Just as I was crossing out the prefectures on the map of Japan which I have been to, and realizing I have 9 more to cover in my last 1 year in university, I received an email from the Singapore Kindness Movement looking for a translator in their study trip to Japan, which included Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. I have this little goal in my mind to cover all 47 prefectures in Japan before graduation, and this translator job offer could not have come at a better time, as I could make use of this opportunity to travel to Hokuriku (the western coast of Japan).

I visited Fukui Prefecture, then Ishikawa, followed by Toyama. Unlike many of my previous trips, this trip carries something more important and significant, as I would be going up into the mountains to Hokuriku Gakuin University with two young staff from the Singapore Kindness Movement to visit Professor Kanamori. I had known little about Professor Kanamori prior to this trip, but after watching “Children Full of Life”, a NHK documentary made about him and his novel teaching methodology, I was hugely impressed by his enthusiasm in education and my respect for him skyrocketed.

I myself am very interested in education, and have been part of the generation which experienced a paradigm shift in education from emphasis on rote learning and memorization of texts, to a more creative thinking approach that sheds some light on the importance of Emotional Intelligence. Japan, however, seems to lag behind in this paradigm shift, with much of its education still heavily dependent on rote learning, owing largely to the over-reliance on its university entrance examinations and the overall system of employment. The Japanese higher education and particularly its English education have been ferociously attacked by vitriolic criticisms, but the iron curtain protection of the government has sufficed thus far in protecting it from collapsing. I have much ammunition of criticisms in hand too, about Japan’s education system, but being an outsider, I could do nothing more than opening my mouth and risk being accused of slander. My brief session with Professor Kanamori’s at Hokuriku Gakuin University gave me some valuable insights from an experienced teacher, who holds up in his sleeves, the secrets to a perhaps more successful and productive education, which could be the key to salvage the degenerating education system in Japan.

It might be inevitable that the focus on education is now on math and science, rather than on literature or morals, due to our dependence on practical skills to survive in this increasingly competitive world. However, this does not serve as an adequate excuse for us to neglect and overlook the importance of morals and understanding others, especially in this world which is increasingly getting smaller in terms of accessibility. We now interact with people from different places more often than ever, albeit through various forms of mediums- virtual or not. Perhaps it is now the responsibility of the new generation of people to redefine this balance between science, the arts, and morals.

However, Professor Kanamori did not believe that it is necessarily true that the people (referring to Japanese) nowadays are losing the good manners and courtesy like that in the good old days. He brought up the example of the wartime atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers, and also the case of young volunteers who help out enthusiastically when a natural disaster strikes a certain part of Japan. He pointed out that the fact that many of these volunteers are actually young people, and this is something less seen in the past. Of course, the increasing speeds of which information is transmitted plays a big part in helping us getting aware of our surroundings and giving us the opportunity to do our parts. The problem is, are we bothered enough to do so? Professor Kanamori mentioned about how the media today is made up hugely of entertainment shows. Instead of raising our awareness and emphasizing the importance to do our part in the society and the world, we are blinded by the glamour of the showbiz and the pursuit of luxury and wealth. If we have enough motivation to take the first step, we have the capacity to change the society. The irony is that, because of the same reason, we are too distracted by other aspects of life and we have lost our interest in helping others.

Professor Kanamori brought up two important points of education which he values most. Firstly, he mentions about the immense potential children have innately. Children possess much more potential in learning than adults can imagine. Children rarely think logically but instead feel their way around. They grow up imitating what the adults do. Therefore, there is no need for adults to try and teach children values and other knowledge, because it would be easier and more effective to let children understand values by themselves. Knowledge that children learn from within would stay with them forever. The second point is this activity Professor Kanamori does in his class in an elementary school called “notebook letters”, which is mentioned in the documentary as well. A class would begin with three students reading out their “notebook letters”, something like diary, in which they write about their lives and their most honest feelings. He says that in school nowadays, children are made to write sentences and essays without someone to address. He says that sentences are supposed to be written to “someone”, yet most of what we write in school are directed to no one but the teacher. In this way, we lost the bigger picture and aim of writing. Also, we do not write what we think, but instead write what is deemed as the correct answer. Professor Kanamori says that children all have many things to say and to tell when they go to school and back home, but when they reach their classrooms, they are told to be quiet and listen to the teacher. Similarly, when they get home, their parents are too busy, and they themselves are stressed out by homework, they slowly lose their abilities to tell what they really feel. Also, in this way, without someone to talk to, children turn to the television and games.

In this documentary, there was a scene where a boy mentioned about the death of his grandmother in his notebook letter. Thanks to this, many other students shared their experiences. Mifuyu, one of the classmates, told the class for the first time about the death of her father when she was three years old. Even though this induced tears in the whole class, it helped Mifuyu release this emotional load she had been holding on to, and this secret she had been keeping. Talking about experiences help create a stronger bond among friends because common experiences create a new bond.

Professor Kanamori also mentioned about the interrelation between morals and science. When we asked him how we could redefine the balance between the two, he says that we should not teach the two separately, because morals is ingrained in every aspect of the world, including science. For example when we learn about agriculture and the growing of rice, we learn the importance of water, sunlight, the faeces of animals and so on. The more we find out about science, the more we realize the intricate links it has with ourselves, and thus the morals involved. The science we learn nowadays are too separated from its origins, and that is why we do not seem to see the link anymore, and the moral aspect of science is being neglected.

Last but not least, I would like to recommend this documentary to everyone. Perhaps it could shed some light on what could have been our school lives if our teachers were like Professor Kanamori.