I have been trying to write an entry about teaching in Japan. However, I had a question about how long English has been taught in junior high here. In the midst of looking for the answer, I got sucked into Japan’s complicated history with the United States. What I ended up with is a three part series on the history of English study in Japan and where I fit into that today.
It’s not near enough to be a full report of history, however, I hope there is enough information to teach, without too much extraneous data.
Part 1: A (very) truncated history of English curriculum in Japan
Students begin English lessons in junior high school. In fact, English has been taught in Japanese junior high schools on and off since the late nineteenth century.
In 1853, Japan opened its doors for trade with the United States.* It was a one-sided trading agreement, severely limiting Japan’s negotiating ability. The Emperor decided the best way to overcome the inequality was to introduce English language learning. Scholars were sent abroad to learn English and classes were implemented four times a week at the junior high level.
Then, in 1924, the U.S. passed a law barring all Asians from immigrating to America. The English language curriculum fell out of favour in Japan, and was discontinued completely around the start of World War Two.
Junior high English classes re-appeared after the war. They’ve been a component of the Japanese education system ever since. Taking a cue from South Korea, English classes have recently been introduced in elementary schools one a once or twice a week basis.
*That’s a nice way of saying it. It such a nice way of describing the incident that it’s almost a lie. However, as the end result of Matthew Perry’s 1858 visit to Japan was, indeed, trade relations between the U.S. and Japan.
In the interest of being brief, I left out many interceding decades. A more complete timeline be found in the article “Globalization and the History of English Education” in the Asian EFL Journal: http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/Sept_06_nfa.php
Other sources for this article are:
The U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian:
Other various articles on English education in Japan: