In Japan ‘100% of school students are exposed to western classical music’

In Japan ‘100% of school students are exposed to western classical music’


norman lebrecht

June 25, 2016

A thoughtful piece on the state of play in Japan from pianist Josephine Yang:

Music education begins at age 6 and lasts as a mandatory class until age 15 (during elementary and junior high schools). In elementary schools, music is taught as an independent subject either by the regular class teacher or by a specialized music teacher. Students learn to play recorders and sing. In junior high schools, music is taught as a separate subject, and starting from junior high, the students learn how to play traditional Japanese instruments as well. At this point in their education, 100% of students in both public and private schools have been exposed to western classical music. Music classes become optional electives at the senior high school levels, and ensembles like bands, choirs, orchestra, etc. congregate in sessions after normal school hours. The normal Japanese education timeline is: 6 years in elementary school (sho-gakko), 3 years in junior high school (chu-gakko), and 3 years in senior high school (koto-gakko). Solfege is taught with the fixed-do system, unlike most American institutions that teach movable-do.

Read on here.


josephine yang


  • someone says:

    I’m very surprised that it could be surprising.

  • Sue says:

    This is a country which has arisen literally from ashes, Phoenix-like, since 1945. No wonder they can do absolutely anything.

  • Itsjtime says:

    M a r s h a l l PLAN

    This is a lesson on how to treat your enemy once the war has ended.
    Once a closed Xenophobic society, now is a major cog in the fabric of shared first world culture. In fact, it appears they may be leading the way in certain aspects.

    • Nick says:

      The Marshall Plan? That was for Europe, not Japan, as far as I recall. And let’s also recall that one key reason for its implementation was America’s fear of Soviet expansionism towards the Atlantic. A battered Europe could not play much part. Hence the US determination to lift Germany and other countries quickly out of the destruction of the War.

      As for music education in Japan, a word with one of the main concert promoters will quickly reveal that all is not at all as rosy as the article points out. Audiences are ageing just as they are in much of the west. Most younger people are far too busy working and socialising with colleagues and clients after work to consider going to concerts. Yes, Tokyo has more concert halls and orchestras than most other capital cities. But the situation is quite different in other cities.

      • someone says:

        I agree with the first paragraph that Nick has written.
        America’s fear of Soviet expansionism was the main reason.
        Apparently, the Americian government shortly considered having a main base in Korea, but once they found out that Korea was totally ruined by the Japanese Nazis (who invaded many Asian countries and committed all the barbarities too shocking to be told, but still not really known to the rest of the world), they decided to have a main base in Japan.

        For one’s information, it wasn’t originally my view, but it was one of my flatmates’ view in the hall of residence of my college.
        He was Irish and said that he was taught that at school and I understood it.

        The American government not only helped Japan restore the country, but the worst thing is that they helped Japan whitewash and conceal most of the crimes of Japanese Nazis.
        They pardoned even the criminals who did extremely cruel biological experiments on living human bodies of other Asian people because General MacArthur wanted their research.

        I never ever think that this could be a good lesson on how to treat the criminals, whether the war has ended or not.
        I’d much prefer the way in which Europe and Jewish people treated German Nazis.
        Whenever I face the kind of people, who really don’t know what has been going on in Asia, I always feel huge despair.

        In any case, please do not even try to criticise people who cannot forgive the Japanese Nazis dead or still alive and the shameless people who are defending them, because they’ve never ever truly regret or felt sorry for the victims and are still doing the same things till now.

        See the photos, what the Japanese Prime Minister is doing.
        He is the grandson of one of famous Japanese Nazis.
        If you don’t understand what 731 means, just google it.

        Gosh… it could be a huge insult to the victims and victim countries who are still suffering because of the so-called ‘Phoenix’.

        What would European and Jewish people think, if I say about Germany in that way, if Germany still denied the truth and were still abusing the victims?
        ” Germany has arisen literally from ashes, Phoenix-like, since 1945. No wonder they can do absolutely anything. ”

        Japanese classical music fans’ affection and desire for the Western classical music and culture are well known to Western people, including classical musicians and they have a big market.
        I usually have no reasons to feel negative about it, and I believe that no one here wrote comments to defend the criminals and the wrongdoings.
        I just hope people, who don’t really know about the history and politics of Asia very well, to be more careful when they talk about other things because it can hurt a lot.

        To talk about music education, the things mentioned above in the posting is not surprising to me at all.
        On the contrary, I was surprised by the fact that it still could be ‘that’ surprising to Western people.
        Not in all the Asian countries, but some Asian countries, it is extremely common to have various types of music education of Western classical music at school and after school.

        Most of my Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Korean friends have learnt how to play the piano and other musical instruments of classical music.
        I went to classical music concerts with them many times.

        I was very surprised when I found that it was not very normal for European youngsters to learn classical music and instruments.
        I asked my English friend about music education in England once, but he didn’t say much.

        When I took him to a classical music concert, he was just wowed and he showed lots of interest about classical music and the orchestra.
        He became curious about everything.
        Since then, he and his wife started booking classical music concerts on his own.
        One day, they said that they booked a concert, but didn’t remember what they booked.
        They just said that it looked like a famous musician’s concert but couldn’t remember the name.
        I asked about the date and venue and then, I found out that they booked Daniel Barenboim’s recital.

        Maybe, could I say that Russians are a bit more interested in classical music among European youngsters?
        When I was watching a classical music event aired on TV in the common room, there was a Russian guy and we got to talk about classical music and music education.
        He made me feel Russians were different, however, I know that he doesn’t represent all the Russians and I clearly remember the Russian girl’s face when I told her I’d love to visit Russia because I liked Tchaikovsky.

        Once I wrote how the music education has been going on in Korea.
        At the moment, I wouldn’t like to repeat it again.
        Just one thing I want to tell is that education is important, but the environment is another key.

        I think being close to classical music is the most important thing and it mustn’t be forced in any case.
        Usually, if parents read books, the children read books and if parents listen to and enjoy classical music, children do the same, but if parents or anyone force it, children would hate it.
        If friends go to a classical music concert, their friends are likely to go to a classical music concert as well, as many of my friends did.

        Anyway, but we all should understand that generally, classical music is not an easy one to understand right away.
        It’ll take time.

    • Sue says:

      There are very many countries – particularly in the ‘third world’ – who are given vast amounts of aid from other nations and which have not developed one iota at all. So, don’t ever use the excuse of ‘plans’ to justify the superb work ethic, intelligence and innovation of Japan.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    “Solfege is taught with the fixed-do system, unlike most American institutions that teach movable-do.”

    As if most American institutions taught solfege at all. 😀

    A musician colleague of mine from Japan grew up in that system, playing in the schools bands and he noted that the high achievement was at a cost of physical beatings as part of the pedagogical technique. Beatings for wrong notes, beatings for behavior, beatings for whatever the director felt like beating someone for. All to make sure that junior high performance of Tchaikovsky #4 was perfect.

    It was part of the plan; the parents knew and approved.

    He didn’t have warm memories of it.

    • John says:

      And you think we should take one person’s experience with a sadistic teacher to be the way music is taught all over Japan?

  • Milka says:

    It is not that 100 % of Japanese students are exposed to western music it is rather
    how deeply the 100% understand the music other than as a western novelty .
    To parrot what one hears should not be mistaken for the real thing .

    • John says:

      Be sure to tell that to Midori and all the other stunning artists from Japan when you see them.

      • Milka says:

        Midori is a good example , one wonders if you equate or mistake technical proficiency
        as being a form of stunning artistry,it seems you do .

      • Milka says:

        To consider Midori a stunning artist is a personal response not necessarily shared
        by others .Many confuse technical ability with “artistic ” achievement & insights .

    • B Bailey says:

      Milka, your appalling comment borders on racism, repugnant stereotyping and insufferable snobbery. You are talking about a country that was one of the biggest purchasers of Western classical music recordings going back to the 1920s at least. Legge’s Hugo Wolf Society enterprise would have been smothered at birth had it not been for Japanese subscribers in 1932. One of the finest sets of the Sibelius symphonies ever issued is by Akeo Watanabe and the Japan Philharmonic. The best, most carefully remastered transfers of the Western classical catalogue have stemmed from Japan.

      • Milka says:

        you may interpret my observation as you like-your back up points signify nothing .

        • Herbert Pauls says:

          Milka, if you ever have the opportunity, do check out the large Toshiba/EMI surveys of Schnabel, Walter, Lipatti, Weingartner, Cortot and many others. Compare them to the 1990s transfers from British EMI. You will then see what Bailey is talking about. This level of care for our European recorded heritage is far from insignificant. Quite the opposite, in fact. Further, what has just been mentioned is only the tip of the iceberg. Just one more example: All the Gould recordings were already available on Japanese CDs before CBS got around to issuing them in North America and Europe.

    • KL says:

      It was interesting to observe Russians imitate German, French and Italian music in the 19th century. By your theory, they must have been parrots. Try saying that to Anton Rubinstein, Horowitz and Rostropovich.

      Welcome to the 21st century. You are a racist and the world doesn’t need your kind.

  • Nick says:

    Whatever the quality of musical instruction and the actual number of concert goers, there is no doubt that classical CD stores in Tokyo are huge in comparison to those in most of the world’s other capital cities. The Tower Records stores in Shinjuku and Shibuya alone are a treasure trove for music lovers seeking not only current CDs/DVDs but those by the great artists of the past, many of which can rarely be found elsewhere.

  • Marg says:

    Now I know why they have a such a great love of the recorder, and produce fine professional recorders (I own one myself). Say what you like, some of the earlier commentators, but Id give anything in Australia to have mandatory music education even for a few years in our schools. We couldnt help but be better off culturally.

    • Sue says:

      Totally agree. I remember when I was an English teacher in an Australian state high school being asked if I’d VOLUNTARILY mind teaching some Music students for their matriculation Musicology course!! The rest of the ‘course’ was CRASH BANG.

  • Writer says:

    I think it’s really cool when children begin to learn music from an early age. This greatly develops creativity. Also, a child can become a great musician if he begins to learn music from an early age, or any musical instruments. I believe that our schools also need to do so, and to organize the learning process is similar to Japanese. I think that many children in our country will really study music. Thank you very much for sharing such interesting information.