The politics of competition and cooperation in physical education curriculum in Japan

Year: 2012

Author: Itani, Keiko

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


[Back ground]

Political approach to the curriculum research in Japan has been introduced by Nagao(1995,2009) and Shibano(1995) with the influence of studies by Apple(1979,1982,1993)and others. Curriculum politics encompasses a wide range of issues from an official educational system and educational planning in schools to local relationships among various elements in practical setting. Yet, the PE curriculum has been studied mostly as a part of educational methodology in pedagogy and critical examination of curriculum politics has been scarce.

While sport gives unique opportunities for young people to improve their social competency, such as fair-play and cooperation, it also teaches them to be docile and respect competition and hierarchy and nurtures group consciousness. The discourses of kizuna (solidarity or ties) that appeared after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011(311) in sport events exemplified the politics of cooperation in mobilization of mass through sport.


The purpose of this study is to analyze the politics"competition" and "cooperation" in Japanese PE curriculum and to examine how it manifest in a teaching material of jump rope.

[Research design]

Foregrounding the recent political and social changes, this study analyzes the discourses of competition and cooperation in PE curriculum, a teaching material of jump rope in particular.


The Basic Act on Education in Japan, which was revised in 2006, sets out the fundamentals of education correspond to the great social changes surrounding education such as scientific and technological progress, advancement of information technology, and globalization, and it added new objectives for education, such as cultivation of public-mindedness, morality, self-discipline, respect for tradition and culture, and patriotism. In accordance with the revised Basic Act on Education, the Ministry of Education,Culture,Sports,Science & Technology in Japan alsorevised the Course of Study for schools.

The analysis of jump rope, which is one of the most common teaching materials in the elementary school PE in Japan, shows that it involves various aspects of both competition and cooperation, and the emphasis on "work together"also promotes prioritization of group before individual,perseverance, self-control, and self-help efforts.

While these qualities are commonly considered desirable, the post-311 discourses of kizuna demonstrate that it is also important to be critical of the ways in which the politics of cooperation is mobilized through PE and sport and what political purposes it serves.