chapter  9
16 Pages

The Japanisation of English Language Education: Promotion of the National Language within Foreign Language Policy

ByKayoko Hashimoto

At the beginning of the 21st century, the Japanese government proposed a plan to increase Japanese people’s English proficiency in order to help Japan remain competitive in the international market after the “lost decade”, which was a difficult period for the country owing to the collapse of the bubble economy and numerous natural disasters. The lost decade has now become “the lost two decades” (The Economist, 2009; Okabe, 2010; Tamny, 2011); and after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, the coming decade is likely to be more challenging than ever. The calm and orderly way in which the tsunami and earthquake victims sought to cope with these disasters has been widely reported around the world in tone of both surprise and admiration (Belson & Onishi, 2011; Wakabayashi & Sekiguchi, 2011). While the nation has demonstrated solidarity during this crisis, the intense employment insecurity due to ongoing financial difficulties has tended to make Japanese youth more “inwardlooking” (Yamamoto & Iwaki, 2011); in particular, the business sector has expressed concern at the sharp decline in the number of students studying overseas, because this will eventually affect the performance of their overseas offices, which rely on overseas-educated graduates to join their workforce (Asahi Shimbun, 2011). While Japanese youth have been criticised for their negative attitude and lack of interest in overseas opportunities, their “inwardness” (内向 き志向) is not unrelated to the position of the nation itself at the beginning of the new century. As I have argued elsewhere (Hashimoto, 2009), a negative view of globalisation and an emphasis on the positive qualities of Japan and its people form the background to the Japanese attitude of self-reliance in tackling adversity. As Fairclough (2001) points out, the world has not suddenly globalised, but a new global order has gradually developed, prompting “the struggle to impose or

resist the new order”, which is “in large part a struggle for or against a new language” (p. 205). English is certainly not a new foreign language in Japan, but the government’s approach to the teaching of English as a foreign language (TEFL) has been designed to assure that the language of the new order does not undermine the core identity of the Japanese nation and its people. Japan’s English language policies are one example of the reconstruction of national and cultural identity through the discourse of English in Asian contexts (Tsui & Tollefson, 2007). It has been pointed out that the unsuccessful delivery of English as a second (or foreign) language programmes in primary education in some Asian countries is a result of resistance or objections to the spread of English; even in countries where English is a required subject, students’ “demotivation for learning English is observed to derive from such resistance as well as from problems in instruction policies” (Baldauf, Kaplan, Kamwangamalu, & Bryant, 2011). “English education” (英語教育) has been one of the hotly debated educational issues in Japan precisely because it involves a balance between maintaining the national identity and legitimising the power of English in the society in order to achieve international economic success. It is indeed a complex matter to argue for either the success or the failure of “English education” in Japan, because it involves many parties such as policy makers, the education industry, children and their parents, and educational practitioners, including native speakers of English serving as teachers or assistants. While some blame the bureaucracy for the failure of government-initiated reforms (Aspinall, 2011; Cutts, 1997; Hall, 1998), others believe that English has been dehumanised and decontextualised (LoCastro, 1991), as well as deconstructed (Hashimoto, 2000) by the Japanese education system, or that the language has tended to be “Japanised” to some extent (Kachru, 2005). The recent focus on the treatment of native speakers of English in Japanese society (Houghton & Rivers, forthcoming) highlights the relative status of Japanese and foreign teachers of English in Japan, which differs from the “native speakerism” suggested by Holliday (2005). Indeed, there is a strong relationship between the cultural representations of teachers and curriculum delivery in the Japanese education system. This chapter examines the most recent curriculum changes in Japanese primary schools, junior high schools, and senior high schools for both English and Japanese subjects in order to identify elements of continuity in the changes that have occurred. I analyse language policy documents, and in particular the Course of Study, applying critical discourse analysis (CDA) as a methodological tool in order to uncover gaps and contradictions between policy texts available in English and in Japanese. On the basis of this analysis, I argue that TEFL policy in Japan is not fundamentally about furthering the learning of English, but instead functions to promote and shape the national language, Japanese.