Hokkaido preschools: appropriating the distant other, ignoring their own?
Paper short abstract:
As Japan's education system embraces internationalisation as part of its curriculum, this paper discusses how preschools in Hokkaido appropriate Western tales and celebrations yet neglect to acknowledge the indigenous Ainu in either pedagogy or practice.
Paper long abstract:
Colonised by the Japanese state in the 1860s, the isolated island of Hokkaido is both geographically and culturally distinct from Japan's other main islands. While anthropological research within and about Hokkaido has predominantly concerned itself with studies of the indigenous Ainu, this subject has largely been ignored by the nationally standardised Japanese education system. Despte neglecting ethnic groups within Japan, the Ministry of Education has embraced a vigorous 'internationalisation' programme which promotes the study of foreign cultures and English language skills. This paper examines how this approach has impacted on the early childhood sector in Hokkaido. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted at five preschools, it discusses how early childhood educators have appropriated Western fairytales and rituals for pedagogical purposes, yet neglect to examine 'the other' in their midst. Through exposure to foreign teachers, Hokkaido children are learning to perform the Maori haka or make Canadian totem poles yet they cannot recognise the distinctive patterns of an Ainu robe. Christian celebratons like Christmas and Easter are seen by preschools as an arts and crafts opportunity, while children carve Halloween pumpkins and attend collective birthday parties. Throughout the preschool experience any reference to the Ainu is noticeably absent. While cultural appropriation is often harshly critiqued, the lack of any appropriation of local indigenous culture in Hokkaido preschools contributes to a situation of almost total obscurity and invisibility of Ainu identities.
Appropriating childhood: the current state of play