Cultural Capital in Japanese Education

What is the most difficult thing for an IR student who takes class for GS students is that he or she needs to express oneself in class.  I’m one of such students and have a little trouble to expressing my own ideas in the class.  Of course, I know that one of the main reasons is from my poor English.  However, I think that the problem is the difference between education system in Japan and that in other countries like America, which influences how students behave in the class.  Also, Japanese people have a different view to express their own ideas.

First, in Japanese class room, a teacher just teaches and expects students to listen to the lecture silently.  Japanese educational system puts more importance on listening to the teacher’s lectures and gaining knowledge from teacher rather than expressing their own ideas and learning from other students’ ideas as well.  Students sit on a chair, listen to a lecture, and take notes silently.  Also, questioning or expressing their own ideas in the middle of the class is not welcomed by the teacher.  Some teachers see students who do so as an interrupter of the class and annoy them.  Eventually these students are labeled as troublemakers.  There is seldom discussion time or opportunity to express their opinions for students.


Second, Japanese people are tend to hesitate to sticking out.  The Japanese proverb that has been saying for a long time is a good example that “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”  This means that: (1) people are jealous of, hate, and disturb a person, who is distinguished in study or talented, (2) a person who sticks out are punished by others.  Japanese people regard speaking out in front of many people as a sticking out.  Therefore, students are not willing to express their own ideas in the classroom because they don’t want to be “hammered down.”

For these reasons, Japanese students are not accustomed to speaking out their own ideas in the class and tend to have difficulty to express their own ideas.

In terms of other country’s cultural capital, Japanese cultural capital seems so silly and incomprehensible, however in Japan, it is the cultural capital.  I didn’t realize a cultural capital of Japanese education system until I took a class for the GS.  There’s a different cultural capital in the class, so I spend a little hard time and sometimes cannot help think that Japanese cultural capital is so inferior to others in the class.  However, I think that Japanese cultural capital is not entirely negative but still positive.  Japanese people are not good at sticking out and expressing their own ideas, but they can listen to other’s ideas well.  Also, Japanese are not so assertive and have room to accept other’s good ideas.

Thus, each cultural capital is capital in that culture, someone who is unfamiliar to that culture may have difficult time.  I think that we don’t have to evaluate which cultural capital is superior or inferior, but the most important thing is “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

by Mayumi Kurosawa

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5 thoughts on “Cultural Capital in Japanese Education

  1. I strongly agree with this blog, because I’m a typical student who is influenced by Japanese cultural capital. I hesitate to stand out. I’m also so weak in speaking out in public that it actually needs courage for me to comment on this blog now. Thanks to this blog, I’m motivated to write a comment. From now on, I think positively about the difference of the class style between Japan and foreign countries, and I make efforts to be able to fit in with any class.

    • Thank you for your comment!
      I know your feeling, actually I felt awkward to write a blogpost and comment.
      But, I am now confident of my ideass and expressing them because I found that some people were interested in and understood my ideas. And, I can enjoy the different class style and blogposting little by little. We can get feedback from other students about our ideas if we express ourselves.
      I really appreciate your comment make me find that! thank you!
      がんばろー 🙂

  2. I also strongly agree with you!
    I cannot express my feelings and opinion well, so I am irritated with oneself everytimes.
    Many Japanese students understand English, but we cannot SPEAK because of our education.
    We should take an active part in English class!(Maybe I cannot…)
    So I think Japanese education should increase classes that we can practice speaking English.
    But first of all, I practice my Engish!

  3. i like this blog post because somehow, i can relate to it.i actually know how you feel. the only difference is i am confident with my English but not with Japanese. just yesterday, i went into a store and wanted to buy some bread but just couldn’t communicate and yet i’m sure i knew what i wanted to say. the same goes for my Japanese class! i have had problems with the teachers methods simply because they are different from what i am used.

  4. I think this kind of situation is also happening in China. Children are taught to be modest since kindergarten by a lot of stories and fairy tales; listen to others has become a kind of value that we are going to learn. The cultural capital since thousand years ago that resist us not to speak out.
    But with the development these years, I think this kind of situation has already been improved. I have met some teachers that encourage students to show their opinions in my high school. Only after communication can we have critical thinking and our own opinion. As it is a kind of thing that influenced us long time ago, so it need time to change and improve.

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