~ Views from the world of learning in Japan ~

Welcome to the 30 March 2000 edition of KnoK (pronounced “knock”) NEWS, an informal and periodic bulletin concerning issues of learning in Japan. It is brought to you by the Covert family — Kazumi, Kenya and Brian — a multicultural, homelearning family in Osaka, Japan.

KnoK stands for Kodomo no Kokoro, meaning “Heart of a Child” in Japanese. It is our belief that the heart of any child is indeed at the center of true learning, wherever and however such learning may take place.

Editor’s Welcome:
Greetings all, in these final days of March! In this debut edition of KnoK NEWS, we get down to some basics of homelearning in the Land of the Rising Sun: What is learning at home like in Japan? What kind of people are doing it? Why? And how many?

We hope to answer a few of these kinds of questions by way of a two-part Q & A list compiled by a Japanese homelearning parent, Tomiko Kugai. The beginning portion of this list was originally compiled in 1997 by Ms. Kugai to introduce the homelearning environment to the slowly (but steadily) rising number of Japanese families seeking alternatives to school. With Ms. Kugai’s cooperation,
KnoK NEWS has recently expanded, updated and translated that original Japanese Q & A list into English so that families in and out of Japan may get a clearer idea of what’s happening — and what’s at stake — in the world of Japanese homelearning today.

Ms. Kugai, along with her partner, Mr. Junichi Ono, and their 14-year-old daughter, Momo, have been doing homelearning for more than six years now. Ms. Kugai also heads a support group called “Home Schooling Network Himeji” based in the city of Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan. Her family and homelearning activities have been reported on Japanese TV, as well as in Japanese newspaper and magazine articles — most recently in the
Kyoto Shimbun, a major metropolitan daily newspaper in the city of Kyoto, which has carried a few articles over just the past week or so that are supportive in tone of home-based learning in Japan.

For those who are interested, Ms. Kugai and her “HSN Himeji” support group have a homepage up (in Japanese) at the following URL:

And now a mention about the Q & As to follow: In Part 1, we start out by introducing the “basic” questions Japanese families seem to be asking about homelearning in general (sound familiar?), then we slide into questions that are more specific to current conditions here in Japan. We do hope to take a more comprehensive look at legal and other related issues in Japan in the future. For now, however, we offer this Q & A overview in the spirit of honest, open information-exchange and networking. As always, we welcome any thoughts you have about this. Feel free to pass it around.



Q-1: What exactly is homeschooling?

A-1: It is a way of “shared upbringing” in which the home, libraries, museums, parks and so forth are used as learning resources for children along with the support of grownups — without the children attending school. In Europe and the United States, the number of households choosing this path as a way to meet the requirements for compulsory education, both legally and socially, are increasing.

Q-2: How do you do homeschooling?

A-2: There are various ways, depending on the household, but homeschooling methods can generally be put into two categories:

(1) School at home, in which a set of educational materials and curriculum is prepared in advance by grownups, and

(2) Unschooling, which places importance on children’s hobbies or interests as a way to “learn by living.”

Correspondence courses are also sometimes used, but even then, at the child’s own pace. This is homeschooling’s most favorable point. In homeschooling, first and foremost, “The child plays the leading role.”

Q-3: Don’t parents need to have some specialized knowledge in a subject? Also, we don’t have any educational equipment at home.

A-3: Parents don’t need any “specialized” knowledge. While parents certainly do have a strong influence on their children, parents aren’t the only ones children learn from. It is enough that parents help their children search for information, and broaden their experiences and human relationships. That is to say, creating an environment is a vital role for parents. Rather than parents leading the lessons, it is more important that a shared learning take place, while moving forward in the spirit of partnership.

And no particular educational equipment is necessary. A kitchen in the home serves sufficiently as a fun-filled laboratory. Beyond that, you can use public facilities and any resources that other households may have for the offering.

Q-4: Doesn’t homeschooling isolate children? And what about socialization?

A-4: In Japan at present, the reality is that conditions exist under which children may be isolated and face social pressure — by a society that largely does not recognize homeschooling and accepts school as the only way. Therefore, homeschooling groups have been created at the local levels, and by developing these networks they can exchange information with homeschoolers from other areas, thus helping to avoid isolation.

Through the activities of such groups and networks, a variety of acquaintances and friends may be made; this is sufficient, socially speaking, for bringing up children. Children who homeschool are not forced, as they are in school, to compete against others of their age group; this, in turn, reduces social exclusion and aggressiveness on their part.

Q-5: What’s the difference between homeschooling, and fu-toko (avoiding school) or toko-kyohi (refusing school)?

[The latter term,
toko-kyohi, is usually associated with symptoms of neuroses among schoolchildren. —Editor]

A-5: While there are many cases of families choosing homeschooling through
fu-toko or toko-kyohi, such conditions of “not going to school” are definitely not representative of homeschooling. We cannot call it homeschooling if both children and parents oppose school in the meantime but believe they must return to it eventually, as with fu-toko or toko-kyohi. When the idea of school is completely put aside and learning proceeds in the home for the family’s own constructive reasons — and when children and parents choose this way as a separate form of alternative education in and of itself — then we can call it homeschooling.

Q-6: Isn’t there an obligation for children to go to school?

A-6: No, there is not. Under the Constitution of Japan, children have the “right to receive an education”
[kyoiku o ukeru kenri], and people are “obliged to have” [hosho-suru gimu] children receive an education. If a child does not suit a school or if a child dislikes going to school, she/he still has the right to an education, even if it is outside of school. But this is made especially hard for large numbers of children and parents because no systematic procedures are in place at the administrative levels in Japan to deal with such situations.

It becomes necessary, then, to stand up for the right “not to go to school” — and for society to recognize that right. Citizens groups in Japan are already undertaking these very types of activities, and homeschooling support groups are springing up in many areas.

[Editor’s Note: The part of the Japanese Constitution pertaining to education, Article 26, in two paragraphs, reads in its entirety as follows: “All people shall have the right to receive an equal education correspondent to their ability, as provided for by law. 2. All people shall be obligated to have all boys and girls under their protection receive ordinary education as provided for by law. Such compulsory education shall be free.”]

Q-7: But isn’t homeschooling illegal in Japan? Don’t people get prosecuted or go to jail if they homeschool in Japan?

A-7: Under Japan’s compulsory education system, an ordinary education of nine years is guaranteed for children between the ages of six and 15. Parents or guardians do have an obligation under the School Education Law
[Gakko Kyoiku-Ho] in Japan to see that their children attend school. But there is no provision of the law directed at children themselves, stating that children must attend a school to get an education. In other words, the School Education Law addresses parental responsibility only, and not a child’s own decision about where to learn. Therefore, if a child does not fit in with a school or if a child does not like attending school, other ways of learning outside of school can be done. So, homeschooling is definitely not illegal in Japan. And people in Japan are not being prosecuted or going to jail because of their decision to homeschool.

[Editor’s Note: While it is a fact that there is no law in Japan that concretely provides
for home-based learning, it is also a fact that there is no provision under law at present that expressly prohibits it. For those families in Japan who do pursue homelearning as an alternative to school, the Ministry of Education generally does not stand in their way. At this stage, the ministry neither discourages nor encourages homelearning in Japan.]

Even so, there are lots of people in society who believe that children are required to attend school and many cases where boards of education possess no understanding of what homeschooling is about. Thus, we still see cases, depending on the local area or district, of interference by boards of education in trying to make children go to school.

Q-8: If we choose to do homeschooling, what kind of relationship should we have with school?

A-8: For now, your child’s
gaku-seki [school register] will remain at the school. You should nevertheless clearly inform the principal and teacher in charge that: (1) You will assume the responsibility of homeschooling in placing priority on your child’s own wishes, and (2) You do not want their excessive interference in this matter. It is also important for you to add that if your child does happen to want to return to school later on, you’ll expect their official cooperation then too.

Q-9: About how many homeschoolers are there in Japan?

A-9: More than 120,000 children are reportedly avoiding school or refusing school at the primary and middle school levels, according to research by the Ministry of Education. It is hard to say how many of these are homeschoolers, however, since the research is not divided into cases of those actively learning outside of school versus otherwise. No research anywhere has yet been done on how many homeschoolers are in Japan, so the exact numbers are unknown. [Unofficial estimates place the number of homeschooled children in Japan at around 2,000 to 3,000 nationwide. —Editor] In any case, the numbers of households that are choosing homeschooling due to school not suiting their children are slowly increasing.

Q-10: What is the biggest problem facing homeschoolers in Japan, as a whole?

A-10: The biggest problem is that homeschooling remains unknown by many people in this country. Also, as homeschoolers in Japan are still few in number, they may be isolated and find it hard to discover new friends, even if they do create support groups. In cases when children do stay at home specifically to avoid or refuse school, this is usually with the idea that their parents will be sending them back to school again eventually. Few parents are inclined to pursue learning at home.

Q-11: Among those families in Japan that are considering alternatives, why are more and more turning to homeschooling?

A-11: For one thing, confidence in schools is beginning to falter because of physical punishment inflicted on students by teachers, bullying among children themselves, and a host of other problems. Japanese education is carried out in an environment where the concept of “doing something together” is strong, and where there is a strong tendency to reject differences rather than acknowledge them. At the same time, though, there are also many parents who criticize such education and, in fact, many children who are starting to stand up and say “NO!” to school.

Moreover, resources outside of school (such as libraries, art galleries and museums) have become more abundant. It is also easier to get information through television, the Internet and whatnot. Lots of teaching materials are being published these days. Such conditions make it easier to do homeschooling.

This, of course, speaks to the motivations of those households that have actually
chosen to do homeschooling. As mentioned before, while the numbers of households that choose homeschooling are known to be rising in Japan, they still are relatively few in this country.
NEXT TIME: Q & A on Homeschooling in Japan — Part 2

Main Title


In this edition of
KnoK NEWS, we introduce you to some English-language websites in Japan. Info on Japanese-language homelearning websites to come in the near future!

• Tokyo With Kids [now Japan With Kids]

A fun site for families in the Tokyo area of Japan. TWK is supportive of homelearners in Japan, of course, and is just an excellent resource all the way around. Whether you happen to be in Tokyo or somewhere else with kids, check it out!

• Japan Information Network

For those who like their websites with “just the facts,” we offer you statistics galore. This is a mostly “official” listing of academic stats about Japan, including educational problems.
[website no longer active]

Main Title

WISH I'D SAID THAT (Quote of the Day):

Sixty-six years ago today….

“Real education consists in drawing the best out of yourself. What better book can there be than the book of humanity?”

—Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, in
Harijan, 30 March 1934