Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Windows on Japanese Education

reviewed by David McConnell - 1993

coverTitle: Windows on Japanese Education
Author(s): Edward R. Beauchamp
Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport
ISBN: 0313262438, Pages: 334, Year: 1991
Search for book at Amazon.com

Since the rise of mass schooling, governments throughout the world have exhibited an extraordinary faith in public education as a vehicle for solving national problems and national crises. This book rides a tide of American interest in Japanese education that suggests the reverse is also true: National successes and achievements are increasingly perceived as linked to the quality of schooling. Unlike many other portraits of Japanese education, however, this one self-consciously strives to counter the view of Japanese education as an abstract ideal to be emulated by presenting "a balanced picture of Japan's educational enterprise--its considerable strengths as well as its weaknesses" (p.viii). This approach is reflected in the fact that many of the articles have a strong historical component. The fifteen articles in the volume cover a host of topics, from the history of Japanese education to Nakasone's recent reform initiative, from preschools to universities, from the education of women and Koreans to Japan's "engineering pipeline." The likelihood of one's "pet" interests' being addressed is thus relatively high.

There are several substantial new contributions to the interpretation of Japanese education in this volume. Nobuo Shimahara ("Teacher Education in Japan") has written what, in my view, is the most insightful account of teacher education in Japan that exists in English, one that views present-day teacher education as the complex product of historical, political, and cultural forces. Leonard Schoppa ("Education Reform in Japan: Goals and Results of the Recent Reform Campaign") assesses the outcomes of former Prime Minister Nakasone's ad hoc council on educational reform in the mid-1980s and argues persuasively that political divisions within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party completely immobilized the effort, resulting in very limited changes. William Cummings ("Japan's Science and Engineering Pipeline") traces historically the ways in which the Japanese education system has cultivated a comparatively large group of students well trained in science and engineering, making Japan well prepared for the coming decades. Robert Frost ("Examination Hell") examines the university admissions system as the historical product of classical, European, and American influences. And Robert Evans, Jr. ("The Contribution of Education to Japan's Economic Growth") argues that the degree to which the government explicitly harnessed the education system to promote economic growth and the close interplay between education and the labor market stand out as two distinctive features in Japan's economic transformation. one wonders whether Evans has not overlooked the ways in which the "fit" between cultural theories of learning and the rigorous demands of formal schooling and company training may have affected Japan's capacity to attain economic growth; nevertheless, his chapter provides a fresh perspective on Japanese education through the eyes of a trained economist.

In addition, there are a number of fine pieces in this volume that are either reprinted from earlier articles or expansions of work published elsewhere. Sarane Spence Boocock ("The Japanese Preschool System") provides a thorough and penetrating analysis of the organizational and cultural dimensions of Japanese preschools, an area that has been much neglected until recently. Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow and Anne Imamura ("The Education of Women inJapan") have expanded an earlier article by the first author to produce a very useful account of gender differences in participation at various levels in the education system and the relationship between the education of women and women's roles in the family and in other institutions of society. Umakoshi Toru ("The Role of Education in Preserving the Ethnic Identity of Korean Residents in Japan") provides an update on the educational situation of Koreans in Japan and the dilemmas they face in maneuvering between the desire to maintain Korean identity and the desire to advance in Japanese society. Ed Beauchamp ("The Development of Japanese Educational Policy, 1945-1985") examines educational policy during the Allied Occupation and in the periods of school expansion (1960s and 1970s) and attempted reform 1980s). In the concluding chapter, Kitamura Kazuyuki ("The Future of Japanese Higher Education") speculates on the effects that demographic changes, external pressures, and changing student attitudes will have on Japan's postsecondary institutions.

A number of contributions raised more questions in my mind than they answered. Mark Lincicome ("The Historical Context of Japanese Education to 1945") opens the book with a class-based interpretation of pre-World War II education. Against this template, the history of Japanese education becomes "as much a record of forceful subjugation dictated by the state as one of nationalistic indoctrination" (p. 21). Certainly, this is one version of Japanese history, but to present it as if it were the history of Japanese education to 1945, as the title suggests, is somewhat misleading. one is left with the distinct impression that everything was contested and that congruities between classes were nonexistent. Ichikawa Shogo ("Financing Japanese Education") presents a useful overview of the system of financing Japanese education. The interplay between administrative levels in the implementation of educational policy is a topic that is little understood in Japan, and one hopes this largely descriptive effort will pave the way for more conceptual and comparative work in this area.

There are only two chapters in the volume that deal with classroom issues. Priscilla Blinco ("Task Persistence in Japanese Elementary Schools") reports that first-graders in Japan persisted longer at difficult tasks presented to them than did their American counterparts, and Nancy Whitman ("Teaching of Mathematics in Japanese Schools") provides a lengthy overview of the development of mathematics curriculum in Japan since the Meiji Restoration. Both add to our knowledge of Japanese education, yet neither directly examines learning and teaching processes as they unfold in schools and classrooms on a day-to-day basis.

As a "sourcebook" that provides accessibility in a single volume to articles on a wide variety of topics, this book is indeed a welcome addition to the growing data base on Japanese education. When the fifteen articles here are taken along with the twenty-one essays in a similar book published two years ago,(n1) the result is a compilation of close to forty essays covering many aspects of Japanese education. The diversity in content, however, is also the book's main weakness. In many ways, it lacks thematic coherence. The editor's short introduction and postscript may serve to orient the general reader, but they do not provide much in the way of conceptual focus. We have reached a stage at which the volume of research on Japanese education, and the degree of cross-cultural collaboration, is unprecedented, and I believe there is a growing need for edited volumes that bring a number of articles to bear on a particular conceptual issue. Such issues might include, but are certainly not limited to, the use of education as a vehicle for national integration in Japan, the place of education in Japan's global adaptation, an analysis of "systems" of education and the interplay between administrative levels in policy implementation, and the nature of learning processes at the classroom level. This is not, however, to detract from what will undoubtedly prove to be a very valuable resource for students of Japanese education for many years to come.


(n1) James J. Shields, Jr., ed., Japanese Schooling: Patterns of Socialization, Equality, and Political Control (University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 94 Number 4, 1993, p. 855-857
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 185, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 12:20:38 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue