Japanese education is made up of two sectors – school education and shadow education. Although the school system is always discussed officially, shadow education, which is usually called juku in Japanese, has rarely been discussed officially or studied academically. However, the latter has really earned trust from people and it is no exaggeration to say that the jukus have sustained the academic performance of Japanese people in the post-war[i] period. And owing to this dual structure, Japanese education can be considered a huge experimental field for education policies, systems, and methods. Therefore, I would like to draw the attention of researchers and policymakers who are interested in sociology of education, privatization of education, and education in the information age, etc. In particular, I would like to give a brief outline of the background in which the juku industry emerged.
Since shadow education cannot escape being dismissed as redundant, many people wonder why parents in Japan are spending so much money on jukus; the industry has developed into an almost $10 billion market. Some people try to explain this phenomenon by invoking the strong diligence of Japanese people, one’s economic reward for the later life, or some social pathology. Although these explanations may not be wrong, they don’t account for the fact that the juku phenomenon was not extant in the pre-war period. Other people may suspect that there have been some policy failures. It is true that failures and mistakes on the part of the educational administration have provided economic stimuli to juku business from time to time. However, they were supporting factors rather than the underlying cause, as discussed below.
Since shadow education is a private business, it is based on the demand of the client students and their parents. And needless to say, what they demand from jukus is to help or train students to survive and win out in the intensive exam race. Therefore, how and why this exam race has been so intensified is the first question to be settled.
Education in Japan has been notorious for the intensive competition of school entrance exams, which is often described as examination “war “or “hell”, but it was not until the 1960s that this came to be true. Precisely speaking, the entrance exam race had taken place only in a limited elite bracket before then, but it was popularized rapidly in the 1960s. The graphic below shows advancement rates to post-compulsory education, that is, senior high schools and universities. It clearly shows that both advancement rates started growing rapidly in the 1960s, and signifies that more and more young people started to strive for school credentials in this period.
Around the same period, huge industrial migration also occurred. Graphic 2 shows the transition of working population by industry. According to this graphic, the tertiary industry in 1960 and the secondary industry in 1965, respectively, surpassed the primary industry in terms of working population. It is easy to imagine that the workers who left the farmland and moved to other industry became acutely aware of the importance of education as a tool to equip themselves and their children with knowledge or skills that would be useful in the new workplace. In fact, as seen in both graphics 1 and 2, the advancement rates to post-compulsory education increased in tandem with the decline in working population in the primary industry.
Besides the practical reason, that is, the awareness of the importance of education, other socioeconomic conditions are likely to have contributed to the intensification of the examination “war”. Graphic 3 shows the transition of number of farming households and the total area of farmland. According to a report by Kazuhiko Yamashita, there used to be three basic statistical constants of Japanese agriculture, that is, 5.50 million hectares of farmland, 14 million working people, and 5.50 million farming households, and they remained largely unchanged for 85 years between 1875 and 1960. However, these constants started declining in the 1960s, as can be seen in graphics 2 and 3[ii]. What are the consequences of these facts for “the examination war”?
The decreases in farmland and agricultural workers mean a loss of inheritable objects. As may be seen in some other societies, Japanese families customarily hand down something from generation to generation, and the family business, which is agriculture in this case, and the land, are important objects for this custom. However, as can be seen in the above graphics, Japanese farm families have been losing both of them since the 1960s. In this kind of situation, it is likely that some other things emerge in their eyes to which they direct their sense of obligation, and academic credentials probably became one of the strongest such alternatives. Therefore, it can be argued that spending money on education, including juku, is regarded by Japanese people not only as investment but also as inheritance.
The decrease in the number of farming households also means dissolution of rural communities. Although the workers’ emigration from primary industry was seen even in the pre-war period, the nature of the phenomenon is very different before and after the 1960s. Emigrants before the 1960s were basically children, except for the eldest son who was traditionally supposed to be a family heir, but after the 1960s the entire households left agriculture. In other words, the emigrants before the 1960s did not anticipate the disappearance of their hometown, but those after the 1960s “burned the bridge behind them.” In this sense, it is no wonder that their aspiration for academic credentials turned into an obsessive passion.
Thus, the competition of the entrance exam, which had once been carried out in a limited elite group, was popularized and intensified in the 1960s so as to be called an “examination war”. And this is the underlying cause for the emergence of shadow education in Japan.
Since the “examination war” became an issue to be solved, educational policymakers have taken measures one after another to alleviate the overheated competition. However, those interventions not only failed to achieve the original goal but also turned into economic stimuli for the juku business. Even in the age of low birth rates, the background shaped by the underlying cause has not fundamentally changed, and students’ dependence on shadow education is being strengthened due to the chronic paralysis of school education, as well as the policy failures.
Many people used to argue that the juku business would soon disappear, but it has survived for almost half century and is outperforming school education. And the dual structure of Japanese education is now greeted by the information age, which should have a profound impact on education as a whole. Thus, I think that not only those involved in education but also those in other disciplines can draw a lot of insights from the experience and the future development of shadow education in Japan.
[i] ”War” as in “post-war” or “pre-war” means the Second World War (1941-1945).
[ii] The farmland that was developed through public works in the post-war period is included in the data of total area of farmland. It amounts to 1.10 million and makes the curve less steep.
Amano, I., Gakureki no Shakaishi [Social History of Academic Credentials] Tokyo: Shinchosha Publishing Co. Ltd,. 1992.
Rohlen, T. The Juku phenomenon: An exploratory essay. Journal of Japanese Studies, 6(2), P207-242. 1980.
Watanabe, M., Juku – the Stealth Force of Education and the Deterioration of Schools in Japan, Charleston, CreateSpace, 2013.
Yamashita, K. Perilous decline of Japanese agriculture, Tokyo, The Tokyo Foundation 2008.
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