In what sense can the Japanese education system be regarded as a central factor in the stability of Japanese society?
It's unarguable that education plays a quintessential part not only in the development of individuals growing up in Japan, but additionally is a central factor in the stability of Japanese society. Furthermore, it supports the idea of ‘groupism' which is a prevalent theme in Japanese society, elucidated by the point that ‘kindergarten or day nursery prepares a child for a new identity as a member of a class and as a cooperating member of a peer group of equals.' (Hendry, J. Pg 86)[i]. Indeed, Joy Hendry asserts that ‘school has an important shaping influence for a person growing up in Japan,' (Hendry, J. Pg 87)[ii], and can be seen as an inflection of a clearly defined hierarchy which is an endemic feature of the Japanese education system. Whilst Japan can be seen as being profoundly hierarchical in its denotation, a key feature which belies the Japanese education system is the basic premise that every child should have the same opportunity to share the benefits of the educational system, hence deference can be made to ideas of a meritocratic society in which those who are able can succeed regardless of class, social status etc. In this essay, I will examine the ways in which the Japanese education system can be viewed as being an emblematic feature in the stability of Japanese society, ultimately leading to the assertion that Japan's ‘educational system produces a dedicated workforce, and that these “corporate warriors” are the engine behind Japan's tremendous industrial strength.'(Kerr, A. Pg 284)[iii].
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The Confucianist ideology which has become an entrenched feature in the Japanese psyche, is particularly prevalent in ideologies belying education. This is mostly evident in the Meiji period, which gave true nascence to notions of holistic education and introduced compulsory state education for all in the hope that it would lead to the emergence of a new intellectual generation, who would cement Japan's status as a strong, modern industrialized nation, thus contributing to the stability of Japanese society and subsequently lead to the ‘widespread notion that Japan is gakureki shakai, a society oriented inordinately to educational credentialism testifies to the popular belief that it is unfairly stratified on the basis of educational achievement.' (Sugimoto, Y. Pg 34)[iv]. The Meiji leaders wanted to develop and begin an educational system that would make it possible for Japan to unite as well as bring the country up to western standards and ideals. The Meiji system established three levels, primary school, middle school, and university and these characteristics have become the dominant discourse of education in Japan, typified by the 6,3,3,4 education system which seeks to be ‘egalitarian and co-educational for the period of compulsory schooling, which comprises six years of primary school and three years of middle school, and meritocratic for three further years of high school and the range of universities and colleges which follow.' (Hendry, J. Pg 88)[v] hence, without this educational foundation, the rapid modernization of Japan achieved in the subsequent years wouldn't have been possible. We can see that the official promotion of Confucianism, subsequently lead to a flourishing of schools and academies, which lends itself to the idea that ‘much of the credit for Japan's remarkable birth...can be laid to its well-organized educational system.' (Kerr, A. Pg 284)[vi]. Indeed, the collapse of the feudalistic Tokugawa regime resulted in extensive political power being returned back to the imperial family, culminating in the dawn of a ‘modern imperialist and capitalist nation that was to compete with the rest of the world. The restoration brought drastic reforms in politics, economics, society, and culture in modernizing the country.' (Fanselow-Fujimura, K. & Kameda, A. Pg 61)[vii]. One important aspect of the reform was the emergence of ‘Wakon Yosai' or Japanese spirit Western technology, which imbued the Meiji restoration and indeed Japanese society, with a sense of vivacity which the preceding Tokugawa regime had attempted to restrict. This in itself had a profound effect on the Japanese education system, typified by the high literacy rate, which ‘is a famed accomplishment of the Japanese educational system' (Kerr, A. Pg 294)[viii] and has contributed to the comparatively low levels of unemployment enjoyed in Japan, despite ‘a period that is seeing the highest European dole figures since the 1930s.' (Buckley, R. Pg 153)[ix], and has subsequently had a stabilizing effect on Japanese society. Additionally, coupled with Japan's cognizance that they couldn't withstand the western threat, so they would have to end ‘sekoku' and let the West in, whilst simultaneously ensuring that they learnt from western society and adapted it to fit in with Japanese maxims, specifically their education system was initially based on the French model, and after WWII was systematically patterned on the American model.
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Japan's education system ‘remains largely centralized and uniform.' (Buckley, R. Pg 149)[x] and it is this uniformity or “sameness” that has played a fundamental part in facilitating Japan's push to satiate the challenges and demands presented by the need to promptly infuse Western ideas, science and technology into Japanese society and effectively become a stable one, in addition it has been influential in Japan's recovery and rapid economic growth in the decades following the end of the Second World War, and can again be seen as a central contributing factor in the stability of Japanese society. Moreover, defeat at the hands of the West in WWII, lead to reforms under the auspices of the allies, who sought to decentralize and democratize the educational system, essentially seeking to ‘overturn the dominance of the state in the management of schools.' (Sugimoto, Y. Pg 120)[xi]. However, the ‘post war liberalization process never overturned the dominance of the state in the management of schools' (Sugimoto, Y. Pg 120)[xii], an idea epitomized by the fact that the Ministry of Education ‘controls the content and tone of all school textbooks, supervises curricula throughout the nation, and has considerable power over the administration of universities.' (Sugimoto, Y. Pg 120)[xiii]. This in itself is indicative of a government that seeks to pacify its public into a state of subjectivity, an idea reinforced by Dr. Miyamoto Masao, formerly of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, who emphasises that they(the Japanese government) ‘want this peacefulness because their ideal image of the public is one where people are submissive and subservient. With such a group people are easy to control...How do the bureaucrats manage to castrate the Japanese so effectively? The school system is the place where they conduct this process.' (Kerr,A. Pg 285)[xiv], if everyone is the same, then problems such as discontent and disdain for the system are less likely to arise, and therefore conflict or rather careful conflict resolution utilized through the tool of education, is used to nullify pupils, thus further contributing to a stabilized society, in which cultural hegemony and homogeneity go hand in hand. Indeed Dr. Masao goes on to assert that ‘education in Japan is not education but the habit of obedience to a group.' (Kerr,A. Pg 285)[xv]. This ‘obedience to a group' is a prevalent feature in Japanese society, and can be partly attributable to the effectual stability and longevity of Japanese society. Indeed, imparting notions of homogeneity through education, is an idea typified by the notion that ‘obedience to authority, instilled in people from the time they are small children, makes Japanese society work very smoothly, with far less of the social turmoil and violent crime that have plagued other countries.' (Kerr, A. Pg 284)[xvi] and indeed from a comparative perspective, Japan is certainly an incredibly homogeneous society. Furthermore, order is helped maintained through the use of peer pressure, which is a corollary feature of the Japanese educational system. These factors are an endemic feature of Japanese education, and have petered their way into societal values, interests and beliefs, having a massive influence in and maintaining the status quo of Japanese society whereby stability has been achieved.
The Japanese education system is intense, and there is massive competition with high school and university entrance exams, which are commonly referred to as “examination hell.” This competition is caused by wide spread problems in the schools themselves and is propagated by a society, in which a person is judged and seemingly categorised by what high school and university they attend, and can indeed be seen as being tantamount to whether you fail or succeed in Japanese society. The stability therefore, of Japanese society, can thus be seen as a by product of the Japanese education system and more specifically, “examination hell,” as people who are complicit in the harsh and competitive domain of “examination hell” are effectively saying that they accept the ‘hard work, the sacrifice, the exhaustion, the resigning of one's interests and personality to the demands of impersonal rules' (Kerr, A. Pg 297)[xvii] which contribute greatly towards the stability of Japanese society, it also undeniably sounds reminiscent of nationalist doctrine tinged with ideas concerning groupism. Moreover, if one is to succeed in Japanese society then they must give their all. Certainly, the major corporations in Japan do nothing to ameliorate this, as they tend to choose recruits from a small prestigious pool of universities. This then creates the impression that if you want to get anywhere after graduation from high school, it's imperative that you attend one of those universities.This admission heralds their compliance in the educational system, the result of which is good grades, admission to a good university which opens up a plethora of opportunities in the corporate and government world, and ultimately leads to the individual becoming a conducive member of society, which is an implicit feature of a stable society.
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Harmony is a central feature in the stability of Japanese society, and its discernible qualities are heavily entrenched in the education system. Moreover, Confucian ideology contends ideas of harmony and cooperation, and whilst the Japanese education system advocates these ideas, its meanings are vastly different from Western thinking and meaning. Indeed Dr. Miyamoto contends the idea that, the ‘concept of harmony means an acceptance of difference, but when the Japanese talk about harmony it means a denial of differences and an embrace of sameness.' (Kerr, A. Pg 290)[xviii]. This process of ubiquitous uniformity which is so vehemently promoted through education in Japan, has been an influential tool in maintaining the stability of Japanese society, reiterated by the notion that the, ‘educational system demands that students share the illusion that all Japanese are the same.' (Kerr, A. Pg 290)[xix]. Essentially, the education system in Japan attempts to stave off autonomous thought, individuality and diversity by insisting on a common social identity, and this can be seen through the effective militarization of all aspects of education, ‘Hair codes and uniforms become nearly universal, with everything prescribed, right down to the socks.' (Kerr, A. Pg 291)[xx]. Moreover, the needs of the group are put before those of the individual, this group theory is indoctrinated into pupils from a young age, and is so rife, that it is actively reinforced by the pupils themselves in the form of Ijime or bullying, and is an indirect part of ‘Japan's educational process, as it enforces group unity.' (Kerr, A. Pg 291)[xxi]. This idea of collectivism is applicable to Japanese society, as the interests of the group are placed before the needs of the individual, thus helping to build a stable society in which the group is provided for first and foremost.
Another way in which the Japanese education system has had a stabilizing effect on Japanese society is through the
In its quintessence, the Japanese education system can be interpreted as being reflective of the state. Indeed Japanese education is regarded as an employ of the state, priming pupils to get through the well documented examination hell, and into tertiary education which essentially insures them success in the careers market, and effectively material advantage over their less educated counterparts. Indeed the ideology of ‘educational credentialism pervades Japanese society' (Sugimoto, Y. Pg 111)[xxii] and it's incontrovertible that there is an inherent link between Japanese society and the Japanese educational system, the latter of which having a massive stabilising effect on societal values and interests through a number of means.