As I return to Japan for the first time since the March 11 “triple disaster”, I am considering what role juku can play in the reconstruction of local communities and economies.
Many of the affected areas in Tohoku were already suffering from demographic and economic decline. With depopulating coastal communities the widespread absence of children must have already had a significant impact on the density of supplementary education offerings prior to the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear accidents. I have seen this impact vividly on the West coast of Japan, in rural Shimane Prefecture (島根県). Here, high schools are being merged, but even the merged high schools get so few applicants that admission to the high school of choice is virtually guaranteed; the much-discussed competition for spaces in desired educational institutions has waned significantly. This lack of competition continues on to higher education, in part due to the MEXT policy of continuing to open local/regional public universities such as 島根県立大学. In the time of just a few years I have just witnessed the decline in student numbers at some of the local juku. I imagine that the same thing was already happening in coastal communities in 東北 as well.
Some of the questions that I would have regarding the role of juku in the revitalization of affected communities would thus be focused on the more general role of small and medium-sized enterprises in reconstruction efforts. Juku are a particularly interesting case of such enterprises as the capital investments are generally low (though buildings and classrooms are obviously required) and because many small juku are often somewhat of a community hub, deeply rooted in their neighbourhoods and towns.