Category Archives: Yutori

“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.