Thinking Spiritual Education in Japan

Paper for the Panel: Various forms of Spirituality in the World (2)

1. Introduction
 The purpose of this report is to show the potency of spiritual education in the debate over the revision of the Fundamental Law of Education generated from 2002 to 2003, particularly referring to the argument concerning religious education.
 Article 9 of this Law states that “schools established by state and local public bodies shall refrain from religious education or other activities for a specific religion” though it assumes that “an attitude of religious tolerance and the position of religion in social life shall be valued in education”. Consequently, there has been some degree of ambiguity and conflict concerning religious education in public school.
 The Central Education Council (CEC) issued an interim report which included the expressions “universal religious sentiment” and “cultivation of religious sentiment” which led to discussion regarding the revision of this law in November, 2002. Many arguments occurred over these terms, and in March 2003 the CEC had to make a revised report on religious education which amounted to a retreat from the interim report.
 This report refers to the fact that spiritual education which is separate from any specific religion still has the same effect as religious education and also practicing it will be to the benefit of religious circles.
2. Debate on revision of the Fundamental Law of Education
(1) The CEC’s interim report
 The CEC is a consultative body to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, whose first period began in 1953. It is an organization that has been debating for 17 periods, and its reports have stimulated intense debate within the sphere of education and journalism in Japan. This CEC announced on November 14, 2002 “The Fundamental Law of Education suitable for the new age and a basic education promotion plan (interim report).” The main concern of the interim report was how to direct “religious sentiment” in the Fundamental Law of Education.
While the interim report confirms the principle of separation of church and state, there are opinions which may have an effect on public education “it is necessary to teach the universal religious sentiment which is common to every religion from a viewpoint of valuing invisible things, though there is a trend of emphasizing science or materialism” or “cultivation of religious sentiment which is important because it serves as a background of moral education.”
(2) Resistance of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations
  The Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a written statement regarding the interim report on December 6, 2002 about 3 weeks after the interim report announced by the CEC. The written statement argued against “the cultivation of religious sentiment” mentioned above. Its main points were as follows: Primarily, it is clear that denominational education should not be allowed in public schools and also “the cultivation of religious sentiment” should not be recognized from the viewpoint of “the freedom of not to believe in religion.” Secondly although there are advocates who argue the importance of moral education stated above, it is possible to conduct such education without having religion as the medium. Thirdly, although “universal religious sentiment” is mentioned, religion is not universal for mankind. Lastly, the opinion emphasizing the importance of ties between nature and religion, there is the possibility of involving the risk of directly connecting with shrine-related Shintoism.
(3) Argument of religious circles
  It was not only the Japan Federation of Bar Associations that had objections to the interim report of the CEC. Doubts were also expressed by religious groups which appeared to welcome “cultivation of religious sentiment.” The Japanese Association of Religious Organizations, which is a federation composed of the largest groups in Japan consisting of Japanese Shinto groups, Buddhist groups, Christian groups and new religious groups submitted a written statement on January 22, 2003 challenging the interim report. In this statement the Japanese Association of Religious Organizations expressed its concern about undermining the attitude of tolerance and respect for religion enshrined in article 9 of the Fundamental Law of Education, and it stated that the cause of the trend is prohibiting religious education as a whole by denying denominational education. The written statement also advocated placing greater emphasis on religious education which the CEC’s interim report showed an ambiguous attitude.
 The Japan Buddhist Federation, which is one of the affiliated bodies of the Japanese Association of Religious Organizations, and which represents the main traditional Japanese Buddhist denominations, submitted a more specific written request for the interim report of the CEC dated February 4, 2003.
In this paper, the decay of education was shown to be caused by contempt for religious education and it sought to clearly emphasize the notion of “religious education that contributes to the formation of Japanese traditional culture” in the Fundamental Law of Education and also to state “respect for cultivation of religious sentiment,” as well as demands to carry out the above matters in the field of education.
(4) Revised report
   The CEC official submitted a report on March 20, 2003 based on arguments in various fields after the interim report was made. In public education the status quo regarding “religious education and religious activity for specific religions should not be carried out” was confirmed although the report stated “the importance of learning objectively the significance of religion” and “understanding that knowledge of religion is needed.” The statement “universal religious sentiment” disappeared. Furthermore “cultivation of religious sentiments” was described as “very important” for personality development. The report ended by describing the necessity of staying within the present framework.  
3.Spiritual Education
 The CEC’s interim report did not satisfy those who were against religious education and those who promoted it, and as a result the report had to maintain the status quo. However, “the viewpoint of emphasizing the invisible” or “background of moral education” that the CEC intended to convey by using the phrases such as “religious sentiment” has an alternative way to practice. We would like to call it “Spiritual Education.”
(1) “Zest for living” and “education for the mind”
  The word “spirituality” is not used, however, and the CEC reported on the inwardness of young people by using some key words in the latter half of 1990′s. They were “zest for living” and “education for the mind.”
“Zest for living” is seen in the subtitle of the initial report of “an ideal method of education in Japan in anticipation of the 21st century” issued on July 19, 1996. “Zest for living” is defined as the ability or quality of finding and solving problems by oneself in a drastically changing society. The principal pillars for forming “zest for living” are “a flexible sensibility that can be deeply moved by beautiful things or nature”, “a heart that respects a sense of justice and equity that can be moved by a good act, and to disapprove of wrong acts”, and “a voluntary spirit to contribute to society.”
“Education for the mind” is seen in the report “For cultivating the mind that develops a new generation” on June 30, 1998. The term “education for the mind” itself was not new, but it attracted society’s attention. In the report, humanity which is seen as the core of “zest for living” was reiterated, and the necessity for community educational power, moral education through practicing volunteer activities, school counseling and nurse’s room are described. As for the two reports mentioning “zest for living” and “education for the mind” it may be said that they emerged with a shared background which included not only young people’s academic ability but also a strong concern for inwardness and humanity, which was the same as the interim report of the CEC. However, there was no heavy criticism of the two reports.
(2) Education for life
 An idea similar to “zest for living” and “education for the mind” is seen in “education for life”. However, this proposal is due to the education researchers rather than the CEC leadership. “Education for life” is a Japanese version of death education inspired by European and American death education, and there are cases where “spirituality” is clearly used.
 Fumiaki Iwata regards “death education” as having nearly the same meaning as “education for life” and shows that it affects a dimension of spirituality. Iwata uses the word spirituality by keeping in mind that in the current situation in hospices, spiritual care is more or less separate from religious practice. On that supposition he may consider and propose “education for life” as a strategy to resolve the argument between the moral education promotion group (affinity with religion is high) and the passive group (affinity with religion is low).
(3) Holistic education
  There are cases in which research groups or practicing groups that are not quite in the mainstream specifically use spirituality in a form separate from religion. The trend is generally called a holistic education. The holistic education, whose pioneers were R. Steiner and J. Krishnamurti, is an educational theory and movement which appeared after the 1970′s and was influenced by the holistic theories of F. Capra and K. Wilber as well as alternative pedagogies which were in turn influenced by the humanistic psychology of A. Maslow and R. May and by the counter culture. In the holistic education, a strong interest in spirituality as new religious consciousness which is seen in new age movements as a separate form of religion, and the view of spirituality which is referred to holistic medicine or human potential movements, which were created under the influence of the counter culture, are shared. It is not rare to find elementary schools conducting Waldorf or Rudolf Steiner education since it is well- known in Japan. Although the holistic education itself receives low recognition, in recent years educational research institutions have been established and also a number of courses providing the holistic educational study at universities have increased. The issue of how theory construction and movement of the holistic education supporters influence public education has been drawing attention.
4. Conclusion and proposal
 The interim report of the CEC issued emphasized the meaning of religious education with key concepts such as “religious sentiment.” However, it provoked resistance from people who had a negative attitude toward religious education. Furthermore, religious educational advocates expressed anxiety regarding “religious sentiment”, which were abstract notions not based on concrete Japanese religious traditions.
  However, what the CEC aimed to convey was “a viewpoint of valuing invisible things” and “background of moral education.” There might have been a miscalculation in pursuing them through religious education. However, we think that the CEC was groping toward realizing a similar idea in the reports about “zest for living” and “education for the mind.” Although the educational program of “education for the mind” and “zest for living” are not adequately achieved in the current public education, yet education of “a viewpoint of valuing invisible things” and “background of moral education” will be acquired by achieving these. The easy use of religious education results in kickbacks from public opinion as a whole including people in religious groups, as previously seen.
Spiritual education can convey “a viewpoint of valuing invisible things” and “background of moral education” as a separate form of religion. It is correct to say that education for life and holistic education aim at this. The educational programs conducted only halfway for “the zest for living” or “education for the mind” mentioned above seek supplementary support based on theoretical and practical knowledge accumulated in education for life and holistic education.
  Although spiritual education is certainly separate from religion it is not incompatible with religion. In the culture of mankind, it is agreed that religion has carried spirituality. It is important to make use of the wisdom of religion in spiritual education. If religious leaders separate themselves from the terminology of their own religion and show the core of spirituality within the context of education, this could create momentum for deepening one’s faith by experiencing secular life or meeting other religious communities. Their faith will be expected to make profit to their own religious communities through their experiences. For that it seems that spiritual education has a merit for religious circles in the long term.
  In any case what is needed for the future is to discuses spiritual education that preaches spirituality separate from religion by making use of religion as a social resource.
1 On the other hand, the report presents opinions such as “Each religion has a different outlook concerning religion, and there is no universal religious sentiment.” or “In state schools moral education which does not depend on religion should be conducted and religious education should be a matter left to the individual.” Furthermore, it suggested that religious education includes the educational aspect of teaching how to make appropriate decisions in order to protect oneself from cults and from mind control.
2 Furthermore, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations’ written statement points out the risk of treating nonreligious or antireligious views as heresies by anticipating students’ refusal of it when “cultivation of religious sentiment” is carried out in classrooms. In addition, concerning anti-cult measures, the statement describes superiority of education of human rights or consumer education rather than “cultivation of religious sentiment” by denying the overall claims of the Central Education Council.
3 Furthermore, the written statement sought teaching materials, software and teaching methods in order to make religious education more fruitful.
4 Public opinion also reacted sensitively regarding the confirmation of the status quo. In particular the Yomiuri Shimbun, which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in Japan editorialized extensively after the interim report and final report came out. They criticized the current situation or superficial revision of the Fundamental Law of Education by the Central Education Council (September 25, 2002), arguing, for instance, that “The present Fundamental Law of Education has no clauses concerning tradition or the description is inadequate. That should be recognized as the result of education policy under the occupation.” On the other hand, the Asahi Shimbun, the leading liberal paper, reported only the fact that the Central Education Council retreated in its report on religious education (March 1, 2003), and also pointed out the disarray or conflict among members of the ruling parties.
5 In addition, a description of anti-cult measures was not included, and the report may be said to have retreated significantly from the interim report concerning religious education.
6 The report was submitted when the series murder case of a 14 year-old boy occurred in Kobe in 1996.
7 Regarding Japanese education, which concentrates solely on preparing students entrance examinations for further education, neither “zest for living” nor “education for the mind” is sufficiently realized. In fact, “education with latitude” which was discussed along with “zest for living” has been forced to retreat due to public opinion and the Education Ministry who are concerned about a decline in academic achievement.
8 “The principles and prospects of the ‘death education’ in Japan” Memoirs of Osaka Kyoiku University ?.
9 There are two claims concerning the theme of “the death of others” in the field of public education. One is that public education should not intrude into the inner life of the individual, while the other claims that moral education should be actively conducted. Iwata considers both claims to be valuable. In other words, in the case of the former, education of “death of others” does not directly enter into the individual’s inner life, and the education should be directed towards deepening intellectual comprehension for gaining knowledge of “others”, the society enabling encounters with “others”, the theory of human relationships and general natural environment. In the case of the latter, the education of “death of others” provides love towards other people or a caring mind for others are cultivated rather than taking “ones own death” too seriously. Iwata says that the latter idea promotes moral education in the sense that it is permeated with the thought of respecting life.

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