Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Smallness playing large

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 28, 2012

AT what point does one’s reaction to the absurdities of South Korea’s preoccupation with Japan pass from amusement at a diversion that resembles the ramblings of a wild-haired street corner preacher to sadness tinged with dismissive indifference at the frenzied intensity of smallness playing large? This excerpt from an article written by Seon U-jeon that appeared in the Chosun Ilbo — which the newspaper translated into Japanese — comes close to defining that passage for me. It’s titled, What South Korea has but Japan doesn’t.

It’s tempting to answer, “Crazed irrationality about a neighboring country”, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.

There are 290,000 foreign students in China, of which the most, 60,000, are from South Korea.

Japan once sent many students abroad 100 years ago, but it has lost its vitality. This is reflected in the sharp decline in students going abroad, the popularity of Korean pop culture, the strength of Korean corporations, and education.

Today’s South Korea is just like Japan a century ago. From the 19th century to the early 20th century, the number of Japanese going abroad to study reached 24,700. They sent more students overseas than any country in the world. There were 43 students accompanying the Iwakura mission (1871-1873) to visit the Western powers, six of whom were young women. That gives one an idea of their passion for studying abroad at the time. The stunning development of modern Japan resulted from their bringing learning back with them, though many were dismissed overseas as monkeys. They served as a bridge to the Great Powers. It was these students who broke the chains binding Japan during its period of isolation.

The number of Japanese students now in China is fewer than half the number of South Korean students. The number of Japanese students in the United States is just 28% the total of South Korean students. It is not that Japan is a country with nothing to learn from other countries. Even after Japan became a member of the advanced countries, it continued to send many students abroad into the 1980s. The sharp decline in the number of overseas students began when economic growth stalled and society lost its vitality.

Students studying abroad are an accurate reflection of a country’s hopes and the strength of its people. We view Japan’s rightward lurch as the floundering of out-of-control old men, because we now have what Japan had 100 years ago. The passion for Korean pop culture sweeping the world is as resplendent as the Japonism that swept Europe and the United States a century ago. The ability of Korean companies to seize markets is reminiscent of Japanese corporations after the war. Times have changed.

Some observations, though you surely have many of your own.

* I’ve read some of the records of the Iwakura mission, which are still in print. They’re boring and not worth reading in their entirety because they are nothing but hundreds and hundreds of pages of the most basic travelogue. They’re like a postcard expanded into a book. The Meiji-era Japanese were literally visiting a new world beyond their imaginations. Nowadays, Japanese of average means can — and do — hop on a flight to New York after work on Friday to catch a Saturday night concert by a favorite performer and return in time for work Monday morning.

* Mr. Seon might be more accurate in his assessment than he suspects. In this article, Koreans do come off like the Japanese 100 years ago — going abroad to marvel at a new world beyond their imaginations. That says more about Korea, its degree of openness, and its entrapment in the mindset of a previous century than it does about Japan and its vitality.

* What is it exactly that Japanese students need to learn by studying at a Chinese university? Other than getting advanced practice in the Chinese language, very little. And what, for that matter, is it that Japanese students have to learn as undergraduates or masters candidates at the exorbitantly priced cesspools of political correctness that American universities have become?

* Japan sent so many students abroad a century ago because it was so far behind the West and wanted to catch up. Exactly what learning would they be bringing back from China?

* If Japanese universities are so inadequate that education needs to be supplemented by overseas universities, why are so many Chinese and South Koreans coming here to study?

* The only real reason that so many Koreans are studying in China is commercial — that’s where they think the money is. But then Koreans have a long history of fealty to the Chinese imperium.

* The Japonism of a century ago was a result of the admiration for the aesthetics of Japanese art and culture, such as ukiyoe and ceramics. Do Koreans think they have supplanted the Japanese in the West by offering chewing gum pop culture?

I’m glad I won’t be exposed to the internal Korean dialogue when the world forgets about Gagnam Style and they have to pick themselves up off the floor in a daze after the crash of the mother of all sugar highs.

* It always bears repeating: Saying that Japan has lost its vitality is prima facie evidence that the speaker knows next to nothing about today’s Japan.

* And yes, Japan is still the gold standard by which the Koreans judge themselves.

When he was assigned to Japan, the author of this article received the Japan-Korea Cultural Exchange Award as the representative of a Korean newspaper.

Speaking of Korean education, here are some photos of a demonstration earlier this month in front of the Japanese embassy conducted by primary school students and their teachers. Got to start washing those brains early, eh?

Japanese people apologize!


Japanese people, recognize your errors! (That’s a photo of the comfort woman statue on her sign.)


Apologize for the comfort women!


The photo prop on the left is the comfort woman statue and the photo prop on the right is holding a sign saying that Takeshima is our land.


If Korean primary school take their students on field trips such as these, it is a matter of extreme urgency for even more students to study abroad when they reach university age. Even at Chinese universities

Posted in China, Education, History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Social trends | 65 Comments »

Ichigen koji (235)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 20, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

I was a bit surprised at something I observed at a symposium in China in which students attended and participated. Most of them rather openly slept or played around with their smartphones. They were probably told they had to be there, so I understood their disinterest, but my image of Chinese students was different. I had thought they were very diligent.

-Kimura Kan, Kobe University professor

Posted in China, Education, Quotations | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (102)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 9, 2012

Education Minister Tanaka Makiko in the Diet during the discussions over whether to grant government authorization to the three universities she originally refused authorization for. After the decision was announced to reverse her decision less than a week later, she said, “This could be a good advertisement for them. They might have a boom in four or five years.”

Posted in Education, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Photographs and videos, Politics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (222)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 7, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Neither politicians nor the bureaucracy are as respected as they once were, but the title of “university professor” still has prestige. Under the pretext of learning and culture, governments will inject tax money into money-losing universities and no one will complain. This is Japan’s final taboo.

The promotion of science and technology is also sacred ground for the government, and journalists do not criticize universities, and I speak from the standpoint of a part-time professor lecturing on the mass media. When it comes to prolonging unproductive services, universities are worse than agriculture.

Private universities have already collapsed. National universities are now collapsing at the graduate school level through the “laundering” of academic backgrounds.

– Ikeda Nobuo. He is speaking in reference to the uproar caused by Education Minister Tanaka Makiko’s decision to refuse authorization for three new colleges. The decision has been reversed, and the three proposals will undergo a new screening process. De facto, that means they will be approved.

All three of the schools are local institutions. One is a junior college of the fine arts in Akita whose operators want to convert it into a four-year college. Another is a women’s college in Aichi.

But it gets better!

I don’t know what’s specifically wrong with the three schools. I also don’t think they’re bad.

– Minister of Education Tanaka Makiko

Posted in Education, Government, Social trends | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (96)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 3, 2012

South Korean junior high and high school students demonstrate in front of the Japanese embassy in September, demanding that history be properly taught to Japanese youth.

Posted in Education, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Photographs and videos, South Korea | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Ichigen koji (214)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 30, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

My faculty advisor prohibited me from taking a class from another professor whom he hated. If you take classes from professors associated with the New Right (in South Korea), some people will hate you.

– A Seoul University student quoted in the Chosun Ilbo

Posted in Education, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (207)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 24, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

A similar story is the mistaken reporting done about school textbooks, when articles claimed that the Ministry of Education had forced the publishers to change the word “invasion” (into Asia) to “advance”. Even though this was not true, it was reported by all the newspapers. As a result, it gained currency internationally as a “fact”, and had a negative impact on the textbook screening system and textbook content itself. Had there been an environment of oversight as there is now with the Net, this misunderstanding might have been corrected more quickly.

– Abiru Rui

Posted in Education, International relations, Mass media, Quotations, World War II | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (204)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 21, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

The Japanese government gives JPY 160,000 a month (slightly more than $US 2,000) as scholarships to students from China who attend Japanese universities. The money does not have to be returned. There are about 80,000 Chinese students in our universities. National government scholarships of this type are not given to Japanese students. Therefore, universities are actively soliciting students in China to come to Japan. Is this a desirable state of affairs?

– Tamogami Toshio

Posted in China, Education, Foreigners in Japan, Quotations | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Voter apathy

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 19, 2012

ONE of the more controversial proposals of Japan’s Democratic Party government is to give people with permanent resident status the right to “participate” in local elections. The assumption they wish everyone to make is that this means voting. But the actual Japanese phrase used is “participation” rather than “voting”. That euphemism contains the implication of non-citizens being allowed to stand for office, which would surely be the next demand. Need it be mentioned that the agitation to further extend the privilege to national elections would start shortly thereafter? We’ve all seen how certain political elements behave once they jam their foot in the door. Indeed, jamming their foot in the door is an integral part of their strategy.

The opposition parties insist the Constitution prohibits this “participation”, and some of them have written proposed Constitutional amendments that would remove any ambiguity about citizenship being a prerequisite for political activity.

To clear up any possible ambiguity: This legislation is not intended to enfranchise people such as me — permanent residents with citizenship in countries outside the region. It is to enfranchise native-born ethnic Koreans who choose Korean citizenship.

The DPJ position is based on several factors. These include political contributions from ethnic Koreans, some DPJ members who have hung their Korean ethnic heritage in the back of the closet, and the antipathy of some in the party to the nation-state concept. A somewhat benign form of that third factor was manifest in former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s peculiar claim that the Japanese archipelago did not belong exclusively to the Japanese people. Most of the Japanese archipelagians thought that was errant nonsense. But they knew Mr. Hatoyama was lighter than air, and discounted his notions in the expectation that the DPJ might deliver some of the domestic political reform they promised. That was, after all, the primary reason they were voted into office. It was only a matter of weeks before the voters realized the DPJ promises were lighter than helium.

The political commitment of the ethnic Koreans resident in Japan more closely resembles an inert gas. It would be a simple matter for those born in Japan to obtain Japanese citizenship, but many prefer to swear paper fealty to a country they’ve never been to. And as a recent Yonhap news agency report explains, they seem to have little interest in the privileges of citizenship bestowed by their passport of choice. Here’s the report in English. It’s every bit as entertaining as an article from the horsenbuggy news media from any other country, and short to boot:

There are 578,135 Koreans living in Japan — 461,627 with permanent resident status, and 116,508 without that status. Interest among them is growing in the 19 December presidential election in South Korea.

The South Korean Central Election Committee estimates that 462,509 of these people in Japan, or about 80% of the total, are eligible to vote. This year, South Korean citizens living abroad will be eligible to vote in the presidential election.

The number of registered voters for the National Assembly election held on 11 April totaled only 18,575 people, or 4.02%. Of the registered voters, only 9,973 actually cast a ballot, or 52.57%.

The atmosphere has changed before the presidential election, however. Interest is rising in the possible winner of the the election as bilateral relations are chilled due to the Dokdo controversy. Some ethnic Koreans wonder which candidate will pull Korean-Japanese relations toward stability.

There are also many among those eligible to vote intensely curious about the issue of Korean citizens voting in Japan, and the ethnic education of Koreans there.

As of 1 October, with just 19 days left to register for the presidential election, the number of registered voters in Japan totaled 15,986, or an estimated 3.45% of those eligible. That is 1.7 times higher than the number who registered for the assembly elections in April.

(End translation)

* Yonhap is excited because as many as 3.45% of those eligible in a particular district have done their civic duty at a distance and registered to vote. If the earlier election results are a guide, only about half of these will be able to muster the energy to fill out and mail in the ballots.

Why should it be cause for excitement that the number of overseas citizens interested in a presidential election is 1.7 times greater than the number of the same citizens interested in a legislative election? I’m an American living overseas with a better idea of the positions and accomplishments of both major presidential candidates than a lot of people in the United States. Yet I wouldn’t know who was running for the House or Senate in the four states that I once lived in if they walked up and bit me. If any of these South Korean “citizens” have ever lived in their district of eligibility, and are conversant about the candidates in that district, the number is miniscule.

* Is it possible for a South Korean news outlet to write any article about Japan without mentioning Dokdo/Takeshima, no matter how remote the connection? “With interest in Dokdo rising of late, Typhoon #18 struck the southern coast of Kyushu yesterday…”

* According to Yonhap, some ethnic Koreans wonder which presidential candidate in South Korea will contribute to stability in Korean-Japanese relations. I can answer that question: None of them.

There are two reasons for that. One is that none of them are interested to begin with. The other is that the South Korean polity will, by its nature, ensure that any candidate who might be interested will conceal that interest to ensure his political viability.

* Yes, the phrase “ethnic education” does have a tinge of the ein volk, doesn’t it? But the real issue, which Yonhap ignores, has nothing to do with “ethnic education”. Schools for ethnic Koreans already exist in those areas with a population sufficient to support them. The intense interest is in whether or not parents who send their children to these schools should receive the same government subsidies that parents who are Japanese citizens receive for sending their children to private schools teaching a Japanese curriculum. In other words: Where’s my free money!

Most of the schools for ethnic Koreans, incidentally, are operated by Chongryeon, the local citizens’ group associated with North Korea. Their curriculum is based on the glorification of the Kim Dynasty and the defamation of the country that allows them to operate.

Mindan, the group affiliated with South Korea, offers supplementary Saturday classes in “ethnic education”. Here is Mindan’s explanation for the reason they are disenfranchised:

(D)ue to the influence from the conservative wing, symbolized by ‘distortion of the history textbook’ and ‘worship of the Yasukuni Shrine’, the legislation has been delayed, and the law is still held under its pending state.

On the other hand, more than a few Japanese citizens have an intense interest in answers to their questions: Why should their tax proceeds be used to fund the “ethnic education” of the children of people born and raised in Japan who insist on maintaining Korean citizenship?

And: Why should they allow demi-separatists too lazy to exercise the privileges of citizenship in the country to which they pledge allegiance, to establish ethnic enclaves and vote in elections in a country to which they won’t pledge allegiance?

Other than the demand to satisfy a hypertrophied sense of entitlement, that is.

Posted in Education, Foreigners in Japan, Government, North Korea, South Korea | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Ichigen koji (200)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 17, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Both China and South Korea have many museums that one-sidedly make Japan to be the villain. Taking vulnerable and exposed students to a place like that creates the danger of brainwashing. Japanese high school students have gone on school trips to South Korea and actually been made to get down on their knees and apologize. That’s education?

– Nishimura Kiyoshi, a director of the educational corporation that operates the private Reimei High School in Chiba. This year’s school trip will be to a location in Japan instead of either South Korea or China.

Posted in China, Education, International relations, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

All you have to do is look (70)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 8, 2012

Members of the calligraphy club at Kawaguchi High School in Saitama write 250 four-character compound words. The red characters form the character for “happiness”.

Posted in Education, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (185)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 29, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

All media throughout the country have what they call satellite reporters. They are assigned to circulate in the regional areas. About 10% are the victims of factional warfare inside the company. About 20% are excellent, but aren’t team players. The other 70% are useless. Ah, but the Asahi Shimbun is a storehouse of talent. The only problem is that (she) can’t quit because the salary’s good.

This was an individual getting angry about the comfort women because she is contemptuous of Japanese men. I’m not what she would call a right-winger, but she’s just branding soldiers as perverted, which has a negative impact on Japanese men today. The false rumors spread about the comfort women are an attack on Japanese men.

– Science and technology journalist Ishii Taka’aki on the controversy caused by Asahi reporter Akuzawa Etsuko.

She flew off the handle because Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru was at home on the day a Korean comfort woman visited City Hall. Akuzawa unleashed a Twitter barrage of invective that included, “Stop screwing around and get down here!” (The language used was deliberately rude and in the command form.)

She also told him, “I want to have a war of words with you, and have many questions to ask. How about if I came down dressed in a stewardess uniform?”

She has since apologized and said she would refrain from Tweeting for a while. Here’s a selection from her other recent Tweets:

* “When I was in primary school, I used to love reading Shakabon, the weekly magazine for children published by the Asahi Shimbun. It was an important magazine that properly implanted left-wing thinking in children.”

* Her advice to a third-year junior high school boy who thought his civics class wasn’t interesting: “Just study the Constitution and the three labor laws hard, and forget about the rest of it.”

* “The values of liberals and postwar democracy and human rights have withered at the root, and I feel tired from watering them. But as long as they make newspapers, I won’t step down from this platform.”

Posted in Education, Mass media, Politics, South Korea | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Patriotic education

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 24, 2012

A Chinese journalist working in Bangkok wrote an article for a local newspaper offering her thoughts on the recent demonstrations in China. A Japanese blogger read it and translated it into Japanese. Here’s most of it as it appeared on the (Japanese) Kinbricks Now site. Keep in mind this is going from Chinese to Japanese to English.

Territorial issues should be negotiated by governments, so the people should leave those issues to government negotiation and not demonstrate. The greatest shock for me, however, was the way in which people expressed their patriotism — by using violence to destroy Japanese shops and restaurants. I was incredulous, ashamed, indignant, and sad.

Then it hit me. We’ve been taught to love our country, but we were not taught any good ways for loving our country at all. I’m not saying that demonstrations themselves are bad. What is bad is misappropriating those demonstrations and using them as a vehicle for bad behavior.

There is no shortage of patriotic education in China. In fact, for those of us born in the 70s and 80s, there was too much of it. In primary school, the only songs we were taught were patriotic songs. They included Ode to the Motherland, There Would Have Been No New China without the Communist Party, and The Sun is Red, and Chairman Mao is the Dearest.

The only movies we saw in school were revolutionary movies. The villains in those movies were always pitiful, stupid, depraved Japanese or landowners. The heroes were the comrades of the Red Army, Communist Party members, peasants, or workers. This sort of self-righteous imprinting continued until university. Marxist-Leninist ideology and political lectures that teach the doctrines and policies of the Communist Party are required courses at college. I often cut those classes.

While we had a lot of this sort of instruction, we had no instruction at all in the rights we could demand and use as citizens. We also weren’t taught how we could obtain value and power through rational, peaceful, and legal means with a forward-looking approach. We weren’t taught how to be patient, to negotiate, or to compromise. We weren’t taught how to respect the interests of other people. All we were taught was: “Strike down the enemy!”

That’s why when demonstrations such as these occur, they contribute nothing at all to disputes over islands. They only give rise to violence that harms our own economy. We become emotional and behave violently, which amplifies the negative emotions and harms the rules and social justice. It ends in something that has nothing to do with patriotism.

The tragedy begins where there is no civic education.

(end translation)

Ode to the Motherland

Without the Communist Party, There Would be No New China, by Brother Hao.

And two versions of The Sun is Red and Chairman Mao is the Dearest. The first has a great chorus line and gets a little funky in the middle.

And the second is the Richard Clayderman treatment, which included a new title. He’s rehearsing it here in Beijing.

Posted in China, Education, International relations | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

All you have to do is look (33)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 30, 2012

Twenty-seven second-year students from Yonesaki Junior High School in Rikuzentakata, Iwate, try their hands at recovering oysters raised at a local fishing port.

Photo from the Tokai Shimpo

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Kagura Koshien

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 20, 2012

THE climactic stage of the 94th annual national high school baseball championships has arrived — the semifinal games will be played today, and the finals are tomorrow. One of the most well-known sporting events in Japan, the championship is commonly referred to as Koshien after the name of the Hyogo stadium where the games are played. (It’s also the home park of the Hanshin Tigers major league team, who are forced to take a long road trip every summer at this time.)

This event is so well known that the term Koshien is now used colloquially to refer to any national high school championship competition. This post presented the Koshien for a new competition featuring the combination of calligraphy with dance and music. One of my college students this spring said performing with her club in a similar competition was her favorite memory from her high school days. (There’s also a brief description of the Manga Koshien.)

Another new and different Koshien began last year with content that might surprise even Japanese — the performance of kagura. That’s an ancient Shinto ritual of dance and music for the divinities whose origins are at least 1,300 years old. It is also performed in some areas of the country as a folk-drama during shrine festivals. The appeal of kagura in the latter context is easy to understand when you realize the art contains elements similar to that of a Broadway musical comedy, albeit from a different millennium.

This year’s Kagura Koshien was the second, and it was held at the end of last month in Akitakata, Hiroshima, at the Kagura Monzen Tojimura. In addition to a kagura dome, that facility also has a hot springs resort with lodgings.

Ten schools from five prefectures took part, with representatives from Hiroshima, Shimane, Tottori, Kochi, and Miyazaki. Last year’s inaugural event featured five schools, and while the first three of those prefectures are in the same region, Miyazaki is in Kyushu, which is some distance away. That suggests the idea is catching on in other parts of the country. The event organizers reported there were about 1,600 spectators. Said one of the students, 17-year-old Fujii Riiya:

“I learned a lot by watching the kagura of the other schools. I hope the younger students take part next year.”

Here’s an explanation of the origins and more formal varieties of kagura, and here’s a description of the pop variety, with a blow-by-blow account of one of the plots.

And in an excellent example of synchronicity, this YouTube video digest of the Kagura Koshien was uploaded just this weekend. Watch it to discover how an ancient ritual could capture the imagination of high school students.

Posted in Arts, Education, Festivals, Imperial family, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »