Looking for fresh travel ideas for this summer? Take a sleeper train like the Seven Stars Sleeper ななつ星in九州 Nanatsuboshi (pictured below)to a new destination in Japan …

Illustration by Eiji Mitooka + Don Design Associates Photo credits: Kyushu Rail Company

Illustration by Eiji Mitooka + Don Design Associates Photo credits: Kyushu Rail Company

Dear readers,
In this issue of our EDU WATCH below, you’ll find the latest news briefs and roundup of what’s been going on in the educational scene here in Japan:
Anti-bullying bill enacted (Kyodo — Jun 21 via newsjapan.com)
The Diet enacted a bill Friday to prevent increasingly serious bullying cases at elementary to high schools.
The move came in the face of a series of bullying cases, including a high-profile one in which a junior high school student killed himself in October 2011 in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, after being severely bullied.

Under the newly enacted law, bullying that causes serious physical and mental damage to victimized children or forces them to be absent for long periods of time is defined as constituting a “serious situation.” Watch the Youtube FNN broadcast (in Japanese only). Read also the related:   3 school bullies sent to child consultation center following suicide of victim

Todai confirms it will use quarter system (Yomiuri, June 21, 2013)University of Tokyo President Junichi Hamada has announced the institution will introduce a quarter system by the end of the 2015 academic year by forgoing its plans to transition to autumn enrollment for the time being.The announcement was made Wednesday at a general meeting of the Japan Association of National Universities in Tokyo.“Our broad aim to switch to autumn enrollment remains unchanged,” Hamada said at a post-meeting press conference.“However, we’ve concluded that it would be unreasonable to simply change the timing of enrollment while some aspects of society remain unchanged, especially in regard to when certification exams are administered,” the president added.He cited national qualification exams for medical practitioners, among other tests, which coincide with the end of the current academic year system in March.Hamada proposed switching to autumn enrollment two years ago, and the university set up an in-house panel in April last year to begin discussions on how to introduce the new system.The university also convened a conference with 11 other institutions that supported the idea, such as Kyoto University, Tokyo Institute of Technology and Keio University. However, the idea failed to catch on with other institutions and the central government did not move to review the period in which national qualification exams are administered.  Read more … and also the related article University of Tokyo to introduce quarter system and the article Universities turning-to-quarter-system-What’s the difference between semester and quarter systems?Japan’s ‘science women’ seek an identity (NY Times, Jun 17 via newsonjapan.com)According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, women accounted for 14 percent of the science and engineering students at Japanese universities, even though they represented 43 percent of college students over all, excluding medical and agricultural schools. In the humanities, they make up 66 percent. (New York Times )

Two out of three departments and five out of nine courses related to nuclear energy at major universities and graduate schools were under-enrolled this academic year, according to a survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Observers point to a lack of clarity in government nuclear energy policy and the harm done to the field’s image by the disaster in Fukushima Prefecture as behind the lack of students.

Students have shunned nuclear-related subjects over uncertainty the field will lead to a bright future.

A lack of well-trained workers could adversely effect the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, which has officials involved in nuclear energy deeply concerned.

There are currently three undergraduate and nine master’s degree courses with words such as “nuclear” or “atomic” in their names. Past enrollment in these courses was surveyed by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, while The Yomiuri Shimbun asked about enrollment this academic year.

Two undergraduate and five master’s courses at seven universities and graduate schools, including Fukui University of Technology, Tokai University, Tokyo Institute of Technology and Kyoto University, were underenrolled as of the end of April.

The figure given by Waseda University excludes students who enroll in September.

Courses at the other universities and graduate schools, including the University of Tokyo, were fully enrolled.

In the 2011 academic year, which began just after the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, only two graduate courses were under-enrolled.

In fiscal 2012, this number rose to six undergraduate and master’s courses, with Tokyo Institute of Technology’s course being underenrolled two years in a row. …

“The chronic suspension of nuclear power plants and the uncertain future of the nuclear industry has affected both students and companies,” a JAIF official said.

Industry needs new workers

Fewer students studying nuclear technology will make it more difficult for related industries to secure human resources and slow down technological development.

Decommissioning the damaged reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which is expected to take 30-40 years, is a nationwide task that must be completed regardless of the government’s nuclear policy.

Thus worker shortages and reduced technological capabilities in the field could adversely affect reconstruction efforts in Fukushima Prefecture.

Decommissioning is also the inevitable fate of the nation’s other nuclear reactors, but technology for this task is still being developed. … Read more

The Yomiuri Shimbun Former Toyosato Primary School

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Toyosato Primary School

School not out yet for some historic bldgs (Yomiuri — Jun 11, 2013) 
A growing number of historic school buildings that were facing the wrecking ball have gained a reprieve–and been strengthened against earthquakes–thanks to former students and groups who want the structures saved.

An alumni association of Aichi prefectural Zuiryo High School in Mizuho Ward, Nagoya, requested last month that a building at the school be preserved. The association said the building, a former school hall called Kankido that was built in 1924, was a symbol of the school for about 30,000 alumni.The ferroconcrete, roof-tiled building is the oldest such existing hall in Nagoya and is currently used as a dining hall for the school’s part-time students.An examination by the prefectural board of education found that the hall’s quake-resistance was extremely low. But Shigenori Mori, head of the secretariat of the alumni association, said saving the building would help pass on the school’s traditions.

“If an old building like this is carefully preserved and students can feel close to its traditions, it will have welcome educational effects on students at the school,” Mori said.

Tetsuo Seguchi, a professor emeritus of modern architectural history at Nagoya City University, said the building has some special characteristics.

“It has many features particular to the period it was built in,” Seguchi said. “For example, the pillars are outside the building to maximize space inside to be used as a hall.”

But whether the building remains standing could depend on money.

“If constructing a new building is cheaper than repairing the hall, we’ll have to demolish the hall,” an official of the prefectural board of education said.

The board decided to check whether the hall can be made more quake-resistant.

In recent years, there has been a remarkable number of movements to preserve old buildings by improving their ability to withstand strong earthquakes.  … Read the rest here.

Pre-modern Japan mission artifacts to be added to UNESCO registryA portrait of Hasekura Tsunenaga, one of the materials related to the Keicho-era Mission to Europe (Provided by Sendai City Museum)

Left: The Midokanpakuki diary written by Fujiwara no Michinaga in the Heian Period (794-1185) (Provided by Yomei Bunko)
Right: A portrait of Hasekura Tsunenaga, one of the materials related to the Keicho-era Mission to Europe (Sendai City Museum)

Pre-modern Japan mission artifacts to be added to UNESCO registry (Japan Daily Press, June 19, 2013[ via Global Post ] )

Two sets of materials – a collection from a pre-modern Japan mission to Spain and the world’s oldest autographic diary – have been selected to be added to the UNESCO Memory of the World registry. According to the Ministry of Education, the two assets were chosen from among 80 sets of documents and materials that were submitted for inclusion in the registry.

The first set of materials were from the Keicho Mission commissioned by Sendai feudal lord Date Masamune to go to the Vatican and Spain in 1613 to negotiate trade with Spanish possessions in Mexico. They brought back with them a certificate as well as portraits, according to records from delegation leader Hasekura Tsunenaga. The materials were recommended jointly by the Japanese and Spanish governments. The “Midokanpakuki” diary was written by Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027), who was a powerful regent in Japan during medieval times. The scrolls were preserved by Yomei Bunko, a library in Kyoto city. Both sets of assets are designated national treasures in Japan.

The UNESCO registry is for preserving rare or ancient records and documents from different countries and societies around the world. In their meeting on Tuesday in Gwangju, South Korea, sources told the ministry that the UNESCO International Advisory Committee proposed that the two be included for inscription and that the final authority for the selection was by UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. Another Japanese asset was included in the registry in 2011 – the collection of annotated coal mine paintings and diaries of Japanese artist Sakubei Yamamoto (1892-1984).

Survey: Half of students say working abroad ‘impossible’ (Yomiuri — Jun 09 via newsjapan.com)

At least half of Japanese high school and university students have given up on becoming globally active by working overseas, according to a survey that underlines the inward-looking mind-set of many young people here.
Fifty percent of high school students and 55 percent of university students said they felt “it’s too late for me to become a globally active person even if I start receiving education now for dealing with a globalizing world.” Twenty-four percent of parents have given up on their children engaging in work activities overseas.
According to the online survey, 30 percent of university students and 40 percent of high school students want to become an active person in a global society. …
Indicating that many Japanese studnets have an introspective mind-set and lack confidence in their linguistic ability, the results come at a time when the government and other entities want to develop more hmuan resources who can play an active role in international society.
According to the survey, the main reasons students did not want to work for companies that are expanding their business overseas were “I fell uneasy about communicating with foreigners” and “I might not be able to stay in Japan.”


NEET ratio hits record high in 2012

(Jiji Press, June 19, 2013)

The percentage of the nation’s young people not in education, employment or training, or NEETs, hit a record high in 2012, a government report said Tuesday.

According to the 2012 white paper on children and youngsters, adopted by the Cabinet the same day, NEETs accounted for 2.3 percent of people aged between 15 and 35, the highest figure since comparable data became available in 1995. Year on year, the Neet ratio rose 0.1 point.

“There should be measures to help young people demonstrate their abilities in society,” said the Cabinet Office, which compiled the annual report.

Reflecting an improvement in the overall employment situation, the jobless rate for young people has been on a downtrend. But the white paper found that among those aged 25 to 34, the proportion of nonregular workers to full-time employees moderately increased to 26.5 percent, rewriting an all-time high for the second consecutive year.

Earlier news: Japan adopts basic plan for educational promotion (Jiji Press via newsonjapan.com  — Jun 14, 2013)
The cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday adopted a basic plan to promote education in the country over the next five years.
The basic plan calls for deciding the amount of public spending for educational institutions while taking into account spending levels in other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
English language education is expected to change significantly at primary schools as the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will soon launch a study team tasked with discussing reforms.


Study team eyed for English education (Yomiuri — Jun 02 via newsonjapan.com)

Education minister Hakubun Shimomura announced the launch of the team Friday after a regular Cabinet meeting. The group will study a set of proposals presented by the Education Rebuilding Implementation Council.The council recently presented the proposals to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They emphasize nurturing human resources who can better compete globally, including a recommendation to make English an official subject at primary schools.

Among other things, the ministry’s study team will discuss the possibility of actively utilizing scores from TOEFL and other English proficiency tests as a qualifying measure for entering and graduating from universities, to encourage students to become more communicative in English.

Events for the family:


Harry Potter: The Exhibition

When: June 22 – Sept 16

Place: Mori Arts Center Gallery, Roppongi Hills, TOKYO

Visitors to the Harry Potter Exhibition can experience everything they wanted to know about the world of the famous boy wizard, his friends and enemies. Props, costumes and accessories are displayed in settings from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry including the Gryffindor common room, Hagrid’s hut and the Great Hall.

The exhibition has been traveling the world since 2009 and now comes to Japan where the books and movies were enormously popular. Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe one said that more than half his worldwide fan mail comes from Japan.

The exhibition is open daily from June 22 until Sept 16 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (last entry 9 p.m.).

Tickets are 2,300 yen in advance for adults (2,500 yen regular), 1,800 yen for university students (2,000 yen regular), 1,300 yen for junior high and high school students (1,500 yen regular) and 800 yen for 4-year-olds to primary school students (1,000 yen regular).  (Source of information, Japan Today)

Numerous firefly-viewing opportunities in Aichi

The light of fireflies can be enjoyed in various sites in Aichi Prefecture this month.

Those who are interested should visit Denpark in Anjo (denpark.jp/index.html,) 0566-92-7111, Jokoji Hotarunosato in Seto (www.seto-marutto.info/cgi-bin/data/miru/030.html,) 0561-48-0489, Hirahara Genjibotarunosato in Nishio (www.city.nishio.aichi.jp/index.cfm/9,2252,94,430,html,) 090-7616-8186, and Shimodaira area in Toyota (asuke.info/modules/pico/index.php?content_id=17), 0565-63-2811.

Also, with the summer holls a-looming, here’s an idea for travel, take a sleeper-cum-cruiser train somewhere and go-exploring with the kids. We’ve done it before, taking the Cassiopeia all the way to Hokkaido, it can be a magical experience for the kids and even though you get a sleeper, you can be assured the kids will be too excited to do anything but look out the window. It’s a great way to travel, especially if you got wee little ones …  Read this article “Luxury sleeper trains will tour Japan in grand style” for more suggestions like riding the Seven Stars in Kyushu (ななつ星in九州 Nanatsuboshi in Kyūshu.  

Health and safety issues:

Syracuse, N.Y. — Eyeball licking, a teen fad that started in Japan, can cause blindness, “pink eye” and other health problems, health experts are warning.

News of the trend among Japanese teens called oculolinctus, also known as “eyeball licking” or “worming,” went viral last week after the Chinese news site Shanghaiist reported on it.

“This is a dangerous practice which has the potential to spread a number of bacteria that reside in the mouth to the eye resulting in bacterial infections such as conjunctivitis (pink eye) to styes as well as abscesses involving the lids and eye socket,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told CBSNews.com.

The Huffington Post interviewed ophthalmologists who warned of potential health risks like blindness, corneal abrasions and eye chlamydia.

Some reports say the fad was sparked by a Japanese music video from the band Born, which features an eyeball licking scene.

Japanese blog Naver Matome interviewed one concerned teacher who said that he ran into two sixth grade students licking each others’ eyeballs in an equipment room. After he confronted them, they admitted it was popular in their class. His independent survey of students confirmed his fears: One-third of the children admitted to eyeball licking.

The Japanese teacher also noted with growing concern that he saw up to 10 students at a time wearing eye patches, which he realized were hiding eye ailments. Read more here

Schools to make allergy manuals/ Meal accidents prompt clearer procedures for teachers, staff  (Yomiuri — Jun 09, 2013 via newsjapan.com)

Following the death of a primary school student from food allergies after eating school lunch, the education ministry has decided to ask schools and kindergartens nationwide that are offering lunch to individually compile manuals to address children’s allergies.

The measure will cover about 40,000 primary and middle schools as well as kindergarten, regardless of whether they are run by the state, local governments or private entities, according to sources.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to first conduct a survey targeting all schoolchildren on their allergies, starting this summer. The ministry will then ask each school to establish a system to check children for allergy-related conditions and stipulate steps for administering an epinephrine injection when necessary to treat children for their acute allergic reactions, with the aim of preventing any serious accidents.

A Japanese Environment Ministry survey has revealed that almost all of the designated municipalities in eastern Japan had completed decontamination of schools by the end of March. The decontamination was conducted using government money.
The survey investigated 58 municipalities in eastern Japan. The survey did not include municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture.

(NHK Watch this on Youtube.com)


Groundwater contaminated with highly radioactive substances is detected from a monitoring well just 27 meters from the seashore within the compound of the crippled Fukushima

Testing revealed strontium-90 readings of 1,000 becquerels per liter, 33 times more than the legal limit, as well as tritium readings of 500,000 becquerels per liter, 8.3 times the limit.

Tepco said it believes the radioactive groundwater has yet to reach the ocean, as radiation readings in seawater samples from near the shore have not shown significant shifts.

Tepco first found a spike in the readings of radioactive strontium-90 and tritium on May 24. The readings in the previous study in December was 8.6 becquerels per liter and 29,000 becquerels per liter, respectively, both well below the legal limits.

Tepco will soon begin building a bank protection along the shore that will be strengthened with waterproof liquid glass in an effort to prevent the contaminated groundwater from reaching the sea.

The utility plans to start construction by the end of this month and finish the project in about 90 days, a Tepco spokesman told reporters at the firm’s Tokyo head office.

If introduced into the food chain, radioactive strontium-90, with a half-life of 28.8 years, can remain in the human body for long periods and eventually cause cancer. Tritium is discharged from the body much quicker and is believed to pose less of a threat in general, but could still pose risks to human health. …

 (Jiji Press, June 12)–

Jiji PressFUKUSHIMA (Jiji Press)–More than 60 percent of people affected by the March 2011 nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture fear the impact of radiation exposure could be passed on to their children, a survey showed.

This contradicts findings six years ago that showed no cases of concern that radiation exposure impact could be passed to children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The latest survey by the Fukushima prefectural government covered about 180,000 people aged 16 or older who were near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the incident. The prefecture collected about 73,000 valid responses between January and October last year. Asked about the risk of radiation exposure having an impact on the health of offspring, 34.9 percent of respondents said it is “extremely high” and 25.3 percent said “high.” The survey revealed that 39.8 percent of respondents said such risk is “low” or “extremely low.”

In 2007, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima said that its studies on children of atomic bomb survivors found no evidence of an increase in health problems arising from parents’ exposure to radiation.

That’s all folks … for now … have a good weekend.

Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe