Homeschool leaders in Japan are working hard to build a strong community with a wide range of resources for parents and students. To that end, the national organization CHEA-Japan held its annual conference this November in Nagano, a city known for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Donnelly said the trip was invigorating.

“It was very encouraging for me to be there to see the energy and enthusiasm of these young families,” Donnelly added. “They’re excited, and they’re encouraging one another.”

Sorting out the Law

Japan’s homeschool movement is small but growing. An estimated 10,000 Japanese children are being taught at home.

Legally, however, homeschooling in Japan still exists in a gray area.

“Homeschooling is not explicitly legal in Japan,” Donnelly explained. On the other hand, “there’s no law that says you can’t homeschool.”

“There have been efforts by Japanese homeschool advocates this past year to recognize home education in Japan,” he added. “The authorities are slowly becoming familiar with this new approach to education, but have concerns that are similar to those faced by American homeschoolers in the early 1980s.”

Inaba, who has been directly involved in the legislative work of CHEA-Japan, was encouraged by recent progress made in the Japanese national legislature.

“We have been blessed with good relations with important leaders of the Japanese parliament,” Inaba said. “Although they have not been familiar with home education, many of them are reform-minded and open to hearing about home education. This year they have been willing to discuss the best way to acknowledge that alternative education—which includes home education—can be included in national education legislation. We appreciate HSLDA for their encouragement and support during this process.”

Focus on Freedom

At the conference, legislative trends—and how they may affect home education—remained a prominent topic. Donnelly addressed the subject several times during various talks.

“I encouraged homeschooling parents to work towards legal protection for their movement, with as little restriction as possible,” he said. “Many Japanese families are unwilling to confront the gray area of legality. But legal recognition will make it possible for many more of them to try home education.”

One veteran homeschooling father told Donnelly this is an area where the experience of his American homeschooling friends can be instructive.

“That’s something we’re very concerned about, because we do not want the government controlling our homeschooling,” the dad said. “We see and hear things we need to be careful of. We can learn from you—good things and bad things—and be prepared for what’s coming next.”

Lots Going On

Aside from discussions about the legal climate, CHEA-Japan’s conference featured other typical activities: seminars, student presentations, games, prizes—and corporate worship.

The latter is noteworthy because, like the early movement in America, the present wave of homeschooling in Japan is driven in large part by religious faith.

As the aforementioned father told Donnelly, with homeschooling “we can teach about the word of God. That’s probably the best thing. We can walk together, and we can grow together.”

One challenge to homeschooling in Japan, unlike the American experience, is a longstanding tradition that insists on social conformity.

Homeschooled teen Mahiro Sanno told Donnelly this expectation is manifested even in education.

When Sanno attended public school, she said, “everybody had to be the same. If you’re a bit different, then people won’t like you.”

She added that homeschooling “is quite different. It’s really flexible. You can study whatever you want.”

The teen said she is taking advantage of that flexibility by focusing on chemistry. Her plan is to lay the groundwork for pursuing a science degree at a college in a far-off, exotic locale—otherwise known as Cedarville, Ohio.