The Japanese Education Program in the Philippines

This excerpt is from Kuwentong Bayan: Noong Panahon Ng Hapon: Everyday Life in a Time of War which is a compilation of Filipino personal narratives of World War II in the Philippines. It discusses how the Japanese occupation forces changed the education system in the Philippines.
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(Courtesy of the University of the Philippines Press)

Unlike Japanese youth, most Filipino youth did not embrace the ideas that the Japanese occupation taught them. Instead, most Filipinos maintained American ideas. Before the war, much of the Filipino public-school curricula emphasized American history, culture, and literature. Filipino public schools used many American-created textbooks. These textbooks were written in English and contained many American historical figures, such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.[1] The United States had developed and implemented Filipino education curricula for over 35 years, while Japan only had three years to create and implement their own. As a result, neither Filipino youth or their parents responded positively to the new Japanese curriculum, but most who attended school were outwardly compliant. 

The Japanese focused on creating a Co Prosperity [sic] sphere in Asia, which entailed removing Western influence and replacing it with Japanese influence. In the Philippines, Japanese occupiers were trying to make Filipinos more Asian and less American. The new official languages became Tagalog and Japanese, and schools focused on the development of Filipino and Japanese culture rather than the American democratic ideals.[2] In essence, Japan simply replaced the United States as colonizer and began to impose its own values and ideas of success on the Philippines.  

“As Normal as Education Could Be Under a Gun”

This is a photograph included in the book The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines: A Pictorial History edited by Ricardo T. Jose and Lydia Yu-Jose. This photograph shows a Japanese soldier teaching Japanese to a class of Filipino children during the occupation in World War II. Photographer is unknown.
(Courtesy of the Ayala Foundation)

Most Filipino youth were not receptive to the Japanese-created education program. Leonor Gavino who was a child during the occupation explained in a personal account: “Filipinos were too pro-American and their [the Japanese] efforts to ‘filipinize’ us more did not go very well.”[3] At the beginning of the occupation, some parents banned their children from attending the Japanese-controlled schools while other youth did not even have the option to even go to school as most rural schools remained closed.[4] Because of this, the Japanese efforts to indoctrinate Filipino youth were not wide-reaching. Most youth who did attend schools did not easily sway under the Japanese teachings because they heard rumors of and witnessed the violence of Japanese soldiers. One Filipino remembers that “school activities were as normal as they could be under the gun” and he and his friend would express anti-Japanese sentiments to themselves in private.[5] Similarly, another Filipino recalled making anti-Japanese comments in class. He did not understand the degree of control the Japanese had over the education system, so he made his disparaging remarks openly to the dismay of his Filipino teacher.[6]

Seinendan: Young Person’s Associations

This is a photograph included in the book The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines: A Pictorial History edited by Ricardo T. Jose and Lydia Yu-Jose. This photograph displays a crowd of Filipino children preforming radio taiso exercises, which the Japanese occupiers mandated to develop the physical fitness and discipline among Filipino children.
(Courtesy of the Ayala Foundation)

Public education was not the only way the Japanese attempted to indoctrinate Filipino Youth. One Filipino remembers the Japanese enlisting all of the youth in the town of Bigaa in a youth group called “Seinendan” (Young Person’s Association). The youth group would practice daily a form of calisthenics called “Radio Taisyo” in which they would listen to a radio playing “Japanese martial music” while preforming the instructed movements broadcast over the radio.[7] Filipino youth and adults commonly practiced Radio Taisyo throughout the occupation. Youth in Seinendan also learned national Japanese songs such as the national anthem “Kimigayo” and planted vegetables in food plots.[8] The author of this personal account indicates that the youth reacted positively to this youth group as they “responded [to the Japanese instructor] by making it easier for him to contain our boundless energy and exuberance” because the Japanese instructor was decent and kind.[9]  

[1] Thelma B. Kintanar, Clemen C.Aquino, Patricia B. Arinto, and Ma Luisa T. Camagay, eds. Kuwentong Bayan: Noong Panahon Ng Hapon: Everyday Life in a Time of War, (Quezon City: The University of the Philippines Press, 2006), 114-115. This source is a compilation the excerpts of seventy-four personal accounts of Filipinos who lived through World War II, many of which were children. The author’s name is not listed next to the excerpt, but there are a list of contributors at the back of the book.
[2] Teodoro A. Agoncillo,  The Fateful Years: Japan’s Adventure in the Philippines, 1941-1945, Vol. 2, (Quezon City: R.P. Garcia, 1965), 426.
[3] Leonor Gavino, “Cruel in Defeat,” in Childhood Memories of a War-Torn Philippines, eds. Ely Javillonar Marquez and F. T. Marquez, (West Conshohocken, PA: Infinity Publishing, 2016), 165.
[4] Agoncillo, The Fateful Years, 426.
[5] Kintanar, Kuwentong Bayan, 116.
[6] Kintanar, Kwentong Bayan, 117.
[7] Also spelled radio taisho and radio taiso according to other personal accounts.
[8] Helen N Mendoza, “Looking Back: Days of War,” in Under Japanese Rule, 181-182
[9] Helen N. Mendoza, “Looking Back,” 181-182.