Issue 5 – Multiple Intelligences in Japan

Issue 5 – Multiple Intelligences in Japan

The response to MI in Japan has been decidedly mixed but mostly negative.

Dr. Ishiwata describes how educational institutions were mostly ignorant of MI or actively resistant because of their emphasis on written exams for university entrance. This appears to be changing somewhat. I wonder if this change is related to Japan’s struggle to fix a stagnant economy after years of global dominance. I recall my only invitation to share MI with a group of psychology students at a major university. They politely listened but had few questions afterward. Instead, their professor graciously thanked me for the information but said that while interesting MI was a very American idea that had little to offer to Japan. Perhaps this attitude has changed in the past 30 years. Maybe people in Japan are now open to the idea that unleashing the creative and intellectual potentials of people with abilities beyond the IQ-academic realms will stimulate national economic renewal.

Keiko Ishiwata, Ph. D. (Education)

President of Japan MI Society

It has been 40 years since the theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI theory) was first advocated, but in Japan it has been only well known in academia, especially among psychologists. Thus, MI theory was never implemented in mainstream educational institutions in Japan. In 2003, a group of volunteers who participated in Project Zero Summer Institute, Harvard Graduate School of Education in order to study MI theory, established the Japan MI Society to promote MI theory in Japan.

There have been gradual changes in education in Japan since 1990’s. It is fair to say that Japan is trying to move away from knowledge-oriented education and achieve an education that resonates with MI theory. Therefore, MI theory serves as a basic concept for educators to improve education in Japan.

At one time, the number of students who wanted to enter university in Japan exceeded its capacity. The Japanese university entrance examinations were competitive and rigorous, placing a heavy burden on students, who were required to acquire knowledge. High school teachers always trained their students to get into university. The examinations were given mainly in the form of written tests and were knowledge-based.

However, today, with the declining birthrate, universities have been struggling to recruit new students. The formats of university entrance examinations have become more diverse than they were back then. One of the reasons for diversification of entrance examinations is that universities cannot secure admission capacity with knowledge-oriented written tests alone (Kawai, 2017). In order to let their applicants pass the entrance examinations, universities now take into account not only applicants’ academic capacities (linguistic intelligence and logical-mathematical intelligence) but also their special skills or abilities (musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences).

In addition, nowadays, Japanese education is trying hard to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and​ promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (United Nations). For the purpose of inclusive education, the diversification of entrance examinations formats is preferable.

The Japanese business circle also say that young people with higher education diplomas are not as sufficient human resources as the labor market demands. The labor market needs more than just advanced knowledge. Universities are trying to produce labor market-ready talent at the behest of the business circle.

These three factors have contributed to the change in Japanese education, which has shifted from an emphasis on linguistic and mathematical intelligences to a focus on a broader range of human intelligences. Again, MI is not well known to the general public and some educators are ignorant of or novice of MI theory. However, it is true that these changes in society have made the concepts of MI theory more a cceptable than before.

It is my duty as an educator to facilitate the students’ understanding of the subject matter, but I also strive to help them develop their intelligences. When forming groups in class, I always take into account the eight intelligences of the students. This leads to positive and active activities. By understanding learners’ intelligence profiles, I need to be more creative in my teaching methods. It is essential to teach them in multiple ways, as Gardner points out.

Last year, I introduced a range of Garner’s works including Multiple Intelligences Theory. In the first class, I asked the students what kind of abilities (intelligence) they needed to be successful in society. All students in the class answered that it was not knowledge, but rather human nature, which are considered to be interpersonal intelligence or intrapersonal intelligence. Japanese youth realize what kind of intelligence they should foster to live a successful life. This might be a proof of the changes in Japanese education.

Another proof is that some educators from private education sectors such as day care centers, preschools, kindergartens, and cram schools have contacted the MI Society of Japan. They want to take on diverse populations in their school in order to develop their schools by meeting the demands of today’s society. To this end, they want to learn MI theory in order to understand the intelligence profile of each student and provide an education that enhances their intelligences.

MI theory is 40 years old, but Japan has now got ready to put it into practice. I believe that MI theory is very beneficial for Japanese educators to achieve SDGs and also produce human resources for modern labor market.


Kawai, Hiroyuki. (2017). The role of university in a diversifying society – Towards the realization of higher education with an emphasis on individuality -. Journal of Human Life and Culture, 2017(27), 20-25.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top