Media Education:

Bridging the Intersection Between Media Literacy and Citizenship Education in Japan

Jun Tsukada, Faculty of Cross-Cultural and Japanese Studies, Kanagawa University [About | Email]

Volume 22, Issue 2 (Article 7 in 2022). First published in ejcjs on 17 August 2022.


This study examines how media literacy education is incorporated in citizenship education textbooks in Japan. Both subjects are widely regarded as competencies that citizens (students) of contemporary democracies need to acquire in today’s mediated environment. However, there appears to be a “disconnect” between the two subjects that does not enable the learner to acquire a form of media competency from the standpoint of the norms and expectations as a democratic citizen. This article argues why the association and integration of these two domains is relevant and examines how they are currently associated in citizenship education textbooks in the Japanese context. 13 citizenship education textbooks, and as supplemental data, five media literacy textbooks were examined to address this objective. It was found that the overarching concept of democracy that intertwines and provides meaning and purpose to the two fields was absent, leaving a “disconnect” between the two subjects. The article concludes by addressing the importance of developing an overarching framework founded on democracy, that will bridge the two fields to nurture a media literate democratic citizen.

Keywords: media literacy, citizenship education, democracy, media education


This study examines how media literacy is incorporated in citizenship education textbooks in Japan. It is understood that the connection between citizenship education and media literacy education is far from sufficient as they are perceived (and taught) as separate subjects (Levine 2015; Polizzi and Pagliarello 2021). Citizenship education is taught as a subject matter that focuses primarily on the political socialisation of the citizen, while media literacy aims to familiarise the students with the ecology of the media from a non-partisan and technological standpoint often resulting in very little “mention of media beyond a very narrow discussion of election advertising” (Stoddard 2014, p. 3). Insufficient contextualisation and connection of the two subjects may be problematic as it may limit the learners’ capacity to evaluate, utilise, and understand the media from the standpoint as information literate democratic citizens. How media literacy is incorporated in citizenship education can be one of the few opportunities in which this “connection” can be established. This article seeks to explore and contribute to the discussion regarding whether, and if so, how media literacy can be incorporated in the framework of citizenship education, aiming to nurture “digitally competent and active democratic citizens” (GAPMIL 2013). As a case study, the article examines how the two domains merge in the Japanese context by examining citizenship education textbooks and how they incorporate media literacy.

Media literacy education in the Internet era

The mass media environment has undergone a radical transformation in the past two decades. People have access to an infinite range of information sources, and thus are also able to connect with each other and share information via various online platforms. However this “liberation” is not all good news. For instance, people appear to be susceptible and deceived by examples of “fake news” that circulate on the Internet (Ireton & Posetti, 2018). Another notable issue which partly stems from the decrease of the inadvertent exposure to mass media (Aalberg et al. 2010) is political polarisation, where people are seen to gravitate towards information and opinions that are similar to their own, leaving less room for deliberation, further strengthening their predispositions (Newman et al. 2019). Additionally, access to this seemingly infinite storehouse of information has lead to a major challenge, as people are finding it difficult to cope with the constant flow and sheer magnitude of accessible information. Media literacy is recognised as an important skillset for people to acquire in order to make sense of, and hold ground under such a chaotic information environment (Jolls 2008).
Media literacy is regarded as an essential competency in today’s information environment (Stoddard 2014; Levine 2015; Akarui-Senkyo-Suishin-Iinkai 2017; Buckingham 2019) and has been expected to be integrated into formal (and informal) education systems (GAPMIL 2013). The Center for Media Literacy (CML) sees media literacy in the 21st century as the practice to acquire “a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and participate using messages in a variety of forms” as well as to build “an understanding of the role of media in society, as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy” (Jolls 2008). According to Hobbs, media literacy can be conceptualised into four theoretical positions: to counter the negative effects of mass media; countering the hegemonic power of mass media; to recognise the structured nature of media messages; and to acknowledge the role of play, identity, voice and subjectivity in interacting with the media (Hobbs 2019).
One of the underlying objectives of media literacy, with its varying conceptualisations, is to empower the learner as citizens, nurturing competencies related to media, information, ICT and other aspects of literacy (GAPMIL 2013). What is crucial in this process is the framework in which media literacy is introduced, or the normative context that explains and justifies why media literacy “matters” and for what purpose it is it to be applied/implemented. However, this contextualisation is not something to be taken for granted. As mentioned, media literacy is not confined to a single conceptualisation and is deeply intertwined with other disciplinary fields such as history, politics, communication, and education (Yildiz 2019). The manner in which the goals and principles pertaining to media and information literacy can vary, which can consequentially shape the expectations, objectives, and required skillsets that will be introduced, are also important issues. For instance, an elementary but critical distinction is whether the learner is regarded as a consumer in the commercial market or as a citizen of a democracy (Lewis et al. 2005). This can leave a discernible distinction on how the educational program is designed.
Traditionally, media literacy has been approached from a “protectionist” standpoint wherein the learner was perceived as vulnerable, needing protection from the various media messages that encircle them (Kellner and Share 2007). For example, it is commonly acknowledged that commercial media organisations can “commodify” (Mosco 2008) viewers (and workers), which also happens to be a discussed theme in the post-Internet era (Singer and Conger 2019). When students acquire media literacy skills solely from the standpoint of critically assessing the media (e.g., prioritisation of profit over normative ideals of journalism (Cushion 2012)), then the criteria with which students approach information can be influenced by this media-centred disposition. This criterion alone may be insufficient, as information nowadays, offered via SNS platforms, is not only overwhelming, but is becoming more and more seductive, tailored by computer algorithms that offer users information and advertisements based on utilising their personal data to enhance effectivity (Qudah et al. 2020). It can be difficult to confront the bombardment of information, given the “diminished role of gatekeepers in vetting information” (Hodgin 2019, p. 1209), while lacking a “tool” systematically to filter, evaluate, and utilise information. Additionally, this protectionist perspective may fail to explore the empowering potential that new media technology possesses (Kellner and Share 2007).
What needs to be stressed is that the acquisition of media literacy skills, based upon a framework originating from the mass media era, is incongruous with our current media environment (Coleman and Blumler 2009).
Media literacy in the current era needs to contribute to the cultivation of a critical and flexible attitude that will enable learners, on their own, to adapt and adjust their thinking and actions appropriately (Kellner and Share 2007; Jolls and Johnsen 2018).

Background of study: exploring a new approach toward Media Literacy

At the moment, the way in which educators incorporate the Internet in media literacy remains an incomplete project (McDougall 2013). Several points can be raised why this appears to be the case. Firstly, media literacy can often be taught within or centred upon the framework of the mass media and its ecology, engaging students with activities that critically assess the faults and shortcomings of contemporary journalism (Akarui-Senkyo-Suishin-Iinkai 2017). While such knowledge and associated skillset can still be relevant, it does not necessarily take into account various new phenomena (i.e., deep-fake news) that in some regards, have overturned the very foundation of traditional media literacy based upon the unidirectional flow of mass media. Jolls & Johnsen state that while there is a healthy focus on fostering a critical perspective, there is still a significant mismatch between the learner’s competency in dealing with the overabundance of information, and the scarce attention on nurturing processing skills (Jolls and Johnsen 2018). We need to accept that it is unrealistic for school educators constantly to update their students’ knowledge on new and emerging phenomena regarding the media (i.e., deep-fake news) and “protect” them from content or technologies that may be harmful or deceptive (Buckingham 2019, p. 52). As Buckingham states, it is not a smart strategy to deal with information with “simplistic checklists that purport to detect the difference between truth and falsehood” (Buckingham 2019, p. 43). In the Internet era, the approach that stems from the “what” and “why” of media, needs to shift toward a user-centred framework, or what Swart et al (2016) regard as a user-based, bottom-up approach (Swart et al. 2016). Here the theoretical point of departure shifts, as Katz states, from what people do with the media rather than what the media do to people (Katz 1959). This “purpose driven” (Carr 2006) conception of media literacy is interested in “preparation” rather than “protection” (Anderson 2013) and focuses on the “information process skills as central to teaching and learning” (Jolls and Johnsen 2018), as opposed to the aforementioned traditional form of media literacy that seeks to protect the learner from various messages.
Such skillset can not be nurtured by merely regurgitating theories or imposing the memorisation of factual information. Rather, as Robert Ferguson states, we need to foster a social dimension to our way of thinking, developing our skills of analysis and autonomy as independent and interdependent critical thinkers (Kellner and Share 2007) where one can create one’s own approach toward and the utilisation of information. Buckingham similarly states that what is needed is not protection from harmful content, but preparation wherein students will acquire a toolset that will help them maximise their communication skills for success in a democratic society and a multicultural world (Buckingham 2019). Here it is imperative that the learner consider media literacy and information filtering not just from a media-centred standpoint, but also to view and filter information from such standpoint of socio-cultural factors (Brown 2015), in this case, the perspective as the sovereign of a democracy, and assess what “kind” of information is relevant and is to be sought for, an issue meticulously articulated by Coleman and Blumler in their book “The Internet and Democratic Citizenship” (Coleman and Blumler 2009).
Another point is that media literacy often tends to be taught from a content-based or technological standpoint (Bindig et al. 2017, p. 7). This can equip learners with a set of skills that will enable them to use software or perform basic information retrieval tasks, but it is essentially a functional approach that focuses on completing specific operations (Buckingham 2015). Being competent in technology and content processing is certainly practical and needed, but it may come at the expense of processing abilities, creating a “misalignment between how democratic institutions provide for citizens’ education attainment and outcomes, what is truly important, what should be valued, and what is measured” (Jolls and Johnsen 2018). This content and/or technological focus may lead to a “pedagogical void” that can leave learners empty-handed, without what Masterman refers to as a “conceptual framework,” a way of understanding the media that will enable them to navigate through the online world with a foundational basis, the consciousness as democratic citizens (Jolls and Johnsen 2018).
What is needed, but lacking in current media literacy curricula, is a more “interdisciplinary approach” (Jolls et al. 2013), or what Clinton sees as an “ecological approach” (Clinton et al. 2006, p. 8), not only to uncover the tip of the iceberg by equipping students with practical knowledge and skillsets critically to navigate the Internet, perceiving it as a “neutral technology” (Jolls and Johnsen 2018), but also to contextualise the relationships of power and domination that often lies beneath the iceberg (Kellner and Share 2007). It needs to question why being media literate “matters” as citizens of a democracy, drawing a link to one’s position and relationship to texts that will conceptualise actions (Luke 1997) and in the process, develop one’s own understanding of the world by making decisions as well as offering solutions (Brown 2015). Media literacy today needs to be taught in the context of democratic education, Brown states, as a form of “education guided by democratic principles focused on informed citizenry,” that “involves teaching students to propose new ideas, ask questions, be curious, and know that change is possible” (Brown 2015, p. 3).

Connecting Citizenship Education and Media Literacy

This is where the association between citizenship education and media literacy comes to the forefront. Learning the technological aspects of the media needs to be explained and understood in the context of the social and political background in which it is to be utilised (Strömbäck 2005). In order for citizens fully to participate in a democracy, there needs to be, in addition to education and media literacy, social practices that will encourage students collectively to question the way things are, aspire to improve the situation, and through the consumption of news, understand their own relationship to society and theorise related actions (Brown 2015, p. 1). In the process of establishing a conceptual link between the two spheres, we need to introduce how the skills and competencies of media literacy are associated with the relevance and responsibility of what it means to be a citizen of a democracy.
Rosenblatt (1995) reminds us, “The task of education is to supply [the student] with the knowledge, the mental habits, and the emotional impetus that will enable him to independently solve his problems” (p. 125). It is this mantra that underlies a democratic education where students are motivated to critically interpret multiple forms of text and conceptualise future possibilities (Brown 2015, p. 2). Through the acquisition of such a “mental habit” as the sovereign of a democracy, learners can be motivated, empowered, and utilise the various tenets of media literacy education. Concurrently, in the absence of this impetus, the focus of media education may settle on the decorative and fascinating attributes of the latest technology regrading information (Buckingham 2015). In this regard, normative roles and responsibilities (as well as risks such as the implications of political apathy) of being a democratic citizen should be considered as a crucial ingredient that shapes the learners’ motivation in acquiring and utilising media literacy (Coleman and Blumler 2009). However, this can be challenging as major institutions are not always interested in committing to such civic incentives (Levine 2015) and it is thus the programs such as citizenship education that are expected to provide insight into this reciprocal dynamic.
This theoretical approach toward media literacy in the Internet era is in conjunction with Stoddard (Stoddard 2014) as he considers the civic-centred approach toward media literacy more attuned and practical in the Internet era. Other scholars too have also pointed out the importance of media literacy education supporting the habits of mind associated with citizenship in a democracy (Hobbs and Mihailidis 2019, p. 863), and emphasising the importance for media literacy to have “civic intentionalities,” a set of design considerations for media literacy initiatives that are based on the value systems of agency, caring, persistence, critical consciousness, and emancipation (Mihailidis 2018). Hodgin, concurring with this theoretical approach, raises three items regarding the relevance of civic dimensions when learning about the media: 1. judging the credibility of civic and political information; 2. producing and circulating civic and political media; 3. taking civic action that bridges voices to influence (Hodgin 2019, p. 1208). Additionally, media literacy in the Internet era should encompass a vast range of competencies not restricted to technological proficiency, but also to promote a sustained form of meaningful engagement, utilising the benefit of ICT technology while recognising the risks (Carretero et al. 2017). To be able to utilise the media in such a manner will require a theoretical foundation that will guide the learners’ daily decisions and evaluations.
The contextualisation or the “cultural form” (Buckingham 2015) in which media literacy is introduced may especially be relevant for countries, such as Japan, that have a relatively advanced media and information infrastructure but have not yet embarked on a nationwide citizenship education (Joji-Keihatsu-Jigyo-no-Arikata-to-Kenkyukai 2011) nor a media literacy curriculum (Nakahashi 2017, pp. 158–9). A significant challenge here is not that the young students are unfamiliar with media technology or unable to navigate around the online world (Mihailidis 2013). Quite the contrary, the challenge may lie in the very fact that students are, and have already been, immersed in such an environment, but simultaneously are unequipped with the aforementioned contextualisation that will enable them to navigate and interact with media from a normative and/or socio-political standpoint. Educators will need critically and constructively to challenge the learners’ media ecology, and introduce a form of contextualisation, for instance, a media education guided by democratic principles (Brown 2015) that can nurture the learner’s comprehension regarding the limitations and the vast potential of the media for social, political, and democratic purposes.
This shift of focus from the media to the user may consequentially change the idea of empowerment in media literacy curricula. Empowerment may no longer be confined to the training of learners to hold a critical eye toward media content, nor to obtain a certain set of technological skills, but also, perhaps more importantly, to learn about the media through the acquisition of theories and skills of citizenship, by becoming political actors and understanding the choices that they can make in political circumstances (Clinton et al. 2006, p. 10). Masterman states, media education is “nothing” if it is not an education for life (Jolls and Johnsen 2018). This is especially important for children, as they can perceive media “not as technologies but as cultural forms,” something that is deeply rooted in their everyday experiences (Buckingham 2015) based on embedded social relationships mediated by images over platforms that are designed specifically for short attention spans and consistent stimulation leading to media ecosystem spectacle where people are further and further normalised by information stimuli (Mihailidis 2018, p. 6). In the midst of the chaos and bombardment that intentionally aims to trigger our innate instincts, media literacy needs to be designed and implemented in a way that enables students to construct their “own framework” that fosters critical, creative, and adaptive skills to the media culture in which they are situated (Share and Thoman 2007).

Emerging framework of Media Literacy

One initiative aiming to integrate this interdisciplinary theme of a civic-centred media literacy, is Critical Media Literacy (CML). CML is distinct from traditional media literacy because it embraces a more collective approach toward media and civic empowerment, providing “the tools through which to examine the political, cultural, historical, economic, and social ramifications of all media” in a holistic way (Frechette and J 2002). For example, CML challenges the often normalised apolitical nature of media literacy and invites educators and students to explore how power, media, and information are linked (Kellner and Share 2007). Karaduman sees that critical media literacy “prepares the ground for individuals to develop ethics of responsibility in civic consciousness; to participate in every kind of decision mechanism such as cultural, political, and economic areas as an active actor; and to take responsibility of decisions they make (Karaduman 2015, p. 3041). While the conceptualisation of CML, as is media literacy, is diverse (Buckingham 2019), a central component is the emphasis it places on it’s “civic relevance” (Mihailidis 2018) aiming to mediate the gap between a socio-political concern that a learner may experience and to develop the capacity of the learner to act upon such incentive and motivation (Boyte 2014) using new media and technology effectively and carefully, leading to increased public participation in the 21st century political economy (Bindig et al. 2017, p. 5). Integrating civic objectives with media literacy, was not a factor in traditional, protectionist media literacy programs and can be seen as one of the noticeable features of this emerging enterprise.
The aim of CML is also in close sync, and overlaps with the aim of citizenship education that aims to nurture politically literate and empowered citizens in a democracy. For instance, the European Commission aims to empower citizens through citizenship education, equipping them with the following competencies: 1) interacting effectively and constructively with others; 2) thinking critically; 3) acting in a socially responsible manner; and 4) acting democratically (Eurydice 2017), which are all conditions that are interconnected with how an individual interacts with the media. This again explains the reason why “how” citizenship education and media literacy are integrated can be important as it can influence the competency of how citizens can “perform” in the political arena as democratic citizens.
In a report by issued by the Japanese government, it has been acknowledged that media and journalism are an integral component of citizenship education (MEXT 2021). While brief references are made regarding the importance of media and journalism for democracy and its citizens, how the two domains can or should be reciprocated or integrated remains unclear. This article is interested in identifying the contextualisation that encircles the subject of media literacy in citizenship education textbooks. How are these two domains “integrated” as closely related reciprocal competencies for democratic citizens of the 21st century? Hence the research question of the article is as follows:
RQ: How is media literacy integrated into citizenship education textbooks in Japan?


To address this point, this study has looked into publicly available citizenship education (or Shukensha-Kyouiku) textbooks. Citizenship education is still in its infancy in Japan, and the quantity of publicly available educational material is limited. The author obtained a total of 13 citizenship education textbooks (Chart 1) which were available to educators as well as the public, via online bookstores and libraries. The objective is as explained, to understand how (or whether) citizenship education textbooks integrate media literacy, associating and linking the two domains, bringing relevance and meaning to each respective field, contributing to the student’s competency in becoming a media literate democratic citizen.

Chart 1. List of citizenship education textbooks

The methodology of the analysis is as follows.
The table of contents of the citizenship education textbooks were inspected for the presence of specified keywords. Terms related to media or journalism, such as “media literacy,” “newspapers,” “news,” “literacy,” “Internet,” “SNS,” among other terminologies that would indicate a potential reference to the media and journalism were the focus as we are interested in identifying how citizenship education integrates media literacy. Each time such keyword was discovered in the table of contents, it was counted as an “instance.” The hierarchy of the table of contents consists of: the “Chapter” at the top; the “Sub-chapter” which constitutes the chapter; and the “Section” which may or may not be included in a Sub-chapter. For each detected instance, the respective chapter, sub-chapter, or section was inspected over “how” the two fields were related, associated, connected, etc. What this study is particularly interested in is how democracy, which resides as as the overarching framework that interconnects and intertwines the two fields, was used to explain and/or associate media literacy within the citizenship education textbook.
The reason why the table of contents was used as the starting point is because it was assumed that terms related to media or journalism were significant enough topics at least to be granted an entry, not necessarily as an entire chapter, but at least a sub-chapter or section in the table of contents. If there were no mention in these areas, then it could be assumed that there was very little intention by the author(s) to draw a theoretical, and/or a practical connection between citizenship education and media literacy. Regardless of the presence of the related keywords in the table of contents, the textbooks were nevertheless inspected to see whether any undeclared explanation that draws a connection between the two fields had been attempted. As all of the acquired textbooks were only available in print, digital searches were not possible; this has influenced the scope of the study (i.e., digital keyword searches).


Turning to the results, out of the 13 citizenship education textbooks that were randomly labelled Books “A” to “M,” there were a total of nine instances across six textbooks in which an “instance” of media related terms was detected in the table of contents. However, as will be stated later, there were sections in the textbooks in which media related discussions were articulated irrespective of the (lack of) presence in the table of contents. Such exceptions are considered in the overall analysis but were not counted as formal “instances,” as they were not incorporated in the table of contents.

Focusing on the “instance” (Citizenship Education Textbooks)

Next, we will focus on each of the instances that were detected. Nine instances appeared in the table of contents among the examined textbooks. All of the instances were then qualitatively examined to see what “kind” of connection was made to bridge media literacy and citizenship education.

Chart 2 Instances in each book

First focusing on the single instance in which an entire chapter (Book F) was devoted to a topic related to the media. The title of the chapter was “Yusamachi - Interviewing the youth mayor and youth parliament.” The media related terminology that was counted here is “interview.” This terminology may not be directly related to the training and acquisition of core media literacy competencies articulated in this article. However, as interviews are unquestionably an essential component of journalism, it was counted here as an “instance.” Observing the chapter revealed that the reference of the keyword was a precursor to a compilation of interviews of several individuals and their experience in politics. It had very little to do with providing relevant theories and/or activities to the students or aiding the acquisition of media literacy competency and its connection to citizenship education. This was the only instance in which a chapter of a book was devoted to the linkage of citizenship education to the media.
Secondly, there were a total of six instances in a Sub-chapter, the majority of cases, in which media related terminology was mentioned. Firstly, leaving aside the overall rarity of “instances” it must be stated that there was an indifference to associate the norms and objectives of citizenship education with media literacy. This tendency was consistent and can be generalised not just for the Sub-chapters, but for the entire study. The six instances in the sub-chapters were primarily practical instructions on how to utilise newspaper articles as classroom material to familiarise students with ongoing socio-political issues and critically to assess news content (Textbooks A and D) and neither incorporate nor connect the normative theories or concepts pertaining to citizenship or democracy. The Sub-chapter in Textbook G provides a one-hour class outline that aims to explain to the students that the media are in fact not neutral entities that provide impartial “truths,” and that the content that the students are exposed to, are in fact filtered and constructed by media organisations. The class plan thus explains why it is important for students to approach news critically.
Textbook J’s Sub-chapter mentions book stores as an information source (medium) but does not explore or bring forth the core tenets of media literacy outlined in this article.
Finally, the two “Section” instances in Textbook B; here the instances were similar to the content provided in Sub-chapters of Textbooks A and D, providing general information about the media and the potential risk (disinformation) of the Internet. As can be seen, there was no aim among any of the textbooks to facilitate a political and/or normative connection between the media, media literacy, and citizenship education.


However, there was one exception that somewhat deviated from this tendency. Although it was not counted as an instance, as there was no mention of the keyword in the table of contents, a particular chapter did offer a framework that was somewhat related to the RQ of this article. In Book F, a chapter titled “Democracy and Citizenship” provided an overview of social studies school textbooks used in nine high schools and seven junior high schools in Japan. It examined how the theory of democracy, among other variables such as popular sovereignty, majority vote, public opinion, electoral systems, among others, were articulated in each respective textbook, which were then juxtaposed, highlighting the similarities (and differences). Media literacy was also a variable incorporated in the overall juxtaposition. While this comparison does not directly address the research question of this study, it has nevertheless been included, as it offers an overview of how media literacy is being introduced to junior high and high school students in Japan, and also to seek whether, and if so how, it is connected to the theory of citizenship education.

Chart 3 Reference in Junior High School texts

Chart 4 Reference in High School text

We can see a common thread that runs through both levels of school textbooks. Media literacy is essentially seen as a tool to be learnt and actively utilised critically to assess information disseminated by the mass media and the Internet. It focuses on the ecology of the media, its characteristics and limitations, without an enthusiastic attempt to draw and locate a theoretical or normative connection with citizenship education and democracy.


Given these results, several points can be put forth. The first apparent point that needs to be addressed is that the content of citizenship education textbooks was largely based upon voting as the centrepiece of democratic governance. In other words, the means in which the students, as citizens, were expected to engage in democracy was through voting. This was the most visible and common element that could be detected among the examined citizenship education textbooks. However, this should not come as a surprise. The table of contents of the premier citizenship education textbook issued by the government in 2015 “Watashitachi ga Hiraku Nihon no Mirai” (The Japan that We will Create) (MIC and MEXT 2015) lists in its table of contents the introduction of the electoral system, political system, voter turnout rate, and mock elections, articulating an election-oriented “version” of democracy upon which the textbook’s overall framework rests. Perhaps partly owing to this formal outline of democracy made by the government, followed by a cohort of teachers who themselves have never experienced citizenship education, approximately 85% (out of 1300) of the citizenship education classes conducted throughout Japanese junior high and high schools focused on instructing students about the content and structure of the electoral law (MEXT 2020).
However, this particular conception of democracy may lead the students into viewing democracy as an act of voting itself or as an obligation and/or technicality, not necessarily an act guided or motivated by a normative underpinning as a democratic citizen. This, for instance, can be said to be a very limited form of citizenship education, compared to those conducted in countries such as Sweden and the UK, that aim to cultivate democratic values and attitudes through their citizenship education curricula which would later serve as an impetus, henceforth reinforcing the citizen’s (authentic) motivation, political decisions, and ensuing actions (Lindström 2013). Under such a version of citizenship education, political participation is not confined to voting. Democracy is seen as more dynamic, and political participation can manifest in various ways depending on how the citizens regards their role, obligations, and means to engage in societal affairs (Westheimer and Kahne 2004; Akarui-Senkyo-Suishin-Iinkai 2017). However, returning to the findings of this study, the instillment of normative values and identity as a democratic citizen was critically lacking in the examined citizenship education textbooks. This is in fact also a trait which was witnessed amongst some of the Japanese youth who were engaging in volunteering activities. When asked why voting was important, while the respondents were aware of society’s expectation of their physical presence at the voting booth, none of the respondents in the study could articulate why they needed to vote and why it mattered for them as citizens of a democracy (Tsukada 2015) .
In sum, the shared framework of citizenship education found in this study leaves the impression that democracy is primarily centred upon and evolves around elections. A more or less static and implicit framework of democracy is erected, and citizens are situated as a component expected to “fit” within that political complex. Although the cultivation of democratic values and attitudes was largely lacking in this study, it was actually seen as a very important aspect of citizenship education amongst leading experts who spearheaded the discussion regarding its implementation in Japan (Joji-Keihatsu-Jigyo-no-Arikata-to-Kenkyukai 2011). Such a normative approach toward citizenship education may perhaps not have had the opportunity to develop at this initial stage.
Additional comments regarding the way in which media literacy was incorporated in citizenship education textbooks.

Following the relatively similar framework of democracy which was outlined, the way in which the media were referenced also echoed this trait. The media and the role of journalism in society were largely centred upon elections. Hence, the emphasis was placed on the importance of citizens to hold a critical eye toward journalism when they cast their ballot. Another general comment is that the role of the media in a democracy appeared to be taken for granted, unquestioned, which is actually not uncommon. Introducing the plasticity of the role of the media and journalism and drawing a theoretical connection over how that can be associated with the different colourations of democracy, and the various roles and expectations of how citizens can or should engage in politics (Strömbäck 2005), can be an important theoretical framework for students to embrace, in order to grasp the wider spectrum of the complex and dynamic relationship between democracy, citizenship and the media. Such exploration was also clearly lacking in the examined textbooks.

Focusing on the “instance” (Media Literacy)

Given this result, the author conducted an additional analysis to supplement the findings. It posed the same question, this time toward media literacy textbooks, examining how citizenship education and democracy were incorporated, and possibly integrated in media literacy textbooks. Five media literacy textbooks randomly labelled Books “N” to “R” were employed for this supplemental analysis, all of which are publicly available material obtained online for educators and the public. The methodology follows the same format as citizenship education textbooks, other than the predefined keywords, wherein terminologies such as “citizenship education,” “citizen,” “democracy,” “political participation,” “civic engagement” would be sought in the table of contents.

Chart 5 Supplemental analysis

There was only once “instance” in a Sub-chapter in which a keyword related to citizenship education could be detected among the five media literacy textbooks examined. The focal book, Book O was written by an author who previously worked in the media industry. The book was written in a conversational style, as opposed to an educational textbook format. The keyword that was counted as an instance in the table of contents was “democracy.” Here the author outlines a connection between the importance of thinking about the media and journalism as citizens of a democracy. While the theoretical and normative connection that this study was seeking to detect was to a limited extent made, the introduction was brief and the format in which it was written was casual. No systematic articulation exploring the relevant theories and/or the normative connection between media, journalism, citizenship, and democracy was made in this instance.
Although not counted as an “instance,” other informal mentions of citizenship and democracy in media literacy textbooks could be detected. Book P and Q mentioned how media literacy was implemented in Western countries such as the US and Canada, and introduced prominent scholars such as Len Masterman and his theory of media literacy (which included keywords such as democracy in the articulation). However, similar to the results of citizenship education textbooks, there was no attempt to draw a theoretical or normative connection between the media, journalism, and citizenship or democracy.
To make sense of this finding, we need to understand media literacy in the Japanese context better. According to the Japan Foundation for Educational and Cultural Research (1963) or JFECR, a body that conducts research on educational methods in school education and social education, similar to the underdevelopment of citizenship education, Japan has yet to embark on a media literacy curriculum that is devoted to the development of media literacy skills with a political underpinning (JFECR 2017, p. 12). In other words, media literacy in Japan is largely seen as a technology-centred skillset that needs to be acquired and utilised, rather than a literacy curricula viewing the media as a political component that has a significant presence and influence in a democracy (Cook 2006). Reflecting this disputation, media literacy is defined by the government as a skillset that will “promote active literacy, enable students to understand the characteristics of the media, access and utilise new technology, and facilitate the ability to communicate using media” (MIC 2019, p. 377).
For instance taking the “White Paper” (MIC 2019) issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication of Japan (MIC) that envelops the information and communication apparatus of Japan including media literacy, the 420 page document contained zero references to “Minshushugi” (Democracy) or “Shukensha” (Sovereign or Political Citizen). “Literashi” (Literacy) contained 21 hits, and Social Networking Services (SNS) 44. Additionally, a textbook issued by JFECR titled “Media Literacy - Kyouiku no Jissenrei-shuu no Kaihatsu 70 (Media Literacy—Compilation of Classroom Practice and Development 70)” (JFECR 2017) that compiled various models of media literacy curricula, mentioned “Minshushugi” (Democracy) six times across 2 pages, and made zero references to “Shukensha” (Sovereign or Political Citizen), while “Literacy” unsurprisingly retrieved 324 hits. There were nine instances in which “Seiji” (Politics) was mentioned in this 132-page analysis. The educational material offered online by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications ( also does not seem to provide media literacy material that aims to contextualise media literacy with the aforementioned elements such as citizenship and/or democracy at the time checked (July 2022). Furthermore, at the moment, Media Literacy is not included in Japan’s main educational guideline (Gakushu Shidou Youryou), nor is it deemed as a compulsory subject or competency that is to be taught at public schools (Nakahashi 2017). According to Nakahashi, teachers are not only not required to teach the subject, but would need to self-educate themselves if they saw media literacy as a relevant subject that should be introduced to the students (Nakahashi 2017, pp. 158–9). This conditionality partly explains why there is little progress in the classroom to bridge the normative elements of journalism with the civic and political dimensions of democratic education.


This study examined how citizenship education and media literacy were being associated in textbooks used in Japan. As the results have shown, the two subjects appeared to be confined to their traditional disciplinary boundaries. There was little effort, from both sides, theoretically to encompass the two subjects via an underlying framework, which in this case would be “democracy.” This condition could prove to be problematic as students may struggle to draw a theoretical linkage between the subjects. It is therefore crucial to familiarise the students on how the two domains are in fact deeply intertwined under the theory of democracy.
As a final comment, the author would like to address two points to that are related to the development of an overarching framework to connect the two domains.
Firstly, what was entirely lacking from both textbooks was the idea of the dynamic, reciprocal and interrelated nature of the three components: democracy, the citizen and the media. These three components need to be explained within a shared framework, rather than as isolated variables. For instance, there is no doubt that democracy is not restricted to a single “version” (Held 2006). There are various theories pertaining to democracy, ranging from direct democracy to a more participatory form of democracy (Keane 2009). For instance, when voting is seen as the only means of participation in a democracy, then the normative role of the citizen as well as the functionality of the media would expect to abide by that democratic culture (Strömbäck 2005), focusing on elections as the so called “fireworks” of democracy. Concurrently, when a democracy is expected to be more participatory in nature, where, for instance, citizens are actively engaged in determining how taxes are to be allocated (Gilman 2012; Kanemura and Pyo 2012), the citizen’s responsibility and motivation as well as the media’s role would hence be shaped according to this particular form of democratic governance. What was lacking in the textbooks is this reciprocal and dynamic relationship between democracy, citizens, and the media. If for instance democracy, the normative role of the citizen, and the media’s functionality are portrayed as static, isolated, or in a sense “fixed,” then it may lead the learner to think that the aforementioned items are ideas to be followed and/or memorised rather than something that can be built and/or shaped. As Zygmunt Bauman was noted as saying, the best democracies are those that know that they are not democratic enough. The interlinkage and sense of flexibility among the three components are imperative so that students recognise that change is possible, and how societal change is linked with the relationship between the three components addressed above. Acknowledging this conceptualisation can also be, in a sense, politically liberating, as it can pave the way for citizens to originate alternative ways to engage with politics when, for instance, they see voting as ineffective (Tsukada 2021).
Secondly, without being equipped and familiarised with the reciprocity of the three components, it can be difficult to harness the idea of the vast democratising potential of the Internet for “civic intentionalities” (Mihailidis 2018). Projects and initiatives harnessing the democratising potential of the Internet are oftentimes referred to as e-democracy or e-participation, which at the moment appears to be used interchangeably (Coleman and Blumler 2009). The United Nations defines e-participation as “the process of engaging citizens through ICTs in policy, decision-making, and service design and delivery so as to make it participatory, inclusive, and deliberative” (Blanc 2020, p. 4). Coleman and Blumler state some of the ways in which the Internet can improve public communications and enrich democracy by encouraging a more active disposition to communication, enabling a large numbers of citizens to engage in presenting and following civic dialogue, lowering the cost of obtaining information enabling citizens and groups with few resources to engage in acts of communication, allowing citizens reflectively to debate online regardless of geographic location potentially leading users to new ideas and sources of information, and news ways of thinking (Coleman and Blumler 2009, pp. 11–13). While the democratising potential of the Internet has been discussed for some time now (Aslama 2010; Cegarra-Navarro et al. 2012; Aitamurto and Landemore 2013; Fung et al. 2013) it has largely remained in a “lagging state” when compared to, for instance, the drastic transformation we have seen in the commercial sector which experienced a virtual overhaul of its operational framework. This is seen as partly due to “the reluctance of political systems to genuinely share agenda setting and decision-making power” (Blanc 2020, p. 28). For instance, in Japan, government Websites enable citizens to access parliamentary records. Citizens are also offered, on some government Websites, the option to submit their opinion and comment on specific policies ( However, such platforms are not always widely acknowledged nor utilised by the general public.
What is essential to actualise a productive and sustainable form of e-democracy or e-participation is first to depart from the perception of ”conceiving the public as policy consumers rather than politically responsible citizens” (Coleman and Blumler 2009, p. 196). There needs to be a “civic-centred approach” to this question, and for citizens to think and initiate a discussion from a normative perspective such as “What do we (citizens) want? What are we (citizens) willing to do about it? (Coleman and Blumler 2009, p. 196). As long as the conversation is government-centric, for instance, focusing on government-led “services” such as e-applications that are offered to citizens, rather than citizen-centric, where citizens “use” media and information technology for “emancipation” (Mihailidis 2018) to achieve their political and/or democratic goals, “it won’t work” (Coleman and Blumler 2009, p. 196). It is thus important for educators to pose the connection and reciprocity of the aforementioned components, and engage in a form of media literacy that contextualises the civic dimensions and democratising potential of ICT which will enable the learners to develop their own understanding regarding the potential of the Internet for democratic purposes. Incorporating this encompassing framework will enable students intuitively to gain “ownership” of the normative connections between the media, citizenship, and democracy. This theoretical approach can perhaps be a strategy in order to bridge media literacy and/or citizenship education textbooks in our current information age.


This paper has been supported by Grant in Aid for Young Scientists JSPS KAKENHI (Grant Numbers 19K14197)


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About the Author

Jun Tsukada is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Cross-Cultural and Japanese Studies, Kanagawa University (Japan). His research focus is Political Communication and has previously worked on themes related to political detachment among the youth, mediated democracy, and mediated citizenship.

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