solar system

While the Japanese education system is often highly praised by people in the West, many Japanese folks aren’t so keen on it these days. Yutori kyouiku, or “pressure-free education system,” a phrase used to describe what many see as an education system whose standards are too lax, has skyrocketed in use. Every time a young person does something stupid, it’s followed by sighs of “yutori kyouiku” by observers, who went through much harder schooling in their youth.

Although we often think people are really exaggerating when they say that the “kids of today” don’t know a thing, a recent study carried out by a professor at Tokai University has us wondering if today’s youth are lacking a little common sense…


Mitsumi Fujishita, a professor at Tokai University in Kumamoto City, conducted a study to assess students’ basic knowledge of astronomy, asking nine questions about things like in which direction the sun set, what causes the waxing and waning of the moon, and which celestial bodies orbit the earth. The responses to Professor Fujishita’s study seem to have left him in a state of deep despair.

Out of a sample of 667 students (mostly freshman) from three junior colleges and two universities, only about 75 percent correctly answered that the sun sets in the west. Another 22 percent answered that it sets in the east, while the final three percent answered that the sun sets in either the north or the south.

One another question asking in which direction the sun sets for those living in the southern hemisphere, only 44 percent correctly answered correctly.


Just over half of respondents (56 percent) answered that the seemingly changing shape of the moon as we see it from earth is caused by the relative positions of the sun, moon, and earth. The remaining 44 percent incorrectly answered that it was the earth’s shadow on the moon.

When asked which celestial bodies orbit earth, 33 percent included Mars, and 18 percent included the Sun itself. Ptolemy would be happy to see that his model has survived to this day!

While all of this is admittedly alarming, it is even stranger to see these results compared with a study of elementary students in fourth through sixth grade from 2001 to 2004. Roughly 40 percent of the elementary school students thought that the sun went around the earth, and only 60-70 percent of the students knew that the sun sets in the west.

southern hemisphere

According to Professor Fujishita, this indicates that many students had not progressed beyond their elementary school understanding of the universe. Saying that he was “shocked by the low percentage of correct answers,” the professor explained that many young people were lacking in basic knowledge and had little concept of the world around them. He added that when asking students to estimate 30 centimeters of length or asking how many grams a small rock probably weighs, he usually gets wildly inaccurate answers.

Many Japanese Internet commenters blamed the manga/anime Tensai Bakabon, which features a song about the sun rising in the west and setting in the east.

It’s all Tensai Bakabon‘s fault!

If not for that song, I wouldn’t be able to remember, since I know it’s the opposite of the song.

But a more basic problem is that most people can’t tell east from west. For a lot of us, the left is west and the right is east.

The thing about the sun going around the Earth is scary. How can anyone think that and graduate from high school?

I bet it’s because he asked a bunch of kids in a stupid rural university!

But the correct answer is “The sun doesn’t set. The earth rotates.” Right?


Well, this is all stuff that should probably be common knowledge, but we have to admit–when was the last time you needed to know in which direction the sun sets? As basic as this information is, it’s not really surprising that people don’t know it if it does not directly impact their lives.

After all, can you explain how GPS works? Well, we’re sure you can–all of our readers are smart, clever, and beautiful–but there are certainly many people who use the technology every day without really understanding the underlying principles. And we don’t blame them! It can get pretty complicated.

But, still, you really should know that the sun sets in the west!

Sources: JCast News, Itai News
Images: Wikipedia (Solar System, Southern Hemisphere, Lunar Phases), Itai News