Moore Than This

"Here we are living in paradise, living in luxury..."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

JapanBlogging from another continent

Well, I'm back, without too many mishaps. Came across a couple of articles this morning: one from TCS Daily about the Japanese government's efforts to promote patriotism as part of the education system, and one from the Japan Times concerning China and Korea's own issues with history and patriotism. The Marmot's Hole, an excellent blog on Korean affairs, provides some thoughtful commentary on the latter.

The issue of revising Japan's Fundamental Law of Education to encourage patriotism in schools is a long-running controversy. It is unlikely that it will be passed during the Diet's current session, due to continued wrangling between the parties. The last I heard, there was a disagreement between the two parties of the dominant coalition over whether the precise wording should be "love the nation" or "treasure the nation". Apparently, one of them was too overly nationalistic. No, I'm not sure which one either.

So, does Japan have a problem with patriotism? I'm of the opinion that it does - there is still an awful lot of walking on eggshells when it comes to attitudes towards their country. As I've written before, there is a curious tension between ultra-nationalist undercurrents in Japanese society and the general attitude that Japan paid too big a price in the Second World War for a resurgence of the kind of blind chauvinism that was instilled by the authorities through that period.

Thoughout the 1930s and 40s, children were indoctrinated through the education system. The mere suggestion of returning patriotism to the curriculum is enough to make some people worried, as the TCS Daily piece reports:

In Saitama prefecture at least 45 local schools were producing report cards for 6th grade students on "love of country", though officials stress that how to evaluate this is being left up to the schools.

However, despite widespread concerns about juvenile crime and a breakdown in classroom discipline, there are many Japanese who question both whether teaching patriotism is a good idea and whether it is even possible. They argue that it is easy to say you are patriotic just to get a few boxes ticked on a report card, but there is no way of knowing whether you really mean it. Some are also concerned that it will create too restrictive a definition of patriotism that will inhibit students from thinking for themselves.
This is an essential and long-time feature of the Japanese education system - its goal is more to do with "socialising" children and making them into ideal members of society than encouraging personal growth:
The children here are shuttled from school classes to cram class and then to club activities like basketball or kendo. They are exhausted. A friend of mind who teaches in a language school here said that many of the students at her branch look liked they are about to fall asleep in class. Indeed one child did.

Working the kids longer isn't the right way forward, and getting them to be good citizens isn't going to happen by changing school textbooks to gloss over the past. If the government wants young people to be proud citizens then it should provide opportunities for them to do what proud citizens do. Instead of encouraging token gestures and empty words, perhaps schools and parents should be easing some of the incredible pressure on their children to achieve academically and get them involved in their communities through voluntary work. Simply punishing people for not singing the national anthem is more likely to engender resentment and rebellion than pride.
Couldn't agree more. This misguided notion that you can simply tell people to love their country from above is being pushed in Britain as well. The governments of both these countries seem unaware that patriotism - real patriotism - comes voluntarily, and from having things in your country to be proud of.

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