Japanese studies at primary level

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Japan 21 Education

Heidi Potter



1 Introduction 2

2 Numbers involved 2

3 Japan in the National Curriculum 3

England & Wales 3

Scotland 4

Northern Ireland 4

4 Projects and other Schemes of Work 5

Frequency 6

School Links 6

5 Resources 7

6 Issues arising 9
Appendix I: Japan in the National Curriculum 10

Appendix II: Publications in print 16

1 Introduction

This overview aims to present a snapshot of the state of Japanese studies in United Kingdon primary schools in 2003. Its scope includes areas of reasonable certainty, for example the position of Japan within the primary curriculum in different parts of the UK, as well as issues about which it is hard to be definitive, for example the precise number of schools teaching about Japan.
Information has been obtained from a variety of sources:

• a survey of schools receiving Japan in Focus (the Japan 21 newsletter)

• data obtained from teachers attending Inset Days run by Japan 21

• interviews with individual teachers as well as local authority primary advisors

Much of the data comes from a core group of schools (ie those on the Japan 21 database) who are known to have an interest in teaching about Japan: it is therefore impossible to build an accurate picture of the situation nationwide simply from findings concerning regularity and nature of study within this group.

The report aims to:

• estimate the number of schools teaching about Japan

• examine the opportunities for study about Japan within the National Curriculum

• describe the kind of projects and investigations undertaken with regard to study about Japan

• outline the resources available for teaching about Japan at primary level

• assess the issues involved in teaching about Japan and its relation with Japanese language teaching initiatives
2 Numbers involved

The number of primary schools with an interest in teaching about Japan fluctuates considerably. At the latest count, the Japan 21 database includes over 2200 people involved in education at primary level, these represent approximately 1900 schools. Of these, some 1800 people are based in England, 90 in Wales, 268 in Scotland and 98 in Northern Ireland.

It is reasonable to assume that there is a significant number of additional schools which entirely resource their teaching about Japan without contact with Japan specialist organizations.

The nature of Japan related work varies considerably: some schools engage in an

annual in depth study of Japan lasting for up to one term, at others Japan may feature for one day or, in some cases just 3~4 hours every few years.
A number of factors influence the choice of Japan as a topic of study: LEA advice, personal connections with Japan, easy availability of resources Japanese children at the school, special events such as Japan 2001 or the football World Cup, etc.
3 Japan in the National Curriculum1

England & Wales

Japan, at present, tends to be studied by KS3 pupils and is hardly mentioned in the KS2 National Curriculum (NC) for Geography. Following an earlier version of the NC, many curriculum designers follow Weldon’s (1998 p.246) interpretation of the NC, which omits the study of Japan completely:

At Key Stage Two, one locality has to be in the UK and one in a country in Africa, Asia (excluding Japan)2
However, Japan, as one of the world’s top seven industrial nations, has an influence which is global in scale and which affects our own country by the presence of such companies as Nissan in Sunderland, Sony in Wales, Toyota in Derby and many financial institutions in the City. It seems a natural progression therefore that Japan should be incorporated into the primary classroom enabling children to increase their knowledge and sensitivity towards a country that has no doubt influenced their lives.
Despite the fact Japan is not specifically mentioned in the NC, many of the learning objectives stated in the Curriculum can be applied to a module of work on Japan, thus making it a worthwhile and valid case study which can be applied in any primary school. QCA schemes of work can also be adapted to fit in with a Japan topic while fulfilling the desired learning objectives.
Japan can also feature as a cross-curricular study including, literacy, numeracy, art and music work.


Japan is a popular case study in Scottish primary schools, particularly in Primary Years5 ~ 7. The 5-14 Environmental Studies curriculum in particular, lends itself to a comprehensive study of Japan. Within Environmental Studies, children develop informed attitudes regarding environmental, social, moral and ethical issues, through the Technology, Science and Society programmes of study.

As in England & Wales, there is also scope for study of Japan within the art and music curricula.

Northern Ireland

Within the Northern Ireland curriculum, Japan is not specifically mentioned but as in other countries of the UK, it may be chosen for a specific country or theme study or in order to provide an international dimension to the curriculum.

The Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) framework, provides similar opportunities to those in PSHE /Citizenship in England and Wales.
4 Projects and other schemes of work

There are many different models for teaching about Japan in primary schools in the UK.

England and Wales
While some teachers report that their school actively avoids study of Japan, a policy originating from Weldon’s advice mentioned above, a significant number do incorporate Japan-related teaching while successfully meeting curriculum needs. In some schools, the impetus comes from a teacher who has a personal enthusiasm, while for others Japan is a topic regularly timetabled for study.
In England and Wales, advisory teachers with experience of visiting or teaching about Japan are influential in counties such as Devon, Trafford, Gloucestershire, Rhondda Cynon Taf or Neath Port Talbot, while others such as Lincolnshire, Newcastle and Shropshire actively promoted the study of Japan during the World Cup period.
The majority of schools which teach about Japan, do so as a geography unit. Common themes studied include: tectonic activity (earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunami, hot springs), weather and climate, economy (jobs and agriculture) and school life.

Just under half of schools then link their geography work to an art project. Most commonly this will involve calligraphy. Other projects undertaken include studying and

reproducing the works of Hokusai and Hiroshige, making Japanese masks and lanterns, designing kimono and making koi-nobori. More unusually, sashiko has been introduced.
For about a third of schools teaching about Japan, their work may also come under ‘Global Citizenship’ and PSHE where children are encouraged to look at festivals such as girls’ day and boys’ day, study shiatsu and look at the atomic bomb. Primary school links with a school in Japan, though rare, bring a useful international dimension to school life.

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