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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prewar Values Finding Place in Tokyo Schools

TOKYO -- At a new center to train public school teachers here, an instructor warned 22 young Japanese against egotism and selfishness on a recent Sunday morning.

He exhorted them to be considerate of others, summing up what at times sounded like a sermon by saying that "this is the most important thing to teach children."

"Japan has become considerably self-centered, meritocratic and egotistic," said the school's principal, Kenji Tamiya, 72, a former Sony executive. "That's not to say that education alone is to blame. Our social system has many bad aspects. But education is part and parcel of that trend, and I think there's considerable soul-searching now all over Japan."

Indeed, the Japanese government is now moving toward revising the Fundamental Law of Education, which was drafted in 1947 during the U.S. occupation to prevent a revival of prewar nationalism. The revision proposed by the governing Liberal Democratic Party would emphasize patriotism, tradition and morality, and hand greater control over schools to politicians.

The focus on morality and patriotism is a reaction against educational policies that, since the early 1990s, encouraged creativity and individualism as part of an effort to make Japan more competitive in a global economy that rewards those qualities. Many politicians and parents now blame the focus on individualism, as well as the elimination of Saturday classes, for declining standards, test scores and discipline.

In Tokyo, in the past three years, the school board has punished teachers in 350 cases for being unpatriotic at school events. The teachers refused to sing the national anthem and stand before the national flag, both of which, to many here and abroad, are linked to Japan's former militarism.

In his two terms as mayor of Suginami, a middle-class ward in Tokyo, Hiroshi Yamada has succeeded in pushing schools to adopt conservative textbooks and has developed the new center to train teachers. He read a kamikaze pilot's will at an event for young adults, called World War II the "Greater East Asian War," a favorite term of the right, and called China "Shina," a derogatory term used during Japan's past occupation of the country.

Those who support the revision say it will help restore a sense of public duty and tradition without promoting the kind of nationalist fervor that gripped prewar Japan.

But Hidenori Fujita, a professor of education at International Christian University here, said the revision still went too far by giving politicians nationwide the green light to assert control over educational policies. "If that happens," he said, "teachers and schoolchildren will be in trouble."