Faced with a disintegrating economy and increasing acts of violence by young people, the Japanese government is being told to speed up education reform.
The school education system, though consistently placed near the top in international comparisons, is now seen as fit only for dismantling.
Business leaders blame the present economic malady on an "outdated" style of education which many feel does not prepare students for work in an increasingly competitive, globalised and computerised world.
Prominent business leader Mikio Fujiki, said: "Japan now wants more creative, individualistic and imaginative employees. The kind of homogeneous, conformist individual who could be easily moulded for the prosperous corporate post-war period won't succeed in today's world."
A spate of stabbings and other violent disturbances at schools has also concentrated the government's mind on reforming the rigid school system. A Kobe boy arrested for killing his classmate blamed his school and the education system. The education ministry said the number of violent high schools incidents has tripled over the past decade.
Often criticised by human rights groups, Japanese schools stress conformity and divide students into groups that stay together all year to learn, usually by rote, the same as all others of the identical age group.
Central to the proposed changes is a report from the Curriculum Council set up by the education ministry. It suggests that students should now have "education of the heart" and schools should "give high respect for each child's individuality and cultivate a sense of justice, sympathy, creativity ...to encourage full demonstration of a child's ability through his or her life". For the first time since the war, child-centred learning will be encouraged. The report also calls for a new curriculum based on "raising children who can think for themselves".
As part of the reforms, 45 new "comprehensive high schools" were opened across Japan last year. They offer a wider curriculum choice and allow students to select their course work. Teachers' unions have also succeeded in persuading the ministry to grant pupils more personal freedom by ending Saturday classes.
Sensing the need for more urgent change, the plan to put the nation's schools on a five-day week will now be brought forward by a year to 2002.
Education officials say the aim is "to encourage students to become more involved in society and their communities and to help them develop social and family skills, as well as to foster independence".