Taiiku Sai - A National Identity
posted on Tuesday, October 02, 2007 10:38 AM
For many years now, there has been much talk in the UK regarding the rediscovering and promotion of a British national identity. For it would appear that due to the vast influx of migrants to the UK, this has resulted in the watering down of the nation’s so called Britishness. The migrants are merely used as scapegoats for a lack in collective identity, which some would argue never truly existed. Clearly, for the obvious reasons, Japan has no problem in preserving their national identity. However, this is not only due to the lack of ethnic minorities in Japan as compared to the UK, but it is also due to the way the Japanese go about promoting their national identity.
Working as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Elementary and Junior High schools in Japan, is a richly rewarding job, which offers a wonderful practical and knowledgeable experience into key elements that form and preserve the Japanese culture and traditions - the children and their upbringing. Generally, if you ask an everyday Japanese why they are proud to be Japanese - it would go along the lines of two main reasons, firstly the food, and secondly, the clearly defined and beautiful four seasons. However, if you ask a British person the same question, they would stumble to give you a quick, clear and precise answer.
Attending a recent Taiiku Sai (Sports Day Festival) at my Junior High School, gave me glimpses as to why the Japanese are proud to be Japanese. The one thing that truly struck me off guard was when all students, teachers and parents turned to face the raising of the flags (city flag, country flag, and school flag), while listening to the Japanese national anthem during the opening ceremony. I immediately thought that this would be a wonderful idea to introduce to schools back in the UK, especially those in London. However, on second thought I could not imagine children of ethnic minority singing along. This of course is for a factor of reasons. But mainly because non-white people, whether born in Britain and hold a British passport, truly do not feel British, and are always categorised as the ethnic minority, even though they are officially British. These people choose to adopt the richer and clearer defined culture of their parents, whether it is Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, African, Caribbean, and so on.
Being British does not mean that one should sing Christian songs and prayers during Nursery and Primary school years. It would be better to have them sing the British national anthem instead. As insignificant as it may seem, it might do a lot to bring together a national identity and a sense of proud-ness to be British. I would be the first to admit that I do not even know all the words to the British national anthem.
A major difference between secondary schools/junior high school sports festivals held in Japan, and the UK are that in Japan the whole event is group focused (i.e. class groups, and colour groups - number of colours depending on how many classes there are in each year), whereas in the UK, it is very individual based. In the UK, for each event the most suitable and best students are picked to represent their class. If they finish within the top three of a challenge (long jump, 1500 metres, relay, 100 metres, etc.) then not only do they receive top points for their class, but they also receive an individual medal (gold, silver, and bronze). Hence, each year grade is kept separate, and the classes from each year battle against each other. This is a professional approach but very enjoyable also.
However, in Japan each class from each year grade is assigned a colour. There are no individual winners; all wins across the year grades accumulate to the overall score for each colour. Often, students from different year groups work together in-group challenges. Events such as the marching opening ceremony, ‘Mukade’ (Centipede race - whereby up to a class of students tie their legs together and race around the track) are very exciting. In addition, students create their own banners and flags for each colour, and their own dance and cheer leading routines. The latter is considered a very important part of the sports day (however, cheer leading is adopted from American culture, and I have not once seen this in UK sports festivals) by which the winning colour receives a trophy. There truly are not any individual stars, but a group of stars that shine together. Hence, creating a better sense of community and togetherness.
In schools throughout Japan, students serve and eat lunch as a class, say thank you before ‘Itadakimasu’ and after ‘Gochisosama deshita’ lunch, have cleaning time to maintain the appearance of the school, and all regularly attend after school clubs. Each school even has its own song, which the students orchestrate and sing to themselves. The culture is very rich and runs deeply within Japanese schools. Bless the day I see children in the UK cleaning their respective schools, and serving their own lunch for themselves and their peers. Does it mean they are lazier? Not at all! It simply has not been installed into their everyday school life - but it should. Where as Japanese sports festivals are colourful for its appearance, sports festivals in the UK are colourful for its participants.
Some Japanese people would argue that due to the adoption of Western culture, younger Japanese generations are losing a sense of what it means to be Japanese. However, at least they can still say ‘I’m Japanese’ and not feel as if they are lying to themselves. The problem with the current national identity crisis in Britain, is that government and individuals are not seeking alternative versions of national identity that embrace the differences between each and every citizen. The educational cultural ethos needs to be revised for the better future of Britain.