Amae; Japanese education and how attachment reduces stress

I have been browsing Tofugu’s archives recently and I came across this article, written by Koichi, Why Japanese education succeeds [1]. Koichi writes a lot about education and learning, and I find a lot of his articles really insightful, but if I could only share one, this would be it.

Many of you have a vested interest in learning Japanese and, to me, Koichi’s thoughts, along with the Anatomy of Dependence by Takeo Doi [2], really give an interesting perspective of the Japanese and the culture there, and I think that’s an important aspect of learning any language.

It’s opened a few doors in my mind and helped link some of the ideas I’ve had when comparing Japanese and Western society.

  1. Why Japanese Education Succeeds
  2. The Anatomy of Dependence - Wikipedia

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing. This reminds of a great book I read a few years ago called Emotional Intelligence. It’s consistent with how Koichi describes non-cognitive skills and how important they are in our ability to succeed (vs. cognitive skills, or IQ).

More info if folks are interested:

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I disagree about a lot in that article but probably the worst point is that the Japanese education system isn’t segregated compared to western ones.
It is almost completely segregated. Interestingly, the article alludes to it in the beginning so I’m not sure why he totally missed this point, but you test into almost every school these days. People who don’t get good grades or do poorly on tests don’t get held back, no. They disappear to completely different schools (or start working trades). In addition, every term the whole ranking of the grade gets posted publicly. That is, everyone is ranked 1 to N on a big chart depending on grades in all classes. If you come last in your grade everyone knows it. Some Japanese have complained to me about getting ejected from friend groups because of this rank, as everyone was sure they weren’t going to be able to move on to the high school the group was expecting.

For me, the Japanese education system is extremely disappointing in Math and ESL.


I can agree with you on their poor ESL Program. I mean the states isn’t much better when it comes to that. I took 4 years of Spanish and probably spoke a total of 10 sentences the whole time. I think this is the problem in Japan. Most Japanese people, from experience, can listen to you or can read your texts but if you tell them to produce the language they are at a loss. Their curriculum focuses on only passing tests needed for their jobs. I think a lot of countries need to shift their language education over to more speaking oriented. It has so many benefits, not only in language but in confidence to look stupid and not care!

And yeah I was taught while I was over there that there is a very clear list and ranking of universities in Japan. In most places like the EU and the states we have our top universities sure, but after that they are all kind of the same as far as power goes!

In regards to Math education, Japan is number 5 in the world and the United States is number 41.

Also about ESL, I agree with above poster. I’ve taken Arabic courses for a decade when I was in school, 3 years of Spanish, and 4 years of Japanese in a university. I think its the foreign language is taught in classrooms - in certain areas because reading and writing tends to be more heavily focused on. I can read, write, and understand arabic - but my speaking is very poor. And when I was in college, I had always had issues with the speaking/listening portion of japanese. I think it’s probably similar with ESL in other countries, more emphasis on reading writing over speaking

I actually came across this article after reading, Pitfalls and problems with Japanese education [1] and Japanese universities get an ‘F’ [2]

Austin [3] talks about some of the problems you address, maybe you’ll enjoy his article more. I would certainly agree that the segregation you refer to is a scary thing, and holding a whole [in this case, education] system in high regard due to its successes isn’t a good thing.

It’s easy to view a culture from the outside and see it’s weakness or its strengths as separate things.

Personally, I was more interested in the philosophical side of the article, the actual education and results of the education system aren’t what I got out of the reading, but it’s easy for me to dismiss what your comment, and I don’t mean to, what are your experiences with the Japanese education system?

  1. Pitfalls and Problems with Japanese Education
  2. Japanese Universites Get An "F"
  3. Austin

Traditional education isn’t effective no matter the country.

What if the driving school just taught traffic law and you could get a license only with a written examination? The problem is evident as soon as put it in perspective with something else but education system refuses to adapt to reality.

Too much focus in theory. Academic success is associated with exams instead of projects. People are more interested in getting grades than learning.
A certificate is a proof that you remembered the replies while doing the test. Skill is what is useful for your life, career, and quality of what you do. Skill is 10% theory and 90% practice, however, basic school is 90% theory.

Ask people, even in the top countries in Math education, if they effectively use math in a practical way besides basic arithmetic or if they even know the power or what can be done with it.
It should take only a few practical projects in physics to learn that almost everything we use in this modern era was designed, improved, or made possible with the help of some mathematical field.

Looking back to the amount of time I spent in school and the speed I learn thing before graduating using other methods and mindsets, I can’t help but feel like it was a big waste of time.


I’ve seen depictions of this, but it’s not universal. Source: I teach in a city where none of the schools do this. At least the public ones.


Regarding ESL, Wales is an interesting place where learning Welsh is actively encouraged by the local Government. Many Welsh first language speakers that I’ve met struggled with reading or writing in Welsh. They could converse perfectly because they’d had so much practice with it in the home environment. It seems to be the reverse of ESL in Japan in that regard.

I’ve not got any studies at hand, just first hand experience talking to FL Welsh speakers.

If you’re into ESL it could be an interesting place to look into. Not really related but thought I’d throw it out there.

The most valuable things I learned at university were what I spent my evenings and weekends working on. Most of the classes themselves contributed to some extent to my knowledge base, but ‘hacking’ (in the original sense, not the modern Hollywood sense) is what made me who I am today.

From The Jargon File (circa 1975):

Hacker: A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.

Essentially, finding innovative ways to achieve things using resources beyond their original scope or intent, thus the new use of “life hack”, etc.


Coming from the US system of education, I find the public score aspect of Japanese culture fascinating. It would be a huge FERPA violation to do this. Obviously in classrooms students can figure out who is flunking versus who is doing exceptionally well, but it’s not nearly as public in US in my experience. It is also increasingly problematic to have any info about a student’s record shared.

I couldn’t agree more with what you have said. I think public education is due for a massive revolution.

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