Japanese Culture: Social and Educational Traditions

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Japan started out as a country with a Meiji leader focused on war. With the development of the Tokugawa era in 1603, Japan focused less on war and more on educating its people. “From the middle of the 19th century the Samurai, while retaining their social status, replaced their swords with pens to become the bureaucrats who ran the country (OECD, 2011).” For a long time, Japan’s government used this system. A visit from Matthew Perry in 1868 and talks of trade not benefiting Japan led to the overthrowing of the Tokuwaga era and the reinstatement of the Meiji. Japan felt it had something to prove in terms of respect. Emphasis was placed on the education system when Japan determined that it didn't have many natural resources. Japan needed to know what other nation's benchmarks were in order to determine their own. Robert Fisher, in an interview with OECD, stated that: Realizing that advanced education, Science, and technology had made possible the industrial strength that had made the “opening” of Japan to the West possible, these Japanese officials came back to Japan determined to match the achievements of the West in education, science, and technology and upgrade their military. (OECD, 2011, p. 139) Japan modeled most of its education system after Germany with rankings of private, national, and public universities. With the added combination of the French order in administration, ethics in England, and the United States teaching method of lecturing, Japan excelled. Several of the universities in Japan, including the University of Tokyo, are ranked at the highest level across the world. Entrance exams are required for high schools and universities. “The exams emphasize memorizing and accumulating facts and mastering procedures, rather than analytical thinking, creativity, or the capacity for innovation (OECD, 2011).” Japan’s education system consists of associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs. An academic year only consists of two semesters while the Western has three. The most popular of the four degrees is the Master’s. The following explains Irina Novikova’s view on the grading system in Japan: Most universities employ a four scale grading system with the following grades: C-Average/Pass, B-Good, A-Very Good, and S-Excellent. As a rule, your grade is based on such things as attendance, presentation, or a final paper of around 3000 letters, and in some cases, participation in the class (Novikova, 2017).

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This is very different from the Western system of education where the bachelor’s degree is the most popular and the grading system includes grades A, B, C, D, and F with + and – implemented in each letter grade. By developing a more modern system in Japan, the country was able to educate its citizens. In Japan, students learn the same thing regardless of what part of the country they are located in. They are expected to attend a class every day, follow the rules, and show respect. Any student that doesn't follow the rules is a direct reflection of his/her mother. According to White (as cited in OECD, 2011), sociologists describe how Japanese mothers are expected by society to make sacrifices for their children who, in return, are expected to perform well in school. Western society doesn’t put this much pressure on students or their parents. “This sense of being enveloped by the uncritical love of a group is called “wa” – a vitally important concept in Japanese society (OECD, 2011).” No one wants to be deemed an outcast for failure to act accordingly. The reputation will follow him/her and he/she will be shunned. In Japan, there is an emphasis placed on hard work. One is able to determine that by the amount of time and dedication each task takes to complete. “Japanese employers are mainly interested in three things: applied intelligence, the capacity to learn, and the capacity to work hard and persist in the face of difficulty (OECD, 2011).” The exams determine a student's place in society and if he/she is open to the idea of learning. Jobs are usually determined by the results of the exams. The Western system base the hiring of an individual on his/her education and work experience. More often than not, individuals do not stay with that same job for the rest of their life, which the same thing can’t be said about the Japanese. Meditation is a very important part of Japanese culture. After working so hard tirelessly, it’s important for them to meditate. Shinto and Buddhism are the most prominent religions in Japan.

“The pre-condition of Shinto in the long Japanese history that we’ve been living our life, so we open our hearts to gods and then we feel like God is with us alive” (Japan: Tradition & Culture, 2015). They pray to different gods including the god of plants. Environmental beliefs are prevalent in Japan. Different rationales play a role in the establishment of higher education when it comes to internationalization. According to de Wit, Knight, and Lim (as cited by Bradford, 2015, p. 49), the academic rationale for internationalization assumes that adding an international dimension to teaching, research and service will enhance the quality of higher education. When Japan developed its 300,000 student plan and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), it had this in mind. This program was designed to bring in more students from other countries to study in Japan. Students were either recruited by their country, university, or state. “Throughout the process, you will have to present your intended research plan, take an exam in both English and Japanese, and go through the interview at the Japanese embassy with three Japanese professors” (Novikova, 2017). Full tuition and flight fees are covered through MEXT. “The question of “why” institutions seek to internationalize started to receive structured attention in the 1990s (de Wit, 2002), and the rationales proposed by Knight and de Wit (1995; Knight, 1999) have become the most widely recognized set of motivations for the internationalization of higher education” (Bradford, 2015, p. 49).

By working with different groups of people, individuals can better understand different cultures. Martial arts, anime, and automobiles are just a few things that Japan has contributed to the Western system. American pop culture and fashion are some other things that have been influenced by the Japanese. We have learned so much about Japanese culture through these forms. If it had not been for internationalization, we may have never experienced these things. Japan is still working on more ways to internationalize. They will be hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics. Events like this will bring more economic resources and attention to Japan. As for political rationale, Annette Bradford uses a good example of how it had an impact during the Cold War below: During this time, for example, international affairs became a major funding area for the U.S. government (Hayward, 2000) and the United States established various agencies and programs, such as the Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs and the Fulbright Program to promote cultural exchange and U.S. national interests (Scott-Smith, 2008). Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, and Japan have all in the past used technical assistance to developing countries as an important part of their foreign policy (de Wit, 2002; Kogan & Kogan, 1983; Ninomiya, Knight, & Watanabe, 2009). Our Western system had a significant impact on Japan’s higher education system, not the other way around. We have been influenced by Japan in other ways like the designing of new cars. In conclusion, history will continue to influence American colleges and universities with the impact of globalization and internationalization.

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