Are you a newbie to Japanese elementary school?

Many parents have asked for a glossary of educational terms that might be encountered in daily school life in Japan. Today, we list the terms encountered in Japanese elementary schools that are related to the organization of classrooms and student activity.

The han

In Japanese schools, each class is divided into several han (groups or teams usually comprised of 5 or 6 people), and the students function in these groups for class activities. These may consist of group-study during classes, cleaning duties, serving school lunches, etc.

The han is the subject of some commentary and study as it impacts upon the social behavioral characteristics of the Japanese.

Read more about the han at work here.

Inside the human “bee-hive”:

Kakari and iinkai organization

In addition, nitchoku (class day-leaders) or shuban (class week-leaders) are in charge of specific class tasks such as roll call, chairing the discussion during homeroom period, making daily announcements and keeping the gakkyu nisshi (class journal) for a given day or week.
Each kakari (person in charge/”duty officer”) is assigned a specific task essential to the smooth implementation of class activities. Types of kakari include kokuban-gakari (blackboard duty), gakkyu shinbun-gakari (class newspaper duty), hoken-gakari (health duty) as well as one or more kakari for each subject who are responsible for distributing handouts, getting videos ready, and otherwise helping prepare for lessons.
All fifth and sixth graders belong to a committee (iinkai) through which they participate in school-wide activities.
There are engei iinkai (care of school flowerbeds), hoso iinkai (in charge of announcements over the school public address system), seibi iinkai (care of lost-and-found items), hoken iinkai (in charge of health promotion activities), undo iinkai (planning for annual field day), tosho iinkai (management of school library related activities), shukai iinkai (leadership of school-wide meetings), shiiku iinkai (care of the animals and the animal shed), shimbun iinkai (editing and printing of the school newspaper), kyushoku iinkai (student duties related to school lunches), keikaku iinkai (plans for school-wide events) and daihyo iinkai committees (student council; deliberating matters that concern the school as a whole) as well as many others.

To know more about the general educational system of Japan, including the culture of schooling, click here.

Sources and references:

The definitions of the terms above are adapted from or based on “The lives of Japanese elementary school students” as well as the EIJ blogsite’s “The Japanese educational system” page.

Super Illustrated Kanji

Super Illustrated Kanji

Check out this new resource “Supaa Irasuto Kanji” for making kanji learning way easier for children, especially for dyslexic children.

Available at

Above is the  link for the year 1 and 2 book, the other 4 grades have their own book.



Note: Designed for use with Japanese children, the product is all in Japanese. Look inside the product…


Plum blossoms under an overcast spring sky

Plum blossoms under an overcast spring sky

Spring greetings to all our Edu Watch readers,

It has been fickle spring weather for graduating students as well as new school entrants heading to their respective school ceremonies, their rites of passage. Relief, disappointment or excitement are in the air as school exams end, and school acceptances are announced or as graduates head out in droves to hunt for jobs.

Below you’ll find our regular news roundup on the local educational scene.

The University of Tokyo and Kyoto University are slated to introduce recommendation-based admissions and admission office (AO) exams based on interviews and essays for the first time this autumn. The article below suggests that top universities are making room for talented creative students who may do not succeed via normal academic testing channels. Notwithstanding the new initiatives, top universities remain unlikely to ever spot most Einstein-like individuals, individuals who would be bored with the mindnumbingly unchallenging one-size-fits all public school curriculum and therefore likely show academic underachievement. Thus, even with the introduction of the miniscule AO exam, such students who would normally fly under the radar of high school teachers in the first place, would be thought of as under-achievers or unremarkable in the first place. They would be unlikely to enter special science classes or be nominated for International Olympiads. As such they would never be identified as talented individuals deserving of being recommended for AO exams. The whole school system including narrow International Science-Math Olympiad classes is geared towards left-brained, exam high-achiever set of students. All the new initiatives merely serve to do is to cream off the best and most creative individuals from the top percentile of academically high achieving student population…

New screening styles at top universities (The Yomiuri Shimbun)
The University of Tokyo and Kyoto University are scheduled to introduce recommendation-based admissions as well as so-called admission office (AO) exams based on interviews and essays for the first time this autumn.

Taken ahead of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s planned reform of college and university entrance examinations, the move by the two universities reflects a sense of crisis that they will not be able to survive amid international competition if they stick to conventional knowledge-based exams.

“We want students who are able to present problems by themselves and are capable of taking on those problems,” University of Tokyo Vice President Hiroo Fukuda said at a study meeting in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, in early January. Fukuda was invited by the prefecture’s high school principals association, and about 90 second-year high school students attended the meeting.

Fukuda described the kind of achievements that will be well regarded in recommendation-based admissions, including winning a prize at the International Science Olympiads and scoring well on an English proficiency test like TOEFL.

To a female student who asked, “How will a student be evaluated if they have motivation and ability but no actual achievements?” Fukuda answered: “We cannot gain insight into students’ potential creativity through just a one- or two-hour interview. We want some evidence that shows the student’s ability and eagerness to learn.”

Fukuda has visited 15 locations across the nation since last year to publicize the university’s recommendation- based exams at high schools. Fukuda stressed the purpose of the new system, saying, “We want to vitalize our university by accepting talented people who can produce something new, and through friendly competition between new entrants and existing students.”

Each high school can recommend only one male and one female student. Many students at the University of Tokyo graduated from big city schools that combined middle and high schools. Under such circumstances, there have been growing calls within the university for greater diversity of students.

At an explanatory meeting held at the university in August last year, teachers from private high schools in Tokyo objected to the university’s move, with one teacher saying, “Recommendation- based admission is unfair to high schools that have provided students with academic abilities strong enough to pass entrance exams.”

Although local high schools are highly receptive to the recommen- dation-based admissions, the university’s requirements for recommendation are tough.

A 51-year-old vice principal at a prefectural high school in the Tokai region, whose students are aiming at entering high-ranking universi-ties, said: “The majority of students who represent Japan at the International Science Olympiads are students from noted schools that combine a middle school and a high school. Students at local public schools have no room to take on special activities.”

Kyoto University also plans to adopt recommendation-based admissions and AO exams. Kyoto University’s faculty of medicine admits students without graduating from high school if they participated in the International Science Olympiads.

Kyoto University President Juichi Yamagiwa said at a press conference in December last year that “assembling students with outstanding talent is the best environment for producing innovation.”

The Central Education Council has called for universities to change their entrance exam system to more multifaceted screening systems.

However, the quota for recommen- dation-based admissions and the AO exams at both universities is about 100 students each, only 3 percent of the total.

“Even if the number of students who enter the universities through the new system is small, it is symbolic that the two universities will launch the new system and they have significant influence,” said Hiroshi Kobayashi, head of Recruit Marketing Partners Co., an expert on university entrance exams.” …. More at

Ministry urges 253 universities to improve (NHK — FEB 23)
Japan’s education ministry has called on 253 universities and colleges to improve their academic standards.
The ministry released the results of its fiscal 2014 survey of 502 tertiary institutions on Sunday. It found the enrolment and study programs for new departments at 253 of these universities and colleges did not match the plans they had submitted.
31 institutions are being urged to correct the problems, which include some legal violations.

The ministry recommended that Osaka-based Taisei Gakuin University change its credit system. Students can earn credits for some subjects by obtaining outside certification instead of attending classes.

Officials also advised a department in the graduate school of Tokyo-based Hosei University to improve its research and teaching. The department has 4 times the permitted number of students for fiscal 2014.

‘Reunited’ Hachiko statue unveiled at Todai (THE JAPAN NEWS — MAR 10)

A new statue that depicts the faithful dog Hachiko being reunited with his owner has been unveiled at the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Agriculture in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.
The statue re-creates the scene of a joyful Hachiko leaping to greet his owner, Hidesaburo Ueno (1871-1925), a pioneer of Japan’s irrigation engineering and rural planning.
Ueno was a professor in the agricultural department at the then Imperial University of Tokyo, now the University of Tokyo. About three years ago, volunteers – including Todai professors studying the relationship between people and animals – started collecting donations to erect the statue.

– See the unveiling of the statue at:

The Kibasen event is such an entrenched event at Japanese school Sports Days, on the one hand, the judgment will serve to make school authorities more cautious and aware of possible dangers of the sport, on the other hand, it would be a shame if the event were to be banned altogether by alarmed school authorities…

Man paralyzed in 2003 school sports day accident awarded Y200 mil damages (JAPAN TODAY — MAR 05)
The Fukuoka District Court has awarded 200 million yen in damages to a 29-year-old man who was paralyzed in a school sports day accident in 2003.
The accident occurred at Chikuzen High School during the annual athletic festival. The man, then a third year high school boy, was reenacting a mock cavalry battle by standing on the shoulders of other students (acting the role of a rider mounted on a horse), TBS reported. He fell and broke his neck leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Both the boy and his parents claimed that the accident had occurred due to a mistake in safety protocols made by the school, and joined with Fukuoka Prefecture in a joint lawsuit against the school, demanding reparations of 290 million yen.

– See more at:

See also other recent news on school sporting accidents:
16-year-old boy in critical condition after being hit in head by baseball
A 16-year-old Saitama high school boy remain unconscious in hospital on Monday after he was hit in the head by a baseball Sunday. (Japan Today, Feb 23, 2015)
– See more at:

Fear of missing out drives net addiction in Japan (ASTROAWANI.COM — FEB 16)
For Japanese teenager Sumire, chatting with friends while she sits in the bath or even on the toilet is nothing out of the ordinary.
An ever-present smartphone means she, like much of her generation, is plugged in 24-7 — to the growing concern of health professionals.
“I’m online from the moment I wake up until I go to sleep, whenever I have time — even in class,” the 18-year-old, who gave only her first name, told AFP.

“I’m always messaging friends on ‘Line’, even when I’m in the bath. I guess I feel lonely if I’m not online, sort of disconnected,” she said, referring to a Japanese chat app used by about 90 percent of high school students here, according to a recent survey.

While Sumire acknowledges that she probably uses her iPhone too much, she is far from alone in a country where young people are frequently glued to a screen.

High school girls in Japan spend an average of seven hours a day on their mobile phones, a survey by information security firm Digital Arts revealed this week, with nearly 10 percent of them putting in at least 15 hours. Boys of the same age average just over four hours mobile phone use a day, the research found.

The problem has become so grave a whole field of medicine has developed to ween them off their digital props.

“This is what we call the conformity type,” psychiatrist and leading net addiction specialist Takashi Sumioka said. “This type of obsession is caused by the fear that they will get left out or bullied in a group if they don’t reply quickly.”

– See more at:

Hays Recruitment on “shinsotsu-ikkatsu-saiyo” Recruitment practice and joining “gaishikei” foreign-affiliated conpanies

Hays Japan to hold job-hunting seminar in partnership with universities (Feb 27, 2015 JAPANTODAY)
Hays Specialist Recruitment Japan KK, a foreign affiliated recruiting company offering career support for specialist personnel, on Thursday announced that it will hold a “Seminar for Job-hunting in Foreign Affiliated Companies” in cooperation with major universities and educational institutions.

The seminars are part of Hays Japan’s CSR activities aimed at raising global career awareness among university students who want to work for a foreign affiliated company. As global companies’ presence increases, foreign affiliated companies or “gaishikei” are gaining an unprecedented level of attention as one of the options for new university graduates. Meanwhile, many companies are struggling to come to terms with the change of rules in Keidanren’s “Guidelines on the Screening and the Recruitment of Job Applicants”.

Now that Japan has entered a period of transition from the unique employment structure symbolized by “simultaneous recruiting of new graduates (“shinsotsu-ikkatsu-saiyo”), the seniority wage system (“nenko-joretsu”) and the lifetime employment system (“shushin-koyo”),” winning the battle for personnel, both new graduates and mid-career, has become the highest priority for organisations. Meanwhile, students (job seekers) have been forced to change their mindset from the conventional form of “job-seeking activities”, whereby they assume they can contribute to the organization as generalists, to a Western-style that requires honing one’s skills in order to achieve career progression.

Against this backdrop, Hays Japan has begun providing information and dispatching its recruiting experts to universities to help students rethink the meaning of “working in a ‘gaishikei’ company” and “being globally active”, while also raising career awareness for our future global leaders. This began by dispatching a recruiting expert to Tokyo University of Science to implement a seminar on the theme of “Working in a Gaishikei Company.”

The seminars share knowledge from recruiting experts on global career support service ranging from basic concepts such as what is a “gaishikei” company, how is it different from a domestic (“nikkei”) company and the definition of a global talent, through to the mindset for job-seeking in “gaishikei” companies, how to apply and the selection process. Hays Japan also provide specific advice on the basic structure of a resume for a “gaishi” and tips for interviews.

“Simultaneous recruiting of new grads (‘shinsotsu-ikkatsu-saiyo’) is a recruiting practice that companies follow, where they hire new graduates simultaneously and start employing them in April each year. This is a custom unique to Japan that has supported its rapid economic growth in the past,” says Jonathan Sampson, Managing Director of Hays in Japan. “On the other hand, the general recruitment practice in Europe or the United States is to seek talented new graduates periodically throughout the year. Many students also gain experience through several internships while enrolled in university, and it is not uncommon for them to be recruited in recognition of their work during this time.

“Our initiative is based on the belief that to provide the best match between career options according to individual objectives for students and job seekers, and the securement of quality talent for organisations, job hunting and recruitment activities should be conducted year-round. We hope to be able to contribute to the changes that should be made to the recruitment practices by conducting these seminars for new graduates in the coming months.”

Japanese Universities Intensify Recruitment Efforts in India

Japanese universities are looking to give their American and European counterparts a run for their money when it comes to recruiting from India, reports The Hindu. Their unique selling proposition: study in a top notch university in Japan for nearly half the cost of studying in the West.

And backing their efforts are a clutch of top Japanese brands, such as Sony, Canon, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, which are sweetening the offer by promising placements in Japan or in their Indian subsidiaries. More than 1,200 Japanese companies are operating in India today, but there are currently only 500 Indian students attending Japanese universities.

As a next step, 10 Japanese universities, led by the University of Tokyo along with Japanese businesses, will be holding a series of Japan Education summits in India. “We intend to double the number of Indian students in Japan from the current level of 500 in the next five years. Today even, Nepal and Bangladesh have more students in Japan than India,” Miki Matsuo, Project Coordinator, Japan International Cooperation Agency, told BusinessLine on the sidelines of the Japan Education Summit.

The new initiative gained momentum with the ratification of the Tokyo Declaration for Japan-India Special Strategic and Global Partnership by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in September last year.

Japan’s high child poverty rate driven by increasing single parent families (ABC — MAR 02)
Japan is one of the world’s richest countries but one in six Japanese children now live in poverty – one of the worst rates in the industrialised world.
Poverty is largely hidden in Japan as most go without help for it is seen as a great shame, but the issue is now threatening the country’s economic revival.
Nana Kojima is a single mother bringing up two children and is part of Japan’s hidden but growing army of working poor.

“I struggle with the rent. Half my income goes on that and then I don’t have much left for food and bills,” Ms Kojima said.

In Japan more than half a million single mothers live below the poverty line, earning less than $12,000 a year.

Japan’s male corporate culture means single mothers mostly work in casual, low-paid jobs.

Ms Kojima works as a waitress for $10 an hour.

“In Japan, single, working mothers are discriminated against,” she said.

“We have little chance to progress as our needs are not understood.”

The increase in the number of single mothers is fuelling Japan’s record child poverty rates.

Community groups are starting to provide help, including volunteers dedicated to making sure children in need get a healthy meal and their mothers have a chance to connect.

The Children’s Network group in Tokyo was one of the first to be set up in the Japanese capital just two years ago and it has encouraged more to be established.

– See more at:



Elsewhere, what’s happening on the educational scene…

More than 1,000 requests from colleges and universities have come in to host screenings of “The Hunting Ground,” a new documentary examining how higher education institutions handle sexual assault on campus, the filmmakers told The Huffington Post on Tuesday.

Fifty-two higher education institutions already confirmed with RADiUS, the film’s distributor, that they will host screenings on their campuses. That list includes several colleges under federal investigation due to concerns with how they’ve handled reports of sexual violence, including Brown University, the University of Virginia, Iowa State University, Dartmouth College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Kansas and Columbia University.

“The Hunting Ground” examines several college student sexual assault cases, including that of Erica Kinsman, who reported Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston for rape in December 2012. The film then tracks how Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, two University of North Carolina graduates, worked with other activists to file federal complaints accusing universities of mishandling rape. The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating how 97 colleges responded to sexual violence reports.

“With more than 1,000 invitations to screen ‘The Hunting Ground’ on college campuses across the country, it’s a promising sign of leadership and courage inside the ranks of higher education,” filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering wrote in a statement to HuffPost… Read more from the Mar 7 Huffington Post article

Last but not least, WHO objects to the young plugging into loud music…

One billion young at risk of hearing loss from loud music– WHO

More than one billion young people risk damaging their hearing through listening to loud music, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
The WHO estimates that around half of those between the ages of 12 and 35 in middle- and high-income countries are at risk due to unsafe levels of sound on personal audio devices or smartphones.
Another 40 percent are at risk from damaging audio levels at concert venues and night clubs.
More and more young people are exposed to unsafe levels of sounds. Young people should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back, said Shelley Chadha, a WHO specialist on hearing impairment.
The UN health agency considers a volume above 85 decibels for eight hours or 100 decibels for 15 minutes as unsafe.
Exposure to traffic noise at peak hours can reach 85 decibels.
The vuvuzela, a popular wind instrument used in stadiums during the football World Cup in South Africa in 2010, has a sound intensity of 120 decibels and over nine seconds of exposure could result in irreversible hearing damage.
It is something we can live without, Chadha said referring to the vuvuzela.
To counter the risks, the WHO recommends that personal audio devices should not be used for more than an hour a day, at reduced sound levels.
The use of ear plugs in loud conditions and regular check ups were part of the recommendations as well. More here
[Good luck getting any of our young to limit their music listening to an hour a day!]

That’s it from me today.

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe


  1. image
    As my son walked off this weekend with his bento lunchbox and waterflask to sit possibly his final set of entrance exam papers at a public university, I felt a distinct weight lift off from my shoulders, and a feeling like we’re seeing the light at the end of the Tunnel of the Underworld of University Entrance Exams.

I thought I would just ruminate here and unload some thoughts and steam about the entire college entrance exam process as my first encounter with it comes to a close.

The entrance exam circuit as a student racetrack  I recall the first time my uncle brought me to the racetracks and the first bet I ever placed on a horse.  The adrenaline rush during a race is palpable.  To have a child facing entrance exams, for the parent, the experience is sort of similar to owning a racehorse and betting all out on your stable’s horse(s). You hope you’ve done your part in feeding and grooming your horse, choosing the right jockey (juku/high school) for the big challenge and race ahead, and that even if you have a dark horse with an uncertain track record, you hope that it will be able to pull up from behind to win the race. A child is not a racehorse of course, but the neck-and-neck hensachi numbers game of the entrance exam system can sure make you feel like one. To others, navigating the whole entrance exam system and school choice and scheduling complexities it might seem even more like a Snakes-and-Ladders landscape (depicted at the top of this page).

Intense competition Exactly how competitive are the college exams and how fierce is the rivalry between college applicants?

The number of students, including my son, who sat for the National Center Test for University Entrance Examinations Test (Senta Shiken in Japanese) 大学入試センター試験 was 559,132 (1,540 fewer than last year, compare these figures to the total of 582,000 people who sat for the Center tests in January 2000) This figure constitutes 81.4 % of this year’s batch of spring-graduating highschool students.

The two-day national center test for university admissions for enrollment this spring in Japan was held on Jan 17-18, 2015 at a total of 690 locations across the country. My son and his student cohorts are the first generation of Japanese people who saw increased educational content after the end of years of “yutori” relaxed, pressure-free education.

The bone of contention – the source of competitive tension, exam stress and misery — the Senta Shiken

The two-day examination held once a year in January almost simultaneously throughout the country is said to be the source of  exam stress because it is a one-shot exam. However, there are many other countries that hold once a year exams as well, like GCSEs. So this hardly constitutes the key reason for exam hell and misery. We offer more reasons below.

All national and public universities and over 200 private universities use these exams. In many cases, universities also conduct a second screening with different exams for each faculty and an interview, and use the combined scores of these and the Center exams to select new students. The exam dates and results for individual universities are held and posted at different times, but most are announced by the end of March, but the very last of certain public university kouki second stage exams are held around school graduation day.

The format is multiple-choice and covers Japanese, geography and history, civics, mathematics, science, and a foreign language of the student’s choice. Though most students choose the English test, there are a variety of other foreign languages offered. My son took eight tests in five subjects.

The results are announced on the Center’s website and by a recorded telephone message giving the number held by each successful examinee. The exam itself is covered on the national news and the exam questions are later published in national newspapers.

The uni-files describes how the U. entrance exam system works:

University entrance is based largely on the scores that students achieved in entrance examinations (nyūgaku shiken (入学試験?)). Private institutions accounted for nearly 80% of all university enrollments in 1991, but with a few exceptions such as Waseda University and Keio University, the public national universities are more highly regarded. Especially, National Seven Universities are the most prestigious. This distinction had its origins in historical factors—the long years of dominance of the select imperial universities, such as Tokyo and Kyoto universities, which trained Japan’s leaders before the war—and also in differences in quality, particularly in facilities and faculty ratios.

In addition, certain prestigious employers, notably the government and selected large corporations (e.g. those listed in Nikkei 225), continue to restrict their hiring of new employees to graduates of the most esteemed universities. There is a close link between university background and employment opportunity. Because Japanese society places such store in academic credentials, the competition to enter the prestigious universities is keen.

Students applying to national or other public universities take two entrance examinations, first a nationally administered uniform achievement test (senta shiken (センター試験?)) and then an examination administered by the university that the student hopes to enter (niji shiken (二次試験?)). Applicants to private universities need to take only the university’s examination. [Some universities decide on successful candidates using only the National Center Test, but most prestigious universities require the candidate to take another, institution-specific exam, which in the case of top-ranking universities is often more difficult than the National Center Test.]

Such intense competition means that many students can not compete successfully for admission to the college of their choice. An unsuccessful student can either accept an admission elsewhere, forgo a college education, or wait until the following spring to take the national examinations again. A large number of students choose the last option. These students, called ronin, meaning masterless samurai, spend an entire year, and sometimes longer, studying for another attempt at the entrance examinations. In 2011, the number of ronin who took the uniform test is 110,211, while the number of high school students who took the test is 442,421.” [This means    freshies have to compete against the more experienced ronin students who make up roughly a quarter of the college applicants…knowing this can add to the competitive stress]

During this past weekend, my son sat for the zenki (first stage) entrance exam for a public university that offers his chosen course. Only 20 places are allotted and the number of openings is oversubscribed by four times the number of applicants (80).  If he should fail to get in this round, he will have to contend against an even more formidable lot of rival applicants probably holding stronger Senta Shiken results, for only three or four available seats during the kouki (final stage) entrance exam, which will involve an essay, to be considered along with Senta Shiken results (the latter having a weightage of 40%).

Taking the U. entrance exam is today almost a rite of passage for highschoolers. The Senta Shiken and U. entrance exam system as a whole are a cultural institution.

A brief history  The examination system was imported from Europe to Japan following the 1868 Meiji Restoration, and in the 1920s the term “examination hell” represented the fierce competition for academic middle schools and high schools, though only a few elite went to college (Amano 1990:xii). During the Occupation after World War II, college admissions were based on high school records, a standard aptitude test, and entrance examinations by individual colleges. Entrance examinations given by each college primarily determined admissions. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

More on the Senta Shiken from Japan Trends:

“The exam system existed since the 19th c. In high school, students take moshi or mock exams based on the Senta Shiken administered by NUEE Centre, an agency affiliated with MEXT (Monbukagakukasho). Students are given standard deviation scores, known as hensachi, based on their performance in these tests.

University and individual departments within them are then ranked based on average henasachi of students who successfully gain acceptance (Mamoru, 2001). This has led many to see the system as monolithic.

But along with the Senta, there are hundreds of separate exams administered by various U and departments within U. The exams are often an enormous source of income, especially for the higher-ranking universities. Universities actually enjoy a high degree of autonomy in constructing and evaluating such exams. …

Since the primary purpose of the test is to see if the applicant is prepared for college education, the test itself is not designed to distinguish the top three elite students from the rest of the crowd. The Center Test actually has a reputation for being one of the fairest and well-balanced tests to determine one’s academic skills because it covers all the basics in textbooks and has no trick questions.

“What makes the test problematic and even hellish, as criticized by millions in and out of country, has more to do with the fact that applicants get only one shot at taking this test, given on the first weekend after January 13th, just two months before high school graduation. (If they have already graduated high school or can prove the equivalent proficiency, they are also eligible to take the test.)

However, despite the fact that neither high school nor college is part of mandatory education in Japan, the great majority of high schoolers and their parents would admit that failing one college entrance exam can very well be equivalent to falling a hundred steps behind their peers who managed to get that golden ticket to the university of their choice.” – National Center Test for University Admissions to be replaced by new achievement tests in five year (Japan Trends)

The costly investment and the high stakes of testing

From my son’s scheduling chart below, you can see that the entire testing period for my son begins on January 17th, but does not end till April. The mounting costs of each exam, mock tests before each exam, deadlines for fees as well as acceptance fee required to guarantee a place (called “keeping the seat warm”) are also indicated. The dates of the entrance exams, results’ releases are staggered over the three months, beginning with lower tier colleges and ending with the most prestigious of public universities, and the payment dates are timed in a way to allow lower tier universities to earn income from exams and seat-warming fees. It is a busy time for parents, running around making all the remittance payments, not to mention, making bentos and hot soups/ramen and general daily care of your “warrior student”. It is the worst possible season too to hold exams, the cold and stomach flu tend to be at epidemic peaks, and snowfall can prevent candidates from reaching their exam halls altogether, which was what happened to last year’s examinees.


The university entrance exam dilemma touches on the high stakes and role of testing:

“The Center Test is in effect, used in the first round to eliminate candidates, and to cream off the best of the best scoring candidates, even though most universities also have their own exams for those who have scored high enough on the Center and proceeded to the second round of the college admission ordeal (which in Japanese is called juken).

This exam entrance system with the repeated hurdles of testing, is high stakes, costly, longer-drawn out than that of other systems requiring considerable exam endurance, thus is criticized as putting too much pressure on students, turning at least the last two of the three years of high school life into an exam-cramming experience.”

There has been decades of debate regarding the need to reform the exam system and Senta Shiken (see Reform of the university entrance exam sparks debate 14 Sep 2013 University World News), the PM Abe’s administration has announced that the Senta Shiken will be abolished and a new education system to be in place by 2020.

Gregory Poole writes of the EFL pressure on students (although his pre-2003 data needs updating and EFL has become a new source of pressure since having been made a mandatory subject in college admissions as well as all the way to elementary school) in his “Assessing Japan’s institutional entrance requirements” (2003) article:

“Japan has one of the highest rates of post-secondary school attendance among all industrialized nations, with 2.5 million undergraduates enrolled at over 600 national, public, and private four- year universities (Hirowatari 2000). Over half of all Japanese teenagers, then, apply to take a college entrance exam for admission into a tertiary institution. Most such admissions exams include a compulsory English proficiency sub-test although EFL is not a state-required subject at primary, secondary, or tertiary schools in Japan. Partly because of this university entrance exam focus on English, while only a handful of students are exposed to language classes in primary school, over 10 million 12 to 18 year olds, and another million or so university students ‘elect’ to study English” [and do so with inadequate support imho]

Norm referenced vs criterion-based exams – the neck-and-neck ranking of students’ test scores.

“Norm-referenced tests (or NRTs) compare an examinee’s performance to that of other examinees. Standardized examinations such as the SAT are norm-referenced tests. The goal is to rank the set of examinees so that decisions about their opportunity for success (e.g. college entrance) can be made.

Criterion-referenced tests (or CRTs) differ in that each examinee’s performance is compared to a pre-defined set of criteria or a standard. The goal with these tests is to determine whether or not the candidate has the demonstrated mastery of a certain skill or set of skills. These results are usually “pass” or “fail” and are used in making decisions about job entry, certification, or licensure. A national board medical exam is an example of a CRT. Either the examinee has the skills to practice the profession, in which case he or she is licensed, or does not.” – Norm-referenced vs. Criterion-referenced Testing

According to Gregory Poole:

“NRM’s are general tests intended to be used to classify students by percentile for measuring either aptitude or proficiency for admissions into or placement within a program. CRM’s, on the other hand, are more specific, achievement or diagnostic tests intended to be used for motivating students by measuring to what percent they have achieved mastery of the taught/learned material. … Contrastingly, the CRM, such as a locally produced achievement test, measures absolute performance that is compared only with the learning objective, hence a perfect score is theoretically obtainable by all students who have a mastery of the pre-specified material, or conversely, all students may fail the test…. Admissions and placement decisions are questions of proficiency and students are ideally spread out in a continuum for which a NRM is the test of choice. Language skills are tested generally and students can then be grouped accordingly into ability levels for decisions of either admission into a program or streaming into different classes within a program. Comparisons of average proficiency levels within a program, or across institutions on a state, national, or international scale, are other program-level concerns that are best addressed with a NRM. In classroom-level decision-making, on the other hand, diagnostic or achievement assessment is most helpful. For this end, CRMs are most accurate in helping teachers (and administrators) to assess the strengths and weaknesses of individual students with regard to the curriculum goals, as well as checking progress and achievement within such a program.”

“Japan has one of the highest rates of post-secondary school attendance among all industrialized nations, with 2.5 million undergraduates enrolled at over 600 national, public, and private four- year universities (Hirowatari 2000). Over half of all Japanese teenagers, then, apply to take a college entrance exam for admission into a tertiary institution. Most such admissions exams include a compulsory English proficiency sub-test although EFL is not a state-required subject at primary, secondary, or tertiary schools in Japan. Partly because of this university entrance exam focus on English, while only a handful of students are exposed to language classes in primary school, over 10 million 12 to 18 year olds, and another million or so university students ‘elect’ to study English.

3.1 ‘Exam hell’

“In Japan there is a commonly held belief in “the educationally credentialized society,” or gakureki shakai. In many cases, the extraordinary emphasis on ranking colleges and universities has led to a brand-name sensitivity that may affect a person for their entire life. One effect of a gakureki shakai is a phenomenon that has been labeled “exam hell.” As was mentioned in the introduction, the so-called “exam hell” is pressure felt by many young adults in Japan (as well as South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and other Asian countries for that matter). Most teenagers are expected to prove their intellectual mettle (or exam-taking talent) on these fact-oriented exams, even though they are rarely pushed to excel once they have matriculated at a college or university (see McVeigh 1997). Entrance into a university is often equated with passing the test, and in actuality this is often the case. Though admissions procedures are becoming more creative in recent years, the majority of colleges have resisted any change in a system that has been in place, arguably, since the Meiji Era in the late 1800s (Amano 1990). Indeed the university entrance, and overall education, system itself is inherently immobile (Frost 1991; Schoppa 1991), and has been described as a societal ‘filtering’ mechanism to create a class structure where otherwise none purportedly exists (see, eg, Cutts 1997; McVeigh 1997; McVeigh 1998). Students are strictly ranked according to hensachi, the “abstract notion of a national norm- referenced person-indexed score.” (Brown 1995, p.25). Using this score, high school and prep school teachers advise their students about which university entrance exams they should take based on their probability of acceptance (a high school teacher’s reputation is on the line if their students shoot too high and miss their mark– conservatism that is a necessity). In fact, the largest cram school syndicates in the Tokyo and Osaka area publish hensachi ranking lists of two and four-year colleges which students and teachers use to make application decisions.”

Not guilty as charged, however, asserts that the competitiveness of the entrance exams is greatly exaggerated as admissions requirements have become more varied, and are neither difficult nor competitive for many students opting for the lower and lowest tiers of universities.

At public universities at least the entrance exams are not sole admissions criteria. Nearly 95% of public universities included interviews and essays as part of entrance criteria(1999 fig. …needs updating). Weight given to various components varies depending on university and departments. 85% of universities admit 30% based on suisen nyuugaku/AO by portfolio of achievement and recommendations.

Notwithstanding the above assertion of varied routes and options, a great many Japanese students still strive to meet the rigorous college admissions requirements of the country’s most prestigious And top ranking colleges. In “Does examination hell pay off? The cost-benefit analysis of “ronin” and college education in Japan” H. Ono concludes,

“The high value placed on college prestige and the highly competitive environment of college entry in Japan suggest that college quality plays a significant role in how individuals prepare for college in that country. College-bound high school students undergo a process of intense preparation known as examination hell, and typically thirty percent will choose the ronin option, in which students spend years in addition to high school preparing for the next year’s college entrance examinations. Using the mean scores of the entrance examinations as a measure of college quality, my analysis finds that college quality significantly improved the internal rate of return (IRR) to college education among the sample of male graduates in Japan. The results show that the IRR with respect to ronin is one of diminishing returns. On average, the number of ronin years which maximizes returns is one or two years.”

The paper “An economic analysis of the exam aspects of entrance exams” makes a number of observations and conclusions regarding the design of the exam system, and analyses the level of student effort induced under norm-referenced testing vs. absolute performance systems, and their relationship between competition pool size, admission rate, informational gap, etc.

“This paper focuses on one of the possible causes of the exam hell, or more specifically, one of the possible causes of the phenomenon that students spend too much time and study too hard for the college entrance exam. Many attribute the causes of this over-studying problem to some cultural and economic-development factors such as Confucianism, the tradition of governmental official exam, and the dual-economy problem. However, we think more attention should be paid on how much the over-studying problem is related to the designs of the exam system. This is because the exam system, if it is (at least partially) responsible for the exam hell, could be adjusted more rapidly and easily to mitigate the over-studying problem than those cultural and economical causes. Economic theories developed to study the effort-inducing function and the selection function of institutions are well suited for studying this issue, since these two functions are the ones that the college entrance exam is designed to serve. …

We follow economics terminology to call the norm-referenced test the relative-performance system (the RP system) and call the criterion-referenced test the absolute-performance system (the AP system). … . And the RP system may induce more effort only when students are substantially different and they are not well informed about the ability of their opponents. Namely, the competition among students alone should not be blamed for the over-studying problem. It is the competition under uncertainty that may be responsible for the problem. The second result is that the effort-inducing function of the RP system is sensitive to the size (the number of students) and the informational structure of the competition pools. Under the RP systems, students’ effort can be effectively lowered, in case it is desired, by downsizing the competition pools (without changing the admission rate and the distribution of students’ ability) and at the same time informing students the ability levels of their opponents. The third result, following directly from the second one, is that the exam authority can manipulate the size and the informational structure under the RP system to induce a wide range of effort that, in some situations, includes the level induced by the corresponding AP system. This flexibility makes the norm-referenced test (a relative-performance mechanism) superior to the criterion-referenced test (an absolute-performance mechanism). The fourth result concerns the selection function. When the number of students contending in the pool is small and students are similar in ability, the AP system selects better in the sense that it gives high-ability students a relatively higher chance to enter college. The RP system may select better when the number of students is small, students are fairly different in ability, and students do not know the ability of their opponents. The fifth result is that adding some aptitude-test-type questions to an achievement test lowers students’ effort and at the same time improves the selection function. The last result is that creating more college positions (and thus increasing the admission rate) may not release the stress from students as many think. Doing so may actually make students study more.”

“the effort induced by the RP system of the same admission rate increases as the number of students increases, and 3. the effort induced by the RP system approaches the level induced by the AP system of the same admission rate from below as the number of students approaches infinity.”

Ustats12 (1)
Applying the ideas above, we should suppose that with the college admissions rate currently being just over 50%(an increase over the yr 2000 figures on the graph above) the Senta exam and competition student pool being nationwide and large, and ability gaps between students small … these all appear to be optimum conditions for inducing the greatest levels of student effort, and thus entrance exam competition can be deduce to be at peak levels.  Furthermore, even with the creation of more college positions as student populations decline, the overstudying might not be reduced as predicted, because in addition to the Senta test there are different combinations of exams and more different kinds of qualifying tests to study for (various types of criterion-based, aptitude tests, essays, dessin and/or interviews depending upon individual college choices and the requirements by the individual faculties) and the time and energy spent in gathering information for the different kinds of tests as well as period for exam studying becomes more drawn out over a longer period.

The paper above says that the intensity of that competition and the level of induced student effort and “overstudying” problem can be lessened to some extent, by dividing the competition pool into smaller ones, introducing achievement and aptitude tests and closing the student’s information gap by assessing his position against his/her rival’s realized scores. Students who are not all-rounders and who are unlikely to do well in academic testing on all subjects can choose not to do the Senta Shiken at all, and opt only for private schools that don’t look at Senta test results, but this eliminates the public college option, and where finances are an issue (which is for the majority of the population), as the cost of any private college is prohibitive, even for the “F tier” of colleges at the bottom rung of the ranking ladder(“F” means Free, for the “free acceptance” by some colleges of virtually any student regardless of their grades). The job of juku cramschools is to assist in performing these function and parents rely on their role in reducing the informational gap and helping them to assess the test performance of, and the probabilistic outcome of the performance of their children.

Risk aversion or uncertainty avoidance trait of Japanese drives them onto the known and well-trodden higher education path to traditional comporate careers.

About 73 percent of Japanese describe themselves as risk-averse, according to a 2008 study of 51 countries by Stockholm-based World Values Survey…According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, fewer than 4 percent of working-age Japanese intend to start a business within three years. That’s the third-lowest rate among 54 countries surveyed last year, behind only the United Arab Emirates and Russia” – Japan’s fear of risk is getting dangerous. Businessweek Dec 6, 2012

In Cultural differences in risk tolerance Christoph S. Weber studies nationality as a factor that determines the level of risk aversion or uncertainty avoidance:

“Societies with lower uncertainty avoidance might be more innovative (Shane, 1995). Taking this into account risk averse people tend to work less in risky sectors, be less willing to found a company or work as self-employed (Ekelund et al., 2005) and work less frequently in the research area3. … nationality also matters in the decision-making processes.

Only the Japanese assess themselves as highly risk averse (Salacuse, 1998).
Women have a higher probability of being risk averse … people with large worries about finances have a higher probability of being very risk averse and have a lower probability of being moderately risk averse and risk neutral.

The degree of life satisfaction has a similar effect… those individuals with higher degrees of life satisfaction are more likely to be moderately or very risk prone. Being highly satisfied increases the probability of being risk prone and vice versa….

Both income and wealth are positively correlated with risk tolerance. Worries about finances tend to increase risk aversion while life and income satisfaction increase risk propensity. Unemployed individuals have a higher probability of being risk averse.

My son did not attend cramschool during the high school years, and my well-meaning neighbour had on more than a few occasions urged me to send my son to cramschool as he did his son some years ago (his son entered the medical profession). Around 75% of my son’s class attend a cramschool in addition already being in a private academic prep high school. Conventional wisdom in Japan has many parents sending their children off to either attend juku or an academic prep school (often both) to increase their chances of obtaining high scores in the Senta Shiken as well as individual university entrance exams. It was a hard choice for us not to do the same, but we felt it would make our son a true learner to have to seek out answers for himself, than to have them spoonfed and delivered to him. We know it has been hard for him, and he spent many hours, seeking out lectures on Youtube, and materials online.

Fear of failure and of an uncertain outcome (and employment opportunities due to failure to gain acceptance to desired prestigious colleges) can weigh heavily upon a family – this fear and risk aversion are why parents expend a huge proportion of their household income in cramschool fees or private school fees in the hopes of their student improving their National Center scores, and thereby increasing the odds of the student clearing college entrance exam and college admissions hurdles. By far, I think the juku’s value to parent may be in that it helps close the informational gap and its counseling services in advising on college choice and in providing probabilistic predictions of which college category the student is a best match for, based in the student’s moshi mock test scores relative to other students, thus taking away some of the exam stress of uncertainty. As the literature above suggested, the stress (and therefore effort induced) is lessened when students are given information and know the ability levels of their opponents. Good schools should have experienced teachers who can provide the same function, and parents can buy informational materials from any bookstore, but the Japanese-illiterate foreign parent might be in a bit of a quandary without some professional help. There is a fair bit of administrative work for the parent in filling out forms, and having to run around meeting the deadlines for paying fees, and making bank remittances, and accepting college offers and such during this period. However, a high school student who is well prepped should be able to handle much of the information on schools enough to make a considered choice on his/her own.

There is considerable research or literature on how risk perception and fear affects people.

In “The hidden danger of being risk averse”:

“According to 20 years of research conducted by Columbia University’s Tory Higgins, it might be more accurate to say that some of us are particularly risk-averse, not because we are neurotic, paranoid, or even lacking in self-confidence, but because we tend to see our goals as opportunities to maintain the status quo and keep things running smoothly. Higgins calls this a prevention focus, associated with a robust aversion to being wide-eyed and optimistic, making mistakes, and taking chances.”

According to the Expected utility theory in Risk aversion psychology:

“The Expected Utility Theory (EUT) model presumes that decision-makers themselves incorporate an accurate weighting of probabilities into calculating expected values for their decision-making, EUT assumes that people’s subjective probability-weighting matches objective probability differences, when they are, in reality, exceedingly disparate. … A large majority of people prefer the sure thing over the gamble, although the gamble has higher (mathematical) expected value (also known as expectation).”

While EUT has generally been accepted as a normative model of rational choice (telling us how we should make decisions), descriptive models of how people actually behave deviate significantly from this normative model.

Affective psychology of risk – the earliest studies of risk perception also found that, whereas risk and benefit tend to be positively correlated in the world, they are negatively correlated in people’s minds, and, therefore, judgments. The significance of this finding was not realized until a study by Alhakami and Slovic (1994) found that the inverse relation between perceived risk and perceived benefit of an activity (e.g., using pesticides) was linked to the strength of positive or negative affect associated with that activity as measured by rating the activity on bipolar scales such as good/bad, nice/awful, dread/not dread, and so forth. This result implies that people base their judgments of an activity or a technology not only on what they think about it but also on how they feel about it. If their feelings toward an activity are favorable, they are moved toward judging the risks as low and the benefits as high; if their feelings toward it are unfavorable, they tend to judge the opposite— high risk and low benefit.

Risk-averse behaviors are the culmination of several neural correlates. While avoiding negative stimuli, perceived or real, is a simple enough action, decision-making requires anticipation, motivation and reasoning, giving a good worklout to different brain areas.

Fear-Conditioning. Over time, individuals learn that a stimulus is not benign through personal experience. Implicitly, a fear of a particular stimulus can develop, resulting in risk-averse behaviour. Traditionally, fear-conditioning is not associated with decision-making, but rather the pairing of a neutral stimulus with an aversive situation. Once an association is formed between the neutral stimulus and aversive event, a startle response is observed each time the neutral stimulus is presented. An aversion to the presentation of the neutral stimulus is observed after repeated trials.

Essential to understanding risk-aversion is the implicit learning that occurs during fear-conditioning. Risk aversion is the culmination of implicitly or explicitly acquired knowledge that informs an individual that a particular situation is aversive to their psychological well-being. Similarly, fear-conditioning is the acquisition of knowledge that informs an individual that a particular neutral stimulus now predicts an event that endangers their psychological or physical well-being.

Researchers such as Mike Davis (1992) and Joseph LeDoux (1996), have deciphered the neural correlates responsible for the acquisition of fear-conditioning.

The amygdala, previously mentioned as a region showing high activity for the emotion of regret, is the central recipient for brain activity concerning fear-conditioning. Several streams of information from multiple brain areas converge on the lateral amygdala, allowing for the creation of associations that regulate fear-conditioning; Cells in the superior dorsal lateral amygdala are able to rapidly pair the neutral stimulus with the aversive stimulus. Cells that project from the lateral amygdala to the central amygdala allow for the initiation of an emotional response if a stimulus is deemed threatening.

We can surmise from the foregoing that students and parents, with the perceived or real high stakes career rewards to be gained from a good performance in the entrance exam(s) and their aversion to and fear of the uncertain future that failure would bring, would be subject to high stress levels and a fearful mindscape. – see Scott D. Lane & Don R. Chorek, Risk aversion in human subjects under conditions of probabilistic reward (The Psychological Record, 2000, 50, 221-234):

“Much is known about how people evaluate hypothetical outcomes in decision situations. … But few human studies have examined risky choices using real consequences. Kahneman and Tversky (1984) reported, under some conditions, equivalent outcomes with real and hypothetical outcomes, but results from other studies are not so straightforward and suggest that there may be differences in subjects’ decision making when real payoff contingencies are implemented. Siovic (1969) found that when choices were hypothetical, subjects maximized gains and discounted the probability of loss, but were more risk averse (sensitive to losses and no gain) under conditions in which they actually played out their choices. …  These findings underscore the importance of investigating the role of contingencies and experimental context (e.g., motivational state) in decision making (see also Hastjarjo, Silberberg, & Hursh, 1990).”

Current theories of human risk taking assert that subjects psychologically transform expected (mathematical) values of choices into subjective values, and choices are subsequently based on these subjective values (e.g., Kahneman & Tversky, 1979, 1984). “[e.g. The latter scenario is particularly likely where students lack guidance by prep or juku school counselors, or knowledgeable parents, and select schools based on whimsical perusal of school pamphlets, rather a good match for their skills and abilities.]

Regarding student (and parental) exam stress due to uncertainty perception,  the article Risk aversion tells us “… we can’t come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don’t yet know. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait.” An uncertain outcome and future that seems to be hanging can weigh very heavily upon all concerned during the entrance exam period.

How Japanese cope with walking the testing tightrope. Academic prep high schools and cramschools exist mainly to help parents and students navigate the exam system. The whole exam prep process essentially began Day 1 of high school. My son’s high school came straight to the point … I recall that at the very first induction meeting, parents were already briefed about the high school’s track record in placing students in top universities, their educational philosophy and their strategies for preparing its students for college entrance exams. Academic prep schools such as my son’s also group students according to the same or similar ability in the same classrooms, in addition to facilitating learning at roughly the same pace, it makes for predicting student performance and ultimate college placements easier and a more accurate process. The debate about the connection between the creativity and an overemphasis on testing notwithstanding, according to my son’s school, which apparently knows its way around the testing game, as the aim was to remove the uncertainty and fear around exams and testing, students would be tested frequently, given ten minute quizzes (breaking up academic material into bit-sized digestible chunks for learning) to be followed  periodically, by longer term tests, and that this would be like innoculating the students in frequent small doses, until they were ready for big one or became immune to exam stress and fear. This would mean no surprises, and therefore, no nerves during the real thing. Moshi mock exams are taken by most students in the weeks, leading up to the actual exams. Does it work? I suppose so. Better prepped students are likely to be less nervous before or during an exam. Juku involves the same kind of strategic prep and thinking. In our case we did not have to send him to cramschool, nevertheless, in the days preceding receiving the first college acceptance letter, I fretted and worried that we might have jeopardized our son’s future in not having sent our son to cramschool. Hindsight is an illusory and useless thing, because by its very nature and definition it wasn’t in existence when you needed it.

Goal orientation and self-regulated learning  Academic prep high schools in Japan are really ultimately about two things, determine which university track the student is bound for, and two, helping your child set study goals and achieve them successfully. (It has been argued that the Japanese entrance exam system performs a strong selection role). Every student who wants do well in the college entrance exam has to face the enormity of having so much study ground to cover and the need for mastery of curriculum material when studying for exams.  For educators in Japan, this usually entails an understanding the role of goal orientation and the emphasis upon self-regulated learning.

Pintrich and Boekaerts in “Handbook of self-regulation“(2000), pp. 451-502 discuss motivational constructs, the different goal orientations linked to components of and frameworks for self-regulated learning. In the book, the authors define SRL, i.e., Self-regulated learning (SRL) as concerning “the application of general models of regulation and self-regulation of cognition, motivation/affect, behavior, and context to issues of learning, in particular, academic learning that takes place in school or classroom contexts”. They also suggest in the book that an approach–mastery goal orientation is generally adaptive for cognition, motivation, learning, and performance in an academic context.

The Japanese emphasis on hardwork and diligence and why Japanese students are so pessimistic 

Various global surveys have shown that Japanese children are among the most pessimistic in the world about their own future despite their relatively high achievement and performance in global test (PISA or TIMSS) rankings. Underlying this pessimism is the paradox of their view of the co-relation between effort and goal outcome, and their perception of their inability to control or influence outcome or failure – here, it might be useful to review some literature regarding the Japanese student attitude towards ability, perseverance and hardwork.

On this issue, I found to be particularly enlightening the following extract from an interesting study, “GOAL ORIENTATIONS AND ACTION- CONTROL BELIEFS : A Cross-cultural Comparison among Croatian, Finnish, and Japanese Students by Markku Niemivirta, Majda Rijavec, and Hirotsugu Yamauchi

“Results by Chandler, Shama, Wolf, and Planchard (1981) evidenced that American children believed the influence of effort to be more important for success than for failure, whereas the opposite was true for Japanese. More recently, Tuss and Zimmer (1995) found that both Japanese and Chinese students viewed failure situations as more controllable than did American students, and that these differences were mostly due to Americans making significantly less effort attributions. Additionally, Japanese children, in contrast to other groups, viewed failure outcomes equally controllable to success outcomes.
In general, these findings suggest that compared to Western children, Japanese do not exhibit self-serving bias in their causal ascriptions for achievement outcomes. Although this difference could be attributed to a number of possible culture-bound reasons (see Fletcher & Ward, 1988), two of them can be considered especially relevant in the present context; namely, differences in underlying motives and differences in conceptions of effort and ability.

… they [Western children] take credit for success and deny responsibility for failures (Bradley, 1978), and they commonly view their future in optimistic terms and underestimate possible misfortunes (Weinstein, 1980). However, a number of studies suggest that such self-enhancing tendencies are rare, absent, or even reversed within some Asian cultures, and especially in Japan; in adult populations, there is virtually no evidence of illusory optimism (Heine & Lehman, 1995), false uniqueness effect (Markus & Kitayama, 1991), or self-serving attributions (Kitayama, Takagi, & Matsumoto, 1995; Yamauchi, 1988) in Japanese. The general conclusion appears to be that, compared to Europeans and Americans (herein Euro-Americans), Japanese are far more self-critical – that is, sensitive to negative self-relevant information and motivated to improve potential shortcomings (Heine, Lehman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999).

… Nicholls (1984) argued that achievement-related goals are pursued differently depending on how individuals construe competence. Based on developmental data he suggested a distinction be- tween two types of conceptions, which “embody different criteria for judging one’s ability or chances of demonstrating ability” (p. 329). In the less differentiated con- ception ability judgments are self-referenced. That is, high effort is seen to lead to learning, which in turn indicates higher ability; the greater gain in a difficult task reflects greater competence. In the differentiated – normative – conception, ability is perceived as capacity, which is inferred by interpersonal comparison of effort and performance. A demonstration of high ability thus relies on success in tasks where others fail, but high effort implies less capacity. This view suggests that in Japan, the less differentiated conception of ability might be readily internalized as a cul- tural constituent and thus becomes a standard rather than an alternative.

Nicholls (1984) went on to suggest that the two conceptions of ability lead to different goals in achievement situations. He used the term task-involvement to refer to states where individuals seek to gain ability in the less differentiated sense (e.g., in noncompetitive situations) and the term ego-involvement to states where individuals seek to demonstrate ability in the more differentiated sense (e.g., in competitive situations). This distinction between situationally induced ability con- ceptions led Nicholls and his colleagues to propose a similar distinction in disposi- tional tendencies (e.g., Nicholls, Patashnick, Cheung, Thorkildsen, & Lauer, 1989; Nicholls, Patashnick, & Nolen, 1985); they argued that people with different moti- vational orientations – task or ego orientation, respectively – differ in their com- mitment to the two criteria of success. Nicholls (1984) did not, however, argue that people with different task-related goals had different conceptions of the nature of ability and effort; they just differ in their belief in the role of ability and effort in success. …”

“Compared to most of their Western peers, Japanese students showed higher endorsement of effort and lower endorsement of luck and teachers’ influence as causes of school performance. However, they also showed lowest levels of control expectancy and agency beliefs of ability (Karasawa, Little, Miyashita, Mashima, & Azuma, 1997; Little & Lopez, 1997). That is, they were not convinced that they are able to produce positive and prevent negative outcomes in school and that they possess necessary abilities to succeed. These findings are partly in line with the results from attribution research might relate to the other aspect of suspected bias mentioned above – to construct bias in terms of specific item contents. In other words, if Japanese students made a clear distinction between enjoying the consequences of relative success and having it as a goal, the preference for the former might thus explain their score level on the performance orientation scale. Although this interpretation appears to be in disagreement with the robust findings of Japanese lacking self-enhancement tendencies -which, in general, are presumed to underlie the emphasis on performance orientation- it is not necessarily contradictory considering the high demands set and the grading system applied in the Japanese school system (Kanaya, 1994; Stevenson, 1998). This interpretation is also in line with some of the findings in Hayamizu’s (1992) study showing how Japanese students couple affectual attributions with public mistakes and failures in relation to their peers, as well as with Iyengar and Lepper’s (1999) study demonstrating how (American) Japanese students’ motivation and engagement have a strong external frame of reference and appear to result from the internalization of significant others’ values. Nevertheless, future research should focus more carefully on the various aspects of performance orientation and ability-related concerns within different cultural settings.”

In other words, when Japanese students fail they tend to blame themselves, and attribute it to their lack of diligence or the insufficient amount of effort put in.

In “The Art of thinking clearly” Rolf Dobelli writes, “The illusion of control is the tendency to believe that we can control something over which we have absolutely no sway. This was discovered in 1965 by two researchers Jenkins and Ward. The idea that people can influence their destiny by even a fraction, encourage people not to give up their actions.” The illusion or belief that they can achieve success in their Senta (National Center) Test if they work at it and study hard enough motivates many students to strive to enter prestigious colleges in Japan.

This may also explain the Ronin Student Phenomenon and the tenacity of ronin students who retake their entrance exams, sometimes over and over again. My son’s school information pamphlet(2014), I noted, showed that roughly 40% of the students who made it to the top ranked colleges like Todai, Keio and Waseda were ronin repeat students.

I will wrap up here, though my son’s journey through “exam hell” (which is more like purgatory), is not quite done — while having received acceptances from three MARCH universities, he is still awaiting results from a public university. For first-time households with college-headed kids, I recommend Mike Guest’s article “Gettin’ your kids into college” for a blow-by-blow account of school choices, and the intricacies of navigating the exam system.


Good luck to all who have to make this same journey, now that you have been through my “fear landscape” (a Divergent literary reference) you can go out and conquer yours!

Aileen Kawagoe

P.S. I write as a parent, not as a professional counselor. Any errors made are my own, please do due diligence in your own efforts to navigate the Japanese university entrance exam scene.


Sources and further reading:

University entrance center test begins on Jan 17, 2015
Jiji Press via /

“We will see a major development this year — the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will launch preparations for reform of the college entrance examination system, aimed at providing more opportunities for applicants and at selecting successful applicants using means beyond raw test scores.

A report released last month by the Central Council for Education sharply criticized the current education system, saying it “tends to place too much emphasis on memorizing and reproducing information” and “studying for entrance examinations has become the incentive for learning.”

The panel’s proposals are aimed at making a sweeping change to the college entrance examination system as the percentage of students advancing to the university level exceeds 50 percent.”

Other entrance exam-hell-related 0bservations:

English testing is a component on most school admissions requirements, the tests that are set for the most part do not correlate well with classroom teaching which is for the most part inadequate due to the lack of qualified English teachers in Japanese high schools. This is a key source of stress. Another reason given for underchievement by Japanese students is give as follows:

Why Japanese students underachieve in EFL tests. An interesting issue to be considered is the idea that this mastery-goal or performance (and/instrumentalist) orientation of Japanese students, actually has limitations on learning, especially with respect to language learning, where integrative orientation is important. This may account for their poorer performance in TOEFL scores in EFL language learning, relative to that of other countries.

See “Not guilty as charged: Do the U. Entrance exams in Japan affect what is taught?” By Michael Stout (2003, ETJ, Vol. 4, No. 1 Spring 2003  Re criticism of the translation-grammar pedagogy typical of China, Japan and Korea. Stout sees the strengthening of the Center Test as a possible means of promoting changes that would improve English Language learning and teaching in Japan.

See “Perspectives: What Do We Know About the Language Learning Motivation of University Students in Japan? Some Patterns in Survey Studies” by Kay Irie

…instrumental and integrative motivation have still been the largest common denominators of the Japanese survey studies from the 1990s to the present. A review of the research on these concepts will help us to understand some characteristics of the L2 motivation of Japanese university students. …
Mastery and performance orientation, the second set of concepts, are rather new in the field of L2 motivation research although they are the two major concepts in goal orientation theories in motivational psychology. These concepts were originally developed by developmental and educational psychologists to explain children’s behavior in school. Considering that English is taught as a school subject in Japan, it may be advisable to consider the Pintrich and Schunk (199) suggestion that goal orientation theories represent “the most relevant and applicable goal theory for understanding and improving learning and instruction” (p. 233). These two concepts overlap to some extent with the two well-known concepts, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Mastery goal orientation can be considered a contemporary view of intrinsic motivation with a focus on personal cognitive goals in educational learning situations (Pintrich & Schunk, 199). The concept of intrinsic- extrinsic motivation focuses on reasons for doing the task. Intrinsically motivated people engage in tasks for the joy of doing them or to satisfy their curiosity (Dörnyei, 2001b). Extrinsically motivated people engage in tasks to receive an external reward (Dörnyei, 2001b). On the other hand, mastery-oriented learners focus on the value of learning itself, for personal growth, more than on whether or not they enjoy learning. Thus they tend to choose challenging tasks and view errors as opportunities for learning (Dweck, 2000). Also, central is the belief that effort will lead to success (Dörnyei, 2001b). Performance-oriented learners engage in tasks to demonstrate to others their worth or competence. Their goal is set on a performance level: to get high grades, to win recognition of their significant others, or to do better than other students. Thus, they tend to avoid problems that are too hard but prefer tasks that are just hard enough to convey an impression of competence (Dweck, 2000)…

Mastery and performance goal orientations have been empirically investigated in connection to a wide range of cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes in educational psychology and the research provides rich implications for ways to consciously raise students’ motivation in the classroom (e.g. Dörnyei, 2001b; Pintrich & Schunk, 199; for specific motivational strategies, see Dörnyei, 2001a). In this light, although no specific studies have as yet addressed mastery and performance goal orientation in Japanese L2 motivation studies, these orientations should be of value toward interpreting findings in previous studies.

Japanese university students seem to value the importance of English as a means to an end. A factor comprised of instrumental reasons has emerged in most studies of the L2 motivation of Japanese university students (e.g., Johnson, 199; McGuire, 2000; Miyahara et al., 1997; Yashima, 2000). In their large cross-sectional study including a wide range of Japanese learners of English from junior high school to university students and language school adult learners, Kimura, et al., (2001) found that the instrumental motivation of Japanese learners of English (N = 1,027) is mostly related either to career or examinations. …

The researchers conclude that the integrative motivation of Japanese university students is defined by a general positive interest in traveling and communicating with people from English speaking countries. Unlike their Chinese and Korean counterparts however, there was no strong desire to learn English in order to integrate into TL communities, as in the original sense of integrative motivation.
Integrative motivation is also an important measure which may explain the Japanese students’ lowest and the Chinese students’ highest average of proficiency among the three Asian countries compared in Miyahara et al. (1997). Dörnyei (1990) suggests that instrumental motivation plays a significant role in the attainment of an intermediate level of proficiency in FL learning contexts, but for the levels beyond, positive attitudes towards the TL cultures are necessary. The strongest factor in the Japanese university students’ data was labeled as Instrumental Motivation, although we have no way of knowing the level of proficiency. In addition, Miyahara et al. claim that those Japanese students who scored above and below the mean of the proficiency measures (TOEFL-based listening, structure, vocabulary, reading tests) significantly differ in the factor score of Instrumental Motivation. The factor correlates only mini- mally with listening comprehension (r = .10) and does not correlate with any of the proficiency measures of other skill areas.
On the other hand, Yashima (2000) reports that learners who are both instrumentally and integratively motivated are likely to show better learning behaviors. The factors labeled Instrumental and Intercultural Friendship were found to be fairly good predictors of motivation (effort and desire to learn) through multiple regression
Performance Goal Orientation—The Importance of Doing Well
Performance goal orientation, a counterpart of mastery goal orientation, may also be able to explain a part of Japanese students’ motivation. Performance orientation is usually associated with a desire for high grades (status) and better performance than others.
In McGuire’s (2000) study, a factor he called External Influence is composed of six items which represent characteristics of performance goals: “It is important for me to do better than the others in class”; “I want to do well in this class because it is important to show my ability to my significant others”; “The main reason I need to learn English is to pass examinations”; “The main reason I am taking this class is that my significant others want me to improve my English”; “Being able to speak English will add to my social status”; and “I expect to do well because I am good at learning English.” These items originally belonged to the subscales of Intrinsic Motivation, Personal Goals, and Expectancy/ Control Components. The inclusion of a classic instrumental motivation item on passing exams indicates some overlap between instrumental motivation and performance orientation. Since McGuire found the External Influence factor in both the Osaka and Nagoya group data analyzed separately, it may be that a performance orientation is a widespread aspect of the L2 motivation of Japanese university students. If this is found to be true, the concept may shed some light on many Japanese university students’ underachievement and apathy in learning English, because a performance orientation is usually associated with maladaptive, helpless patterns of attribution. When performance- oriented students experience failure, they tend to attribute their failure to lack of ability, which they believe cannot be changed. Therefore, they are inclined to do the minimum necessary to avoid losing face, feeling that nothing they can do will lead to mastery (Pintrich & Schunk, 199.)”



Facility-packed student apartment-complex sets new standards for nation

Facility-packed student apartment-complex sets new standards for nation

Featured on this morning’s NHK Asaichi TV program were recently built college student apartments at Hachioji, known for its green and picturesque precinct and the historic Mt Takao.

The apartments offer good security, a workout gymnasium, its own communal onsen bath, an open outdoor lawn area for socializing, hip cafe popular hangout for college students, dining quarters.
The residential package also includes two meals a day options (with proper calorie dietary and nutritional count). The apartment is small like dormitory ones, but has pantry and attached bath/toilet facilities.
The package will set the student back by about 58,000 yen a month. A sweet deal compared to the outrageously pricey single apartments or room rentals on the market.

Sad news for Kanto-ites who enjoying taking their young for a day of creative play at the “Kodomo no Shiro” or the Children’s Castle. … and who have fond memories of our kids banging on drums, driving all manner of miniature “bu-bu” norimono-transportation or painting on walls.

Happy memories at the Children's Castle

Happy memories at the Children’s Castle

“The National Children’s Castle in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, has closed after nearly 30 years as a facility for a variety of entertainment and education for children.

On the facility’s last day, about 6,100 people, exceeding the number of visitors seen over the Golden Week or Bon holidays, visited the facility and expressed their gratitude for what the facility had done and their regret over its closure.

The National Children’s Castle opened in November 1985, and since then, 28 million people from Tokyo and elsewhere have visited the children’s hall. On Sunday, many parents and their children filed into the hall en masse when the hall opened at 10 a.m. and played inside the building while taking pictures in front of a sculpture by Taro Okamoto, which was a symbol of the hall. …

The National Children’s Castle had facilities such as a hall with playing equipment, a gymnastics room, a theater and a music studio, and it marked a record high of annual visitors at 1.14 million in fiscal 1991. However, due to a falling birthrate, the diversification of children’s play and other reasons, the number of visitors continued to decline every year, reaching 800,000 in fiscal 2013. The government decided to close it in 2012. Wear and tear on the facility was also a factor in the decision.” Read more at the Yomiuri Shimbun source:”The National Children’s Castle closes after nearly 30 years” here.

School consolidation seen lengthening commute times (Feb 8, 2015 The Yomiuri Shimbun)

The education ministry’s recent first revision in 59 years of its criteria for merging and abolishing public primary and middle schools comes at a time when there is a pressing need for local governments to implement such changes amid the current low birthrate and rapid depopulation in their areas.

In May last year, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry conducted its first survey on these problems. The findings revealed that school consolidation has produced both positive and negative results.

For instance, school consolidation has led to more children having to use buses and other means of transportation to attend classes and a corresponding decrease in students who walk to school or use a bicycle.

The survey covered all prefectural, city, town and village boards of education across the country. It showed that a total of 782 school consolidations had been implemented among about 30,000 public schools between fiscal 2011 and 2013.

Of the consolidated schools, more than 70 percent of both primary and middle schools said two schools were merged into one.

But there were cases of three to six primary schools being consolidated into one, and three to five middle schools being consolidated into one.

Responses to a multiple-choice question about the means of transportation among the 782 schools that consolidated showed that the use of school buses doubled after consolidation. The use of school boats, school buses and chartered taxis also increased.

Questions about commute times after consolidation showed 166 commutes between 30 minutes and 35 minutes.

In one school, the longest commuting time rose from 39 minutes before consolidation to one hour and 15 minutes after consolidation. In another school, the longest distance for commuting increased from 3.5 kilometers before consolidation to 40 kilometers after.

Many respondents indicated that after consolidations “Students have more friends,” “Students have more opportunities to hear a wider range of opinions” and “Group competition in physical education classes, group singing in music classes and other educational activities in groups have been improved.”

Also cited were better educational effects as the numbers of students increased.

On the other hand, some respondents cited the negative effects of closing schools that were once a core facility in the local community. One respondent said, “The vitality of the local community has been weakened.”

A remarkable number of respondents also pointed out the increased burden on students who have to commute farther than before consolidation.

Such respondents selected such answers as “Students’ physical fitness has weakened due to commuting on school buses,” “Students feel fatigue as commuting times became longer” and “Time for after-school activities has decreased.”

The education ministry’s new integration criteria stipulate that primary schools with six or fewer homeroom classes and middle schools with three or fewer homeroom classes should quickly decide whether to consolidate or close.

The new criteria have presented rough standards on school commuting times for the first time.

Before the revision, maximum distances were set at within four kilometers for primary school students and within six kilometers for middle school students on the premise that they commute to schools on foot or on bicycles.

The new criteria set the length of commuting time basically to within one hour on the assumption that school buses and other means can be used.

Reactions from teachers and officials of the schools regarding commuting times are divided.

In spring this year, the town government of Higashi-Agatsuma, Gunma Prefecture, will consolidate all five middle schools run by the town government into one. The town government plans to operate nine school bus routes.

Some people in the town worry because the longest commuting distance to school will be 19 kilometers and the longest commuting time will be 40 minutes. But others voice the expectation that the integration will make school sports clubs and other after-school activities more lively.

In Higashi-Naruse, a village in the southeastern end of Akita Prefecture, four primary schools were consolidated into one in 2001. In 2010, a multipurpose building serving as a day-care center for children and a gymnasium for villagers was attached to the main building of the consolidated school.

Though only 114 students attend the school, the village government said it is not considering consolidating the school with schools in nearby municipalities again.

Currently, the school’s students take school buses, with the longest commuting time being about 30 minutes.

“We will not consolidate the schools any further,” said Takashi Tsurukai, the superintendent of education of the village government. “Children are the treasures of our village. We hope they will be educated by the whole village.”

More Game Time Equals Lower Test Scores, National Exam Shows (Bloomberg News, Aug 26, 2014)

Students who spent more hours playing videogames scored lower on a national academic test in Japan, according to results released by the education ministry.

The exam was conducted in April with more than two million elementary and junior high school students taking part across Japan.

The exam was conducted in April with more than two million elementary and junior high school students across Japan tested on their language and math skills. They were also given a survey with questions about their daily activities, including how much time they spend playing videogames.

Elementary school students who answered that they never played video games on weekdays answered 77% of the questions correctly on a test of basic language skills, compared to a 70.5% score recorded by those who said they played two to three hours. Elementary students who said they spent more than four hours a day playing games scored the lowest, getting only 64% of the answers correct.

Similar patterns were observed on the math tests, according to the ministry.

Among the test-takers, 54% of elementary school students and 56% of junior high school students said they spent at least an hour on weekdays playing games on television screens, portable handsets or smartphones. Nearly 11% of junior-high students and 9% of elementary-school students said they spent more than four hours a day playing games, the survey found.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan on Thursday criticized an American textbook that he said inaccurately depicted Japan’s actions during World War II, opening a new front in a battle to sway American views of the country’s wartime history. ( Read more. See also Japan Times report.
See also Erica Park’s, “The Trials of a Comfort Woman ” (2011). CMC Senior Theses. Paper 113.

3,953 public school teachers penalized for corporal punishment in academic ’13 (The Japan News, Jan 31)

The number of public school teachers who were penalized for corporal punishment of students reached a record high of 3,953 in the last academic year, the education ministry announced Friday.  Read more

Middle school entrance exams using more English (The Japan News)

The entrance examination season for middle schools peaks between mid-January and February. As the education ministry plans to make English a formal subject for primary schools, an increasing number of private middle schools have introduced English as an entrance exam subject.

Japan Drafts Revisions to Ethics Education Guidelines (Feb. 4 ,Jiji Press)

Tokyo,–The Japanese education ministry released draft revisions to its ethics education guidelines on Wednesday, in line with plans to upgrade “ethics” to a special school subject as early as fiscal 2018.
The upgrading of ethics education, which has been treated as a school activity outside a curriculum, was proposed by the government’s education rebuilding council in 2013, after the suicide of a bullied junior high school boy in the western city of Otsu in 2011 drew nationwide attention.
The draft guidelines stipulate the target of preventing bullying, reclassifying categories under such key worlds as “freedom and responsibility,” “justice and fairness” and “dignity of life.”
Specifically, they call for teaching third and fourth graders at elementary schools to understand others and respect different opinions.
Fifth and sixth graders will be taught to feel the joy of living and understand the strength and sanctity of people who are making efforts to live a better life, while first and second graders will be guided to develop attachments to their country and hometowns and, at the same time, to become familiar with foreign cultures.

The news on education & technology:

Reported on NHK TV, 45 elementary school students in Setagaya ward, Tokyo go on trial pilot classes using with their tablets.

Other news reported on TV this week:

16.1 pct of students’ households are unable to afford to pay up for their kyushoku or bento lunch.

45 elementary school students in Setagaya go on trial pilot classes using with their tablets.

Govt: 17 deaths at childcare facilities in 2014

The number of accidents involving children at daycare facilities across Japan last year totaled 177. The accidents resulted in the deaths of 17 children.
The welfare ministry said five children died at authorized facilities, while 12 died at unauthorized ones.
Eight of the children were less than one year old. The total also includes five one-year-olds, three 4-year-olds and one 5-year-old.
Eleven children, or about 65 percent of the total, died suddenly during their sleep. Four of them were found lying on their stomachs.
The ministry is calling on daycare facilities to thoroughly check the condition of sleeping children to ensure their safety.
A new childcare support system, to go into effect in April, calls for tighter measures to prevent the recurrence of such accidents. More… Watch the NHK videoclip: Daycare Alternatives

Higher institutions:

University of Tokyo ranked best in Asia; Harvard Tops Global List

The University of Tokyo was named the best university in the Asia-Pacfic region and 13th globally in a list of the world’s top 1,000 universities released Tuesday.

The annual survey by the Center for World University Rankings in Saudi Arabia bases its evaluation on eight indicators, including alumni employment, quality of faculty, publications, and number of international patents.

Overall, Japan had 74 universities in the top 1,000, with Kyoto University ranking second and Keio University ranking fifth in Asia-Pacific.

Harvard University topped the global list, followed by Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge and Oxford.

Eight of the top 10 universities were in the United States, which led all countries with 229 of the top 1,000, followed by China with 84, Japan with 74 and the U.K. with 64.

The center says its list is the only one in the world that measures quality of education and training, prestige of faculty and quality of research “without relying on surveys and university data submissions.”

See also The Times Higher Education (THE) 2014-15 rankings

Japanese and U.S. law schools at a crossroads (JAPAN TIMES — FEB 02, 2015)

Law schools in Japan and the U.S. find themselves trapped between a rock and a hard place as the number of applicants continues to shrink in the face of a bleak legal job market. As a result, all but the most elite law schools are being forced to take draconian steps to survive.
In Japan, cuts in government subsidies based largely on bar exam results are expected to lead to law school mergers. The step is seen as a necessary corrective to the oversupply of lawyers produced since 2004 when 74 new law schools opened in anticipation of increased demand for legal services.
In the United States, the 200 American Bar Association’s accredited law schools are questioning whether too much emphasis is placed on the theoretical over the practical. Possession of a law degree does not necessarily mean graduates are ready to provide legal services, even though three-year tuition can exceed $150,000.

As a result, the number of applicants is down by more than 37 percent compared to 2010. The future is no brighter. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be some 21,880 new jobs for lawyers by 2020 but more than 45,000 graduates by then.

In light of this dismal outlook, legal education in Japan and the U.S. needs a major overhaul. Law schools can raise their standards to admit even far fewer students, and bar exams can be made much harder, significantly reducing the supply of lawyers.

Both countries are already experiencing this outcome, whether by design or by coincidence. Japan reported that 1,810 people passed the bar exam in 2014. This was down by more than 200 from the previous year. In the U.S. the pass rate for 2014 for most states was the lowest in a decade. – See more

Recommended reading of the paper on HE: “Feeding the Elite: The Evolution of Elite Pathways from Star High Schools to Elite Universities” Higher Education Policy, 2006, 19, (7–30) in which authors Gerald K. LeTendrea , Roger Geertz Gonzalezb and Takako Nomic,  take a look at how private ‘feeder’ schools in Japan came to dominate entry into elite colleges, and how the intense competition of these learning institutions have changed the pathways available to social elites. The paper compares the situation in Japan with the one in the US, and observes how elite private feeders in the US have failed to dominate pathways into elite colleges. [See also my related article Private school appeal: the track to elite universities]

Harvard Business School has a ‘Japan problem’ (FORTUNE.COM — JAN 30)

MBA applicants to the prestigious business school from Japan have dwindled to a precious few. Harvard is beefing up its admissions presence in Tokyo to counter the trend.
When Harvard Business School released its round two interview schedule for MBA applicants on Wednesday, there was one very big surprise. HBS set aside four separate days of interviews in Tokyo.
That’s a lot of interview slots for a country that produces perhaps 100 applicants to HBS a year. It’s twice as many as those scheduled in Mumbai, India and one more than what’s on the docket for Shanghai, China, even though GMAT test takers from both China and India outnumber those from Japan by a factor of nine to one. For every person who took the GMAT in 2012-2013 from Japan, there were 8.8 who did so in India and 9.1 who took the exam in China.

Dee Leopold, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at HBS, told applicants that admission board members will be interviewing invited round two applicants in Tokyo on February 19, 20, 21, and 22. It’s part of a major push to attract more MBA students from Japan and will likely come at the expense of candidates from other countries.

“I’d like to know how many of those four days worth of Tokyo interview slots are being taken by applicants outside Japan,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder of, an admissions consultant.

“My guess is, not many. That means they are interviewing lots of Japanese passport holders in an effort, for whatever reason, to increase Japanese enrollment. It is also an interesting question about who is getting ‘punished’ for this initiative. Applicants from China, India? Could be.”

Only last week, Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria bemoaned the fact that MBA applicants from Japan-and therefore Japanese students-have dwindled to a precious few. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Nohria said he believes a major falloff in candidates from Japan is occurring because the country has become more insular in recent years.

“One of the anxieties we have is we used to see 30 to 40 Japanese students out of 900 M.B.A. students every year,” he told the Journal. “Now it is down to four to five. Japan is only part of Asia that’s in retreat. They were so engaged in the global economy in the 1980s, now they have become more insular. Japan is the third largest economy in the world, it’s important for us to find a way to reach out.” – See more.

When Harvard comes a-courting Japanese students, it can hardly admit that its MBA is irrelevant to Japan, so the prime reason suggested for the near-zero numbers of Japanese students today, is that Japanese students are more insular today than before.

Notwithstanding this excuse, I think there are other HE quarters that are seriously challenging the quality of the Harvard or American MBA, and that are suggesting other better alternatives to it including the IMPM deemed to be a more valuable program grounded in “experienced reflection” (i.e. based on experience and critical reflection).

The most fierce critics of the Harvard MBA and other US MBA degrees, are Henry Mintzberg and Yoshi Tsurumi.   In Have Harvard and other American MBAs become irrelevant in Japan today?, I sum up their various charges and criticisms laid against the Harvard MBA education.

Henry Mintzberg’s book “Managers not MBAs” also explains that not just Japan, but the Europeans and a certain segment of the UK business community also share the Japanese attitude that US MBAs are irrelevant to the business world. What was interesting was the criticism of the American MBA programs in their self-branding as globalization programs, it turns out this overly global and analytical focus, has actually become a weakness and that the avoidance of focusing on domestic business environments has paradoxically made its programs academic and irrelevant.

The drastic drop in MBA aspirants is most likely, however, due to the influence of the prominent views and writings of Yoshi Tsurumi in the Japanese Journal of Administrative Science who has published such scathing views and disdain for US MBA education, blaming the woes and stagnation of the US economy and the growing income gap squarely on MBA holding leaders like former President George W. Bush, and other finance and banking leaders of what he calls the “Dysfunctional Corporations and the Flawed Business Education of America“. His paper, you’d think reads like a diatribe against President Bush and allegedly corrupted capitalists, perhaps you wondered as I did, at his audacity until I read that Bush was once his student! … though I think his points comparing what US vs Japanese MBA holding CEOs pay themselves … the obscene amounts despite no proof of performance are very likely to resonate with non-MBA holders, i.e. the majority of us…as do the general news articles elsewhere, in the same vein. A sample extract of his writing may be found here.

It is hard to determine the extent of the influence of Yoshi Tsurumi’s writings upon business, political leaders and the civil service here, but if his books, writings in journals are widely read and quoted, Japanese may be increasingly thinking Harvard (and other American) MBA-holders to be unemployable and largely irrelevant in Japan, except to MNCs.

And if you think he is some flash-in-the-pan theorist, think again, he is no lightweight.., his CV looks like this:
Professor of International Business and Recipient of Baruch Presidential Award of Distinguished Lifetime Scholarship (2002). He holds B.A. and M.A. (Economics) from Keio University, Tokyo and MBA and DBA from Harvard University. He has published in leading journals including Journal of Econometrics, Journal of International Business Studies, and Harvard Business Review. His book, Sogoshosha: Japanese General Trading Firms (1979) aided the enactment of the U.S. Export Trading Company Act of 1982. His recent book, Amerika no Yukue, Nihon no Yukue (Wither America, Wither Japan) (2002) was made into NHK’s award winning t.v. documentary of U.S.-Japan relations (2003)

School life for Japanese teens can be tame, torturous or a time of towering achievement

School life for Japanese teens can be tame, torturous or a time of towering achievement


During the course of the junior high school life of my daughter and particularly in the past year, I have witnessed a huge transformation in her. From an extremely shy and mousy girl who would not speak before others during early elementary grade school years, and from someone who showed consistently lacklustre grades and academic performance, she suddenly came to be the Hermione-like girl (a Harry Potter reference) who would shine academically, speak confidently in class, raise her hands, volunteer for all sorts of things, etc. She also won several awards, for her science experiment with wind energy, newspaper competition and artwork. On top of all that, her crowning achievement, must be that she made team captain for badminton (with a fierce rival) and was chosen to attend leadership training seminars.

The only factor or change that could be attributed as the cause for my daughter’s drastic transformation in personality, is the inculcation of the “Bunbu Ryodo” spirit or principle in Japanese school education. During a rare visit-the-home visit, her homeroom schoolteacher explained to me and persuaded me to let my daughter have her way in choosing the path of the sports, saying that, in tandem with academics, Bunbu Ryodo was the idea that it was possible to strive for and achieve excellence in both fields or arenas. I said I didn’t see how that was possible judging from her current school performance assessments.

I have to admit grudgingly but with relief that I was wrong, that this mother doesn’t always know best. At the start of this huge learning curve transformation of hers, I had opposed her choice all out, and thought her insistence on choosing the grueling and all-consuming sport, badminton both during school and as an afterschool activity would doom her chances of getting into a good high school. I had thought that since she was not showing strength in any area of schoolwork, having a busy afterschool (and before school early morning practices “asa-ren”) the strenuous athletics, sports and endless tournament schedule would naturally cause her schoolwork to deteriorate further. But I eventually relented, as she begged and alternately argued at length to be allowed to go ahead with her choice of sports, with the proviso that she would be pulled out of the sport, if her grades didn’t pick up and continued to be lacklustre.

To my astonishment, her grades began to soar in practically all subject areas soon within the same term of beginning her chosen afterschool activity. It was no breezy walk in the park, however, she was often bone-tired at the end of the day, falling asleep with her nose in her books, and the roomlights on, unable to wake up in the mornings, trudging off to practice or faraway tournaments during the weekends when other students were able to laze in bed. Her schoolbag probably weighed down daily like Midas’gold as well with double the usual waterbottles, bentos, and sporting clothes and equipment, all of which she has to carry on her tiny frame in all-weather on a 30-minute track each way to school. Not the schoollife I wished for her. But despite the tough days, balancing schoolwork and sports, and navigating the politics of teen social life, she is on the whole happy with her choices, achievements and her social life.

So for parents who want to know why I who once tut-tutted and shook my head at the crazy afterschool life of the Japanese student, now embrace it, the following section may help you understand the educational philosophy of Bunbu Ryodo and its objectives of promoting the personal growth and character formation, and self-cultivation-advancement of students in the whole afterschool club activity arts and sporting scene.


Defining “Bunbu Ryodo”

“The first kanji 文, bun literally means letter or writing. In this term it means 文事 or学芸 which means “arts and science” or “liberal arts” including the Japanese arts of shodo n(brush writing), kado (flower arrangement) and sado (tea ceremony). In other words, it represents the mastery of the general education and the cultural studies. The second kanji 武, bu should be more familiar to the karate-ka. Of course it means military. In this term it means 武事 or 武芸 meaning military affairs or martial arts. The third kanji 両, ryo means both. I am sure you know the last kanji, 道 do that means road or path. Now you can easily guess what the term means. Yes, it means the ability of being excelled in both education and also in martial arts. It also refers to someone who possesses such an ability.

This term can be found to be as old as the famous literary Heike Story of the 13th century. We do not know exactly when this term was invented but the combination of two kanjis 文 and 武 was popular in ancient Japan. We find the combination of 文武 was used for the 42nd emperor 文武天皇 in the 7th century. Though the pronunciation of those kanjis was “Monmu” the meaning remained the same and it represented the meaning that this emperor was to excel in both higher education and military affairs. ” – Source: Asai Shotokan Association What is bunbu-ryodo-文武両道とは何ぞや?

In contemporary understanding, the term now means “balance” as defined by

“My dictionary explains the meaning of the word balance as “a stable mental or psychological state; emotional stability.” One of the more important aspects of our martial training deals with the concept of life balance. Bunbu Ryodo, or the balance of pen and sword, is derived from the the Edo period of Japan. During this period, the Tokugawa Shogunate encouraged the members of its warrior class to pursue both the literary and martial arts with equal emphasis. It was an attitude that helped the bushi adjust from the warring period of Japan to one of peace. And today it helps those who pursue the martial ways develop into complete human beings.”


Bunburyodo is defined by “Bunburyodo”  (Kenshi27/4) as follows:

It’s a term used to describe someone who has become or is trying their best to become ‘accomplished in the both military and literary arts’ (martial arts and arts/sciences). The first recorded use of a similar term (「文事ある者は必ず武備あり」) is found in the ‘Records of the Grand Historian’ (史記), written in Han-era China around about BCE 109-91. When the Records came to Japan and how and when the term was was changed to ‘bunburyodo’ seems to be unknown, but various other synonymous kanji combinations have been used for a very long time.

During the classical, feudal, and Tokugawa periods of Japanese history, the term is said to have referred to the importance of understanding both academic and warrior arts in order to be able to govern effectively. That is, an effective ruler (and subordinates) would ideally have a balance of both. The need for this balance was promoted by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and became increasingly looked at as an ideal situation for the ruling class in general by the 19th century. However, nowadays in Japan (a country with a far less hierarchical class system that existed before), this ideal has been reworked to simply refer to those that try hard in both their study and some sort of physical activity (e.g. baseball), and it seems to be used almost exclusively in reference to students. — Bunburyodo (Kenshi27/4)

A good exposition of how bunbu ryodo developed as a result of Zen Buddhist influences upon the cultural and spiritual education of the warriorset, upon the samurai values, mentality and spirit of self-cultivation, advancement and its evolution into the idea of personal growth and advancement that pervades Japanese education and general societal philosophy today…may be found at “Science and Comparative Philosophy: Introducing Yuasa Yasuo“, (ed. David Edward Shaner, Shigenori Nagatomo, Yasuo Yuasa), pp. 241-249


Martial ideals and modern Japanese education

The infusion of martial ideals in modern and contemporary Japanese education is owed to a large extent, to the life of Dr Jigoro Kano, who was in his professional life, an educator (having, served as director of primary education for the Ministry of Education (文部省Monbusho from 1898 to 1901, and as president of Tokyo Higher Normal School from 1901 until 1920) but is perhaps best known as the Founder of Kodokan Judo, and who played a key role in making judo and kendo part of the Japanese public school programs of the 1910s.

Dr. Kano (a graduate of the private Kaisei school, and Tokyo Imperial Iniversity) served for 23 years as principal of the Higher Normal School and the Tokyo Higher Normal School, which were forerunners of the University of Tsukuba. During those years, he devoted himself to educational reform, the promotion of physical education and sports, and the development of the Olympic Movement.

Dr. Kano’s philosophy and achievements as an educator gave Japan guidelines for university education and enhanced the role of Japanese in the world.

Dr. Kano developed traditional jujitsu into judo and founded Kodokan judo in 1882 for students to acquire a scientific approach, a sense of justice, fairness, and humility, and the ability to make full use of the knowledge acquired during the judo training. He advocated the philosophy “Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort, Mutual Welfare and Benefit.”

He toured all over the world to disseminate judo and its philosophy. Now judo has spread to over 200 countries as a sport to train one’s body and mind. Dr. Kano is well known as a founder of judo throughout the world. (See also the Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano)

Martial but not militaristic … spirit

The promotion of martial discipline in Japanese schools is commonly misunderstood and equated with militarism … however, Dr. Kano in effect, achieved innovative school reform, including the establishment of a free campus environment instead of military-style discipline, the introduction of extracurricular activities, and the admittance of Chinese students during his term as the principal of the Higher Normal High School. He extended the duration of teacher training to be the same as that of universities and laid the groundwork for promoting higher normal schools to the level of universities to foster educators with profound knowledge. As the result of this, modern Japanese secondary and teachers’ education have improved. The Tokyo University of Education and the University of Tsukuba have produced a large number of capable educators and researchers. Dr. Kano also devoted himself to the establishment of girls’ high schools in prefectures and to the introduction of Roman letter education.

Dr. Kano’s philosophy and achievements as an educator thus influenced and guided the development of university education and helped enhance the role of the Japanese to the rest of the world.

Dr. Kano became the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee and devoted himself to the Olympic Movement in Asia and Japan. Dr. Kano emphasized the integration of the spirit of martial arts and the Olympic creed. Through his efforts, Judo became the first Japanese martial art to gain widespread international recognition, and the first to become an official Olympic sport. Pedagogical innovations attributed to Kanō include the use of black and white belts, and the introduction of dan ranking to show the relative ranking between members of a martial art style. Well-known mottoes attributed to Kanō include “Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort” and “Mutual Welfare and Benefit.”

In his professional life, Kanō was an educator whose important postings included serving as director of primary education for the Ministry of Education (文部省 Monbushō?) from 1898 to 1901, and as president of Tokyo Higher Normal School from 1901 until 1920.[1] He played a key role in making judo and kendo part of the Japanese public school programs of the 1910s.

The European IOC members called Dr. Kano a “true educator of youth” and “a man of character in sports education”. Dr. Kano played a key role in getting sports included in the school curriculum by establishing the Department of Physical Education at the Tokyo Higher Normal School in 1915. He also encouraged students to actively participate in extracurricular activities. In 1911, he established the Japan Sports Association for all Japanese people to practice sports such as swimming and long-distance running. These sports activities have become popular throughout Japan with the support of educators who graduated from the Tokyo Higher Normal School.

Leggett in “The Spirit of Budo” says that Dr Kano exemplified Bunbu Ryodo himself, as well emphasizing Bunbu Ryodo’s martial or fighting will and courage principle and the balancing of power with culture-philosophy as an educator.

Bunbu Ryodo today

Bunbu ryodo, today, as a concept pervades much of Japanese education and schooling, (although it may have been rolled back a little? during the yutori hoiku years) and is expressed not only as a pillar of the educational philosophy of many top Japanese schools(see Toin Gakuen’s manifesto below) but is promoted generally, as a means of promoting or driving educational excellence in the varied fields of school academics, sports, the arts and afterschool club activities:

“Education of Body and Mind

In the past, samurai warriors were respected for being both strong martial artists as well as good scholars. This way of life was called the Bunbu-Ryodo (bun = letters, bu = martial arts, ryodo = both ways)
Today, students at Toin Gakuen live the modern Bunbu-Ryodo, which stresses the importance of a universal education, including academics, sports, and arts. Remarkable achievements in all of these fields have made us one of the top educational institutions in the country.” — Toin Gakuen’s educational philosophy

There are any number of writings on the benefits of introducing martial arts discipline into the school curriculum and how they have the effect of strengthening focus and concentration, attention span and therefore improving academics. They are reported to have promoted self-regulation, character development and also to have produced self-esteem and self-confidence in students. Recently, a relative, who holds a black belt in seven different martial arts, told me how the martial arts training for him, was a life-saver and anchor during his youth, following his father’s untimely death, and that the Bunbu Ryodo principle and other martial principles, continued to be a guiding beacon during the course of his rather long and illustrious career in the world of banking and finance. Well, as dor me, I am certainly glad for my daughter to have an upclose and personal encounter with Bunbu Ryodo.

Below we post the results of Japanese participants in the various Olympiads, (note: Japan does not seem to be participating in the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) – among the Science Olympiads, this is the second newest one after Biology, and with the lowest profile.)

Results from the 55th International Mathematical Olympiad July 12, 2014

Medals received by Japanese students:

4 gold medals, 1 silver medal, 1 bronze medal (6 Japanese participants out of a total of 60 participants)

Results from the 46th International Chemistry Olympiad July 29, 2014

Medals received:

1 gold medal, 2 silver medals, 1 bronze medal (4 participants out of 291)

Results from the 25th International Biology Olympiad July 12, 2014

Medals received:

1 gold medal, 3 silver medals (4 participants out of 239)

Results from the 45th International Physics Olympiad July 20, 2014

Medals received:

4 silver medals, 1 bronze medal (5 participants out of 383) – the performance while commendably strong, the gold medal garnering strength appears have slipped slightly since 2011.

Results from the 8th International Earth Science Olympiad September 29, 2014

Medals received:

3 gold medals, 1 bronze medal (4 out of 82 participants)

Results from the 11th International Geography Olympiad August 19, 2014

Medals received:

1 silver medal (4 out of 144 participants) – This arena is the weakest link in the Olympiads for Japan traditionally.

Results from the 26th International Olympiad in Informatics, July 19, 2014

Medals received

1 gold medal, 2 silver medals, 1 bronze medal

(4 out of 311 participants)

The participating students were from the following schools:

Komaba, University of Tsukuba, Tokyo; Ibaraki Prefectural Mito Dai-ichi Senior High School, Ibaraki; Tokyo Metropolitan Musashi Senior High School, Tokyo; Kaisei Senior High School, Tokyo; Kaisei Junior High School, Tokyo; Nada Senior High School, Hyogo Prefecture; Osaka Prefectural Ibaraki High School, Osaka Prefecture; Osaka Seiko Gakuin Senior High School, Osaka Prefecture; Gifu Prefectural Gifu Kita Senior High School, Gifu Prefecture; Miyazaki Prefectural Miyazaki Nishi High School, Miyazaki Prefecture; St. Viator Rakusei Senior High School, Kyoto Prefecture; Waseda Senior High School; Tokai High School, Aichi Prefecture; Toshimagaoka Girls’ Senior High School, Tokyo; Hakuryo Senior High School, Hyogo Prefecture; Gaku Nishiyama; Sugamo Senior High School, Tokyo; Hiroshima Gakuin Senior High School, Hiroshima Prefecture; Shizuoka Prefectural Hamamatsu Kita High School, Shizuoka prefecture

Background on International Math and Science Olympiads

The first IMO was held in Romania in 1959. The problems come from various areas of mathematics, such as are included in math curricula at secondary schools. Finding the solutions of these problems, however, requires exceptional mathematical ability and excellent mathematical knowledge on the part oF the contestant. See Hard Problems: The road to the world’s toughest math contest Hard Problems is a an American film that shows “the dedication and perseverance of these remarkably talented students, the rigorous preparation they undertake, their individuality, and the joy they get out of solving challenging problems. Above all, it captures the spirit of math competitions at the highest level”.

At the IMO for eg., the usual size of an official delegation to an IMO is (a maximum of) six student competitors and (a maximum of) two leaders. There is no official “team”. The student competitors write two papers, on consecutive days, each paper consisting of three questions. Each question is worth seven marks. A total score of 42 points is possible. Awards are determined as follows:

GOLD MEDAL: the top 1/12 of scores receive gold medals
SILVER MEDAL: the next 2/12 of scores receive silver medals
BRONZE MEDAL: the next 3/12 of scores receive bronze medals
HONORABLE MENTION: any competitor who receives a perfect score of 7 on any one question, but who does not receive a medal, is awarded an honorable mention

The International Science Olympiad (ISOs) are a group of international competitions in the fields of science and technology. The competitions are designed primarily for upper secondary students (high school students and are held in the subject areas of mathematics, physics, chemistry, informatics, biology, geography and earth science. (Biology and Astronomy and Astrophysics are the newest of the Olympiads). The ISOs aim to award the best and brightest students in science, give them the opportunity to develop their talents and deepen international exchange and understanding among nations.

The International Chemistry Olympiad, for example, is 5-hour long with 9 theory questions, and 2-3 experiment tasks. The syllabus of the IChO contains subjects from several areas of Chemistry, including Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Spectroscopy. About 8-10% of all participants are awarded Gold Medals.

Math and Science Olympiad participants are typically nurtured and trained in gifted programs in other countries. In Singapore, only 4 schools provide the entire pool of participants to the Olympiads. Considering that Japan until only most recently had no gifted school programs to speak of, the consistently high level of achievement and performance of its students at International Olympiads is astonishing. It is arguable whether the common practice of ranking of students according to their performance in various areas and streaming them into ranked classes in public and private schools with good academic reputations and rankings, constitutes the identification of gifted and talented students of sorts. Another explanation is possible — Rolf Dobelli in his book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” and chapter “Does Harvard make you smarter?” calls this the “swimmer’s body illusion”, whereby swimmers with the naturally streamlined physique end up selected for the competitive sport, and where the best students naturally end up selected by schools like Harvard whether the schools in themselves are actually academically excellent. By extension, despite the absences of dedicated gifted programs in Japan, the brightest Japanese students naturally aspire and compete to get into the schools of highest repute and ranking in Japan, some of these brightest of the brightest students then form the pool of talent for trying out for the various International Olympiads.

On the value of the Math and Science Olympiad:

Source: “(Website of Science Olympiad, n.d.). The overarching questions include what students involved in Science Olympiad perceived about their STEM and 2 1st century skills after being part of a team, whether they saw any overall benefits as a result of participating, and whether or not their experience influenced their career choice. This focus is critical due to the importance of the STEM fields and the importance of students’ involvement in the areas of science in and out of the school environment.
The concentration on, and the discussion of, STEM is not isolated to the United States. International testing such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) denotes the rankings of schools on an international scale. Science is a major focus. Citing the TIMSS study, Vitale and Romance (2006), state that those countries that ranked high had curriculum that,

“…focused around big ideas, was conceptually coherent and carefully articulated across grade levels. In contrast the curricula in low-achieving countries (including the United States) emphasized superficial, highly-fragmented coverage of a wide range of topics with little conceptual emphasis or depth. (p. 336)”

Some research found that direct instruction from the teacher is more effective than a student’s self-discovery approach. This direct instruction is stated to be better for both the students’ initial understanding and acquiring of knowledgc regarding procedures and for later application and transfer of that knowledge and understanding. Additionally, focusing on core concepts and the interrelated relationships, as well as both science knowledge and the nature of science, provides a comprehensive science literacy background (Vitale & Romance, 2006). According to Stohr-Hunt (1996), research shows that activity based science programs are effective, but that conversely, the research is not definitive as to whether or not it shows that it is necessarily better than traditional methods of instruction. Science Olympiad is a competition that allows students to work in groups and teams. It is normally run as an afterschool club and not as part of a class during the school day. As such, it does not normally fall under the direct teaching classroom model…
…Campbell (2008) cites research stating that challenging stimuli often create new pathways and increases the likelihood of long-term memory retention. A rich environment contributes to a rich brain. Educators should think about the stimuli that students are getting whether it be through the classroom or through other activities. Variety is a critical component to brain function. Variety can come in the form of new and different stimulations, fluctuations of rest and activity.

Learning should be exciting for the student and brains need to be stretched to reach their potential. The brain is at its best when it is in an environment that is positive, nurturing, and stimulating. Learners’ want to experience new things; they want to engage in discovery and challenges. Rote learning and memorization on the other hand inhibits brain development (Campbell, 2008). Science Olympiad tournaments are comprised of events ranging across many science, technology, and engineering disciplines. This plethora of events is exciting for the participants, as they can get involved in many different STEM areas…” — Jennifer L. Wirt, “AN ANALYSIS OF SCIENCE OLYMPIAD PARTICIPANTS’ PERCEPTIONS REGARDING THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH THE SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING ACADEMIC COMPETITION”


Details of the results of Japan’s participants’ performance and the school names were from the MEXT IMSO pages at URL:

See also the blog on International Math and Science Olympiads Singapore Scene


From mid-February through March, we are currently and will be witnessing hundreds of parents standing in excruciating long lines at various local banks. They are waiting to pay up the fees for their children to sit the entrance examinations at their targeted universities. Banking staff will make a beeline to assist every customer walking through the bank door, scouring his/her hands for the documents the parent will invariably be holding.

Every Japanese parent with a college-admissions-hopeful child also knows the MARCH acronym.

What does MARCH stand for? March alludes to the all-important March period during which the top-ranking universities hold their entrance examinations. The Center Shiken, and exams of lower ranking or less prestigious private universities are held in the runup to the March period.

MARCH is also an acronym for the elite grouping that stands for Meiji, Aoyama Gakuin, Rikkyo, Chuo and Hosei (Japanese universities)

This excellent creativity-promoting project is worth reblogging…

“Takamatsu city launched a program incorporating art into childcare in autumn 2009. Under this framework, artists work together with small children as “Geijutsushi” in day-care centers, kindergartens and Early Childhood Education and Care centers (ECEC center:kodomo en) to support them in following their interests and fully expressing their ideas in an artistic way. With the help of the artists, more and more children are now able to express themselves freely, creating a warm atmosphere where the artists cherish and admire the free-minded expression of children.

Once a week, Geijutsushi, who are experienced artists, are sent to day-care centers, kindergartens and ECEC centers to create a learning environment where children’s sensibilities and creative talents can grow. They do not hold ad hoc workshops or sessions to produce work for exhibitions; rather their engagement is similar to providing childcare on a year-round basis in that they warmly watch over children’s growth from an artistic standpoint.

This program is based on the Italian “Reggio Emilia approach” of early childhood education, which is highly regarded recently. As the first such program by a Japanese local municipality, it has received much attention from childcare workers.

lab_01_53_01.jpg   lab_01_53_02.jpg
Every child is an artist Anything can be playful
Launch of “Geijutsushi at Day-care Centers”

“Archipelago,” a local non-profit organization, is entrusted by Takamatsu city to run the program. The NPO is involved in various activities of art and community development in the prefecture and Setouchi islands. It served as the supporters’ secretariat of the Setouchi Triennale 2010 on a voluntary basis.

The program started from a single project proposal prepared by a member who was studying the Reggio Emilia approach and wondering if something similar couldn’t be done in Takamatsu city. The proposal suggested that young artists studying at university participate in childcare in Takamatsu city as a way of enlivening the community. The program is also designed so that every child attending a day-care center in the city will have equal opportunity to experience expressive and creative activities with the artists.

The year before Setouchi Triennale 2010 was held, Kagawa prefecture, including Takamatsu city, began incorporating the arts and culture into urban development. It was then that the government launched such as job creation schemes as “Employment Measures in Post-Financial Crisis Japan” and “Hometown Employment Reproduction Special Fund Project.” These policies were dependent on local support and securing funds, which were crucial to realizing the projects.

Although the Geijutsushi Dispatch Program, in the beginning, was subsidized under the framework of the national government scheme on a temporary basis, the local government decided to take over with its own financial resources. Now in its fifth year, the program sends the artists to 133 facilities in total. Currently, 16 artists with a variety of expertise are actively involved in childcare across the city …

Geijutsushi are good at stimulating children’s interests by using a wide variety of materials to turn everyday things or places into a space for art. The children see them as someone who always brings something new and creates fun moments with them and who always looks at them from a different perspective than their parents and day-care center teachers. “When will they come next?” Children are always looking forward to the weekly activities with them.

Process rather than results

The activities at each facility do not necessarily set goals in advance. Therefore, unformulated and open activities often pose a great challenge as the children, Geijutsushi and day-care center/kindergarten teachers, discover something new and learn from the materials and themes without knowing where everything is heading. People often ask the objective of a session, but such a state of uncertainty actually makes the activities a lot more fun….

The activities of Geijutsushi value process over results. Just as art has no correct answers, children come up with all different answers to a single question. They create an environment where they can fully unfold their unique imagination and creativity, without limiting their potential. Observing and supporting children’s liberal inspirations, admiring and cherishing what the children have expressed also foster such an environment.

Children’s language and actions are also recorded to document the process of their interaction with Geijutsushi. The records are compiled and shown in an annual exhibition and publications. The artists also take part in a variety of events to bring the community and children together, such as the Umi Akari (Ocean and Light) Project of the Setouchi Triennale organized in July 2010 and a tie-up with Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad Co., Ltd. in July 2011. These activities by Geijutsushi using art as a medium may help empower children who will play a vital role in society in the future…”

Read more about the program at Child Research Net “Geijutsushi at Day-care Centers

Police say kidnappers lie in wait to nab children in "blindspots" like quiet parks corners and entrances like these.

Police say kidnappers lie in wait to nab children in “blindspots” like quiet parks corners and entrances like these.

Panel calls for new university entrance exams (NHK — Dec 23, 2014)
Advisors to Japan’s education ministry have called for revising the university entrance exam system.

After about a year of study, the Central Council for Education submitted a series of recommendations to Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura on Monday.

The Council pointed out that the current standardized national entrance exam system tends to test the applicants’ ability to memorize texts. It suggested the exam system should be changed to test the applicants’ comprehensive knowledge or skills.

It also suggested that some exam questions should cover multiple subject areas. Applicants should write answers rather than filling in mark sheets, which is now required.

The Council also called for introducing third-party English exams to test the applicants’ ability to listen, speak, read and write English.

Japan high school student job-securing rate hits 20-year high
The proportion of high school students in Japan who had been promised employment next spring as of the end of October topped 70 pct for the first time in 20 years, an education ministry survey showed Friday.
The proportion rose 7.0 percentage points from a year before to 71.1 pct, growing for the fifth straight year. The rate improved in all of the country’s 47 prefectures.
The improvement reflected an economic recovery, the ministry said, adding that employers have stepped up hiring after years of curbs.

See more at: 就職を希望する高校3年生の就職内定率が、5年連続で上昇していることがわかった。

For a very long time, Japan and the world has had an image of Japan as a very safe society to raise children, where children walk to school and home or to the shops and to play with their friends daily without being acccompanied by adults. But with child kidnappings on the rise over the years, are Japan’s children in fact still safe walking alone home from school? Crime figures (scroll to read police report data at the bottom of the page) show that nearly 200 children under 13 were kidnapped in Japan last year.  A quick comparison with data on child kidnappings in the US, now suggests the number of kidnappings in Japan have surpassed that in the U.S, where the figures for kidnappings by strangers have been dropping since the 1980s, and are considered by the FBI and other agencies to now be rather rare, averaging between 100-150 a year …see “Child abductions by strangers actually very rare“. While the 1999 US figures from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children show that more than 58,000 children were abducted by nonfamily members, only an estimated 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping, i.e. kidnappings involving someone the child did not know or was an acquaintance and where the child was held overnight, transported 50 miles or more, killed, ransomed or held with the intent to keep the child permanently. (In 2013, the figures for missing children seems to be almost half those in 1999: 462,567 entries for missing children under the age of 18 into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, also called NCIC. but it is not clear how many of these were stereotypical kidnappings).

In the US, according to CrimeLibrary data, kidnapped children were either taken by non-family members from their yard, home or outdoors, with less than 7% actually taken from shopping malls (than is commonly thought), but in the case of Japan, most children were taken returning home from school or on their way to play with other children. The latter pattern is worrying, because it suggests that the traditional practice of allowing children to go to-and-fro school independently, may be making children easy targets for kidnappings. On a NHK Asaichi TV programme featuring child kidnappings, police experts said kidnappers lay in wait at blindspots in neighborhood parks, along long stretches of quiet roads bounded by retaining walls, with wooded areas, or snatching kids from a waiting car at a carparking lot entrances along such roads.  Parents are advised to know your neighbourhood well, and walk the school route with your child to check for such blindspots where predators could lie in wait.

No. of kidnappings involving children under 13 exceeds 100 for first time in 9 years (JAPAN TODAY — DEC 13, 2014)
The number of kidnapping cases involving children 13 years old and younger this year has exceeded 100 cases for the first time in 9 years.
According to a report released by the National Police Agency, there were 194 kidnappings involving children between Jan 1 and Nov 30.
THE NPA said that about 30% of the kidnappings occurred during the time period from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. when children are usually on their way home from school or are out playing with friends.

Another safety piece was run as an editorial by Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec 23

[Note these numbers pale in comparison to the 70,000 children who are estimated to have been kidnapped every year… source: “Agonizing, lonel search for missing kids in China”, China Daily, The Japan News International, Dec 28]

Establish system to prevent accidents at day care centers

There seems to be no sign of decline in the number of accidents at day care centers and other institutions that take care of children.

We urge the central government, local governments and child care facilities to reinforce their cooperation and take thorough efforts to prevent a recurrence of similar accidents.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 162 serious accidents took place in 2013 at certified day care centers and other child care facilities, more than triple the figure posted in 2010. Fatal accidents are also on the rise, with 19 of the accidents in 2013 involving deaths.

The situation is similar at after-school care centers, or facilities that take care of primary school students after school is out. More than 200 accidents occur at the facilities almost every year.

There seems to be a wide variety of accidents — cases such as an infant suffering cardiopulmonary arrest during a nap, a child choking on a rice-flour dumpling given as a snack, or a child being caught by a strong current while playing along a river. It is important to carefully assess the cause of the accidents and widely publicize preventive measures.

However, it is quite dubious whether systems to utilize lessons learned from such accidents have been sufficiently established.

The welfare ministry receives reports on serious accidents that occur at day care centers and other child care facilities from prefectural governments, but the ministry announces the total only once a year. The contents of the announcement are merely a general summary mentioning the categories of the accidents and places where they occurred. Some observers say the ministry’s annual report is not useful in preventing similar accidents from taking place at child care facilities.

In addition, municipalities currently do not have legal obligations to report the results of investigations conducted over fatal accidents at child care facilities to the welfare ministry. Given the present circumstances, we have to say it is difficult to share lessons learned from the accidents nationwide.

Efforts must be sped up

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is in charge of kindergartens, but the ministry does not have sufficient information on accidents that have occurred at such facilities. The ministry has, so far, not publicized the information it has, nor has it made any analysis.

We urge parties connected to the issue to speed up their efforts in building a concrete framework for collecting and analyzing information regarding accidents, and bring the information to the public’s attention. It is also important to review ways of exchanging information with police.

The central government will start a new program for supporting children and child-rearing from next fiscal year. The program includes a plan to oblige day care centers and other child care facilities that receive government subsidies to report serious accidents to municipalities, in tandem with implementing measures to promote the diversification of child care services and expand the enrollment limit of day care facilities.

We believe the government is making appropriate efforts for clarifying systems on how to collect information on accidents. We urge it to manage the systems properly and use the data to prevent similar accidents from happening again.

Aiming to add to the new program, a government advisory committee has proposed establishing a database on accidents at child care facilities, and then publicizing the status of accidents on a website.

Babysitting will not be covered by the new program, but the advisory committee requested to the government that accidents regarding them should also be reported. We would like to ask the government to steadily implement the committee’s proposals.

It is also important to improve the effects of existing laws and systems, such as the Consumer Safety Law, which covers serious accidents caused by products and services.

In the case of child abuse, the government has established an expert committee in charge of verifying specific child abuse cases. The committee analyzes the causes of child abuse and makes proposals on how to prevent similar abuse from happening again. We believe it is worth discussing the establishment of a similar institution regarding accidents at child care facilities.































Tomorrow on New Year’s Eve, when most students will be at home and most likely watching terrestrial TV’s NY programmes with the family, one programme being aired on NHK’s Educational channel is the 2014 Nawatobi Jump Rope championship (see preview photos of winning teams above).

Elementary school students in their gym clothes at unicycling. Photo courtesy:

Elementary school students in their gym clothes at unicycling. Photo courtesy:

Traditional Sports or games that don’t require costly equipment or designated arenas, have become popular in Japan in recent decades. Jump rope and unicycling have become popular sport for masses at large, with Japanese tournament participants shining at many national and even international tournaments. Watch videos at Jump Rope Performance Nawatobikosuke’s videos here

Jump rope is part of the school P.E. (Physical Education) or gym curriculum here, it is seen as building coordination, strength and stamina for children, and is especially popular among middle and high schoolers whose schools send teams to participate in national tournaments, with some schools winning big in many of the earlier tournaments. You can watch the Japan team at the 2006 World Jump Rope tournament video.

Growth of the jump rope sport is linked to initiatives by Bandai, toy giant which has held jump-rope classes all over Japan and been sponsoring competitions aimed at elementary school students. Bandai workshops teach various techniques and tricks, Bandai has sponsored  jump-rope tournaments with regional qualifying tournaments were held at multiple locations across Japan, followed by a national championship at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, an arena used for sumo.  Bandai sales of J Rope have been a huge hit, with elementary students each buying at least a few during their studentlife. Sporting goods makers Asics and Mizuno have also put their energy into manufacturing and selling competition-level jump ropes, lending momentum to the spread of rope skipping as a legitimate sport.

The number of people attempting competitive jump rope or skipping continues to grow, and the level of competition continues to rise. Japan frequently boasts number one athlete ranking in the world by the International Nawatobi (jump rope) Federation. Jump rope is seen as building strength and stamina for children, especially popular among middle and high schoolers. If you think jump rope is only for young children, think again. It has diversified to jump rope dancing, watch this incredible Double Dutch Delight video. Its spreading popularity can be seen by the growing number of women enjoying the activity in sports clubs as well. Find out more about Jump rope in Japan.

Any first time in Japan parent with children in local schools will agree that the wow factor of School Sports Day events like unicycling, jump rope and human pyramids (featured earlier this year) is very high.

Unicycling (Japanese: 一輪車 いちりんしゃ, ichirinsha) is taught in most elementary schools in Japan as a very small unit of the Physical Education (P.E.) subject(non-compulsory), to both boys and girls. In 1981, the Japan unicycling association started to donate unicycles to schools. In 1989, monbu-sho(the then-Ministry of Education) added unicycling as a subject in 3rd and 4th grades of elementary schools. However, in reality, many boys and girls would have become pretty good at unicycling and takeuma (bamboo-horse pogo-stick)respectively during preschool. Unicycle concerts often become special trademarks of certain preschools or elementary schools and a prospective draw for parents seeking to enrol their children, especially preschoolers.

However, it is said that the real reason why unicycling became popular was this: In 1992 a middle-schooler named Akira Matsushima rode his unicycle from Oregon to Washington D.C. (3261 miles) over his summer vacation. After that, unicycling became a huge trend in Japan.

There is an anime short movie Ichirin sha featuring a character called Shaleen who rides a unicycle that can transform into a weapon.

Part of the bellmark project where proceeds gained from the collections of designated eco-recycling items by the school PTA groups usually go toward buying unicycles and takeumas for the kindergarden/school. The unicycles (takeuma) are placed in an accessible location so that kids can get them on the way out to the playground during schoolbreaks. The aim is for children to gain good coordination and balance. You can read about the unicycling events in this lovely writeup introducing the unicycle “Japan loves unicycles”

And if you are up at 9 am tomorrow morning, be sure to tune in to the NHK-E channel to watch the 2014 Nawatobi National Championships. Here’s wishing all our EIJ Blog readers a very Happy New Year!

Nawatobi 2014 Jump Rope Championships

Nawatobi 2014 Jump Rope Championships

Opposed by “the education sector and others” the Finance Ministry has backed down from its earlier proposal to increase class size to 40… see YS article below for more.

35-student class size likely to stay

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec 14, 2014

The government will likely maintain the current class size of 35 for first graders at public primary schools, according to sources.

In the fiscal 2015 budget compilation process, the Finance Ministry had asked the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to restore the class size to 40 so that the number of classes could be reduced.

But due to opposition from the education sector and others, the Finance Ministry has decided to withdraw its proposal for 40-student classes, the sources said.

The current system, which lowers the maximum number of students per class from 40 to 35, was introduced in fiscal 2011.

The move was aimed at preventing so-called first-grader troubles — whereby such students exhibit behavior problems as they cannot adjust to the new environment of primary school — by making it easier for teachers to keep an eye on students.

However, the Finance Ministry concluded that a reduced class size of 35 students did not necessarily help prevent such behavior and argued for revising the compulsory education system law to revert to the previous 40.

The ministry had intended to lessen the state’s burden in funding compulsory education by about ¥9 billion by cutting the number of teachers and school staff by about 4,000, hoping to instead use the fiscal resources to realize a plan for tuition-free preschool education, the sources said. But a number of education ministry officials and members of the education sector called for a withdrawal of the plan

This is educational news that makes us sit up and take notice.  In a country known more for cooperative conformity than for individual creativity, many educators will be excited and wish to see this program succeed, and proliferate and perhaps become the norm(?), paving the way for square pegged students to find their place under the sun, …

Program starts for talented kids

The Yomiuri Shimbun, December 11, 2014

A new education program has been started to support primary and middle school students who have extraordinary talents but struggle to participate in the normal school system.

The opening ceremony was held Wednesday at the University of Tokyo’s Komaba Campus in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, with the 15 students from the inaugural class in attendance. Titled the Room Of Children with Kokorozashi (ambition) and Extraordinary Talents (ROCKET), the program is organized by the university’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology and the Nippon Foundation.

ROCKET’s goal is to develop the extraordinary talents of students interested in specific fields such as music and mathematics but who tend to refuse to attend school for such reasons as not being good at communicating with others.

The program will aim to nurture figures like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, both of whom did not fit in well at school, said an official in charge of the program.

Experts conducting cutting-edge research in various fields will give lectures and hold lab sessions roughly once a month. The program includes private guidance using an Internet phone as well.

Of the about 600 primary and middle school students around the nation who applied for the program, five primary school students and 10 middle school students were selected through written applications and interviews for the inaugural class.

“We want to develop the abilities of children excluded from school education and create a society that accepts those with extraordinary talents,” said Kenryu Nakamura, a professor at the research center who is in charge of ROCKET.
© The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japan News

Gakushyo taiken gakushu

Shokugyou taiken gakushu

During the summer break of every second year public junior high school student here in Kanagawa prefecture, they are given an opportunity to work at a local convenience store, supermarket, or other company, usually in the service or manufacturing industry, in order to experience what working life is like. They are allowed to choose from two or three options, both my son and daughter chose the DIY store about five minutes away from our home.


It was an extremely short stint when they spent just one to two days having a tour of the facilities, interacting with staff as well as customers, and given some routine support activity or tasks.   Other prefectures conduct up to five-day sessions. Not very glamorous work environments, but they give a good view of what it means to serve the local community or contribute to the local economy and industry. They are also a good opportunity to stimulate children into thinking seriously for the first time about future careers, and to have a feel for what they might like and NOT like to be doing for the rest of their lives.

In the winter 2011 issue, volume 8, no. 1 of the Japan Labor Review journal is a compilation of papers, some touching upon the state of career guidance and career education in schools and universities. Surprisingly, career education is said to be at an incipient stage in Japan, and that from the 1990s, there has been a disconnect between higher institutions and the job market, leaving many graduates adrift upon graduation.

In this issue, there is to be found a number of insights as well as much information and analysis that is not easily gained anywhere else on the topic of career guidance and career support. I recommend reading “Issues of the Learning through Work Experience Program for Junior High School Students: “The 14-Yr-Old’s Challenge in Toyama Prefecture” by Satomi Terasaki, and “Career Education in High School: Focusing on “Guidance in Ways of Being and Ways of Living”” by Yuki Mochisuki and perhaps also “Career Support in Universities” by Mitsuko Uenishi. I append below a few excerpts pertinent to the concept of the trial work experience:

“Terasaki’s paper is a case study on Toyama Prefecture’s vanguard program “The Learning through Work Experience Program: The 14-Year-Old’s Challenge,” a program for junior high school students to experience life in the workplace (see also Fujita’s paper for Career Start Week). The “14-Year-Old’s Challenge” program began in 1999, and is a program for 14-year-old students in their second year of junior high school to go out into society and participate in five days of activities in local workplaces or to do social services or volunteer activities. The original purpose of these activities was not to make it easier for the students to choose a future job, but to allow them to experience different interpersonal relationships outside their schools. However, Terasakis’s paper points out the issue that from the vantage point of this experience preparing students for their future jobs, there is a limit to what junior high schoolers can do, and as a result of this, all that the students are experiencing is unskilled labor or simple “helper” type activities. As can be seen in Fujita’s paper, this paper also shows us the degree to which an aspect of career education, which originally began as an educational activity, has changed into an activity for getting students to form strong perceptions about jobs in their futures. Mochizuki’s paper looks at “guidance in ways of being and ways of living,” a concept in career guidance that emerged in the 1990s and that is linked with career education in high schools with general education curriculums, which account for more than 70% of all high schools in Japan. “Guidance in ways of being and ways of living” aims to switch away from 1990s career guidance, which stressed feasibility, to guidance that emphasized individuality. According to surveys, “guidance in ways of being and ways of living” results in a more developed awareness of career paths in students who wish to continue on to college, ignites their aspirations to get into more selective universities, and allows them to be satisfied with their choices. However, Mochizuki also points out the issue that if they are only able to get into universities that are different than the ones they had chosen for themselves, they can easily become reluctant entrants, and this does not necessarily lead to their sufficient understanding of the self. Uenishi’s paper asserts that increasing proportion of students continuing on to university, decreasing graduate employment rates, and changes to the graduate recruitment process in corporations have given rise to the importance of university career education. Because of the increase in university advancement rate, university students have come to have many different levels of academic ability and graduates have lost their edge in the job search after graduation. The previously existing link between designated universities and specific companies has disappeared, and the Internet has become the focus of students’ job search activities in the application and hiring processes. Companies do not seek students with specialized skills, but proactive and positive people with high levels of communication skills. However, as the selection criteria are ambiguous, students become confused and are at the mercy of their employment activities. In response to this situation, universities have begun to implement career education beginning from the first year of entrance.”

 If you are interested in this topic, you might like to try “How the Japanese Learn to Work” . by R. P. Dore and Mari Sako.

P.S. I am posting the photo assemblage now, because they have only now come back to us at the end of term.

By A. Kawagoe









Kokuyo, the leading company and maker of stationery supplies has announced on Dec 5 (via Jiji press) that it will be raising the prices of 1,122 items by almost 10%, so for all of you with kids or teaching professionals in the educational system (unless you’ve gone entirely paperless!) you know it’s time to load up on your stationery haul.

This announcement, imho, is also a good barometer-indicator of the inflation rate that we’ve been seeing on the educational scene in Japan.

The D-date for the price hike is January 1st 2015.

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)
Entrance exam change needed (Japan Times, Feb 3, 2013)
The annual ritual of the entrance exam is once again upon Japan. Though the nature of knowledge, skills and social usefulness has changed tremendously over the past decades, Japan’s exam system has scarcely changed at all.

The entrance exam system needs substantial, forward-looking changes before other parts of the education system can be reformed. Without changing these exams, other meaningful reforms are unlikely to take place.

The exams still largely focus on testing what knowledge students have acquired, rather than looking at aptitude and potential. Unfortunately what students can acquire as memorized information and their test-taking skills at the age of 18 will be of little help later in a fast-changing society.

Some universities have started to look at more important skills in their exams, but the ability to think critically, or other such skills, is not a large enough part of exams yet.

The exam’s emphasis on quantity of knowledge rather than deeper comprehension or mastery of broader potential locks much of primary, junior and high school education into a test-preparation agenda. Textbooks, curricula and teaching methods are evaluated not on their ultimate value or how well they develop learners, but on how many students they get into competitive universities. Developing lifelong learners hardly enters the equation.

The knowledge, competency and mind-set needed in the future society and workplace have evolved tremendously in recent years. Memorizing basic information, for example, is no longer needed when most information can be found online. However, Japan’s exams have remained largely the same. A more careful consideration of what knowledge is most valuable and useful would steer the exams in more productive directions.

Alternative methods of evaluating students are desperately needed. Some schools allow interviews, recommendations and submissions of work such as essays or creative projects to give a broader picture of the individual applying. Those methods take time and effort to evaluate, but are more likely to provide a meaningful picture of a student than the ability to sit in a chair for a day and answer multiple-choice questions.

Taking pressure off students by allowing more chances to sit exams would also help immensely.

Moreover, the expectation that all students should enter college at exactly 18 and graduate at 22 also needs to be changed — by employers, schools and parents. Young people mature at different ages and should pursue different experiences, even taking off time or studying other subjects before applying.

Japan’s education system is faltering. To re-strengthen it, changes should start at the center of the system — the university entrance exams. Entrance exams should decide which students are best suited for which university department in new and better ways.

Whether the exam system can be changed will be a test for the entire country.

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.

Many schools like my children’s are getting makeovers, due to construction of new wings, earthquake reinforcement work, and disaster prep work.

NHK news today featured a school in Matsubushi, Saitama that has been renovating its toilets to be more barrier-free and to include more modern public conveniences like automated taps and diapering changing tables and baby-seats. The impetus came as a result of a realization that schools which serve as disaster centres, are currently inadequately equipped to handle large numbers of evacuees without these modern public conveniences.

Before renovation:

After renovation:


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