The Present State of Arts Education in Japan

AKIYAMA Kazue/ TAKASU Hajime (Japan)

1. The Fundamental Principles for Promoting Education, Culture and the Arts in Japan

(1) The Constitution of Japan and the Fundamental Law of Education

Fundamental principles for Japanese education are defined in the Constitution of Japan enacted in 1946 and the Fundamental Law of Education enacted in 1947. Article #26 of the Constitution of Japan stipulates “All people shall have the right to receive an equal education corresponding to their abilities, as provided for by law.” Based on this spirit, more specific provisions relating to the school system, educational administration, financial support and other matters are specified and many other education laws and regulations through the Fundamental Law of Education and the School Education Law.

(2) The Fundamental Law for the Promotion of Culture and the Arts【文】

The Fundamental Law for the Promotion of Culture and the Arts, which was enacted in 2001, has stipulated the policies the Japanese nation ought to adopt for promoting culture and arts, such as the arrangement of education and research institutions concerned with culture and arts, and improving education related to culture and arts such as experiential learning concerned with culture and arts.

2. Arts Education in Elementary and Secondary Schools【初】

(1) General Framework

Elementary and secondary education in Japan is divided respectively into elementary schools, which offer normal elementary education to children from age 6 to 12 in accordance with their physical and mental development, and into lower secondary schools, which implement regular secondary education on top of elementary school education to children aged 12 to 15 in accordance with their physical and mental development, and upper secondary schools as institutions for the latter half of the secondary education.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) lays down the subjects to be offered in elementary, lower secondary and upper secondary schools, as well as the standard number of yearly school hours for each subject in these schools.

MEXT also specifies objectives and standard content of each subject or each area of school activity in the “Courses of Study”, which present national guidelines for the curriculum for each of the four school levels: kindergarten, elementary school, lower and upper secondary school. The content of the Courses of Study for the respective schools is prescribed and announced by the MEXT based on reports made by his/her advisory organ, the Central Council for Education.

Each school organizes and implements its own curriculum in accordance with the provisions of the relevant statutes and the Courses of Study, and also in due consideration of the actual circumstances of the school and the locality in which it is located, as well as of the characteristics of children enrolled and the stage of their mental and physical development.

Tables 1 and 2 present the subjects to be taught in elementary and lower secondary schools, as well as the national standard number of yearly school hours to be allocated to each subject, which are stipulated in implementation regulations of the School Education Law. Students in upper secondary school usually complete an elective from among Music, Fine Arts, Crafts Production, and Calligraphy.

Table 1 Standard Number of Yearly School Hours in Elementary Schools


(2) The Features of the Course of Study

The Course of Study, which provides statutory national curriculum standards for each subject, has been revised approximately every 10 years in accordance to such influences as changes in the pupils and students’ situation and environment, changes in the social demands of education, and trends of education. MEXT revised the current Course of Study in 1998 and it has been implemented since 2002. However, this Course of Study is undergoing a careful scrutiny as the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology requested the Central Council for Education in February this year, 2005 to consider its revision.

The theoretical background of the Course of Study derives not only from the expertise of teachers but also from pedagogical, psychological, sociological and individual disciplinary theories. Also, the latest neuro-psychological (brain science) approach is an important background study for the Course of Study. This approach explains how pupils and students perceive and deal with arts. To give an illustration, music was perceived by the right hemisphere of the brain had been a generally accepted idea. However, recent studies clearly show that both hemispheres are used in pupils and students’ experiences of music. Through music learning, pupils and students can develop both affective and intellectual aspects. As a result, pupils and students can not only develop their thinking abilities and judging abilities, but also enrich their aesthetic sentiments. Such brain functions are always supported by pupils and students’ sensitivities. As the Course of Study takes such areas into account, it does refer to what teachers should deal with in class to enhance the qualities and abilities of pupils and students. In the cultivation of pupils and students’ artistic qualities and abilities, arts subjects contribute to the holistic education of pupils and students and to character building.

The key phrases in the objectives of the Course of Study for Arts subjects are the following:
 Encouraging a love for the arts
 Enhancing appreciation for the arts
 Cultivating fundamental abilities
 Enriching sentiments
The fundamental abilities do not refer only to knowledge and skills (e.g. reading and writing notation, skills to play musical instruments). In the Course of Study, the fundamental abilities also refer to the abilities of pupils and students to express their feelings, imagination, and thinking by such means as writing, drawing, performing, and making (expressive skills), and to the abilities of pupils and students to recognize positively strengths and aesthetic values. To cultivate the fundamental abilities, pupils and students’ creative activities are crucial, because such activities are the very basis of other activities. It is not too much to say that they can change pupils and students from being “successors to a culture” which includes Japanese, Eastern and Western traditions, to “creators of a future culture”.
Over the past decades, MEXT have reconsidered the values of Japanese traditional arts. It believes that pupils and students’ realization of the values of Japanese traditional arts leads to the establishment of their identities as Japanese as well as establishment of a platform from where they understand other cultures and values.

(3) Initial Training

Belief in certificates and the curriculum accreditation system

Teachers must be persons who possess a certificate bestowed in accordance with the Education Personnel Certificate Law (belief in certificates)
A teacher’s certificate (regular certificate) is bestowed by the relevant prefectural board of education to the recipient who has acquired the basic qualifications, such as a Bachelor’s degree, and has completed the required subjects in a university curriculum recognized by MEXT as essential for a teacher’s certificate.

(B) Types of certificates

The types of certificates are classified by the kind of school. The certificates for secondary schools are further classified by the type of subject.

3. Examples of Support for Promotion of the Arts【文】

The following are examples of support for promotion of the arts in terms of education at the national level by the Agency of Cultural Affairs.

(1) Program for the promotion of activities enabling children to experience culture and arts

The following projects are implemented under “Program for the Promotion of Activities Enabling Children to Experience Culture and Arts” (the New Century Arts Plan) in an attempt to have children gain moving experiences and to foster them as richly sensitive human beings by having them come into direct contact with real art and culture and participate in creative activities.

(A) Ensuring opportunities to view authentic stage arts

Performance guidance is offered by performing arts groups, etc. so that children get to appreciate outstanding theatrical art. Opportunities are also provided for children to participate in workshops and joint performances with such groups and to come into close contact with true stage art.

(B) Promotion of cultural activities at schools
Children’s interest in the arts is raised by moves like dispatching artists who are carrying out quite outstanding activities and the preservers of traditional arts for the schools in their areas of origin, presentations of outstanding skills, and lectures on the joy cultural activities and regional pride, etc. Moreover, providing opportunities to present the results of cultural activities to children can give them a consciousness of goals and have them participate in cultural club activities.

(C) Support for hands-on cultural projects

The Agency of Cultural Affairs is drawing up programs allowing children to come into direct contact with and experience diverse and variegated culture casually year round by providing opportunities for them to touch upon and experience diverse and variegated culture throughout the year within the scope of their daily lives. And it has been supporting their implementation as model projects. (47 model regions nationwide)

Support for Cultural Facilities

(A) Projects that are conducted in collaboration with multiple cultural facilities and schools as central houses in the locality

Joint research/training projects carried out in collaboration with other fine arts museums/museums and schools in the region and projects like exhibitions that are the focus of rotating exhibitions to schools and cultural facilities, etc.

(B) Projects such as the development of advanced exhibition/education and dissemination methods

Development of exhibition/education and dissemination methods that make use of IT, etc., development of educational materials for use in hands-on activities (experiential-type education and dissemination activities carried out by curators, etc. who visit schools)

SOURCE: “The Present State of Arts Education in Japan”, UNESCO doc

1 thought on “The Present State of Arts Education in Japan”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I hardly hear about Japanese art education. Do you know of any schools in Kyoto, Japan which are strong in the visual arts or design curriculum?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s