Category Archives: Education

No Smoking, Please

It’s struck me throughout my research on juku that the juku industry is largely a no-smoking world.

One of the reasons this has surprised me is that many of the juku-cho I interview are of a generation with a very high share of smokers (now in their 1960s). A subgroup of them also has some counter-cultural roots which would further predispose them toward smoking, I imagine.

Conventional schools obviously have fairly strong prohibitions against students smoking and these prohibitions fall under the “guidance” I discussed in earlier posts. Since my research has concentrated on juku for some time now, I have not spent much time in schools, but my sense from school-based TV dramas at least in the 1990s was that smoking was not uncommon among (male) teachers then, though this may have changed significantly now.

I find it even more surprising how little smoking there is around juku given the large number of university students who teach part-time at juku. While the proportion of smokers among university students is declining (I imagine), it is still not uncommon to see students smoking, but I don’t think I’ve seen any teachers dug out of the juku for a smoke in breaks more than once or twice.

Previous Exchange on the Absence of Single-Sex Juku

In 2008, I had posted a version of my “why are there no girls’ juku” puzzle to SSJ-Forum and received some replies.

For example, Ron Stewart (Prefectural University of Hiroshima) wrote:

I think you will find there are no single-sex hagwon(juku) in Korea either. […]

Evidence that choice of university in Japan is not purely driven by university rankings, can be seen in the in the rise and falls in enrollments in various university departments. It can also be seen in the seemingly endless reshuffling of old departments and creation of new courses, majors and faculties at Japanese universities in order to attract students.

“Humanities (which have for a long time been the focus of womens universities’ curriculums (the idea of refinement through arts) are losing appeal in favour of vocational training (once the realm of senmon gakko and tandai) and some more ‘unrefined’ and ‘masculine’ areas such as rikei. I think this change is across most of tertiary education here in Japan.


Another example is the rush in recent years by many Japanese universities to create, nursing, welfare, health and pharmacology courses and departments, geared towards giving students qualifications for an ever expanding health and old age care sector. So I think the attraction to traditional womens universities curriculums (literature, art, music, culture, and language) is being erroded these days. Some public womens universities are being phased out through a need to expand through mergers, to offer more options and services to students and put them on more sound financial footing, as they are being forced to become public foundations these days (koritsu hojin). […]

As many womens universities here are Christian (there are examples in Tokyo, Okayama, Nagoya, Hiroshima and other places), they may well stick to ideas of women being able to study more effectively away from the ‘immoral temptations’ or ‘moral corruption’ of having males in close proximity, and stick to ideas of being a primary socializer and producer of ‘refined’ ‘feminine’ women. Maybe reading these universities’ rationales on there homepages and comparing them to those of juku may offer some clues as to with both exist and how they differ in worldview/ideology.

Merry White (Boston University) responded:

Some time ago when I looked at juku I found that there were, effectively, boys’ juku – by economic selection.
That is parents were more willing then to spend extra money for a son’s educational enhancements than for a daughter’s; the investment in her future wouldn’t have the same payback, or wouldn’t be needed through juku.

And for top, high-standard juku the effect seemed even greater. I think, though I am not sure, that the gender-based investment strategy no longer holds as couples have fewer children and invest in their educational futures in a gender-neutral way. Juku by the way used to refer to all kinds of classes – including music lessons. We are talking here about academic advancement juku, yes?

No Niches in Education Markets? Really?

This is continuing an exchange with “HeritageOfJapan” and now “japanexplorer” on the Education in Japan Community Blog that refers in part back to my previous posts (1 | 2 | 3) on the puzzle of the absence of single-sex options in the Japanese supplementary education industry.

In a further comment, “japanexplorer” writes,

The news trend in recent years on juku stability and profitability suggests that it is getting more competitive and that many juku branches face closure, hence the huge number of mergers seen in recent years.

Yes, I agree entirely. This is a trend that I will certainly be commenting about in the future on this blog. Briefly, kojinjuku are being squeezed geographically by the outward expansion of chains in metropolitan areas, and by the lack of children and the lack of competition for entry into higher education institutions in rural areas. They also face a very serious successor problem as many of the original founders of the first juku boom are retiring. Finally, they are facing a competitive squeeze from chains based on ICTs innovations and investments. At the same time, the supplementary education market is clearly also consolidating at the corporate end.

Yes, in a few cosmopolitan centres, juku attendance remain strong, but all round the figures suggest with falling numbers of student population, any strategic moves must be cost-effective for the entire chain.

But note that juku of all kinds are pushing hard into smaller and smaller groups of instruction suggesting significantly higher per-student revenue than even five years ago.

I am still convinced that juku operators will not divide the classes on the basis of sex. That is not to say if parents overwhelmingly demand for it and UNLESS some juku’s president someday decides single-sex edu will be a great competitive marketing strategy(this is not unconceivable).

Okay, so why hasn’t some jukucho decided to adopt this as a competitive marketing strategy? That is precisely my argument in trying to understand my original puzzle better.

Theoretically, it makes no sense in my mind to argue that operators shouldn’t divide their potential customers and exclude some. Businesses do this all the time, whether they are geographically rooted or not. And if anything, Japanese managers are well-known for pursuing niche strategies in a number of consumer markets. Anyone remember the Nissan Figaro, for example? Take another example: hair stylists seem to include single-sex as well men’s and women’s salons. Someone who is setting up a women’s salon is also given up on 50% of the customer population, but that seems obvious, even though there are no physiological differences between male and female hair (I assume).

Given the nature of the juku industry as really approximating an unfettered consumer market (at least in the big cities), there is no reason to think (at least none that comes to my mind) that nice strategies shouldn’t work.

Empirically as well, this argument doesn’t convince me. Juku operators are pursuing lots of niche strategies that are excluding a much greater proportion of the potential market than the 50% that a single-sex strategy would suggest.

Many juku thus specialize (sometimes even exclusively) on specific grades. If the argument about the lack of a viable niche strategy were true, this niche shouldn’t exist. Likewise, I’ve interviewed the operator of a fax-based juku. Not only did this strike me as somewhat quaint (even recognizing the greater penetration of the fax machine in Japan), but it is clearly a relatively small niche of parents/students who would be willing to communicate by fax.

I’ve also visited a juku that deliberately capped the number of its students at 24. In this case, this was obviously a very high-end strategy, but it also is a viable niche.

In fact, many kojinjuku cap the number of students, generally at about half of their historical maximum enrollment which typically came in the early 1990s.

Even the chain juku stratify students within grades on a fairly minute achievement/test result basis.

So, a niche strategy is not viable? I am not convinced.

As “japanexplorer” him/herself acknowledges, “Whatever the large juku operators that you are talking about may say, the nature of the juku market is niche-marketing.” Precisely, so why no single-sex juku?

What each juku chain sells is the reputation of its methodology or material/curriculum package that has a proven track record or that has worked with parents themselves.

Note that it is reputation not “proven track record”, as the only evidence of a track record offered is usually the number of “graduates” who succeeded in entrance examinations. There’s no attempt, nor do parents seem to demand, any kind of value-added evidence that would actually isolate the impact that a juku and/or its teaching methodology had on entrance examination success. Likewise with grade improvement for juku that are focused more on remedial instruction (another way in which the market is stratified, BTW).

Secondly, many of the jukus cater largely to parents who cannot afford the private schooling route, and who therefore have already in fact decided to forego the ‘luxury’ factor of the better schooling environment/atmosphere (both physical and social), to make-do with the barebones goal of academic achievement.

While this is certainly true for some segments of the juku market, I would doubt the “many” characterization. There are no statistics to my knowledge that would allow us to quantify such a portion of the market. Many students at private schools attend juku as well and there are plenty of relatively low-cost juku options, especially when you take into account that juku attendance is also a form of child care.

Re your other comments: earlier in my survey of private schools and in putting together the pte school directory, I came across news articles in which schools like Kaiyo Academy and other new ones, suggestions that the singe-sex environment was a key consideration.

That is very interesting as it contradicts the sense I had gained so far of the absence of pedagogical motivations. Any pointers for where to look for this information?

In my mind the debate continues and I welcome all further contributions.

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.

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.