By BRIAN COVERT

We get down to some basics of homelearning in the Land of the Rising Sun: What is learning at home like in Japan? What kind of people are doing it? Why? And how many?

We hope to answer a few of these kinds of questions by way of a Q & A list compiled by a Japanese homelearning parent, Tomiko Kugai. The beginning portion of this list was originally compiled in 1997 by Ms. Kugai to introduce the homelearning environment to the slowly (but steadily) rising number of Japanese families seeking alternatives to school. With Ms. Kugai’s cooperation, KnoK NEWS has recently expanded, updated and translated that original Japanese Q & A list into English so that families in and out of Japan may get a clearer idea of what’s happening — and what’s at stake — in the world of Japanese homelearning today.

Ms. Kugai, along with her partner, Mr. Junichi Ono, and their 14-year-old daughter, Momo, have been doing homelearning for more than six years now. Ms. Kugai also heads a support group called “Home Schooling Network-Himeji “based in the city of Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan. Her family and homelearning activities have been reported on Japanese TV, as well as in Japanese newspaper and magazine articles — most recently in the Kyoto Shimbun, a major metropolitan daily newspaper in the city of Kyoto, which has carried a few articles over just the past week or so that are supportive in tone of home-based learning in Japan.

  * Q & A ON HOMESCHOOLING IN JAPAN

Q-1: WHAT EXACTLY IS HOMESCHOOLING?

A-1: It is a way of “shared upbringing” in which the home, libraries, museums, parks and so forth are used as learning resources for children along with the support of grownups — without the children attending school. In Europe and the United States, the number of households choosing this path as a way to meet the requirements for compulsory education, both legally and socially, are increasing.

Q-2: HOW DO YOU DO HOMESCHOOLING?

A-2: There are various ways, depending on the household, but homeschooling methods can generally be put into two categories:

(1) School at home, in which a set of educational materials and curriculum is prepared in advance by grownups, and

(2) Unschooling, which places importance on children’s hobbies or interests as a way to “learn by living.”

Correspondence courses are also sometimes used, but even then at the child’s own pace. This is homeschooling’s most favorable point. In homeschooling, first and foremost, “The child plays the leading role.”

Q-3: DON’T PARENTS NEED TO HAVE SOME SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE IN A SUBJECT? ALSO, WE DON’T HAVE ANY EDUCATIONAL EQUIPMENT AT HOME.

A-3: Parents don’t need any “specialized” knowledge. While parents certainly do have a strong influence on their children, parents aren’t the only ones children learn from. It is enough that parents help their children search for information, and broaden their experiences and human relationships. That is to say, creating an environment is a vital role for parents. Rather than parents leading the lessons, it is more important that a shared learning take place, while moving forward in the spirit of partnership.

And no particular educational equipment is necessary. A kitchen in the home serves sufficiently as a fun-filled laboratory. Beyond that, you can use public facilities and any resources that other households may have for the offering.

Q-4: DOESN’T HOMESCHOOLING ISOLATE CHILDREN? AND WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?

A-4: In Japan at present, the reality is that conditions exist under which children may be isolated and face social pressure — by a society that largely does not recognize homeschooling and accepts school as the only way. Therefore, homeschooling groups have been created at the local levels, and by developing these networks they can exchange information with homeschoolers from other areas, thus helping to avoid isolation.

Through the activities of such groups and networks, a variety of acquaintances and friends may be made; this is sufficient, socially speaking, for bringing up children. Children who homeschool are not forced, as they are in school, to compete against others of their age group; this, in turn, reduces social exclusion and aggressiveness on their part.

Q-5: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOMESCHOOLING, AND *FU-TOKO* (AVOIDING SCHOOL) OR *TOKO-KYOHI* (REFUSING SCHOOL)?
[The latter term, *toko-kyohi*, is usually associated with symptoms of neuroses among schoolchildren. –Editor]

A-5: While there are many cases of families choosing homeschooling through *fu-toko* or *toko-kyohi*, such conditions of “not going to school” are definitely NOT representative of homeschooling. We cannot call it homeschooling if both children and parents oppose school in the meantime but believe they must return to it eventually, as with *fu-toko* or *toko-kyohi*. When the idea of school is completely put aside and learning proceeds in the home for the family’s own constructive reasons– and when children and parents choose this way as a separate form of alternative education in and of itself — then we can call it homeschooling.

Q-6: ISN’T THERE AN OBLIGATION FOR CHILDREN TO GO TO SCHOOL?

A-6: No, there is not. Under the Constitution of Japan, children have the “right to receive an education” [*kyoiku o ukeru kenri*], and people are “obliged to have” [*hosho-suru gimu*] children receive an education. If a child does not suit a school or if a child dislikes going to school, she/he still has the right to an education, even if it is outside of school. But this is made especially hard for large numbers of children and parents because no systematic procedures are in place at the administrative levels in Japan to deal with such situations.

It becomes necessary, then, to stand up for the right “not to go to school” — and for society to recognize that right. Citizens groups in Japan are already undertaking these very types of activities, and homeschooling support groups are springing up in many areas.

[Editor’s Note: The part of the Japanese Constitution pertaining to education, Article 26, in two paragraphs, reads in its entirety as follows: “All people shall have the right to receive an equal education correspondent to their ability, as provided for by law. 2. All people shall be obligated to have all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided for by law. Such compulsory education shall be free.”]

Q-7: BUT ISN’T HOMESCHOOLING ILLEGAL IN JAPAN? DON’T PEOPLE GET PROSECUTED OR GO TO JAIL IF THEY HOMESCHOOL IN JAPAN?

A-7: FOR A LEGAL POSITION PAPER ON THE COMPULSORY SCHOOLING REQUIREMENT & LEGALITY OF HOMESCHOOLING – that takes a slightly different position from the views that follow in this section – please see the Legality of Homeschooling in Japan page. Under Japan’s compulsory education system, an ordinary education of nine years is guaranteed for children between the ages of six and 15. Parents or guardians do have an obligation under the School Education Law [*Gakko Kyoiku-Ho*] in Japan to see that their children attend school. But there is no provision of the law directed at children themselves, stating that children must attend a school to get an education. In other words, the School Education Law addresses parental responsibility only, and not a child’s own decision about where to learn. Therefore, if a child does not fit in with a school or if a child does not like attending school, other ways of learning outside of school can be done. So, homeschooling is DEFINITELY NOT illegal in Japan. And people in Japan are not being prosecuted or going to jail because of their decision to homeschool.

[Editor’s Note: While it is a fact that there is no law in Japan that concretely provides *for* home-based learning, it is also a fact that there is no provision under law at present that expressly prohibits it. For those families in Japan who do pursue homelearning as an alternative to school, the Ministry of Education generally does not stand in their way. At this stage, the ministry neither discourages nor encourages homelearning in Japan.]

Even so, there are lots of people in society who believe that children are required to attend school and many cases where boards of education possess no understanding of what homeschooling is about. Thus we still see cases, depending on the local area or district, of interference by boards of education in trying to make children go to school.

Q-8: IF WE CHOOSE TO DO HOMESCHOOLING, WHAT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP SHOULD WE HAVE WITH SCHOOL?

A-8: For now, your child’s *gaku-seki* [school register] will remain at the school. You should nevertheless clearly inform the principal and teacher in charge that: (1) You will assume the responsibility of homeschooling in placing priority on your child’s own wishes, and (2) You do not want their excessive interference in this matter. It is also important for you to add that if your child does happen to *want* to return to school later on, you’ll expect their official cooperation then too.

Q-9: ABOUT HOW MANY HOMESCHOOLERS ARE THERE IN JAPAN?

A-9: More than 120,000 children are reportedly avoiding school or refusing school at the primary and middle school levels, according to research by the Ministry of Education. It is hard to say how many of these are homeschoolers, however, since the research is not divided into cases of those actively learning outside of school versus otherwise. No research anywhere has yet been done on how many homeschoolers are in Japan, so the exact numbers are unknown. [Unofficial estimates place the number of homeschooled children in Japan at around 2,000 to 3,000 nationwide. –Editor] In any case, the numbers of households that are choosing homeschooling due to school not suiting their children are slowly increasing.

Q-10: WHAT IS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM FACING HOMESCHOOLERS IN JAPAN, AS A WHOLE?

A-10: The biggest problem is that homeschooling remains unknown by many people in this country. Also, as homeschoolers in Japan are still few in number, they may be isolated and find it hard to discover new friends, even if they do create support groups. In cases when children do stay at home specifically to avoid or refuse school, this is usually with the idea that their parents will be sending them back to school again eventually. Few parents are inclined to pursue learning at home.

Q-11: AMONG THOSE FAMILIES IN JAPAN THAT ARE CONSIDERING ALTERNATIVES, WHY ARE MORE AND MORE TURNING TO HOMESCHOOLING?

A-11: For one thing, confidence in schools is beginning to falter because of physical punishment inflicted on students by teachers, bullying among children themselves, and a host of other problems. Japanese education is carried out in an environment where the concept of “doing something together” is strong, and where there is a strong tendency to reject differences rather than acknowledge them. At the same time, though, there are also many parents who criticize such education and, in fact, many children who are starting to stand up and say “NO!” to school.

Moreover, resources outside of school (such as libraries, art galleries and museums) have become more abundant. It is also easier to get information through television, the Internet and whatnot. Lots of teaching materials are being published these days. Such conditions make it easier to do homeschooling.

This, of course, speaks to the motivations of those households that have actually *chosen* to do homeschooling. As mentioned before, while the numbers of households that choose homeschooling are known to be rising in Japan, they still are relatively few in this country.
Q-12: EXACTLY HOW DO FAMILIES IN JAPAN GET STARTED IN HOMESCHOOLING? WHAT KIND OF STEPS DO THEY HAVE TO TAKE?

A-12: In many cases in Japan, families start out homeschooling through *fu-toko* (school avoidance) on the part of their child: Parents think their child has a problem, so they go through counseling and prepare to send the child back to school through so-called corrective facilities [kyosei shisetsu], such as an “adjustment guidance room” [*teki-o shido kyo-shitsu*] at school, a municipal “child consultation center” [jido sodan-jo] or a “free school” program.

On the other hand, there are those exceedingly few parents in Japan who are finding a problem with the methods of school itself, and they go on to choose learning at home as a way to raise their children. In such a case, the homeschooling child’s name will continue to be listed on the school register in Japan, so there would be no need to individually notify the local board of education. Once parents have notified officials at the school of their child’s desire to learn at home, that is generally sufficient in many cases.

There is also a slowly rising number of households in Japan that are choosing homeschooling from the very beginning. Here, too, there are no fixed procedures in Japan for dealing with homeschooling, so many homeschooling parents find it easier at this stage to go through the formal motion of registering with the school, and then inform school officials at that time of the child’s intent to learn at home, instead of at school.

Q-13: WHAT HAPPENS IF A FAMILY IN JAPAN INTENDING TO HOMESCHOOL RECEIVES NO COOPERATION FROM EDUCATION/SCHOOL OFFICIALS? WHAT RECOURSE DOES THE FAMILY HAVE?

A-13: It used to be that a child in Japan who didn’t show up for school would not be moved up a grade or would not be allowed to graduate — but this was for *fu-toko*, not for homeschooling in particular. And even then, such actions by a school against *fu-toko*, for the most part, are rarely taken nowadays. There are the occasional cases of a school principal — usually one who possesses little understanding of the matter

— making such threatening statements, but the Ministry of Education is telling school officials these days to refrain from such actions. If a homeschooling family finds itself facing such a situation, it can — with the backing of a support group, for example — obtain the actual facts from various areas in Japan and present that information to the school principal during discussions. (Taking the case to a local board of education in Japan usually proves futile, and unfortunately no other official organization exists to mediate such matters between a family and school.)

Regardless of whether or not there are restrictions on graduation, it is still possible for a child to proceed to a higher school level by taking and passing tests sanctioned by the Education Ministry, such as those for graduating from middle school [*Chu-gaku Kentei*] and entering university [*Dai-gaku Kentei*].

Q-14: ARE THERE ANY COURT CASES IN JAPAN BEING HEARD AT PRESENT ON THE SPECIFIC ISSUE OF HOMESCHOOLING?

A-14: There are none at present, as far as I know.

Q-15: AUTHORITIES IN SOME COUNTRIES TEND TO CONFUSE HOMESCHOOLING WITH “CHILD NEGLECT” OR “CHILD ABUSE.” IS THIS A PROBLEM IN JAPAN TOO?

A-15: There is always the possibility of such confusion occurring. But where homeschooling itself is concerned in Japan, the relevant authorities for the most part don’t make it a point to come to the home and check on things. So there doesn’t seem to be a problem in this regard.

Q-16: HOW MANY HOMESCHOOLING SUPPORT GROUPS ARE THERE THROUGHOUT JAPAN?

A-16: There are about 10 independent support groups in Japan, like “HSN Himeji,” that have no religious affiliation. Many families in Japan are also registered with “free schools” such as Tokyo Shure that have homeschooling support programs, and with overseas schools like Clonlara in the United States. There are other Christian-affiliated support groups in Japan too.

Q-17: WHAT IS A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A “TYPICAL HOMESCHOOLER” LIKE IN JAPAN? ARE ALL HOMESCHOOLERS THE SAME?

A-17: Homeschooling differs with every home. In our family, for instance, homeschooling is centered around our child’s interests. So, excluding time for meals and household chores, our child herself decides how each day is spent. She reads books, paints pictures, cooks, does workbooks, watches TV — it changes with her interests and moods. Once a week, she goes to the library and checks out books. We as a family also participate in our support group functions, do some shopping, go to the movies. So we spend a lot of time outside as well.

Q-18: WHAT IS THE OFFICIAL STANCE OF JAPAN’S MINISTRY OF EDUCATION ON HOMESCHOOLING? HOW DOES THAT STANCE AFFECT HOMESCHOOLERS’ DAILY LIVES?

A-18: The Japanese government has issued no official opinion on homeschooling one way or the other. The ministry did, in 1992, issue a statement on *fu-toko* [school avoidance] to the effect that: “As any child is likely to turn to avoiding school at any time, children need not be forced to return to school.” This signaled the government’s apparent recognition that to continue pushing school avoiders to go back to school could worsen an already serious problem. Following this statement by the ministry, school officials nationwide have generally softened their stance on children who avoid school.

As for those who homeschool: Though there may be exceptions, the ministry for the most part does not interfere in the daily lives of homeschooling families at present, neither encouraging nor discouraging such activities.

Q-19: WHAT HAS JAPANESE MEDIA COVERAGE OF HOMESCHOOLING BEEN LIKE?

A-19: The Japanese mass media have been covering homeschooling in Japan as an issue since around 1993. At first, many news stories focused on how to remedy the rising numbers of “school-avoiding children.” But recently, media coverage in Japan has been treating homeschooled children’s own personalities and self-determination more seriously; as such, media stories these days are introducing homeschooling in Japan as a new learning alternative to school.

Q-20: HOW DO THE RELATIVES, NEIGHBORS AND COMMUNITIES OF HOMESCHOOLING FAMILIES IN JAPAN REACT TO HOME-BASED LEARNING?

A-20: Among those people who are actually familiar with homeschooling families or are aware of the educational growth of homeschooled children, there seems to a broadening of understanding, though it is hard to say to what extent. (This, of course, may also depend on the region in Japan. There seems to be little interference in homeschooling matters in urban areas, anyway.)

Q-21: DON’T HOMESCHOOLED CHILDREN NEED A DIPLOMA OF SOME KIND TO GET INTO UNIVERSITY? DO THEY STILL NEED TO TAKE JAPAN’S INFAMOUS UNIVERSITY ENTRANCE EXAMS?

A-21: There are two ways to enter college or university in Japan: by graduating from high school or by passing the Education Ministry-sanctioned university entrance test (*Dai-gaku Kentei*). It is not necessary to graduate from primary school, middle school or high school to TAKE the *Dai-gaku Kentei*. It should be noted, however, that passing this test would merely qualify a person to take university entrance exams; a omeschooler wanting to enter a university would still have to take the entrance exams of the university she/he wanted to get into, just like other applicants.

Q-22: ARE JAPANESE COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES ACCEPTING HOMESCHOOLED “STUDENTS”?

A-22: If a homeschooler passes a college’s or university’s own entrance exams, there would be no problem getting in. There is no special system set up for homeschoolers.

Q-23: DO HOMESCHOOLERS IN JAPAN HAVE ENOUGH KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS TO GET SATISFACTORY JOBS? CAN THEY SURVIVE IN THE COMPETITIVE JAPANESE JOB MARKET?

A-23: We don’t know much about this area yet, since the homeschooling movement in Japan is rather young and the numbers of children being raised through homeschooling are comparatively few in Japanese society. Even so, it can be said with some certainty that lots of homeschooled children in Japan are broadening their capabilities and that they have an abundance of will to try things.

Academic record is still regarded as important for fighting it out in the Japanese job market. But just because somebody is a homeschooler doesn’t mean the roads to higher education are closed in Japan: Former “school avoiders” go on to graduate from university and do well as adults in the business world; many of them work in a variety of fields as newspaper reporters, teachers and so on. And of course, there are many working people who have never been to college.

For homeschoolers, it is their own efforts and abilities that count most. Many people who choose homeschooling tend to place a higher value on whether or not they are playing the leading role in their own lives, or whether or not they are truly happy, rather than on social success or fighting to victory in competition.

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This Q & A Faq Sheet is reproduced here by kind permission of Brian Covert (copyright remains with him). It is excerpted from the 30 March 2000 edition of KnoK (pronounced “knock”) NEWS, an informal and periodic bulletin concerning issues of learning in Japan, brought to you by the Covert family — Kazumi, Kenya and Brian — a multicultural, homelearning family in Osaka, Japan.

KnoK stands for *Kodomo no Kokoro*, meaning “Heart of a Child” in Japanese. It is their belief that the heart of any child is indeed at the center of true learning, wherever and however such learning may take place.

Originally published in the HOMESCHOOLING/AFTERSCHOOLING IN JAPAN NEWSLETTER – ISSUE #008 (MAY 2000)

By BRIAN COVERT

We get down to some basics of homelearning in the Land of the Rising Sun: What is learning at home like in Japan? What kind of people are doing it? Why? And how many?

We hope to answer a few of these kinds of questions by way of a Q & A list compiled by a Japanese homelearning parent, Tomiko Kugai. The beginning portion of this list was originally compiled in 1997 by Ms. Kugai to introduce the homelearning environment to the slowly (but steadily) rising number of Japanese families seeking alternatives to school. With Ms. Kugai’s cooperation, that original Japanese Q & A list has recently been expanded, updated and translated into English so that families in and out of Japan may get a clearer idea of what’s happening — and what’s at stake — in the world of Japanese homelearning today.

Ms. Kugai, along with her partner, Mr. Junichi Ono, and their 14-year-old daughter, Momo, have been doing homelearning for more than six years now. Ms. Kugai also heads a support group called “Home Schooling Network-Himeji “based in the city of Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan. Her family and homelearning activities have been reported on Japanese TV, as well as in Japanese newspaper and magazine articles — most recently in the Kyoto Shimbun, a major metropolitan daily newspaper in the city of Kyoto, which has carried a few articles over just the past week or so that are supportive in tone of home-based learning in Japan.

In Q 1-18, we start out by introducing the “basic” questions Japanese families seem to be asking about homelearning in general (sound familiar?), then we slide into questions that are more specific to current conditions here in Japan. We do hope to take a more comprehensive look at legal and other related issues in Japan in the future. For now, however, we offer this Q & A overview in the spirit of honest, open information-exchange and networking. As always, we welcome any thoughts you have about this. Feel free to pass it around. –BC]