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  • The Prewar Roots of "Equality of Opportunity"Japanese Educational Ideals in the Twentieth Century
  • Hans Martin Krämer (bio)

When, shortly after the end of World War II, new educational ideals were defined in occupied Japan, the concept of "equality of opportunity" (kikai kintō) figured prominently in both the new Constitution (1946) and the Fundamental Law of Education (Kyōiku Kihon Hō ; November 1947). Article 26 of the Constitution read: "All people shall have the right to receive an equal education correspondent to their ability, as provided by law." Article 3 of the Fundamental Law of Education bore the title "Equal Opportunity in Education" and stated: "The people shall all be given equal opportunities of receiving education according to their ability, and they shall not be subject to educational discrimination on account of race, creed, sex, social status, economic position, or family origin."1 Even the School Education Law (Gakkō Kyōiku Hō ), the text of which did not explicitly refer to equality of opportunity, was linked to this ideal when Minister of Education Takahashi Seiichirō on 18 March 1947 explained before the Diet that the law first and foremost served to "guarantee the equality of educational opportunity, so that everyone can receive education according to their abilities."2

It is therefore not surprising that the origins of the concept of equality of educational opportunity in Japan are almost always seen to lie in the immediate postwar period, when it became official state policy as defined in the Constitution. A look at the 1955 "Dictionary of Educational Science," for which the [End Page 521] educational theorist Kaigo Katsuo wrote the entry "Modern Education," shows how early this perception took shape. "Equality of opportunity in education" is an "essential component of modern education," Kaigo explains. At the same time, he characterizes the interwar period as "fascist" and "negating modern education,"3 thus implying that "equality of opportunity" cannot have had a place in interwar education.

Throughout the postwar period, both Japanese and non-Japanese historians have tended to follow this view. The historian of education Murata Suzuko , to cite one example, in explaining why the state did not establish women's universities in the 1930s, argues: "It was too early. Considering the state of society at large in Japan at that time, things such as demands for equality of opportunity for men and women were acknowledged neither politically nor legally."4 By linking "equality" with the political realm, Murata sees demands for equality of opportunity as something characteristic only of democracies.5 In his monograph on "the development of the movement for equality of opportunity" in postwar education, the historian of education Akatsuka Yasuo similarly refers to the period before 1945 merely as a negative foil. Touching briefly on the "fascist education system" in the introduction, he describes it as characterized by a sharp division between education for the elite and that for the masses, in contrast to the successful drive for equality of opportunity in education after 1945.6 Byron Marshall, in his overview of the "political discourse on education" in modern Japan, likewise stresses that it was only the Fundamental Law of Education that "quite emphatically made equality of opportunity a major goal." By contrast, the concept of equality in education figures in the pre-1945 chapters of Marshall's book merely as a motive in the reforms of the early Meiji period.7

In this article I will show that the concept of "equality of opportunity" was not only known in prewar Japan, but was in fact frequently mentioned in debates on education.8 Education in the 1930s and 1940s is often assumed to have been marked by discrimination, inequality, and hostility to reform. Developments supportive of this view, such as the dismissal of teachers as "ideologically unfit" in the 1930s or the redefinition of classroom teaching as "drilling the imperial [End Page 522] nation" (kōkokumin no rensei) in the early 1940s, unquestionably constituted one significant trend. It would be misleading, however, to see education in this period as permeated solely by ultranationalism. The decades between 1925 and 1945 also saw lively debate on educational reform, in which "equality of opportunity" was a major topic of discussion...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 521-549
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-25
Open Access
No
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