops this year, offering a  smorgasbord of theatre, musical as well as its hugely popular film-making and animation courses for the young (elementary school grades onwards), see workshop details below, as well as contact information (scroll to the very bottom)

A smorgasbord of theater and arts workshops

A smorgasbord of theater performing and media arts workshops

A-B are performing arts workshops

A-B are performing arts workshops

C-D are film and animation workshops

C-D are film and animation workshops

The most popular offerings are film and animation production related

The most popular offerings are film and animation production related

Contact details here

Contact details here

School sumo tournaments

School sumo tournaments


While most people associate the professional Sumo sport with Japan, and most Japanese regard the sport as an indigenous sport, not many are aware that Sumo is also an amateur sport, with participants in college, high school and grade school in Japan. It remains extremely popular although its popularity took a hit following recent scandals in the Sumo world.









The most successful amateur wrestlers in Japan (usually college champions) can be allowed to enter professional sumo at makushita (third division) rather than from the very bottom of the ladder. This rank is called makushita tsukedashi, and is currently makushita 10 or 15 depending on the level of amateur success achieved. Many of the current top division wrestlers entered professional sumo by this route. All entry by amateur athletes into the professional ranks is subject to them being young enough (under 23) to satisfy the entry requirements, barring qualification as a makushita tsukedashi (under 25).

In addition to college and school tournaments, there are also open amateur tournaments. The sport at this level is stripped of most of the ceremony seen in professional Sumo tournaments.

The monthly salary figures (2006 data Wikipedia source) for makuuchi (in Japanese Yen) were:

  • Yokozuna Asashoryu performing the distinctive dohyō-iri of his rank
  • yokozuna: 2,820,000, about US$30,500
  • ōzeki: 2,347,000, about US$25,000
  • san’yaku: 1,693,000, about US$18,000
  • maegashira: 1,309,000 or about US$14,000
  • jūryō: 1,036,000, about US$11,000

Notwithstanding the above figures, monthly bonuses and lucrative advertising contracts are also substantial income. Needless to say, Sumo wrestling is a viable professional career.

Because of its association with Shinto, the Sumo sport has also been seen as a bulwark of Japanese tradition. However, as with most icons of Japanese tradition, as the Shinto religion has historically been used as a means to express Japanese nationalism and ethnic identity, especially prior to the end of World War II, promoting such tradition in the national educational curriculum tends to embroil the sport activity in controversy over reviving nationalistic sentiments or militarism.


Historical origins of the sport

The Shinto origins of sumo can easily be traced back through the centuries and many current sumo rituals are directly handed down from Shinto rituals.

God of sumo, Nomi no Sukune. Nomi means "to overlook agriculture" suggesting fertility and agricultural nature of the deity

God of sumo, Nomi no Sukune. Nomi means “to overlook agriculture” suggesting fertility and agricultural nature of the deity














Children and infants are often dedicated at sumo shrines, with the hopes that they grow up in strength and health, and babies are entered in popular Naki-zumo tournaments or contests officiated by sumo wrestlers … These Naki-zumo (“cry-wrestling) are literally tournaments where the crying babies win depending who is first to cry when held up high and swayed by the presiding sumo wrestlers. One particular shrine, Ikiko Shrine, according to its ancient legend, established since 736 AD, has it that the Naki-zumo originated after a pair of parents prayed for their child at the shrine, who died of smallpox, but miraculously came back to life again on the third day (Source: Naki-zumo: A battle of sumo without physical contact”)

Sumo was originally performed to entertain the gods (kami) during festivals (matsuri) to ensure a bountiful harvest and honor the spirits known as kami. In addition to its use as a trial of strength in combat, sumo has also been associated with Shinto ritual, and even certain shrines carry out forms of ritual dance where a human is said to wrestle with a kami (a Shinto divine spirit. Sumo wrestling contests were originally performed on the grounds of a shrine or temple. Sumo as part of Shinto ritual dates as far back as the Tumulus period (250-552).

Wrestling was also one of the forms of entertainments for early chieftains and at court since the Kofun period, i.e., it is a two thousand year old sport. Excavated tumulus haniwa terracotta and bronzes display sculptured depictions of scenes similar to sumo wrestling.



Sumo symbolism

In modern times, the canopy over the sumo ring, called the dohyō is reminiscent of a Shinto shrine, and is still considered sacred. To begin with, the sand that covers the clay of the dohyo is itself a symbol of purity in the Shinto religion. And the canopy above the ring (yakata) is made in the style of the roof of a Shinto shrine. The four tassels on each corner of the canopy represent the four seasons, the white one as autumn, black as winter, green as spring and red as summer. The purple bunting around the roof symbolizes the drifting of the clouds and the rotation of the seasons. The referee (gyoji) resembles a Shinto priest in his traditional robe. And kelp, cuttlefish, and chestnuts are placed in the ring along with prayers for safety.

 Sumo wrestlers gather in a circle around the gyōji (referee) in the dohyō-iri (ring-entering ceremony).

Sumo wrestlers gather in a circle around the gyōji (referee) in the dohyō-iri (ring-entering ceremony).

Each day of the tournament the dohyō-iri, or ring-entering ceremonies performed by the top divisions before the start of their wrestling day are derived from sumo rituals. This ceremony involves them ascending the dohyō, walking around the edge and facing the audience. They then turn and face inwards, clap their hands, raise one hand, slightly lift the ceremonial aprons called kesho-mawashi, and raise both hands, then continue walking around the dohyō as they leave the same way they came in. This clapping ritual is an important Shinto element and reminiscent of the clapping in Shinto shrines designed to attract the attention of the gods. The yokozuna’s ring-entering ceremony is regarded as a purification ritual in its own right, and is occasionally performed at Shinto shrines for this purpose. Every newly promoted yokozuna performs his first ring-entering ceremony at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.

Yokozuna are dressed in mawashi with five white zigzag folded strips of paper on the front, the same as those found at the entrance of Shinto shrines. On the front of all mawashi are sagari, which are fringes of twisted string tucked into the belt, and they represent the sacred ropes in front of shrines. Numbers of strings are odd, between seventeen and twenty-one, which are lucky numbers in the Shinto tradition. Salt is tossed before each bout to purify the ring and this is one of sumo’s best known and most visible of the rituals. The officiator is dressed in garb very similar to that of a Shinto priest, and the throwing of salt before a bout is believed to purify the ring.

Sumo wrestling never really flourished as a professional spectator sport until the early 1600′s or Tokugawa period, and much of the grander costumes accoutrements and rituals emerged during the Edo Period. Also only the higher ranking rikishi perform the pre-bout ceremonies steeped in Shinto tradition. Professional sumo (大相撲 ōzumō?) can trace its roots back to the Edo period in Japan as a form of sporting entertainment. The original wrestlers were probably samurai, often rōnin, who needed to find an alternative form of income. Current professional sumo tournaments began in the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in 1684, and then were held in the Ekō-in in the Edo period. Western Japan also had its own sumo venues and tournaments in this period with by far the most prominent center being in Osaka. Osaka sumo continued to the end of the Taishō period in 1926, when it merged with Tokyo sumo to form one organization




Photos of school wrestling tournaments, NHK Asaichi programme 27 June 2014 (own work)

Sumo Talk

Wikipedia entry on Sumo


    Have you found yourself and your home or living room stuck in childish preschool and kindergarten mode, and are you yearning for a makeover, wanting to adapt the room to the more demanding activity-as well as academics-oriented lifestyle of your growing schoolchildren?

    Everyone's lounging and congregating space. The living area is a busy space.

    Everyone’s lounging and congregating space. The living area is a busy space.

    This post focuses on managing school scheduling and household documentation and bills and record-keeping; it is also about adapting home spatial design, function, interfaces interweaving with form and human user and traffic flow.

    Today, I will use my living room as a model and example of how to make some small changes that will have significant and large impact on lifestyle and efficiency.

    In the light of my son’s forthcoming university entrance exams, work-from-home and intensive sports tournament scheduling, we needed to streamline the way we communicated as a family to improve efficiency and productivity, as well as to avoid interpersonal friction. This room takes heavy traffic, everybody congregates here and in the adjoining dining area,  several times a day. It also tends to get awfully messy and to become everybody’s dumping ground for clothes, books, homework, empty snack plates etc. An organized genkan, mudroom or closet is a key in keeping clutter in check. A cleared-of-clutter central communication or coordination center or space facilitates communication, planning and scheduling and helps children settle down quickly and get into their homework sooner.




    A closet by the door serves to collect all the jackets, caps, gloves, scarves, etc., as people walk through the door.  Being rather small, everybody is allowed one at most two jackets in the closet’s hanging space.

    The living room is the nerve and command centre of the home, it is where we share and coordinate information, so we have house rules for the kids…for everyone, which have been negotiated and drafted in consultation with the children. Below are the major areas of central control:

    Landphone line and stationery station

    Landphone line and stationery station (keep only necessities, crayons and paints can be moved to the individual kids’ rooms instead)

    Around this space, we have our communication board and calendar schedule where major events are marker-penned for all to see, where day-to-day routines of bento, and school schedule are indicated, and a phone contacts and emergency numbers are instantly accessible.

    Everybody's calendar schedule

    Everybody’s calendar schedule

    School bento and activity schedule noticeboard, school letters go straight in there after school

    School bento and activity schedule noticeboard, school letters go straight in there after school. Make it simple and a no-brainer to encourage compliance

    And next to our TV and music & media entertainment station, here is our central station for all our communications and social media devices, this is the charging station as well as depository for all electronic devices – phones, smartphones, iPad, iTouch, iPods and DS’ have to be returned by a certain time,  and during the Golden Hour of study time (8-10 pm) is no-screen time.  They also have to be returned here just before bedtime. Blinking lights and social media bleeps are terribly distracting for study concentration, and disturb the formation of deep sleep for our children.

    Beside the media station (TV, DVD player, etc) is our social media, mobile phone and game center)

    Beside the media station (TV, DVD player, etc) is our social media, mobile phone and game center). Above this setup is a wall clock.

    One of the hardest aspects of school life and scheduling to keep under control, is the constant stream of letters and communication from school. The other equally huge minefield is the constant stream of mail and household matters that require our attention such as bills, some urgent, some not, but most require some kind of action or record-keeping.

    I like to keep it simple. These “color-box” shelving are the cheapest standard book shelves you can find in any furniture shop. We have been using them since the kids were born, and they are easily adaptable for a great many purposes. We turned them on their side, slotted in baskets. In two of them, we keep vitamins, earbuds, and daily use skin-lotions and medical items (not first aid which is kept separately). School documents are filed in accordion type file folders that cost only a few cents/yen and that fit perfectly into the standard cubby holes, and a nifty black slide-out multiple pocket file-cum-brief document carrier will hold all types of bills and banking documents. Throw out and shred old statements, keeping most current two, and that will keep your filing system portable and manageable. Portability and compactness is also vital for us living here in the event of fire or earthquake disaster. A simple all-purpose basket can hold you latest magazines, start discarding old issues just before it starts to bulge. Accordion folders are useful or stationery such as envelopes, as well as for odds and ends and keepsake cards or souvenirs.

    Accordion filing system fits into basket and cubbyhole of bookcase

    Accordion filing system (perfect for school communication, notes and schedules, contact numbers) fits into basket-drawer and cubbyhole of bookcase

    Left: household management notes folder with pockets and tab dividers. Right: Slide-out multiple pocket-system in a black document carrier.

    Left: household management notes folder with pockets and tab dividers. Right: Slide-out multiple pocket-system in a black document carrier.

    The document carrier, house-management-foler fit into the drawer

    The bills document carrier, house-management-folder and school files as well as health records fit easily into these two basket-drawers

    Our set-up is now more efficient, serious and work-and-activity-oriented in the light of our high schooler’s college-going goals, and also in anticipation of our daughter’s juken year (next academic year) but most of our ideas can easily be adapted for any family’s educational goals and purposes.

    Short on wall space like most Japanese homes,  most fixtures are not designed to be permanent, but to portable or removable and adapted for changing circumstances and goals.  We have absolutely no room for example, for a wall map, so we added a bilingual world map to our glass table which we have had since our kids attended kindergarten. It is one of our best buys, and proof of it is that our son aces all geography mapwork related and earth science subjects in school, and is aiming for a higher-ed degree and ultimately a career in those subjects. Small tweaks in your living space can produce huge effects or impact.




    Last but not least, I decided to remove the fussy, lace curtains of the room to let in more light into our living area, to cut out the dust-trap and extra washing… and to remind us that we have a view and that there is a world outside to be explored and enjoyed. None of the above ideas or steps we have taken to orient the form, function and flow of our living room have been difficult or expensive, and all of them can be easily adopted or adapted for the average family’s purposes.

In one of the most suicidal of nations in the world, the odds of the student missing an exam on account of a malfunctioning railway line and train delays are higher than elsewhere, so be prepared to know what to do:   JR provides certificates of delayed trains to show employers or schools online that you can print out (This is useful) if you needed it “yesterday” but the staff were absent when you got off. Here’s how:

  • Click on the link below and then on the highlighted line on the list of affected trains:


  • See if your train is among those that provide the certificate:

  • Choose your line and date:

  • It should look like this:

The Yomiuri Shimbun A university student, front left, teaches programming to middle and high school students on May 23 in Chuo Ward, Tokyo.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A university student, front left, teaches programming to middle and high school students on May 23 in Chuo Ward, Tokyo.

Teens step into role as next generation of app designers

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 30, 2014
As teenagers use their flexible thinking to create practical smartphone apps for life and learning—one high school student has already started his own app business—various initiatives have emerged to support young people who want to make the world a better place through information technology.

Learning the ropes

About 20 middle and high school students and others gathered inside a room in an office building in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on May 23 to learn programming from university students at Life is Tech! School. Run by Life is Tech Inc., the course teaches students how to make smartphone apps and other skills, aiming to release the apps they create online.

Seminars are also held during summer vacation and other holidays. Since opening in March 2013, the school has taught about 180 students. The endeavor has received attention from IT companies, including garnering scholarships from Google Inc. of the United States.

“It’d make me so happy if a lot of people used my app,” said a 14-year-old middle school student from Nerima Ward who attends the school. He said he would like to use the skills he has learned to start his own business someday.

Life is Tech President Yusuke Mizuno, 31, said he started the school because “there are a lot of kids who are interested in making apps, but there was no environment to teach them.”

Akira Baba, a professor of information studies at the University of Tokyo, said: “With so few resources, Japan needs to develop its information technology field for the sake of its future development. To do so, it’s important to teach people things like app development when they’re young.”

Contest motivates teens

“The IT industry is struggling to secure app developers, who are in short supply,” said Junji Kawakami, head of the consumer project department at D2C Inc., a mobile advertising and marketing firm.

To help motivate young people, D2C started the Teens Apps Awards in 2011, an app development contest for primary, middle and high school students. Last year the contest received 533 entries from all over the country.

The creators’ youthful outlook is reflected in the apps submitted to the contest. One app alerts elderly people with an alarm when it is time to take their medicine, and then sends an e-mail to family members when the medication is taken. Another makes instantaneous changes to classroom seating orders.

The tournament’s first winner, Kento Dodo, went on to study at Keio University and has since been contracted by a company to develop an app that provides information on Japanese otaku culture.

Dodo is currently an adviser to an IT company. “I’d like to produce an app that can detect bullying from online interactions,” he said.

Teen becomes entrepreneur

Yu Asabe, another Teens Apps Awards champion, has already started his own business.

After winning the contest with an app that quizzes people on recorded sounds, the 16-year-old student at Makuhari Senior High School launched his own IT firm in December, with himself as president.

The company’s philosophy is “Using IT, even a high school student can change the world.”

The firm is currently working on a website and app that Japanese middle and high school students can use to broadcast information about Japan overseas.

“Most people assume they’ll use apps made by someone else, but if you believe you can do it, even middle and high school students can give shape to their ideas,” Asabe said. “I hope more people take up the challenge of app development.”

Variety pack: Quasi-legal drugs sold by Internet-based vendors are arranged for a photo in May 2011. | KYODO

Variety pack: Quasi-legal drugs sold by Internet-based vendors are arranged for a photo in May 2011. | KYODO

Two PTA meetings ago, talk circulated among PTA moms with a warning from one of the moms that candy-like “dappo or gohou drugs” (quasi- and ‘legal’ drugs) had been seen being handed out freely like free tissues, at the Machida train station (Tokyo) to high schoolers and younger students. Machida city is a favourite hangout location of high school students such as at my son’s high school, so naturally this raised my concern and that of the parents in our PTA circle.

“Gohou drug” abuse incidence is surfacing again (in the media spotlight since 2008 known then as the “dappo doragu” phenomenon) and is increasingly being reported among as young as middle schoolers now… A Tokyo metropolitan health institute official was interviewed on this morning’s Asaichi TV program saying as many as 500 middle and high schoolers have been hospitalized due to dappo or more correctly, gohou drug abuse this year. See NHK TV ASAICHI 家族に忍び寄る!脱法ドラッグ.

While “dappo” drug may remain on our consciousness due to earlier media coverage, less likely to be on the radar of even the most vigilant parents are the arguably more worrying and proliferating novel varieties of “gohou” (legal) drugs.

One reason that the drugs are reaching younger and younger age groups, is that while they used to be reported as occurring as inhaled substances from herbal or aromatherapy incense, the drugs are now being distributed in new forms – many in cool or attractive and innocent-looking packaging like “gummy” candy wrappers and the drugs are given out on the streets free like tissue paper ads (or sold as health supplements in ordinary shops and restaurants) to entice young customers and increase the customer following.

Lack of awareness about dappo doragu (or drug) and other new varieties of the gohou legal or quasi-legal drug stimulants among the young is resulting in the rapid proliferation of drug abuse, the exacerbation of a relatively new social issue concerning the young and youths.

“Dappo doragu” and “gohou doragu” here in Japan, as in Latin America where they are widely available as anti-inflammatory and recreational drugs, they are commonly believed or thought to be “light” drugs or harmless substances.  These drugs are often sought after and consumed by young salaried workers who have recently entered the job market, and who are looking for ways to help them increase energy and stamina, and improve work performance or concentration, or as a means to relieve stress.

Hospital authorities said “gohou drug” consumption often resulted in severe irreversible brain cell death and damage, muscle paralysis and symptoms such as paranoia in the middle of the night.

During the Asaichi TV program, a video clip showed an experiment of a mouse that had been fed the gouhou drug. Twenty minutes later, the mouse showed physiological trauma, muscle paralysis and its legs collapsed. The same symptoms are being reported in humans.

The drug raises concern because of the severity of the symptoms and because there is no cure or way of reversing brain damage once it has occurred.

Although the dappo drug problem and similar abuse stimulants called “gohou drugs” (legal drugs) came under the media spotlight from 2008, according to this morning’s Asaichi TV program, the law and health regulatory agencies have trouble keeping pace because of the number of new substances or stimulants that are being introduced on the streets … On the program, testing of one sample of gohou drug showed as many as 27 stimulant substances in the mix.

Sold openly in a great variety of forms (of innocuous-looking packaging as herbal supplements, aromatherapy or more recently as candy, in street shops and some small restaurants, this is posing a huge supervisory problem for concerned community members and parents, Asaichi reported.

Parents, guardians and educators are advised by the show to watch out for strange behavior, speech and smells in their children and wards.

Needless to say, the legal and public response to new psychoactive substances is a problem not isolated to Japan, but is one emerging in other societies too, see Addiction to know more and access a collection of papers addressing the issue of the ‘legal highs’ market, one which only a few years ago was regarded as an area of limited significance. Things on the drug scene are changing rapidly, and today the question of how to respond to the challenges posed by the emergence of new drugs has become one of major international concern. The papers in this virtual issue highlight the need for a very different regulatory regime to address the challenge presented by a plethora of new psychoactive substances appearing on the mark.

The “gohou drugs” known as ‘legal highs’ elsewhere are said to be produced in China and India and then distributed in Europe and elsewhere, see Getting up to speed with the public health and regulatory challenges posed by new psychoactive substances in the information age


More related media information:

75% of schoolchildren against use, possession of quasi-legal drugs: poll
KYODO, FEB 20, 2013

Only 13 percent of about 6,000 junior high and high school students in and around Tokyo think the use of “dappo habu” (quasi-legal drugs) is a matter of individual freedom, a poll showed Tuesday.

Quasi-legal drugs are substances that are chemically similar in composition to banned narcotics but technically legal at present, and the abuse of such drugs among young people has become a social issue.

In the Japan Drug Measurement Association poll, 13.2 percent of the respondents said it is up to individuals to decide whether to use those drugs, while 0.6 percent, or 37 respondents, said they had tried them.

Nao Mazaki, an association official, pointed to the low awareness on how quasi-legal drugs can harm one’s health, and stressed the urgent need for the central and local governments to step up programs to disseminate information about them.

The association, the Japan branch of the U.S.-based Foundation for a Drug-Free World, carried out the survey between September and December at six high schools and 11 junior high schools in Tokyo as well as in Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures. A total of 6,150 students, or 3,074 at high schools and 3,076 at junior high schools, responded.

In the multiple-reply survey, 75.4 percent said it is bad to possess or use these quasi-legal drugs, 5.7 percent said their use is not bad if not banned, while 7.1 percent said it is bad to use them but not to possess them.


The rise in popularity of Dappo Herb has led to an explosion in the number of shops selling the stimulants.

According to a 2012 Japan Times Article,

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government identified two shops selling such products in fiscal 2009. As of last Friday, 89 such shops were in existence, many of them in Shinjuku and Shibuya, areas popular with young people. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has been locked in a race with dealers as it keeps adding new stimulants to its list of illegal drugs while dealers keep marketing new products, including new chemicals they say are not covered by drug regulations… See excerpt of the article below:

“Dried herbs mixed with stimulant chemicals carefully packaged to dodge drug laws are gaining in popularity among young Japanese, leading in turn to a drastic increase in the shops selling such products.

These “dappo habu” (law-evading herbs) contain stimulant materials whose chemical components are slightly different from those prohibited by drug laws.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government identified two shops selling such products in fiscal 2009. As of last Friday, 89 such shops were in existence, many of them in Shinjuku and Shibuya, areas popular with young people.

“Even if (herbs) do not include chemicals designated (as illegal) by law, you can’t say they are safe. (Inhaling them) is like conducting a human experiment with your own body,” said Masahiko Funada, who heads a team researching addictive drugs at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry in Tokyo.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has been locked in a race with dealers as it keeps adding new stimulants to its list of illegal drugs while dealers keep marketing new products, including new chemicals they say are not covered by drug regulations.

The ministry recently decided to introduce a new and more comprehensive system for designating illegal drug components.

Even if dappo herbs don’t include illegal chemicals, selling them can be a violation if the seller specifically instructs the buyer how to use the stimulant, such as by inhaling.

Many of the shops, however, are cagey enough to evade the law. They sell the dappo herbs as “incense,” not something to be consumed or inhaled directly.

Police and local governments have recently started cracking down.

In January, two shop managers in Osaka were arrested for alleged possession of illegal drugs for the purpose of marketing them.

On Jan. 25, three teens in Tokyo were hospitalized for acute drug poisoning after inhaling smoke from herbs mixed with chemicals. The shop dealer who sold it to them was arrested on suspicion of inflicting bodily harm.”



Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe

Featured on Asaichi NHK TV program this morning was Kuroshiocho's whale-watching tours

Featured on Asaichi NHK TV program this morning was Kuroshiocho’s whale-watching tours

Japan has been in the negative spotlight over whale-catching activities, however, what is relatively unknown is that whale-watching is also an eco-tourism business that is growing and showing tremendous potential, especially since Japan’s eco-tourism is still under-developed compared to that in other developed countries.

Away from the headlines and negative publicity over Japanese whaling activities, some coastal communities in Japan have been moving in the opposite direction and have started or are starting to run whale-watching tours. There is a great diversity of whales and dolphins to be spotted in Japanese coastal waters: humpbacks, sperm whales, bottle-nose and spinner dolphins to mention but a few.

Following the model of other nations, in supporting the local whale-watching businesses, we would be supporting a viable economic industry and creating more opportunities and raising the stakes for whalers to convert their operations to preserve the whale population instead of reducing it. Since a positive growth in conservation and protection of whale species is diametrically opposed to whaling which depletes the resources, supporting this local industry and local conservatism is a better option creating pressure from within the nation, than by negatively boycotting Japan on account its whaling bad press(see Whales and Dolphins: Cognition, Culture, Conservation and Human Perceptions). We would also be supporting educational activities, and creating in the nation a greater awareness and fostering a love in local coastal communities for the ocean’s most majestic creatures.


While the Okinawa-Ogasawara islands’ whale-watching activities have established a reputation as the world’s greatest lookout for humpback spawning grounds(see my earlier post for details), off Kuroshiocho port on Shikoku Island are lesser known whale-watching grounds that can actually hold its own. Dubbed “the Mecca of whale-watching tours” by Rough Guides … the tours see an 85% success rate for whale-spotting (see Whales and Dolphins: Cognition, Culture, Conservation and Human Perceptions) Being closer to both Tokyo and Osaka, there is potential for eco-tourism to grow.

Read about Gail sensei’s whale watching trip in Kochi’s waters at her Lost in Transition blog.

Excerpted from Rough Guides is this bit of information:

It’s said that the whaling industry in Kōchi dates from 1591, when the local daimyō Chokosabe Motochika gifted the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Ōsaka a whale and in return received eight hundred bags of rice. Japan and whales have, in recent times, become a controversial combination, but along Kōchi-ken’s coast few are complaining, as whale-watching tours are replacing the old way of making a living. Tours typically last three hours and cost around ¥5000 per person in small boats holding eight to ten people.

When and Where

The best time to see whales is May and August, though the season runs from spring through to autumn. Nothing’s guaranteed, but with a good skipper expect to see the large Bryde’s whales and medium-sized false killer whales, as well as schools of white-sided and Risso’s dolphins. For details, contact the Ōgata Town Leisure Fishing Boats Owners’ Association (tel 0880/43-1058, URL: or Saga Town Fishermen’s Association (tel. 0880/55-3131).


A whale videoed by an eco-tourist (Asaichi NHK TV feature)

A whale videoed by an eco-tourist (Asaichi NHK TV feature)

You can take Whale Watching trips from Katsurahama near Kochi City on Shikoku from May to September (Source: insidejapantours)  The eco-tour boats depart from ports, not off the beach.


Kuroshiocho's operators' positioning of boats ensures high rates of whale-spotting

Kuroshiocho’s operators’ positioning of boats ensures high rates of whale-spotting

There are 3 locations for whale-watching on Shikoku:
1) Urado Port in Kochi City.

2) Irinogyo Port in Kuroshio-cho
227 Irino, Kuroshio-chō, Hata-gun, Kōchi-ken

3) -Takaokagyo Port in Muroto.

Except for the typhoon season, it is very likely that you will be able to see sperm whales up to 15 meters in length in the waters off Muroto. Schools of dolphins are also a common sight.
* You can see different whales from different ports.

Muroto Port offers the chance to see sperm whales and grampus dolphins.
The other ports have grampus dolphins and Bryde’s whales.


Not just whale-watching, there’s resort stay and deep sea therapy and local sights to engage your time as well:

Cape Muroto (source: JNTO)

Combine your eco-tour with one of  Cape Muroto, located at the eastern end of Tosa Bay, is a designated Muroto-Anan Coastal National Park. Muroto boasts whale watching and boat tours. Except for the typhoon season, it is very likely you will be able to see sperm whales up to 15 meters in length. Schools of dolphins are also a common sight.

The symbol of Cape Muroto is the white lighthouse, which stands on the tip of the cape 155m high, with a lens measuring 2.6 meters in diameter. Built in 1899, it is Japan’s largest lighthouse and still functioning, it can be seen 56 kilometers offshore. It has offered protection to countless passing ships during the past 100 years of its operation. At the tip of the cape is a walking course, which winds its way 1.4 kilometers through the boulders that lie along the coastline.

A recent addition to Muroto’s many charms is Deep Sea World. Taking full advantage of the area’s scenic beauty and the deep seawater that flows 200 to 300 meters below the surface of the ocean, Deep Sea World boasts a series of facilities focused on reducing stress and preventing illness. Not just the usual seaworld theme park attractions seen elsewhere, Muroto’s sea resort was opened by Shu Uemura, the world-famous makeup artist, and is famous for the thalasso-therapy (deep seawater treatments) that offers promising health benefits (see Japan’s deep-sea spa).

For historical buffs, near the lighthouse, visit the historic Hotsumisakiji temple, a Buddhist temple of Shingon Buddhism, founded in 807. Built at the level of about 165 meters, it was popular with mountain ascetic monks, and is associated with Kuukai or Kobo Daishi.  Kuukai (774-835), founder of Shingon School of Buddhism, started to do ascetic training in the deep mountains at the age of 19. Kukai according to local tradition, stayed around Cape Muroto as part of his training. He was living in a small cave near the sea (the cave is called “Mikurodo”, and is near the national road). According to legend… one day, in the midst of hard training, a bright star flew into his mouth. It is said that he reached enlightenment at that time. To visit this temple, you must climb a sloping trail from the cape and there is a trail to the lighthouse from this temple.

Other must-sees of Kochi, Shikoku: the Kochi castle(built 1601-1611 and one of Japan’s 12 castles to have survived fires and warfare), dogfighting on Katsurahama beach, Daruma or Lucky sunset of Sugamo Port; the Shimanto River, click here to read more...

From Tokyo :
[Air] 1h 20 min from Haneda to Kochi Ryoma Airport, and 40 min from the airport to JR Kochi Station by bus.
[Rail] 3h 20 min from Tokyo to Okayama Station by JR Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Line, and 2h 30 min from Okayama to Kochi Station by JR Seto-ohashi Dosan Line. 2h 30 min from Kochi Station to Cape Muroto by bus.
From Osaka :
[Air] 40 min from Itami or Kansai International Airport to Kochi Ryoma Airport.
[Rail] 40 min from Shin-Osaka to Okayama Station by Shinkansen.

Source: Japan Guide “Kochi Travel”


Whaling conservation history

The longest established organisation is the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association (OWA). Ogasawara is a cluster of 30 small islands (only two of which are inhabited) 1000 km south of Tokyo, which are rarely visited by non-Japanese and are only accessible by overnight ferry from the mainland. The OWA has been operating for nearly 20 years, and has its own code of good practice to minimise disruption to the animals. Dolphins can be seen in these waters all year round whilst humpback whales are present from mid-December to the end of April.  As well the Ogasawara Islands Destinations other destinations with whale watching opportunities include from Choushi in Chiba prefecture in November and December and Shizuoka, both within easy reach of Tokyo, from April to October, from Kushimoto on the south coast of Wakayama Prefecture (convenient from Kyoto or Osaka), Kochi on the south coast of Shikoku and the Okinawa chain of islands.

The natural park in Yokohama where my daughter and her schoolmates had their "forest adventures"

The natural park in Yokohama where my daughter and her schoolmates had their “forest adventures”

My daughter attended a yochien(kindergarten) that offered forest education without having advertised it as one. The school was built on a mountain slope and everyday the children spent at least an hour in “forest adventures”(mori no tanken”, climbing slopes and trees, collecting all manner of bugs. Across from the school is situated about an acre of a satoyama landscape, with marshland, a lovely pond, a spring and stream around which the kids could catch crayfish and bullfrogs. The park is beautiful in all four seasons. My daughter and the other yochien children spent many happy hours there in nature lessons, learning the names of trees, observing insects and the changing seasonal landscape, mostly in natural conversation with the teachers. Bentos were eaten picnic style several times each season in the park under open skies or under the glorious trees of blooming sakura cherry blossoms or the shade of keyaki trees. My children came home often with pillbugs or acorns in their smock pockets (kindy kids often wear smocks for outdoor play). Playing daily in all sorts of weather conditions and in such beautiful natural landscape helped them develop Japanese sensibilities and love for the familiar satoyama landscape, while toughening them up with the scraped knees (or cuts and bruises) they invariably got from time to time from all the tree-climbing and crawling over pond edges to collect or examine plant/bug specimens.

Every time I pull into the train station of a different town or city, I look out for school signboards, and more often than not…tucked into some corner…there is at least one kindergarten (yochien or hoikuen) that is named Mori-no-ie or Mori-no-youchien (Forest Kindergarten). Although not every kindergarten so named, is a kindergarten offering true Forest School education, the forest school philosophy has taken root earlier than in the UK or US and is growing, according to scholars and observers. This award-winning NHK TV documentary feature called In the Heart of Nature: The Forest Kindergarten spotlights kindergartens such as the Marutanbo in Shimane prefecture and others, without walls or ceilings that epitomize the forest education, click on this link to watch.


Ute Schulte-Ostermann, president of the German Federation of Nature and Forest Kindergartens (BVNW), reported on the Japanese situation after returning from a tour of Japan, among other countries, “Schulte-Ostermann says she thinks the US and the UK’s obsession with health and safety and regulations may have slowed adoption of the idea, but points out that forest kindergartens have proved very popular in Japan, which is also known for its red tape bureaucracy.

“Our biggest achievement was to set it (Waldkindergartens) up in Japan, where education is so regulated,” she says in the staff room of the inner city Berlin school used for the conference. “We have helped them take it out of the authorities’ hands and give education back to the people.”

An Escape from Strict Rules

Hiroe Kido, a Japanese student writing her postdoctoral thesis on the forest kindergarten movement, says there are more than 100 Japanese Waldkindergartens following the German model — a number that is expected to double by next year. “They are very, very popular in Japan because they are an escape from the strict rules in Japanese society,” she says. “Some parents are worried that Japan is becoming too stressed and high tech and there is not time to communicate with nature, so they really like waldkindergartens.”

Kido says nearly all Japanese waldkindergartens are oversubscribed despite parents being forced to cover all the costs. In Germany, however, waldkindergartens are subsidized at the same level as traditional kindergartens, meaning parents pay no more than €80 ($108) a month to place their kids at Die Kleinen Pankgrafen.

Japanese demand for places spiked even higher following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. “Fukushima made the Japanese think again about our lives, and realize that we need to get back to nature more,” she says. “Life is very extreme sometimes in Japan.”

Schulte-Ostermann, who has just returned from a tour of Japan and South Korea, says that if Japanese people can realize the need for nature in children’s lives then she might be one step nearer to her rather ambitious goal of turning all of the world’s indoor kindergartens into waldkindergartens.” — Source: Campfire Kids: Going back to nature with forest kindergartens, Spiegel Online

What are forest schools and what is the benefits of a forest school?

Geoffrey Guy’s “Forest Schools Essay” traces the beginning of the concept and schools to a Scandinavian origin, specifically to the Norwegian “Friluftsliv” fresh air living concept.

Forest school refers to “a philosophy in which students work outside regularly in an outdoor natural space over a long period of time (often a year) to build confidence and creativity. Drawing on nineteenth century European pedagogical theories on the importance of outdoor learning, and more recently on Scandinavian principles of open-air, play-based education, the ethos has grown in popularity in the UK over the past two decades in parallel to growing concerns over “cotton wool kids” overly protected from risks and rarely exposed to nature.”

Schulte-Ostermann says the outdoor and nature risks are outweighed by the “massive” mental and physical benefits of playing outside. “Children who have attended a Waldkindergarten have a much deeper understanding of the world around them, and evidence shows they are often much more confident and outgoing when they reach school.”

Although originally a concept learnt from Germany, Japan is increasingly adopting the Skogsmulle forest school concept from Sweden, with over 2000 Skogsmulle leaders and over a hundred courses having been conducted in Japan (Source: Swedish Forest Schools by Juliet Robertson)

Forest schools helps students develop confidence and creativity by teaching practical, outdoor skills – and teachers don’t necessarily need a woodland on their doorstep to incorporate the ideas.

The Swedish Forest Schools report elucidates the benefits of the Skogsmulle or Mulle forest education as practised in Sweden:

“Shimizu, M. et al (2002) investigated the contribution of “Skogsmulle” activities to the formation of environmental awareness and environmental literacy in Ichijima, a Japanese town. They found that children who had experienced Mulle activity within the town acquired better environmental awareness and literacy and participated more positively in community activity.
From this they suggest that nature-based activities are useful particularly at the pre- school age for environmental learning.

Grahn et al (1997) studied children’s behaviour (how they play, how often they are outside, their play routines, etc.), development of motor function and powers of concentration during the course of a year at two day nurseries, one an I Ur och Skur and the other a traditional nursery in new, spacious premises. This is a summary of their findings:

At the I Ur och Skur nursery:
• The sickness absence difference between the nurseries was over 5%. This was consistent and uniform throughout the year with the I Ur och Skur having the higher attendance rate.
• The children from the I Ur och Skur nursery had better concentration. This was verified statistically.
• The I Ur och Skur children had better motor function. To climb and play on uneven ground or to play only on flat ground without trees appears to have a pronounced influence on children.
• The I Ur och Skur children played more imaginatively. The games were more varied. The games had a beginning and end which the children themselves decided upon in most cases. Because objects could be left outside the games were able
to continue for more than one day.”

With many kids today ensconced at home glued to their Nintendos, gameboys, iPhones, iPads and not just the TV sets of yesteryear, more nature-oriented kindergarten and nursery school programmes are needed in Japan to counter the toxic urban lifestyles that parents are allowing their children to adopt.

Find out How can teachers introduce forest school principles to their curriculum? By Lucy Ward

Some schools in Japan that embody the forest education philosophy

Jiyu no mori Gakuen / Freedom Forest School – there is both a Junior High and a High School under their administration. Since 1985

Komazawa Park International Forest Kindergarten

Jiyunomori Gakuen

Related links:

Japanese preschoolers experience Swedish-style eco-friendly outdoor nature program

Environmental and conservation education in Japan

Doctors visit a forest and nature kindergarten in Denslingen

Nature programmes and mountain village education(sanson-ryugaku)

Other resources on forest education

International Perspectives on Forest School: Natural Spaces to Play and Learn
edited by Sara Knight – this book reviews the history of forest education in the UK, based on the Danish model.

Forest Kindergarten/Waldkindergarten on Pinterest

Wholeland: nature connection & creative outdoor learning for businesses, families, groups and schools

In Sheffield, in the UK, you can obtain certification for forest education training

Japan in Depth/ Cultivating science whizz kids (May 6, 2014 Yomiuri Shimbun)

By Fumihiko Ito and Mutsuko Yamada
Scientific and educational institutions in this country are stepping up efforts to discover children who show potential excellence in science and provide them with specialized education well before their admission to universities.

The aim is to nurture highly talented young scientists who can produce world-class scientific results.

The move includes a state-run project that will be launched shortly to provide specialized education for about 700 gifted high school students, using eight universities nationwide as centers for the pursuit of that target.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of universities are ready to consider prizewinners in the International Science Olympiads, a group of worldwide international competitions in various scientific disciplines, in the process of selecting successful applicants for their entrance examinations.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

An important factor behind these moves is widespread concern about the status quo surrounding the nation’s scientific and technological research, according to observers.

“I’ve successfully cultivated six kinds of slime molds, or amoeba-like unicellular organisms, for extended periods. It’s amusing to see different kinds of slime molds move in different ways,” said Mana Masui, 12, a first-year middle school student in Suginami Ward, Tokyo.

In his home, Masui has been observing slime molds collected from woods and elsewhere since his first year in primary school. In March, the young scientist was invited to publicize his research findings at a symposium at Hiroshima University shortly before graduating from primary school.

Masui’s research has been praised by Prof. Ryo Kobayashi of Hiroshima University, who has won the spoof Ig Nobel Prize for his study of slime molds. “His extended observation of wild slime molds is an unusual research project. He also excels in forming a hypothesis and examining its veracity,” Kobayashi said.

Masui’s research has been supported by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, an independent administrative institution. The institute’s support is part of a program it launched in 2008 to produce future scientists. In line with the program, Tsukuba University has offered to support about 20 children nationwide who excel in scientific studies each year, ranging from fifth-year primary school students to high school students.

Under the program, Masui was chosen during his fifth year in primary school. He has since received individual tutoring from the teaching staff at Tsukuba University.

To further pursue its goal, the institute plans to expand the scale of the program in the current fiscal year by establishing centers at eight universities to select from various regions about 700 high school students with a high degree of scientific knowledge.

The institute also hopes to form cooperative ties with high schools that have been designated as “super-science high schools” by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. This arrangement will have university teaching staff provide the selected students with individual advice and instruction in their favorite fields of study. Students with excellent skills and knowledge will also be encouraged to study at foreign universities or scientifically innovative high schools overseas and will receive support in their studies abroad.

“We want to discover exceptionally talented students,” a ministry official said.

ISO competitions gaining more prominence in science field

Colleges and universities nationwide are paying great attention to the results of Japanese students who win prizes in the International Science Olympiads, hoping to discover exceptionally gifted students in the country.

The ISO competitions, a group of contests among middle and high school students from around the world, test not only the technical knowledge of contestants, but also their ability to create new ideas and think logically.

In their entrance exams for the 2014 academic year, according to the Japan Science and Technology Agency, 26 universities, including Osaka University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, conducted tests designed to emphasize the performance of examinees in past ISO contests, along with regular admissions exams.

With the introduction of a recommendation-based admissions test in autumn next year, the University of Tokyo also said it would take into consideration the achievements examinees gained in the ISO competitions.

Meanwhile, the medical school of Kyoto University will adopt an early admission system targeting entrance exam takers who competed in the ISO contests starting in the 2016 academic year. The system will target examinees in the second year of high school.

Kyoto University will become the second state-run university to enroll high school students who have yet to complete their high school studies, following Chiba University. The latter adopted such a system in 1998. “We hope to give students opportunities to start research activities at an early stage, with the aim of producing personnel who can compete well internationally,” a Kyoto University official said.

For years, a number of well-known universities overseas have been ready and willing to enroll people who have competed in the ISO contests. In Japan, an increasing number of high schools hope to encourage students to gain admission to colleges and universities abroad.

“The emphasis on the achievements of examinees in the ISO competitions in our recommendation-based entrance exam system aims, in part, to prevent a brain drain overseas,” a Todai official said.

The education ministry has been assisting with the management of national preliminaries for the ISO finals. The number of contestants in the preliminaries has quadrupled in 10 years.

“It is difficult to discern the ability and aptitude of examinees only through such methods as interviews conducted as part of admission office-managed entrance examinations and a recommendation-based admission system,” Waseda University Vice President Shuji Hashimoto said.

He went on to say that “great trust” can be placed in the assessment of ISO contestants, citing the fact that it takes several months to select students to represent Japan in the finals after various screening sessions, including the national preliminaries.

Tomohiro Soejima, 19, was rigorously engaged in experiments at a facility at Rikkyo University while attending Rikkyo Ikebukuro High School, a school attached to the university. The facility sits next to his high school. During his high school years, Soejima won a gold medal in the ISO’s chemistry division for two consecutive years.

Soejima’s exposure to ISO contestants from other nations led to him gaining admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“You’ll never be able to fare well in the ISO contests only through an analysis of a trend in exam questions and how to solve them, as you prepare for entrance examinations,” he said. “You need to acquire skills to properly understand the results of experiments that have been repeated.”

Sunset in Seto Sea. The bridge on the foreground is the Seto Ohash

Sunset in Seto Sea. The bridge on the foreground is the Seto Ohashi (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

This summer think about visiting the Seto Inland Sea(Seto Naikai) for an exciting, memorable and romantic family vacation. Innoshima was home to the Murakami Suigun (a word that means navy, but think “pirates” or “privateers”) that were active across the Seto inland sea between the Muromachi and Sengoku eras. So the trip would be an amazingly rich maritime history lesson as well as a visual feast to take in the soul-quenching seaside vistas.
Recommended Activities: visit the Murakami Suigun castle (see photos above Courtesy: Rod Walters) museum and row one of the kohaya boats for free or participate in the Sea Festival, part of the Suigun Festival. People at the site can experience rowing the boats between 12:00 and 13:00 on the sea. (Location: Shimanami Beach).


Catch the Sea Festival proper to watch participants compete with each other at the Kohaya Boat Race. The boat race uses the wooden Kohaya boats that were used as messenger boats by the Murakami Suigun. Catch some adrenaline-pumping ancient pirate action being re-enacted!

Kohaya boat race

Kohaya boat race

Kohaya boats are small boats that were frequently used by the Murakami Suigun. It is said that when ingenious strategies were devised, even the small boats were able to defeat war ships. The boat was reproduced to conduct the boat race at the Sea Festival. A total of 16 people, 14 oarsmen, one boatman and one drummer, are aboard. The participating boats compete on the 1.2 kilometer course. Over fifty teams participate every year. Starting in early July, practices by the teams can be seen almost every day. With the sound of drums coming from the boats on the sea, the scene has become a summer seasonal tradition of Innoshima Island.

Maritime historical fieldtrip

History of the Murakami Suigun

Innoshima Island, an island located in the center of the Seto Inland Sea, where the Murakami Suigun was active, was once a strategic marine transportation and trading hub. The Murakami Suigun used to conduct trade with Korea, the Ming Dynasty of China, and various other Southeast Asian nations between the 14th and 16th centuries. Its name was well-known inside and outside Japan due to its power on the sea. But the Murakami Suigun clan’s fortunes and power only began to wane in the latter half of the Warring States period, its power curtailed by regulations issued by central authorities that restricted the scope of activity for the Murakami Suigun. See this page.

Who were the Murakami suigun?

From the Murakami Suigun Museum:
The Seto Inland Sea is a shallow sea separating the island of Shikoku from Honshu, the main island of Japan, and Kyushu. Currents are strong in the sea due to the large tidal range, complex topography, and the narrow channels and straits. The tidal range is between one and three meters in the east, and three and four meters in the west. Tides easily produce currents of a few knots, and when the tide changes, the surface of the water is dimpled with whirlpools and split by seams of roiled water due to the different heights of the sea floor. From a distance, the sea looks beautifully calm. Close up, it’s positively frightening.

It was in this environment that the various suigun—feudal navies—arose and developed their unique livelihoods and culture around the Inland Sea. With their intimate familiarity with the currents that swirl between the many islands of the area and their prowess at fighting from boats, these sea dogs were pirates, coast guards, and local governments as time went by and depending on who you asked. The Murakami were based in the chain of large and small islands that straddle the sea between today’s Imabari in Ehime, and Onomichi in Hiroshima. This route is now linked by the Shimanami Kaido, an expressway with spectacular suspension bridges over the sea passages.

The first major island on the Ehime side is Oshima (‘Big Island’), home to a museum dedicated to the Murakami Suigun…

The suigun maintained their independence in the face of frequent efforts to eliminate them. Even today, Imabari is crawling with people with the surname Murakami. Nothing but pirates, all of ‘em!”


Inoshima Suigun Castle

Since Innoshima Island was the main territory of the “Murakami Pirates” in the Middle Ages, you can find both the historic sites “Innoshima Suigun Pirates Castle” and the “Konrenji Temple” (the latter was the pirate’s family temple) are must see places.

Murakami Suigun Pirates Castle:
Address: Hiroshima prefecture, Onomichi, Innoshima,
Nakasho cho 3228-2

The Murakami Suigun Castle displays many weapons, armors, ancient documents, etc. that were left by the Murakami Sengun.

If you can, catch the samurai warrior procession during the Innoshima Suigun Festival…for more info and access, download this flier. (Optional: If you or your child is a go-player, then you might want to visit the Honinbo Shusaku Go Memorial Hall. (Go is Japanese chess) He is one of two greatest Go players in history. You will learn about his carriers and character. Go is Onomichi’s city game. )


The Aegean Sea in Japan

Regroup and take in the restfulness and romance of the seaside fishing village vacation spot

The city of Onomichi has been prospering as a seaport town and is famous for its balmy temperate climate and picturesque hillslope scenery.

Touristy but delightful activities include walking through narrow alleys, stairs and slopes of the quaint old part of town and losing track of time amidst the traditional scenery of Onomichi. Have fun in the early morning catching the sight of the fisherwives called “Banyori-san” pushing their carts to sell fresh fish in the central Onamichi central shopping district. There are a lot of alleys that criss-cross in the manner of a fishbone which connect to the main shopping street. Along the shopping street that lies east to west about 1.6km in central Onomichi, you will find less educational, but more touristy things to do like exploring the wide variety of shops such as ramen shops, Onomichi yaki shops, old-fashioned coffee shops, souvenir shops of Onomichi Hanpu (canvas)… Totally unscathed by WWII, the area is a magnet for authentic ancient temple- and shrine-hunters, for whom one popular trail the 3 km stroll of roads that start from Onomichi JR Station to the eastern side of town, that includes stone paved streets to reach Kairyuji Temple.

The highest mountain on Mukaishima Island is Mt. Takamiyama which is designated as a National Park. Not to be missed is the 360 degree panorama view from the observatory at the top of the park … of the many islands in the Seto Inland Sea as ferryboats depart and return to the Onomichi waterway. The view of the Shimanami Sea Route and islands of Seto seen from the observatory are breathtaking…20 minutes by car from the central Onomichi area. The night view here is billed as one of the “Top 100 Night Views”.

The coastal area along the Shimanami Kaido linked by bridges is one of the best coasts for a drive-holiday. The Nishiseto Expressway, commonly known as the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Expressway, links Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, with Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. Known for breathtaking views from this bridge, it is a 60 kilometer-long highway exclusively for automobiles that links the islands of the Seto Inland Sea with nine individual bridges. Each bridge consists of a road way and a pedestrian walkway. The bridge connects six islands of the Inland Sea a.k.a. the Aegean Sea in Japan” between Honshu and Shikoku. Locals have especially been enamoured by the dotted islands and the gorgeous setting sun among the islands, all spiced up by, of course, its own pirate and maritime legends. (Almost 3,000 islands are located in the Inland Sea).

This spot is one of the better-kept secrets of Japan but has long been touted in all of the camping and summer vacation family magazines as a fave and rave spot to take your family to …you can rent a bicycle at the terminals. Much featured in terrestrial TV programmes lately due to local celebrities’ visits to the area. The seaside resorts and campgrounds to be found on each island are filled with people in summer. With resort, boating, fishing or adventure camping activities to take your pick from.




Onomichi’s best sightseeing spots



Original text of 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education found
Jiji Press — Apr 08 via newsonjapan
A document believed to be the original text of the Imperial Rescript on Education, issued in 1890 as basic norms of moral education in prewar Japan, has been discovered, the education ministry said Tuesday.
As the original text has historic values and requires proper management, the ministry will transfer it to the National Archives of Japan for public view in the future.
The two-page original text, signed and sealed by Emperor Meiji, was handed to then Prime Minister Aritomo Yamagata and then education minister Akimasa Yoshikawa.

Watch video FNN newsclip here.
文部科学省の書庫で、教育勅語の原本が50年ぶりに見つかり、国立公文書館に移管され­ることになった。 移管されることになったのは、教育勅語の原本のほかに、教育関係の歴史文書など20点­。

Giving you the buzz on the coolest educational product featured on NHK TV (Asaichi) about 10 minutes ago…

Kodomo-benkyo-dekiru set /"Your child can study set"

Kodomo-benkyo-dekiru set /”Your child can study set”


You can buy it at bellemaison’s website for just under 3,000 yen, a steal for its neat multiple organizational features.

This is one of the niftiest edu-organizers I have ever seen. Kyoiku-mamas (educational-mamas) are snapping it up in the nation, first of all, it is a portable organizer-tidy that serves to help to surround the child and cut down on distractions (simulating a study carrel environment).

It has a dedicated compartment for textbooks, exercise-books, drillsheets; space for two calendar-schedule-sheets over which are magnetic strips where the student can use to post memos, photos, memory-aids, decorative items, etc; a clipboard for current drillsheet or researchnotes, or subject material being studied; a clear pocket for whatever…and on the side there are two attached organizational tidies (including a small one for a ruler), plus one loose-standing stationary tidy. The whole set has velcro-straps to secure the set and a carry-strap so you can actually carry this from room to room which is really useful in the space-tight homes of Japan and makes it easy for the child studying on the kitchen countertop to move everything in a jiffy to his or her room. Organizational, time management and scheduling skills are also nurtured, so the young child would be well-prepared for the difficult entrance exam years during 6th grade (elementary school) or 3rd grade (jr. high). For those of us frequently traveling overseas for our summer vacations, but who have to bring the infamous “shizen kyoshitsu”(nature or natural classroom) summer projects and other drillsheets with us, this set is going to be a boon. Btw, it’s waterproof, so students can take it to the park and study under a tree!  The only thing you want to add to the set up yourself would be a small kitchen-clock-cum timer, and the study materials… and of course, the student, and you’re good to go.

Last but not least, here is a tip for the more crafty parents reading this, you can buy an aluminium stove-surround-oil-guard and some oilcloth or decorative wallpaper to cover it all over, and armed with colored duct-tape, staple-guns or hotglue-guns, you can create your own study-organizer tidy.

Aluminium stove oil-splatter-guard

Aluminium stove oil-splatter-guard

Use cut out milk cartons to create the tidy boxes and add velcro straps and your own magnetic bulletin-cum whiteboard to substitute (or as part of the) for the clipboard, add decorative detail, and you have a remarkably personalized and unique study organizer! Older children will have so much fun making this with their parent…



P.S. For Japanese sources contact:




Students snapping shots of sakura blossoms with their smartphones on the way home from school (EIJ photo)

Students snapping shots of sakura blossoms with their smartphones on the way home from school (EIJ photo)

Sakura spring greetings to readers of our regular roundup on educational news focused on Japan!

In this post, we bring you news of two new international school openings as well as other news focused on educational issues and the educational scene in Japan.

It may be time to re-examine the oft-stated belief and widespread perception that Japanese (and Asian) youths that they are lacking in creative thinking and problem-solving ability, as the results of 2012 OECD survey find that Japanese youths rank 3rd in problem-solving after the youths of Singapore and South Korea (NHK Apr 1, 2014)

Japanese teenagers finished 3rd in a global assessment of young people’s skills in solving problems encountered in real life.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development surveyed 15-year-olds in 44 countries and territories in 2012. About 6,300 Japanese youths took part in the study.

Real-life problems included buying the right train ticket from a vending machine, and observing a robot vacuum cleaner to identify a certain pattern in its motions. Participants posted their solutions online.

The Japanese teens scored 552 points compared to the survey average of 500. Singapore finished on top, followed by South Korea.
Japan’s education ministry says the youths did well overall regardless of their school and family environment, suggesting that the comprehensive curriculums of Japanese schools may be paying off.

However, the Japanese teens ranked lowest in self-assessment of patience and flexibility in solving problems.

The ministry says education programs should focus more on nurturing those skills.

See original source of report:  *** PISA 2012 Results: Creative Problem Solving (Volume V): Students’ Skills in Tackling Real-Life Problems, Student performance in problem solving DOI:10.1787/9789264208070-7-enCreative Problem Solving: Students’ skills in tackling real-life problems (Volume V); Snapshot of student performance in problem solving (pdf)PISA in Focus N°38: Are 15-year-olds creative problem-solvers? *** One interesting piece of data is the finding that the strong problem-solvers in Australia, UK and US are found among the strong and top performers in mathematics, while in Italy, Japan and Korea, the strong problem-solvers are found among the moderate to low-performers in mathematics … what this distinction implies should be a subject of further study.

Take the test yourself here and find out if you are smarter than the 15 year olds who took the test.

See related news: CNN: Report: 15-year-olds in Asia are better problem solvers than in the U.S (Apr 1)


Japan to help struggling families pay school lunch fees (Jiji Press, Apr 4,  2014)

The Japanese government plans to provide financial assistance to help households on welfare pay lunch fees, bus fares and costs of educational materials for their children who go to nursery school, kindergarten, or other types of authorized preschools, officials said Thursday.
The government is considering providing subsidies to cover half of such expenses, starting in fiscal 2015 that begins in April next year, the officials said.
At present, families receiving public assistance are exempt from paying childcare fees to nursery schools or kindergartens, but there is no publicly subsidized system to help them pay other necessary expenses such as lunch fees.

Also from Jiji Press, Mar 28: Number of Children on Nursery Waiting Lists in Japan Falls by 2,009 from a year before to 44,118, said the health and welfare ministry, the number of such children as of Oct. 1 dropping for the third straight year… however … the No. of children on waiting list for daycare centers still a serious problem, gov’t says (Apr 01, 2014 Japan Today), see excerpted article below:

“”The number of children on the waiting list for daycare centers nationwide was about 44,118 in fiscal 2013, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Monday.

Although the number decreased for the third year in a row, the shortage of such facilities is still a serious problem, a ministry official said, according to NHK…The government promised a plan to secure 400,000 places for children on the waiting list over five years, starting from last April.

Tokyo has the most number of children on the waiting list at 11,589, followed by Chiba (1,958), Osaka (1,761), Kanagawa (1,703) and Saitama (1,391). Kawasaki had 1,534 followed by Fukuoka (1,046), Hiroshima (951) and Sapporo (824).

The ministry spokesperson said they are urging local governments to increase the number of daycare centers but the reality is “we are not catching up,” he said.”

Meanwhile in related news, Japan Times has published a useful article (Mar 17) explaining the concept of ‘gakudo’ or after-school clubs:

After-school clubs falling short as more moms work

Working parents in Japan not only face long waiting lists when they want to enroll their children in day care centers, they also find themselves looking at equally long lists for “gakudo,” or after-school clubs, when their children take the next step and enter elementary school.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, as of last April there were 8,689 children nationwide on waiting lists for such clubs, where mostly first- through third-grade elementary school students spend their time after school and during school breaks — up from 7,521 around the same time a year earlier.

According to a survey in December by the International Affairs and Communications Ministry, more than 70 percent of women between the ages of 35 and 44 are either working or seeking employment.

Many working mothers have had to give up their jobs just because they can’t secure spots for their children at such facilities. The problem has become so acute that there is now a term describing difficulties confronting working mothers with first-graders: “shoichi no kabe” (the hurdle of the first grade).

Even students who are fortunate enough to gain admittance to an after-school club benefit for only a limited time. Many clubs — particularly the traditional, publicly funded ones — accept students only through the third grade, meaning that older children often have nowhere to go after school. Many end up staying home alone, often with a TV or computer games as their only companions.

Concern for such kids has recently given rise to another term: “shoyon no kabe,” or the hurdle of the fourth grade.

The government has taken aim at the problem and is looking to increase the number of after-school clubs nationwide. Officials have set a target of getting almost 1.3 million kids into clubs by the end of fiscal year 2017. Meanwhile, private enterprises — such as cram schools and private day care facilities — have rushed to fill the void, although for fees that some families can’t afford. Here are some questions and answers on after-school clubs:

How did the concept of gakudo come about?

The history of gakudo goes back to the 1960s, when a group of working mothers and fathers started after-school clubs and operated them themselves after finding themselves hard-pressed to find a place where their children could go to after school.

The Child Welfare Law of 1997 stipulates that children whose mothers and/or fathers are working should be given a place to stay after school until they reach “about 10 years old.”

Currently, about 880,000 children nationwide between the ages of 6 and 10 — or 1 in 4 students — use some kind of gakudo. Such facilities numbered 21,635 across the nation as of last May, 40 percent of which were public, while the rest were either publicly built and privately operated or privately owned and operated by parents and companies, according to Zenkoku Gakudo Hoiku Renraku Kyogikai, the nationwide liaison council for after-school clubs.

What sort of problems do after-school clubs face?

The biggest problem is that the number falls short of demand, especially in big cities.

A survey by the liaison council suggests that the actual number of children on waiting lists might be between 400,000 and 500,000, many more than are officially recognized. …” end of excerpt, read more about the costs, different types of gakudo’ here

Japan is strapped for IT programmers and this next article tells us there is a bright future for anyone interested in programming here … see:

Kids flock to Tokyo’s ‘Bit Valley’ to learn programming (March 31, 2014 Asahi-AJW)

Inside a skyscraper, high above Tokyo’s Shibuya district, a group of elementary school children sits patiently in front of their computers.

Someone shouts, “Development time, start!” and suddenly the click-clack sound of typing on keyboards echoes around the room.

Shibuya has been dubbed “Bit Valley” because of the number of IT companies operating within its borders. But here on weekend mornings at CA Tech Kids, rather than creating software to sell, the focus is on teaching children how to program.

Yumene Takeda, a sixth-grader who has not yet studied English, has no problem typing the alphabet and symbols. He began toying around with a computer at home when he was in the third grade. Now he says: “I want to make video games by myself. When I grow up, I want to get a job at a company that makes video games.”

“I love computers,” says fourth-grader Shinnosuke Chuman, whose dream is to become an astronaut.

Their parents, tired of Japan’s cram school-centric education, dream of their children becoming a future Steve Jobs of Apple or Bill Gates of Microsoft.

“They make something themselves and present it. The creativity, making presentations in front of other people and all that are fun in ways that learning by just sitting at school isn’t,” says Kazuhiko Chuman, Shinnosuke’s father, who works at an IT company.

President Susumu Fujita, 40, of CyberAgent Inc., the parent company of CA Tech Kids, came up with the idea at an executive training camp last year because he was concerned about growing public criticism of children’s use of mobile games. “I want to contribute something to society,” he says.

CA Tech Kids first began last summer with three days of pay-to-join classes. It was overwhelmed with applications and hurriedly increased capacity. Many parents, including ones of children who commute from over an hour away in Saitama, pleaded for the school to keep holding the classes.

The school opened as a regular business in Shibuya last October and has a branch in Osaka’s Umeda district as well. The second session of courses began in January. CA Tech Kids is now accepting students for the third session that begins in April. The three-month introductory course of six lessons costs 36,000 yen ($350).

Yuta Matsuyama, a 25-year-old CyberAgent employee who makes teaching materials, began programming at age 9. “If you’re going to get into video games anyway, it’s more creative to make them than to buy them.”


Computer education for kids isn’t new in Tokyo. In Tokyo’s Sumida district, an NPO called Canvas has run a programming school for children since 2002.

Nanako Ishido, Canvas’ 34-year-old director, says, “We want (students) to learn creativity and teamwork skills through programming.”

Over the last 12 years, a total of 300,000 students have completed courses at the school.

But while that might sound like a huge figure, there are still not enough IT engineers in the industry, according to CyberAgent President Fujita.

“People in Japan always talk about improving English skills, but there is a huge shortage of programmers,” he says. “There is a headhunting war, and competent programmers are being offered fat salaries.”

In the global IT world, it is natural for programmers to start up companies the way Gates and the late Jobs did, but Bit Valley still has to catch up.

Be that as it may, even the precocious Matsuyama is surprised at the ability of elementary students at CA Tech Kids to absorb information. When instructed to develop their own creations, one fifth-grade boy made an “unlimited calculator.” While regular calculators can only display a certain number of digits, he made a smartphone app that can calculate numbers of any size by using the device’s scrolling feature to move the display sideways.

Matsuyama was particularly impressed with the boy’s ability to show and explain his app to his peers.

“He was just like Jobs at the presentations,” Matsuyama says with a laugh. “Japan’s future is bright. We can be hopeful.”

Govt aims to help kids adapt to primary school (Mar 29 Yomiuri Shimbun)
The education ministry has decided to provide financial support for primary schools that offer preparatory classes for preschool children on Saturdays, as part of efforts to reduce problematic behavior among new primary school students.

The government is working to alleviate children’s anxieties over entering primary school and prevent so-called first-year student problems, such as failing to adapt to the new environment and walking around during class.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to subsidize 3,000 primary schools across the nation. It believes children will take to their new school routine more easily if they experience primary school life before official enrollment.

As activities likely to be helpful, the ministry has cited such things as reading and writing hiragana, playing with numbers, listening to stories, English conversation and exercise classes.

According to the ministry’s outline for education at kindergartens, such activities as reading and writing hiragana and English conversation are not required. For this reason, the ministry is emphasizing activities to get children accustomed to a learning atmosphere while having fun, rather than having them acquire academic development in “lessons” at a primary school.

As teachers, the ministry envisages high school and university students, as well as foreigners in the community.

First-year student problems in primary schools, which began to attract attention around 2000, have become a national issue in recent years. Children are entering primary school who cannot cope with group activities in a class, and who make a fuss or walk around in classrooms, interfering with teachers’ efforts to give lessons. According to experts, one reason is the different atmosphere between play-focused preschool education and textbook-focused education at primary schools.

According to a survey by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, problematic behavior among first-year students was found at about 20 percent of public primary schools over the 2010-12 academic years. Reports on behavioral problems from schools have included statements like: “Students do not stop talking when the teacher is speaking,” “Students do not keep still and stand up suddenly” or “They wander around the classroom by themselves.”

The education ministry has recommended efforts to achieve a smooth shift to primary schools through such measures as increasing opportunities for exchanges between primary schools, and kindergartens and nursery schools. Some municipalities have started their own efforts.

The Kyoto prefectural government started a project in the 2010 school year to help children experience primary school before they formally enter. These “soon to be first-year student” children experience activities with primary school students such as searching for acorns in a life environmental studies class and making things in art class.

According to the prefectural government, these experiences have helped ease preschool children’s anxiety about their new life at primary school.

The education ministry means to promote such efforts further with its financial support. Funding will be drawn from a total of ¥1.3 billion in subsidies for primary, middle and high schools that hold Saturday classes.

Prof. Nobuyuki Wada of Tokyo Seitoku College, an expert on cooperation between kindergartens and nursery schools, and primary schools, said: “If preschool children experience primary school through things like using its toilet and sitting in a classroom, they will look forward to their new school life. I think it’s a worthwhile effort.”

The first nationwide study to look into the link between children’s family environment and their academic performance concluded that …

Smarter children have better-educated, richer parents: study
(March 28, Jiji Press)–Children with better-educated and higher-earning parents tend to demonstrate higher academic abilities, a Japanese education ministry-commissioned survey study showed Friday.

The study, based on academic achievement tests conducted across Japan in April 2013, also found that children who do their homework show high academic performance regardless of their family environment.

Among other findings, parents with higher incomes tend to spend more on their children’s out-of-school education and such children had better test results.

In addition, the study found that children’s academic capabilities are strongly influenced by the extent to which their parents read to them or encourage them to read books and newspapers on their own…”

Next, the spotlight on the revolutionary software Vocaloid and its new role in music education and usefulness for music composers:

Vocaloid Utilized for Music Education in Japan (Mar 30, 2014, Jiji Press)
Tokyo–The Vocaloid singing voice synthesizer software has grown into a pop culture sensation. It created a virtual pop star named Hatsune Miku.
It is now beginning to be utilized in the field of music education in Japan.
In the school year starting in April 2015, Shikoku University in Tokushima, western Japan, will open a training course at its two-year music college where students can learn to write songs using the software.
The software allows users to write songs by just typing in lyrics and melody. “At first, I thought Vocaloid was something more childish,” said Atsushi Masuda, associate professor of popular music at the university.
“I came to realize that creating singing voice with Vocaloid is profound because you can make adjustments to the vibrato tone or the intake of breath,” he said.
If you’ve never watched a Vocaloid performance, click on the Youtube link below to watch AniMiku Vocaloid concert:

Fukushima junior high students perform in London (Apr 4, NHK)

The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta from Japan’s disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture performed in one of the most prestigious concert venues in London Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday. The 37 members of the orchestra are students from 4 junior high schools in Fukushima City, the prefectural capital. They performed pieces by Mozart and Chopin together with local musicians. The program included a piece prepared by a British composer to encourage Fukushima children.

Update: Isles, quake appear in schoolbooks (Yomiuri Shimbun, Apr 5)

Some new social studies textbooks and maps for primary schools to be used from spring next year clearly state that the Takeshima islets in Shimane Prefecture and the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture are “territories inherent to Japan,” according to the education ministry, which announced Friday the results of the screening of primary school textbooks for the next academic year.
This is the first time for primary school textbooks to carry clear descriptions that the islands are Japanese inherent territories.
Meanwhile, all social studies textbooks for fifth and sixth grades have detailed descriptions of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Some also include descriptions of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
All 139 textbooks in nine subjects submitted by publishers passed the textbook screening by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the ministry said.
The screening system, which began in 1947, aims at checking such things as whether textbooks follow the government’s curriculum guidelines. Each year, one of four groups of textbooks are screened: those for primary school and the third year of high school, for middle school, for the first year of high school, and for the second year of high school. Therefore, textbooks are reviewed every four years in principle.
Of 14 social studies textbooks and maps, seven textbooks for the fifth and sixth grades clearly state that Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands are the nation’s territories or territories inherent to Japan. They explain the current status of these islands using pictures and maps.
In January, the ministry revised the national curriculum guidelines’ instruction manuals for middle and high school social studies to include an expression that these islands “constitute inherent parts of our nation’s territory.”
The revision will be reflected in middle school textbooks to be used from the 2016 academic year and in high school textbooks from the 2017 academic year.
Currently, only one primary school textbook, for the fifth grade, has descriptions including “South Korea is illegally occupying Takeshima.” However, publishers this time have adopted detailed descriptions in primary school textbooks prior to middle and high school textbooks, with some firms saying that the public’s interest in the issues is high as they make news headlines quite often.

The news on new schools opened in Japan:

ABC Montessori International School opened on Apr 1st. A division of ABC International School, this new branch school with a Montessori education-dedicated curriculum is located across from the lawn tennis club in Hiroo.

For more details and contact info, visit their website/webpage: tel 03-5793-1359

Osaka school offers new approach to education for ethnic Koreans (Japan Times, Mar 4, 2014)

OSAKA – For decades, schools for ethnic Koreans living in Japan have been divided along pro-Pyongyang or pro-Seoul lines, with their curricula reflecting the differing political ideologies in North and South Korea.

In 2008, however, a new type of school opened in Osaka in response to Korean residents’ desire for an education that, while emphasizing their roots in the Korean Peninsula, is not restricted by differences across the 38th parallel.

Most of the 86 students from the seventh to 12th grades at Korea International School in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, are Koreans living in Japan. But there are also Japanese students and people who have returned after stints abroad.

Nowadays, 4 in every 5 Koreans in Japan are believed to have at least one parent with Japanese nationality, unlike previous decades. Many citizens of Korean descent also have assumed successful roles in academia, business and other circles in Japanese society.

As a result, there has been growing frustration and dissatisfaction that the education offered at Korean schools simply imitates that of the “home” country — that is, North or South Korea, depending on the school’s affiliation — according to Om Chang Joon, vice principal at Korea International School.

Established in response to such frustrations, the new school in Osaka has adopted a curriculum based on Japanese educational guidelines, with the majority of classes taught in Japanese. It also has classes on Korean language and history, and attempts to cover the peninsula as a whole. … Read more about Korea International School here.


Obokata falsified data in STAP papers: probe (Japan Times, Apr 2, 2014)

A probe into possible “research misconduct” by the authors of two potentially revolutionary papers on pluripotent stem cells turns up two instances of deliberate falsification…

RIKEN Panel Finds Misconduct in Reprogrammed Stem Cell Papers – Science News (Apr 1)
An investigating committee has concluded that falsification and fabrication mar two recent Nature papers reporting a new, simple way to reprogram mature cells into stem cells. The committee concluded these acts constitute research misconduct. Related: read more on this at

The controversy hinges upon Haruko Obokata’s reused images from her doctoral dissertation, that depicted completely different experiments.

Benesse to tap McDonald’s Harada as president (Japan Times via Four Traders)
McDonald’s Holdings Co. (Japan) Chairman Eiko Harada is expected to become chairman and president of education service provider Benesse Holdings Inc., informed sources said Thursday. …

In other local news … Japan Times: Japanese firms mostly unaware of benefits of hiring from JET ranks: poll

Five great learning apps for kids, from a new magazine for Tokyo’s international women, called Savvy
On technology and learning, check out these:


Elsewhere in the world the edu-news of interest:

Higher Education: Is college worth it? (The Economist, Apr 5) Too many degrees are a waste of money. The return on higher education would be much better if college were cheaper. A useful comparative chart on annual returns over a 20 year period of various different colleges is provided. Read more…

Hire like Google For most companies, that’s a bad idea (LA Times, Mar 9, 2014)

Authors of the article Chabris and Wai take issue with Laszlo Bock, the head of human resources at Google for having said (in his interview with NY Times) “GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless…. We found that they don’t predict anything…” .

Chabris and Wai remind us that “decades of quantitative research in the field of personnel psychology have shown that across fields of employment, measurements of “general cognitive ability” — which is another way of referring to the old-fashioned concept of intelligence or IQ — are consistently the best tools employers have to predict which new employees will wind up with the highest performance evaluations or the best career paths. We shouldn’t rush to assume that Google, with its private data, has suddenly refuted all that work” and Chabris and Wai also explain that ” the fraction of people at Google without a college degree has increased over time and is now as high as 14% on some product teams. This means, however, that more than 86% of people at Google do have a college education (or more), and most of them come from the most elite schools. … These highly selective institutions have, by definition, already filtered students based on high school GPAs, SAT or ACT scores, and other factors. Google in effect uses attendance at those colleges as a hiring criterion, so Bock — who happens to possess a degree from Yale University — is using GPAs and test scores whether he realizes it or not.”  The authors conclude that while computer giants like Google can afford to abandon traditional measures of intelligence, most companies can’t.

Ivy League colleges maintain low acceptance rates for applicants  (Bloomberg Mar28)
While most Ivy League schools reported a decline in applications this year, Yale University received a record 30,932 applications and accepted only 6.3% of them. That’s down from 6.7% last year. Other schools accepted more, like Harvard University, which accepted 5.9% of applicants, up from 5.8% last year. Acceptance rates at other elites including Columbia and Princeton universities remained unchanged.

A Merkel, a Map, a Message to China? (Foreign Policy, Apr 1, 2014) “Historical maps are sensitive business in China. Every schoolchild in China learns that TibetXinjiangTaiwan, and the Diaoyu Islands have been “inalienable parts of China since ancient times.” The d’Anville map, at least visually, is a rejection of that narrative…” The map of 1735 by d’Anville the French cartographer presented by the German Chancellor Merkel, to the Chinese President causes brouhaha because it shows “China Proper” in ancient times without Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia or Manchuria … A map published in many Chinese-language media reports about Merkel’s gift-giving shows the Chinese empire at its territorial zenith, including Tibet, so this gift is embarrassing. The larger territory as drawn on Chinese maps is instead based on British mapmaker John Dower’s map made a century later, which reflects the militarism of the Qing empire and Emperor Qianlong’s efforts to bring the peripheries under imperial control..

Addition of Korean name for Sea of Japan becomes law in Virginia (JapanToday, Apr. 04, 2014)

Legislation requiring that the Korean name for the Sea of Japan be included in new school textbooks has become law in the U.S. state of Virginnia after lobbying by Korean residents …  Read more here

According to Bandwidth blog, South Korea has found the perfect way to police smartphone usage by youths … with the iSmartKeeper app:

South Korean schools curb students’ smartphone use with app (Bandwidth Blog on 24.03.2014)

“…schools in Seoul, South Korea, have decided to fight fire with fire – they have implemented a new app in schools which is solely aimed at reducing distractions within the classroom. …

iSmartKeeper is a smartphone app with an accompanying desktop program that allows teachers to control which apps their students may use during class, all from the comfort of their desk.

It’s premise is really simple, too. Students download the app onto their smartphone, while the teachers then use an accompanying desktop program.

The desktop program then gives the teacher the ability to remotely ‘control’ the students’ smartphone and app usage. Teachers can turn off specific apps during class or block messaging and social media apps (we’re looking at you, WhatsApp and Facebook).

They can also lock all smartphones in the school or adjust the settings so only emergency calls are allowed or only phone calls and SMS.

What’s super clever about the app, is that it uses location data to track the students movements. This enables the app to only work when the student is actually on school grounds.

iSmartKeeper is currently used in 11 schools in Seoul, with 600 other schools having shown interest in using the app. While it is still in it’s ‘experimental’ phase, co-creator and professor at the Gonju National University of Education, Haun Gyu-sang, has said that 30 000 students are already registered for the app.

Of course, before the app can be used, schools will first have to get approval from the students’ parents. However, the app is just as appealing to parents as it is to the teachers; the app can also be used at home, with the parents implementing the same restrictions if they want.

The project is wholly endorsed by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, who plans to expand the project to more schools in the near future.

The idea to control the kids’ app usage with another app is genius. In recent years, reports have been flooding educational journals and websites on the immense effect (distracction) that smartphones and apps have on kids, teenagers specifically…”

See related editorial “Smartphone addiction” (Mar 27, The Korea Herald)

Twitter and text are not GR8 for English skills, warns head (The Times, March 24, 2014 via

The Times is reporting warnings from a head that eliminating “text speak” and its impact on children’s spelling and grammar is among the greatest challenges facing teachers…”Abbreviations and slang used in text messages and on Twitter are “eroding hard-learnt skills”, and pupils are growing up with a more limited vocabulary because they spend less time reading books …there should be a drive to stop the damaging effect of instant messaging on written English work”, said Caroline Jordan, head of Headington School for girls in Oxford. More

Genius, as a Tot (POPSCI, 14 Mar)

When MENSA admits tots, it makes for sensational news but what exactly are the connections between early smarts and later life? And can genius be recognized in early life?

“Jonathan Wai, a research scientist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program, says that tests can identify above-average babies, as early as 12 months. His colleague Joseph Fagan created the Fagan Test of Infant Intelligence.

Fagan tested 61 infants between 7-12 months of age on their ability to selectively attend to novel pictures. The infants looked at pictures for a few seconds, and then paired the old pictures with new ones, recording how long the babies looked at the old pictures. The smarter the infant was, the shorter time they spent looking at the pictures that weren’t new – at least that was the idea. Infants generally spend about 60 percent of the time looking at new images.” Read the rest…here

Learning Curve  (Mar 12, Foreign Policy) on why more and more extremely poor parents in 
poor countries are paying out of their limited income to send 
their kids to private school…

On matters of kids health and safety, check out Upworthy’s easy-to-understand infographic:

Here’s what happens to kids when they get to eat  before school everyday?

Tsunami left mental scars on 1 in 4 kids (Japan Times): A quarter of the nursery school children who survived the 2011 quake and tsunami have psychiatric problems that could last a lifetime if left untreated.

Autism May Be Tied to Flawed Prenatal Brain Growth (ABCnews, Mar 27)

A great safety product and service available to parents who want to track their kids but don’t necessarily want to give them smartphones/mobile phones is SECOM’s Koko Secom service and buzzer that is heads and shoulders above all other kinds of buzzers…it is basically an on-call and pay-as-you-use security service for tracking your child, see  All abuzz about child safety (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Apr 5) Excerpt follows:

With the arrival of the new school term, many parents must be worried about the safety of their children when they travel to and from school or juku cram schools. To ease their anxieties, a number of firms are providing services to swiftly dispatch personnel from a security company in the event of an emergency.

Tokyo-based security firm Secom Co. is offering a service called Koko Secom that allows a child to contact the firm’s operation center with the push of a button on a terminal smaller than a business card. The center then telephones the child’s guardian and, upon request, swiftly sends a staff member to the child’s location.

Even if the child does not press the button, the GPS functionality of the terminal allows parents to track the child’s whereabouts by visiting a designated website.

When subscribing to the service through the Internet, a customer pays an entry fee of ¥4,500 (all prices exclude tax) and ¥2,000 for a battery charger for the terminal. The monthly fee for the basic plan, which allows parents to locate their child’s whereabouts up to 10 times per month without additional charge, is ¥900. When a staff member is dispatched to a child in an emergency, an additional fee of ¥10,000 is charged each time.

NTT Docomo, Inc.’s Kids Keitai cell phones include a function to sound a buzzer and automatically send an e-mail to a designated guardian when the attached strap is pulled. Such a cell phone works with Docomo’s Kaketsuke (rush to the scene) Service operated in collaboration with Sohgo Security Service Co. (ALSOK).

If the guardian so requests, ALSOK will dispatch a staff member to where the child is. The service plan has no monthly fee, but when a staff member is dispatched, ¥10,000 per hour is charged.

Parents want to know if their children are taking the same routes home from school or juku.

Odakyu Electric Railway Co. is offering a service for parents of primary and middle school students that sends e-mails to inform them what time their children have passed through automatic ticketing gates at stations on railway lines operated by the company. To use the service, a guardian is required to sign a contract with Odakyu and the child must have a Pasmo card with his or her name registered. The monthly fee is ¥500.  Read more


In our Book Nook spotlight today, we recommend’s and Goodreads’ reviews on Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being”

Ruth Ozeki’s third novel, shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2013.

“Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes and dreams of a young girl. She suspects it might have arrived on a drift of debris from the 2011 tsunami. With every turn of the page, she is sucked deeper into an enchanting mystery.
In a small cafe in Tokyo, 16-year-old Nao Yasutani is navigating the challenges thrown up by modern life. In the face of cyberbullying, the mysteries of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun and great-grandmother, and the joy and heartbreak of family, Nao is trying to find her own place – and voice – through a diary she hopes will find a reader and friend who finally understands her.” — theManBookerPrize review.

“Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.(Goodreads)

Miscellaneous:  NGO Full-Tuition Scholarship (Tokyo Only)

The NGO Full-Tuition Scholarship provides full tuition for any one course applicable to the NGO Management certificate for one semester. This scholarship is open to any students who are or will be enrolled in any of the designated core and elective courses in the NGO Management certificate course. NGO Scholarship is for any student who is committed to completing the NGO certificate. New students must register before applying for this scholarship. Applicants whose tuition is paid by their company are not eligible to apply.


TTFN and digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe

Updates: 7 high school students face charges over suicide of classmate (Japan Today, Mar 8)
High schools to focus on global mobility (Yomiuri Shimbun)

Panel on English education holds 1st meeting (Jiji Press, Mar 8)

The education ministry’s panel of experts on improving English education for primary to high school students has held its first meeting. The panel will meet every month to discuss steps such as starting English education earlier at primary schools and how to  strengthen teaching skills. …Rakuten Inc. President and Chairman Hiroshi Mikitani said, “A simple and powerful initial step would be to raise university exam levels to the global standard,” calling on the government to introduce external exams, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, as part of university exams.

7 youths reported to prosecutors over bullied classmate’s suicide (Mainichi, Mar 6, 2014)

Seven youths aged 17 to 18 have been accused of illegal acts of violence in conjunction with the November 2013 suicide of their classmate in Fukuoka Prefecture, it has been learned.

Papers accusing the seven students were sent to the Fukuoka District Public Prosecutors Office on March 6.

Prior to committing suicide, the boy — who was an 18-year-old third-year student at a private high school in Fukuoka Prefecture at the time — left behind written text indicating that he had been bullied.

“Although it is not clear that there is a causal relationship between the suicide (and the bullying), the actions in this case are consistent with bullying based upon the definition provided by the bullying prevention law,” commented a prefectural police department representative.

The seven youths are accused of teaming up to assault the victim on five separate occasions between Oct. 1 and Nov. 6 in locations including the school’s classrooms and cooking room, including hitting and kicking him, as well as pressing a burning-hot ladle against his mouth.

The youth killed himself before dawn on Nov. 14 by jumping off an apartment building in the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Kasuga.

He had written the names of the other students on his portable terminal device, along with messages such as “I will never forgive you.”

The boy’s family filed an official claim regarding the incident in February of this year.

Earlier: Bullying suspected as cause of 16-year-old boy’s suicide

Japanese police handled 410 school bullying-related cases in 2013, increasing 58 pct from the previous year and exceeding 400 for the first time since 1985, the National Police Agency said Thursday. (Jiji Press, Feb 28)

The Osaka High Court on Thursday ordered the founder of English language school chain Nova Corp. and three others to pay 19 million yen in damages to former Nova students, reversing a lower court ruling.

The 27 former plaintiffs in western Japan became Nova students from 2002 to the chain’s bankruptcy in 2007 and cancelled their contracts without prepaid tuition fees being refunded.

Bullying-related cases in Japan surge 58 percent to 28-year high (Feb 27, Jiji Press )

Tokyo, Feb. 27 (Jiji Press)–Japanese police handled 410 school bullying-related cases in 2013, increasing 58 pct from the previous year and exceeding 400 for the first time since 1985, the National Police Agency said Thursday.
A total of 724 school children and students were found or taken into custody in violence and personal injury cases related to bullying in the year, up 213 and topping 700 for the first time in 27 years, the agency said.
The rises resulted from closer cooperation between police and schools and an increase in consultations with police amid growing public attention following a bullying-related suicide of a junior high school boy in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, western Japan, an NPA official said.
As another factor, the official said that the definition of bullying has been broadened in 2013 after the law on measures to prevent bullying came into force.
In 2013, the number of minors held on suspicion of involvement in “furikome” bank transfer frauds came to 262, accounting for 21 pct of the total such suspects including adults, the NPA also said. The figure rose 102 from the previous year and grew eightfold in the past five years.

Nova founder and former President Nozomu Sahashi, 62, convicted of embezzlement, is responsible for paying the damages including prepaid tuition fees as he engaged in illegal practices that led Nova to fail, Presiding Judge Ikuo Yamashita said.

The ruling by the Osaka District Court in June 2012 had rejected the 21 million yen damages suit filed by the former students.

Smartphones account for over 55 pct in Japan youth mobile phones (Feb 20, 2014)

The rate of smartphone users among students owning mobile phones at elementary, junior high and high schools in Japan stood at 56.8 pct in late 2013, up 20.8 percentage points from a year earlier, a Cabinet Office survey showed Wednesday.

The rate stood at 82.8 pct for high school students, up 26.9 points, 47.4 pct for junior high students, up 22.1 pct, and 13.6 pct for elementary school children, up 6.0 points.

Earlier: An editorial in Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper looks at how the government is proposing to change education administration locally by granting the local government greater influence and rights and powers, see below:

Education board reform must lead to clarification of responsibilities

February 28, 2014, Yomiuri Shimbun

To ensure that education board reform will result in a rebuilt system that can adequately deal with the mounting problems that it faces, discussions must be further deepened.

Having drawn up a set of reform proposals on the board of education system, the Liberal Democratic Party has been in consultation with ruling coalition partner New Komeito.

Based on the outcome of discussions within the ruling camp, the government plans to submit a bill for revising the law on local education administration in the current Diet session.

The LDP draft focuses on making it easier for the head of a local government to exert his or her influence in the area of education administration, while allowing ultimate authority to be retained by the local entity’s board of education to ensure political neutrality in education.

Specifically, the LDP plan calls for integration of the post of education board chief, who acts as the board representative, and that of the superintendent of education, who serves as the education board’s secretariat chief. It also seeks to give the head of each local government the right to appoint and dismiss the person who will assume the proposed post to be created by merging the two roles.

The plan rightly aims to rectify the current situation in which the locus of responsibility is often blurred due to the simultaneous existence of separate posts for the education board chief and superintendent of education.

The current system utilizes a framework of making decisions through exchanges of views among members of a local education board comprising intellectuals and others from each local entity. With all the board members except the superintendent of education working part-time, the education board system has long been criticized as having become a mere facade. System reform is urgently needed.

The Central Council for Education, an advisory body to the education, culture, sports, science and technology minister, issued a report in December last year proposing that the ultimate authority in local education administration be shifted from education boards to local government heads.

However, there were fears that the council’s proposal, if effected as was, could lead to the danger of local government heads exerting their influence based on personal bias in a bid to assert greater control over educational matters, with no means of reining in their behavior.

Division of roles unclear

If education boards are allowed to retain final authority on education matters as envisaged in the LDP draft, there will be at least a modicum of hope of preventing the abuse of power by local government heads over education administration.

On the other hand, the LDP plan also calls for the creation of what it tentatively calls a “general education policy council.” The envisaged council would be presided over by each local local government head who holds the authority to enforce budgetary appropriations, with a view to having the council tasked with compiling important education administration measures.

The proposal to create the council seems to be designed to ensure local government heads’ chances of demonstrating leadership in the enforcement of education administration. What is of the highest importance, however, is to have the local education administration function properly by maintaining a balance of power between local government heads and education boards.

The LDP-envisioned general education policy council would be in charge of such tasks as the establishment and abolition of publicly operated schools and quotas of schoolteachers, while education boards would engage in such matters as personnel shuffles of schoolteachers and selection of textbooks to be used in the areas under their jurisdiction.

The relationship between the planned council and education boards under the LPD draft, however, appears to be more or less unintelligible. Should public entities implement the envisaged system without clarifying the roles of each, it could result in confusion that would affect day-to-day school education, possibly impeding the smooth implementation of education administration.

Also incorporated into the LDP plan is a proposal that local government heads be authorized to demand that education boards take appropriate steps in response to such emergency situations as the suicide of a student. The proposal came in light of the fact that education boards lacked crisis-management capabilities to take swift action, an issue that was brought to the fore in the case of the bullying-induced suicide of an Otsu middle school student in 2011.

The secretariats of education boards are frequently comprised of former schoolteachers. There is a strong body of opinion that they, due to a sense of camaraderie with problem-stricken schools, often fail to address the task of rigorously probing the causes of serious problems.

In effecting the envisaged system reform, it is very important to take up the attitude of doing away with this tendency of boards of education. (From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 28, 2014)


Publications to check out:

See Mira SONNTAG *
Globalising Japanese History: The Significance of Teaching in English in Japanese Universities bEleanor Robinson-Yamaguchi (Aichi Prefectural University)


Education ministry revises booklets on radiation (NHK — Mar 03)
Japan’s education ministry has revised its instructional booklets on radiation by adding details on the impact of Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.
The ministry published the original booklets in October of 2011, about 6 months after the disaster. But many teachers complained that the booklets lacked sufficient information on the accident itself.
The new booklets include maps of the areas affected by radiation from the crippled power plant as well as places from which residents were forced to evacuate.

More news:

Elsewhere in the world, the news on education:

Chinese kids beat Western children at math (via gmanetwork, Feb 27)

Paris-(AFP-Jiji) — the children of cleaners in the Chinese city of Shanghai are outperforming the children of U.S. and British professionals such as doctors and lawyers at maths, a recent study found.

British and American children also fared badly against children from similar family backgrounds in other countries worldwide, OECD analysts said.

“In the United States and the United Kingdom, where professionals are among the highest paid in the world, students whose parents work as professionals do not perform as well in mathematics as children of professionals in other countries,” they stated.

“Nor do they perform as well as the children in Shanghai, China and Singapore, whose parents work in manual occupations,” they added.

The findings are contained in an analysis of the global Pisa test rankings, an international league table first released by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), a grouping of rich nations, in December 2013.

The study concluded that there was inevitably a strong relationship between parents’ occupations and student performance.

But it said the results show “that it is possible to provide children of factory workers (with) the same high-quality education opportunities that children of lawyers and doctors enjoy”. — Agence France-Presse

Panel discusses revision of teaching manual to include moral education

Feb 19, 2014 JAPANTODAY
TOKYO – Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura met with a ministry panel this week about revising the teaching manual to include moral education as a “special subject” for elementary and junior high school students.  The meeting was a follow-up to a session last December in which a panel of experts submitted a report titled “Special Subject: Moral Education,” which advocated revising textbooks to include ethics in the curricula.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated its desire to boost moral education for young people in a bid to prevent crimes and bullying, as well as provide greater support for juveniles isolated from society.

The panel has proposed that the government introduce moral education into the curriculum for elementary and junior high school students in 2015 in accordance with the principles of the Japanese constitution and the laws of the land.

The December report says youth problems are becoming increasingly complex due to expanding income gaps in society. It says that juvenile crime can stem from a lack of communication with family and others, an unstable employment outlook and the financial difficulties of parents. It says that approved textbooks should be used for moral education in the classroom.

In the past, plans to introduce moral education into school curricula have met with opposition from some teachers and parents concerned that it would impose certain values on children.

Japan Today


New moral education textbook announced

The Japan News — Feb 15

The education ministry on Friday announced a fully revised book for moral education in elementary and junior high schools.

The ministry plans to distribute it to all students in time for fiscal 2014, and has spent about ¥980 million to make about 10 million copies. Education minister Hakubun Shimomura told a press conference that the book’s contents encourage students to think independently about moral values and social norms and act accordingly. The ministry hopes it will be used not only in classes, but also at home and in local communities, he said.The new edition features many readings that are not included in the current one. They cover such great historical figures as Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, renowned athletes Hideki Matsui and Homare Sawa, and Nobel laureate and Kyoto University Prof. Shinya Yamanaka.

News source: The Japan News


A successful first attempt at kamakura construction

A successful first attempt at kamakura construction

With the rare blizzard conditions that hit Kanto this past weekend, ” the day after” provided the best conditions for kamakura building. All the children in our neighbourhood it seemed, came out of the woodwork and were seen at snowplay, a bunch of kids were playing baseball with snowballs, while my son and his friend set about building their first kamakura.

Below is a photo of the boys at work building their “igloo” kamakura. When they had finished their snow hut around noon, kids soon streamed by to take photos with the hut, and to play inside. A neighbour came by and kindly offered the little lamp to light up the kamakura.

Boys at construction work

Boys at construction work

By the way, people often head out on Feb. 15-Feb. 16 with their kids to see the see the snow huts called Yokote Kamakura in Yokote, Akita Prefecture for the experience of playing in snow huts. The event is called the Yokote Snow Festival and 100 snow huts are built for visitors to experience.

Yokote Kamakura, Snow Huts in Yokote, Akita Prefecture; Playing in snow huts is a popular pastime in winter for children living in areas with heavy snowfall. They make snow huts called kamakura in which they play games and eat traditional delicacies. About 100 snow huts, and a number of snow creations are built on Kamakura-dori Street, in front of the Yokote City Hall branch office and at Yokote Park and so on. The best time to see this event is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. (either day).
Access: (1) The JR Ou Honsen Line to Yokote Station, and then walk 10 minutes.
(2) Three minutes by bus from JR Yokote Station to Yokote Chiikikyoku-mae Bus Stop. (Above image credit: Japan Times festival database)

Background and history of the Kamakura tradition and the Yokote Snow Festival

“The festival is held annually on February 15 and 16. Kamakura is the name given to small igloo-like structure made entirely from compacted snow. Yokote city lies in an area of heavy snowfall where 20 to 30 centimeters of snow may fall overnight. Kamakura festival uses this snow in a festival that can only be found in such a snowy place. The Kamakura festival is held during the lunar new year together with other seasonal events such as the festival where pine and rope decorations used at the previous new year celebrations are burned in a sacred bonfire, a ceremony to pay homage to the god of water, and the ‘torioi’ ceremony to pray for an abundant harvest. In the past there have been water shortages in this region and that is why prayers are offered to the god of water, and the water god is enshrined inside the Kamakura. The Kamakura festival was also a way of spending a few simple days in a small hut away from the usual material temptations of life. These days, however, the rites chiefly involve children.
The Kamakura festival has been celebrated for more than four hundred years. Originally, Kamakuras were rectangular and had wooden roofs. Now they are constructed entirely of snow and are more dome-like. Each Kamakura is about 1.5 meters wide and 2 meters tall. They are constructed by piling snow, trampling it, packing it down, and then allowing it to freeze and harden over the course of about a week. The hardened mounds are then hollowed out to make a roomy chamber. A small entrance gives access to the wide space inside. An altar for the water deity is carved into the rear of the room inside the Kamakura. The floors are covered with grass mats and many Kamakuras are equipped with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling to provide illumination. A charcoal brazier at the center of the Kamakura is used to grill mochi (rice cakes) and heat amazake (a fermented rice drink), which are offered to the passerby. Guests are invited in with calls of ‘agattetanse’, which is a word for ‘irasshaimase’ (please come in) in Akita-dialect.”
– read more about the Yokote kamakura snow festival


May your days be merry and white,

Aileen Kawagoe



Median average wages and household incomes have yet to show any meaningful rises even as inflation is at a five year high, but private universities have announced their intention to raise university fees come April by significantly large amounts.

The unemployment rate has remained unchanged in the past year and firms in Japan are getting picky when hiring new graduates, using innovative new hiring techniques. Although about 81.7% of university students graduating in spring 2014 have been given at least one informal job offer by Oct. 1, 5.5 percentage points higher than last year’s rate, according to Recruit Career(Source: Nikkei, Nov 27, 2013), top firms have also indicated they will be hiring fewer, not more, graduates in 2014 (see Fujitsu’s statement “the number of new hires will decrease compared to this year due to the severe business environment…”(Source: “Fujitsu to hire 500 graduates in 2014″ Japan Today Mar 3, 2013). Since it is still unknown whether the slight improvement in graduate hirings over the past year will be sustainable in the future, should private universities be raising fees when they have not proven they have added value to their course programs nor raised teaching standards, nor that they are graduating more employable graduates.

Are university administrators and authorities even aware that they have not addressed the many criticisms about the state of/quality of higher education in Japan? Or have the rankings of all of the universities planning fee hikes risen notably in international rankings to justify the fee hikes?


Let’s review the figures:

Kyodo news reports that Japan’s minimum wage to rise by an average of 15 yen (Kyodo, September 4th, 2013)

Average wages in Japan increased to 310.85 JPY in November of 2013 from 297.41 JPY THO in October of 2013. Wages in Japan is reported by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan. Source: “Japan Average Monthly Wages”

However, Disposable Personal Income in Japan has in fact decreased to 356.21 Thousands JPY in November of 2013 from 401.14 Thousands JPY in October of 2013. Disposable Personal Income in Japan is reported by the Statistics Bureau, Japan Source: Japan “Disposable Personal Income”

And now private universities have now announced their intention to raise university fees ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 yen(see article below), where families are going to be raising the shortfall in funds is a question that is going to be weighing heavily on all of parents’ and students’ minds, even as costs of living are clearly rising much faster than our wage earnings, thanks to the effects of “Abenomics“. See Japan’s Annual Inflation Rate Rises to Five Year High in November : The consumer price index for Japan in November 2013 was 100.8(2010=100), up 1.5% over the year and the highest since October of 2008.

Please, college dons and other authorities, do the math before you hike the fees. Help parents and students who have to fork out the fees out. Are Japanese graduates expected then to rack up college debts and head in the direction of US? See CNBC report on The college debt crisis “The debt that won’t go away”. I should really like to see a new kind of university rankings in place, one that has a large weightage and component based on how many students of the university are actually employed upon graduation. Maybe then, and only then will university policy-makers and authorities be forced to do the math along with the consumer of higher educational services.

Japan is becoming a lot like its closest ally, the US, and not in a good way … not only do the two countries have seemingly unsolvable huge national debts, it seems this country is also in imminent danger of digging another hole called the College Debt Crisis, one it will not be able to dig its way out of.
Article under discussion:
Private universities raise fees in April (Yomuiri Shimbun, Jan 23, 2014)

January 23, 2014 The Yomiuri Shimbun

For students going to college, the consumption tax hike scheduled in April will not be the only increase they will face.
A Yomiuri Shimbun survey found that prestigious private universities, including Keio, Nihon, Sophia and Waseda, plan to raise their fees from April. Although the schools explained that higher fees are required to improve the educational environment and other matters, the amount of the increases seems to have an aspect of covering the universities’ cost burden due to the tax hike from 5 percent to 8 percent.
Of 39 private universities with more than 10,000 undergraduates, at least 13 told The Yomiuri Shimbun that they plan to raise fees.
Nihon University will raise tuition and other fees for new students at six of its 14 schools for the first time in eight to 17 years. The increases will range from ¥50,000 to ¥200,000 in the freshman year. Students entering some departments of the College of Bioresource Sciences will have to pay ¥1.66 million the first year, an increase of ¥200,000, or 13.7 percent.
“We had cut our expenses while seeing a drop in revenue due to a decrease in the number of students,” said a Nihon University official. “We have no choice but to raise the fees to enhance the educational environment.”
Waseda University has been raising tuition by 0.7 percent for new students every year since academic year 2006 and will continue to do so in the academic year beginning in April. The fee for the School of Political Science and Economics, however, will increase by ¥30,000.
Furthermore, students in most of Waseda’s schools will have to pay about ¥150,000 more over four years for its new global education fee, which includes expanded support for students studying abroad.
Though college fees concerning enrollment, tuition, facility equipment usage fees and others are tax-free, universities have to assume an increasing financial burden as a result of the hike in the consumption tax when they purchase supplies. One university expects an increase in costs of more than ¥2 billion in the new school year.
According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, tuition at private universities increased by ¥12,000 on average in the 1997 academic year, when the consumption tax was raised from 3 percent to 5 percent. “I assume that the consumption tax hike to 8 percent has prompted some universities to decide to raise fees,” said Keio University Prof. Takahiro Ueyama, an expert on university management. …

Read the rest of the article at Other sources and references: “Japanese companies finding exceptional talent through exceptional hiring” Nikkei, Nov 27, 2013 “Fujitsu to hire 500 graduates in 2014

Below are various textbooks and teaching materials of the E do period on display at the Edo-Tokyo Museum.








The Japan News 2014-01-18: The Yomiuri Shimbun

The two-day test organized by the National Center forUniversity Entrance Examinations, which begins Saturday, involves 560,000 students applying to enter 843 universities and junior colleges nationwide. Many students no doubt studied hard day and night in preparation for the tests. We hope they can fully display their abilities. The center and officials concerned at each university need to focus their minds to prevent a recurrence of such trouble as the erroneous distribution of test question papers that happened two… more » (for even more details see also Japan Today’s article Jan 19, 2014 and the Jan 20, 2009 Japan Times articles posted below)

 Follow the above link to the Yomiuri news article which is worth reading if you want to know its background and importance of the center shiken test (as it is popularly known) how the requirements have evolved, and the changes to the test currently under proposal.
This weekend’s Center Shiken test paper has been published in full with answers in yesterday’s issue of the Japanese version of the Yomiuri Shimbun, so if you want to have a look at what the papers are like it’s a good idea to obtain a copy of the paper (they will be available for viewing at local public libraries as well). For a discussion on reforming the exams, see
The Yomiuri Shimbun January 18, 2014
Merits, demerits of natl center test must be examined to promote reform

2-day college entrance exams held across the nation (Japan Today, Jan 19, 2014 Sources: Japan Today, FNNnewsCH

The National Center for University Entrance Examinations on Saturday began two days of tests across the nation. The center said that 560,672 students are sitting for the exams at 693 test centers nationwide.

On Saturday, students sat for exams in geography, history, civics, Japanese and foreign languages. On Sunday, tests will be held in mathematics and science.

As in previous years, there were a few glitches. Heavy snow made some students late in the Hokuriku region, while a disruption to the JR Tokaido shinkansen caused some students to miss the tests in Shizuoka, TBS reported. Trouble was also reported with audio-visual devices for English exam takers in some centers.

Typically, the test starts and ends at roughly the same time throughout the entire nation. As such, families have been urged to check weather and traffic reports and to ensure that their children arrive at test centers in plenty of time.

The standardized exam is used to grade students applying to public and private universities in Japan. The test results will be used by 843 public universities, private universities and junior colleges to grade applicants.

Last year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) said it was considering scrapping Japan’s Center Test system.

The ministry wants to scrap the current system in favor of a series of “achievement tests” to be taken through high school. According to MEXT, the new tests would be taken two or three times each year, with the student’s highest grade being accepted for final consideration.

The ministry says the new system is likely to be introduced in four years’ time at the earliest.



‘Exam hell’ now not so hot

Student-starved schools lower the bar as pool of applicants dries up


The annual university entrance examination season kicked off Saturday and Sunday as some 540,000 high school students and graduates nationwide took the standardized National Center Test for University Admissions.

The next several weeks will be tense for examinees as they prepare for the individual exams scheduled at public and private universities.

The tough competition used to be known as “examination hell” as applicants crammed with the goal of getting into the best schools to ensure the best career opportunities.

Now that the population is in decline, the competition is changing. Universities are struggling to survive and they need to ensure they enroll enough students to do so.

Following are some facts about the university entrance exams:

What is the National Center Test for University Admissions and how does it function?

Often referred to as the “center test,” it is made up of standardized exams that are required for applicants to the 82 national universities and 74 municipal universities as the first stage of the screening process.

These days, many private institutions also offer the exams.

Applicants are tested on five subjects, as well as subtopics: Japanese, social studies (Japanese history, world history, geography and civics), and foreign language (English, French, German, Chinese and Korean,) science (biology, physics and chemistry) and mathematics.

The tests are multiple choice, but the English exam, which is taken by a large majority of applicants, includes a listening comprehension segment.

According to the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, which arranges the exams, the center test “primarily aims to measure the level of basic academic achievement of prospective students upon concluding their high school education.”

All universities using the center test decide and apply their own criteria to measure the aptitude of examinees. Applicants must make sure they take tests in all the subjects that are required by their targeted institutions.

What happens after the center test?

The answers of the tests are announced by 9 p.m. on exam day on NCUEE’s Web site. Thus examinees already know how well they did.

Examinees afterward apply for individual examinations at public universities by submitting their center test scores as well as their high school records.

The total score of the standardized test is important because many universities set the minimum points necessary to take their individual exams.

The individual tests are no longer simply multiple choice. Some institutions also require applicants to write essays and be interviewed.

Public universities are scheduled to hold their exams on two separate occasions, in late February and early March. Decisions will be based on the combined score of the center test and the exams from the universities.

How do private universities select prospective students? Why are private schools also utilizing the center test?

Private universities, whose student bodies account for more than 70 percent of all Japanese college students, generally screen their applicants through their own exams. A large majority of their prospective students go through this process. If applicants are only interested in private universities, there is no need for them to take the center test.

But with the decline in the number of young people, more private institutions are offering different admission processes to accept students. Utilizing the center test is one such process. It allows private schools to acquire students at an early stage.

This year, 487 private universities are using the center test standardized exams, a record number.

Some schools combine the center test results and their individual exams, or even screen students simply by center test results.

What other ways can a high school student enter a university?

Some universities accept students who make early decisions to apply. Usually, high schools recommend students with good grades and reputations to universities, and the students proceed to take a special exam.

Some institutions also accept students with special talents, including sports or arts.

How much do college entrance exams cost?

University entrance exams come at a price. Applicants for the center test must pay ¥12,000 if they are taking two or fewer subjects. For those taking three or more subjects, the fee is ¥18,000.

For those who apply to public universities, each school will charge ¥17,000 for the individual exams. Students can apply to up to two public institutions.

Private schools charge about ¥30,000 to ¥35,000 for each department to which a student applies, according to Obunsha Co.’s Web site Pass Navi, which provides information on college entrance exams.

Because there is no limit to how many private schools and their departments students can apply to, the cost varies depending on the applicant. A survey by the Tokyo Federation of Private University Faculty and Staff Unions showed that among nearly 4,300 private university students polled in May 2007, the average amount spent on exam-related expenses came to ¥231,900. This included transportation and hotel accommodations.

Japan’s tough college entrance exam competition was once known as “examination hell.” Is it still?

Competition remains fairly stiff for those aiming for top universities, but many schools have become much easier to enter these days, observers say.

The competition intensified between the 1960s and 1980s due to Japan’s high economic growth. During this period, companies, with their lifetime employment system, hired graduates from good schools, which meant one’s future was decided at age 18, according to Koichi Nakai, author of “The History of University Entrance Exams in the Post-World War II Era.”

Because more people wanted to receive higher education, deregulation in the 1990s triggered a rise in new universities.

However, the population of 18-year-olds peaked in 1992 and has been declining since.

At the same time, more than half of 18-year-olds are attending a university or junior college today.

As a consequence, many private schools are starting to suffer student shortages.

A poll released in August by the Promotion and Mutual Aid Corporation for Private Schools of Japan showed that 47 percent of 565 private universities suffered applicant shortages and did not meet their admissions targets in 2008.

Nakai writes that university entrance exams are increasingly becoming easier because many schools need to do whatever they can to acquire enough students to keep them running financially.

If students were willing to attend schools other than their top choices, there are enough places for everyone who applies, he writes.

In other related news:

Japanese history may be required in high school

January 6, 2014 – 22:14
The government is considering making Japanese history a compulsory subject in high school, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. (The Japan News)
Happiness ... is strawberry-picking time! Photo taken at Ichigo Fields, Ibaraki

Happiness … is strawberry-picking time! Photo taken at Ichigo Fields, Ibaraki

In the heart of winter, we sometimes run out of ideas for field trips, other than trips to the mountains for ski or snow activities. Here’s an idea I’m sharing with you, take the kids out strawberry-picking … you won’t regret it!

Not many people know that… around the New Year, one of the things you can do on the fringes of the Tokyo Metropolis, is to take the kids out to the glasshouse strawberry farms.

Glasshouse grown strawberries for better control of the ideal temperatures and a larger harvest

Glasshouse grown strawberries for better control of the ideal temperatures and a larger harvest

Although the strawberry plants are not as heavy-laden and abundant with fruit as they would be during the spring-picking season, the advantage you have is that the farms won’t be thronging with tourists … you are likely to be just about the one or two customers at the farm that day. My son was able to have (to his heart’s content) a long discussion and to field all sorts of questions to the farmer on how to grow premium strawberries … he has been growing and managing our own plot since he was about six years old. Yes, they talked about fertilizers, weather control, pests, disease and pollinating bees, and more…

Amateur strawberry farmer tasting all twenty varieties of strawberries

Amateur strawberry farmer tasting all twenty varieties of strawberries

Visiting the farm slightly before the tourist season, also means you will also have likely have the entire farm to yourself … and have plenty of fruit to gorge yourself on … and perhaps even have a box of free fruit to take away for jam-making, like we did.

Free fruit to take away ...

Free fruit to take away …

After picking all-the-strawberries we could eat, we relaxed by the cozy stove, drank amazake rice wine … most farms will have a range of souvenirs and other foods to buy as well.

Get drowsy by a cozy woodstove

Get drowsy by a cozy woodstove

I have always enjoyed taking the kids out to farms to try and see the food-chain, and to appreciate the processes and the hard work of the farmers who feed the voracious appetites of city-folk like us!

The children making jam with the fruit we were given (from start to finish ... without my help)

The children making jam with the fruit we were given (from start to finish … without my help)

The kids made enough jam to fill a large ice-cream tub

The kids made enough jam to fill a large ice-cream tub

Aileen Kawagoe


P.S. The above pixes are from our New Year’s Day (Jan 2, 2014) trip to Ichigo Fields, a small strawberry farm run by a lovely young-and-hip couple, the strawberry farm is attached to a rice farm in Ibaraki Prefecture.
P.P.S. Just google “strawberry picking in Japan” if you want to know where to go

Painting of  Kukai  source: Wikipedia

Painting of Kukai source: Wikipedia

Kobo Daishi  a.k.a. Kukai (774-835) is credited with the creation of the first public school in Japan?

Or that he is said to have established in 828A.D. the first tuition-free university for commoners (Shugeishuchi-in) in Kyoto?

However, you are more likely to have heard that Kukai is famous for having invented the Japanese kana script:

“Kūkai is famous as a calligrapher (see Japanese calligraphy) and engineer. Among the many achievements attributed to him is the invention of the kana, the syllabary with which, in combination with Chinese characters (kanji), the Japanese language is written to this day. Also according to tradition, the Iroha, which uses every phonetic kana syllable just once and is one of the most famous poems in Japanese, is attributed to him but again, this is popular belief and nowhere attested to.” — Wikipedia entry on “Kukai”

Although the above entry states that Kukai’s invention of the kana script is an unattested fact, it is a plausible theory of origins, see a detailed paper entitled “Siddham in China and Japan” Sino-Platonic Papers, 88, 1998, in which there is clear evidence that Kukai studied Sanskript and Siddham under Prajna, a monk from Kashmir while on mission in China, that he had brought the first primer for learning Siddham by Chih-kuang to Japan in 806AD and that he was the first Japanese to write in the Siddham script in Japan (Annen née 841, was however the first Japanese to write a full treatise on the Siddham script called shittanzo in Japanese and in his treatise, he discusses how Kukai developed the tone inflections). Annen and other scholars in a competitive atmosphere, further developed Japanese pronunciations and writings of the Siddham script into transcribed Japanese by rationalizing both Old Chinese (predominantly Northern and Middle Chinese sounds)  and  North Indian sounds/pronunciations (it seems that Indian missionaries at work in China were apt to pronounce the Siddham sounds with their own native pronunciations, and that Chinese words incorporated into Japanese similarly borrowed sounds that had both northern and southern differences).

Sources and references and further readings:

Kukai (Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy)

Kobo Daishi and Koyasan:

Siddham in China and Japan Sino-Platonic papers, 88  (Dec 1998) by Saroj Kumar Chaurduri at pp. 86-98


Kukai the Universal: Scenes from His Life by Ryotaro Shiba

How new education system using cloud computing works

How new education system using cloud computing works

January 5, 2014
The Yomiuri Shimbun













The communications ministry and the education ministry will test a new system in which students will be able to access teaching materials on the Internet using tablet computers and other electronic devices both at home and at school, beginning in late fiscal 2014, ministry sources said.

In its early stages, the cloud computing-based learning system will target certain primary, middle and high schools as well as a dozen schools for children requiring special care and support. In fiscal 2016, the two ministries plan to start implementing the system nationwide while also hoping to extend the system overseas….

Cloud computing enables people to control and access data via the Internet. The ministries will store electronic teaching materials for five subjects—English, mathematics, Japanese, science and social studies—on servers. This will not only make it possible for students to use online teaching materials during class but they will also be able to access these materials at home, using them to prepare for and review school lessons. The electronic learning materials are expected to provide schoolchildren with a more effective way to study by providing materials with images and sound as well as text.

The education system will make it possible for teachers to identify problem areas in which students tend to make mistakes, by analyzing students’ study records. In doing so, it will also allow teachers to improve teaching materials and methods. In the event students move to a new school, their study records can be transferred.

The government and local municipalities have already conducted education utilizing tablet devices and electronic blackboards. However, such methods have been implemented on a school-by-school basis. Therefore, the issue of cost has been raised as a potential problem, as nearly ¥10 million is needed every year for such expenses as placement and maintenance of servers and production of learning materials.

Utilization of cloud computing systems will reduce the cost of operation because servers and learning materials are shared with other schools.

A total of about ¥670 million was allocated for the education system in the budget for fiscal 2014 by the ministries. However, the question over who will pay for tablet devices and other equipment remains undecided and such issues will need to be addressed in the future.

First up, the movie buzz … have you watched the new Japanese trailer for the Hunger Games movie sequel that everyone has been waiting with baited breath for… check out Hunger Games2 goes on the roadshow on Dec 27

Other upcoming books-to-movies  for with the holidays ahead include:

‘THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG’ In the Middle of Middle-earth NY Times review by Manohla Dargis: Part 2 of Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on the one-part “Hobbit,” “The Desolation of Smaug,” has lots of battles, an original character and Orlando Bloom.

And here’s our wrap and roundup of the news on 2013′s educational scene in Japan:

See also English education set to get serious

Junior high school English teachers should conduct classes exclusively in English and be periodically tested on their skills, and formal English instruction should start … more at Japan Times 12/13/2013

The following linked articles show contrasting sentiments on rote learning of kanji:

OECD education report: Japanese students cram for success as recall is key to the system   (The Telegraph )

Japanese students’ success is built on the imperative of recalling a minimum of 2,000 Chinese characters used in everyday Japanese – known as “kanji”.

The war on katakana starts at school (Japan Times)

Eliminating katakana’s use as a pronunciation aide would benefit Japanese students’ ability to communicate, but that clearly can’t be achieved overnight. More here

An interesting take at Japan Times on grappling with the perverseness of being stuck in the katakana-English rut —  “The war on katakana starts at school“:

Teachers face tests: strict regime from fifth grade

Junior high school English teachers should conduct classes exclusively in English and be periodically tested on their skills in the language using a third-party proficiency test, and formal English instruction should start in the fifth grade of elementary school from 2020, according to a blueprint for education reform unveiled Friday.As part of the plan for elementary to high school English education, more assistant language teachers also will be hired, education minister Hakubun Shimomura said.“We want to raise the standards for English education at the junior high and high school levels by having teachers conduct classes in English in junior high school, and focusing on the presentation and debate aspects of English usage in high school,” he said.The proposals are part of the “Execution Plan for the Reform of English Education in Response to Globalization,” the ministry’s blueprint for strengthening English-language education from elementary to high school.

Among other factors, the education ministry is hoping to take advantage of heightened interest in the language ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which will draw large numbers of visitors to Japan.

“I think this is a welcome development,” said Takaaki Matsuoka, principal of Musashino Dai-Ichi Junior High School in western Tokyo. “I have the impression that we will finally be able to catch up with South Korea” in English education.

Matsuoka, who himself used to teach English, said English-language teachers at the junior high level have already grown somewhat accustomed to teaching in English thanks to working alongside assistant language teachers.

“In addition, classes are more focused on sound (verbal and listening), which should also help,” Matsuoka said.

The blueprint aims to set consistent achievement goals for each level of English education.

Under the blueprint, English teaching would start in the third grade of elementary school in “activities-style” classes conducted one or two times a week, mainly by homeroom teachers, with a focus on laying the foundation for communications skills.

In the fifth and sixth grades, more formal “classroom-style” instruction in three classes per week would focus on elementary communicative skills both by homeroom teachers and specialized English teachers.

The junior high school goal would be achieving the “ability to understand and exchange information on familiar topics, and express thoughts,” with classes “basically” taught in English.

This would be taken over by high school education that aims to bring students to levels at which they can “understand abstract concepts on a broad range of topics” and “converse with English speakers at a viable level of proficiency.”

Record 206 teachers dismissed in Japan in FY 2012 (Jiji Press — Dec 17 Via

A record 206 public school teachers in Japan were dismissed in fiscal 2012, up from 180 in the previous year, an education ministry survey revealed Tuesday.
Of them, 119, an all-time high, were dismissed for sexual offences in the year through March 2013, while 46 were fired for causing traffic accidents.Including the 206, a total of 10,827 teachers were disciplined, up by 6,508 from the previous year, with the number of teachers who were slapped with penalties for exercising corporal punishments jumping 7.5-fold to 2,077

Bullying at Japan schools jumps 2.8-fold in FY 2012  (Jiji Press)  A total of 198,108 cases of bullying were recognized at schools in Japan in fiscal 2012 that ended in March, up 2.8-fold from the previous year and the highest figure since the survey began in 1985, the education ministry said Tuesday.

Board of education reform could lead to abuse of power by local govt heads (The Japan News, Dec 15)

In a move that could lead to far-reaching changes in education administration by local entities, the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel, has submitted recommendations to Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura.

The most conspicuous among the recommendations is that the panel favors transferring final authority on educational matters to local government heads from boards of education, while redefining the status of school superintendents, to be appointed by municipal heads to serve as their subordinates, as chief officials in charge of administrative work.

The proposed revamping of education administration comes in the wake of increasing criticism that the existing board of education system, under which decision-making is made through mutual consent among board members—part-time officials selected from among experts in local entities—fails to determine where the responsibility for decisions lies.

It also has been claimed that boards of education often fail to act swiftly when confronted by a serious situation, such as the case of a middle school boy in Otsu who committed suicide in 2011 because of bullying.

The panel’s recommendations are timely as they are intended to improve the ability of local entities to cope with various problems occurring at schools by giving municipality heads and full-time school superintendents both the authority and responsibility.

If the recommendations are put into practice, boards of education, which are currently independent, will be placed under the direction of local government heads, so board members can engage in discussions about broad education policies laid down by those local government heads.

At present, boards of education are spending far too much time doing perfunctory jobs such as dealing with education personnel affairs by holding meetings two or more times a month.

Advisories nonbinding

If the subjects of discussion are narrowed down to such key matters as leading education principles, boards of education will be able to hold in-depth deliberations about what local entities should pursue.

However, there is a danger that the powers wielded by municipal heads could become too strong, jeopardizing the principle of political neutrality of education administration.

During discussions by the advisory panel, a number of members warned of this risk.

To prevent municipal heads from acting arbitrarily on their own authority, the council’s recommendations have limited the scope of directions from local government heads to school superintendents to special circumstances requiring urgent action, such as dealing with serious cases of bullying.

Boards of education to be created in line with the recommendations would be in charge of checking and evaluating the enforcement of education administration by local government heads and school superintendents, and issue advisories when necessary.

The panel’s recommendations, however, fall short of giving the advisories any binding power. For example, in the event of a local government head arbitrarily setting education measures that have not been scrupulously studied, in an irresponsible attempt to secure reelection, it is questionable whether a board of education would be able to stop this.

Should educational goals and a policy of adopting certain school textbooks be changed every time a new local government head is elected, there is a risk of school education being plunged into total confusion.

Having received the panel’s recommendations, the education ministry is scheduled to submit a bill for the revision of the Local Education Administration Law to the ordinary Diet session to be convened next month.

New Komeito, the coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is wary of strengthening the powers of local government heads.

Many tasks need further study, such as how to create a new framework to ensure stability and continuity of education administration.

Schools strain at seams due to Tokyo condo development  December 10, 2013, Yomiuri Shimbun

Primary schools in waterfront areas of Tokyo’s Koto Ward are overcrowded as a result of a sharp population increase due to local redevelopment efforts that included the construction of many condominiums.

Especially in the Toyosu district, the surge in primary school students has had such effects on school operations as the cancellation of a school play and the consolidation of multiple physical education classes into one. As the number of students there is expected to rise by 150 percent from the current figure to about 3,000 over the next six years, Koto Ward is busy building a new school and expanding its educational institutions.

On Nov. 25, a morning assembly was held at Toyosu Kita Elementary School with 1,140 students, and the school grounds were packed.

The school was founded in 2007 when Toyosu Elementary School was no longer able to accommodate the growing number of students in the area. But at Toyosu Kita, the student body has increased from 293 in the first year to more than 1,000 this year with 32 classes in six grades. Since the school has only 30 general classrooms, special-purpose classrooms must be used to accommodate the remaining students.

Three physical education classes must share the grounds at the same time. Last year, a school play was canceled because it was too difficult to have all the students perform on stage, as some grades had more than 200 students each, and the gymnasium could not accommodate the parents. In May, parents watched Sports Day festivities from the balconies of the school building due to a shortage of space on the ground. Principal Kimiko Irino, 60, said: “It’s difficult to have students use workshops or music rooms. We need more space for all the students to gather.”

The ward has about 21,000 primary school students this year, up about 5,000 over 10 years. Especially in Toyosu, where about 10,000 new condominium units appeared in the same period, the number of students at its two schools has nearly quadrupled from 502 in 15 classes in 2004 to 1,969 in 56 classes this year. Until 2002, the figure in the district had been declining in line with the low birthrate nationwide, but the construction boom of high-rise apartments after the closure of a shipyard led to a dramatic local population boom. The ward estimates the population will increase at a minimum annual pace of 140 to 230 in the next six years.

In 2015, the ward will found a new school, tentatively called Toyosu Nishi Elementary School, and build 24 classrooms, up from the original plan of 18. Meanwhile, Toyosu Kita will add a third building with 10 general classrooms, a small gymnasium, and a third science laboratory and music room in 2015. It also plans to create playgrounds by covering the rooftops of the second and third buildings with rubber chips and grass. “Our learning environment will be improved,” Irino said.

Neighboring Ariake will also construct an additional building at Ariake Elementary School by spring of 2016 and found a new primary school in 2018. Toshio Asaoka, a member of the ward’s board of education, said, “We’ll keep on making efforts to improve the learning environment.”

News sources: KyodoANNnewsCH

Fumihiko Ito / The Yomiuri ShimbunYuko Tanaka achieved an unexpected and overwhelming victory in Hosei University’s presidential election on Nov. 22, setting her up to be the first female president of one of the so-called Tokyo Big 6 universities.

Tanaka, 61, is also an active commentator on TV, and expectations are high for her tenure as Hosei president.

“If I attract attention as ‘the first woman,’ it might encourage younger women researchers,” Takana said. “I’d like to increase opportunities to connect with people in and outside the university and share the university’s achievements with the rest of the world.”

Tanaka studied the culture of the Edo period (1603-1867) at Hosei University’s Faculty of Letters, in which she enrolled with the dream of becoming an author.

“People in the Edo period were multitalented, able to draw pictures as well as write haiku poems,” she said. “I was fascinated with Edo culture because it was created by people who stimulated each other and formed connections across different fields.”

Tanaka is researching various aspects of the Edo period without restrictions, after questioning scholastic research that is confined within specialized domains…

Tanaka will assume the university’s top post in April. Her goal is to create a university that develops young people into adults capable of living and working anywhere in the world.

Next up, much earlier news, but still good to know:

The Japan News 2013-10-27:

The Yomiuri Shimbun More than 80 universities, mainly private institutions, are expected to adopt an online application system for their entrance examinations for the 2014 academic year, part of a rising trend in the use of technology. Online applications significantly reduce the amount of clerical work for university admissions offices and offer greater convenience for test-takers. At some universities, the adoption of such systems has helped boost the number of applicants, and in a recent wave of digital migration, other universities have moved their entire application process online. Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Unprecedented business-student collaboration! Development of a new app in his Internship placement – Ken Sakurai (The Japan News)

“When you enter a time, this app identifies available time slots in the schedules of individual users, and proposes dates on which the largest number of users can join a gathering with fellow users. Besides this, it can also be used as an SNS, offering communication and image-sharing functions.” This is the outline of the scheduler app DAYMORE, which Recruit Lifestyle Co., Ltd. released this spring. The commercialization of this service has been carried out in a way unprecedented for the company; the framework of the project was developed by a project-oriented internship program that was implemented in 2012, and four students were selected from among the participants of the internship program to join the project members working on the development of the service….

Six years following bankruptcy, Nova boosts the brand

November 3, 2013 – 23:38
In September, Tokyo-based Jibun Mirai Associe Co. (JMA) announced it would adopt Nova as its official corporate name – 19 months after it acquired the eikaiwa (English conversation) school chain from its previous operators, and almost six years after its well-publicized downfall. (Japan Times)


Child health and safety matters:

Ministry survey finds more food allergies among children Jiji Press, December 16, 2013 via

About 4.5 percent of schoolchildren in Japan had food allergies as of August this year, up from 2.6 percent nine years ago, a survey by the education ministry showed Monday.

Elementary, middle school and high schools across Japan were aware that a combined total of about 454,000 students had food allergies, rising by about 120,000 over the past nine years.

“While food allergies may indeed be on the rise, it is also true that more allergy cases were discovered as a result of increased attention among parents,” said an expert on children’s food allergies.

The ministry conducted the latest survey after a fifth-grade girl in Tokyo died in December last year from anaphylactic shock caused by a school meal.

It collected responses from about 29,000 schools across the country, or 85 percent of the total, covering 10.15 million students.

There were nearly 50,000 children with a history of anaphylactic shock. About 27,000 children were carrying EpiPen self-injection treatments with them to prevent fatal allergic reactions, and EpiPens had been used in schools in a total of 408 cases since April 2008.

A sample survey on 579 elementary and middle schools that offer school meals showed that 96 percent were taking care of children with food allergies based on the 2007 government guidelines. But about a quarter said not all teachers and school staff members were well informed of the guidelines.

In fiscal 2012, there were 40 cases at 34 schools in which children mistakenly ate food they were allergic to. In 29 cases, schools prepared alternative meals for children with food allergies, but failed to offer them.

“Even small mistakes need to be prevented as much as possible,” a ministry official said.

The outcome of the latest survey was reported to an experts’ panel on Monday. The panel will work out measures for preventing deaths from food allergies and announce them in a report to be released in March next year.


Related:  Only 61 % of students with food allergies getting allergenic-free lunches (Kyodo Dec 17)

Only 61.1 percent of school children with food allergies are provided with school lunches that exclude allergenic substances, with 28.1 percent removing such substances themselves, a survey by the education ministry showed Monday.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has urged schools to exclude allergenic substances before providing lunches to children with allergies.The survey was conducted following the death in Tokyo last December of a fifth grade girl allergic to dairy products after she ate a school lunch that included cheese.

One fourth of jr high school girls don’t exercise NHK World News

An Education Ministry survey shows that one of every four girls in Japanese junior high school does not exercise at all except in physical education classes.

The survey sampled more than 2 million children in 5th grade at elementary school and the 2nd year at junior high school across the country.

9 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls at elementary school said they exercise less than 60 minutes per week.

The figure for girls in junior high school was 30 percent. And 80 percent of those girls said they do not exercise at all.

When given a multiple-answer question about what would help them exercise more, 77 percent chose their favorite sport or easy sports. 54 percent wished to exercise with their friends and 44 percent said if they could do so on their own terms.

Professor Takahiko Nishijima at University of Tsukuba analyzed the survey results. He says girls are likely to take part in non-competitive sports like hiking and jump rope. He adds it is necessary to teach them the joy of sports in PE classes.

UNESCO’s decision to include washoku, or Japanese-style food, on its intangible cultural heritage list has given school administrators and cooking specialists hope that Japanese will become more interested in passing their traditional food culture on to future generations.
Traditionally, rice, soup, one main dish and two side dishes are the basics of washoku. The city of Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, is providing local students with lunches consisting of such food.As Niigata Prefecture is a rice-producing region, the city’s policy of serving rice as a daily part of school lunches also aims at expanding the consumption of rice. The city said students can acquire a well-balanced and nutritious diet by eating rice served as part of their school lunch. The rate of obesity among children in the city is said to have declined.
A good piece to read by Patricia Pringle about the Japanese cultural “strategy” and the art of waiting  is: Hurry up and Wait … read together with Geert Hofsteade’s theories of Japan being a Long-term oriented culture (actually LTO was an addition to Hofstede’s cultural value orientations by a group of Chinese researchers). See  The Hofstede Center’s page on Japan
Despite multiple cases of infants dying in their sleep at child care facilities, a full investigation into the incidents has not taken place, a recent inquiry by The Yomiuri Shimbun has discovered. Although the HealthLabor and Welfare Ministry has asked local governments to report infant fatalities, such requests are not legally enforced, and thus the ministry does not analyze the circumstances of reported cases. Some have called for the establishment of a system requiring child care facility operators to report such cases and launch a formal…

University student arrested for kicking stroller with baby in it (Japan Today DEC. 19, 2013)  OSAKA —

A 20-year-old male university student has been arrested in Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture, for violently kicking a stroller which had a baby inside, police said Wednesday.

According to police, the incident occurred on Nov 18. TV Asahi reported that the suspect, Daiki Sugimoto, approached a 36-year-old woman pushing her four-month-old baby along in a carriage on a sidewalk, and proceeded to violently kick the stroller without saying anything.

Police said they are questioning Sugimoto in connection with a recent series of assaults on young women with baby strollers in the vicinity of the Nov 18 attack.

Teenagers warned of mental health risk from social media (The Times via Schools Improvement)


Police take 13 teen girls into custody for offering men ‘stroll’ services in Tokyo

US agency plans tougher rules after research shows there is no evidence antibacterial cleaning products help to prevent infections – and could even pose dangers to health…


Next, elsewhere in the world :.. here are the links to some articles that provoke some work on your grey cells:

The word “best practice” is bandied about a great deal by policy-makers and educators, find out what it really means in …

What does “best practice” in education mean? SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education

The term “best practice” is used often in education, David Penberg, an urban and international educational leader, writes in this blog post, suggesting that teachers be critical when the term is mentioned. “‘Best practice’ connotes white coats and flawless data,” he writes. “Emerging practice signals something iterative, evolving and, like our students, in a time zone of constant adaptation.”

How many times have you heard the term “best practice” uttered during a board meeting, a workshop or a conference presentation? Too many, I am afraid. In a profession enamored with buzz words, this one gets used with the frequency of “awesome” and shares the same shallowness.

The term “best practice” is used like a master key. You just need to invoke it, and the draw bridge comes down, and everything opens. But “best” according to whom and in relation to what? How can anything be a best practice when it is void of social, cultural and historical context? Is best practice in a Baltimore middle school the same as one for an American school in Barcelona? Can a best practice ever become a bad practice or a mediocre one? It’s not that I doubt that there are many unique and effective practices out there, it is just the use of the superlative that makes me squirm.

“Best practice” has a way of designating itself as superior by virtue of being a best practice. The logic is circular. The problem with “best” is that it comes off as imperial. It leaves no room for alternatives. It eschews variety, gradations and plurality. Why not call these emerging practices? We never talk about the change of seasons or a savory meal as best. Isn’t all effective education something that is fluid, protean and evolving?

Like our omnipresent ear phones and head phones, we should have our critical antennas up whenever the word is uttered. The superlative is a tense that does not belong in education. Rather, let’s take the work or program in process, the draft and the evolving idea. It feels more authentic, resembling the messy and often improvisational nature of life in school. “Best practice” connotes white coats and flawless data. Emerging practice signals something iterative, evolving and, like our students, in a time zone of constant adaptation.

We should care as much about language and how that shapes our perceptions as we do our test results.

View Full Article in: SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education

Does higher education make you think? Guardian article excerpted in parts below:

Higher education is a noble and longstanding enterprise. And yet, curiously, it has not been a particularly self-reflective one. Especially in times of economic or political difficulty, the academic community has been more ready to analyse and campaign about what is being done to it than what it does to itself and to its most important members – its students.

All too often we can focus on issues like funding, economic returns on investment, relative institutional prestige and the like, and ignore what tutors and researchers working directly with students frequently hear in interviews: “it changed my life”.

Looking at the long sweep of university history, it is possible to extract several distinct claims about what higher education does to and for students: in existential terms (how students come to be); in epistemological terms (how they think and appraise information); in behavioural terms (how they learn to conduct themselves); and in positional terms (both through competition and collaboration) …

They can be structured around five sets of questions, part-ethical (what higher education should be seeking to inspire or inculcate in terms of habits of thinking) and part-epistemological (how it validates certain types of knowledge). Most were there in one way or another at the beginning of the European university enterprise, the model now widely imitated around the world. Since then they have waxed, waned and combined in various ways in response to both external and internal stimuli.

 The first set is around conscience especially through religious foundations; the second around character as formed through ‘liberal’ higher education; the third combines calling, competence, and craft as in the zones of professional and vocational higher education; the fourth involves citizenship as in respective obligations to civil society, the state and global responsibilities; and the final set introduces capability, or the role of higher education in inculcating life-skills, including employability.

Most of the claims about the purposes and achievements of higher education relate to the individual: it will change your life, through conversion or confirmation of faith, by improving your character, by giving you marketable abilities, by making you a better member of the community, or simply by being capable of operating more effectively in the contemporary world. All of these qualities scale up, but in differing ways.

There is one over-arching question linked to the claim that “it changed my life.” Is higher education likely to make you better, to improve your capacity to make sound moral as well as technical judgements, in other words to take part in what Amartya Sen calls “public reasoning”?

As you study at this level you try to answer some hard questions, some hypothetical, some not. You learn how to work with other people, dead and alive, directly or indirectly through their work, present or remote. You meet deadlines. You ask yourself why you are doing this, and what difference doing it well will make for yourself and for others. You get a certificate (as a whole, or in stages). You take out a membership.

In this way, higher education’s purposes come together in terms of self-creation and the authentic life, the habit of thinking deeply, and the capacity to connect with others empathically.

At the end of the day everyone makes sense of his or her own higher education, not necessarily immediately, and in some cases not for a considerable time. You don’t have to buy the full proposition if you don’t want to – there is a definite escape clause (away from doctrinal study) that says no one can make you take away what you don’t want to take away from the experience.

You are, however, compelled by an authentic higher education experience to practise answering difficult questions. You are given a safe place in which to do so. Depending on your subject or discipline (or combination of these), you will gain a powerful evaluative toolkit. You will be required to communicate what you have learned. This is hard work but for centuries students have found it to be immensely satisfying…

PISA results cause for worry, not panic ( December 13, 2013)

Fareed Zakaria / The Washington Post

WASHINGTON—The latest international student evaluations, the PISA test results, are out and one thing is clear: the United States has not done well. Beyond that, the exams have become, professor Jay Greene points out, a Rorschach test. People read into them pretty much whatever they want. So Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers announced that “None of the top-tier countries … has a fixation on testing like the United States does.” It’s difficult to see how one could come to this conclusion. The top four slots in all three categories—math, reading and science—are taken by Shanghai (China), Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Japan. They probably have the most test-centric systems in the world.

What’s more worrying is that this particular test, PISA, is not focused on rote memorization but rather on the ability to use skills to solve real world problems. (I tried the sample test; you can too at In fact, American school children do better in the other major international comparison, the TIMSS, which is a more traditional test of the academic curriculum. Does this mean we’re teaching more by rote than do South Korea and Japan?

If one can put ideology and vested interests aside, I think a fair-minded review of this survey, as well as others, suggests that the United States has reason to be worried, though not panicked.

Let’s be clear, general educational excellence is not the only ingredient to national success. Diane Ravitch, a critic of educational reform, has pointed out that the United States has never done very well on international tests, and yet, the American economy has done better than many higher scoring countries. Why? Well, America benefits from an amazingly flexible free market economy, a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship, a dynamic society, talented immigrants, and a strong work ethic. Those strengths might outweigh poor test scores, on average.

In addition, there’s increasing evidence that it takes a small number of high achievers to generate a great deal of economic vitality. Scholars Heiner Rindermann and James Thompson have found that the performance of the top 5 percent (measured by IQ) in a country correlates strongly with economic growth. Duke University’s Jonathan Wai argues that, because of its size, America’s top 1 percent have a huge impact on the country’s trajectory.

The United States has done very well in harnessing the talents of its top 1 percent and in attracting the top 1 percent from the rest of the world to live and work here. These are the engines of innovation, growth and dynamism. But the country’s vast middle class—and below—has seen its wages stagnate for three decades. And this is getting worse as technology and globalization depress job prospects for people in the middle.

The real story of these tests has been “the rise of the rest.” The United States has muddled along over the last few decades, showing little improvement or decline. Meanwhile countries like South Korea and Singapore have skyrocketed to the top and now China, Vietnam and Poland are doing astonishingly well. These countries have workers whose productivity levels have been rising in tandem with their educational achievements. There are many reasons, but to put it simply, many of these countries are playing to win. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the gap in math between Shanghai and Massachusetts (the top performing U.S. state) translates into two years of schooling. No surprise; as it turns out, because of the longer school year, by the time the average Shanghai kid gets to be 15, she has spent about two years more in school than the average 15-year-old American.

President Obama said this week that America’s greatest problem is its declining social mobility. Americans are now less likely to move out of their income level than Canadians or Europeans. Education is the single best way to rebuild that ladder of opportunity.

Almost all the research suggests that how much you spend does not predict your performance. America spends a lot; many Asian countries spend much less. However, America has an unusually large gap between its best and worst students. And it is unusual in that it devotes less money, attention and energy on its most disadvantaged students. Most countries, certainly most high performing countries, devote greater resources and attention to poor children. Because education in America is funded by local property taxes, the opposite dynamic is at work, which reinforces and exacerbates problems of mobility.

It’s possible that the top 1 percent will be able to continue generating enough growth to keep the country moving but it’s more likely that the weight of a stagnant middle class will eventually slow the economy down. More importantly, the politics of a country with a tiny productive elite and a massive underclass with low skills, depressed wages and no prospects will not look pretty.

On the Australian news, Don’t panic about PISA ; UK (Wales) - PISA Don’t panic; NZ - Business community calls for education improvementPISA post-mortem-and-the-PISA shock effect

You may also find the following links worth reading:

In an interview for a university course, it’s important to show that you’re well-rounded and that you know your subject. In focusing on higher education’s systems, says David Watson, are we overlooking whether (and how) it works on its students?

Editorial: Why Other Countries Teach Better: Why students do better overseas… Dec 17, 2013

Millions of laid-off American factory workers were the first to realize that they were competing against job seekers around the globe with comparable skills but far smaller paychecks. But a similar fate also awaits workers who aspire to high-skilled, high-paying jobs in engineering and technical fields unless this country learns to prepare them to compete for the challenging work that the new global economy requires.
economy requires.

Are Chinese students smarter or is testing system rigged in their favour?

The results of the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) again reveal Shanghai’s 15-year-old students as the smartest in the world in reading, maths and science, coming…

How should universities respond to student protests? – 10 views

As students stage a nationwide protest against police on campus, we hear from a range of voices across the sector who say there’s been a breakdown in university management

The next three links are from Huffington Post, in the same vein as the article above-  Racing to the Top & Leaving Behind the Love of Learning Accurate information is one thing, but testing in overdrive is quite another; it is a lousy strategy for nurturing anyone’s brilliance

Missing from Education: Time to Think?  Teachers need time to figure out how to teach thinking. Right now many complain that teaching thinking would take too much time away from the busy schedule that mandates they cover the curriculum in order to be ready for the test. It seems no one in school these days has time to think

Just Half Of College Students Finish Their Degrees‘A job may be better than going to university’ (The Times)

The Promising Future of Virtual spEd More and more, parents whose kids don’t fit the cookie cutter mold of their neighborhood school are increasingly interested in the option of high-quality education online — even if it means missing teacher-led instruction

University spy software to catch slackers (The Times); Other tech-related stories from Times’: Tablet computer for every pupil boosts motivation;  Lazy pupils ‘can hide’ behind desktop technologySmartphone app reveals pitfalls of multiplicationThe internet ‘creates instant-expert pushy parents’

Innovations that changed Japan: It’s all in the details  (Dec 16  Japan Times)


In books, courtesy of Bilingual Monkeys:

**Annika Bourgogne’s fine book “Be Bilingual” is now available in a print
edition. Annika is a parent, teacher, and researcher in Finland and I highly
recommend her helpful and well-crafted guide. I reviewed the e-version
previously at this link. (You can also read my interview with her.)

Also check out School reform is the focus of Sarah Reckhow’s, Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics (Oxford University Press, 2013). Her book probes significant questions about the role of philanthropic foundations in education reform. Through in-depth case studies of NYC and LA, Reckhow demonstrates how a particular view of school reform has been funded by major foundations such as Gates and Eli Broad. Emphasizing new types of schools, particularly charter schools, and reforms focused around a business-oriented view of school management, foundations have reshaped education in these two cities


Activities and Events at Temple University, Japan Campus

Last but not least, in the holiday spirit, I leave you with the Dec 19th Telegraph’s “Trifle with traditions at your peril:

It’s vital to maintain family customs and traditions … says Allison Pearson… Christmas customs are the leftovers of the sacred, which is why they are so important to maintain…
Happy holidays ahead!
Digitally yours,
Aileen Kawagoe

A survey carried out this summer showed that 20% of university students say they would like to die…this was highlighted in an Oct 19th Japan Today article entitled “20% of Tokyo university students want to die.

The NPO that carried out the survey said it believes the statistics are related to job-hunting failures and rejections.

While I thought this statement and article pointed out the obvious triggers for depression: the job-hunting stress and the fear of rejection and failure, the statement and the article were neither helpful nor informative as to real underlying causes of the depression, and might unwitting lead to a kind of public stigma and prejudice against society’s brightest minds.

What the authorities, administrators of higher educational institutions and all of those involved in supporting young people on the verge of joining mainstream adult society, need to realize is that the occurrence of depression or mental disorders is not unique to Tokyo University students(or other J-college students, or to Japanese students), nor should it be understood as abnormal, if we rightly understand what researchers are saying.

Lately, a series of studies and articles have pointed out a connection between creative, intellectual and analytical minds, and their tendencies towards depression, schizophrenia and other mental disorders. See Depression’s evolutionary roots; Link between creativity and mental illness confirmedSchizotypy and mental health amongst poets, visual artists and mathematiciansDo you have to be nuts to be a genius?; Why (some) psychopaths make great CEOs and 11 Historical Geniuses and Their Possible Mental Disorders 

From the research, we are told that the depression may be biological adaptation connected to a molecule in the brain called the 5H1A receptor, and we are urged to consider the

“possibility: that, in most instances, depression should not be thought of as a disorder at all. In an article recently published in Psychological Review, we argue that depression is in fact an adaptation, a state of mind which brings real costs, but also brings real benefits.

One reason to suspect that depression is an adaptation, not a malfunction, comes from research into a molecule in the brain known as the 5HT1A receptor. The 5HT1A receptor binds to serotonin, another brain molecule that is highly implicated in depression and is the target of most current antidepressant medications. Rodents lacking this receptor show fewer depressive symptoms in response to stress, which suggests that it is somehow involved in promoting depression. (Pharmaceutical companies, in fact, are designing the next generation of antidepressant medications to target this receptor.) When scientists have compared the composition of the functional part rat 5HT1A receptor to that of humans, it is 99 percent similar, which suggests that it is so important that natural selection has preserved it. The ability to “turn on” depression would seem to be important, then, not an accident.” — Scientific American article, “Depression’s evolutionary roots

Thus, with a regard to the survey indicating depression amongst Tokyo University students, who are equated with Japan’s brightest minds, instead of stigmatizing or negatively viewing such tendencies towards depression and mental illness, we should seek to understand why society’s so-called creme de la creme might also the most likely ones to be wanting to throw themselves in front of an oncoming train, so that society might better help them. People often wonder how such supposedly brilliant minds that are capable of solving highly complex mathematical, scientific or other problems … can show such stupid or irrational behaviour, display an inability to cope with daily routine tasks, or such a lack of common sense, or why they should be so incapable of finding solutions to the infinitely less convoluted conundrums of daily life.

Well, an article in the Psychological Review explains the seeming deficit in what might be called wisdom or common sense in this way:

“Analysis is often a useful approach for solving complex problems, but it requires slow, sustained processing, so disruption would interfere with problem solving. The analytical rumination hypothesis proposes that depression is an evolved response to complex problems. whose function is to minimize disruption and sustain analysis of those problems by (a) giving the triggering problem prioritized access to processing resources, (b) reducing the desire to engage in distracting activities (anhedonia), and (c) producing psychomotor changes that reduce exposure to distracting stimuli. As processing resources are limited, sustained analysis of the triggering problem reduces the ability to concentrate on other things.”

In other words, brilliant minds like to be totally absorbed in working on their puzzles and projects, but in doing so, sacrifice all the brainpower they’ve got, and as a result, show a deficit of any more capacity for thinking or concentrating on other issues, whether this might involve finding a lost sock, or dealing with a breakup with a girlfriend, etc.

Psychology researchers Paul W. Andrews and J. Anderson Thomson Jr. note that in this connection, depression can pose a worse problem for such brilliant creative or intellectual minds:

“Depressed people often have trouble performing everyday activities, they can’t concentrate on their work, they tend to socially isolate themselves, they are lethargic, and they often lose the ability to take pleasure from such activities such as eating and sex. Some can plunge into severe, lengthy, and even life-threatening bouts of depression.

So what could be so useful about depression? Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.

Genius comes in all shapes and forms, from those with a creative bent in the arts – writers, painters and musicians – to those grounded in the sciences – physicists, matematicians and philosophers. 

Geniuses are defined as individuals of high intellect who possess exceptional creativity and are capable of original thought. But they are also often obsessive, depressive, compulsive, introverted or manic.

And are these behaviours within the normal spectrum – albeit occasionally at the extreme end – or do they indicate an underlying neurological malfunction that might be a factor in their genius?

THE PERCEIVED LINK between genius and mental illness isn’t just coincidence: it extends from observations made centuries ago. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle asked, “Why is it that all men who are outstanding in philosophy, poetry or the arts are melancholic?”

More recently, 19th century Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso theorised that a man of genius was essentially a degenerate whose madness was a form of evolutionary compensation for excessive intellectual development.

Mental illness, by the very phrasing of the term, has long had negative connotations, and can be very destructive for the sufferer and for those around them. But things are not always black and white: having a mental illness can actually prove a boon.

Affective disorders, including bipolar disorder – also known as manic depressive illness – are believed to have contributed to the creation of some of history’s most lauded poems, novels, artworks, discoveries and original ideas.

More recently, a number of history’s most brilliant minds have been retrospectively diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome – a high functioning form of autism characterised by narrow interests and ‘workaholism’. In fact, some researchers believe that these two types of mental illness might confer traits that are conducive to genius” – Do you have to be nuts to be a genius?”

While the last decade brought the spotlight on younger child and teen prodigies, so that society became aware of the need to give special care and attention to the gifted young (see Depressive Disorder in Highly Gifted Adolescents), not much awareness is known about the above-discussed mental problems of society’s clever and brilliant young adult students.

Administrators and authorities in charge of the nation’s higher education ought to begin dedicating more resources with properly trained and educated psychologists, psychiatrists as counselors who might properly understand the nature of the problems of our young people to better treat and help them. Another study also showed that “different domains of creativity require different cognitive profiles, with poetry and art associated with divergent thinking, schizophrenia and affective disorder, and mathematics associated with convergent thinking and autism.”

And society ought to act sooner than later, there is also evidence to show that once the highly intelligent get into trouble, the severity of the trouble high IQ individuals get into and the crimes they commit, tends to be far worse than that of normal individuals.

Family members and parents might want to educate themselves to be more emotionally supportive of their brilliant children as they work towards graduating college and embark on new careers. Oftentimes, parents with their high expectations of payback from years of grooming and supporting their seemingly brilliant and successful young, are anxious to push them out of the nest, towards adult routines and responsibilities, and who being in the dark about the darker dysfunctional sides of their children’s brilliant minds, can unwittingly contribute to the innate depressive (or psychopathic) triggers. And because these seemingly smart people are supposed to be smart, they can get more flack for their mistakes or for underperformance according to expectations. Unfortunately, what families and society are failing to realize, is that even young brilliant minds and geniuses need emotional support, listening ears and helpful positive advice to facing their more mundane problems and puzzles of life. Perhaps… even more hand-holding is required for the clever set than the usual amount required for normal people.

In the light of the foregoing, the more strait-laced-than-most Japanese society, that can be so often intolerant of deviant behaviour from the norms, had better wise up to the facts about intelligent people, and brace themselves to accept a small measure of madness and instability in its best and brightest young minds.


Source article:

20% of Tokyo university students want to die, NPO survey suggests

Japan Today Oct 19, 2013  

TOKYO — About 20% of university students say they would like to die, according to a survey carried out in Tokyo this summer.
According to the NPO Lifelink which conducted the survey, 122 university students were asked to fill out a survey. TBS reported that of the group, 26 students, around 20% of the total, answered that they would genuinely like to die. The NPO says it believes the statistics are related to job-hunting failures and rejections.
Police statistics show that the total number of suicides in Japan last year dipped below 30,000 for the first time in 15 years. However, the number of suicides among people in their 20s increased and 149 people are believed to have committed suicide due to problems finding employment.
See also Oct 18,2013  Japan Times article Job hunt stressing students, making them suicidal: poll1 in 5 consider killing themselves amid tight race to secure career

Tormented by the difficulty of landing a position and unfair practices by prospective employers, 1 in 5 college students contemplate suicide during the job-hunting process, a poll of 122 students conducted in July by the nonprofit group Lifelink found.

The Tokyo-based group conducted two surveys, on 121 students in March and 122 in July, on the stress associated with the job hunt, spurred by recent government statistics pointing to a marked increase in suicides among people in their 20s. Only the students in July were asked about suicide.

According to National Police Agency statistics on suicides in 2012, the total number of suicides in Japan has shown a downward trend over the last 15 years, dipping below the 30,000 mark for the first time last year to stand at 27,858.

However, the number among people in their 20s has gone up since the late 1990s, numbering 3,000 in 2012.

“Failures in job hunting” accounted for 149 suicides among people in their 20s last year, 2½ times the rate in 2007.

Released Friday, the Lifelink poll, which covered people in four-year universities, graduate schools and vocational colleges, found that students have a strong distrust of firms in Japan and of Japanese society overall, yet have a burning desire to get full-time employment after college.

Sixty-nine percent said Japan is a society where honesty and hard work are not rewarded, while 97 percent said they want to become full-time employees after graduation.

Eighty percent of those surveyed said they felt a strong sense of anxiety during their job search, with many citing the fear of not getting an offer from the firm of their first choice, and of “getting left behind” by their peers.

Adding to their stress is the often unfair treatment by companies. Some firms, the students found, secretly gave more opportunities to students from certain high-ranking universities while officially touting a “no-college-name-asked” hiring policy.

Students often rely on friends, social media and Internet bulletin boards for tips on job hunting, but they also suffer from a sense of exasperation and isolation when their job search doesn’t go smoothly in comparison with their peers, said Lifelink founder Yasuyuki Shimizu.

“These problems lead to greater issues after they get jobs,” Shimizu said. “They have a strong sense of distrust of society to begin with, which leads them to think they must have full-time employment to defend themselves. When they are able to become full-time employees (right out of college), they feel as if they must put up with anything to hold onto that job. And others who couldn’t get full-time employment are driven to think they are worthless.

Andrews, Paul W.; Thomson Jr., J. Anderson, The bright side of being blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems. Psychological Review, Vol 116(3), Jul 2009, 620-654. doi: 10.1037/a0016242

Why (some) psychopaths make great CEOs (Forbes, 6/14/2011)

Depression’s evolutionary roots (Scientific American, Aug 25 2009)

The Yomiuri Shimbun White coats designed by students at Bunka Fashion College

The Yomiuri Shimbun
White coats designed by students at Bunka Fashion College

A happy autumn day’s and Halloween to all our readers,

Depicted to the left, are designs by the creative Bunka Fashion College students for the commercial production of personalized doctors’ white coats… part of the launch of a series of products based on college students’ ideas have been commercialized by Tokyo companies, providing real-life experience for the students and fresh inspiration for companies.  read more about in the Yomiuri Shimbun’s article here. Other than hospital doctors, many doctors purchase their white coats individually. Responding to this demand, Oct Co. will launch the sale of the student designed original white coats, including some with polka dot or leopard-print linings.

And below you’ll find our latest update giving you the roundup on what’s happening on the educational scene in Japan. We’d also like to give you the buzz on the following new schools with fresh new concepts:  Morey English Academy (Minato-ku. Tokyo)Kawasaki International Preschool (Kawasaki city, Kanagawa); the World International Preschool(a bilingual school in Matsumoto city, Nagano); the Central Forest International School (Yamato city, Kanagawa); Hitokoe Yokohama International School; Chateau BonBon School (Shibuya, Tokyo) and Tokyo West International School (Tachikawa, Tokyo) and its affiliated CFIS Sports and Music Kindergarten Tachikawa a school with resort-like learning and sports facilities will be opening APRIL 2014!!! Please note also that the British School(Showa campus in Setagayaku) has  introduces a new FT pre-A-level course, a modular course that will allow students to enter at any time of the year on the basis of an interview, see The British School. For more news like this, visit at The Scoop on Schools page.

Here’s the latest on education in Japan:

Japan to allow firms to operate public schools in special zones

Tokyo, Oct. 18 (Jiji Press)–The Japanese government will allow private companies to operate public schools in special zones that will be created to promote deregulation, officials said Friday.
The special zones are a key item in a package of pro-growth deregulation measures that the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe adopted in June.
“There is no end” to the government’s regulatory reform efforts, Abe told a meeting of his Headquarters for Japan’s Economic Revitalization where details of the special zone scheme were adopted.
“Further reform efforts should be made aggressively so that we can create the world’s best country for business,” Abe added.
The government aims to submit bills needed to introduce the special zones to the Diet, the country’s parliament, in early November, hoping to get them enacted during its current session set to end in early December.

Govt adopts bill on income cap for tuition-free program (Jiji Press — Oct 18)

The Japanese government on Friday adopted a bill to introduce an income cap in fiscal 2014 for its tuition-free program for public high schools. 
Households with annual income of 9.1 million yen or more will become ineligible for the program, which was introduced in 2010.

The government hopes to get the bill to revise the law on the program to be enacted during the current extraordinary session of the Diet, which started Tuesday for a 53-day run through Dec. 6.

Parents of public high school students will need to report their annual income to the schools or the local boards of education after the introduction of the income cap, which is seen affecting some 790,000 students.

Tuition fee collection will start with first-year students joining high schools in fiscal 2014, while students in their second and third year in the fiscal year will continue to be covered by the current blanket free education program.

Union: Teachers work longer than 10 year ago NHK — Oct 20


A national confederation of teachers’ unions says teachers in Japan are working as many as 20 hours more overtime per month than a decade ago.
The All Japan Teachers’ and Staffs’ Union conducted a survey in October last year. It received responses from about 6,900 teachers in 39 prefectures. A similar survey is conducted every 10 years.
The most recent survey showed elementary school teachers work an average of around 68 hours overtime per month, 17 hours more than 10 years ago.
The average amount of overtime for junior high school teachers is about 91 hours, up 23. For senior high school teachers, it is about 79 hours, which is an increase of 20.
The poll also showed school teachers work 16 hours a month on Saturdays and Sundays.

Though relations between Japan and its neighbors South Korea and China have been less than rosy in recent years, Japanese companies are increasingly looking to hire foreign students from these and other Asian countries who have studied in Japan, according to the Tokyo-based recruitment and consulting firm Disco Inc.

With companies focusing on finding the most talented people to help them expand into foreign markets, the practical necessities of business seem to be overriding political wrangling.

The survey, released this month, found that 35.2 percent of 539 companies across the country said they have hired, or plan to hire, foreign students in the 2013 business year. Looking ahead to 2014, nearly half of these companies say they are planning on hiring foreigners who have studied in Japan. Larger companies with more than 1,000 employees appear even more willing to hire such people. Nearly 70 percent of these firms said they plan to hire such graduates in the next fiscal year.

The reason given by most companies was rather simple — they want the most talented people possible, especially as businesses move into other Asian markets. Around 40 percent of the firms said they were seeking to hire Chinese nationals, and 24.2 percent said they wanted to hire Vietnamese and Thais.

The hiring of more foreign students is a sign that Japanese businesses are increasing their efforts to expand in Asian markets.

While 32.6 percent of foreign students hired during the past year graduated with a master’s degree in the sciences, about half of the students majored in the humanities or the arts, suggesting that firms want employee with a well-rounded perspective and a wide range of interests.

In addition to communicating fluently in two or more languages, foreign students’ cultural knowledge and social know-how are considered valuable assets that bring in relevant viewpoints when Japanese firms enter overseas markets.

The information in the survey is also good news for Japanese universities, which have tried, though not always successfully, to internationalize their campuses.

With the prospect of employment at the end of their studies, more foreign students will be willing to study in Japan. That in turn provides benefits to Japanese students, who will have more opportunities to study alongside students from other countries and to expand their viewpoints.

At the same time, this new hiring trend also highlights the importance of Japanese students’ studying foreign languages. Relying on foreign nationals will not be sufficient for many companies. They will also need Japanese students who have studied abroad and learned important language and cultural skills.

The future of business and education is, from this survey at least, looking more truly international than ever.

Practical fashions based on student ideas hit the market (Oct 13, 2013)

Next article spotlights a promotional drive by public schools to make themselves more attractive viz. private schools…

Public high schools tout their strengths to primary school kids (Oct 14, 2013, Yomiuri Shimbun)

An increasing number of school administrators in the Tokyo metropolitan area are trying to convince primary school students and their parents that public high schools have advantages over private institutions.

The move is apparently aimed at encouraging more high-achieving primary school students to enter public high schools in the area.

To achieve this goal, public high schools and boards of education in the region are holding informational meetings to promote the advantages of local public high schools. Education experts believe the efforts likely aim to demonstrate the attractions of public high schools before children take entrance exams for private middle schools, including those with integrated middle and high school curriculums, and thereby prevent excellent students from being taken away by private schools.

Many parents in the metropolitan area want their children admitted to private middle schools. Nearly 20 percent of children in Tokyo who go to public primary schools enter private middle schools.

In early September, the Setagaya Ward Board of Education held a meeting at a public primary school in the ward to let primary school students experience part of a public high school life.

A teacher from Tokyo Metropolitan Aoyama High School in Shibuya Ward told parents of fourth- to sixth-grade primary school students: “Our study room is open until 8 p.m. and many students study there. Our school is a place where students can feel how delightful studying is.”

About 400 primary school students and their parents attended the forum, at which principals and other officials from eight metropolitan government-run high schools held an informational session for parents and a mock class for the students.

In March last year, the Setagaya ward office introduced its own integrated curriculum for primary and middle schools. A forum has also been held since last year, coinciding with the introduction of the integrated curriculum.

In Setagaya, 35 percent of graduates from public primary schools enroll in private middle schools.

One middle school teacher lamented the situation, saying, “It’s my impression that even though we enthusiastically teach students with a curriculum integrated for primary and middle schools, students who have acquired sufficient basic academic skills prefer private schools.”

Metropolitan Nishi High School in Suginami Ward has held informational meetings for primary school students and their parents since fiscal 2002. This year’s meeting was held in the high school.

During the meeting, Principal Hisaya Miyamoto said: “We’re enthusiastic about helping students enroll in universities, and our school can compete with private institutions. As various types of students attend our school and compete with one another, many eventually became talented human resources in society.”… Read more...


An article spotlighting a different sort of school in Okinawa school that seeks to reddress biracial, bicultural issues, is worth reading …

School aims to give biracial kids a place to ‘be themselves’ Japan Times, OCT 20

NAKAGUSUKU, OKINAWA – Melissa Tomlinson doesn’t have very happy memories of elementary school. As an 8-year-old, she “never had a chance to eat lunch normally — the other kids put something in it, or they mixed the milk and soup and orange together and told me to eat it.”

Like the three or four other mixed-race children in her class, Tomlinson was bullied on a daily basis. Now a 26-year-old high school English teacher, she still recalls how “they told me to go home to America, and they talked bad about my mom.”

Her teachers did little to stop the abuse — indeed, some, wittingly or not, even contributed to it. Every summer, on the anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa — the three-month assault in which around 100,000 Okinawan civilians perished — Tomlinson would become the focus of the class. “The teacher always said, ‘Melissa, can you stand up? So, you are half-American, what do you think about this?’ For me, I was like, ‘I grew up here, I don’t know about American things.’ ” Tomlinson had no memory of her father, a U.S. serviceman who’d split from her mother when she was still a baby.

Tomlinson’s story is far from unique. Since 1946, many children here have been born to U.S. military fathers and Okinawan mothers. Sometimes (and especially when the fathers are deployed elsewhere) the mothers are left to bring up the children by themselves, and, like Tomlinson, those children don’t always have an easy time at school.

When five single mothers set up a school for their own “Amerasian” children in Okinawa 15 years ago, they were not so much worried about bullying as concerned about getting their kids a bilingual education. The only one of the women still involved with the school — the current principal, Midori Thayer — explains: “Our children needed to learn both languages because of their two different heritages. They had to be themselves.”

Because the children couldn’t get such an education at public schools, weren’t eligible to attend schools on the U.S. bases, and simply couldn’t afford the existing private international schools, the women felt they had no option but to go it alone. The local board of education was persuaded to sanction the project, which at first involved just one American teacher and 13 pupils meeting in a regular house.

Today, the AmerAsian School in Okinawa (AASO) has 78 students, 12 full-time teachers, eight part-timers and a host of volunteer tutors. They have a modern, bright facility in Ginowan, which they get to use rent-free, thanks in large part to Thayer’s powers of persuasion. (She managed to secure a promise of support from then-Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi when the pair met in Okinawa in 2000.)

It is not a school, Thayer says, for the “trendy” Japanese middle class who want their kids educated bilingually. “There are trendy schools out there. This school is for not-wealthy parents.” In any case, monoracial Japanese children are prohibited from attending by the board of education — unless they can’t speak Japanese. While the majority of AASO pupils are Amerasian, there are others of Filipino or European extraction.

Thayer, whose background is in pharmacology rather than education, runs the school with Executive Director Naomi Noiri, a sociology professor from the University of the Ryukyus. Noiri has been closely involved with the AASO from its inception and receives no payment for her work there.

A fervent believer in the school’s mission, Noiri recalls how one “double” (as she calls mixed-race children, in preference to the more commonly used “half”), an Okinawan/African-American child, arrived at the school with very low self-esteem. “He’d asked his mother, ‘Which soap is good to wash off my color?’ But once he was here, he started to help his classmates in Japanese class, and in English class the classmates helped him. He began to think, ‘I’m OK, I’m popular, I’m happy with myself.’ And that’s our goal.”

A quick look at the school’s Facebook page shows more warm words from former students who were able to escape bullying by attending AASO.

The AASO story, however, is not an unqualified success. There have been ongoing funding difficulties and rumblings of discontent from former insiders.

In some ways the school does not even exist. Its students are registered with local schools, from where they are then seconded. Also, the school receives virtually no public funding, aside from its arrangement with the rent. Two of its Japanese teachers do receive their salary from Okinawa Prefecture, but all the other running costs come out of student fees — ¥30,000 a month — or donations. And because it doesn’t receive any state money, the state has no say over how the school is run, leading some to query its accountability mechanisms.

In writing this article, I interviewed three people who had taught at the AASO at different times over the past six years, as well as the parent of a current student. All agreed that there are excellent teachers at the school and that many pupils thrive there. However, they also shared some very similar misgivings.

One issue was the relatively high turnover of staff, something which the school acknowledges. “It’s out of our control,” says Noiri. “Many of our American teachers are the wives of military personnel and they need to move on, and it’s very difficult to find a teacher who can stay with us more than three years.” Often, it seems, they stay shorter — one teacher recalled that in his two-year stint, he saw around 10 teachers come and go.

At just ¥170,000 a month, perhaps the wages are part of the reason. Noiri disagrees, arguing that the pay is comparable to that at both commercial language schools and international schools. She also rebutted a suggestion that not all the teachers were fully qualified. “I think only one teacher is in the process of getting a degree, but the majority of teachers have a teaching license.”

Another concern was the wide spectrum of ability within classes. It wasn’t just that the level of English (and Japanese) varied greatly from one student to another, but that some pupils also had learning difficulties. Again, Noiri agreed this was an issue. “At the moment we have several learning-difficulty students and we have been dealing with that.” While they could not afford classroom assistants for these children, Noiri went on to explain that a counsellor was available to advise staff. “Most of our teachers can deal with that situation. And our teachers could ask how to do (that), to the counsellor and to the principal.”

I also heard grumblings about how the staff were sometimes managed. “There’s always been a lot of politics and turmoil there. From what I saw, there wasn’t much room for constructive criticism or other ideas,” said Akemi Johnson, a former teacher and researcher at AASO. When I put the criticism to Thayer, she responded: “We are a nonprofit organization. We are not getting any government support. We run ourselves. Of course we have to protect our children — of course we have to protect ourselves.”

There was no mistaking the embattled tone. No doubt it is a measure of how deeply Thayer and Noiri care about their pupils — and the fact they have so little official support — that they sometimes come across as defensive. It probably also explains why, when I started to ask about the departure of a handful of former teachers (whom I didn’t interview), they cut short our interview. [Ms. Noiri maintains that the tone of the interview was antagonistic.]

Of course, professional disputes and personality clashes happen in every workplace. On those occasions when grievances can’t be resolved, teachers in other schools can appeal to governors, boards of education or even the ministry of education. So what’s the situation at the AASO? Noiri said teachers were, of course, free to air any grievances at faculty meetings: “If a teacher has a problem with Ms. Thayer they can come to me, same as a normal school — a principal and a board, Ms. Thayer and me.”

Reservations aside, most of the people I spoke to felt that Amerasian children benefitted from attending the school. One was particularly positive: “The overall objective is really good — their hearts are in the right place, but there are just some little kinks.”

One way to deal with those kinks might be for the government to step in and take over the running of the AASO, says professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, of Stanford University. Himself an Amerasian, he has written and researched extensively in this field for more than 20 years. “The Japanese government is too willing to segregate minority groups and allow them to have their own education, but I think they need to learn how to integrate children who are different.”

He says the school has undoubtedly been good for two kinds of Amerasian children — those who were bullied in state schools and those English speakers who returned from America, usually following marriage breakdowns. But he wonders if the school is appropriate for the majority of Amerasians who don’t fall into these categories.

“I think the school really does serve well those kids who need their education in English, but for kids who want their future to be in Japan, then the school needs to have a strong Japanese language curriculum,” he says. At present, 80 percent of the curriculum in the elementary portion of the school is taught in English, while the junior high school lessons are divided equally between English and Japanese. There is no high school, so most students transfer to public high schools at the age of 16.

One AASO graduate — Eduard Thayer, now 24 — wonders if he wouldn’t have been better off going to a regular Japanese school from the start. “I sometimes question if I would have had better opportunities if I spoke the language better, but (on reflection) I would rather speak both languages because it has brought me to a global or international world — it makes you more open to other things.”

One of Principal Thayer’s three children, Eduard admits he did have linguistic difficulties when he entered high school. “Even now I’m not really good at expressing myself in Japanese — I do speak fluent Japanese but I sometimes have difficulty expressing myself.”

There is little doubt that, proportionally, there are more biracial children in Okinawa than elsewhere in Japan, thanks largely to the presence of some 25,000 U.S. military personnel. Current statistics are hard to come by, but in 2007, 63 percent of all biracial children born in Okinawa had American fathers. The corresponding figure for mainland Japan was just 7 percent.

So what about Tomlinson, whom we met at the beginning of this article — in hindsight, would she have been better off going to the AASO? “No,” she says emphatically. “I know I had bullying and it was really hard, but I survived and now I’m really happy”.

For Eduard Thayer, though, the AASO was a valuable experience, as was his time at a Japanese high school. Both helped him become comfortable with his own identity, he says. “When I was in my senior year, I finally understood that it didn’t really matter if I was Asian or American — it just matters that I act myself.”

“An increasing number of universities are stepping up efforts to teach students how to give effective presentations in English, with the aim of developing their skills in communicating ideas to compete at an international level.There is a growing interest among many Japanese in acquiring presentation skills, partly because of Japan’s excellent presentation in its bid to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo.Presentation skills are essential, for instance, for introducing plans and products to corporate clients.“What makes a good presentation?” Kenichi Sato, an associate professor at Musashino University, asked his students during a seminar in the university’s Ariake campus in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 23.

The seminar was part of the Faculty of Global Communication’s business communication program.

Sato’s class, which targets junior and senior students, was launched in fiscal 2005. His lessons introduce students to the basics of business administration while encouraging them to deliver presentations in English on such topics as their research on individual corporations.

During the Sept. 23 lesson, Sato’s students watched a recording of Japan’s final presentation in Buenos Aires in early September to promote Tokyo as a candidate city for the Games. This was followed by a group discussion on what makes an effective presentation. Some students shared their opinions in English on Japan’s presentation in the Argentine capital.

One student emphasized the need to “speak with enthusiasm.” Another said it is necessary to “pronounce words clearly so customers can understand what you want to get across.”

“Cultivating skills for expressing your opinions in English and making your ideas more communicable to others are the tools you need to compete at a global level,” Sato said.

J.F. Oberlin University in Machida, Tokyo, also has emphasized development of English presentation skills. In fiscal 2007, the college expanded its list of English language programs to include an optional course designed specifically to teach how to deliver presentations. The course is open to all students.”…Read more

***Students from abroad who are seeking to study at Japanese universities should check out the Global30 programme website universities under the “Global 30” Project also provide an international student-friendly environment, offering support for living and studying in Japan. No Japanese proficiency is required of students at the time of application – with the best universities in Japan now offering in English a range of degree programme courses in a number of fields under the “Global 30” Project. The same universities also now offer paper and interview-based admissions procedures which allow international students to apply while still in their respective countries. Interviews can be done from their current location using TV conference systems or other devices.The universities under the “Global 30” Project provide high-quality instruction in Japanese language and culture while also allowing students to gain a valuable degree in another subject. The universities also provide assistance regarding academic matters, career planning, visas, financial support, housing, etc.

Miscellaneous news and article links to muse upon:

U.S. Private College Tuition, Fees Rise Least in Four Decades

Tuition and fees at private, non- profit U.S. colleges rose 3.6 percent in 2013-2014, the smallest increase in more than 40 years, as families struggle to afford college costs. Read more

As Japan moves towards increased standardized testing, the US moves away from it …

Gov. Brown signs testing overhaul bill, ending old state tests (LA Times)

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday that replaces current public school state standardized tests with ones aligned to new national learning goals.

And just as Japan debates getting its schools back to Saturday school routines, the French are abandoning four-day school in favour of five… see Weird about Wednesday (The Economist)

The governor’s decision also tees up a looming confrontation with the Obama administration, which criticized the California legislation.

The new law will pay for school districts to shift quickly to new computerized tests that would be based on learning goals, called the Common Core standards, adopted by 45 states. The new approach is intended to emphasize deeper critical-thinking skills.

The mental and physical impact of bullying 

20% of Tokyo university students want to die, NPO suggests Japan Today Oct 19, 2013


About 20% of university students say they would like to die, according to a survey carried out in Tokyo this summer.
According to the NPO Lifelink which conducted the survey, 122 university students were asked to fill out a survey. TBS reported that of the group, 26 students, around 20% of the total, answered that they would genuinely like to die. The NPO says it believes the statistics are related to job-hunting failures and rejections.
Police statistics show that the total number of suicides in Japan last year dipped below 30,000 for the first time in 15 years. However, the number of suicides among people in their 20s increased and 149 people are believed to have committed suicide due to problems finding employment.


Hike in daily hostess hiring leads to college gals hooking on the side

A 24-year-old hostess employed in Tokyo’s Ebisu district tells weekly tabloid Shukan Jitsuwa (Oct. 24) that she is envious of the opportunities now available to female college students being hired by clubs on a part-time basis. (Tokyo Reporter)

Take know that the 2013 expo for English Language Teachers in Japan is upcoming as well as the JALT conference here:

Last but not least, check out this fun video on A Day In The Life Of A Japanese Highschool Student

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe


In a unprecedented court ruling yesterday,  the Sendai court ordered the kindergarten that operated the schoolbus to pay ¥177 million in damages to the families of four children killed when their school bus was swamped by the 2011 tsunami … This ruling in a situation where the tsunami-related deaths are commonly be thought of due to an Act of God, will clearly have a bearing on the standard of care required of school operators, as well as upon the way schools are run …  I wonder if the insurance company will be picking up the huge tab in this situation (see Act of God — Breaking the Mythology) … can anyone enlighten us regarding the law viz. liability in such situations in Japan??? In the US, the use of the Act of God defense (spelt ‘defence’ – UK English) may be severely restricted where human errors or human intervention during disasters are involved.

Kindergarten told to pay for tsunami deaths (KYODO, via Japan Times, Sep 17, 2013)

Kids died when bus was driven to lower ground after 3/11 quake

It was the first ruling on a damages suit filed by families of tsunami victims against operators of facilities in 3/11 disaster areas. It could affect at least eight other similar damages suits filed by victims’ relatives.

The ruling focused on whether the kindergarten, as an institution with a responsibility to protect the lives of children, could have foreseen the risks of tsunami and whether it took appropriate measures to avert those risks.

The plaintiffs had sought ¥267 million, insisting the kindergarten should have considered the danger as it had been violently rocked by the preceding earthquake.

The privately run kindergarten had maintained that it was impossible for the facility to foresee a tsunami of that scale, saying the disaster was the largest in 1,000 years.

Presiding Judge Norio Saiki said the kindergarten “could have easily predicted that a massive tsunami would arrive” in the area and its principal was negligent for failing to collect information on the disaster. He ordered the kindergarten to pay damages to the plaintiffs — the families of four of the five children killed in tsunami.

Saiki said the principal and other kindergarten staff “should have concretely foreseen a natural disaster, and protected pupils whose abilities to predict the danger were underdeveloped.”

He ruled the children’s deaths were the result of the kindergarten’s misjudgment in sending the bus toward lowland.

Five children and a female employee died when the shuttle bus they were in was engulfed after leaving the Hiyori kindergarten, located on a hill 23 meters above sea level in Ishinomaki, and heading for the coast.

Seven other children had gotten off the bus earlier. The driver was swept away but survived. The bus left the kindergarten about 10 minutes after the temblor hit the area and the principal ordered the children sent home.

The families said the bus drove toward the coast after failing to collect information on the tsunami. Staff at the facility had not been fully informed about anti-disaster guidelines and had not conducted any tsunami drills, according to the plaintiffs.

The kindergarten had said its staff could not hear a tsunami warning as they were busy attending to children following the quake. It also denied negligence, saying the facility was not legally obliged to conduct drills on the delivery of children to parents following a disaster.

After learning about the tsunami warning some time later, however, the principal ordered the bus to return to the kindergarten, but by then the bus, with the five remaining children on board, was caught in traffic and engulfed by the giant tsunami some 700 meters from the coast, according to the ruling.

As the kindergarten itself was safe from tsunami, plaintiffs had argued that the children could have been saved if they had stayed there, instead of being sent home by bus.

Yasushi Saijo, 45, one of the plaintiffs who lost his 6-year-old daughter, Harune, told reporters he was glad the court backed the families’ claim. A relative of another 6-year-old victim, Asuka Sasaki, said the ruling was “a blessed relief.”

The kindergarten said the ruling was “unexpected” and that it was sorry the court had rejected its arguments. Regardless of the court decision, staff remain sorrowful about the children’s loss of life and continue to pray for them, it said.

It is often said and thought that Japan is a tough environment to start up a small business, and many people give up before even trying.  From the materials below, we hope to show that the entrepreneurial and biz -venture startup environment is not as harsh or difficult as people think.

Since the Internet boom around 2000, help for young entrepreneurs has been on hand and various initiatives have been carried out.

Samurai Incubate, is one such start-up started up Kentaro Sakakibar started up by to support other budding entrepreneurs. At first Sakakibara helped his samurai clients with their online sales and marketing, then branched into more services, and his firm launched an investment fund. Read more about it all in Entrepreneurship in the Samurai tradition (Beacon Reports).

In Japan, there is a current call to create a favorable environment to unleash entrepreneurship in Japan, and a number of initiatives created to help young entrepreneurs kick off and execute their ideas, here are a few networks below:

Young Entrepreneurs Groups of the Chamber of Commerce   27,000 members nation-wide, its activities center primarily around research in corporate management, as they seek to promote corporate prosperity through mutual exchanges and to support the broader activities of the Chamber. More details about what the group does from the Chairman in this document.

Japanese Young Entrepreneurs Network | LinkedIn

Spurred by the events of the  the March 11 2011 earthquake and tsunami … Project KIBOW was started up by Kiyoshi Nishikawa, CEO of Internet business incubator company Net Age read more at GaijinPot’s Fostering entrepreneurs for Japan’s future. Visit and their Facebook page

Japan Young Entrepreneurs Group (YPEG)

Although Japan is behind the US and the EU where startup-business growth is concerned, according to the 2008 GEM report, the rate of early-stage entrepreneurship has actually gradually increased over the recent years and is now around the EU average. On the bright side, being behind on the growth curve, also means that there is plenty of room for business development and therefore room to take off and grow.

The Funding Question

But as you are probably thinking, most ideas need money to grow, so where will the budding entrepreneurs get financial assistance or backing for their projects?  Money is actually no object, there is a lot of money in this world chasing too few good ideas, and Japan is no exception. Venture capitalists, investment funds and what are sometimes known as “seed accelerators” are good places to start off knocking on doors, if you are an entrepreneur (young or not) and need financing for your projects or expansion help.  See Well-known Japanese Venture Capitalist Finally Launches His Own Fund

Surprisingly, already lined up for you at this page are more than twenty such firms: Japanese Seed Accelerators  Venture Capitalist Firms…out of the said over-200 VC firms (see Brief Summary of Japanese Venture Capital Industry)   See also Famous venture capitalists in Japan.

This Stanford University report The Future of Japanese Venture Capital assesses that the venture capitalist market and environment needs to develop further but that it has the ability to adapt to economic realities as well as overcome Japanese conservatism to risky ideas.

And yet, the worst obstacle to the spirit of entrepreneurship, is probably the psychological seed of negativism sown in Japanese society affecting the young — according to the GEM 2008 Report, in Japan starting a business is not regarded as a good career choice, despite the media attention currently given to entrepreneurship (The Evolution of Japanese Venture Capital)

Are you or do you know a budding entrepreneur wanna-be? Below are some resources to encourage and push off the prospective entrepreneur’s fresh ideas:

In the UK, India and elsewhere, there have been many recent initiatives to help and inspire budding entrepreneurs:

UK: Take part in a Young Enterprise scheme to set up and run their own businesses for a year with the help of business mentors. See: Budding entrepreneurs head to campus for Young Enterprise competition / (UK-based) Forest Hill Society: Calling all Budding Young EntrepreneursBudding Young Entrepreneurs Group – City of Kingstonb someone Campaign Competition, organised by Bradford Council’s Education, Employment & Enterprise Team

India: YEFI: Nurturing Budding Entrepreneurs -

Japan Venture Capital Association | LinkedIn

Articles to start you off with: 

18 Entrepreneurs Share Their Top 20 Tips - Forbes

Young Entreprise – Start Something magazine

Why young entrepreneurs MUST go to entrepreneurship college

The surprising way to eliminate your competition

Databases and online resources:

Small Business Ideas and Resources for Entrepreneurs:

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship

Resources on Entrepreneurship - from Harvard Business School

Entrepreneurship.Org – A free, online international resource

Entrepreneurship and enterprise development

Resources for Creating the Business Plan:  

Business Plans - Harvard Business School;

Business Plan Template: What To Include – Forbes;

Small Business Entrepreneur Templates & Checklists | GoForth

Creating a Business Plan - Entrepreneurs -


How to use Facebook for Small Business and Entrepreneurs

Creating a business plan -

Entrepreneurship - BEIS – The University of Auckland

Booklist on entrepreneurship

The following are fee-paying resources:  
The library has more than 2,000 step-by-step training videos on topics covering business, software applications and creative design. You can learn how to start an online marketing campaign, how to take a perfect product shot, how to use Adobe to Photoshop a picture, and so much more

ProQuest Entrepreneurship ProQuest Entrepreneurship gives users access to an unprecedented collection of content types together in one product

That’s all for today…

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe


Hello all,

I trust you had a good summer, and it’s now back to school for those with children in the local school system, with a few days to counting down for those in international schools…

As usual, below is our regular roundup on news of what’s happening on the local educational scene:

Disaster drills were conducted across the nation((Jiji-Japan News, Sep 2) yesterday, to prepare for huge earthquakes, based for the first time on a gigantic Nankai Trough quake scenario, as Sept. 1 is Disaster Prevention Day. … and we should also familiarize ourselves with the new Emergency Warning System that was just launched on Friday (Aug 31, 2013, Yomiuri Shimbun).  See chart above at the top of the page:

The Japan Meteorological Agency instituted a new disaster warning system Friday by adding the words “emergency warning” to alerts when there is a risk of significant damage associated with natural phenomena.

The warnings will cover nine categories including volcanic eruptions and tsunami.

When warnings are issued, municipalities are obliged to alert residents to the warnings.

In cases of heavy rain or snow, the emergency warning will be issued when heavy rain or snow is predicted to reach to the level of intensity observed only once about every 50 years.

The new warnings will also cover large typhoons or extratropical cyclones when they are predicted to approach the nation. For earthquakes and tsunami, the definitions currently used for major tsunami and early earthquake warnings will be applied for the new emergency warning.

When torrential rains hit the Chugoku and Tohoku regions this summer, the agency issued special warnings to residents four times ahead of the official start of the new system, saying the rains warranted the emergency warnings.

Saturday classes could be restarted (Yomuiri, Aug 29)

Aiming to restart Saturday classes at all public primary, middle and high schools nationwide, the education ministry has decided to establish a subsidy program to encourage schools to invite instructors from local communities.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is aiming to reintroduce Saturday classes starting on a monthly basis by the 2017 academic year in an effort to improve students’ scholastic ability.

The subsidy program, which is also intended to strengthen ties between schools and their communities, is scheduled to begin next academic year. Under the program, the state will partially cover the costs of Saturday classes, including payment for instructors and fees for educational materials.

Also from next academic year, the ministry plans to provide subsidies or other forms of assistance to 6,700 schools, or about 20 percent of all public schools. The ministry plans to include ¥2 billion for this purpose in its initial budget request for fiscal 2014.

Reintroducing Saturday lessons would require one of the ministry’s ordinances to be revised. The current ordinance, which was issued to coincide with the introduction of a five-day school week, stipulates that schools are in principle closed on Saturdays, except in the event there is a “special need” for them. In autumn, the ministry plans to revise the ordinance to allow local governments to decide on their own initiatives whether to hold Saturday classes.

The ministry envisions company employees, public servants and other members of local communities acting as instructors on Saturdays, giving students the opportunity to experience various activities in what the ministry has dubbed “comprehensive studies,” or classes that encourage students to think and study on their own initiative.

Under the program, schools would offer English and supplementary classes to improve students’ academic ability in some subjects.

According to ministry officials, using local human resources under the subsidy program would solve problems such as securing the necessary funds to hire instructors and ensuring teachers get the appropriate number of days off. 

The ministry would subsidize a third of the costs, such as salaries for instructors, liaisons for would-be instructors and schools, and teaching materials. It also assumes that an estimated 4,000 primary schools, 2,000 middle schools and 700 high schools would be eligible for the subsidies.

About 350 schools nationwide would be designated as model schools under the plan to develop curriculums for Saturday classes. The schools would hold Saturday classes at least once a month and the ministry will examine the content of the curriculum and students’ achievements.

The ministry will select pilot schools based on the results of a planned survey to see if schools are interested in participating in the program.

The current five-day school week began on a once-a-month trial basis in September 1992, and was increased to twice a month in fiscal 1995. The five-day school week was fully implemented in fiscal 2002.

However, education experts have blamed the five-day school week for deteriorating scores among students. They also said students are not spending their Saturdays as initially envisioned, such as participating in community activities.

In January, education minister Hakubun Shimomura announced the ministry would consider restarting Saturday classes.

In a ministry survey conducted in fiscal 2010 and 2011, less than 10 percent of all public primary, middle and high schools have held Saturday events, such as lessons open to parents and members of local communities, as well as comprehensive study classes conducted by inviting outside speakers to the school. By contrast, many private schools conduct classes on Saturdays, the ministry said. 

Next, heartening news of simply OUTSTANDING! service by a volunteer group of university students … they surely ought to be commended for their work in supplying schoolbooks to help students of the Tohoku region:

Donated books help students in quake-affected Tohoku region (Aug 30, Yomiuri Shimbun)

A volunteer group of university students has been donating secondhand study guides to help middle and high school students in areas of the Tohoku region that were hit hard by the 2011 disaster.

Sankousho Takkyubin was founded by university students in Tokyo in April 2011, shortly after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Yuta Akashio, 24, who was a junior of Aoyama Gakuin University at the time, learned that high school students in the disaster areas, who had been studying for university entrance exams, had lost their textbooks in the tunami following the earthquake.

Akashio had passed the university entrance exam after studying on his own, without the aid of a preparatory school. He thought that those students, too, would be able to pass their exams through self-study if study guides were available to them. With the help of a friend, he started collecting used study guides through Twitter and blogs. They launched a website and used it to communicate with students, sending the books they requested. Of about 20,000 books collected in the first year, 3,500 that looked almost new were sent to disaster-hit areas. The rest were sold, and the profits went toward shipping fees.

Plus Alpha, a cram school in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, is one of the recipients of those books. It uses the secondhand books in English grammar class, which were donated from all across the country and collected by Sankousho Takkyubin.

“Those books are really helpful because it’s hard for me to buy them,” said Kana Ishii, 16, a second-year student at a high school in the city, who was studying at the cram school. She evacuated to Niigata Prefecture and Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, after the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Her mother became jobless for a time.

The requested books are sent to individual students and cram schools in devastated areas for free.

“This service helps keep the financial burden low on families, whose incomes became unstable after the nuclear crisis started,” said Plus Alpha head Hideyuki Kurosawa, 33. …

The group has received such encouraging responses as, “My child was happy to receive a book of old exam questions used by the school at the top of our list,” and “I passed the exam of my first-choice school.”

Akashio and other members of Sankousho Takkyubin were worried that their activities would affect the business of bookstores in devastated areas.

Since March of last year, the volunteer group has begun to cooperate with a firm purchasing and selling used books online. The group has started selling the books it has collected and is using the profits to buy brand-new books at bookstores in quake-hit areas. They are planning to host a campus tour to various universities, inviting about 20 high school students from Minami-Soma to the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Currently, about 80 students at 12 universities in the Kansai region and Tokyo are involved in Sankousho Takkyubin’s activities.

“I’ll do my best to support middle and high school students in devastated areas who want to study,” said Hiroki Tominaga, 21, a fourth-year student at Aoyama Gakuin University who has taken over the head of the volunteer group.

76 pct of Japan elementary school students like English (Aug 31, 2013 Yomiuri Shimbun)

Tokyo, Aug. 27 (Jiji Press)–A Japanese education ministry survey revealed Tuesday that 76 pct of sixth-grade students at elementary schools in the nation enjoy or somewhat enjoy learning English. 

The proportion stood at 53 pct for third-grade junior high school students, according to the survey, which was conducted in April together with an annual academic achievement test. It was the first such survey.
The percentage of students who would like to have friends from other countries and learn more about overseas came to 71 pct for the elementary school students and 61 pct for the junior high school students.
However, only 39 pct of the elementary school students said they want to or are somewhat interested to study abroad or work abroad in the future. The figure was even lower, at 31 pct, for the junior high school students.

Use findings of achievement tests to correct students’ weaknesses (Aug 28, 3013, Yomuiri Shimbun)

It is important to determine where children are weak in each school subject, a task that must be complemented by efforts to reflect such findings in methods for guiding them in their studies

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has published the results of a nationwide achievement test conducted in April. The test, which covered sixth-grade primary school students and third-year middle school students, was intended to examine their basic knowledge about the Japanese language, arithmetic and mathematics, as well as their applied skills in these subjects.

The latest achievement test was the first to be administered on all such students in four years, and provided detailed data on the performance of students in each school and each city, town and village. Such data was not obtained from similar tests conducted under the Democratic Party of Japan-led government, as the education ministry conducted achievement tests targeting only about 30 percent of schools chosen as samples during the DPJ’s rule.

The latest data can be used by local governments to improve education by, for example, preferentially assigning teachers to schools whose students performed poorly in the latest test. We hope the education ministry will continue to use the participation-by-all formula in administering nationwide achievement tests.

What is noteworthy about the findings is a welcome change in the results classified by prefecture. A sign of improvement was evident in the performance of prefectures that had fared poorly in the average percentage of correct answers given by students in previous achievement tests.

In some of these prefectures, improvements in this respect were achieved through a mix of measures, including after-school supplementary lessons and achievement tests administered by local education authorities.

All this can be seen as a sign that the nationwide achievement test, first conducted in 2007, has encouraged local governments to introduce measures to improve the academic standards of students in their areas.

Poor at expressing opinions

The results of the ministry’s achievement tests, including the latest one, clearly show where students are weak. For example, they fared poorly in writing their opinions about documents they were told to read in the test. They also did badly at logically explaining the reasons for the answers they gave.

Questions of this kind were incorporated into the latest test. Not surprisingly, the percentage of correct answers was low.

A major task that must be tackled by the authorities is to improve the academic ability of children in fields in which they have a problem answering questions. With this in mind, the education ministry is scheduled to produce documents designed to provide teachers with some innovative ideas, based on the findings from the latest test, while also distributing them to local boards of education and other institutions. …

Children’s learning at home is another important issue to be addressed in working to improve their academic abilities. The percentage of children who review their school lessons at home has been increasing since they were covered in an awareness survey for the first time. The latest survey shows about 50 percent of primary and middle school students review their school studies at home. This can be seen as a certain measure of progress in encouraging children to study at home. …  Read more

A report compiled by a private panel of experts for the Foreign Ministry calls for promoting the Japanese language in other countries and enhancing Japan’s presence in the international community. The government plans to prepare a budget to propagate the language.

The report also wants to make it easier for young people abroad to learn Japanese.

The “Cool Japan” strategy, launched by the government to promote the Japanese culture of manga, anime and fashion overseas, is attracting the interest of young people around the world. Proactively concentrating on such trends is the correct thing to do.

Specifically, the report suggested setting up a Japanese-language course for beginners on the Internet. It is essential to utilize information technology to that end.

It also suggested expanding the program for the long-term dispatch of Japanese-language experts to foreign countries, which the Japan Foundation—the core organization for promoting the Japanese language abroad—has been implementing with the aim of increasing the number of foreigners teaching Japanese in their own countries.

If these policy measures prove effective in increasing the number of foreigners learning Japanese, their understanding of Japan will become deeper. This will increase the number of people who are pro-Japanese and knowledgeable about Japan.

Such measures also should prove useful for Japanese companies, which are increasingly launching overseas operations, to secure local Japanese-speaking staff.

Behind the ministry’s discussions to promote the Japanese language abroad is a declining global interest in learning Japanese. …Read the entire article here.

While the number of foreigners learning or speaking Japanese totals about 3.98 million, a figure 30 times larger than the number 30-plus years ago, the growth in Japanese-language learners abroad has slowed recently.

Although the number of people learning Japanese in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries is rising, it is declining in such countries as South Korea, Britain and Canada.

Interest in Chinese growing

Half of those people studying Japanese overseas are middle and high school students learning it as a second foreign language, with English as their first foreign language. Lately there has been a sharp increase in the number students studying Chinese as their second foreign language.

It is true that interest has grown among non-Chinese because of China’s fast-growing economy. Yet there are other reasons.

China has established government-affiliated educational institutions, such as the Confucius Institute, around the world, made efforts to teach the Chinese language to foreigners, provided them with learning materials and fostered foreigners teaching Chinese in their own countries.

Particularly in the area of primary education, the Chinese government is proactively inviting to China foreign teaching staff and school officials.

In the United States, some universities, as wells as primary, middle and high schools, have ended Japanese language courses, apparently because of growing interest in the Chinese language.

The report stressed that the biggest impediment faced by institutions teaching Japanese overseas is securing a sufficient number of Japanese-language teachers. It also pointed out that Japan had failed to provide foreigners with such advantages as studying in this country or finding jobs in Japanese companies …

Wrong reason to rescind censorship (Japan Times, AUG 29, 2013) 

Society must give children a chance to think deeply about war and other serious issues by allowing them unhindered access to relevant literature in school.

The Matsue City board of education in Shimane Prefecture on Aug. 26 withdrew its earlier decision to severely limit access to the 10-volume manga series “Hadashi no Gen” (“Barefoot Gen”), a best-selling antiwar and anti-nuclear weapons classic. The board said that individual elementary and junior high schools can return the series to their library shelves. The decision to do so was left to the judgment of each school.

Unfortunately, the board cited only a procedural reason for rescinding its decision and failed to express regret over violating children’s right to read books. Deplorably, the head of the board’s secretariat, who unilaterally made the original decision to remove “Hadashi no Gen” from school library shelves and require students to get teachers’ permission to read it, was not punished at all.

The series was drawn by the late Keiji Nakazawa, a survivor the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima who died last December. The main character, Gen Nakaoka, a 6-year-old boy, goes through various experiences during and after World War II. The series graphically depicts not only the harsh reality of the atomic bombing and the hardship in the immediate postwar years but also atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army, such as the beheading of other Asians and rape. It also includes harsh criticism of the Emperor Showa, at times calling him a “murderer.”

In August 2012, a man sent a request to the Matsue City assembly asking that the series be removed from school library shelves, saying that its perception of history was wrong. The secretariat of the board decided in December 2012 to remove the series from school library shelves on the grounds that its depiction of atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army was too violent, without letting the five board members know about the decision. The secretariat conveyed the decision to the city’s elementary and junior schools on Dec. 17 and again on Jan. 9-10.

The five board members decided on Aug. 26 to withdraw the December 2012 decision on the grounds that the secretariat made the decision without consulting the board members. Regrettably it did not touch on the issue of whether it is correct for an organization with public power to limit student access to books.

How can the cruelty of war be conveyed without truthful description? Society must give children a chance to think deeply about war and other serious issues by allowing them unhindered access to relevant literature in school and giving them guidance to help them understand what they are reading. Limiting access to information deprives children of the ability to think critically.

EDITORIAL: Books essential to help children learn about war and peace(08/31)

The Matsue municipal board of education retracted its request to municipal elementary and junior high schools to restrict students’ access to the manga “Hadashi no Gen” (Barefoot Gen), an internationally renowned series about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, in school libraries.

The Matsue municipal board of education retracted its request to municipal elementary and junior high schools to restrict students’ access to the manga “Hadashi no Gen” (Barefoot Gen), an internationally renowned series about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, in school libraries.

Since the secretariat of the board had issued the request without consulting board members, all five members judged that “there were flaws in the procedure.”

We think the decision to scrap restrictions on access is sensible, but it is regrettable that the reason does not go beyond the problem of procedures.

The controversy goes back to August 2012, when a citizen filed a petition with the municipal assembly to have the manga removed from school libraries on the grounds that its historical perception concerning wartime actions of the Imperial Japanese Army and war responsibility of Emperor Showa is erroneous. The municipal assembly turned down the petition, and the school board also took the position of not removing the manga from library shelves at the time.

Like the citizen who filed the petition, many of the people who support the request to limit access are raising questions about the manga’s historical perception and its view of the emperor system.

But the true worth of “Hadashi no Gen” is the way author Keiji Nakazawa aptly described the horror of the atomic bomb based on his own personal experiences. That is why the series has continued to attract readers both at home and abroad. Those who argue that the book should be put out of reach of children just because they do not agree with the historical view in the book are narrow-minded, to say the least.

There are many books that attract readers because they carry strong messages of the writers from cover to cover. People who totally reject the value of works just because they don’t like some parts lack an understanding toward literature.

The board’s initial stance to turn down the request for removal was right. From now on, other education boards should also firmly reject requests for such restrictions.

But the way the board secretariat dealt with the situation after the request was turned down is problematic. Five senior members, including the superintendent of education at the time, read the series again. They agreed that scenes in the final volume of the series that depict the actions of the Japanese army in Asia are “cruel” and decided to ask elementary and junior high schools to limit access to the series.

Because children are in their developmental stages, their opportunities to freely read books must be fully guaranteed. The municipal education board’s secretariat completely lacked consideration in this regard.

War is cruel. How should education make use of books that squarely address the atrocities of war? We need to come up with wisdom and ingenuity. Younger generations who do not know war cannot learn the preciousness of peace if we have them avert their eyes from the cruelty of war.

It is important that children are given the choice to read books. Based on that, when children who choose to read books come up with questions or express shock, we need to deal with them in earnest.

Such smart ways to deal with books should be promoted in schools and at home.

–The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 30

Manga artists recount war memories in exhibition…

Even earlier news:

Tokyo eyes 12-year education (Yomiuri, Aug 25, 2013)

The Tokyo Metropolitan board of education plans to open an integrated 12-year public school that includes advanced academic content beyond the government’s curriculum guidelines, in a bid to boost human resources able to compete at a global level in the fields of science and math.

The board said it aims to open the first public school offering a 12-year education by 2017.

The school will cover primary, middle and high school and be nationally designated as a “special curriculum school.” It will provide an education based on original teaching guidelines that emphasize science and math.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to provide a consistent education over many years, the school will make a proactive effort to teach advanced content earlier. Emphasis will also be placed on English.

The current curriculum system, comprising six years in primary school, and three years each in middle and high schools, has been revamped under the new system, which divides 12 years into three four-year stages: fundamentals from the first to fourth years; amplification from fifth to eighth; and development from ninth to 12th.

The old school building of Tokyo Metropolitan Senior High School of Fine Arts, Performing Arts and Classical Music will be used for the first four years, while Tokyo Metropolitan Musashi High School and its attached junior high school will be used for the subsequent eight years.

Students will be screened based on results of a math and science aptitude test before entering the school. However, an applicant selection process and the timing of enrollment has yet to be decided. A Tokyo Metropolitan board of education task force will work out such details in consultation with outside experts by the end of this academic year.

Thousands wait for after-school childcare (Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug 24)

The shortage of child care centers, which take care of children after school, has become a serious problem nationwide.

School facilities, including vacant classrooms, must be utilized to open more after-school child care centers in urban areas. However, little progress has been made due to a lack of coordination between the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which has jurisdiction over after-school child care centers, and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which supervises local education boards.

Record No. of enrolled students …

According to a survey compiled earlier this month by a national liaison council for after-school child care centers, there are currently about 21,635 after-school child care facilities nationwide and 888,753 students are enrolled in them, both record highs. The council is operated by staff at child care centers and parents.

The survey found 6,944 students were on waiting lists for enrollment in after-school child care centers, but it is difficult to know the exact number because applications for the centers are not handled solely by local governments. “There are potentially a lot more students waiting,” a council official said.

Local governments in urban areas have been establishing day care centers for preschool children at a rapid pace. Therefore, there is expected to be a more serious shortage of after-school centers that take care of older children after they enter primary school. Read the rest of the article here.

Education ministry promotes own project (Yomiuri, Aug 24)

Since the 2007 school year, the education ministry has been promoting its own program, separate from the health and welfare ministry’s efforts, to utilize space such as empty classrooms at primary schools for various after-school activities for children.

Called “hokago kodomo kyoshitsu” (after-school children’s class), the program is basically designed for children whose parents both work and are not home yet when children return from school. However, any child can use the program.

More and more municipalities have begun to implement this program instead of the traditional after-school child care program under the supervision of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, but some have pointed out the education ministry program lacks standards for the scale of activities or the allocation of staffers.

Shinozaki No. 4 Primary School in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, has renovated empty classrooms on the first floor and operates a kodomo kyoshitsu until evening hours even during long vacation periods. On average about 120 children from the first to sixth grades participate in the program each day. They draw pictures or play with friends in the schoolyard, for instance, while five to six staffers keep an eye on them.

Any children can register to participate in the program, but half of them have two parents who work during the day.

The Edogawa Ward Office has opened kodomo kyoshitsu at all ward-run primary schools. Because any child can participate in the program, which is run directly by the ward’s board of education, “It’s easy to gain the cooperation of schools,” said a board official.

Although only children whose parents are both working can use the program in the hour to 6 p.m., the Tokyo metropolitan government decided not to receive subsidies from the health and welfare ministry for its after-school child care program.

The education ministry started the hokago kodomo kyoshitsu project for a number of reasons, including an insufficient number of places for children to play safely in their communities. But different areas implement the program differently.

The education ministry’s subsidies mainly cover personnel costs. As there are limits on the number of days the classrooms are open each year, local municipalities partially shoulder the costs for operating the program. The Kawasaki and Yokohama city governments operate the program in evening hours as part of traditional after-school child care by the health and welfare ministry.

To hold after-school child care programs, such factors as the scale of activities and hours of operation are decided according to the health ministry’s guidelines. The ministry plans to compile standards on such points as staff qualifications and personnel distribution this fiscal year under the Child Welfare Law.

On the other hand, the education ministry has no guidelines for kodomo kyoshitsu, leaving everything to local education boards.

“As a result, [the education ministry program] cannot fulfill the original purpose of the health ministry’s program to provide a homelike place for children whose parents are both working,” said an official of the national liaison council for after-school child care centers.

Louise George Kittaka tells prospective ALT teachers in Japan to think twice before they “ink” (get tattoos) because of BOEs and schools’ dim view of tattoos…

Think before you ink if you work with kids (Japan Times, Jul 22, 2013)

Reader PP is arriving in Japan soon to begin a stint as an assistant language teacher (ALT). He writes: “I am very interested in getting an irezumi(traditional tattoo) in Japan. Are there any artists that will tattoo a foreigner? If so, who and where? My interviewer for the teaching position tried to warn me that tattoos are a ‘no-no’. ”

He goes on to describe a story he heard about another ALT: The man had taken off his shirt to water some plants on his balcony, when a student’s parent happened to walk by and saw his tattoo-riddled back. The parent apparently called the school, claiming that they had hired a member of the yakuza — the Japanese mafia, who traditionally have tattoos. The ALT had to change jobs and cities as a result.

It’s true that many Japanese people, particularly the older generations, still associate tattoos with yakuza, and that many in mainstream society shy away from being inked. However, partly fueled by growing interest from overseas, tattoos seem to be gaining a modicum of acceptance among younger people. Just the other day in downtown Tokyo I saw a Japanese woman with a toddler on one arm and a full “sleeve” tattoo on the other.

Having said that, since PP is going to be working with schoolchildren, it is advisable not get a tattoo in a place that is likely to be seen by his charges — or their parents, for that matter. It is guaranteed that his fellow teachers and the local board of education will also take a dim view of an ALT with a visible tattoo. … Read the rest here.

Story of WWII student-nurses set for Net (Aug 25, Yomuiri Shimbun)

An animation movie depicting the Himeyuri Gakutotai (Lily Corps), an army nursing unit of female students formed to care for injured soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa, will be released on the Internet later this month with English subtitles.

The 30-minute animation was produced by Himeyuri Heiwa Kinen Zaidan (Himeyuri Peace Memorial Foundation), which comprises former corps members and their supporters.

The Japanese-language version of the film has been shown at the Himeyuri Peace Museum in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, since last year. The foundation decided to make a version with English subtitles so children all over the world can see it.

Former corps members have talked about their experiences to museum visitors, including students on school excursions, since the museum opened in 1989. They decided to produce the original animation, mainly for older primary school students, after realizing how hard it was to convey their tragic memories only in words. …

While keeping faithful to the facts and feelings of the former corps members, the members translated the narration into simple expressions in English.

The version with English subtitles is scheduled to be released on the video-sharing website YouTube by the end of this month.

Yoshiko Shimabukuro, 85, a survivor of the corps and now chief curator of the museum, said: “Even today, many people become victims of civil wars and other armed conflicts around the world. We want to tell people about the tragedy that befell Okinawa Prefecture, which is far from places where many children live, so they can understand the horror of war.”

The girls nursing corps was formed with 222 students of Okinawa Shihan Women’s School and Okinawa Daiichi Women’s High School in March 1945.

The students took care of injured and ill soldiers mainly inside underground shelters at an army hospital. In all, 123 of the students and 13 of their teachers died in bombings or mass suicides …



Elsewhere in the world, new concepts of schools are emerging:

The son of a friend of mine attended the school of the arts mentioned in the article below. The boy was a free-spirit, and difficult kid through the teen years who wasn’t thriving academically, until he entered this unique music & arts program school that also incorporated a rigorous IB curriculum … .. it allowed kids to find their way, learn new instruments and unusual new skills in a varied and unusual curriculum, try new things and skills, see article below:

Global education lessons: Singapore leads in STEM, now takes on the arts

(CS Monitor) Chew Jun Ru knew he wanted to become a musician back in high school. But the eldest of four had parents who shared the traditional Singaporean view of the arts – they insisted he find a career with a solid future

What do you all think of this new iPad-centred school? I think that many “home-schools” are already somewhat looking like this … do you want your neighborhood school to look like this too?  Tell us in the comment section what you think would be the pluses and downsides to such iPad-centred schools.

What does a Totally Technology-centric school look like? Can you imagine a school where every facet of life uses technology? Let’s take a look at what a totally technology-centric school might actually look like

“A New Concept of School

In these new schools, the traditionally ultra-scheduled school day is a thing of the past. The schools will be open every weekday from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm. As long as the students are there from 10:30 am to 3pm, they can otherwise come and go as they please. While the school will close on Christmas and New Year’s, families can otherwise decide when they want to go on vacation, since their students won’t be missing any classes in the traditional sense.

See also this related link: The Teacher’s Guide To The One iPad Classroom

Global education lessons: Canadian summer school transcends remedial

Primed to perform, five middle school girls take their positions like dots on dice: four at each corner, the tallest in the center. In time to music, they carry invisible loads, push against air, wield imaginary shovels …

Global education lessons: German’s respected voc-tech path with Meisters (CS Monitor, September 1, 2013)

In Germany, more than half of all students take vocational training – and for those not ready, an intensive pre-apprenticeship program “rescues” youths by helping them identify a profession and prep to work with a serious Meister.

Global education lessons: Australia teaches to test – a better test (CS Monitor, September 1, 2013)

As the US moves to the Common Core, it might well look to Australia’s victories with testing that promotes effective learning. It hasn’t been controversy-free, but the nation is coming to terms with assessment. …

For that to happen, Leung needs to know the strengths and weakness of her students, a diverse group of seventh- through 12th-graders at Merrylands High School in Sydney’s western suburbs. For this, she relies on a battery of techniques, ranging from quizzes designed to tell her students’ starting point to mind-mapping exercises, games, brainstorming sessions, traditional tests, and tasks on online platforms…

Leung’s classroom exemplifies a trend earning Australia accolades from international education experts: testing that promotes effective learning and teaching. This ranges from classroom tests like Leung’s to certification tests administered at a statewide level. Here, as in the United States, teachers may find themselves teaching to such external tests; the difference is that the quality of those assessments is much higher than the multiple-choice format the US favors. … Read more

Global education lessons: China’s mentor schools bridge rich-poor gap (CS Monitor, September 1, 2013)

As the US struggles with inequity between richer and poorer school districts,  Shanghai’s stellar urban schools offer hands-on help to rural schools with intensive teaching and administrative mentoring..

First Person: Today’s College Is Not Your Father’s Four-Year Plan

Yahoo News, as part of its “Born Digital” series, asked students and parents to write about how college has changed over a generation.

First Person: College Education Now a Minimum Requirement

Yahoo News, as part of its “Born Digital” series, asked students and parents to write about how college has changed over a generation.

1912 eighth grade exam: Could you make it to high school in 1912?

Kids’ health, safety and societal issues:

The Meteorological Agency on Aug. 30 started a system to use a “special warning” designation for natural disasters that are very likely to cause heavy damage…

As Mr. Mitsuhiko Hatori, director general of the agency, said, a special warning means that a life or death situation is imminent. Once such a warning is issued, the general public and local governments must think that a life-threatening situation is approaching and take necessary action — that is, evacuate quickly to minimize the possibility of disaster-related casualties.

Special warnings will be issued for heavy rains, storms, high tides, high waves, heavy snow and blizzards. But the agency will continue to use the conventional terms “emergency earthquake early warning” (kinkyu jishin sokuho) for an earthquake whose intensity is six or higher on the Japanese scale of seven, “eruption warning” (funka keiho) for a volcanic eruption that requires evacuation and “major tsunami warning” (o-tsunami keiho) for a tsunami that is more than three meters high. The agency said that these conventional terms are on a par with special warnings.

In the case of heavy rains, a special warning will be issued for each municipality when a record heavy rain for the past 50 years is imminent. The agency has set a criterion for issuing a special heavy rain warning by studying past precipitation records, including precipitation for three hours periods and for 48 hour periods, in individual municipalities across the country….more

Unanswered calls from children (Japan Times)

Seventy-five percent of calls made to telephone counseling services for children go unanswered. A better system to help every child who calls is needed….

15-year-old girl attempts Y4 mil identity fraud (Sep 2, Japan today)

Police said Saturday that a 15-year-old school girl from Tokyo’s Adachi Ward has been arrested for attempted identity fraud after she allegedly posed as a woman’s son in need of cash.

Students can continue their learning at home, since the apps on their iPads will be available to them at home as well. Rather than following a specific curriculum that is applied to all students of a particular grade and age level, a personalized learning plan is developed collaboratively between the teachers, parents, and student. The learning plan is reviewed every six weeks with all involved parties chiming in. At least in theory, the days of some students being bored because the teacher is moving through the material too slowly and others struggling to keep up – are gone. Each student can develop their own natural talents, foster their independence, and generally be more creative.

Since there are no ‘set hours’ for all students to be in the schools and no formal classes, the education minister is looking to see if these new schools can be exempt from the requirement for students to spend a certain number of hours in school.”

Fukushima-related news:

Leaks suspected from more tanks at Fukushima plant (September 01, 2013 Asahi Shimbun AWJ)

Radiation levels of up to 1,800 millisieverts per hour have been detected at four locations at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, as the operator checks storage tanks following a leak of 300 tons of radioactive water…

Aging hikikomori children’s lifelong dependency on parents (Aug 14, Japan Today)

Tepco fixes leaky pipe but finds hot spots, jump in radiation

Tokyo Electric patches a radioactive pipe after finding a lethal hot spot and rising tritium and strontium levels near its leaky water tanks.


Last but not least, check out these educational resources:

Newly uploaded page is this resource listing book titles on Education in Japan, the school system and its history, higher education in Japan, social or psychological and other issues related to Education in Japan. Please go to our Pinterest page on Education-in-Japan

Kelley King and Michael Gurian’s “With Boys in Mind / Teaching to the Minds of Boys” September 2006 | Volume 64 | Number 1 Educational Leadership:Teaching to Student Strengths  - ASCD pp. 56-61

Is something wrong with the way we’re teaching boys? One elementary school thought so and decided to implement boy-friendly strategies that produced remarkable results…

NHK has this folktale storytelling resource in 9 languages:

TTFN (Ta ta for now) …

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe

Hand reared: Saya High School students feed grain to some of their friendly flock of paddy-management fowl. | C.W. NICOL

Quack team: Saya High School students with some of the school’s paddy ducks | PHOTO COURTESY OF SAYA HIGH SCHOOL

Hand reared: Saya High School students feed grain to some of their friendly flock of paddy-management fowl. | C.W. NICOL

Hand-reared: Saya High School students feed grain to some of their friendly flock of paddy-management fowl| C.W. NICOL

Hello readers, how’s summer treating you?

Here’s our usual buzz on the latest happenings on the educational scene in Japan and in my opinion, this is the coolest story this summer …

School wins prize for paddle power in its paddies (Japan Times) See extract below:

“The school’s curriculum emphasizes agriculture, and last year its students won the Prime Minister’s Award, which is sponsored through the One Percent Club, a scheme that takes 1 percent of the selling price of various Aeon products and goods and deposits the money into a fund to support and encourage environmental programs. I am a committee member.

Saya High School was the first to win this Prime Minister’s Prize — for its 11-year-old program of raising ducks for its rice paddies.

This traditional way of keeping paddies free of pests takes time and care but produces excellent rice, in good yields, without the use of any pesticides.

The ducks eat all kinds of insects and aquatic insect larvae and, because they have serrated ridges along the edges of their bills that enable them to filter out water, they can eat even tiny mosquito larvae. Also, as they paddle around, the ducks stir up mud, preventing light from reaching the bottom. This curbs the growth of aquatic weeds between the rows of green growing rice stems — and what small weeds do manage to sprout soon get eaten.

Most domesticated ducks, with the exception of the Muskovy and a few other breeds, descend from wild mallards, and the small aigamo ducks in fairly widespread use on rice paddies in Japan are crossbred from mallards and domestic varieties. However, Saya High School’s large white fowl with yellow bills and feet are, although very common in China and other Asian countries, unusual in Japan. Reaching up to 5 kg when fully grown, they too derive from mallards, though they flock more readily than aigamo and easily imprint with humans. In other words, they are very friendly and would eat from the students’ hands

At Saya High School, though, when I asked the teacher in charge, Hiroyuki Kamejima, what kind of duck theirs were, he didn’t say Aylesbury — but “Pekin.”

“I thought that was the name for a kind of Chinese food,” I said — but I was wrong. Peking duck is the delicious plucked, gutted and roasted delicacy eaten with pancakes, but Pekin is the name of another mallard-derived breed of poultry that reached Britain and America from China in the late 19th century and which is now the most common domestic duck there is …

The ducks are bred at the school, though the eggs are put in incubators to hatch because this type of duck is not a very good brooder. They reach about 2½ kg in four months, and when they come to maturity and the females start laying they will produce an egg most days if they are not brooding. These school ducks each lay about 70 eggs in four months and the surplus ones are sold to specialty outlets.

Because no pesticides are used in the school’s paddies, various aquatic creatures have returned. These include rare or endangered species such as the tiny killifish, which used to be common all over Japan but is now rarely seen, as well as the giant predatory tagame water beetle — which is easily able to catch and kill a frog — and the water mantis, which has the curious habit of breathing through a snorkel tube protruding from its bum. (I don’t think that will ever be included in PADI diving programs!)

Various other water beetles, dragonfly larvae, loaches and edible pond snails are also found, not to mention the stately white egrets and the ducks’ wild mallard relatives who come to visit and feed.

When we visited, the ducks were penned as the water had been temporarily drained from the paddies. This practice, called nakabōshi in Japanese, is to strengthen the roots of the rice plants. After a while without surface water, the paddies are flooded again and the eager ducks are reintroduced to their watery play and feeding grounds.

Later, when the rice grains begin to swell and ripen, the ducks will leave them alone as long as the stems are upright, but as soon as the seed heads start to bow, the ducks have to be penned again. Otherwise they would fatten themselves on rice.

The students and teachers don’t have the heart to slaughter their ducks, and they don’t keep that many, so they either give them away to nursery and primary schools, or keep them at the school to breed the next flock of paddy ducks … Read more 


More mundane policy news up next:

Govt to help the world enter top 100 universities (Yomiuri Shimbun, August 3, 2013)

The Yomiuri ShimbunTo help 10 Japanese universities move into the world’s top 100 universities over the next 10 years, the education ministry will provide each of them with 10 billion yen a year.The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to include this outlay in its fiscal 2014 budget requests.Designating 10 public or private universities as “super global universities,” the ministry will encourage them to carry out joint research with foreign universities and invite famous scholars from abroad.By improving the global rankings of the nation’s universities, the government hopes to enhance Japan’s industrial competitiveness. Its growth strategy, compiled in June, refers to the launch of the super global university system.Universities are ranked after evaluating such factors as the teaching environment and how many times papers written by researchers are cited.One of the most popular rankings is the World University Rankings by Times Higher Education, a specialized British education journal, in which only two Japanese universities ranked in the top 100 in 2012: the University of Tokyo in 27th place and Kyoto University at 54th.


Many new colleges degrees have unusual, ambiguous names (August 2, 2013 Yomiuri Shimbun) The variety of bachelor’s degrees has dramatically widened to about 700 in the last two decades, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey on the nation’s universities.

An Education Ministry ordinance regulated the names of degrees after World War II, limiting their number to 25 to 29. Since the regulation was relaxed in 1991, however, the number has surged to more than 20 times that level.Many of the newly created names for bachelor’s degrees are unusual, such as career design at Hosei University and hospitality and tourism at Kyorin University. Education experts believe universities are trying to bring in students by using such names to emphasize their uniqueness.The Yomiuri survey was conducted on 740 universities nationwide in June, of which 648 responded.In 1956, 25 bachelor’s degrees, such as bachelor of law and bachelor of economics, were set by the ministry ordinance on establishing universities. The kinds and names of bachelor’s degrees were limited until 1991, and in that period the number rose only by four. Since 1991, however, the number has increased year by year as universities were allowed to freely name their degrees.The Yomiuri Shimbun survey found 696 degrees. Of this number, 426, or about 60 percent, exist only at their respective universities.Many of the new names use such words as joho (information), bunka (culture), fukushi (welfare) and kokusai (international), reflecting trends at the time of their creation. These include Keio University’s Faculty of Environment and Information Studies and Meiji University’s School of Global Japanese Studies.Even among universities with a long history, some have created new bachelor’s degrees this fiscal year. Doshisha University, for example, created a bachelor’s degree for “global and regional studies.”The wider variety of names indicates that universities are hard-pressed to lure students.However, some of the new names make it hard to guess what students in the undergraduate courses study. They include Rikkyo University’s Body Expression and Cinematic Arts, Kinki University’s Department of Career Management, and Fukuoka University of Education’s Intercultural Studies Course.

 A professor of a private university said, “One of our students lamented that ‘I couldn’t immediately answer’ when asked during a job interview for details about what they study.”An official at a private university said, “We can’t sufficiently explain to universities overseas [in which its students want to enroll] about the nature of their studies.”As a result, some education experts have voiced concern that such unique names of bachelor’s degrees may work against the universities’ globalization.“Officials at foreign universities in which Japanese students want to enroll may be concerned about what the students have majored in, if it’s hard to tell from the names of their bachelor’s degrees,” said Yoshitaka Hamanaka, senior researcher of the National Institute for Educational Policy Research. “It goes against the trend of globalization.”Prof. Manabu Sato of Gakushuin University said: “Universities have competed so hard to demonstrate uniqueness, the names may have become too diversified. We should consider making rules in this area.”:::This article sums up the recent spate of school crimes …


Local govts tackle daycare waiting lists (Jul 30, 2013)

Earlier announcements:

Govt to pay half tuition for 2nd child in kindergarten (Jun 2, Yomiuri Shimbun via Japan News)The education ministry plans to launch a subsidy program that would cover half of the kindergarten tuition for a second child and make preschool free for subsequent children, with no income restrictions.

About 300,000 children will receive free preschool education or have their fees partly covered under the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry program, which will require a budget of about 30 billion yen, it was learned Friday.However, the ministry is expected to face difficulties in negotiating with the Finance Ministry to secure the necessary funds.The Liberal Democratic Party pledged to make kindergarten education free during its campaign for the House of Representatives election in December as part of a child-rearing support program.Although a related measure was implemented this fiscal year, free preschool education is available for a third child and beyond only when three or more children are enrolled in a kindergarten at the same time.


One must wonder what preparations, protocols and protection details are entailed for a princess’ homestay:

Princess Kako to have homestay in Massachusetts (Japan Today, via JapanNewsJapan, Jul 24, 2013)

Princess Kako, 18, the daughter of Prince Akishino, the emperor’s second son, and Princess Kiko, will have a homestay for a month in Massachusetts next month, the government said Tuesday.

The Aug 3-Sept 4 homestay will be part of the princess’ summer vacation and she will stay at the home of a Harvard professor who is acquainted with her parents, NTV reported. She will also visit Colorado during her trip


Next up, the news on health, crime and safety:

Study: 8.1% of Japan secondary school students may be ‘Internet addicts’ (KYODO, Aug 1, 2013)

A government panel said Thursday that 8.1 percent of around 100,000 junior high and high school students polled nationwide are suspected of being “Internet addicts.”

Based on the finding, the panel under the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates that some 518,000 students in schools nationwide suffer from the addiction, which can trigger health-related problems, including sleep disruptions.

The first-ever national study on Internet addiction among junior high and high school students was conducted between last October and March.

The research team, led by Nihon University professor Takashi Oida, sent questionnaires to around 140,000 students nationwide through their schools to ask how they use the Internet. The team received about 98,000 responses.

Generally, junior high school students range in age from 13 to 15, while high school students are aged between 16 to 18.

Team member Susumu Higuchi, an authority on addictions and director of the state-run Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, warned that Internet addiction can cause health problems, including sleep disruptions, and can also have negative mental effects.

Based on international criteria to measure Internet addiction, the team asked eight questions, including whether the respondents have ever felt they need to extend the number of hours to use the Internet to gain satisfaction, whether they have ever failed to stop using the Internet, and whether they have faced difficulties maintaining good relations with family or friends because of their Internet use.

Of the respondents, the 8.1 percent who were judged “addicted users” numbered 7,952.

Among them, 23.2 percent said they had difficulties falling asleep, while 15.6 percent said they wake up during the night.

To a multiple choice question regarding what kind of Internet services they use, about 69.2 percent of the entire respondents said they look for random information and news, while 64.4 percent said they check YouTube and other video sites. Some 62.5 percent said they send and receive emails, while 33.4 percent said they check Facebook pages and Twitter. A total of 28.2 percent said they read and write blogs or message boards, while another 20.2 percent said they use online games.


Children deserve to have safe and crime-free summer vacation (July 25, 2013 The Yomiuri Shimbun)

School is out for summer, and children are free to play outdoors. Yet even at this happy time, measures must be taken to ensure no children fall victim to crimes during their summer vacation.

In late June, a man with a knife injured three first-grade primary school students in front of the gate to a ward primary school in Nerima Ward, Tokyo. The incident took place while the boys were on their way home from school. In mid-July, a fifth-grade primary school student suffered serious injuries when she was beaten by a man on the street in Ryugasaki, Ibaraki Prefecture.

National Police Agency statistics remind us of the disturbing reality that not even children under 13 are safe from criminals. Crimes against them include a significant number of serious offenses, such as sexual assaults and attacks resulting in grave injuries. Parents should immediately call the police if their children have been spoken to or followed by suspicious persons.

Adults must stay on guard

It is essential for the police to thoroughly investigate such cases, while also providing information about suspicious individuals to local organizations likely to be affected by such incidents, including school authorities and neighborhood associations.

School administrators have taken measures to better protect the safety of their students in recent years. The move was prompted by a stabbing incident that took place in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, in 2001 at a primary school affiliated with Osaka Kyoiku University. Eight students at Ikeda Primary School were killed by a knife-wielding man, and many others were injured.

Ikeda Primary School has set up a class called “anzen-ka” (safety course) in which students are encouraged to discuss what they should do if they face such situations as total strangers talking to them on the street. An increasing number of schools are adopting similar safety education programs.

A large number of primary and middle schools have installed security cameras and other protective devices around their buildings and grounds, hoping to detect any suspicious person attempting to intrude.

In other cases, parents accompany their children to and from school, while crime-prevention volunteers from neighborhood associations patrol school-commuting roads. Local communities are making progress in implementing various steps to prevent children from becoming crime victims.

However, defense of children tends to become lax during the summer vacation. Particular attention should be given to the safety of children during certain hours of the day–for instance, when they are playing outdoors, and while they are on their way to and from cram schools and or swimming courses. At such times, it is difficult for grown-ups to keep an eye on children. Given this, it is advisable to make sure children carry crime prevention buzzers with them when they go out, so they can sound an alarm if necessary.

Teach kids to be alert

Most importantly, children should be taught how to escape from crimes targeting them. They need to develop such awareness on a routine basis, when it comes to averting potential danger.

For instance, it is a good idea for both parents and children to confirm whether any hazards exist in their neighborhood, such as a vacant house into which children could be taken or an unlit street. Parents would be well advised to tell their children to stay away from such high-risk places.

In many areas around the nation, shops, private homes and other buildings have been designated as emergency shelters for children. Those in charge of such shelters agree to provide temporary protection for children who encountered danger, and report it to the police. If they have been taught where such facilities are located, children will be able to run to the shelter when they recognize danger.

Other facilities that can play a role in crime prevention include convenience stores that stay open round the clock or till late at night.

It is essential for families and local communities to join hands in making sure children can spend the summer vacation in safety.


See also Earlier news: School security high after attack on kids (Jul 2); Knife-wielding intruder arrested at Shiga school (Jul 17); Man wanted for attacks on school boys in Saitama (Jun 26)


News on bullying:

Anti-bullying bill enacted (Yomiuri Shimbun, Jun 21);  3 school bullies sent to child consultation center following suicide of victim (Jul 11, NewsonJapan); See also: Earlier news:   4 junior high students arrested for hitting their classmate with mop (Jun 26, Japan Today)

HYOGO — Four junior high school students have been arrested for bullying a classmate by hitting him with a mop and kicking him, police said Tuesday.

The incident took place on June 4 at the school in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture, NTV reported Tuesday. One of the teachers at the school found the 14-year-old boy crying and the school reported the bullying to police. Three of the four boys have admitted bullying the boy since last year, while fourth denies the charge, police said. One of the bullies said the victim never complained about it before.

Meanwhile, the school said that in May, it had warned one of the bullies after a teacher saw him kick the boy in the stomach, NTV reported.


A look at the bloggable things being blogged about education in Japan (apart from what we are blogging about):

10 surprising things about parenting in Japan

A Cup of Jo features photographer Yoko Inoue, who moved from Brooklyn to the Japanese countryside with her husband and son… and the 10 things that have surprised her about being a mom in Japan..

Other cool stuff during a hot summer:

Out of ideas for summer jiyukenkyu projects? Yesterday’s local terrestrial channels had offerings suggesting free jiyukenkyu projects for kids, from having kids go out with a digital camera and using their observation skills to cover a specific theme, such as transportation vehicles, eg fire-engines or ambulances, and taking to the planetariums or free zoos (did you know there are 160 of these free zoos around the nation?)

Ask your child to try the Bennesse help page:.; Jiyukenkyu and Kid’s Door jiyukenkyu page (in Japanese) and see our previous page: About Jiyu kenkyu – the school summer project 

Firms propose summer projects for kids (Aug 2, 2013 The Yomiuri Shimbun) 

Massive summer assignments often put a burden on children during their summer vacation. Among the work given out, independent research is one of the most challenging, yet fun, required projects.

To promote their brands, several food makers have launched webpages encouraging children to conduct their research with familiar items. The sites include instructions on a number of experiments and arts and crafts projects, which are easier for primary school students, using food items and empty containers. It is hoped such sites will be useful in helping children choose a research theme.

Mizkan Group has launched “Mr. Smith’s summer vacation independent research” using their vinegar products. By carrying out the experiments posted on the website, such as dissolving an eggshell by soaking it in vinegar, children learn about chemistry. (www. html?lid-01)

Suntory Holdings Ltd. set up a page on its website dedicated to experiments on the “water education” to teach children the importance of environmental protection. The page outlines several experiments based on water’s properties and attributes. It also shows facts such as the amount of water an average household uses in a day. (

Megmilk Snow Brand Co.’s educational site “Tanoshii Kosaku” (Fun crafts) includes instructions on making 84 kinds of crafts such as pen cases and fans using its packaging. Each project is assigned a level of difficulty through a star rating system so children can choose an appropriate challenge. (

The Salt Industry Center of Japan has a page detailing 16 experiments related to salt. It shows how to hoist an ice block with salt and extract salt from sea water, among other novel activities. (


Finally, not so cool news … but do Watch out for the poisonous rove beetle, called Yakedomushi … that could give you nasty boils and blisters… as they flourish and propagate during heavy rains and humid weather…

Yakedomushi / Paedarus fuscipes

Yakedomushi / Paedarus fuscipes

And that’s all folks for now…till the next blog post!

Digitally yours.

Aileen Kawagoe

We trotted out the family to see the new Hayao Miyazaki-Ghibili movie this past weekend with the kids, and weren’t disappointed.

The movie has been kept unusually tightly under wraps, the promotion and publicity surprisingly low-key, and the teasers devoid of much action, even though the movie was filled with amazing scenes …

Well, now we know why, the Studio promoters must have been worried that the biopic story of the invention of the iconic Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane and the inventor Jiro Horikoshi would become a hot potato of controversy, given that it is the symbol of Japanese imperialism.

The movie, however, focused squarely, in the spirit and tradition of Miyazaki, on the development and fleshing out of the key characters …  And the anime film has all the great hallmark stamps of the Miyazaki movie, masterful storytelling, and it was a story of young Jiro’s coming of age, his romance and love story with a girl from the other side of the tracks, beginning with the events of Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, following Jiro’s entry to the working world, and through to the days of rumours, rumblings of and the readying for WWII.

Jiro is a character that many kids will like or relate to, a boy forever with his head in the clouds literally, fixated on perfecting or improving his paper airplanes (incredibly like my son) and his later utter absorption and passion for his art/aviation engineering science.  It is obvious that Miyazaki made this movie with a determination to reach and inspire the Japanese youths of today … to reach for the sky, follow their dreams in the face of adversity, poverty, disaster and against all the odds. The movie’s title  (based on a French quote by Paul Valery) itself gives the imagery of rising on wings of an eagle, and of seizing the day… and living to the fullest.

On the art of the movie: It is everything we love of all the greatest Ghibili hits, reminding me of scenic beauty of Laputa a little, with its very European feel to it, and the many scenes set in the posh Karuizawa mountain resort, a favorite of the Japanese Royals and elites. The movie, however, resembles more the Graveyard of the Fireflies with some of its pathos, than the recent series of fantasy-related high-octane action anime that Ghibili has turned out.

Some reservations: The bittersweet romance, great success combined with personal loss of Jiro is an aspect of the tale, as well as the dark war history of imperialism, does, however, differentiate this movie from most of the other Ghibili movies. It feels a little more grownup and lacking in childish themes, — which makes me think that the movie may be a bit slow in parts for the very young, and perhaps more suitable for kids from grade 5 or 6 onwards. The complex animation and exquisite detailed art of the earthquake and the many failed test pilot scenes (are reminiscent of all the great inventor stories like the Wright Brothers) …will however, add humour, delight the audience and perhaps be enough to keep the attention of the younger ones.

The movie is in itself fairly educational, imparting to kids a fair bit of information about the Zerofighter, life in Japan before the war, and best of all, will probably inspire considerable summer reading especially in boys. The Zero, so named because of its carrier-based Type O designation, had retractable landing gear and with external drop tanks had a range of 1,929 miles. It exceeded the Japanese Imperial Navy’s specifications with a maximum speed of 331 mph and a ceiling of 33,000 feet. The keys to its superiority were speed, range and maneuverability (see Science, How Stuff Works.  Read more about The impact of the A6M Zero Fighter aircraft in WWII ).

All in all, a must-watch life-affirming movie inspite of the darker connected backdrop of war destruction and militarism. Kudos to Hayao Miyazaki for trying to help Japanese youth move past their dark demons of war history.

If you have yet to see it, be sure to bring your hanky,

Aileen Kawagoe

P.S. Although the mainstream consensus that the zerofighter plane was a model superior to other fighterplanes of the WWII (notwithstanding its lacking ruggedness and its vulnerability to gunfire), for detractors to this view, see Myth of the Zerofighter


Follow up the movie by reading the following resources:

Eagles of Mitsubishi: The Story of the Zero Fighter by Jiro Horikoshi (Author), Shojiro Shindo (Author), Harold N. Wanteiz


Articles about the movie “The Wind Rises”:

The Wind Rises tops Monsters U opening in Japan

Hayao Miyazaki Anime ‘The Wind Rises’ Bows in Japan to $9.6 Million

Impressions from Ghibili’s “The Wind Rises” (Rocket News)

Hayao Mizaki’s new film will tell the story of the Zerofighter’s designer

The Summerbreak has just begun, and my daughter has a punishing schedule of badminton club practices as well as tournaments ahead, which also means lots of support and preparation on the part of parents like myself, with bento lunches and two to three water flasks each day to be filled. Then there are homework drillsheets, readings, etc. for the kids to stay on top of (my job the last-minute procrastinators in the family don’t get to leave it all to the stroke of midnight). My son has colleges to visit, and to knuckle down to tackle his entrance exam prep in the “exam hell” year beginning about now. In Secondary and High School, summerbreaks are usually a time when children also get special remedial help from juku cram schools, or intensive revisionwork and special exam prep. towards school or college entrance exams. Families coordinate with teachers over when is the best time to take time off to travel back to their hometowns or overseas, or to go for summer camps or to take family time off.  The upside, is that academics-wise, parental support is expected as a matter of course, and the student work sheets duly prepared by the teachers are all very well-laid out, efficiently scheduled and organized. Year-upon-year, pretty much the same method of dispensing work is carried on, there are few surprises and in the typical Japanese spirit, a traditional “way” and standard practice of dispensing revision or remedial self-study work is established. We (and the students) know when to start on their drill sheets, their book reports or essays or projects, when to return to school to water the plants or feed the animals (where pets are kept), and of course, when to attend their scheduled club activities or sports practices and tournaments.  The downside? From upper school onwards, we have seldom been able to book our flights early, due to the late releases of the summer schedule and calendar only just before the summerbreak.

There is no talk at Japanese school PTAs or parent-meet-the-teacher sessions about “summer learning loss”, because scheduled homework drills, jiyukenkyu summer projects, book or  travel reports and essays have been the standard or universal practice, thanks to the uniform national curriculum.  There are tick-off checksheets or charts for parents, so that the more lackadaisical students don’t get away by using their homework sheets as kitty litter, or that our little procrastinators don’t get caught out leaving it all to the stroke of midnight. Some teachers also have a week or two of remedial programs where they see fit to conduct them.  Teachers are not overbearing but it is just expected that we would all comply and get it done without complaining. Nike’s “Just Do It” motto must have been invented in the Japanese schooling system!

In articles like “Summer Learning”, Japan is cited as a case where students are given loads of homework to do during the break, I guess it is all relative … if you come from a system where you’ve never had to a jot of work, well, then what the Japanese are given will look like a lot of work to you. However, in our experience, the kids never have to do more than 5 minutes a day of drillsheets at primary level, other work typically involve writing one book report or an investigative essay into a country, or travel report, or usually a project of one’s choice. And this jiyukenkyu summer project is usually something that most kids look forward to, a chance for a creativity at an art-and-craft project or imaginative writing, to investigate some science topic deeper, or to write about and explore one area of interest and passion.  All very manageable, and it teaches kids how to manage their free time and meet the submission deadline.  Intermediate and high school kids have heavier schedules and concerns, being saddled with entrance exam revisionwork and prep.

Contrast the above summer practices, with the summertalk elsewhere… on either sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it seems that stemming “Summer Learning Loss” and more recently, devising instructional programs and padding the school calendar in the concept of YRE – Year Round Education appear to be the key concerns of educators’ tongues and seen a lot in the press.


Below, we set out some readings and resources pertaining to Summer Learning Loss and the YRE concept:

The term Year Round Education or YRE, and its origins is explained in “The Role of Calendar Innovation in Improving Learning in Schools”:

Year Round Education (YRE) had its origins in the USA, where it became obvious that, in an age of technology and increasing urbanisation, the old agrarian calendar was entirely outmoded. Now, alternative calendars affect the lives of two million school students there, and are operating in about 3,000 schools internationally in the USA, Canada and the Pacific islands.
YRE is predicated on the belief that learning is a continuous process and that the traditional three-term year is disruptive and provides for discontinuous learning. The effects of interruptions caused by over-long vacations result in ‘summer learning loss’, a phenomenon which will be examined in more detail below.
Although English schools face many problems that are also common in the USA, the alternative calendar movement has had little effect here.
Proposals for a four-term year foundered a decade or two ago because of teacher resistance, so that only in the city technology colleges (CTCs) have we seen a positive attempt to change the nature of the school year. Interestingly, calendar innovation in Britain is being led by secondary schools (although the situation looks set to change) … Read on here.

“A recently released survey from the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) confirms that teachers spend a significant amount of time re-teaching material due to summer learning loss. The survey, which was based on answers from 500 teachers, found that 66 percent teachers have to spend three to four weeks re-teaching students course material at the beginning of the year, while 24 percent of teachers spend at least five to six weeks re-teaching material from the previous school year.

The numbers surrounding summer learning loss may be especially dire for low-income students. A Johns Hopkins study of Baltimore Public Schools notes that low-income youths “lose more than two months in reading achievement” over summer vacation, while their middle-class counterparts make small gains in reading achievement. Regardless of income level, most students lose “two months of grade-level equivalency” in math skills every summer.

In addition, the NSLA’s website states the following: “Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.”

A significant majority of the teachers surveyed by the NSLA agreed that such summer learning loss could be ameliorated if students participated in a summer learning program.

Gary Huggins, the CEO of the NSLA, told The Huffington Post that he recommends students participate in programs that have “enrichment activities with real academic rigor, connected in a line with what districts are trying to accomplish.”

“We think summer is a great break from school but not a great break from learning,” Huggins added.”  Read the rest of the article here

ERIC/EECE Digest Archive. Summer Learning Loss: The Problem and Some Solutions

Concerns Raised by the Long Summer Vacation In 1993, the National Education Commission on Time and Learning (NECTL, 1993) urged school districts to develop school calendars that acknowledged differences in student learning and major changes taking place in American society. The report reflected a growing concern about school calendar issues, especially for students at risk for academic failure.

Educators and parents often voice three concerns about the possible negative impact of summer vacation on student learning. One concern is that children learn best when instruction is continuous. The long summer vacation breaks the rhythm of instruction, leads to forgetting, and requires a significant amount of review of material when students return to school in the fall. Also, the long summer break can have a greater negative effect on the learning of children with special educational needs. For example, children who speak a language at home other than English may have their English language skills set back by an extended period without practice, although there currently is little evidence related to this issue. Read more

Primer on Summer Learning Loss (RIF resource)

Five ways to keep your kids learning all summer long

Five ways to keep learning all summer long


Keep Kids’ Skills Sharp with Summer Learning Activities


Preventing summer learning loss – Parenting Science


JUL 3, 2013 Japan Times

In order to help children’s recovery from the traumatic events of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRC) continues to focus on their needs with projects to take children from the three worst-affected prefectures to the relaxing surroundings of Hokkaido.

This summer camp is a part of the JRC reconstruction and recovery program. A four-day event conducted in a series of sessions from July 22 to Aug. 18 (nine sessions in total) in Rusutsu Resort in Hokkaido, the camp gives children the chance to play outside in beautiful natural surroundings and learn skills such as first aid, team building and leadership. Throughout this summer camp, psychologists and nurses will accompany the children 24 hours a day as support staff.

Children will conduct several activities, including as a critical thinking program about helping the visually impaired and about international cultures, a wheelchair experience, rafting, mountain biking and horse riding.

This camp aims not only to ease the stress of children who are still facing a challenging living environment, but also to help them expand their viewpoints through special programs on subjects such as international cultures, environmental problems and nutrition.

For more information, visit .

Buzzing our readers … on the two exhibitions to check out with your children …

Yuka a female woolly mammoth excavated in almost perfect condition in Siberia 2010, is unveiled to the media after its arrival at Pacifico Yokohama convention center in Nishi Ward, Yokohama. Photo credits: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Yuka a female woolly mammoth excavated in almost perfect condition in Siberia 2010, is unveiled to the media after its arrival at Pacifico Yokohama convention center in Nishi Ward, Yokohama. Photo credits: The Yomiuri Shimbun

A 39,000-year-old frozen woolly mammoth will be exhibited for the first time in the world.

A 39,000-year-old frozen woolly mammoth arrived in Yokohama from Russia to be exhibited for the first time. The frozen female mammoth named Yuka was found in the Saha Republic. She is believed to have died at the age of 10 years old.

The mammoth was brought to Japan on Tuesday by ferry, and then officials put it in a specialized case that keeps the temperature below -10. …

A representative of the exhibition Norihisa Inuzuka said the frozen woolly mammoth, with its whole skin intact, is very valuable. He said it is the world’s first woolly mammoth to be shown in almost perfect condition. The exhibition will run through September 16.  Source: abclocal news, July 10, 2013

The Frozen Woolly Mammoth Yuka

New findings about woolly mammoths, including a full-size, genuine, mammoth in a freezer display case.
July 13-September 16, ¥900-2,200. and ticketing information

Venue information:

Address: 1-1-1 Minato Mirai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama
Address (日本語): 神奈川県横浜市西区みなとみらい1丁目1−1
Nearest Station: Minatomirai.

An archaeological exhibition, touring Japan and now making a stop in Tokyo, is offering a breathtaking glimpse into the lifestyles and thoughts of people who inhabited the Japanese archipelago from prehistoric through medieval times.

Titled “Hakkutsu Sareta Nihon Retto 2013” (The excavated Japanese islands 2013), the exhibit is made up of 510 artifacts from 32 archaeological sites across Japan. The Agency for Cultural Affairs is one of the organizers, and The Asahi Shimbun Co. is among its sponsors.

Kofun Period warrior artefacts

These “haniwa” clay figurines and sculptures, on exhibit at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, were excavated by the Imperial Household Agency. The figurine shaped like a human head, foreground, is from the Daisen burial mound in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. (Kazuaki Owaki)

The exhibition includes “magatama” jade beads, bronze mirrors from tumulus mounds, phallic stone clubs, ancient swords, “haniwa” terracotta figurines and sculptures .. and new artefacts unearthed after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

One particular exhibit of note includes 13 select “haniwa” (terracotta figurines and sculptures) that were unearthed from sites administered by the Imperial Household Agency. The sites include those the agency believes to be tombs of emperors and other imperial ancestors.

This "haniwa" clay sculpture, representing a house surrounded by walls, was unearthed from the Gobyoyama burial mound in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. (Provided by the Imperial Household Agency)

“Never before have such a large number of haniwa toured Japan at one time,” said an official at the agency’s Mausolea and Tombs Division … Read more about the exhibition here.

Looking for fresh travel ideas for this summer? Take a sleeper train like the Seven Stars Sleeper ななつ星in九州 Nanatsuboshi (pictured below)to a new destination in Japan …

Illustration by Eiji Mitooka + Don Design Associates Photo credits: Kyushu Rail Company

Illustration by Eiji Mitooka + Don Design Associates Photo credits: Kyushu Rail Company

Dear readers,
In this issue of our EDU WATCH below, you’ll find the latest news briefs and roundup of what’s been going on in the educational scene here in Japan:
Anti-bullying bill enacted (Kyodo — Jun 21 via
The Diet enacted a bill Friday to prevent increasingly serious bullying cases at elementary to high schools.
The move came in the face of a series of bullying cases, including a high-profile one in which a junior high school student killed himself in October 2011 in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, after being severely bullied.

Under the newly enacted law, bullying that causes serious physical and mental damage to victimized children or forces them to be absent for long periods of time is defined as constituting a “serious situation.” Watch the Youtube FNN broadcast (in Japanese only). Read also the related:   3 school bullies sent to child consultation center following suicide of victim

Todai confirms it will use quarter system (Yomiuri, June 21, 2013)University of Tokyo President Junichi Hamada has announced the institution will introduce a quarter system by the end of the 2015 academic year by forgoing its plans to transition to autumn enrollment for the time being.The announcement was made Wednesday at a general meeting of the Japan Association of National Universities in Tokyo.“Our broad aim to switch to autumn enrollment remains unchanged,” Hamada said at a post-meeting press conference.“However, we’ve concluded that it would be unreasonable to simply change the timing of enrollment while some aspects of society remain unchanged, especially in regard to when certification exams are administered,” the president added.He cited national qualification exams for medical practitioners, among other tests, which coincide with the end of the current academic year system in March.Hamada proposed switching to autumn enrollment two years ago, and the university set up an in-house panel in April last year to begin discussions on how to introduce the new system.The university also convened a conference with 11 other institutions that supported the idea, such as Kyoto University, Tokyo Institute of Technology and Keio University. However, the idea failed to catch on with other institutions and the central government did not move to review the period in which national qualification exams are administered.  Read more … and also the related article University of Tokyo to introduce quarter system and the article Universities turning-to-quarter-system-What’s the difference between semester and quarter systems?Japan’s ‘science women’ seek an identity (NY Times, Jun 17 via to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, women accounted for 14 percent of the science and engineering students at Japanese universities, even though they represented 43 percent of college students over all, excluding medical and agricultural schools. In the humanities, they make up 66 percent. (New York Times )

Two out of three departments and five out of nine courses related to nuclear energy at major universities and graduate schools were under-enrolled this academic year, according to a survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Observers point to a lack of clarity in government nuclear energy policy and the harm done to the field’s image by the disaster in Fukushima Prefecture as behind the lack of students.

Students have shunned nuclear-related subjects over uncertainty the field will lead to a bright future.

A lack of well-trained workers could adversely effect the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, which has officials involved in nuclear energy deeply concerned.

There are currently three undergraduate and nine master’s degree courses with words such as “nuclear” or “atomic” in their names. Past enrollment in these courses was surveyed by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, while The Yomiuri Shimbun asked about enrollment this academic year.

Two undergraduate and five master’s courses at seven universities and graduate schools, including Fukui University of Technology, Tokai University, Tokyo Institute of Technology and Kyoto University, were underenrolled as of the end of April.

The figure given by Waseda University excludes students who enroll in September.

Courses at the other universities and graduate schools, including the University of Tokyo, were fully enrolled.

In the 2011 academic year, which began just after the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, only two graduate courses were under-enrolled.

In fiscal 2012, this number rose to six undergraduate and master’s courses, with Tokyo Institute of Technology’s course being underenrolled two years in a row. …

“The chronic suspension of nuclear power plants and the uncertain future of the nuclear industry has affected both students and companies,” a JAIF official said.

Industry needs new workers

Fewer students studying nuclear technology will make it more difficult for related industries to secure human resources and slow down technological development.

Decommissioning the damaged reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which is expected to take 30-40 years, is a nationwide task that must be completed regardless of the government’s nuclear policy.

Thus worker shortages and reduced technological capabilities in the field could adversely affect reconstruction efforts in Fukushima Prefecture.

Decommissioning is also the inevitable fate of the nation’s other nuclear reactors, but technology for this task is still being developed. … Read more

The Yomiuri Shimbun Former Toyosato Primary School

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Toyosato Primary School

School not out yet for some historic bldgs (Yomiuri — Jun 11, 2013) 
A growing number of historic school buildings that were facing the wrecking ball have gained a reprieve–and been strengthened against earthquakes–thanks to former students and groups who want the structures saved.

An alumni association of Aichi prefectural Zuiryo High School in Mizuho Ward, Nagoya, requested last month that a building at the school be preserved. The association said the building, a former school hall called Kankido that was built in 1924, was a symbol of the school for about 30,000 alumni.The ferroconcrete, roof-tiled building is the oldest such existing hall in Nagoya and is currently used as a dining hall for the school’s part-time students.An examination by the prefectural board of education found that the hall’s quake-resistance was extremely low. But Shigenori Mori, head of the secretariat of the alumni association, said saving the building would help pass on the school’s traditions.

“If an old building like this is carefully preserved and students can feel close to its traditions, it will have welcome educational effects on students at the school,” Mori said.

Tetsuo Seguchi, a professor emeritus of modern architectural history at Nagoya City University, said the building has some special characteristics.

“It has many features particular to the period it was built in,” Seguchi said. “For example, the pillars are outside the building to maximize space inside to be used as a hall.”

But whether the building remains standing could depend on money.

“If constructing a new building is cheaper than repairing the hall, we’ll have to demolish the hall,” an official of the prefectural board of education said.

The board decided to check whether the hall can be made more quake-resistant.

In recent years, there has been a remarkable number of movements to preserve old buildings by improving their ability to withstand strong earthquakes.  … Read the rest here.

Pre-modern Japan mission artifacts to be added to UNESCO registryA portrait of Hasekura Tsunenaga, one of the materials related to the Keicho-era Mission to Europe (Provided by Sendai City Museum)

Left: The Midokanpakuki diary written by Fujiwara no Michinaga in the Heian Period (794-1185) (Provided by Yomei Bunko)
Right: A portrait of Hasekura Tsunenaga, one of the materials related to the Keicho-era Mission to Europe (Sendai City Museum)

Pre-modern Japan mission artifacts to be added to UNESCO registry (Japan Daily Press, June 19, 2013[ via Global Post ] )

Two sets of materials – a collection from a pre-modern Japan mission to Spain and the world’s oldest autographic diary – have been selected to be added to the UNESCO Memory of the World registry. According to the Ministry of Education, the two assets were chosen from among 80 sets of documents and materials that were submitted for inclusion in the registry.

The first set of materials were from the Keicho Mission commissioned by Sendai feudal lord Date Masamune to go to the Vatican and Spain in 1613 to negotiate trade with Spanish possessions in Mexico. They brought back with them a certificate as well as portraits, according to records from delegation leader Hasekura Tsunenaga. The materials were recommended jointly by the Japanese and Spanish governments. The “Midokanpakuki” diary was written by Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027), who was a powerful regent in Japan during medieval times. The scrolls were preserved by Yomei Bunko, a library in Kyoto city. Both sets of assets are designated national treasures in Japan.

The UNESCO registry is for preserving rare or ancient records and documents from different countries and societies around the world. In their meeting on Tuesday in Gwangju, South Korea, sources told the ministry that the UNESCO International Advisory Committee proposed that the two be included for inscription and that the final authority for the selection was by UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. Another Japanese asset was included in the registry in 2011 – the collection of annotated coal mine paintings and diaries of Japanese artist Sakubei Yamamoto (1892-1984).

Survey: Half of students say working abroad ‘impossible’ (Yomiuri — Jun 09 via

At least half of Japanese high school and university students have given up on becoming globally active by working overseas, according to a survey that underlines the inward-looking mind-set of many young people here.
Fifty percent of high school students and 55 percent of university students said they felt “it’s too late for me to become a globally active person even if I start receiving education now for dealing with a globalizing world.” Twenty-four percent of parents have given up on their children engaging in work activities overseas.
According to the online survey, 30 percent of university students and 40 percent of high school students want to become an active person in a global society. …
Indicating that many Japanese studnets have an introspective mind-set and lack confidence in their linguistic ability, the results come at a time when the government and other entities want to develop more hmuan resources who can play an active role in international society.
According to the survey, the main reasons students did not want to work for companies that are expanding their business overseas were “I fell uneasy about communicating with foreigners” and “I might not be able to stay in Japan.”


NEET ratio hits record high in 2012

(Jiji Press, June 19, 2013)

The percentage of the nation’s young people not in education, employment or training, or NEETs, hit a record high in 2012, a government report said Tuesday.

According to the 2012 white paper on children and youngsters, adopted by the Cabinet the same day, NEETs accounted for 2.3 percent of people aged between 15 and 35, the highest figure since comparable data became available in 1995. Year on year, the Neet ratio rose 0.1 point.

“There should be measures to help young people demonstrate their abilities in society,” said the Cabinet Office, which compiled the annual report.

Reflecting an improvement in the overall employment situation, the jobless rate for young people has been on a downtrend. But the white paper found that among those aged 25 to 34, the proportion of nonregular workers to full-time employees moderately increased to 26.5 percent, rewriting an all-time high for the second consecutive year.

Earlier news: Japan adopts basic plan for educational promotion (Jiji Press via  – Jun 14, 2013)
The cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday adopted a basic plan to promote education in the country over the next five years.
The basic plan calls for deciding the amount of public spending for educational institutions while taking into account spending levels in other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
English language education is expected to change significantly at primary schools as the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will soon launch a study team tasked with discussing reforms.


Study team eyed for English education (Yomiuri — Jun 02 via

Education minister Hakubun Shimomura announced the launch of the team Friday after a regular Cabinet meeting. The group will study a set of proposals presented by the Education Rebuilding Implementation Council.The council recently presented the proposals to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They emphasize nurturing human resources who can better compete globally, including a recommendation to make English an official subject at primary schools.

Among other things, the ministry’s study team will discuss the possibility of actively utilizing scores from TOEFL and other English proficiency tests as a qualifying measure for entering and graduating from universities, to encourage students to become more communicative in English.

Events for the family:


Harry Potter: The Exhibition

When: June 22 – Sept 16

Place: Mori Arts Center Gallery, Roppongi Hills, TOKYO

Visitors to the Harry Potter Exhibition can experience everything they wanted to know about the world of the famous boy wizard, his friends and enemies. Props, costumes and accessories are displayed in settings from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry including the Gryffindor common room, Hagrid’s hut and the Great Hall.

The exhibition has been traveling the world since 2009 and now comes to Japan where the books and movies were enormously popular. Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe one said that more than half his worldwide fan mail comes from Japan.

The exhibition is open daily from June 22 until Sept 16 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (last entry 9 p.m.).

Tickets are 2,300 yen in advance for adults (2,500 yen regular), 1,800 yen for university students (2,000 yen regular), 1,300 yen for junior high and high school students (1,500 yen regular) and 800 yen for 4-year-olds to primary school students (1,000 yen regular).  (Source of information, Japan Today)

Numerous firefly-viewing opportunities in Aichi

The light of fireflies can be enjoyed in various sites in Aichi Prefecture this month.

Those who are interested should visit Denpark in Anjo (,) 0566-92-7111, Jokoji Hotarunosato in Seto (,) 0561-48-0489, Hirahara Genjibotarunosato in Nishio (,2252,94,430,html,) 090-7616-8186, and Shimodaira area in Toyota (, 0565-63-2811.

Also, with the summer holls a-looming, here’s an idea for travel, take a sleeper-cum-cruiser train somewhere and go-exploring with the kids. We’ve done it before, taking the Cassiopeia all the way to Hokkaido, it can be a magical experience for the kids and even though you get a sleeper, you can be assured the kids will be too excited to do anything but look out the window. It’s a great way to travel, especially if you got wee little ones …  Read this article “Luxury sleeper trains will tour Japan in grand style” for more suggestions like riding the Seven Stars in Kyushu (ななつ星in九州 Nanatsuboshi in Kyūshu.  

Health and safety issues:

Syracuse, N.Y. — Eyeball licking, a teen fad that started in Japan, can cause blindness, “pink eye” and other health problems, health experts are warning.

News of the trend among Japanese teens called oculolinctus, also known as “eyeball licking” or “worming,” went viral last week after the Chinese news site Shanghaiist reported on it.

“This is a dangerous practice which has the potential to spread a number of bacteria that reside in the mouth to the eye resulting in bacterial infections such as conjunctivitis (pink eye) to styes as well as abscesses involving the lids and eye socket,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told

The Huffington Post interviewed ophthalmologists who warned of potential health risks like blindness, corneal abrasions and eye chlamydia.

Some reports say the fad was sparked by a Japanese music video from the band Born, which features an eyeball licking scene.

Japanese blog Naver Matome interviewed one concerned teacher who said that he ran into two sixth grade students licking each others’ eyeballs in an equipment room. After he confronted them, they admitted it was popular in their class. His independent survey of students confirmed his fears: One-third of the children admitted to eyeball licking.

The Japanese teacher also noted with growing concern that he saw up to 10 students at a time wearing eye patches, which he realized were hiding eye ailments. Read more here

Schools to make allergy manuals/ Meal accidents prompt clearer procedures for teachers, staff  (Yomiuri — Jun 09, 2013 via

Following the death of a primary school student from food allergies after eating school lunch, the education ministry has decided to ask schools and kindergartens nationwide that are offering lunch to individually compile manuals to address children’s allergies.

The measure will cover about 40,000 primary and middle schools as well as kindergarten, regardless of whether they are run by the state, local governments or private entities, according to sources.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to first conduct a survey targeting all schoolchildren on their allergies, starting this summer. The ministry will then ask each school to establish a system to check children for allergy-related conditions and stipulate steps for administering an epinephrine injection when necessary to treat children for their acute allergic reactions, with the aim of preventing any serious accidents.

A Japanese Environment Ministry survey has revealed that almost all of the designated municipalities in eastern Japan had completed decontamination of schools by the end of March. The decontamination was conducted using government money.
The survey investigated 58 municipalities in eastern Japan. The survey did not include municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture.

(NHK Watch this on


Groundwater contaminated with highly radioactive substances is detected from a monitoring well just 27 meters from the seashore within the compound of the crippled Fukushima

Testing revealed strontium-90 readings of 1,000 becquerels per liter, 33 times more than the legal limit, as well as tritium readings of 500,000 becquerels per liter, 8.3 times the limit.

Tepco said it believes the radioactive groundwater has yet to reach the ocean, as radiation readings in seawater samples from near the shore have not shown significant shifts.

Tepco first found a spike in the readings of radioactive strontium-90 and tritium on May 24. The readings in the previous study in December was 8.6 becquerels per liter and 29,000 becquerels per liter, respectively, both well below the legal limits.

Tepco will soon begin building a bank protection along the shore that will be strengthened with waterproof liquid glass in an effort to prevent the contaminated groundwater from reaching the sea.

The utility plans to start construction by the end of this month and finish the project in about 90 days, a Tepco spokesman told reporters at the firm’s Tokyo head office.

If introduced into the food chain, radioactive strontium-90, with a half-life of 28.8 years, can remain in the human body for long periods and eventually cause cancer. Tritium is discharged from the body much quicker and is believed to pose less of a threat in general, but could still pose risks to human health. …

 (Jiji Press, June 12)–

Jiji PressFUKUSHIMA (Jiji Press)–More than 60 percent of people affected by the March 2011 nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture fear the impact of radiation exposure could be passed on to their children, a survey showed.

This contradicts findings six years ago that showed no cases of concern that radiation exposure impact could be passed to children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The latest survey by the Fukushima prefectural government covered about 180,000 people aged 16 or older who were near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the incident. The prefecture collected about 73,000 valid responses between January and October last year. Asked about the risk of radiation exposure having an impact on the health of offspring, 34.9 percent of respondents said it is “extremely high” and 25.3 percent said “high.” The survey revealed that 39.8 percent of respondents said such risk is “low” or “extremely low.”

In 2007, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima said that its studies on children of atomic bomb survivors found no evidence of an increase in health problems arising from parents’ exposure to radiation.

That’s all folks … for now … have a good weekend.

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe

Source: Paid Parental Leave vs. The World (Infographic), Feb 4, 2013, Huffington Post

What does the word “ikumen” mean?

The word “Iku-men” is a play on the Japanese word for child-rearing, “iku-ji

Stay-at-home fathers in Japan.
(Iku-ji [child-rearing] + Men.)

It initially referred to a relatively new and minority group of prominent stay-home dads who put their career on hold to look after their children, but has now taken a broader meaning to include fathers who are actively engaged or involved in rearing their children.

“A recently coined term that refers to men who actively participate in raising their children, it is a play on words taken from ikuji, Japanese for “child-raising” and “men.” This is partly due to the growing attention given to fathers’ involvement in child-raising and housework while Japanese society has been coping with the trend toward fewer children and increasing dual-income households.” — Wishing to be Ikumen, Benesse

The ikumen parenting phenomenon is gathering momentum…with more and more fathers have been reported taking an active role in childcare. The numbers of fathers taking time off work to take care of their children or all of their allowable leave, while on the increase, remain relatively low, apparently out of job security reasons in the difficult economic climate, or due to the fact that the paternity leave benefit is less generous relative to other countries (see pie chart above) elsewhere given that 98 days’ leave with only 60% pay is allowed (you need more money not less when raising and feeding an extra mouth).

In 2010, the BBC reported that just one in a hundred Japanese fathers take paternity leave, despite laws that allow either parent to take up to one year off.  However, a comparative paper by researchers (Hideki Nakazato and Junko Nishimura (Apr 2012) showed that 55.6 per cent, of male workers at workplaces that provided paternity leave and whose partners gave birth from 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008 took leave. This current picture, if true, is not too disimilar from UK’s, see The politics of paternity leave (BBC) where 45% of new fathers said they did not take paternity leave; Of those, 88% said they would have liked to have done so, and 49% said they could not afford it. However, Japan — hard times for working mothers reported that only 2.63% of Japanese men actually took their paternity leave, according to the Health and Welfare ministry. The reasons given by Japanese fathers for not taking their paternity leave (see Japan’s parental leave(Association for Childhood Educational International):

“Fathers feel conflicted about the child care/work issue; they want to contribute, but feel strongly that they are expected to make a show of devotion to work, especially if they are considered the full-time “breadwinner.” …

Fathers we interviewed say the contradiction comes not so much from a true desire to be at work but rather from the pressure to be a “Japanese workaholic.” …In addition, most contemporary fathers expressed great enjoyment being in the physical presence of their children and family. One father summed it up succinctly: “We are not like our fathers–I never saw my father in the house. We WANT to be involved, but our work situations make it difficult. We can’t just leave when we want to and expect everyone to understand.” 

Fathers expressed anxiety that their individual desires are not legitimate, especially in the current economic downturn, when everyone has to make a show of working hard (Yamato, 2008). Despite not living their ideal lives, they nevertheless sacrifice their personal feelings to larger obligations…taking leave for a long period of time threatened to put them “out of touch” with developments at work. They might run the risk of being considered irresponsible or incompetent, or just plain selfish. For fathers in smaller companies (where the majority of Japanese people work), this same fear also was compounded by the psychological pressure of knowing that taking time off would put an extra burden on their co-workers. In Japan, where a company cannot legally fire an employee, perceptions of incompetence, irresponsibility, or any array of behaviors deemed “selfish” can be used to “convince” the employee to volunteer his/her resignation.”

The NPO Ikumen Club, was formed in December 2006 with web resources featuring childcare symposiums and seminars, newsletters, forums, contests, events for fathers and children to participate together. The website also offers advice on parenting and focuses on getting men to simply read a story to their children …and features book resources and tips on storytelling. And since October 2011, “Ikumen of the Year” awards are given out annually for prominent celebrities and personalities who are actively involved in child-rearing. Comedian Ryo Tamura, was interviewed in Sankei News about his ikumen parenting of his two young sons.

To boost the plummeting birth rate, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare launched the “Ikumen Project” a campaign in June 2010 and revised the Childcare and Family-care Leave Law. Under the new revised law fathers are allowed to take paternity leave for the second child and incorporates a “dad and mum childcare leave plus system”. It also allows employees with children under three years old to work shorter hours. Sumitomo Corp and NTT Data Corp are at the forefront of companies that support the Ikumen Project, and that promote ikumen parenting among their male employees. The welfare ministry has even put up a website asking men to declare themselves as ikumen ( Lectures are given by various cities on ikumen parenting. An Ikumen song has even been composed for the ikumen of Kariya city in Aichi prefecture.

Hironobu Narisawa (mayor of Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward), Seiji Yanagida (mayor of Saku, Nagano Prefecture), Hidehiko Yuzaki (governor of Hiroshima) and Masato Yamada (deputy mayor of Yokohama) and other politicians have become role models in taking paternity leave after the birth of their children.

A large number of shows and documentaries feature Scandanavian, and particularly, Finnish ikumen lifestyles (see Finnish ‘ikumen’ dazzles Japan) of which the Japanese are terribly envious.

Activities at a recent event in Mie Prefecture, for example, aimed at men in their 20s-40s, featured balloon and beanbag play, as well as a workshop on how to make airplanes with paper and bamboo.

Businesses particularly restaurant businesses such as Papa Park!, are finding it worth their while to enhance their corporate image (the latter promotes the ikumen credentials of stars in its stable).  Some product brands are practising niche marketing to ikumen fathers (see Ikumen marketing)

My husband has recently become head of his regional office, and tries to promote “ikumen” lifestyle by clocking off at 6 p.m. everyday, so that his staff can return home early, by his example, to spend time with their families (unfortunately, we aren’t able to benefit from his “ikumen parenting” because my husband is currently on a tanshin funin posting).


Sources and further reading:

Wishing to be ikumen: The Ideal and Reality of Young Japanese Fathers by Benesse

Fathers step forward (The Star Online, Apr 15, 2013)

Ikumen: raising new father figures in Japan (Japan Pulse, August 30th, 2011)

Definitions of Fatherhood (Japan Times, Sep 5, 2010)

Ikumen marketing | Tenkai-japan:Cool Japan Guide-Travel

The Land of the Raising Son (and Daughter) (Band of Fathers, September 30, 2010)

Paid Parental Leave vs. The World (Infographic), Feb 4, 2013, Huffington Post

Who are Iku-men ? – The Times of India

Iku-Men -

Japan urges more dads to swap desks for diapers (Reuters, Jun 30, 2010)

Jargon Watch: Iku-men, Blitzschnell, Dark Laser | Wired Magazine 

Finnish ‘ikumen’ dazzles Japan (Yomiuri Shimbun / The Japan News)

Is Japanese family policy turning Nordic?  Department of Social Policy and Social Work Barnett House, by Tuukka Toivonen

JAPAN: Househusbands Giving Birth To More Gender Equality

Japan’s Next Big Thing: Stay-at-Home Dads? – Japan Real Time – WSJ

Ikumen Project page: 育てる男が、家族を変える。社会が動く。イクメンプロジェクト

Ikumen marketing

Comparative country notes on Japan by Hideki Nakazato (Konan University) and Junko Nishimura (Meisei University)

Parental leave still finds dads in huge minority | The Japan Times

OECD 2007 data: Use of childbirth leave by mothers and fathers

Japanese mayor takes paternity leave (Poligo)

Blogs by ikumen fathers:

Life in Japan: Ikumen Report

Ikumen Dojo: Only Proud Papas Train Here a blog by an ikumen father

Parental Leave (Wikipedia)

Fathering Japan

Parental Leave Policies in 21 Countries: Assessing Generosity(Sep 2008)

The Japanese Tanshin Funin (see also ‘Tanshin- funin’ anger often leads to heavy smoking, study says Majiroxnews, Apr 9, 2012)

Mental and physical effects of Tanshin funin, posting without family, on married male workers in Japan.   Occup Health. 2006 Mar;48(2):113-23. Nakadaira HYamamoto MMatsubara T.

Hi to all our regular readers of EDU WATCH,

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to be one of the most decisive leaders Japan has had in a long while, moving forward on a number of reforms and measures, with particularly visible action on the education front.

In this edition, we cover the key policy reforms and educational issues featured in the news  through summaries and excerpts. In focus today are measures to reduce childcare waiting lists, reforms to higher education and moves to boost English education in schools.


‘Yokohama method’ gains steam / Can others zap day-care waiting lists? (May 22, 2013 Yomiuri)

“After reducing the nation’s largest number of children on day care center waiting lists to zero after just three years, the “Yokohama method”–with an endorsement from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe–has caught the attention of municipalities nationwide.

Under the Yokohama method, funds from a limited budget are concentrated to encourage corporations to enter the day care business. Following Yokohama’s success, other municipalities have since adopted the method.

However, … funding and how far the initiative will actually spread is unclear…Now at the forefront of the movement, Yokohama faces the challenge of maintaining the quality of its child care facilities.” … Read the rest of the article here.

Related: Yokohama clears out nursery waiting lists (May 21, 2013 Japan Times)

YOKOHAMA – Officials at Yokohama City Hall said Monday the city has reduced the number of children on nursery school waiting lists to zero from 179 as of April 1, meeting its 2010 target of doing so in three years.

City officials credited the reduction of the lists, which at one stage were the longest of any municipality in Japan, mainly to efforts to increase the number of nursery schools by aggressively encouraging private companies to enter the business.

The city also promoted nonregistered day-care facilities that met the city’s standards, which are somewhat more relaxed than the national standard.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, similar problems exist in urban areas across the nation because an increasing number of households have both parents working, and most local governments are facing difficulty addressing the problem.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is willing to learn from Yokohama’s success and intends to address the problem as part of its growth strategy because it has become a major obstacle to women returning to the workforce after childbirth. He has proposed increasing maternity leave.

But some experts say the rapid increase in nursery schools could eventually lead to a shortage of qualified teachers and a deterioration in services, as well as increased pressure on local finances.

In Yokohama, children below the age of 5 on nursery waiting lists rose to a record 1,190 in 2004, the highest in Japan. In 2010, it broke that record with a figure of 1,552, prompting Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, former president of BMW Tokyo Corp. and chairwoman of Daiei Inc., to make solving the problem a priority.

As the city used the private sector to boost the availability of day-care services for children, the number of privately operated nursery schools in Yokohama doubled from its level in April 2010, and now accounts for about a quarter of the total.

The city also deployed special consultants at ward offices to advise parents searching for schools and the availability of convenient facilities in their neighborhood or on their way to work.

The city has spent some ¥49 billion since 2010 on setting up nursery schools and has allocated over ¥76 billion for the operation of such schools for fiscal 2013 through March 31 next year, it said, adding that it has hired about 2,000 new nursery teachers since 2010.

Abe vowed last month to increase the capacity of nursery schools by 400,000 in five years from now through 2017 and also reduce the number of children on waiting lists nationwide to zero.

According to the labor ministry, there were about 46,000 children on waiting lists nationwide as of last October, although the number of potentially eligible children who do not have places at nursery school places could even be as high as 850,000.

Common stroller rules on trains, buses eyed (May 21, 2013 Jiji Press) reported:

The transport ministry is considering drawing up universal rules for the use of baby strollers on buses and trains, ministry officials said Monday.

At present, rules for the use of baby strollers vary significantly among public transport operators across the country.

The ministry plans to set up a committee of representatives from relevant ministries, public transport operators and support groups for child-rearing families to discuss ways to unify the rules, the officials said. They are also expected to adopt a universal sign to indicate priority spaces for baby buggies on buses and trains.”. …

A common sign to indicate priority spaces for baby buggies on buses and trains is also expected to be adopted. The move is aimed at making it easier for parents to go out with their children by clarifying where and how strollers should be positioned on commuter trains and buses.”

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will move up a plan to encourage businesses to develop authorized child-care services to reduce the number of children on day-care center waiting lists, a government regulatory reform panel has said.
The ministry is expected to notify prefectural governments by the end of May to treat businesses as equal to bodies such as social welfare corporations when providing authorization for the running of nursery schools that meet national standards, the panel said.

The move effectively brings forward a plan to increase the number of authorized nurseries under a new childcare system set to be introduced in April 2015.

IB classes to be given in Japanese … from 2015 (May 18, 2013, Yomiuri Shimbun)

The International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, which culminates in a high school diploma recognized by many prestigious universities around the world, will be partially taught in Japanese starting in April 2015.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry recently reached an agreement with the International Baccalaureate Organization, which is based in Switzerland, that will allow IB course instruction in Japanese.

About 20 national, public and private high schools in Hokkaido, Aichi, Fukui and other prefectures, and Tokyo Gakugei University International Secondary School in Tokyo plan to introduce the program and will start preparing to gain ministry approval from October.

About two-thirds of the classes, including biology, chemistry, world history and politics, and economics, will be taught in Japanese. English, math and art classes will be given in English to improve students’ language skills. In line with the introduction of IB classes in Japanese, final exams for the program will also be given in Japanese starting in November 2017.

Launched in 1968, the IB curriculum is known for its role in developing students’ problem-solving skills through classroom discussions. IB certifications are currently recognized by about 2,000 universities, including Harvard University, as qualification for taking collegiate entrance exams. Furthermore, many universities exempt students with high IB scores from taking such exams altogether.

IB certifications are given after students complete a two-year program and score 24 or higher out of a possible 45 points on oral and paper tests.

According to the ministry, 2,367 high schools across the globe offered IB programs as of January, 16 of which are in Japan. The domestic figure includes some international schools.

The government has set a goal of having 200 schools introduce the IB program by 2018 as part of its strategy to develop human resources who are capable of playing an active role on the global stage.

Widespread implementation of the program has been difficult until now because of the requirement that classes be taught in English.

Now that permission has been obtained to give a majority of classes in Japanese, the ministry hopes to expand the number of schools offering the IB program.  (See older related story)


Better English education sought in Japanese elementary schools (Japan Daily Press, May 16, 2013)

As Japan moves into an increasingly global stance – in terms of trade and international relations, as well as its culture opening up to foreign concepts and perspectives – a governmental panel on education is looking to propose major reforms in the way English is taught in elementary school classrooms. The panel is set to pass proposals for major educational reforms, centered on English-language education as an official subject for fifth- and sixth-graders.

Government to encourage more Japanese college students to study abroad (Japan Daily Press, May 7, 2013)

The Education Ministry said it will be doubling its study scholarships for the 2014 academic year to encourage more college students to pursue studies abroad. The reason for this is so that more workers and employees in Japan will have had international experience due to their studies.

Related story: Ambivalent Japan turns on its ‘insular’ youth | 21 May, 2013 The Japan Times (Excerpted below)

“… Behind criticism of uchimuki youth lies the fear that Japan is being overtaken by its closest neighbors. Media reports often highlight the rapid rise of Chinese and South Korean students studying in the U.S., the implication being that Japan is being left behind in the race to develop global human resources. “In a Japan that is showing signs of being pushed aside by China and South Korea’s focus on the economic sphere,” lamented the Yomiuri Shimbun in a front-page August 2012 article, “it is said that the youngsters who have to shoulder the burden of the next generation are uchimuki.”

The question is, however, whether an “inward-looking orientation” (uchimuki shikō) among young people is the main reason behind the fall in Japanese studying abroad. A 2010 survey by the British Council found that the majority of Japanese high school and university students were actually interested in studying overseas, and if anything had become more interested over the past five years. The survey highlighted worries over safety, expenses and negative influences on school/work as reasons why youngsters ultimately didn’t go abroad.

A 2010 Sanno Institute of Management survey on the “global consciousness” of new employees produced similar findings. While 49 percent replied that they didn’t want to work overseas at all (up from 29.2 percent in 2001), the most common reason given was the “risk” involved. Although “risk” was not specified, the deterioration of the economic situation from 2008 — a period that saw the number adverse to going abroad jump from a third to almost a half of respondents — suggests financial risk, echoing the British Council survey.

What is interesting here is how the uchimuki mentality is offered as the reason for falling numbers when a closer look at the data suggests social and economic conditions may offer a better explanation. Perhaps the problem is less about young people — who are typically blamed for all sorts of social ills — and more about society and the companies that hire youngsters. In particular, Japan’s rigid and inflexible job-hunting system — currently in the middle of a “super ice age” — has been picked out as particularly problematic.

Although a number of high-profile Japanese companies — such as Rakuten and Fast Retailing — have taken concrete measures to cultivate global human resources, not all Japanese companies seem eager to move away from traditional employment models. Indeed, there is evidence that Japanese hierarchical corporate culture is not necessarily comfortable with confident and outspoken returnee students.   A long article in The New York Times last year described the experiences of a number of Japanese with study-abroad experience who found Japanese companies unenthusiastic and even reluctant to hire them. The article cites a survey of 1,000 Japanese companies on their recruitment plans in which less than a quarter said in fiscal 2012 they planned to hire Japanese applicants who had studied abroad.

Japanese companies’ lack of global awareness has been criticized both in and outside Japan. The trade ministry’s Global Human Resource Development Committee described top management’s inaction as the same as sitting idly by, literally “waiting to die” (zashite shi o matsu). Jennifer Stout, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, offered similar criticism. Talking about the drop in Japanese students studying in the U.S., Stout rejected stereotypical discussions of uchimuki youth, suggesting that Japanese corporate culture doesn’t always rate overseas experience and English ability. Indeed, overseas experience can even be a disadvantage for job-hunters.

In its recent proposal to lower the grade when elementary school students start studying English, the government’s Education Rebuilding Implementation Council noted that students in many Asian countries begin much earlier than in Japan. Writing about the relationship between Japan and the English language — particularly Japan’s slowness, compared to its Asian neighbors, in introducing English as a regular subject in elementary schools — Nobuyuki Honna, a professor emeritus at Aoyama Gakuin University, suggests that there is a deep-seated notion in Japan of English not as a global language but as something that belongs to someone else — to Britain and the United States.

This attitude epitomizes Japan’s ambivalent attitude towards globalization. On the one hand, the country is aware that in order to remain economically competitive it must open up, instigate reforms and embrace globalization in all its aspects; on the other, there remains a strong tendency to close in, reject global norms and standards, and retreat inwards. The discussions over global human resources capture the dilemma of a country caught in two minds, a quandary that explains Abe’s ultra-cautious approach to entering even negotiations over TPP.

One of the biggest ironies in these discussions on global human resources is how young people have been made scapegoats for Japan’s failure to resolve this dilemma. Thus, Japan’s problems in attracting and securing such resources are typically explained not by the rigid job-hunting system, parochial immigration policies or conservative corporate culture, but by inward-looking uchimuki youth.

In sum, it may be more accurate to talk of an uchimuki government or even society, one that remains rooted in an insular world view that sees globalization as an external process, something owned by somebody else. Just how far Japan is prepared to emerge from its global hibernation will become clear in October when the 12 TPP countries meet at the sidelines of APEC to hammer out a basic agreement.”  Read the entire article here.

Govt links acts of bullying to criminal charges (Yomiuri, May 20, 2013) Excerpted below:

“The education ministry has compiled a list of bullying acts that should be reported promptly to police, and has communicated this list to prefectures and boards of education of large cities through an official notification … as many schools have expressed confusion over what type of behavior could be considered a criminal act, the ministry stepped in to provide concrete examples that should be reported to police, to encourage schools to respond quickly to dangerous behavior.

For example, “hitting and kicking” is equivalent to an assault charge in the penal code, according to the notification. “Putting fecal matter in a person’s mouth and threatening to inflict harm if he or she tries to spit it out” is considered extortion and “intentionally wrecking a bicycle” is property damage.

The notification also gives specific examples of cyberbullying, which has become conspicuous among young people, that could be subject to criminal charges.

Examples of such online behavior include “sending an e-mail threatening harm if a student comes to school,” which is blackmail, and “calling a classmate a ‘shoplifter,’ ‘creep’ or ‘annoying person,’” which is subject to defamation charges.

With the notification, the ministry requested that boards of education conduct a fact-finding survey on bullying in the 2012 school year.”


Phone app ‘Line’ under fire from school after incidents of bullying (May 22, 2013 Japan Today)

What started as a simple school memo sent out to parents last Friday has mushroomed into a nationwide discussion the issues of censorship and bullying in schools and online.

The issue was triggered by a tweet which was sent out on Friday by a now disabled account showing a photo of the letter along with the caption “my school wants to ban Line and stuff lolololol.”

Line has become a highly popular app in Japan for its variety of functions including instant messaging, image sharing, and free voice calls over the internet.

According to the photo that accompanied the original tweet, the memo read:


Regarding Line Ban

“We hope all families are enjoying a healthy and prosperous spring season. Also we would like to thank you for your continuing support and cooperation in the educational activities of our school.

So, regarding the subject of this letter; in this school in April, various incidents occurred which had involved Line. This school feels that aside from contacting parents there is really no need for mobile phones. We especially feel that there is no place for Line in a child’s daily life.

From now on this school would like to ban any and all use of Line. Thank you very much.

We would also like to advise parents to, even at home, check your children’s mobile phones. If the Line application is present then we ask you to delete it.

Also starting now, students who are found using Line in or around the school will be notified of the ban. In order to prevent future trouble regarding Line, we ask for your cooperation in this matter.”

This original message triggered a lot of discussion surrounding the “various incidents” that caused this school to outlaw the application on Twitter and other online forums. Many netizens came out saying that it must have been cases of bullying.

This theory had been supported by many who claimed they were victims of bullying through Line. Some had cited incidents where mass snubs had occurred in group chats in which one person’s comment would cause all other participants to quit the session simultaneously.

The Huffington Post Japan had also reported on cases where Line had been used to harass students, with cases of repeated messages of “die”, along with “sticker shakedowns.”

Stickers are photos or drawings that can be used like emoticons when posting messages. Those are purchased from Naver (the developer of Line) but can also be bought as gifts for other users.

According to reports, bullies would intimidate classmates into gifting them with stickers. This theory is strengthened by an announcement made a week earlier by Naver which said that they would be discontinuing the sticker gift function on iPhone versions of Line at the request of Apple.

1-year training proposal for principals-to-be (Yomiuri — May 13, 2013)

Teachers aspiring to be principals or deputy heads of public schools will have to undergo a yearlong training program at a teachers graduate school to qualify as administrators, according to a set of proposals compiled by a task force.
The proposals, drafted by the Liberal Democratic Party’s education revitalization headquarters, also make it mandatory for would-be teachers to undertake an internship for a year or two upon graduation from college.
During the internship, they will receive a provisional license as a teacher, while their aptitude for the profession will be studied. If all goes well, they will receive a full teaching license after completing the internship.

100 schools to teach math, science in English  (The Yomiuri Shimbun,

May 22, 2013)

To help foster Japanese capable of successfully competing globally, the education ministry plans to designate about 100 high schools across the country that will teach some science and math in English, ministry sources said Tuesday.

The planned project also hopes to encourage students to attend excellent universities overseas.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to start the project as early as next fiscal year and designate about 100 schools, temporarily dubbed “super global high schools,” in all prefectures over the next five years.

Under the project, the ministry plans to include in its budget request for next fiscal year funds to hire foreign teachers and Japanese teachers proficient in English as well as for developing English curricula.

The ministry is to ask schools through prefectural boards of education to submit applications. It hopes to initially select at least one school from each prefecture, or about 50 schools in total, and gradually increase their number.

The designated schools will be exempt from following ministry-set teaching guidelines and allowed to offer their own curricula, the sources said.

Currently, most high schoolers are grouped into liberal arts- or science-focused classes. Under the new project, however, students will be required to take liberal arts and science subjects across the board.

In a forward-looking move, sections of science and math classes will be taught in English and students will be encouraged to debate and make presentations in English.

The designated high schools would help students study abroad while in high school and prepare to attend universities overseas. They would offer classes to better prepare students for TOEFL, an English proficiency test accepted by universities around the world to assess foreign students’ English, as well as the internationally recognized test offered by International Baccalaureate.

In addition, the special high schools would accept students returning from abroad in the middle of the school year.

At private schools offering six-year middle and high school education in metropolitan areas, many students are opting to enter top-notch universities in foreign countries, instead of the University of Tokyo or other excellent national universities.

Kyoto mayor petitions for permanent resident status for overseas students (Japan Daily Press) ON APR 15 2013

In an effort to get more overseas students to enroll in Kyoto University and to revive the economy of the town, Kyoto Mayor Keiji Yamada is proposing the “Kyoto University Special Ward”. Part of the proposal is granting permanent residence status to overseas students who will be graduating from the university as well as other supportive measures…

Japan takes No. 1 spot in Asian University Rankings (Japan Daily Press, Apr 16)

A new top 100 university ranking has been published for 2013, focusing on just schools in Asia. Put together by Times Higher Education (THE), the same organization that publishes the World University Rankings, the top 100 list found schools from Japan taking the most honors, and in more ways than one.

Earlier: University of Tokyo maintains reputation as top institution in Asia: survey (Japan Times Mar 6, 2013) Excerpt follows:

The University of Tokyo remains the most prestigious institution of higher education in Asia, according to a study released Tuesday, but the editor of the study said Japan is slipping in relative academic prominence and some action is needed to fight competition.

The institution came in ninth in this year’s Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, an annual survey of academic opinion, beaten only by American and British universities.

This year’s global index of university brands saw Harvard University once again come on top, with the University of Tokyo, also known as Todai, slipping one place from 2012.

The University of Tokyo’s nearest rival in Asia was the National University of Singapore, which climbed one place to 22nd. Most of the East Asian universities in the top 100 improved their ranking on 2012.

But China’s two flagship universities have slipped: Tsinghua University, from 30th to 35th, and Peking University from 38th to 45th.

Other Japanese universities to make it into the top 100 were: Kyoto University (23rd, down three places from 2012), Osaka University, (ranked between 51st and 60th, no change), Tohoku University and Tokyo Institute of Technology, (ranked in the 61st to 70th group, down from last year’s rankings, which put them in a cluster between 51st and 60th).

In terms of representation in the top 100, the United States and Britain are followed by Australia, which has moved ahead of Japan and the Netherlands and now has six institutions (up from four last year) … Read the rest here.


A sign that democracy and free speech is alive and well in Japan, is the establishment of a group of Japanese intellectuals and their vocal rallies and protests against the Japanese government’s territorial claim to Dokdo…see Japanese scholars slam Tokyo on history (AsiaOne News, May 22, 2013) Excerpt follows below:

“A group of Japanese intellectuals on Tuesday rebutted their government’s territorial claim to Dokdo and urged Japan to have a correct understanding of history.

During a press conference in Busan, they called on Shimane prefecture to rethink its annual observance of Takeshima (Dokdo in Japanese) Day, designated in 2005 to underline its sovereignty claim to the Dokdo islets in the East Sea.

“We perceive the Dokdo issue as a historical issue rather than a territorial one,” said Kuboi Norimo, former history professor at Momoyama Gakuin University.

“Japan occupied Dokdo to lead the (1904-05) Russo-Japanese War more advantageously, and Tokyo has since recognised it as its territory. Regarding it as a territorial issue is like glorifying its invasion into Korea rather than repenting for it.” …

Established last month, the group consisting of Japanese from academia, the religious sector and civil society has staged a series of rallies against the rightward political shift that has triggered concerns about the reemergence of Japan’s past militarism.

The group also used the news conference to criticise provocative remarks by ultraconservative Japanese politicians including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that underlined their unwillingness to atone for the country’s wartime aggression.

“The political leaders are using citizens politically to prolong their rule,” the group said in a statement. “It is tantamount to returning to its past militarism, we will stage a civil society campaign to strongly protest it.”

To back up their claim that Dokdo is Korea’s territory, the group revealed a series of historical records and photographs. They included a copy of a Japanese map drawn in the 18th century.

“By next March, we will develop a secondary history textbook to correct the distorted parts of history in Japan’s government textbooks,” the group said.”  Read the rest of the article here.

“The 15-year-old son of a U.S. contractor assigned to Camp Zama will spend time in a Japanese juvenile detention facility for setting fire to a historic shrine.  The teen, who was not identified, confessed to setting fire to a shed and the shrine on March 7, only a week after he arrived in Japan. Police said he told them he was trying to release stress caused by the language barrier and the close proximity of Japanese homes.The fire at the Kurihara Shrine spread to two adjacent homes, burning one to the ground and partially damaging the other” … according to the police spokesman.  Watch the video news clip here.

New university grads’ job rate up 2 yrs in row (Yomiuri May 18)

“The rate of new university graduates who secured jobs has improved for the second consecutive year, reaching 93.9 percent, the labor and education ministries announced Friday.

As of April 1, the employment rate of those who graduated from universities this spring rose 0.3 percentage point from the same period last year, according to the latest data. The data also revealed more female graduates were successful in their job searches than male students.

Many companies that suspended recruitment following the so-called Lehman shock hired new young workers, which positively affected the labor statistics, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry judged.

The ministries also highlighted that the preference among university students for jobs at large companies has gradually waned.

An estimated 370,000 new graduates found jobs, while 24,000 could not find work despite their desire to do so.

The rate for male graduates was 93.2 percent, up 1.3 percentage points from the same period last year. The figure for female graduates was 94.7 percent, up 2.1 percentage points from a year earlier. This is the first time since fiscal 2007 the rate for female recruits has been higher than that for men.

The employment environment for female job hunters, particularly in the field of medical and nursing care, was strong, and the labor ministry believes this had a favorable effect on hiring.

Hiring figures improved in all regions except Kyushu, which saw the employment rate contract by 2.6 percentage points from the previous year to 90.6 percent.

In Hokkaido and Tohoku, the rate was 91.4 percent, up 1.4 percentage points; Kanto was at 95.8 percent, up 0.7 percentage point; Chubu was at 95 percent, up 0.1 percentage point; Kinki was at 93.2 percent, up 0.2 percentage point; and the Chugoku and Shikoku regions were at 93.8 percent, up 2.1 percentage points.

The two ministries concluded the latest figures reflect many students’ tenacious efforts to find a job.

Additionally, the employment rate of new two-year college graduates rose 5.2 percentage points, reaching 94.7 percent, the highest level since fiscal 1996 when the survey was first taken.

Some individuals in the employment assistance industry linked the positive results to Abenomics, the economic policies of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“Due to an improvement in business sentiment brought about by Abenomics, some small and midsize companies decided to hire new workers in the final phase of the recruiting period,” said Takashi Mikami, editor at Mynavi Corp”.   Read the rest of the article here.

Universities’ efforts boost job placement for new grads (May 18, 2013 Yomiuri)

A second straight year of improvement in the employment rate of newly graduated university students appears to to reflect not only the positive effects of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, but also thorough help given to students by management at four-year colleges.

Universities were the chief contributors for bringing a real “spring” to students, aiming at showcasing themselves with high job placement rates and supporting students who have been facing a gloomy employment situation since the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008.  …

Meiji University in March held a one-day “internal recruitment exam and interview” that allowed students to go through the first round of a job interview with invited companies and take a written test.

With 10 percent of the participants receiving job offers, a university official said proudly, “I believe we provide more generous support than other colleges.”

Senshu University also held biweekly employment explanation meetings at the university until early March. Ten to 15 companies participated in each session.

Rissho University tied up with an employment agency to find jobs for students who graduated this spring. The agency selected companies and introduced students to them on the basis of the firms’ human resource requirement.

Companies pay fees to the agency for each placement. The system thus allowed companies to reduce recruitment costs and meant students could do interviews without taking a written test or being eliminated based on documents.”     Read more here

Japan to allow families on welfare to save for university fees (May 15, Jiji Press, via NewsonJapan)

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare decided Tuesday to allow families on welfare to save for university admission fees for their children. (Jiji Press)

A trend comes and goes in Japan. It is not restricted to fashion but includes many areas that should be neither trendy nor passing. A recent phenomenon of the interest in Kyoyo(教養) might be another trend that comes and goes.

1st year intern learns life lessons on the job (Yomiuri, May 18, 2013) Excerpted below:

The following story is based on a survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun of about 750 public and private universities….

An increasing number of universities have started implementing internship programs as part of their regular curriculum.

A Yomiuri Shimbun survey last year showed that 480 of 642 universities, or 75 percent, had done so.

Although an increasing number of universities have also begun offering credits for studying abroad and engaging in volunteer activities, far more students chose to enroll in internship programs last year.

About 45,000 chose internships for credits, while only 22,000 chose studying abroad and just 9,400 volunteering, according to the survey.

More universities are also inviting business leaders to give lectures and promoting on-the-job training at popular companies.

In the past, many such programs were designed to increase the students’ chances of being hired by the companies they were assigned to. In recent years, however, more universities are creating internship programs to raise awareness about the significance of actual jobs in society.

Tokyo Metropolitan University has placed a high priority on its internship program for first-year students. The university dispatches about 400 students, 30 percent of the total, to government offices, businesses and elsewhere for a week or so during summer vacation.

Programs in which an internship lasts six months, such as the one at Kochi University, are quite rare.

Prof. Hiromi Ikeda, 56, who leads Kochi University’s internship program, said: “By having students do an internship for half a year, we hope they’ll give plenty of thought to what they want to learn [during their time here]. Many university students today need a strong helping hand [to take charge of their education].”

Those who wish to apply for the program are required to attend classes in preparation for beginning work immediately after enrollment, “to help them consider what they’re going to learn on the job,” Ikeda said.

The university tells the applicants which companies they are assigned to once they are about to complete their first year, after they clarify their reasons for participating in the internship program, according to the professor.

Firms accepting the students are currently limited to the Tokyo metropolitan area, far from Kochi Prefecture, and the cost of securing housing and other expenses are a heavy financial burden on students.

If they are not careful about managing their coursework at the university, students may have to repeat a school year, the professor said.

Only about 1 percent of the university’s enrollees participate in the program … Read the rest here.

Gap-year system starts (May 19, 2013 Japan Times)

Gap year students share ‘real world’ plans (Yomiuri, May 13, 2013)  Excerpt follows below:

The first batch of University of Tokyo students under the new “gap year” program has unveiled their plans to travel abroad or engage in other activities, indicating their high hopes to gain real-world experience before hitting the books.

The 11 students, who recently secured their enrollment, attended a meeting Friday to share and discuss their plans to visit foreign countries or areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake during the special leave-of-absence year.

The university introduced the system for students newly enrolled in the 2013 academic year. It allows students to take a year off prior to their studies to do volunteer work, study abroad or take up other activities to help broaden their perspectives.

The system is modeled on the gap year at universities in the United States and Europe, in which young students who are accepted by a school can postpone enrollment for a year to expand their horizons by immersing themselves in society.


The Yomiuri Shimbun

The university recruited applicants from a pool of about 3,000 new students. Of the 24 initial applicants, 12 withdrew their applications and one student’s application was rejected.” Read the rest of the article here.

Let’s hear it from the girls / University cheering squads open up to female students (May 17. 2013)

… A  typical university cheering squad comprises a group of leaders, cheerleaders and a brass band.

Traditionally, these cheering squads bring to mind the image of wild boys. But recently, more and more female students have joined their ranks, with some even occupying leadership roles.

The leaders’ group stands in front of an audience during sporting and other events while cheering loudly. Clad in student uniform or hakama and haori, they are the face of the squad, as well as the university.

Honjo is the only female among the squad’s 11-member leaders’ group, and is the second to head the squad since it was founded in 1946. The first headed the squad last year.

While it is rare for female students to occupy the top spot at the university level for two consecutive years, Honjo said, “Whether you’re male or female is irrelevant.” Even so, she maintains a strict running and workout regimen to keep up physically with her male squad members.


Kyoto, Kyushu schools to hire more foreign nationals in bid to boost graduates’ competitiveness … see Universities to boost classes in English (Japan Times, Mar 14, 2013)

In an effort to accelerate the internationalization of their institutions, Kyoto University and Kyushu University are looking to drastically boost the number of classes taught in English and educators who are foreign nationals over the next few years.

Kyoto University plans to hire about 100 foreign instructors to teach a half of its liberal arts classes in English. Currently, only about 5 percent of roughly 1,100 liberal arts classes are taught in English.

About 5 percent of classes at Kyushu University are also presently taught in English, but the institution, located in Fukuoka Prefecture, aims to raise that to 25 percent over the next few years by increasing the number of foreign teachers and Japanese instructors who have overseas teaching experience by about 30.

The two national universities both have received five-year subsidies from the education ministry to achieve their goals.

The effort is observed as part of the education ministry’s Global 30 project, which aims to promote the globalization of higher education institutions. Under the project, 13 public and private institutions, including Kyoto and Kyushu universities, have been urged to create an international academic environment for both Japanese and international students. … Read more here.

Only full national achievement test will help improve teaching in school (Yomiuri, May 14, 2013 )

The national achievement test was conducted recently with all students in the sixth year of primary school and in the third year of middle school participating, the first in four years to be held with all children in these grades taking part.

About 2.28 million students from about 30,000 primary and middle schools took part in the test, with the sixth graders tested on Japanese and arithmetic and the middle schoolers on Japanese and mathematics.

Thanks to the revival of the nationwide achievement test with all primary and middle schools taking part, boards of education and schools will be able to correctly assess students’ academic abilities. By finding out what needs to be done to enhance students’ abilities, they need to make use of the results to improve teaching methods.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry introduced the national achievement test in fiscal 2007 as part of efforts to enhance children’s scholastic abilities. For three years to fiscal 2009, the exam was given to all children in these two grades.

Test change had adverse effects

The then Democratic Party of Japan-led administration switched from full-scale exams to sample exams held at about 30 percent of schools from fiscal 2010, justifying this in the name of budget cuts. The DPJ-led administration paid too much attention to criticism from the Japan Teachers’ Union, a large supporter of the party, saying that the test could “fan excessive competition.”

The adverse effect of the switch was enormous.

The result was that only the average rate of questions answered correctly by each prefecture was available. Relevant data comparing schools or different municipalities was no longer available.

Although those schools not designated by the ministry to take part in the sample tests could choose to take part in the exams, they had to score the tests on their own. Despite being the same tests, there were inequalities between the designated schools and the others. This should not be overlooked, either.

Following the change of government late last year, the administration under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appropriately decided to hold the national exam every year, with all children in these classes taking part. It was an appropriate decision.

The important thing from now is analyzing the enormous amount of data obtained from the tests from various angles and utilizing it to enhance children’s scholastic abilities.

The education ministry will compare the results of those schools with reduced class size with those schools with the number of students not reduced and examine the correlation between class size and academic abilities of students.

By empirically showing the approximate size of classes, the ministry will need to secure the necessary number of teachers.

A problem with the implementation of the full participation test is how to make the test results public.

Data should be shared

The education ministry, in its implementation procedure of the tests, forbids prefectural boards of education to publicize the test results between schools and those between different municipalities. It also forbids municipal boards of education to publicize test results comparing schools.

The bans are to avoid spawning excessive competition and grading among municipalities and among schools.

Yet some local governments hope to publicize the test results, as part of their responsibility for explaining the appropriateness of school lessons to students’ parents.

There were cases whereby relevant data, including the average rate of correct answers by municipality was made public, in response to freedom-of-information requests made by local citizens.

Implementing the test cost the government 5.5 billion yen. By sharing the valuable data with parents and local citizens, rather than having local boards of education monopolize it, public understanding of–and their cooperation with–school management can be won.

The ministry plans to discuss ways to publicize the test results for fiscal 2014 and after, by gathering opinions from local governments. The ministry should review its public-disclosure restriction.

Survey shows 840 Japanese teachers used corporal punishment on students (Apr 29)

The Ministry of Education conducted a survey spanning 10 months starting April 2012 to March 2013, and it showed that 840 teachers used some sort of corporal punishment on their students. This is more than twice the 404 cases from the whole fiscal year of 2011.

img313School roads get brighter visuals to boost safety (Yomiuri — Apr 27 via NewsonJapan)
Work continues nationwide to mark school roads in green and other colors, in the wake of a fatal car accident on a road leading to a school in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture, last April.
Three people were killed and seven injured by a runaway car driven by an 18-year-old boy who had never obtained a driver’s license. After the accident, the central government inspected roads in primary school zones across the nation and found 74,483 dangerous locations.
As a result, municipalities and other entities have been working to change school routes, better safeguard children and repair roads.

‘Chocolate project’ teaches kids volunteerism (Japan Times, May 2, 2013)

Most Japanese teens have little exposure to issues of worldwide poverty or the volunteerism that seeks to end it. Unlike in the United States and Europe

May 10, 2012, Yomiuri Shimbun

May 10, 2012, Yomiuri Shimbun

Left:  Activities to help improve  balance and physical coordination of children, include giving them handmade geta sandals


This next segment brings you news summaries on educational matters and happenings elsewhere in the world:

Jenna Johnson’s commentary for the Washington Post on College Rankings tells us the methodology behind the college rankings system “has become complicated and controversial — and sometimes the results are inaccurate”, that there ” is no way such lists help students properly pick a college”…and that we should be scrutinizing and caring more about higher ed  institutions with “abysmal graduation rates, sky-high student debt loads, teetering accreditation and serious financial problems”  Read more here.

Coding boot camps promise to launch tech careers (AP, via Yahoo! news, Apr 12, 2013) A new breed of computer-programming schools, is proliferating in San Francisco and other U.S. tech hubs, focused upon “extreme employability” and offering real-world skills, and attracting students from a wide range of backgrounds, from college dropouts to middle-aged career changers. The “coding academies are helping meet the seemingly insatiable demand for computer programmers in the U.S. tech industry”, and “are launching at a time when many recent college graduates are struggling to find jobs that pay enough to chip away at their hefty student loan debts. One San Francisco school called App Academy doesn’t charge tuition. Instead, it asks for a 15 percent cut of the student’s first-year salary”…

Diverse figures including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Bill Gates have coalesced around a new idea: why not increase class sizes for the best teachers and use the resulting budgetary savings to pay these best teachers more and to help train educators who need improvement? Yes, each class might be bigger on average but at least each child would stand a better chance of having a great teacher, which would-be reformers say is more important.

The proposal is intriguing, and some teachers may be on board. Matthew Chingos, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, has cited a national survey by the journal Education Next and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance that found that 42 percent of teachers would gladly accept a $10,000 raise to forgo a three-student reduction in class size. Yet perhaps more striking, 47 percent of teachers said they would turn down this substantial pay increase to have just three students fewer in class

Read more here.

Does Class Size Count? (NY Times, Opinionator blog) To many educators, the answer seems obvious: Teachers who have fewer students can give each child more attention and tailored instruction. And parents agree. For years, annual surveys conducted by the New York City Department of Education have shown that the top priority of school parents is reducing class size, far outpacing “more effective leadership,” “more teacher training,” “more or better art programs,” “more challenging courses” and both “more preparation for state tests” and “less preparation for state tests.”

But the data on class size is not conclusive, if only because, in the last quarter-century, there’s been just one proper randomized, controlled study in the United States to measure, at sufficient scale, the effect of smaller and larger classes on student achievement. Known as Project STAR, it found that smaller classes do produce lasting gains, especially for economically disadvantaged and minority-group students.

Hiring more teachers, however, is expensive, and some researchers and policy makers insist that reducing class size is not cost-effective, compared with other possible reforms, and has been oversold to schools. They point to states like California and Florida that have spent billions of taxpayer dollars to reduce pupil-to-teacher ratios without, they argue, a commensurate increase in student performance.

40% Of Fortune 500 Companies Were Founded By Immigrants Or Their Children (PolicyMic) 

Related story: College Essay Nods to Immigrant Parents

Regis High School student Lyle Li reads from his college application essay about the hard work of his immigrant parents to secure a better education and a better life for him  Watch the video clip here.

Search for Cuts Puts Portugal’s Schools on Chopping Block (NY Times)

A court ruling and continuing budgetary difficulties have left Portugal’s government to reduce spending where it can – including in its education system, already one of the weakest in Europe.

Philippines extends schooling to 13 years(Global Post), one of the key reforms said to be aimed at lifting the country out of poverty.

Govt unveils tech, science vision (May 18, 2013)

The government is set to promote the commercialization of advanced technologies in five fields related to people’s livelihood, … and with a focus on energy development and fisheries culturing fields.

Teens Are Turning Away from Facebook Because Tumblr Is Real, and Parent-Free (


Parenting Matters:

Upper House Panel OKs Hague Treaty on Child Custody May 21 (Jiji Press)

“A House of Councillors committee approved Tuesday Japan’s entry into the Hague treaty on parental custody of children from failed international marriages. …

Signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction are required in principle to return any child abducted abroad by a parent to the child’s original country if the other parent requests the return. The parents are to determine the custody before court in the original country.”  Read more here.

Related:  Diet approves Japan joining child custody pact (Japan Times)

Parenting Secrets – Good Life Skills For Kids 5-12 from

Getting more fathers involved in raising kids can change society (Yomiuri Shimbun, May 5, 2013) Excerpted below

By affectionately raising children, parents also can grow. Some data indicate the more time a husband spends caring for a child, the higher the probability the couple will have a second child. It is important for Japan to produce more fathers dubbed “ikumen” (men actively involved in child rearing) like Nakamura.

Abe for longer care leave

“… A growing number of local governments are arranging courses on daily household chores for fathers, such as cooking and ironing lessons. Nonprofit organizations have been hosting more gatherings at which fathers can talk with each other about the joys and difficulties of rearing children.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for the business world to voluntarily extend child care leave, which under current law can be taken for a maximum of 1-1/2 years, up until a child becomes 3 years old, both for male and female employees.

Some companies allow male workers to take paid child care leave for about two weeks. We think every company should make further efforts to encourage male employees to get more involved in child rearing.

Beef up community ties

The ties between parents of small children and communities that look warmly after child-rearing couples are also important.

There have been cases in which parents playing with their kids at a park have been told by neighbors they are “noisy.” So what are they supposed to do?

A Children’s Future Foundation survey found 34 percent of mothers felt “alone and isolated from society” while raising children.

Japan should set up more places where parents and kids can casually get together. Parents can chat and let their kids play at local facilities that support child rearing, such as community centers and children’s centers. We hope people whose children have left the nest will help run these facilities.

Having communities lending a hand and providing more support to mothers with children will greatly help people going through parenthood.”


This and That:

Me, Myself and Math  A six-part series that looks at us through the lens of math.

A Team Approach to Get Students College Ready (May 15, 2013 NY Times)

A group called Blue Engine that places recent college graduates as full-time teaching assistants in a few public high schools is showing promising results.

6 lessons learned during my internship and more in the same vein at the InternView website

Coursera to offer new MOOC options for teachers (AP, May 1, 2013)


Two Cheers for Web U (NY Times,  Apr 20, 2013 ) Excerpted below:

When it comes to Massive Open Online Courses, like those offered by CourseraUdacity and edX, you can forget about the Socratic method.

The professor is, in most cases, out of students’ reach, only slightly more accessible than the pope or Thomas Pynchon. Several of my Coursera courses begin by warning students not to e-mail the professor. ..

The MOOC classrooms are growing at Big Bang rates: more than five million students worldwide have registered for classes in topics ranging from physics to history to aboriginal worldviews.

It creates a strange paradox: these professors are simultaneously the most and least accessible teachers in history. And it’s not the only tension inherent in MOOCs.

MOOC boosters tend to speak of these global online classes as if they are the greatest educational advancement since the Athenian agora, highlighting their potential to lift millions of people out of poverty. Skeptics — including the blogger and University of California, Berkeley, doctoral student Aaron Bady — worry that MOOCs will offer a watered-down education, give politicians an excuse to gut state school budgets, and harm less prestigious colleges and universities. … Read the rest here.

Online College, Beyond the Hoopla

Where Private School Is Not a Privilege (NY Times)

How does BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, educate more than 1.25 million of the world’s poorest children for free — and do a better job than government?

Invitation to a Dialogue: The Art of Teaching

8 college tips for handing in a high-quality term paper 

The Role of a Dictionary by David Skinner

Good writing may exceed the boundaries suggested, if not intended, by dictionary definitions. More on this

Low blood-lead levels can affect a child’s reading ability ( (May 12, 2013)

Kindergartners with blood-lead levels between 5 and 9 µg/dL scored an average 4.5 points lower in reading tests and were 21% less likely to meet benchmarks for reading readiness than those with levels below 5 µg/dL, U.S. researchers found. The children with lead levels of 10 µg/dL and higher were 56% more likely to fail to meet reading readiness benchmarks compared with children with less than 5 µg/dL, according to the study…

High cesium levels discovered in Tokyo river eels, local governments make belated study (Japan Daily Press)

 A worrying phenomenon has been discovered in Tokyo river eels that have been caught by local residents living near the Edogawa River – the eels that they have been catching, and may have eaten at one time or another, have very high cesium levels, in most cases higher than the safe levels required by the Japanese government. Read more of this post

…One of the most influential psychological studies regarding race was done by Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife, Dr. Mamie Clark. The Clark’s research became one of the pillarsof the 1953 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. Kenneth and his wife are most famous for “The Clark Doll Experiment.”

The experiment involves giving dolls which are identical in every way apart from hair and skin color to young school children. The only differences with the dolls is that one doll is white with yellow hair while the other is brown with black hair. Each child is then asked a series of questions, including which doll is the nice doll. The study showed that all children favored the white doll.

This same study was replicated in 2005 by Kiri Davis. Now this means it was pre-post-racial America, so that’s probably why the 2005 study showed exactly the same results as the one conducted in 1939. I bet if that study were conducted today it would be very different because like Stephen Colbert most of us don’t even see race since the election of President Barack Obama. Oh wait, never mind it looks like Anderson Cooper studied this again in 2012, turns out kids still internalize racism, even in “post-racial” America.

The truth is, racism is still very much alive and children begin to internalize it from a very young age. It manifests in the experiment we see…

Why French kids don’t have ADHD (Psychology Today)

Related news:

President of the Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics criticized the use of ADHD drug Ritalin as amounting to interference in the child’s freedom and personal rights, because pharmacological agents induced behavioral changes but failed to educate the child on how to achieve these behavioral changes independently. The child was thus deprived of an essential learning experience to act autonomously and emphatically which “considerably curtails children’s freedom and impairs their personality development” the commission said.

What’s behind the 53% rise in ADHD cases? (Psychology Today);  

An Extreme Approach to Ending Temper Tantrums

Shockingly, children are being prescribed potent anti-psychotic drugs.

In books:

Autism diagnosis at age 2. College student at 11. …  They Said He Wouldn’t Learn the ABCs (A review by the  Washington Post of the book “THE SPARK A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius” by Kristine Barnett)

“A few years ago, a friend, whose child attends a school for kids with learning disabilities, tried to start a book club for parents at the school. Her motivation was simple: If the parents got together once a month and talked about a book they’d read on…however, when she requested a meeting room for the proposed book club, she was turned down flat. The school, it seemed, didn’t want the parents second-guessing its teaching strategies….”The Spark is compulsive reading, and not simply of Jake’s “savant almost obliterated by the system” story,  … she also beats down every other obstacle that life hurls at her and her family….those obstacles are extraordinarily severe. The Barnetts’ second child, Wesley is diagnosed with a reflex disorder soon after he is born. It causes him to have seizures, up to nine a day, and to choke on simple liquids”….  and many more terrible personal setbacks. “Why is it all about what these kids can’t do? Why isn’t anyone looking more closely at what they can do? in “The Spark” — Kristine Barnett  This is the inspiring story of a mother’s persistence in defying the experts and proving them wrong and to unearth her son’s personality and potential despite terrible developmental challenges …

We also recommend Christine Gross-Loh’s new book, “Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us”  see her interview with Christiane Amanpour etc.  “What American Parents Need to Do Better: Lessons from the Rest of the World” (via and the book reviews by Huffington Post “Have American parents got it all backwards?”  and  Judy