Adam Lebowitz


Even if you prefer not to read the domestically-produced American newspaper known as the Japan Times, it is impossible to ignore the current Cultural Restoration. Statements about the ineluctability of culture are a central part of the revised Basic Education Law passed during the first Abe cabinet in 2006 (Lebowitz & McNeill, 2007).  The main problem here is culture is not a legally defined entity. Therefore, its inclusion in a policy document is problematic: without an established interpretation, it simply becomes the whim of authority. 

This is not to say culture is a bad thing. The problem is when culture becomes a tool of national intent it becomes susceptible to the ideology of fundamentalism. And just to be clear, Cultural Restoration is not unique to this society. In fact, we can see it throughout the region. I will not speculate on the reasons why, but the heady ‘90’s talk of “borderless society” and “multiculturalism” seems in the distant past. 

On the other hand, now higher education here has also discovered “Japanese Culture”, and it is leading to new opportunities for L2 teaching. These are mainly found in courses for international students. These kinds of courses can be extremely enjoyable, especially for those of us who have advanced degrees in “Asian Studies.” As the numbers of international students increase so should the demand for these courses.

One potential positive outcome of the Restoration is that an artificial construct may finally be put down: Japan. Words are definitive, and if culture is ineluctable, so should be the right to self-definition. Since the orthographic Latinization is coherent, there is no reason why this country should not be referred to as “Nihon” in English discourse, especially among “foreigners” spending significant time here (Joke: “My first six months here were spent in Japan.” 「ジャパン半年 日本にて」). Everyone has the right to interpret their own experiences. The first step is recognizing the environment. Then, contributions to the cultural milieu become all the more possible.


Lebowitz, A., & McNeill, D. (2007). Hammering down the educational nail: Abe revises the Fundamental Law of Education. The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. http://japanfocus.org/-Adam-Lebowitz/2468/article.html