Originally appears in the Winter 2018 issue.
Throughout Hamakita, a suburb of Hamamatsu in south-west Japan, food education, outdoor play, and conservation are common educational experiences for students. Take a walk in Hamakita and you will see rice fields and vegetable gardens nestled between houses on crowded blocks. While raising my children in Japan recently, I became intrigued with the amount of environmental education that occurred daily in their public kindergarten. I then visited the neighborhood elementary and middle schools to see if the essence of environmental education (EE) continues for older students. I also looked at what is happening nationally with education practices like ‘integrated learning’ and food education.
In Japan, a nationalized educational system translates to most children learning the same skills. EE concepts are no different. Education is social and one’s personal responsibility to the group is huge. In the kindergarten curriculum, children learn to experience, discover, and protect their environment directly from the world around them. Complex concepts like global warming are taught later on: their knowledge deepening through a spiral of learning in science courses. I asked Hideki Sato of the Japan Environmental Education Forum if these outdoor experiences were common in kindergarten. She replied, “it is normal because youchien [kindergarten] focus[es] on the experience of learning, using the 5 senses and on how to think things through and its process. […] I am sure that many students can learn the spirit and moral[ity] of environmental conservation through the existing Japanese education system.”
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