Can the Local Arts be Used to Promote Learner Centred Approach and Critical Peace Education for Gender Equality in Japan?

By Anna Hata

Why is it important to adapt ‘Mobile Arts for Peace’ in education in Japan?

Mobile Arts for Peace (MAP), led by Professor Ananda Breed from the University of Lincoln, has contributed to helping students and teachers exercise a learner-centred approach; using local art forms in a manner that addresses problems in their communities in Rwanda and other post-conflict nations. I participated in the 3-day workshop hosted by MAP from 5-7 August 2020. Through the workshop, I realised the importance of the youth-led social change, and the power of art to create safe spaces where young people can discuss sensitive issues. The workshop made me reflect on challenges in Japan in addressing social problems such as discriminations by gender. I believe that the MAP approach can be adapted to the Japanese context as well, enabling young people to engage the social issue that has persisted for a long term in Japan; gender inequality.

Gender inequality remains a prominent social issue in Japan. Japan ranks 121st among 153 countries in the latest global gender gap index 2020 published by the World Economic Forum. In comparison, many Western countries, including the UK, ranks in the top 30 countries worldwide, and Rwanda ranking 9th globally and 1st in Sub-Saharan Africa, with women accounting for 61% of parliament. In Japan, gender inequality is especially serious in political and economic domains, with only 10% and 5.3% of women in parliament and ministerial positions, respectively. Japan’s low rate of gender equity is noteworthy, and it implies that economic development does not necessarily correlate with human rights movement. It makes us question what is meant by ‘development’, and whether education is contributing to positive change or to reproduce the status quo in Japanese context.

 

Gender inequality in Japan can be partly attributed to predominance of traditional gender roles that requires men to work in public sphere (politics, decision making/management positions in labour market) and women in private (home). These gender roles were strengthened in the post-war period, after 1945. The rebuilding of the economy after World War Two (WW2) demanded the selfless efforts of the older generations devoting their lives to the company and society. The employment system after the war required men to prioritise their work over their private lives, and the system could function by making women quit their jobs after they get married to become housewives and take a role in child-rearing.

75 years have passed since the end of WW2 and young people have less opportunities participate in conversations on the past nor the root of the gender issues they face, with the older people who remember what happened. History education appears to have been caught in a dilemma between accountability and the reinforcement of collective historical narratives according to the values of the dominant male tradition. However, alternative historical perspectives by gender seem to be often omitted in the classroom.

The situation of gender inequality is gradually improving compared to the past, but discrimination against women, in the labor market for example, still seems to be acceptable, having caused little controversy. In educational terms, it is important to understand what kind of educational inequality exists and how it is related to economic inequalities. Education can be used as a tool to reproduce gender roles. In fact, a medical school deliberately failed women applicants at entrance exams for almost a decade until 2018, because ‘women leave their jobs at high rates’. This logic is legitimised in male-oriented culture in labour markets. Hence, educational inequality can lead to limited opportunities for women to achieve what they value.

It is important to question why these gender issues continue to remain in the long term. One factor would be the strong social norm that, ‘individualization should not be taken to the extreme’ to maintain ‘a balance between the individual wishes of a single person and the general demands of society as imperative’ (Chiavacci, 2005, p.122). The norm to follow the social order may work effectively to control public discourse, but it can also bring negative effects at the individual level and within settings such as family, school and the working environment. It implicitly forces people, especially women, children and other vulnerable social groups, not to openly criticise the injustices imposed by those in power through a patriarchal social system.

How can local arts be used to promote learner centred approach in education for gender equality?

In this context, the role of education to address social issues needs to be emphasised. Peace education would require wider conceptualisation to include both ‘negative peace’ and ‘positive peace’ (Galtung,1969). Negative peace is defined as the absence of direct violence, such as war, sexual abuse and domestic violence. On the other hand, positive peace is defined as absence of indirect violence, such as structural and cultural violence, including sexism and culturally condoned exclusion of disadvantaged social groups. Drawing on the concept of positive peace, critical peace education pays attention to unequal social relations and the potential for educational spaces to bring about individual and collective transformation. It also pays close attention to local context and knowledge generated by communities. Thus, learner-centred approach is important to encourage students to voice their views to create a new insight through dialogue.

In the Japanese context, critical peace education is important but may not be easy for students and teachers to practice. This is because it may take effort to create a space that empowers students to voice their opinions freely and critically discuss gender issues in a classroom where these discussions hardly occur. Moreover, the humbling of the teacher, expected in learner-centred approach, can contradict the traditional power relationship between teacher and student in Japan. This is why the MAP’s approach can facilitate implementation of critical peace education.

The strength of MAP is in using different art forms to enable both students and teachers to feel comfortable to talk about sensitive issues. As one of the cultural art forms in Japan, animation can become a tool to encourage both children and youth easily understand social issues and changes across time. Animation movies have become culture icons in Japan especially since Hayao Miyazaki, an Oscar-winning filmmaker, founded his company, Studio Ghibli, in 1985. As a child, he had to flee his home amid the firebombing during WW2 and witnessed rapid modernisation in post-war Japan. These experiences would have influenced his works, of which feature serious themes such as war, environmental issues, identity, and often tell stories of young girls’ growth in the face of adversity, instead of creating a typical fantasy. He believes that ‘children’s souls are the inheritors of historical memory from previous generations’, and many of his works remain the most popular children’s movies of all time in Japan. These films have been a part of childhood memories for many Japanese young people, and people often rewatch them with their children because they can also find meaning in them. Thus, animated movies have partly been used to deliver important messages across generations in Japan, and now different artists are also creating artworks for children based on their experiences of WW2.

In this context, animated films can be used to create a dialogue on gender issues between students and teachers at the school level. For example, In This Corner of the World (2016), a crowdfunded Japanese animated film that successfully attracted young people in Japan and won numerous awards globally, depicted a girl’s daily experience in Hiroshima in the midst of WW2. What makes this film distinct from the previous Japanese war animation films, is that it pays greater attention to the lived experiences of those trying to find normalcy amidst the changing social upheaval. This story is based on thorough research including interviews with survivors, to cultivate the audience’s imagination. It would be useful for students not only to understand what ordinary people experienced around the time of the war, but also to further discuss gender issues found in the story and the kinds of legacy that continues to exist today. Using these art forms, teachers can encourage students to discuss; what are the historical roots of gender inequality in Japan, who benefits from it, and what power relations and discourses (in the media, textbooks etc.) contribute to construct the gender inequality at family, school, community and national level. Students can then discuss what types of participation are possible and meaningful, and how they can act to bring a positive change in the society they live in.

As such, using local arts in education may be able to help students and teachers practice a learner-centred approach and critical peace education to deal with gender issues in their communities. It helps to highlight the need to explore different ways of apprehending the past, and the importance of recognising the ways to create an alternative dialogue. In this way, more young people can be empowered to act to go beyond limiting concepts of development that are often measured by economic terms, and to promote human development through which people can fulfil their rights to pursue what they value, regardless of who they are.

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