Changing times for young minds : declining class size and Shūdan Seikatsu ideology in Hokkaido preschools : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Anthropology at Massey University
Preschool educators and parents in the West commonly express the hope that young children become independent, creative individuals. In contrast, Japanese preschools work to achieve a harmonious group of children whose views and behaviour are mirrored by those of their peers. Studies point to classes as large as forty as an effective way of introducing children to "life in the group" (shūdan seikatsu), and to Japanese social values that will become essential as youngsters move into adulthood. While numerous ethnographies have been written concerning preschools in urban Honshu, how does this representation echo or differ from the contemporary experience of children, teachers and parents in rural Eastern Hokkaido? This remote area of Japan is currently facing economic decline, a dropping birthrate and depopulation which has resulted in preschool classrooms with as few as two or three children. Based on participation-observation fieldwork at five diverse preschools, this study seeks to map the relevance of shūdan seikatsu ideology to Hokkaido educators, and to identify how demographic pressures are changing classroom dynamics.