Comparison of Preschools in 3 Different Cultures: China, Japan, United States

  • “Anthropological fieldwork at the preschools of three different cultures in reference to Tobin, Joseph Jay., Yeh Hsueh, and Mayumi Karasawa’s Preschool in Three Cultures Revisited: China, Japan, and the United States (2009)”

    Prior to going on that “virtual fieldwork” by watching the anthropological videos of Joseph Tobin from Preschool in Three Cultures revisited: China, Japan, and the United States (2009), the whole class made predictions about what we will most likely witness while observing pre-schools in the three different countries: China, Japan and the United States of America. Most students predicted that the characteristics of the pre-schools in China would be the following: obedience, competitiveness, and quietness; for Japan, playing in large groups, skits and acting, and group activities were the expectations; lastly for the US, the predictions were the following: patriotism, expressing individualism, communication between kids. Will these predictions match the results after observations? Or will they be placed amongst the stereotypes?

    Chinese pre-schools

    First, while the recent videos have been recorded in 2002, the anthropologists in the making recorded other fieldworks from 1995 for China and 1984 for Japan for comparison. In the case of the two Chinese pre-schools, we notice how the 1995 videos demonstrate the collectivity by having group visits to the toilet. However, after the US complained about the poor toiler conditions due to the density, we notice, in the 2002 videos that the toilets are now separate for boys and girls. The teachers and anthropologists infer that due to this slight change collectivism has declined and individualism has risen. Nonetheless, collectivism might still be apparent whilst exercising together or during the storytelling. Concerning the storytelling, we notice how teachers don’t interfere much by allowing the students to praise or criticize the storyteller by giving their opinion. While the teachers make the classmates of the storyteller give their feedback to him/her instead of the teachers, they believe the storyteller will be less hurt hearing the feedback from his/her peers rather than from his/her teachers. Clearly, we notice how teachers allow students to express themselves and learn to work together by criticizing and therefore nurturing each other. In addition, we notice that the ratio of students to teachers in China is really high (35:1). Young teachers, however, kept their sense of diligence since 1995 by teaching the students the same song in both years. However many indicated that from 1995, creativity was limited by providing children with guidance.

    Japanese pre-schools

    Second, an aspect found in the Japanese pre-schools but not in the rest is the conflict resolution. From the observation, we notice how in 1984 and 2002, teachers behave the same way when it comes to children fighting together. Teachers don’t intervene actually; they ignore the issue (not completely though, they might just keep a little eye in case of an emergency) and let the problem resolve itself. Japanese people believe that children miss out on complex social interactions to find their own solutions if teachers intervene too quickly. If teachers intervene, it means the children can’t handle their own problems and, therefore, experience social complexity away from adults’ interference. In addition, Japanese teachers make their students develop empathy by introducing mixed age interaction, making the older take care of the younger. Young children are also taught traditional cultural values such as the Omoiyari, which is the ability to understand and respond to the feelings & needs of others.

    American pre-schools

    Third, the American pre-schools such as the ones from Hawaii, Honolulu and Phoenix, Arizona portray similar characteristics. We notice how the ratio of children to teachers in the US is much lower than the Japanese and Chinese pre-schools (20:2). American pre-schools highly focus on individualism by emphasizing on self-expression (even if wrong) and by offering the children choices, which reflects on the principles of democracy. They also teach the children how to care of an individual with the “buddy bear”. Drawing becomes part of the schedule to enhance creativity. In addition, a mistaken behavior is not regarded as bad behavior but rather just a mistake. On the other hand, Kyoto pre-school criticized the American teachers for having the freedom of judgment when a situation may not be safe. Moreover, many criticize the enforcement of the pledge of allegiance on the children.


    Finally, we can conclude that many of the predictions weren’t accurate but a few were. The Chinese pre-schools didn’t portray much competitiveness and quietness and not much obedience as it was expected. The Japanese pre-schools demonstrated some collectivism but not as much as expected since other characteristics were more apparent. However, the American pre-schools’ predictions were all accurate. Thusly, we notice that maybe due to the fact that many people around the world are “Americanized” with all the Hollywood movies and media we tend to have a slightly accurate general image of what to expect even if we have never really been there. For Japan and China though, stereotypes might slightly appear in some contexts but we notice that other characteristics that weren’t expecting acknowledges us more on the cultures. After all, we can’t really tell which country has the better education since each may have its up and downs but the one way that may improve the education of a system is to learn the qualities and accept the criticism of the other system.