More than 500 years after its arrival in Japan, Confucianism still looms large in modern Japan. Beneath the advanced technology that characterizes modern Japan lies deeply-entrenched values and ideals in government, schools and places of work, namely respect for authority and the pursuit of knowledge.
Japanese learn respect for authority at a very early age. In families and in schools, children are made aware of a hierarchical structure that must be obeyed. And, this collective observance of obedience results in self-discipline, which leads to an orderly community. In Japan and other parts of Asia where Confucianism runs deeply, the good of the community is valued over the benefit of an individual.
On the other hand, Confucianism also emphasizes the individual pursuit of knowledge. This idea gave birth to meritocracy in government. Imperial China’s scholars and bureaucrats could advance their careers through individual initiative, rather than an affinity to authority.
In present-day Japan, this is evident in the intense pressure to pass nationwide university entrance tests and secure a highly coveted place in one of the country’s leading universities. Following their studies, graduates live out that pursuit of knowledge by excelling in their chosen careers and making valuable contributions to society.
While more schools in Japan have incorporated some Western values, like self-expression and creativity, the Japanese education system remains deeply rooted in the age-old principles of respect for authority, the collective good and continuous improvement.