A short Introduction to the Anthropology of Japanese Education

  • Gaps

    A Building Block of the Japanese Mentality, and the Anthropology of Japanese Education in reference to Lauren J. Kotloff’s “… And Tomoko wrote this song for us” from Thomas P. Rohlen and Gerald K. LeTendre’s “Teaching and learning in Japan (1996)”

    While anthropology is referred to as the social science that studies human beings’ origins and social relationships, the anthropology of education goes more in depth by studying the way a child is fostered and raised through the different types of education that eventually shape his/her beliefs. While knowing Japan’s uniqueness in endless aspects, we ask ourselves, how are Japanese children educated and how do they reach adulthood with this unique mentality that foreigners don’t quite comprehend simply?

    “Tomoko wrote this song for us”

    The following is a passage from “… And Tomoko wrote this song for us” by Lauren J. Kotloff’s from Thomas P. Rohlen and Gerald K. LeTendre’s Teaching and learning in Japan (1996).
    “At Dai-ichi, a Japanese preschool, two classes of five-year-olds have been working together to write and develop a play for a holiday school assembly. Tomoko, who is particularly fond of writing stories and poems, decides to write a song for the play. She brings lyrics to school one morning and works on them during the free play period. With the help of her teacher and two classmates, Tomoko sits at the piano and sets her words to music, amid much laughter and chatter. Afterward, the class has its Morning Class Meeting, where the teacher explains to the group that Tomoko has written a song for their class play. She thanks Tomoko as well as the two classmates who helped her, for writing “such a nice song for us” and begins to sing it to the class. They begin to sing along with her, and after several repetitions, most of the children have learned the song. Saying, “Here the girls wrote such a nice song,” she prompts the children to agree to use it as the finale of their play. A few days later, when I heard the teacher refers to the song as “the song that we all wrote together,” I realized that what I had regarded as Tomoko’s song had become the class’s song. Indeed, when the children performed the play at the assembly, the teacher made no mention of Tomoko’s special contribution. She simply introduced the play as “the play that the five-year- old classes wrote together.”

    Japanese Education

    While this seems as if the teacher didn’t give Tomoko the credit she deserves, this is where Japanese education differs from the rest; Lauren J. Kotloff argues that even though special recognition would usually be considered a self-esteem developer in many cultures, in Japan, however, it is the sense of contribution to the group that boosts children’s self-esteem. Considering Tomoko is a pre-school student demonstrates how early Japanese people flourish such a unique mentality and behavior. Furthermore, Kotloff explains how throughout the years starting from pre-school, Japanese people are educated to operate mostly in groups through emotional bonding with the rest of the classmates and the commitment to group projects. With the aforementioned, students establish a sense of collective identity where individuality is reflected through group contributions giving an incentive for students to not only be unselfish but also generous.
    We can clearly notice how this sort of education reflects when looking at the citizens of Japan and the way they operate. From low-wages jobs to the highest, individuals in Japan are selfless; they get the job done for the well-being of the nation and its image.
    In addition, most employees of regular employment in Japanese companies are involved in what is referred to as “lifetime-employment”, demonstrating loyalty to only one company from the very beginning of their careers. While this may seem irregular and slightly extreme in many countries, it can’t be considered unusual in Japan, and that is due to the collective identity spirit developed since pre-school.


    Finally, we can conclude that despite the fact that human beings change throughout the years of growth in many ways, education remains one of the main building blocks for the formation of a mentality that will be carried throughout adulthoods and portrayed through behaviors that could partially be understood only by looking back. One only has to look back at how Japanese were educated to partially understand how the nation was orchestrated to demonstrate such honorable efficiency and genuine benevolence.