Understanding the Japanese ‘model’ of education through East Asian dialogue 


Today, East Asian education is the focus of considerable international attention. It all began around the late 2000s, when Singapore, Shanghai, South Korea, Macao, Taiwan and Japan dominated the top rankings of OECD’S PISA. Soon thereafter, countries like the USA and UK started looking to these East Asian countries and cities as possible models for their own education reforms. The rise of these East Asian ‘PISA stars’ coincided with the increasing international recognition of the economic and geo-political prominence of East Asia (China). The anxiety of the West towards the rising power of the East continues to underpin the currently dominant representation of East Asian education as ‘high performing education systems’ (Teng, Manzon and Poon, 2019).  

This affirmative international recognition of East Asian education is relatively new, however. As many scholars argue, East Asia has long been construed as an embodiment of ‘dystopia’ in education (Waldow, Takayama and Sung, 2013; see also Park, 2013; Rappleye and Komatsu, 2018; Takayama, 2017). The dystopic representation has been maintained through foregrounding of specific images around rote memorization, intense competition for reputed schools and universities, extensive family use of private tutoring, and excessive parental pressure for children’s academic success. East Asian children are often depicted as devoid of individuality, creativity and problem-solving skills, and this view has been largely accepted by East Asian education scholars and policy makers (Park, 2013; Rappleye and Komatsu, 2018; Takayama, 2017). One can detect the continuing legacy of stereotypical reductionism in the fact that the ‘efficiency’ of East Asian education systems remains the dominant theme of the international discussion today.  

Against this backdrop, it is particularly encouraging that some scholars have started adopting a more regionally focused perspective of East Asia in their educational scholarship. These scholars have explored and identified new insights generated through the explicit foregrounding of East Asia as a broader analytical framework. Ho (2020) and Tan (2020), for instance, develop the notion of Confucius cultural background to highlight the shared cultural foundations underpinning pedagogical thoughts and practices in the region as well as accounting for East Asian educational success as exemplified by PISA top performance. Aizawa, Kagawa and Rappleye (2019) draw on the shared historical experiences of East Asian countries, characterized by such concepts as ‘catchup modernity’ and ‘compressed modernity’ in order to highlight the particular institutional features of high schools in East Asia. These works find East Asian researchers working together and comparing notes with each other to articulate a shared regional framework for their educational research.  

One of the most important sources of intellectual inspiration for the recent East Asian regional initiatives, however, is the work of Cultural Studies scholar Kuan-Hsing Chen’s (2010) Asia as method: Toward deimperialization. In this landmark scholarship, Chen argues that East Asian intellectuals must confront the problem of ‘West as method,’ the incessant comparison, either explicit or implicit, of self and local context in relation to Western experiences and theories. Chen (2010) maintains that this default mode of intellectual practice has resulted in distorted self-understanding of East Asia. As an alternative, Chen calls for a new methodological approach, which he terms ‘Asia as method,’ drawing on the works of two prominent Japanese scholars, Yoshimi Takeuchi and Yuzo Mizoguchi. Practicing ‘Asia as method’ involves East Asian researchers comparing notes with each other to establish East Asia as a point of reference in the region. Chen carefully distinguishes his proposal from politics of postcolonial resentments, arguing that the regionally focused intellectual exchange does not categorically reject the West but repositions it as just one of many potentially useful reference points. Chen’s work has been influential; his methodological proposal has been taken up by a number of education scholars in East Asia and beyond who attempt to create a more regionally focused dialogue in education research (Lee, 2017; Park, 2019; Takayama 2016a; Zhang, Chan and Kenway 2015). 

The Kyoto University, Graduate School of Education’s Global Education Office’s 2021 webinar series Understanding the Japanese ‘model’ of education through East Asian dialogue invites 6 Japanese and international education researchers. Though they vary considerably in their areas of expertise, including philosophy of education, sociology of education, comparative education and curriculum studies, what unites them is their demonstrated scholarly interest in and commitment to understanding education from an explicitly East Asian regional perspective. Building on Chen’s work, this webinar series aims to facilitate a more regionally focused dialogue and explore its potentials for broader international conversation on education. It is hoped that the invited guests will help us consider a way to decenter the West and position East Asia as a new point of reference for our educational research. ‘West as method’ has been the default methodological approach in much of Japanese education scholarship, and any articulation of the particularities of Japanese education presupposes the West as a point of reference (Takayama, 2016b). We hope that the webinar series will enable us to develop new insights into the Japanese ‘model’ of education through the methodological move to adopt East Asia as the central reference point for our intellectual work. 


Aizawa, S., Kagawa, M., and Rappleye, J. (2019). High school for all in East Asia: Comparing experiences. New York: Routledge.   

Chen, K. (2010). Asia as method: Toward deimperialization. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Ho, (2020). Culture and learning: Confucian heritage learners, social-oriented achievement, and innovative pedagogies. C.S. Sanger and N. W. Gleason (eds) Diversity and inclusion in global higher education. New York: 117-159. 

Lee, Y. (2017). A critical dialogue with ‘Asia as method’: A response from Korean education. Educational Philosophy and Theory 51(9): 958-969. 

Park, H. (2013). Re-evaluating education in Japan and Korea: Demystifying stereotypes. New York: Routledge.  

Park, J. (2019). Knowledge production with Asia-centric research methodology. Comparative Education Review 61(4): 760-779. 

Rappleye, J. and Komatsu, H. (2018). Stereotypes as Anglo-American exam ritual? Comparisons of students’ exam anxiety in East Asia, America, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Oxford Review of Education 44(6): 730-753. 

Takayama, K. (2017). Imagining East Asian education otherwise: Neither caricature, nor scandalization. Asia Pacific Journal of Education 37(2): 262–274. 

Takayama, K. (2016a). Deploying the post-colonial predicaments of researching on/with ‘Asia’ in education: A standpoint from a rich peripheral country. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 37(1): 70-88. 

Takayama, K. (2016b). Beyond ‘the West as method’: Repositioning the Japanese education research communities in/against the global structure of academic knowledge. Educational Studies in Japan 10: 19-31. 

Tan, (2020). Confucian philosophy for contemporary education. New York: Routledge. 

Teng, S., Manzon, M., and Poon, K. (2019). Equity in excellence: Experiences of East Asian high-performing education systems. Singapore: Routledge.  

Waldow, F., Takayama, K., and Sung, Y. (2013). Rethinking the pattern of external policy reerencing: Media discourses over the ‘Asian tigers’’ PISA success in Australia, Germany and South Korea. Comparative Education 50(3): 302-321. 

Zhang, H., Chan, P., and Kenway, J. (2015). Asia as method in education studies: A defiant research imagination. New York: Routledge.