Nominal Individuation in Japanese Kindergatens

Nominal Individuation in Japanese Kindergatens
Exercise quotes
Image by timtak
Maybe because I have been looking at traditional Japanese sightseeing maps (名所図会 Named-place-collection-Pictures, shown top right; Imao, 2005 ) which show views with names popping up out of them, at this mornings’ open day, my son’s kindergarten classroom looked rather the same: a space covered in the names, of the children.

Allison (2000) points out that Japanese children have to take a lot of kit to school, of a certain type, and she sees this as an example of the extent to which Japanese kindergarten’s (over) exercise control of their charges and even their mothers. At the same time however she may not have mentioned that this kit is displayed around the classroom labelled with the child’s name. In my son’s class there were
1) Named, individual registers of attendance, into which the children themselves affix a sticker (like a stamp) into a calendar on the days they attend.
2) A birthday poster showing who has a birthday on what day of which month.
3) Individually named shoe rack to store out-door shoes and slippers.
4) Individually named smock hook rack.
5) Individually named "lockers" without doors for the obligatory satchel. The satchel is the only uniform part of the children’s attire.
6) A chart showing four class subgroups showing the insect themed groups, their members colour coded according the sex.
7) Named Children’s artwork on the walls. This of course is common to UK classrooms.
8) A individually named change of clothes rack.
9) Individually named towel hook rack.
10) Individually named swimwear bag hook rack.
11) A rack containing the named individual drink flasks of all the children (I could imagine that all things that UK children bring to school are named, but then perhaps we might share the same source of drink. I have omitted this one from the collage.)

I can not remember my kindergarten classroom too well but I think that of these the artworks would have had names on them, lockers might have been numbered. I am not sure that my name would have been anywhere else on the walls or furniture of my kindergarten class. It seems Japanese children are encouraged to individuate themselves, their property, their hook, their lockers, using their name.

Names are very important in Japan (Plutschow, 1995), unlike words in general (have quotes), and are commonly included in self-descriptive Twenty Statements Test responses often near the top. Lacan (2007) argues that we (Westerners at least) should attempt to have as far as possible a symbolic, narrative awareness of self, but also argues that identification with body-image is a minimal essential, the lack of which leads to psychosis. I get the feeling that names are equivalent in an Nacalian culture to the image of a body in Lacanian culture: that minimal self-representation in the other channel required for completing the ‘mobius strip’ — twisted in the sense that self perception is not quite possible within either channel — of self identity.

Allison, A. (2000). Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (1st ed.). University of California Press.
Lacan, J. (2002). The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience. In B. Fink (Trans.), Ecrits (pp. 75–81). WW Norton & Company.
Lacan, Jacques. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. (B. Fink, Trans.) (1st ed.). W W Norton & Co Inc.
Plutschow, H. (1995). Japan’s name culture: the significance of names in a religious, political and social context. Japan Library Kent, CT. Retrieved from
Imao, K. 恵介今尾. (2005). 日本地図のたのしみ. 角川学芸出版.

I have blurred all the names in the pictures other than those of my son. 息子以外に名前は全てぼこしています。

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2 Responses to Nominal Individuation in Japanese Kindergatens

  1. jleuers says:

    early training for the neo-immaculate organization, imo. Your things were named,
    certainly, and pegs in cloakrooms and shoe and other kit bags, too, but there was always a ‘lost property’ box and ‘Lost Property’ seems to loom much larger as a feature of western life, not just for small children, but for everyone. It is extremely difficult to lose things in Japan, because of the dogged determination to make sure things get to their owners, or are never parted from them in the first place!

  2. jleuers says:

    I checked statistics and found …
    "This article examines the lost property regime of Japan, which has one of the most impressive reputations in the world for returning lost property to its rightful owner, and compares it with that of the United States. Folk legend attributes Japanese lost-and-found success to honesty and other-regarding preferences. In this article, I focus on another possible explanation: legal institutions that efficiently and predictably allocate and enforce possessory rights. These recognized, centuries-old rules mesh with norms, institutional structures, and economic incentives to reinforce mutually the message that each sends and yields more lost-property recovery than altruism alone".
    View Full Article (HTML) by:Mark D. West

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