How to be Yourself: Japanese Edition

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This summer, I will be, as I like to describe it, teaching Japanese students how to “be themselves.” If this sounds like the type of hippie spiritual journey that a 50 year-old suburban mom takes after her emotionally taxing first divorce, let me explain.

Beginning in early July, I will be an instructor at Toshin High School in Tokyo, Japan, as part of the Come On Out Japan program. Toshin High School is the largest preparatory school network for university entrance examinations in Japan, enrolling approximately 120,000 students in 1,000 branch schools.

It is juku—also known as cram school—which is a privately run tutoring school that supplement regular public schooling and helps students prepare for university examinations. Students go to juku after regular school hours, on weekends, and during vacations.

While this description of juku may conjure negative images of tiger parenting, robotic memorization, and high stakes testing, juku can actually offer more customized service than the formal education system, encouraging individual growth.

One of the main purposes of the Come on Out Japan program is to get Japanese students to decide on a “ Life Mission.” The program tries to achieve this by inviting American collegestudents to Toshin to talk about their campus life, chosen field of study, and means of pursuing their own personal “ life mission” in the hopes of inspiring Japanese high school students to explore their own goals and interests.

As an alum of USW 35: Dilemmas of Equity and Excellence in K-12 Education, I am excited to use my six weeks in Japan to reflect on the differences between the Japanese and American education systems. While my limited experience at Toshin may not be enough to reach any generalized conclusions, I hope nonetheless to develop a greater understanding of the cultural attitudes surrounding education in Japan and the roles that jukus play in their education system.