Characteristics of the Japanese Education System

The Japanese are known for their rigorous work ethic, which is most likely the reason that they have been able to so thoroughly capitalise on their high quality human resources. Academically, as stated on the PISA International Test administered by the OECD, Japanese students have consistently scored significantly higher than the global average. In addition, we can also observe how disciplined the Japanese are when conducting their daily activities, as well as dealing with major disasters.

Thus, one must ask, what is the key to Japan’s success when handling their various trials and tribulations? Indeed, when looking at how accomplished their nation is, one cannot so easily separate education as a factor.

According to Professor Yuto Kitamura in his webinar entitled “THE AMBASSADORIAL LECTURES X/2021-2022, Japanese Education under the influence of COVID-19: Possibilities of Promoting “Knowledge Diplomacy” to Share Our Experience” which was organised by the Embassy of Japan and the Centre for Japanese Studies at the University of Indonesia on February 22 of 2022, there are 3 main concepts that must be acknowledged when describing the characteristics of a Japanese based education; namely “Chi“, “Toku“, and “Tai”. “Chi” stands for the ability to perform solidly within an academic setting, “Toku” means garnering wealth in humanity, and “Tai” represents bodily health.

In “Chi” (solid academic competence), children are instilled with the fundamentals of academic capability, spurring on the initiative to define problems, as well as to learn, think, decide, act independently and solve problems better.

In “Toku” (wealth in humanity), children are educated about values ​​such as self-discipline, cooperation, kindness and empathy.

And through “Tai” (bodily health), physical fitness and wellbeing are emphasised for an active and productive life.

Based on the 3 main concepts mentioned above, education within Japan does not only focus on the subjects in general, but also organises and promotes the participation with a variety of special activities, such as Kyushoku (lunchtime) activities at school, Eisei (sanitation) & cleaning activities, as well as Gakko gyoji (school events).

1. Kyushoku (Lunch)

In general (with few exceptions depending on the local authorities), Japanese schools have either their own kitchen or a shared kitchen located in the neighbourhood which is responsible for preparing lunch for the schools within the surrounding area. In case of the shared kitchen, the food is sent to each school. Lunch prepared by school or that has arrived at school will then be organised and served by the students themselves. This task is done consecutively until each individual child gets their turn, a process that starts with pouring and serving their friend’s lunch for them. The children are divided into small groups who eat together, and clean up after finishing their meal. The lunch menu itself is varied, and every day a different menu is presented which is prepared by a nutritionist, so that every student gets a balanced diet. The ingredients used are garnered from the local harvest so that students will be better familiar with the resources and produce within their local area; this also promotes the regional culinary culture of the area. Additionally, students gain knowledge about food and proper eating habits from teachers and nutritionists.

2. Eisei (Sanitation) and Hygiene

Another activity is Eisei (sanitation) and hygiene; in order to instil the importance of sanitation and hygiene within children. Cleaning activities are carried out within school grounds, and includes scrubbing classrooms, hallways as well as the bathrooms.

Also, availability of sinks has become a prominent hallmark of Japanese schools. Children are always accustomed to washing their hands after conducting activities. For example, after going outside, or after going to the bathroom, children are required to wash their hands. Washing one’s hands has become a staple habit for Japanese children.

3. Gakko gyoji (school event)

School events can include annual sporting festivals, music festivals, art performances, work experience activities, and much more. Through such activities, children can better learn how to live adequately within a social context. Children can form cohesive relationships with one another and further foster a practical attitude through engaging in collaborative activities so as to build a more worthwhile and effective academic experience.

Apart from the events themselves, the process of their preparation is also an important aspect of a child’s education. This is not only followed by teachers and students alike, but also by local residents and their family members so that families can better gain an understanding of their child’s growth.

How do elementary school students in Japan spend their days at school?

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan has allowed us to gain a glimpse into the everyday activities of elementary aged students in a video which can be accessed here: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSGtvLD61T8). In the following video, we can see various activities, things such as:

  1. Students walk to school via the “school route”, where local residents are obliged to monitor students in order to ensure their safety and security.
  2. After arriving at school, students will spend their time as they please until after the morning meeting begins.
  3. The morning meeting begins with a greeting, along with various instructions from the “Nicchoku”. A Nicchoku is the class leader for the day. Their job is to assist teachers and to take on the role of a moderator during morning meetings. The Nicchoku is regularly changed on a daily basis, and each child within the class will have their turn.
  4. Classes are designed to foster one’s abilities, and broaden the student’s knowledge in regards to subjects such as Arithmetic, Science, Music, Physical Education, household economics, moral education as well as a variety of other subjects. Additionally, through a process of integrated learning, the scholastic environment of the overall community is applied actively through collaboration with the community itself, along with partnerships with academic and social facilities such as community centres, libraries and museums.
  5. Lunch
  6. Break time.
    Students are given the freedom to use their break time as they please. Some are passionate about playing in the field; some spend their time reading books in the library.

Students can also take part in Iinkai Katsudo (management activities), such as taking part in library activities, taking responsibility in borrowing and handling books. Also, there are students who become officers who tend to the various animals that are kept at school. By being active stewards, students are able to learn about what they can do for the school, others as well as themselves.

In addition, students can also be active in Kurabu katsudo (club activities). These range from sports clubs, to indoor activities which involve music, theatre, the arts, and computers.

Through club activities, students can make friends between grades (classes) so that they can further broaden their views and personalities.

Source: Webinar, THE AMBASSADORIAL LECTURES X/2021-2022, Japanese Education under the influence of COVID-19: Possibilities of Promoting “Knowledge Diplomacy” to Share Our Experience, by Prof. KITAMURA Yuto, Graduate School of Education The University of Tokyo

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