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Mapping four leadership styles in Japan: how has the role of the principal been shaped by policies?

Hirokazu Yokota (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Tokyo, Japan)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 16 December 2019

Issue publication date: 23 March 2020




The purpose of this paper is to examine how internationally recognized styles of transactional, instructional, transformational and distributed leadership have emerged in the Japanese education system.


National legislation and policy documents in Japan since 1945 were collected by searching for the word “principal” or “head of school.” Then, four types are excluded: those that are unique only to one school type, do not explicitly deal with the role of the principal, are in subordinate laws prescribing contents that essentially overlap with those in superordinate statutes and define procedural roles of the principal. As a result, 17 legal provisions and 35 policy documents remained, each of which was analyzed by using four leadership styles.


Despite an increasing focus on instructional, transformational and distributed styles, Japan has not comprehensively articulated attributes and abilities expected of the principal. Additionally, a movement away from instructional leadership in the 2000s contrasts with the recent emphasis on “educational leadership.” Moreover, transformational leadership has centered on the school–family–community collaboration and the expansion of principal autonomy, and distributed leadership has taken the forms of new positions that support the principal, both of which were influenced by the decentralization movement.

Research limitations/implications

It points to the susceptibility of the role of the principal in Japan and western countries alike to broader structural reforms but with different implications and distinct timing of the advent of leadership styles among them. Additionally, Japan has adopted a modified approach to distributed leadership style, which is somewhat similar to delegation, to make a compromise between the emergent theory and the centrality of the principal in the school hierarchy. Furthermore, instructional leadership seems to be a “late bloomer” in Japan because of its practice-based nature and unsuitability to daily realities of the principal.


As an arguably unprecedented attempt to apply leadership styles to legislation and policy documents, this study builds a foundation for understanding how school leadership is shaped by education policies. Moreover, while making connections to the western view, it creates a paradigm for future studies of school leadership in Japan and in the field of comparative educational administration.



The author wishes to acknowledge the support of Prof Carolyn Riehl of Teachers College, Columbia University for her invaluable advice on the content of this study.


Yokota, H. (2020), "Mapping four leadership styles in Japan: how has the role of the principal been shaped by policies?", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 58 No. 2, pp. 187-207.



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