The Parents and Teachers Association: What’s really bothering you?

With holding of the Tokyo Olympic games under the pandemic, raids and delays in vaccination, even pro-Japanese intellectuals are beginning to change their traditional image of Japan as a democracy country that has developed its economy through technology. Unfortunately, Japan still runs on an irrational system.

My book, “The PTA: What’s really bothering you” reveals the reality of Japan’s largest social education organization, the Parents and Teachers Association (PTA), through more than 3,000 responses to a newspaper questionnaire, a decade of interviews to current and former officials and parents throughout Japan. Surprisingly, most Japanese parents with children in primary and secondary schools are still semi-compulsorily involved in PTA that has been around for over 70 years. Historically, the PTA was set up by General Headquarters (GHQ) after losing WWII, but has also its roots in pre-war Japanese organisations such as the Greater Japan Federation of Women’s Association, which worked as a device to control women. This book also builds on previous studies to discuss the problems of the PTA today, examines the progress of this control in everyday life since the revision of the Basic Education Law under the restorationist LDP government.

One of the problems with the PTA, the book points out, is that it has worked to divide parents rather than to lead them to solidarity and empowerment. Against a backdrop of peer pressure, parents are asked to provide various forms of unpaid work and payment of membership fees, part of which turns often to be a donation to the school or upper body. This is inextricably linked to the lowest level of public education expenditure in Japan as a share of GDP across OECD countries. The appearance of fairness is a top priority for the organisation, and consideration for the needy and minorities is marginalised as ’unfair’. Furthermore, while much PTA activity is seen as a ”mother’s duty”, the majority of decision-making leaders in education have long been male. See Japan ranked 120th among 156 countries in the gender gap rankings in 2021.

On another issue, the book reveals for the first time that conservative political groups such as Nippon kaigi (the Japan Conference), Japan’s largest nationalist organization, and Nihon seinen kaigisyo, the Junior Chamber International Japan (JC) have in recent years infiltrated the PTA through lectures and other means “to take advantage” of its nominally 8 million members. While school-community bonding is encouraged, the PTA tends to play a role in reinforcing the state’s vision of “the traditional family”. The upper echelons have entrenched interests with school boards, politicians, and education businesses, making the cost of organizational ”reform” for individual parents very high.

I am interested in Japanese labour practices that are placed above labour laws – allowing long working hours, unpaid overtime and human rights abuses against foreign trainees. I argue that the PTA is highly compatible with neoliberalism, which seeks obedient labour, and that the obedient behaviour of parents creates a negative cycle for their children’s generation, and that fundamental solutions to the problem are impossible without collaboration with other social movements.

Kyoko Horiuchi
Visiting researcher, University of Helsinki
Staff writer for the Asahi Shimbun since 1997

Horiuchi, Kyoko (2021). The PTA: What’s really bothering you. Chikumashobo
堀内京子(2021).『PTA モヤモヤの正体』.筑摩書房
Iwatake, Mikako (2017). PTA as a State Apparatus. Seikyusha