English Language Education Policy in Japan: A Particular Type of Policy-Making Process

Ikuo Koike

Date of publication:

December 2003 and June 2004


The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, responding to a sense of crises in language education, has announced a drastic revision of education policy to strengthen the Japanese people 's communicative abilities. Taking into account Japan 's unique geo-historical influences and the current international competition in a world rapidly changing through globalization, will the new policy be successful? Traditionally, the Japanese people have been isolated, both through the geographic effects of being an island and the social effects of three centuries of government-enforced isolation from foreign countries. Although Japan was the first Asian country to modernize by adopting Western science and technology, the partnership Japan entered into in order to gain this knowledge did not encourage a two-way exchange of technological achievements and cultural values. Instead, Japan translated Western texts and became a passive importer of ideas rather than an active partner in cultural exchange, a process that continues to exert a profound influence on Japan. Even after the Second World War, the Japanese continued to mentally segregate themselves. Foreign language education had minor and somewhat negative place in the educational world. Japanese was used and teaching policy was ineffective despite long term efforts of the populace to master a foreign language, usually English, and business complained of governmental indifference to foreign language education. The current new policy is welcomed as an ambitious attempt to redress the faults of previous policies, which had been late in recognizing educational shortcomings.

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