Why has Such a Situation Occurred?
One reason is that expressing one's opinion is not necessarily viewed in a favorable light at school and in the home. The way of thinking in Japan, encapsulated in the saying wa wo motte totoshi (harmony is of utmost importance), leads to virtue being placed on conforming to the views of others rather than asserting one's own opinions. It is partly because of this feeling that Japanese people in general have had relatively little practice in expressing their ideas and opinions to others. In recent years, debate-based lessons have been introduced by some elementary schools, but the spread of such lessons through elementary school education as a whole has not been sufficient. The second reason is rooted in the pivotal role given at the elementary level to sakubun, or essay writing. Pupils practice exploring their emotions and putting them down on paper, but not how to think in a logical way and support their opinion with evidence. A third reason given for the situation described here is the complexity of social problems nowadays, making understanding difficult for “ordinary people,” who just give up even thinking about the issue.
The more complex issues become, however, the greater the necessity for citizens to engage in discussion, express their opinions, and then make decisions. It is, therefore, incumbent on each citizen to grapple with and discuss such issues. Judging from the present situation, it does not seem that staging public debates, having experts offer explanations, or other simple methods can serve as a substitute for real engagement by the citizens. Although workshops aimed at citizens have
been held, it is doubtful that participation in debates that occur in such forums is built on a sufficient understanding of the issue at hand. There also appear to be cases when debate is based only on information that fits the administration's agenda. The information is simplified, and any exchange of views is debate in name only, without substance. It is necessary to look for effective ways to discuss issues to make such workshops and public debates productive and to change the explanatory meetings from superficial gesturing into something more substantive.
Moreover, in spite of the fact that many of the social problems we face are not just a concern for now, but also for the future, many of those interested in social issues and who vote in elections are elderly. Listening to the voices of the elderly is, of course, important, but, for a healthy democracy, it is necessary for young people to engage in debate and be involved in making decisions that affect their society. But how can such engagement by young people be promoted? The way that the author would like to suggest in this chapter is through debating lessons in school. In a narrow sense, debate can be defined as follows: “discussion on a specific issue involving two groups of speakers, with one group taking a position of supporting the topic and the other arguing against it. Each of the groups seeks to persuade a third party.”  (e.g., Yomiuri Shimbun 2013:2). Many of the topics for discussion are chosen from policy issues. To encourage participants to approach an issue from new and multiple perspectives, they are allocated (usually by the teacher) to either one of the groups, that is, they do not choose for themselves which side of the issue to support. This chapter describes a case study of a debating course, taught by the author, and examines its effects and any issues that emerged.
Aimed at undergraduate students in a university, the topic of debate in the course was “the problem of high-level atomic waste disposal.”
Deciding the Topic
The founding of the All Japan Educational Debate Association, of which the author is a committee member, was the catalyst for a national debating contest, which was started in the Tokai, or central region, of Japan. This contest, having been sponsored for some years by Chubu Electric Power Company, debates energy-related issues. High school students have faced each other over topics such as “Japan should abandon nuclear power: for or against?”; “Television broadcasting time in Japan should be limited to save energy: for or against?” Although the topic of energy, as well as many other policy issues, needs to be thought about by the next generation, it is just such issues that the younger generation does not appear eager to tackle face on. This is where debate, with its game-like, competitive element can serve an important role. In the context of debate, young people have been shown to engage seriously with such issues.
With this in mind, the author organized a debate for her class of university students. They debated the following motion, suggested originally by Chiba University's Assistant Professor, Daisuke Fujikawa: Japan should scrap the plan to store high-level radioactive waste underground: Do you agree or disagree? (1) This paper describes the procedure of the debate in the classroom, assesses its effectiveness, and discusses certain problems that emerged from this activity.