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Okinawa Actor's School - Looking to the future of education

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-03-14

Look out Okinawa! There is a new guy in town, and he is about to cause some waves in the Japanese education system. Masayuki Makino is a name that has become very familiar on Okinawa lately. He is the Principal and founder of the Okinawa Actor's School. He took the almost defunct project from obscurity into the limelight, where it currently enjoys an enrollment of over 500 students in downtown Naha. The beautiful school is located on the third and fourth floor of Fashion City MAXY Department store, off of Kokusai street. Lately, the school has young students, aspiring to become showbiz entertainers, flocking to its doors. The school began its rise to fame, after the national sensation Namuro Namie, emerged from the school as Japan's number one pop idol. A string of talent, including SPEED, MAX and Rina Chinen, also walked through the magical doors of Makino's school, shooting themselves and Okinawa into national fame.

Makino takes an extremely unorthodox approach to creating such stars. "The school system in Japan is very strict, so I've created a system that is very flexible. Even in sports, coaches are to demanding. They don't give students any mental training, which is why Japan is never able to excel in the Olympics. This place is for young people to come and enjoy. We tell the students to come for two and a half hours a week, but our doors are always open. There is no strict curriculum here to follow, and we let the students decide what they want to do. At this place students discover their own talent themselves," explained Makino. The school's flexible system enables students to develop at their own pace. Students are supported in whatever they decide to do. "If a student is not talented in a certain area, we never discourage them. A student finds out their own talent level naturally through their surroundings."

The fresh approach has become very popular with kids bored with school clubs and extra curricular activities, which often become very demanding for Japanese students. Instead, Okinawa Actor's School helps to motivate kids, and gives them a positive outlet.

Recently, Makino's ideas on education have been well publicized. He is not shy when it comes to explaining how he feels about the current state of Japan's education system. "We need a new system. The system that is controlled by the Ministry of Education is not working for today's society. Kids are told that there is always one answer to a problem, but they never ask why. They are taught the answer, accept it, and never question it. We need children to think for themselves for the answer."

His strong opinions are being supported by many who feel that there need to be drastic changes made in Japan's education system. One of the areas of education that has been lagging here on the island is the need for more international schools. Okinawa's foreign population has been steadily growing over the years, and children born to international marriages are on the rise. However, outside of Okinawa Christian School in Yomitan, these children do not have many options when it comes to their own education. Makino is now trying to change all this.

Makino, is in the process of having a new international school built to fill the gap. And, you are right if you are thinking that this will be no ordinary school. "I don't believe in test scores and grades. There is no need for that in a child's educational development. I want a school that fulfills basic requirements of study. My school will have kids study maybe about a couple of hours. The rest of the day they are free to do whatever they like. If they do not like math, they are not forced to go to class. We want kids to pursue their own dreams, develop their self esteem, and discover their own personal talents. Of course when a problem develops, we will deal with each child on a case by case basis." Makino also said that no child will be told when he or she is ready to graduate. "Students will decide for themselves when they are ready to move on," said Makino. The Ministry of Education will not recognize this type of curriculum, which will probably cut off any Prefectural funding for the school, but Makino feels confident that he will be able to collect the necessary money for construction. He plans to have the school built in either Okinawa City or Kitanakagusku, and it is slated to be open for next year.

The current Okinawa King of acting and entertainment instruction is also starting to be heard in mainland Japan, not only by educators, but also by politicians and the business community. He is strongly supported by Haruo Shimada, a political advisor and professor from Keio University. In July he will attend a conference of the top 2,000 companies in Japan, where he will be a guest speaker.

Although Makino's school will be a pioneer in modern education here in Japan, his ideas have been tried in both America and in Europe. No system is perfect, and there are problems with too much freedom and decision making given to children. However, more options and different avenues in education are necessary for today's Japan, and it is guaranteed that Makino will be leading the way.

Anyone interested in Okinawa Actor's School can call at 861-8055. There is also an audition for the school in conjunction with "Amuse". The deadline for applications is March 16. For more information contact 861-8055.

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