I’ve got 6 months’ worth of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue on my bedside table. But, one thing I’ve been meaning to catch up on is a book about education in Japan. 学校は行かなくてもいい (Gakkou wa ikanakute mo ii | It’s ok if you don’t want to go to school), by Kazuki Obata.
Truancy In Japan
Futoukou ( 不登校) is the Japanese term used for students, who, for whatever reason, don’t go to school. Often, it is a large factor in those who become hikkikomori, a social phenomenon or even, a “silent epidemic with tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of cases now estimated in Japan… [where] youth and adults are sealing themselves in their own virtual caves” (A New Form of Social Withdrawal in Japan: A Review of Hikikomori)
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In Japan, there’s an estimated 130,000 futoukou kids among elementary and junior high schoolers (April 2016- March 2017 figures).
What’s even more concerning is that this number doesn’t include registered foreigners in Japan. This is because they are not legally obligated to attend school.
Compulsory Education In Japan
Education in Japan is compulsory (義務 | gimu) for Japanese nationals (国民 |kokumin). It consists of 6 years of elementary school and 3 years of junior high school.
Local municipalities send the parents/guardians information on the procession for registering for school in the fall prior to the calendar year in which a child will enter first grade.
This information is only sent to Japanese nationals (also written as 日本国籍 | nihonkokuseki). Parents of foreign nationals have to go to their municipal office to register their child for school.
By the way, under the constitution (日本国憲法 | nippon koku kenpou), every Japanese national has 3 obligations (国民の三大義務 | kokumin no dai san gimu) to fulfill in his/her lifetime. They are:
- Education (教育の義務 | kyouiku no gimu) set forth by Article 26, Section 2 (26条2項 | ni jyuu roku jou, ni kou)
- Work (勤労の義務 | rodou no gimu), set forth by Article 27, Section 1 (27条1項 | ni jyuu nana jou, ikkou)
- Taxes (納税の義務 | nouzei no gimu), set forth by Article 30 (30条 | san jyuu jyou）
For graduate school, my thesis focused on mixed race junior high school kids attending Japanese language classes in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward. While they struggled learning the Japanese language and adapting to the culture, they were the lucky ones as they had a place to “belong,” to call their own.
I discovered in my research that plenty of kids dropout because of bullying, difficulties with the language/culture. A major reason was simply because of financial restraints. (While compulsory education is free in Japan, some students drop out to work to support the family).
As a teacher, I strongly believe there’s no “right “ approach to education. It’s important that kids are given options, especially in a country where ~doing your own thing~ is still largely looked down upon.
Gakkou Wa Ikanakute Mo Ii
In Gakkou Wa Ikanakute Mo Ii, Obata shares his journey to success as an entrepreneur after struggling for 10 years to find his place in the Japanese education system. This journey consists of three manga accounts supplemented by four different case studies.
One issue that Obata tackles in this book is the “three obligations of a citizen” (kokumin no dai san gimu) that I mentioned earlier,
(Considering that lots of students go to cram school after spending an entire day at school, what’s the point of going to school?)
He argues that the interpretation of “compulsory education” is incorrect. Obata’s point is that education, and not going to school is compulsory. Parents should be able to/willing to educate their child via alternative means because school is not necessary for an education.
Overall, Obata’s mission is to dispel the myth that futoukou equals laziness or a lack of initiative. Oftentimes, it’s a last-minute choice made when there seems to be no alternative in sight.
The book is only in Japanese, but if you’re curious about education/life in Japan or want to test your language skills, Gakkou Wa Ikanakute Mo Ii is certainly worth a read.