The influence of politics and culture on English language education in Japan during World War II and the occupation

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After the defeat in World War II, Japan was occupied for six and a half years by U.S.-led forces. The Occupation transformed Japan from a militaristic, totalitarian nation to a democratic nation with comprehensive reforms. Among various publications, including studies and opinion polls, little input has been garnered from students who actually studied English during World War II and the Occupation, when English language education was influenced by two different powers. In addition, the fact that the population of eyewitnesses is rapidly diminishing due to their ages should be noted. To bridge a gap in an under-researched area, this study explored how students themselves perceived and negotiated their way through English language education and society during these periods, and implications of this for understanding the events, causes and effects of the time. This thesis investigated the following research questions: 1. How did education, especially English language education, at middle level schools in Japan during World War II and the subsequent Occupation, reflect the policies and shed light on the apparent mindset of the political power holders of the times? 2. How might Japanese culture and the Japanese psyche explain some of the responses to those events? 3. What was the perceived impact of these policies on those teachers and students of English during these two periods? This is a qualitative, phenomenological study with nine research participants, who were students during the War and/or Occupation. The collected data from documents and the interviews were analysed from a standpoint of critical pedagogy. The study compared the above two periods and investigated causes and effects with regard to the democratization of education and society, as well as the volatile status of English and English teachers. Eyewitness accounts were added to what is already known about the events of the time. The study also investigated, among other phenomena, the role of Japanese culture in the changes at the time. The study found that some of the responses on the part of the research participants could be explained by Japanese cultural phenomena and the reality or a perception on the part of the research participants of General MacArthur’s accomplishments. The changing of the guard also caused political changes which influenced education. Some of the Japanese cultural traits supported enforcement of policy of the powerful of the time. The findings have implications for intercultural education, and for subsequent U.S. foreign policy.
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