Monthly Archives: May 2011

If Confucianism Drives East Asian Supplementary Education, Why Doesn’t Anyone Read Confucius?

Early on in my research on juku, I frequently asked interlocutors (primarily, 塾長) why there are no juku in Canada (exaggeration/simplification, of course), but juku are prevalent in Japan? There is a small stock of answers I typically get to this question:

  1. examinations and competition for entry into next levels of education
  2. CONFUCIANISM (i.e. East Asia is heavily influenced by Confucianism which makes people pay for supplementary education
  3. Confucianism (i.e. the Confucian (more historical than moral/philosophical) tradition of exam-based entrance to positions of authority/prestige coupled with the veneration for knowledge)

Understanding these answers and trying to see empirically what these answers suggest, as well as coming up with answers of my own to that question, are central to my project on juku and will be topics that I will continue to write about.

Here, I simply want to point out that despite claims of the importance of Confucianism to education systems in Japan (and across East Asia) I have never seen or heard a discussion of Confucianism in a juku setting. I have not observed any reading a Confucian text, nor summarizing Confucian precepts, nor discussing the impact of Confucianism. This general absence is true across different school/juku subjects, especially Japanese and social studies, incl. history.

Elsewhere, I have begun writing about the history of juku, and I would note in this context that there are few institutional continuities between premodern and even early modern forms of juku and what we have come to know as juku since the 1970s.

This absence may or may not be the same in other East Asian countries (esp. S Korea and Taiwan where the impact and contemporary relevance of Confucianism seems higher).

Now, at some level we may classify European education systems as Judaeo-Christian and note that that doesn’t imply that the Bible is ever read in class, but there certainly are discussions of Judaeo-Christian morality and discussions of the impact of Christianity.

So, while the Japanese and other East Asian education systems are clearly influenced by Confucianist notions of examinations and learning-as-knowledge-of-classics, this impact is at a fairly abstract level, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a direct link between Confucianism and the prevalence of juku in contemporary Japan in my mind.

Some Explanations for the Absence of Single-Sex Juku

Earlier today, I responded to a post on the “Education in Japan Community Blog” that addressed motivations for choosing single-sex education. “Heritageofjapan” (no name offered) had a couple of replies to my comment:

1. “Jukus are run as small, lean, profit-oriented commercial entreprises and in localized areas where competition from other jukus is likely and the number of students they can draw upon is limited … and due to high rentals and precious space resources, (single-sex edu would require the doubling of classrooms and teachers) it simply would not be cost-effective for them to split their classrooms into single-sex rooms.

This is akin to the argument that Mark Langager’s students at ICU offered which prompted my original post.

Essentially, the argument says that within the small geographic area that small juku draw on, there are not enough customers/students for juku to pursue a specialization strategy.

While this is certainly true for rural areas, it is also certainly not true for metropolitan areas, not just in Tokyo. Many of the small juku that I visit for research, are in fact limiting their intake of students, just not on the basis of gender. This is not a market that is shy about pursuing niches (geographical, delivery methods, etc.).

For large/chain juku the limited number of students argument doesn’t apply at all as they sub0categorize within student groups along other lines as well.

2. “Another reason is that the rationale for single-sex environment is a social/psychological one – jukus lack the socialization element that public or private schools have – the kids who come know that they come with the single-minded purpose of academic prep and competitive “warfare”, and so kids are for the most part streamed or moved along according to their paces/abilities/performance. Socialization considerations almost doesn’t figure at all

This is a line of reasoning that I find much more persuasive. However, it is clearly subject to the caveat I wrote about earlier, namely that many Japanese parents who select single-sex schools don’t to so on pedagogical grounds.

I would continue to argue, however, that juku include a very significant socialization element and that – if anything – this element is growing in significance.

3. “Parents who do care about single-sex education (and there are many) almost invariably seek out private school education for their kids, and I personally know many parents who do choose single-sex schools for the pedagogical benefits. But single-sex are all private schools because public policy that underlines public school education is based on egalitarian and non-discriminatory grounds. And this obviously disqualifies a great many parents who do want single-sex education for their children due to financial reasons.

When I claim that pedagogical reasons are not dominant in Japanese parents’ choices of single-sex education, I am simply reporting the answer I get on this question from juku operators. I would be delighted to see any empirical information on the choice of single-sex education as this would help me think through my puzzle some more.

The anti-egalitarian ethic is also a powerful one in Japan and I’m quite interested in “heritageofjapan”‘s argument in this regard. However, juku are increasingly advertising themselves as the place where that egalitariasism doesn’t dominate, so why no single-sex offerings?

Single-Sex Education Caveats

My previous post raised the question why there are no single-sex juku, even though single-sex conventional schools continue to thrive in Japan.

Just a quick first caveat: There are some single-sex juku that specifically cater to students preparing for entrance examinations to single-sex conventional schools. If a juku thus specializes in preparation for entry into school X where school X is a girls’ school, clearly all the jukusei will be girls. There are examples of such juku, of course.

Here comes the second, more substantive caveat on the question of the predominance of coeducation in juku as it continues to puzzle me. Part of my puzzle is rooted in a North American/European belief in the (conditional) desirability of single-sex education for pedagogical reasons. There clearly is a large (and growing, it appears) literature that investigates whether educational outcomes for girls (and increasingly boys) may be better when the learning occurs primarily in single-sex classrooms. From arguments about inherently different learning styles, to investigations of teacher-student relations and their impact on learning, this literature is interpreted (probably second and third-hand at best) by some parents as supporting a decision to eschew co-education for pedagogical reasons. An example of this kind of reasoning can be found in a recent blog post focused somewhat on Japan as well.

My sense is that the choice of single-sex conventional schools by Japanese parents and students is not primarily rooted in such pedagogical aims.

Some of the juku owner-operators to whom I have posed my question about the absence of single-sex juku have pointed to the social motivations behind the choice of single-sex conventional schools. Of parents themselves may have attended these (primarily private) schools and are thus keen to send their child(ren) to the same school out of alumni loyalty.

Others view single-sex schools as providing a particular social setting that they desire for their child(ren), i.e. more discipline-oriented boys’ schools, or girls’ schools that continue to cater to notions associated with ‘finishing schools’.

Yet other simply accept the single-sex nature of particular private schools as an element in that school’s profile that they are willing to accept and possibly even embrace because of the school’s academic standing or ranking.

None of these reasons speak to a particular belief in the pedagogical desirability of single-sex education and none of these reasons replicate easily in the juku setting.

Family tradition? Since virtually all contemporary juku were founded since the first 塾ブーム (juku boom) of the early 1970s and would have focused in their exam preparation on (predominantly coeducational) public schools initially, there are no ‘old school’ juku that are single-sex.

The fact that some parents send their children to neighbourhood juku that they attended themselves has been one of the real surprises in my research. One juku in particular enrolls some current students who are the children of one or two parents who attended the juku themselves. The owner-operated at this particular school has mentioned to me that he will finally retire when the first 3rd generation student, i.e. the grandchild of a juku graduate, enrolls.

Yet, the absence of juku that had been founded as single-sex juku (I’ll have to follow up on one of my next research trips to ask whether there had been single-sex juku in the 1970s), means that even a preference for sending children to the juku that parents attended wouldn’t lead to the appearance of such juku today.

While juku clearly involve a very particular social setting for learning and are (increasingly, in my mind) taking on functions of socialization in loco parentis, they are not commonly looked to “officially” to offering such socialization in that more military-style (whatever that means in a postwar Japanese context) boys’ schools are.

Despite thus admitting that part of my puzzle about this issue is misdirected by my assumption that the choice for single-sex education is rooted in pedagogical preferences, the puzzle remains.

Why Are There No Single-Sex Juku?

In his response to an earlier post here, Mark Langager reported that he raised one of my favourite puzzles about juku with undergraduate students at Int’l Christian Univ: why are there no boys’ or girls’ juku?

In some ways, this question neatly sums up one of my theoretical interest in supplementary education.

Educational policy around the world for the past twenty years or so has discovered the market as a cure-all for whatever seems to ill education. The most prominent examples of the introduction of market mechanisms are league tables of schools and universities, various forms of Quality Assessment Exercises, vouchers, charter schools, etc. Where researchers have attempted to assess the impact of this introduction of market mechanisms, the results have generally been mixed. Chris Lubienski at the Univ of Illinois has written extensively about this assessment.

In response, the proponents of the marketization of education have often complained that various implementations – such as vouchers – have not gone far enough in creating ‘real’ markets.

As I have argued elsewhere, juku in metropolitan Japan are pretty close to a real consumer market. Purchase of juku services is entirely voluntary, the juku are run for-profit and would-be consumers have access to a plethora of information about the offers available. Parents and students in metropolitan regions also don’t shy away from long commuting distances. Notably, the supplementary education industry in Japan is entirely unregulated.

Consumers active in this market (aka parents/保護者, students) express their consumer choice by enrolling in single-sex schools in significant numbers at the upper primary and secondary level. Note that this is an expression of consumer preference in the not-so-quite marketized conventional school system.

Yet, despite this expressed consumer preference, the supplementary education industry does not offer single-sex options, i.e. there are no girls’ or boys’ juku.

I will return to this question periodically, I imagine, as I really am puzzled by it.

As Mark Langager mentioned, his students speculated that juku operators would not want to limit their potential customer base by focusing on girls or boys only.

If juku had a very limited geographic area to draw on (this is, of course, true for more and more owner-operated juku in metropolitan regions) or if they generally had very large number of students, I would agree entirely. It thus doesn’t seem plausible for a chain to market itself as a girls-only juku chain, thus excluding a large number of potential customers.

Staying with the example of a very large juku, however, why not offer boys-only classes within the juku? Classes are often subdivided according to academic abilities in such large juku.

On the other hand, in a smaller, owner-operated juku, why not exploit a single-sex focus as a viable market niche, again given the expressed consumer preference for single-sex education?

Interestingly, when I have posed this question to groups of juku operators in the past, they’ve been largely puzzled and have not been able to offer any explanations.

More on this to come…

Guidance ガイダンス 外ダンス Discussion Continued

Yesterday, I mentioned Vic Kobayashi’s recollection of school guidance being joked about as 外ダンス by Japanese teachers during the occupation period.

Today, I had a discussion with Hanae Tsukada who is doing her PhD in Ed Studies here at UBC, about some of her research on the internationalization of higher education in Japan. We got to talking about the strong prevailing sense that the generation of Japanese young people who has graduated university in the 2000s seems to be much more insular/inward-looking than 1990s graduates. This is a view I’ve also heard from a graduate in our MA Asia Pacific Policy Studies recently.

When Hanae and I were wondering what might explain this shift, I mentioned that I don’t see anything in juku (as also representing school life and teaching materials) that would make children particularly more insular at least not as compared a decade ago.

In her research, Hanae has noticed, however, that educational institutions are now applying much more pressure on their students to be proactive in career-planning etc. At many universities this means that 就職ガイダンス (employment guidance) has now become much more formalized. To me this sounds like a close parallel to the consulting roles that juku are increasingly taken on.

This formalization is in contrast to the more relaxed employment advice that Japanese students may have relied on in the 1990s, particularly though alumni and 先輩 (sempai – students ahead of current students in clubs, majors, institutions) relations.

This formalization coupled with advice to follow a more straight-and-narrow employment path (that still doesn’t include stints abroad) may be making current graduates more insular.

“Enduring Contexts”: Bjork/Fukuzawa

Chris Bjork and Becky Fukuzawa presented a fascinating attempt to compare school-based research on “guidance” in the 1980s and the 200s. Diachronic fieldwork without resorting to the use of a time machine, wonderful!

The gist of the much more elaborate and interesting discussion in the paper was that discipline, sometimes backed up by corporal punishment, prevailed in 1980s schools and that “guidance” meant the enforcement of school rules covering hair length, clothing, etc. By the 2000s schools had largely given up on the enforcement of this kind of guidance. While the nature of a diachronic comparison of ethnographic fieldwork precludes conclusions about the extent to which this conclusion would apply across Japan and across school types, it’s an observation that rings true to many scholars who have been involved in research on education in Japan for a longer period.

Bjork and Fukuzawa in their discussion of the 1980s refer back to Tom Rohlen’s classic (certainly for our field) Japan’s High Schools (Berkeley: UC Press). In his discussion, Rohlen summarizes the reliance on discipline as an element in guidance under the motto of “intimacy coupled with severity” (p. 201)

I frequently see remnants of this kind of attitude in juku as well. While I see much genuine warmth in the relationship between juku students and teachers/operators, some of these teachers also do not shy away from moralistic admonishment of students in a way that takes me aback at times, just because some of these lectures seem to belittle or browbeat students more than anything else. Rohlen’s original understanding of this “intimacy coupled with severity” approach channeled by Bjork and Fukuzawa helps me make a bit more sense of this dynamic.

By contrast, however, the operators and teachers of small juku at least, put very little stock in outward appearances like uniforms that were and to some extent are the focus of guidance within schools.

This kind of guidance provided especially by some of the “charismatic educator” type of juku-cho clearly goes much beyond subjects or matters directly related to lessons, homework or schooling. Moral guidance thus becomes an element in some of the in loco parentis consulting that juku increasingly seem to offer parents and students.

Vic Kobayashi contributed a wonderful footnote to Bjork and Fukuzawa’s discussion of “guidance” when he pointed out that in the immediate postwar years, guidance was generally used in Japanese schools as an imported word, i.e. ガイダンス. Privately, this notion was often derided as 外ダンス (a foreign dance). While this is admittedly a bit of a nerdy pun, I hadn’t left as hard about anything in a discussion of Japanese education in quite some time. The notion that supported this pun, was of course that Japanese teachers had traditionally (i.e. in the prewar/wartime education system) engaged in plenty of moral guidance and that this was now being performed in the guise of a foreign dance or perhaps a dance for foreigners.

“Enduring Contexts”: Macdonald

Larry Macdonald (Soka University) reported on one of the aspects of yutori education that has been largely overlooked in the hoopla and panic associated with the presumed impact of a reduction in textbook content on academic abilities: the (gentle) introduction of integrated teaching and a more interrelated curriculum, 総合的な学習の時間 (sôgô tekina gakushû no jikan, general study period). Under this banner, three hours per week were to be dedicated to study that reaches across the different subjects in schools. This has been reduced to two hours this year in the context of the yutori reversal for the current curriculum.

Macdonald reported on some of the more creative, ambitious and far-reaching focus areas that particular schools have selected for the general study period. A number of Osaka-area schools with a strong tradition of dowa education thus focused on an integrated discussion of human rights.

The most exciting approach to the general study period that I had never heard of previously is that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has apparently developed curriculum materials to introduce students to its work and thus to developing countries. Fascinating!

Even though juku instruction would lend itself very well to a turn towards integrated study, I have not seen much of this in any of my fieldwork. Especially subject matter from arithmetic/math and science, but also from Japanese and social studies could well be discussed in an integrated fashion, but neither instructors nor any of the teaching materials commonly used in juku have pursued this to my knowledge.

Relief Idea: Summer Camp for Evacuated Children in Japan

As a community of students and researchers with strong links to Japan from the University of British Columbia, we would like to volunteer our services to contribute to relief efforts in the regions affected by the triple disaster of March 11.

Through long-standing connections with juku teachers and operators as well as through inclusion of JET-alumni with teaching experience in Japan in our efforts, we are hoping to organize a recreational summer camp for evacuated children during the upcoming summer vacation. Ideally, this would accommodate a significant number of children in a location away from Tohoku to give the children an activity to look forward to during the summer, as well as to offer their parents some time to attend to pressing matters associated with their evacuation.

Planned activities would include teaching and learning activities designed in collaboration between experience juku teachers and JET alumni, as well as structured play activities. We hope to draw on the advice or participation of post-traumatic counselors in designing activities that would be appropriate as well as helpful to participating students.

We are now seeking direct links with municipalities and/or schools in affected regions to discuss the possibility of such a camp. In addition to the volunteering of project participants as teachers, we hope to be able to raise the funds to offer free participation (including transportation and room & board) to students in a three-day camp.

If you have any comments/suggestions/donations for this still-evolving project idea, please contact me directly.

Japan Panels at Different Conferences

For those of us actively conducting research on contemporary Japan, the extent to which Japan captures the public imagination as well as the imagination of our non-Japan-specialist colleagues obviously has a significant impact on our professional lives.

Beyond the widespread political lament about “Japan-passing”, there are more direct impacts on our professional activities in terms of attendance at Japan-related events we organize and probably also in terms of our and our students’ opportunities in granting competitions, etc.

In the context of the question of any decline in interest in Japan, it was very interesting to attend the AAS/ICAS conference and the CIES conference within a short time span and to compare Japan panels at these conferences.

The bottom line is that AAS conference participants continue to divide along country-specialization lines, while a country focus (at least on Japan) seems to be declining at CIES.

In terms of my own scholarly interests, I do not have a preference for either form of organization, and find both very useful.


On the one hand, I very much enjoyed the “Enduring Contexts” exchanges in Montreal that were exclusively focused on Japan, on the other hand, I tend to learn more in terms of arguments/theories/explanations from cross-national contexts such as the panel that Kathryn Ibata-Arens (PoliSci, DePaul Univ) organized for the AAS “Innovations in Education in Asia: Private Sector Growth, Government Reform and Emerging Models of Best Practice?” where I presented on “The Impact of Private-Sector Innovations on Public Primary and Secondary Education in Japan”. The AAS has been promoting these cross-area panels for some years now and most participants would agree that intellectually and in terms of moving research along, this is the more desirable form of organization. However, in my experience, attendance at these panels remains anemic while panels with a specific country/region focus continue to see strong attendance.

I realize that the latter phenomenon (strong country panel attendance) may be a function of the size of the Japan-crowd within AAS, and that the former phenomenon (weak attendance at interarea panels) may be due to the small number of Asian regionalists or intra-Asia comparativists among AAS attendants. Nevertheless, that seems to continue to be the reality at AAS meetings.


The situation at CIES seems to be the opposite. Attendance at Japan panels, including the one I presented on, is relatively weak, perhaps signaling a decline in the number of Japan specialists, while cross-national comparative panels, like the one I served on as a discussant for papers on shadow education in Cambodia, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, saw strong participation, though this may have been due to Mark Bray’s prominence.

Again, for my needs, I depend on both of these contexts. While it is very important for my understanding of juku to have information on and a good understanding of yutori education, for example, as it was a topic of discussion among the “Enduring Contexts” participants, it is also essential for me to have an opportunity for interaction with researchers who a) are investigating supplementary education in other countries/cases, and b) are looking at supplementary education on a more global scale through a comparative lens.

I thought that the discussions at CIES were very productive, so to the extent that I’m able to do so, would hope to attend more of these conferences in coming years, in part to have opportunities for discussions with supplementary education comparativists, but I will also continue to attend AAS, though perhaps more for interactions with the Japan-specialist crowd (in addition to the Japan Studies Association of Canada meetings, of course).

Premodern Historical Roots of Juku

At a number of the discussions at CIES, the question of the history of juku came up (both the term, as well as the teaching/school format).

Victor Kobayashi (emeritus, Univ of Hawai’i, and our very gracious host for the “Enduring Contexts” discussions paralleling the 2011 AAS meetings) was particularly interested and insightful on this.

He pointed out – quite correctly – that juku had a long pre-Meiji history. In fact, this is one of the important observations about supplementary education in general, i.e. what we see as a process of ‘privatization’ now is really just a ‘re-privatization’ after a century or two of the extraordinary growth of public education systems.

In the context of pre-modern juku, Kobayashi pointed in particular to the use of the term 教養 (kyôyô – erudition, refinement, Bildung) as opposed to the Meiji neologism of 教育 (kyôiku – education).

Numerous private educational institutions then came to be known as juku during the Meiji era, most prominently perhaps 慶應義塾 (today’s Keiô University: English History | Japanese History) in somewhat of a departure from premodern practice.

The final chapter on historical roots is the use of the term juku in postwar Japan, but that deserves a post of its own.