The origin of teaching as a profession in Japan: A transnational analysis of the relationship between professionalism and nationalism in the 19th century

Aki Sakuma


How was the concept of «teaching as a profession» advocated in the 19th century? In this study, this question is analysed by focusing on how the Japanese version of the concept was imported from the West and subsequently transformed in this non-Christian setting. It was formulated not only by a national action to create a strong centralized nation-state in Asia, but also through the transnational interaction of European, American, and Japanese educational leaders. First, the author argues that, the early Japanese concept of «teaching as a profession» is explored by examining the ideas of Mori Arinori, the first Minister of Education. Mori claimed that, in order to safeguard children’s morality, teaching should be a holy-calling profession in Japan. For him, this meant educating the subsequent generations to be obedient to their holy nation. Second, Mori’s images of education are shown to be consistent with those in the United States, where he had studied as a diplomat. These images were shared not only by US leaders such as Horace Mann, but also with Prussian and French leaders of the era. In both countries, both the holy-calling theory and the profession theory included nationalism, whose ultimate aim was education for the nation. However, while the sacredness of the republican polity was based on the ideals of individualism and liberty in the United States, the sacredness of the imperial polity in Japan was promoted by the Emperor the apotheosis of the imperial line, unbroken for ages eternal. These historical origins of the concept of teaching suggest why the professionalisation of teaching in Japan has been advanced by forces that hoist the flag of national particularism, and by a government that supports this view. This implies that teaching professionalism does not always connote democracy or the human rights of children/teachers.


teaching in Japan; teaching profession; professionalisation of teaching; Mori Arinori; 19th century: teaching in America

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