As a 10 year old living in Japan, I remember feeling terrible for the Japanese children I saw marching to school in their perfectly ironed school uniforms on Saturday while I was on my way to the park. The children loved going to school and they even stayed at school until it was dark to participate in extracurricular activities like music. By living in Japan for three years, it was clear to me that in the Japanese culture, education is a main priority. Japanese children get 10 years of mandatory music education, which results in a society where music is appreciated.
According to the Ministry of Education in Japan, the objectives of music education in Japan are to develop musical understanding, develop musical knowledge and train children to play various techniques, discover the different areas of music, such as writing melodies and musical composition, develop musical expression through singing and playing instruments, the ability to read and write musical notations, and finally the ability to listen to and value music. The music education in Japanese schools begins in primary school. The children will start the education though rhythm bands and then progress to band or orchestra music in secondary school and high school. The musical education also includes lessons in musical composition to give students training and experience.
A short time after World War II, music education was dramatically changed. Shinichi Suzuki developed the Suzuki method, which was used to enrich the lives and character of the students. The movement’s goal was to show that all children can be well educated in music and learning music involves learning about character or virtues that make a person’s soul more beautiful. The idea is centered on creating an environment where people learn about music like their native language. Japanese music educators create this environment by including high-quality examples, nurturing, praise, training, and repetition. This is similar to the traditional music of the Ewe in Ghana. The Ewe people surround themselves in music everyday and gradually pick up the rhythms. In the Ewe culture there is not an activity that is done without some kind of music or rhythm involved. They start to teach children at a very young age. They designed various games that are not only to provide entertainment for the children but also to help them develop a strong feeling for compound rhythms. It allows the people to acquire their musical knowledge in slow stages. Just like if you were put into a situation where everyone spoke a different language, eventually you would start to pick up the language by teaching yourself. I believe this is what Suzuki was thinking when he created his method.
This is an example of children of a Japanese Elementary school playing “La Bamba”. The video illustrates the self-discipline and commitment that these very young children have. The children obviously have to practice on their own in order to play the instruments well. Music education is clearly an important part of the Japanese culture.
Here is another example of Japanese children performing at an elementary sports day. They are playing Eisa drums in Okinawa, Japan, where I lived for 3 years. I remember that even at my elementary school on the military base we had two Japanese classes where we learned the language and culture by singing and dancing. We also had an Eisa drumming club at my school that a lot of my friends were in. Eisa drumming must be practiced very often in order to be able to perform in unison with a large group. The club at my school was made up of over 100 children and they practiced everyday for a few hours after school.
My last example is of a classroom in Japan. The children are standing and singing a song. This shows that even in the academic classroom, teachers in Japan think it is extremely valuable to help the children learn. In this video the children look like they have been told to clap to keep the rhythm that they are learning.
I believe that the music education in Japan is a clear representative of the culture. The Japanese believe in self-discipline and performing at their at most best. The examples that I have found clearly represent the hard work, commitment, and interest that the Japanese children have in music. The use of the Suzuki method has allowed the children of Japan to surround them in music from a very young age and allow them to learn music like they learned their language.
Cudjoe, S. D. “The Techniques of Ewe Drumming and the Social Importance of Music in Africa.” Phylon 14.3 (1953): 280-91. JSTOR. Clark Atlanta University, 1953. Web. 2 Mar. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/271469>.
Hirooka, Yoshio. “Music Education in Japan.” Music Educators Journal 36.2 (1949): 34-35. JSTOR. Web. 2 Mar. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3387497>.
“Suzuki Method.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 02 Mar. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_method>.