Category Archives: Enduring Contexts

Complementary, not Supplementary Education?

This post is another result of conversations with Victor Kobayashi at the CIES meetings.

I continue to wrestle with terminology (no good at all other than for very quick communication: ‘cram school‘; better, but perhaps no longer true: ‘shadow education‘; even better, but not evocative for general public or many colleagues and what do I call the actual schools: ‘supplementary education’).

Kobayashi raised the possibility of referring to juku as “complementary education”. He based this partly on the history of juku and its premodern focus on erudition rather than education. The argument then is to say that juku complement conventional schools rather than supplementing them. In my mind, this captures the “shadowing” part of ‘shadow education’ better as it hints at the extent to which juku follow the official school curriculum with very few exceptions.

My hesitancy about ‘shadow education’ stems in part from the fact that much of these activities are no longer in the shadow and that also applies to complementarity. When students across different contexts are reporting that the ‘real learning’ (whatever that is, exam success seems to be hinted at) occurs at juku not in conventional schools, then neither ‘complementary’, ‘shadow’, nor ‘supplementary’ education works any longer.

Just as research on supplementary (or shadow) education may be establishing itself with this label, the brand may be becoming obsolete through the intervention of pesky empirical reality.

“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.

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.

“Enduring Contexts”: Nomi

As part of the “Enduring Contexts” discussions, Tomoaki Nomi, Southeast Missouri State Univ, presented some of his work on the link between socio-economic background and students’ academic achievement. He is drawing on data from Tokyo prefecture and focuses on elementary and middle school.

In his paper, Nomi referred to the general decline of academic standards in Japan as a “widely recognized trend”. I strongly object to this view, as I also expressed in my comments on Hyunjoon Park‘s contribution. In short, what is important about Japan’s PISA scores is that they have been interpreted (along with other data) to suggest a general trend of decline and this perception is pervasive, not whether this trend is actually empirically substantiated (which I doubt). Keita Takayama has written decisively about this issue and has recently been awarded the CIES’ George Bereday Award for the most outstanding article published in the Comparative Education Review. In the end, this was more of a semantic disagreement with Nomi.

For further reading, I would  recommend Nomi’s Japan Focus article: “Inequality and Japanese Education: Urgent Choices“. For a different view articulated most prominently by Takehiko Kariya, see “Misinterpreting Globalization in the Context of Japanese Education Policy” in Asia Pacific Memo.

“Enduring Contexts”: Akiba

Akiba’s contribution to the “Enduring Contexts” project was based on her article on bullying in Japanese middle schools: Motoko Akiba, Kazuhiko Shimizu, and Yue-Lin Zhuang. 2010. “Bullies, Victims, and Teachers in Japanese Middle Schools“, 54(3): 369-392.

One of the very interesting aspects of attempt to (ac)count (for) widespread bullying (いじめ ijime) in Japan is that the MEXT statistics suggest that the incidence of bullying is actually declining. Akiba et al. thus cite official statistics as showing that reported cases dropped from approx. 60,000 in 1995 to approx. 20,000 in 2005. Magical, that! This has got to be one of the all-time rare instances of the recognition, naming and consciousness of a social problem to lead to a reduction in incidence. It seems to me that most social ills that I can think of increase in reported incidence as they are recognized by society, the media, and the state as a category of social ill. Hate crimes would be an interesting example of such a development that a former PhD student of mine, Bern Haggerty, has written about.

There probably is a literature or at least some writings on why we would see the drop in reported cases of bullying in Japan, but the two explanations that come to mind would be that MEXT also created a category of violence in school that may be ‘attracting’ some of the reports of bullying, and that there are no incentives for principals to report on bullying in an accurate and truthful manner, especially with the introduction of school choice down to the middle school level in many Japanese jurisdictions.

Compared to these official statistics, Akiba et al.’s figures of around 30% of middle school students in one school district reporting victimization are obviously much higher. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: the per grade population of Japanese students must be on the scale of 1 million so that a 30% victimization rate in middle school would suggest around 3 mio victims at that level of schooling alone. That calculation makes me wonder a bit about self-reported victimization/perpetration as it seems so enormous.

One of the clearest findings in Akiba et al. is the higher rate of victimization and perpetration of physical violence for boys than for girls.

I am less convinced by some of the causality implied by Akiba et al.’s article which Motoko Akiba also included in her presentation to the Enduring Contexts meeting.

They discuss a causal relationship between negative valuation of schooling and bullying (victimization and perpetration), but it seems to me that the causal direction has to be going in both directions for this. For example, status as a teacher’s pet (presumably high value of schooling) may lead to victimization, but that victimization of a teacher’s pet might reinforce this victim’s high value for schooling as well.

When I raised the issue of causal directionality in the discussions, Victor Kobayashi (correctly, in my mind) suggested that we ought to think about (and analyze) bullying in relational terms, i.e. as a relationship between perpetrator, victim, and also teachers, esp. the homeroom teachers that Akiba et al. focus on in their analysis.

The focus on homeroom teachers immediately begged a comparison with owner-operators of juku. As is the case with homeroom teachers, jukucho take/bear a special responsibility for the development of students beyond their scholastic progress. For some jukusei enrolled in a small juku past their transitions through the educational system, their link with a charismatic jukucho may be the strongest social link and bond with anyone in education. A measurement of that link with a jukucho, especially for students who maintain a strong social tie with a juku (this would clearly be much more common in smaller juku than in the highly competitive urban corporate juku) would make for a fascinating control variable for Akiba et al.’s analysis, though the data obviously do not exist for this.

In a survey, I would expect that we would find a greater proportion of students in middle school reporting a strong bond with a jukucho than with a homeroom teacher.

The juku comparison also came to my mind because I have asked jukucho about bullying directly and have always been told that there is no bullying in juku. I have discounted some of that response as a PR claim (I suspect, for example, that bullying incidents that occur in transit between school and juku would be blamed on schools, not the juku by most parents), but have taken the explanation seriously that jukucho can threaten expulsion from the juku in a way that school principals or homeroom teachers cannot. Akiba et al.’s finding of the significance of a strong bond with homeroom teachers suggest that low rates of bullying in juku (if there were data to support this claim) could be associated with strong social bonds with juku teachers. A comparison between owner-operated and corporate juku would be illuminating in this regard.

“Student guidance” may also play a role in shaping social relationships in some juku.

One of the empirical findings that Akiba reported is the decline of incidents of bullying across middle school grades (i.e., less bullying in 9th than in 7th grades). Could this be linked to the kohai-sempai relatonship? I.e. sempai are not bullied (lower incidence for grade 9) and may not consider their interactions with some kohai bullying and thus don’t report them as such.

“Enduring Contexts”: The Shifting Balance of Power or Points of Initiative within Japanese Education Policy

Fascinating discussions on contemporary Japanese education with a specific focus on educational policy over the last two days in Montreal.

12 researchers gathered by Chris Bjork (Vassar College) and Gary DeCoker (Earlham College) to talk about “Japanese Education in the Era of Globalization: Enduring Issues in New Contexts”. Lots of specific points to write about from the presentations and discussions, but one of the main themes that struck me in the course of discussions was the changing role of the Ministry of Education in Japan.

While the pre-Asia Pacific War ministry was almighty, its postwar reincarnation was initially limited in its policy-making power by the U.S. occupation. With the end of the occupation, the Ministry was able to pull some of its administrative and policy-making power back into the centre in Tokyo (this is a crucial part of my analysis of postwar history education). Over the postwar period, the only significant opposition to the Ministry was 日教組 (Nikkyoso, the Japanese Teachers’ Union). I have thus been accustomed to characterize the Japanese education system through the high growth era as highly centralized with the Ministry representing the pinnacle of decision-making, as well as the source of policy initiatives.

This does not mean that the Ministry tightly controlled all aspects of education. History education might provide an example here. While textbook approval is supervised and organized by the Ministry (this has led to the frequent mistaken perception that Japanese textbooks are “government textbooks”), this approval process generates a list of approved textbooks that are then selected by prefectural and local authorities.

However, most of the discussions across a great variety of aspects of education (making these past two days fascinating, especially as they followed on a similar gathering with some overlap in the participating scholars at the AAS meetings) suggest that more and more policy initiatives originate in local efforts at the school or community level. The Ministry thus continues to set the context for education throughout Japan, but the leeway for local experimentation is expanding. And, some of this experimentation is leading to change in national policies or recommendations as well.

Beyond the examples discussed over the past two days, one of the most striking examples of this is the introduction of school choice in the past decade. While limited choice had been available to high school students in the past, enrollment based on catchment areas has been supplemented with various means of choosing an elementary and middle school as well.

This development was clearly spearheaded by authorities in Tokyo’s 品川区 (Shinagawa Ward), though with the approval of Ministry officials. After the introduction of school choice in Shinagawa in 2001 (I think), the system has spread to many other jurisdictions, though it has not become national policy as such. (For a discussion of the impact of these changes, see my article “Japanese Shadow Education: The Consequences of School Choice” [in Forsey, Davies & Walford, eds. The Globalisation of School Choice?. Oxford: Symposium Books, 2008.]