West Meets East. A Well-Rounded Education versus an Angular Education in Japan

Kazuhito Obara


The idea of a well-rounded education is widely recognized, and as IB programs and the concept of an IB education are gradually yet steadily infiltrating the Japanese education system, Japan can no longer ignore the existence of a Zenjin («whole person») education, which was first practiced in 1921 by a Japanese philosopher of education named Kuniyoshi Obara. This paper compares the philosophical and theoretical foundations of Obara’s Zenjin education and a so-called «well-rounded» education, revealing the similarities between them and using these as a rationale for educational reform in Japan. In the literature review, the recent debate between well-rounded and angular education proponents is addressed, and it is concluded that a well-rounded education still has a role to play, even though there are a certain number of competitive and prestigious universities/colleges that question its merits and give priority to high school graduates who have specialized solely in one area, such as sports, arts, or a standard-deviation-value-oriented, angular education. Regardless of the fact that attaining good scores on academic tests is often thought to be a reasonable way for children to meet their aspirations and expectations and receive benefits from a meritocracy and an academic hierarchy, especially in Japan, this paper insists that a true form of education should be concerned with each individual’s whole personality, and therefore a Zenjin, or well-rounded, education must play a core role in the education system. Indeed, the current Japanese education system is collapsing and deteriorating, exposing children to serious problems such as bullying, school-related suicides, etc. so preventative measures urgently need to be put in place, and it is time to think carefully about what a Zenjin education has to teach us.


A well-rounded education; a liberal arts education; a Zenjin education; Kuniyoshi Obara; the Japanese education system

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14516/ete.213


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