The table above includes ‘religious issues’ as a reason for homeschooling, and there are a number of Christian homeschool groups in Japan (some of these are listed at the end of the Bibliography). No other religion is strongly represented in Japanese homeschooling. The rhetoric of the Christian groups shows a strong tendency towards ‘opting out’ of compulsory education, although ‘drop out’ students are also present.
The Church and Home Educators’ Association (CHEA) is the largest Japanese Christian homeschool group in Japan, and was formed in 2000 to serve both Christian homeschoolers and church schools. It had 350 homeschooling member families in 2006, and claims that 2,500 more Christian families are preparing to homeschool (CHEA, 2006a,b,c). It reports a growth from 620 people attending its first conference in 2000 to 2,300 in 2006. It also stands out among all homeschooling groups in Japan for the quantity and high quality of the literature it produces.
CHEA says its homeschooling goal is ‘to study all subjects with our eyes firmly fixed on the Creator and the Bible, and bring up a new generation of young people who can tell of God’s love and forgiveness’ (CHEA, 2007a), and it sees homeschooling as offering the freedom to ‘teach with God’s kingdom and his righteousness as a consistent first priority’ (CHEA, 2007b). To this end, they have translated many US Christian homeschooling textbooks into Japanese. CHEA and other Christian homeschool sites express the belief that parents have a biblical mandate to pass on their faith to their children, and quote a range of Bible verses to prove this (especially Deuteronomy 6:4-9, (The Bible)). The Christians find common ground in their shared beliefs – and if there are indeed between 3,000 and 5,000 children being homeschooled in Japan (see above), and at least 350 Christian families are homeschooling one or two children (CHEA, 2006a: these figures are for CHEA members only, and do not include other Japanese Christian homeschooling groups or English-speaking Christian homeschoolers), then that means that approximately 10 percent of Japanese homeschool families are Christians. This is a surprising statistic, given that only about one percent of the Japanese population is Christian (Agency for Cultural Affairs, 2004).
Other concerns of the Christian homeschoolers are shared with those involved in church schools, and are discussed in greater depth in the next chapter. The main ‘need’ they are expressing, however, is for the freedom to let their own religion underpin the education of their children. The religious issue for them is not about externals such as diet or dress codes, but about the worldview underpinning education. And in common with the families involved in the church schools, they feel that the worldview of the Japanese compulsory education system is different to or even contrary to the Christian worldview – and feel it strongly enough to opt their children out of the system.
The growth of homeschooling in Japan has been fuelled by the needs of ‘drop out’ students, but also by encouragement from the large US homeschooling movement, which has a strong ‘opt out’ outlook: there are also some ‘opt out’ homeschoolers in Japan. The Internet has enabled the spread of information and communication among homeschoolers and would-be homeschoolers, and has also been a vital part of the growth in interest.
The practice and rhetoric of homeschooling goes beyond the ‘freedom from…’ the problems and pressures of the compulsory education system which was seen to be behind the existence of free schools, and can be better expressed as a ‘freedom to…’. Homeschooling entails a massive commitment of time and effort on the part of the family, but offers children and their families the freedom to tailor a child’s education to their wishes and needs: it is often chosen because of parental beliefs or needs rather than the direct needs of the child. Three specific groups of families whose needs may not be adequately met in the compulsory system can be identified amongst homeschoolers. These are the families of children with ‘special needs’, dual-national families, and Christian families. The strong Christian presence within this group mirrors the US homeschool scene, and Japanese Christian homeschoolers maintain strong links with their US counterparts.
The existence of ‘opt out’ homeschoolers shows a dissatisfaction with the compulsory education system and also raises the question of where the final responsibility for a child’s education lies: does the state have the final say, or can it be over-ridden by parental views and needs? And what say do the children themselves have in all this? At the moment, homeschoolers are left in peace and exercise what they believe is their right to educate their own children in the way they believe to be best.