Faith-Based Schools in Japan: Paradoxes and Pointers

  • Stuart D. B. PickenEmail author


The question of how faith-based schools operate in Japan brings out the paradoxical nature of Japanese culture, namely that it is a modern secular society that is also home to many religious traditions. These have learned to co-exist over the centuries, showing a large measure of mutual respect and tolerance of differences. Education in Japan has a long history with a discernable base surrounding Buddhist temples since the 1600s. The Meiji Restoration (1868) saw the first attempt at establishing a national education system based on the temple schools (terakoya). The principal purpose of the educational system was to create useful, competent and responsible members of society. The needs of the state were of overriding importance. Japanese law distinguishes between Gakko Hojin (incorporated educational bodies) and Shukyo Hojin (incorporated religious bodies). While religious bodies nay create educational institutions, they must be licensed by the relevant government ministry before they can function. Christian schools began to appear after Christianity ceased to be a proscribed religion and indeed became educational pioneers in many respects. However, they never became proselytizing organizations. They expose students to their ethos but little more.

The key role of the concept of kanyo (tolerance) in Japanese society should not be underestimated. It goes beyond the principle of “live and let live” or even the philosophy of “mutual co-existence.” It frequently induces or even inspires cooperation between what would ostensibly appear to be rival groups. Alongside this ideal is an implicit belief that human nature is not fundamentally flawed; the antithesis of the concept of Original Sin found in most branches of the Christian tradition. This also comes from Japan’s Confucian heritage. Consequently, education is a support to social order. The Japanese have a deep sense of spirituality associated with sacred places. Bur they have little interest in dogma in the Western sense. The historical strands of Japanese culture have developed and interacted over the centuries to produce a value system that enshrines the virtues of harmony, tolerance, and cooperation. This is but one aspect of what makes Japanese culture unique but which certainly explains why the faith school issue is not nor ever has been divisive.


Shinto Shrine jinja Amaterasu Kami of the Sun and Ancestress of the Imperial Family Grand Shrines of Ise Hachiman Jinja Fushimi Jinja Sampai paying respect and reverence at a shrine Buddhist Temple tera Jinja Honcho Voluntary Association of Shinto Shrines Main Periods of Japanese History Nara 710–794 Heian 794–1185 Kamakura 1185–1333 Azuchi Momyama 1333–1600 Edo 1600–1868 Meiji 1868–1912 Taisho 1912–1926 Showa 1926–1989 Shotoku Taishi (574–622) Taiho Code (791) Jesuit Missions Francis Xavier (1506–1552) Ministry of Education Culture and Science (MonkashoKanyo The Japanese ideal of tolerance 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IAB Chairman of the International Academic Forum (iafor)NagoyaJapan
  2. 2.Chairman of the Japan Society of ScotlandDunblane, StirlingshireUK

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