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)