Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Towards the end of last year, a bill of law was approved to amend the “fundamental law of education”. Opposition parties sought in vain to block submission of the bill by calling for a vote of no confidence in the government.
The education law was passed in 1947, exalting democratic and peace values in a country just defeated in war. The new directive exalts “patriotism” and “tradition”.
No one casts doubt on the urgent need for reform of the educational system in Japan. The preceding fundamental law drafted 60 years ago no longer responds to the needs of the times. Moral degradation is frequent among minors, manifested in fatal attacks against homeless people, poor educational achievement, truancy and especially bullying of those who are weaker. According to data of the national police, 585 minors committed suicide between 1996 and 2005. In past decades, the main reason for suicide was failing school exams, now it is bullying by more dominant class mates.
“Building a beautiful Japan” is the motto of the new prime minister Shinzo Abe. Towards this end, he has sought, from the beginning of his term in September, to press ahead with the structural reforms program started by his predecessor, the eccentric Junichiro Koizumi. But the style is different. A few days ago, one of the most influential post-war politicians, Yasuhiro Nakasone (88), wrote in The Japan Times: “The transition from the Koizumi to the Abe administration marks a historic transition in Japanese politics.”
The first indulged in “theatrical politics”, appealing to public sentiment especially in the big cities, while the second has returned to implementing a policy centred on coordination and cooperation of the forces of the liberal democratic party. “Koizumi was a prime minister of the presidential type, Abe is a leader who knows how to coordinate the forces of the majority government,” Here, nationalist trends are significant.
The reform of the educational system has highlighted the new style of government. Parliamentary approval of amendments to the fundamental law of education (10 December) and the report of the consultative committee for school reform (19 January) are representative of the essence of government strategy.
The “fundamental law of education” is presented by the media as a “constitutional charter for education”. When it was drafted for the first time (towards the end of the nineteenth century), its aim was to form generations who would allow Japan to become a strong nation in the context of western powers: nationalism and militarism were key pillars. The catastrophic results of such an approach are well known.
In 1947 the occupying authorities substituted it with a law based on democratic principles. Personality development and a commitment to forming a pacific nation and society were the fundamental principles. Exhortations to nationalism were dropped. This legislation, although it played an effective role in the prodigious economic development of the nation, was lived with a typically Japanese mentality: people uniformly regimented to realize society’s new ideal: the economy.
But now the system is on trial. Two trends have emerged in the political, academic and popular debate to amend it: personal and cultural. Supporters of the first see the formation of individuals as urgent while those backing the second uphold the need to return to traditional culture. Abe, ministers of his choice and members of the consultative committee prefer the second option.
In truth, it should be noted that the amendment to the fundamental law did not eliminate its two pillars but a third one was added which, if emphasized, could weaken the other two: among the “education aims” the importance of “patriotism and respect for tradition and culture” is underlined.
Presenting a model aimed at inspiring youth to patriotism, education minister Bunmei Ibuki pointed to the tenacity displayed by the Samurai in repelling the Mongols in the XIII century, even if history notes that that invasion was brought to null by an exceptional typhoon, then christened as “divine wind” (kamikaze), which destroyed the naval army of the attackers.
About the “constitution for education”, Hugh Cortazzi, ex-British ambassador to Tokyo, wrote that now “the biggest problem is how to respond to the new law. The expression ‘respecting the value of the individual’ that appeared in article 1 of the 1947 legislation was substituted by an invitation to cultivate not only respect for tradition and culture, but also ‘love for nation and homeland’. To those, including millions of Japanese, who suffered during the wars between 1931 and 1945, this last phrase recalls a pre-war, nationalistic mentality.”
However, continues Cortazzi, “I don’t think that Japan will return to militarism and extreme nationalism. All the same, strong right-wing elements are not absent from the government and economic spheres. I sincerely wish that they are kept under control.”