When I came to Japan in 1984, it wasn't long before I began hearing stories of trouble in schools, with more students exhibiting destructive behavior from around middle school. The general consensus seemed to be that students were spending all their time studying in high-pressure environments and it was leading to bullying and other problems.
At the time, schooling at both pubic and private schools was from Monday through Saturday (as was the standard office workweek), and then around 1985 or 1986, I began meeting people whose office hours had been cut back to a half-day on Saturday or to five days a week. The public school week was cut (over a period of a few years) from every Saturday to two Saturdays a week to a five-day school week with all Saturdays off.
Another component to this was the perception that Japan had excelled at taking technology invented elsewhere and improving on it, but wasn't a leading innovator. It was thought that giving students more free time, along with lessing the traditional pressures towards conformity, would get students away from rote learning for tests and would foster greater creativity.
From the young artists I've been meeting over the past couple of years, I think they were successful in this (regarding art in any case - I don't know how how innovation within companies is going), but there is now more concern over falling test scores than there is over creativity, and things are heading back towards the old way, with the amount of things being studied (and homework), going up.
Navigation is a tricky business - when you realize you've gone too far in one direction, you have to steer back on course, dialing in some extra rudder to make up for being off course, and then - typically - going too far in the other direction, necessitating reverse correction. How to just stay on course? I want to believe it's possible, but practically, it seems to be nearly impossible.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon