Taiku / Gym class

1. They teach dance in PE!
I was in school last week to prepare for the school bazaar when I saw the PE teacher with music player compo and a class of students dancing to what looked like hip-hop. Checking up on the PE curriculum, I found Japanese PE now incorporates dance (national curriculum components: folk dance, creative dance and dance with modern rhythm).

2. You get paper-tested for PE in Japanese schools!

I found out these past few weeks, as my son “hit his books” to study for P.E.  This “Theory of Education component” for which kids actually have to do paper tests — is rarely found in other countries’ schools (at least at elementary and secondary levels) in which the child is tested on the “cognitive content on the social and cultural aspects of sport, motor learning and the affective outcome of learning physical activity for personal meaning”.

3. Japanese P.E. theory owes a huge debt to the Swedish system, specifically something called Swedish Gymnastics

I found this out incidentally when trying to uncover the origin of the Kumi-taiso /組休操 Human Pyramid event (details at this blog) which is a traditional Undokai sports event and staple.

Per Henrik Ling was a Swedish physical therapist, developer and teacher of the system of Medical-Gymnastics. Ling was suffering from joint (overuse) injuries and rheumatism when he was appointed fencing-master to the Uppsala University and subsequently found that his daily exercise routine completely restored his bodily health. His thoughts then turned towards applying this experience for the benefit of others, and he saw the potential for adapting these techniques to promote better health in many situations. He trained as a doctor, attending classes on anatomy and physiology, and then elaborated a system of gymnastics, exercises and maneuvers, divided into four branches, (1) pedagogical, (2) medical, (3) military, (4) aesthetic, which carried out his theories and would demonstrate the required occidental scientific rigor to be integrated or approved by established medical practitioners.

Ling formed the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.  His students carried on his work after his death.

This system of gymnastic exercise was eventually adopted by UK, US and Japan. (Encyclopaedia Brittanica)

Sometimes called the “Swedish Movement Cure,” founded by Pehr Henrik Ling  With his strong medical background, Ling recognized that exercise was necessary for all persons. He maintained that exercise programs should be devised based on individual differences. Ling also believed physical educators must possess knowledge of the effects of exercise on the human body. Ling used science and physiology to better understand the importance of fitness (4).

How Japanese P.E. came to adopt Swedish gymnastics.

School gymnastics (gakko taiso) is the older concept equivalent to today’s school physical education (gakko taiiku). School gymnastics was encouraged by the first Order of Educational System (Gakusei) in 1872, and in the next year, “Illustration of Room Gymnastics” (Shachu Taisoho-zu) and “Illustration of Gymnastics” (Taiso-zu) were officially presented by the Department of Education. Yet, it was not until 1879 that the National Institute of Gymnastics (Taiso Denshujo) was established and started for the purpose of training qualified gymnastics teachers and studying the systems of school gymnastics.

George A. Leland was invited from America to systematize school gymnastics in 1879. His systems were drawn mainly from Dio Lewis, and were called “light gymnastics” (kei-taiso) and “normal gymnastics” (futsu-taiso). The Swedish “light gymnastics” used no apparatus, consisting of calisthenics and exercises. School gymnastics were then diffused by the rapid growth of national education.

Although Swedish light gymnastics lost ground as a theory and died out, Motokuro Kawase, Akuri Inokuchi, and others actively introduced the Swedish-Per Henrik Ling’s system of Medical-Gymnastics during the 1890s, and this permeated into many schools because of its rational and scientific system.

This leads us to the next point.

4. Japanese P.E. has a militaristic history

As Japanese education moved toward nationalism in 1880s, with the 1885 reorganization of the Department of Education was reorganized into the Ministry of Education, new Education Orders were promulgated for elementary, middle, and normal schools, excluding imperial universities, and “military gymnastics” (heishiki-taiso) were introduced as a compulsory subject.

As Swedish light gymnastics became replaced by the introduction of military gymnastics, the Swedish system (Swedish Gymnastics) took its place in the Japanese P.E. system (introduced by Motokuro Kawase, Akuri Inokuchi, and others during the 1890s, ) Swedish “Medical-Gymnastics” then permeated into many schools because of its rational and scientific system.

After some years of confusion following the Manchurian Incident, school gymnastics evolved its superficial “rationalism” and in 1913, the Ministry of Education proclaimed the Syllabus of School Gymnastics for the first time. In these, school gymnastics was prescribed to consist of gymnastics (mainly Swedish), military drill, and games. Examples include gymnastics, fencing, rifle shooting, riding, and skiing -introduced through military reform or modernization.

In 1935, the doctrine of school gymnastics clearly became chauvinistic; liberalism and individualism were denied but esprit de corps was encouraged. In June 1936 the Ministry of Education promulgated a revision of the Syllabus of School Gymnastics that introduced Danish gymnastics, expanded the constituents of athletics and play, and directed the rationalization of teaching methods. However, the aim of the revision was to support a militaristic regime attempting to standardize school gymnastics.

The syllabus denoted schools’ obligation to conform to the standard, and emphasized the training of character as well as the healthy development of body. Japanese militarists, physical educators, and athletes began seeking Japanized physical education and sports. The movement rejected the use of borrowed foreign terminology and all foreign sports terms were translated into Japanese. This included creating such diverse terminology as Taiiku-Do (“The Way of Physical Education”), SupotsuDo (“The Way of Sports”), and Ishiteki-Taiiku (“Physical Education Controlled by Will”).

Western liberalism was rejected and attempts were made to reconstruct the theories of sport and physical education according to traditional and fundamentalist philosophy or codes of behavior. Most theories appearing after the late 1930s were strongly connected with the traditional warrior’s feudalistic morality of Bushido. Educational directive gave detailed directions for budo, the traditional military arts to “cultivate a national spirit” (judo and kendo are still incorporated components in school P.E. today).

“In 1941 this doctrine was realized in the National School Order, which clearly stressed its aim that every national school should train up a “Nation of Emperors” (Kokokumin). The school gymnastics (Taiso-ka) was renamed “physical discipline” (Tairen-ka). In September 1942 a Syllabus of Physical Discipline was issued in which physical activities dedicated to national defense were stressed. Basically, physical discipline was divided into two categories (budo, including judo and kendo, and gymnastics, including gymnastics, games, athletic exercises, drill, and hygiene), and the practical descriptions given to these materials became much more militaristic than before.

A fascistic regime was almost completed before the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941. School gymnastics became synonymous with military training. All amateur sports organizations were reorganized into the Greater Japan Physical Education Association, which was an organ of the Ministries of Education and Health and Welfare. All youth organizations became subservient to the fascist regime.

Contests and games were ritualized to indoctrinate militarism, patriotism, and above all, the ideology of the Emperor System. All kinds of physical activities were colored by bushido (“the Way of the Warrior”) and Yamato damashii (“Japanese spirit”).” – KURISU Mitsuru in “A Reexamination of Physical Education and Sports in Japan (IV) : Physical Education, Sports, and the Ideology of “Winning Is Everything” 

However, with the end of WWII, the defeat and occupation of Japan in 1945 ostensibly brought about the abolition of all fascist laws and orders, American occupation policies also swept away the fascist system of physical education. Military drill and budo were prohibited in schools and Japanese physical educators actively assimilated American “New Physical Education”. The sports that form part of the physical education curriculum today were largely imported during the Meiji years, mainly from Britain and America. Many nationwide sports competitions were also instituted at that time, and today’ s national high school tournaments have their origins in sports meetings at the old “middle school” level.

Despite the sweeping effect of the American occupational policies, commentators have been alarmed that budo, a reminder of fascistic physical education, has been revived as a school subject and some commentators are of the view that

” … the current (postwar) situation of physical education and sports in Japan, ….have continued in almost every respect, to follow the ideology that was established in this historical context” (see KURISU Mitsuru in “A Reexamination of Physical Education and Sports in Japan (IV) : Physical Education, Sports, and the Ideology of “Winning Is Everything”)

Kurisu contended that in the process of importing foreign sports and introducing them nationwide, a number of serious errors were made allowing nationalistic and militaristic tendencies to come to the fore again:

1. The Japanese tradition of physical exercise integrated into daily life (budo) was based on the spirit of  bushido (“the Way of the warrior”). However, the essence of  bushido in a distorted form was injected into physical exercise that was not integrated into daily life, i.e., into sports.

2. Physical education (i.e., physical training) was regarded as synonymous with sports (i.e., physical recreation).

3. The ideological emphasis placed on winning meant that sports could be understood only in competitive terms, rather than in terms of personal recreation.

4. An absolutist ideology of winning became established, linking world-class achievements in competitive sports to the restoration and display of national prestige.

5. Participation in sports instilled a spirit or ideology of absolute obedience in male middle school students, who were being prepared for military service. All of these developments can be traced to an attitude of rivalry with other countries that had begun to form in the nation as a whole through repeated experiences of war. They can also be attributed to an effort to boost national morale using nationalistic ideals such as yamato damashii (“the Japanese spirit”) in order to offset a deficit in physical size and strength relative to other nations.

And the above leads us naturally to the next point…

5. The hidden curriculum cultural content

The major goals and objectives of PE in US and Japanese edu are ostensibly similar since post-WWII democratic education brought in by US revamped Japanese P.E. …

Mandated by government are 5 groups of fundamental outcomes sought in school P.E. programs (broadly the same as US ones): democratic PE / culture-oriented PE / fitness-oriented PE / PE as prep for lifelong sport participation /PE for mind and body

However, while the goals and objectives appear to be similar in US and Japan, the goals in Japan do not specify performance-related outcomes, instead they are viewed from a cultural perspective,”In Japanese culture, body and mind are viewed from a holistic perspective and this relationship must be maintained in order to keep physical education in the schools” and “the ultimate objective is to cultivate an attitude that will cause students to live a happy and cheerful life that is well integrated with physical activity…” and “Through experiences in physical education, youths should develop a love of sport and attain a level of personal fitness needed for a healthy life”.

6. Japanese P.E. teachers are often overstretched in their duties and responsibilities

A problem that has been noted of Japanese physical educators (similar to that found in the US), has the tendency for the PE educators to become overstretched in their coaching roles and responsibilities for their school sport programs, often at the expense of their class teaching duties and responsibilities. Like in the US, P.E. is often part of the school educational plan, and Japanese school physical educators implement ECA events, including sport festivals, coach school sport clubs – which often involve a school’s particular traditional sporting strengths.

7. Japanese P.E. is hindered by some systemic weaknesses

Although some “progressive schools” offer selective programs and coed classes, and a few elementary schools may offer some limited options (eg. one event from track and field activities), most lower secondary schools do not offer wide choices – they are also severely limited by the lack of dedicated facilities and equipment, and inadequate staff development.

Centralized government regulation by MEXT hinders the P.E. teacher’s acquisition of expertise, impedes the formation of original curricula in schools as well as the types of instructional approaches that might be used by teachers. Japanese P.E. teachers are said to be familiar with “teaching skills”, but to be less familiar with “teaching style” (or instructional method), although they may teach in ways that resemble sport educational styles or models.

To improve PE, it was suggested that teacher education system in J. universities needs revamping to improve instruction, and to improve awareness among PE teachers of the possibilities offered by a new curriculum and how to develop expertise in planning and implementing a new curriculum. teachers’ responsibilities need to be reduced to that of teaching only (as opposed to the teacher-coach role)



Sport and Physical Education under Fascistization in Japan (pps 177 ff.)

Standards and Practice for K-12 Physical Education in Japan  Takahashi Nakai & Michael W. Metzler

InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives June 2000 by Ikuo Abe, Yasuharu Kiyohara, and Ken Nakajima

KURISU Mitsuru, “A Reexamination of Physical Education and Sports in Japan (IV) : Physical Education, Sports, and the Ideology of “Winning Is Everything

Encyclopaedia Brittanica, “Per Henrik Ling”

Modern History and the Problems of Physical Education in Japan  KATAGIRI, Yoshio