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An instructor at a teacher training center in Suginami, a ward in Tokyo. The center favors conservative values.
Graduates of the training center are guaranteed jobs as teachers.
The New York Times
Japan's Conservatives Push Prewar 'Virtues' in Schools
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
Published: June 11, 2006
TOKYO, June 10 — At a new center to train public school teachers here, an instructor warned 22 young Japanese against egotism and selfishness on a recent Sunday morning.
He exhorted them to be considerate of others, summing up what at times sounded like a sermon by saying that "this is the most important thing to teach children."
Later, the principal explained that the center's guiding philosophy was to recapture the "virtues" of prewar Japan — "what may have been lost during the 60 years of Japan's postwar education."
"Japan has become considerably self-centered, meritocratic and egotistic," said the principal, Kenji Tamiya, 72, a former Sony executive. "That's not to say that education alone is to blame. Our social system has many bad aspects. But education is part and parcel of that trend, and I think there's considerable soul-searching now all over Japan."
Indeed, the Japanese government is now moving toward revising the Fundamental Law of Education, which was drafted in 1947 during the American occupation to prevent a revival of prewar nationalism. The revision proposed by the governing Liberal Democratic Party would emphasize patriotism, tradition and morality, and hand greater control over schools to politicians.
The occupation-era law replaced the prewar Imperial Rescript on Education, which had instructed children to sacrifice themselves for the state and the emperor. Japanese conservatives have long argued that the 1947 law overemphasizes individual rights over the public good, and that it has contributed to everything from the erosion of communities to the rise in juvenile crime.
The focus on morality and patriotism is a reaction against educational policies that, since the early 1990's, encouraged creativity and individualism as part of an effort to make Japan more competitive in a global economy that rewards those qualities. Many politicians and parents now blame the focus on individualism, as well as the elimination of Saturday classes, for declining standards, test scores and discipline.
The trend is also in keeping with a larger conservative movement that has tried to reclaim prewar symbols and encourage the use of textbooks that play down Japan's militarist past. More broadly, a revision of the education law is regarded as a precursor to the more delicate task of changing the other legal document of the American occupation, the Peace Constitution, which was meant to keep Japan from repeating its past.
Japan's public schools have long been battlegrounds for bitter culture wars between liberal teachers and conservative politicians and bureaucrats. But in the past decade, the ascendancy of conservatives, coupled with the collapse of the left, has given conservative politicians greater power in reshaping education.
The strong hand of conservative politicians has been felt the most in Tokyo, where the rightist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, and other like-minded politicians have curbed the influence of liberal teachers. Education experts say the proposed revision of the 1947 law would spread the type of changes that have started here to the rest of the nation.
In Tokyo, in the past three years, the school board has punished teachers in 350 cases for being unpatriotic at school events. The teachers refused to sing the national anthem and stand before the national flag, both of which, to many here and abroad, are linked to Japan's former militarism.
In the city's high schools, the principal and teachers used to make school-related decisions together. But the board downgraded teachers to advisers in 1998, effectively leaving all decisions to the principals; two months ago, the board prohibited teachers from raising their hands in meetings to voice their opinions.
Yokichi Yokoyama, Tokyo's vice governor, said the notice was issued because some schools had resisted following the 1998 policy. "Through the postwar era, including the teachers' union movement, the authority of the principal had in fact been reduced to a shell," he said.
But critics say that the policy was intended to suppress the opinions of teachers, especially union members.
"What they're issuing is not just a ban on raising hands or taking votes, but a ban on discussion," said Mikiko Ikeda, a music teacher who has been reprimanded for refusing to play the national anthem at a school ceremony. "There are very few people who express their opinions now."
Critics say the changes have also effectively concentrated power in the hands of Mr. Ishihara and politicians who agree with him, like Hiroshi Yamada, the mayor of Suginami, a middle-class ward in Tokyo.
In his two terms as mayor, Mr. Yamada has succeeded in pushing schools to adopt conservative textbooks and has developed the new center to train teachers. He read a kamikaze pilot's will at an event for young adults, called World War II the "Greater East Asian War," a favorite term of the right, and, like Mr. Ishihara, called China "Shina," a derogatory term used during Japan's past occupation of the country.
Mr. Yamada declined to be interviewed for this article.
The ward's school board controls educational policies. But unlike American school boards, whose members are elected, board members in Japan are appointed by the municipal leader.
"The board of education is independent, officially," said Yunosuke Okura, 75, one of five board members in Suginami. "In reality, it's not like that."
"Implicitly and explicitly," Mr. Okura added, "the administration's intentions are carried out."
With new appointees sharing the mayor's vision, the board voted 3 to 2 last year to adopt a history textbook written by the nationalist Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which argues that postwar education has overemphasized Japan's past misdeeds and that today's youth need more patriotic education. Mr. Okura said the board considered it the best textbook, although mainstream historians say it glosses over Japan's militarist past and few boards nationwide have adopted it.
A group of citizens led by an opposition assemblywoman, Takeo Okuyama, have sued the ward, claiming that two teachers were pressured by their superiors into changing negative reviews of the textbook, and that one teacher's report was rewritten by the principal.
One of the teachers, Masashi Katayama, 57, said he believed that "the principal was feeling unspoken pressure" from the board and the mayor. The principal declined to be interviewed.
Schools in the ward began using the textbook in April. At the same time, the new teacher training center opened, guaranteeing its future graduates teaching jobs in the ward.
Takayasu Ide, the board superintendent, said the ward started the center to "nurture teachers by ourselves." But critics accuse the mayor and his allies of aiming to replace teachers like Mr. Katayama with the center's graduates. (Mr. Katayama was transferred to a school in another ward after telling the news media he had been pressured to change his textbook assessment.)
Critics of the proposed change in the education law say that if it is approved, politicians nationwide will be able to influence local education as Suginami's mayor does.
Those who support the revision say it will help restore a sense of public duty and tradition without promoting the kind of nationalist fervor that gripped prewar Japan.
But Hidenori Fujita, a professor of education at International Christian University here, said the revision still went too far by giving politicians nationwide the green light to assert control over educational policies. "If that happens," he said, "teachers and schoolchildren will be in trouble."