Teachers' independence from government ideological influences is about to be watered down sparking fears that the moral values of teachers and children will be subject to state control.
Prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's advisory body has proposed a revision to the country's fundamental education law, so that concepts such as "love of one's country" and "respect for Japanese tradition" would be written into it as key objectives for schools. These changes could be enforced later this year.
The education ministry blames the change on the individualism and egalitarianism of post-war schooling for teenage delinquency, classroom breakdown and a decline in academic achievements. Teachers and citizens'
groups are lobbying hard to block the government's move.
"This is an infringement of civil liberty," said Akio Furuyama, an educationist and researcher.
"The government has no right to enter the minds of people," said Takashi Ota, chair of the citizens' group for children's protection.
"What the government is trying to do is contrary to the spirit of this law," said Tetsuya Takahashi, a professor at Tokyo university. He said the law was enacted after the Second World War to draw a line under the imperial edict which taught children to give up their life for the emperor in national emergencies.
It laid the foundation for education that respects the individual and redefines the state's role as an entity that serves its people. "The revision is an attempt to stand the law on its head," he said.
Already old nationalistic ideals such as "love of home town" and "respect for teachers" have crept into the primary curriculum under the heading of ethics.
In 1999, the government made it compulsory for state schools to display the Japanese flag at biannual events and for teachers to sing the national anthem. The Tokyo educational authority has warned teachers they will be dismissed if they do not obey.