TT-897 -- Escaping the Education System and Coming Out Normal, ebiz news from Japan

An Insider's comments on Japan's high tech business world
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd, a long-term
technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

General Edition Sunday, May 21, 2017, Issue No. 897

- What's New -- Escaping the Education System and Coming Out Normal
- News -- Oops, not so Japanese after all!
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Magome and Nakasendo, Chiba Zoo
- News Credits

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Attending a social function at the New Zealand embassy this last week,
we heard a powerful speech from a young Japanese guy who had just
graduated as Dux (top student) from a New Zealand High School. He
related how he had been a Hikikomori kid for a year after dropping out
of his Japanese high school due to the harsh environment there. Luckily
for him, and unlike hundreds of thousands of others, his parents were
supportive through the whole process, and instead of dragging him back
to school gave him various alternatives to get on with his life.

One of those options turned out to be going to New Zealand to study and
it was there that his eyes were opened to how different the student
experience could be. He told us how he discovered an environment where
people cared about each other, showed it, and where teachers gave him
support when he needed it - things that he felt he couldn't get from his
previous school in Japan. As a result of the nurturing environment he
regained his confidence, aced his math and sweated the English, and
wound up top of his graduation year.

This is a great story, and not the first time we've heard from a student
refugee of the Japanese school system. It's also not the first time
we've heard (or seen first hand) how negative the Japanese high school
experience can be, although we'd be the first to acknowledge that many
kids have great school experiences. Generally speaking, schooling starts
out pretty good. At primary school the teachers are friendly and caring,
and kids are taught to respect each other and care for their
surroundings. But as students move into puberty, not only the hormones
but also the disciplinarian teachers assigned to get them through exam
hell seem to wake up a vicious cycle, and for some kids this winds up
with them hanging themselves in their bedrooms or jumping off high-rise

We don't think the Japanese Ministry of Education plans to change its
Middle and High School curriculums and attitudes towards its mainstream
student body any time soon, and especially now that the LDP has taken a
right turn in its policies. By the ministry's numbers 98% of kids go
through the system in one piece and come out strong enough to keep the
economy running. But it has nonetheless taken some baby steps to at
least release the pressures on kids who don't fit the system. Starting
back in 1992, the ministry published a notice saying that those kids who
dropped out of regular schools and who were attending so-called "free
schools" (freedom to choose curriculum, they are actually really
expensive) instead, would not be considered truant if the principal of
their local regular school approved the switch.

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[...Article continues]

Then in July 2014, a government panel recommended that free schools be
allowed to operate as government-approved schools and thus avail
themselves of ministry subsidies. In 2015 a group of Diet members
drafted legislation to recognize free schools and home schooling for the
purpose of fulfilling compulsory education, but unfortunately the bill
has been delayed because other politicians worry that free schools will
increase the number of for-profit education players, and thus
contaminate the education system. Frankly, we think a bit of
contamination might be preferable to the current situation.

And the situation is that according to an education ministry survey,
122,902 children, or 1.21% of the student body of elementary and junior
high schools were truant in fiscal 2014. Since this number doesn't
include high schoolers, who are the age segment most affected, probably
this number is much higher. BTW, the definition of truancy is being
absent more than 30 days a year.

The reasons for students not going to school are of course as varied as
there are personal circumstances, but typically include bullying,
psychological pressure (such as exams and teachers), and religion. This
last item, religion, is a great catch-all for parents who want to take
their kids out of the system and either home school them and send them
overseas for a while. (As an aside, it's also a great reason students
can give to avoid eating whale meat in school lunches!)

A separate ministry survey found that just 4,196 children were attending
free schools and other educational institutions. Why the huge gap
between the non-attenders and alternatives? Our guess is homeschoolers,
international school students (here in Japan about 10,000+ kids), and of
course the non-schoolers, meaning your classic recluse-in-their-bedroom
Hikikomori kids.

As with many things in Japan, perhaps it doesn't matter all that much
whether the free school legislation gets passed or not, because as just
mentioned, as a parent you can easily invent an excuse why your kid
doesn't go to school. The truancy folks are irritating to start with,
visiting the home to pester the parent to cooperate. But for parents
determined to opt the kid out, the authorities eventually give up and
leave the family alone. Now that we're in the age of Massive Online Open
Courses (MOOCs) and other online learning tools, the ability to get a
good education from homeschooling has never been better.

Education of young minds is of course of high interest to politicians,
and therefore it's perhaps not surprising to see PM Abe caught up in yet
another school-related scandal, this time with his influencing the
education ministry and local authorities in Ehime to subsidize a new
veterinary school. But supporting the establishment of schools one at a
time is slow going, and to speed up the inculcation of those young minds
with a nationalist agenda, we predict that the LDP will start purging
the left-leaning teacher body over the next 5 years - using much the
same strategy as it has with the national broadcaster NHK. That is,
change through heavy-handed ideological management at the top and a
policy of fear (firings) and strategic defunding. Our guess is that the
LDP is watching Betsy DeVos and U.S. developments in educational reform
very carefully, though it would be a big stretch for them to back
commercially funded schools.

We would certainly agree that the soul of a nation lies in its education
and Japan is weirdly bifurcated in its value systems because of this.
Currently education is dominated by left-leaning teachers and the idea
of equality for all and merit-based progression (causing the exam hell
culture). Counterposed to this, once kids graduate from university they
are thrown into a capitalist system where money and power count the
most. As a result, foreign managers are often confused by their Japanese
employee's motivation to work crazy hours to get the job done juxtaposed
with their willingness to waste precious time protecting underperformers
and making sure that no one on the team is left behind (i.e., having
interminable meetings).

So what's the opportunity here? Well, with thousands of parents already
shelling out for alternative education, maybe those countries trying to
attract Japanese students to their education programs should be thinking
about incorporating counseling and other experiences to target kids who
don't fit in. Yeah, no one wants psychotic kids, so this would need to
be intelligently, but with such a hugely contrasting experiences to be
had, and potentially extremely grateful evangelists at the end of it,
this could be a great way of increasing the number of Japanese kids
studying abroad.

And if those kids not only came back normal (well, somewhat
"foreignized") as well as learning English and foreign customs as a
result of their overseas experience, then maybe the Japanese government
could be persuaded to pay for a program which would target such kids.
Because, from their point of view, better to say there is some
innovative new strategy going on, than to admit systemic failure.

...The information janitors/



+++ NEWS

- Another Abe-related school-and-land scandal
- Kickstarter getting ready to kick-off in Japan
- Policemen gone wild
- 145,000 attend AnimeJapan
- Oops, not so Japanese after all!

=> Another Abe-related school-and-land scandal

It appears that a handwritten document leaked from the education
ministry states that the Cabinet office (PM's office) asked the
education ministry to assist in securing approval and funds for a
yet-to-be-opened school owned by a long-term friend of PM Abe's. More
specifically, that friend, Kotaro Kake, was the only applicant in a
special zone procedure that resulted in his receiving both free land and
a JPY9.6bn subsidy (not even a loan) to build his new veterinary school.
His success came at a time when the government has been trying to curb
the establishment of new veterinary schools due to an oversupply. ***Ed:
Apparently Abe and Kake studied abroad together 50 years ago and have
been close friends ever since.** (Source: TT commentary from, May 17, 2017)

=> Kickstarter getting ready to kick-off in Japan

Given the dearth of true venture capital available in Japan, it is
highly likely that crowdfunding will take over and become the first port
of call for new entrepreneurs and product designers. Crowdfunding is
about to kick into high gear with the launch of Kickstarter for local
web users, investors, and investees. Currently the Japanese can already
use Kickstarter in the USA as contributors (of funds), but not as
entrepreneurs. The website will take another couple of months to become
reality, but in the meantime you can go sign up. (Source: TT commentary,
May 17, 2017)

=> Policemen gone wild

According to the Economist, crime in Japan has sunk to such low levels
that the police are bored and are turning to stings and other creative
pursuits to get their crime statistics (and their raison d'etre) up
again. The publication gives an example of a week-long stakeout in
Kumamoto, where the police left a pack of beers in an unlocked car for
the whole period, waiting to pounce on any citizen looking to help
themselves to a can. It seems that one middle-aged guy did fall for the
sting and grabbed a drink. He was arrested and locked up temporarily.
Unfortunately for our vigilant police, the guy complained to the courts
that it was a set up and they let him go! ***Ed: More interesting stats
in the article.** (Source: TT commentary from, May 18, 2017)

=> 145,000 attend AnimeJapan

Anime continues to be big in Japan, although of course foreign fans are
now swelling the ranks. This year, one of the largest anime conventions,
AnimeJapan, took place on March 23-26 at Tokyo Big Site and had a
record-breaking crowd of 145,453 fans over the four days it ran.
Attendee numbers rose 7% over last year. (Source: TT commentary from, May 21, 2017)

=> Oops, not so Japanese after all!

Classic story here. Apparently Kyoto-based Jinja Honcho, the National
Association of Shinto Shrines, produced a series of art posters
proclaiming patriotic pride. The posters feature a photo of a young
woman smiling modestly for the camera, and bear a caption saying: "I'm
proud to be Japanese." The posters appear to be appealing to right-wing
supporters who of course are generally xenophobic. So, while the poster
is well made and looks appealing, UNFORTUNATELY for Jinja Honcho the
very Japanese-looking young woman used as a model turns out to be...
Shock! Horror! Someone from China! Apparently the designer for the
material used a Getty Images photo without checking who the model was.
***Ed: Some red faces all around when this came to public notice.**
(Source: TT commentary from, May 12, 2017)

NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days of
posting them, thus breaking our links -- we apologize for the



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No corrections today.



=> Magome Post Town, Gifu
Nakasendo route of the Edo Period

Magome is the last of three post towns in the Kiso Valley which I had
visited with my friends. It wasn't as impressive as Narai, which was the
first post town we visited. There are far less old houses, but Magome
does have a beautifully restored broad stone walkway. Magome is a more
hilly town than Narai and when you walk the houses down the street are
quickly "under" your feet. There are many different crafts in Magome,
like ceramics and colorful birds made of metal.

The nature around Magome and other Kiso Valley towns is just wonderful.
There are mountains and woods - none of which are scary or challenging
for us city folks who otherwise can't imagine traveling from Tokyo to
Kyoto on foot! Magome can be reached by bus from JR Nakatsugawa Station.
The one-way trip takes 30-minutes. Or, it can also be reached in about a
20-minute walk from the Magome highway bus stop, which is located in the
Misaka parking area along the Chuo Expressway.

=> Chiba Zoo
Red pandas, giraffes and sloths

This was my first visit to a zoo in Japan, and boy was my grin ear to
ear throughout the day! Chiba Zoological Park is located in the Greater
Tokyo area, specifically in the capital of Chiba Prefecture, Chiba City.
It is one of the more popular attractions in Chiba and because 6% of the
prefecture's total land area is designated as natural parks, the vast
allocation allows the Chiba Zoological Park to have a spacious home for
our furry friends.

Chiba Zoo is comprised of seven zones, all easily identifiable once you
find yourself standing in the heart of it all. Sometimes maps can be
quite deceiving and overwhelming (if you've been to San Diego Zoo in
California you will know what I mean!). At Chiba Zoo each zone is well
organized, clearly marked in primary colors, large enough to recreate
natural habitats, yet small enough to see everything on the same visit.



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