1999 Student-Faculty Fellows: Kalamazoo College

Japan: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of the Political Socialization of Chinese and Japanese Children

Mentor: Jeremy D. Mayer, Political Science
Student: Heather M. Schmidt, ’99, International Studies/Political Science


Heather M. Schmidt

Arriving in Japan directly from Guangzhou, China, where I had been teaching and writing my senior thesis the past year, I couldn’t help but compare the two cultures. The constant challenges and chaotic adventures that met me while attempting to accomplish my goals in China gave way to methodical, organized procedure in Japan. The differences in the cultures were especially apparent in the schools where Dr. Mayer and I conducted our surveys. These cultural differences became an important consideration in the manner we wrote and distributed our survey in the two countries. Indispensable in both countries were friends, colleagues, and sister-city relationships. As a student, the experiences and research opportunities provided by the Freeman Grant were unparalleled. Being able to learn about the political views of the Japanese students through a survey, visiting historical sites, and climbing Mount Fuji allowed me to experience the culture while researching and learning. Being in the country I was researching allowed me to conduct interactive research which enhanced the entire process and made it much more memorable. Additionally, having a professor take part in the research was an invaluable learning tool. It would have never been possible to learn so much without the one-on-one time that the grant provided.

Prof. Jeremy Mayer

Heather and I met up in Tokyo at the end of June, as planned. Next, we traveled to Numazu City, a suburb about an hour outside Tokyo. Here we ran into our first serious problem. It had been brewing for months. The school board of Numazu was very unwilling to ask its students politically sensitive questions about World War II, and other topics. They basically rewrote our survey as a condition of gaining access to the students. We acceded, but this created a number of data problems that had to be hurdled. Other than this, the surveying in Numazu went well, and in the end, they provided the bulk of our sample. Next, we returned to Tokyo to enter this new data in our computers, as well as conduct smaller surveys of more diverse populations. One survey was conducted at three different “jukus” or private after school programs. This version was our original survey, including the sensitive questions. We also had some surveys done by a cultural group who also allowed us to use the original version.

Research Abstract

“The Apathetic and the Spoon-fed: American, Japanese and Chinese Junior High School Students’ Political Socialization” – Our written survey suggests that Japan and the United States tended to be more politically apathetic, than their Chinese counterparts. While differences in government systems are certainly an important factor, the media may be more directly influencing the outcome. In China, where many students are required to watch the news in class, the news is filled with stories touting the government line whereas in Japan and the United States, the media conveys a greater sense of cynicism and criticizes the government and its leaders.

Another surprising result was found concerning individualism. The Japanese students diverged from their Asian counterparts choosing more individualistic values and goals despite their Confucian and cultural values which have traditionally focused on the group. This may be due to the rapid economic changes that Japan underwent in the last fifty years to eventually becoming a post-materialistic society.