Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
V Persisting patterns and Continuities
Despite the shifts toward differentiation and an amplified sense of uncertainty that have been examined in this volume, people's lives remain embedded in some persistent patterns of culture and of social interactions. Yet these patterns are more than cultural remnants; they are incorporated into the experiences of everyday life and reinterpreted in the new contexts of globalization, recession, and mass longevity. Part v features three chapters that highlight certain enduring institutions, practices, and ideas in Japan's twenty-first century. Despite the state's efforts to “internationalize” Japanese education by introducing english classes in elementary schools and encouraging more individual and exploratory learning, Cave (chapter 11) reveals certain lasting institutional arrangements and patterns of social interaction that characterize the Japanese school system from elementary to high school. For example, we find The familiar emphasis upon developing students as whole persons and a reluctance to divide students into classes according to their academic performance. As students mature, they find themselves in a much more hierarchical educational system, with only a small group of them proceeding to top-ranked, competitive high schools and then to prestigious post-secondary institutions. Roth (chapter 12) examines the relationship between the rising popularity
Of K-cars (keijidōsha), known for their fuel efficiency and compact size, and the increasing number of female drivers. K-cars became particularly widespread in Japan's recessionary economy during the first decade of this century, as they are less expensive and let their owners enjoy special tax savings. Women drivers have embraced these lightweight cars to fulfill their domestic roles, rather than departing from feminine roles and neutralizing formerly masculine images of driving.
Kawano (chapter 13) explores the significance of ash scattering, a new mortuary practice in contemporary Japan, by examining the mortuary choice made by a seventy-three-year-old woman. Although by the 2000s new alternatives to the conventional interment of cremated remains in a family grave have gained social recognition, the conventional practice remains the norm. A family grave accommodates urns of multiple family members and is passed on from generation to generation. By scattering the remains of their family dead at sea or on a mountain, the survivors are not required to inherit and maintain a memorial site, and thus ash scattering is often seen by its critics as a rejection of the family grave system and the associated values of family continuity and respect for ancestors. However, as Kawano illustrates, the adoption of ash scattering does not straightforwardly imply its supporters' refusal to participate in conventional mortuary practices and care for the family dead.
Education after the “Lost Decade(s)”. Stability or Stagnation?
Stories of change generally attract more attention than narratives of continuity. But as Baker street's fictional detective once said, sometimes the remarkable event is what did not happen. Over the last twenty-five years, there have been significant attempts to change Japanese education, as might have been expected, given the new challenges that have arisen during that time; yet these have had limited success. This chapter examines how far new departures and challenges have affected schools and considers what the state of education can tell us about the state of Japan. At the elementary and junior high levels, i focus especially on three movements during the late 1990s and 2000s: the attempt to encourage more autonomous and creative learning; the subsequent reemphasis of conventional academic attainment; and the promotion of small class sizes and differentiated learning. Ironically, these movements have left Japanese compulsory education not so very far from its starting point in the early 1990s. This raises the question of why relatively little change has occurred. Does this represent stability or stagnation? Is it a sign of a sensible approach to change and a willingness to recognize the strengths of existing structures and practices, contrasting with the sometimes frenetic whirlwinds of initiative and counter-initiative that have often left teachers elsewhere in the
271 World bewildered and cynical? Or does it signify uncertainty, indecision, and paralysis, a disabling inability to respond to new needs and circumstances? I will first give an ethnographic view of the different stages of school education in contemporary Japan before examining this larger question.
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