While China has stirred more concern here as a political and economic challenger, India has emerged as the country to beat in a more benign rivalry over education. In part, this reflects China's image in Japan as a cheap manufacturer and technological imitator. But India's success in software development, Internet businesses and knowledge-intensive industries in which Japan has failed to make inroads has set off more than a tinge of envy ... Indian education is a frequent topic in forums like talk shows. Popular books claim to reveal the Indian secrets for multiplying and dividing multiple-digit numbers. Even Japan's conservative education ministry has begun discussing Indian methods ... Eager parents try to send their children to Japan's roughly half dozen Indian schools, hoping for an edge on the competitive college entrance exams.
In the 1980s, when I was in school in India, everything Japanese was to admired -- not surprisingly, since Japan was the only Asian country to give its citizens a high standard of living. And even now, in American cities, kids of Indian parents are almost expected to go to Kumon (we're not immune: we visited Kumon when one opened in Norman a couple of months ago, but finally decided to let our kids be kids for a few years longer).
On the other hand, my college in India was explicitly patterned on American ideals, with the emphasis on being to able to solve problems, not recite trivia. And these days, even elementary and high schools in India are starting to emphasize problem solving over mechanical drills (This doesn't mean that we are not involved in a tug-of-war with S1's teacher about assigning him more homework, though, but that's another post).
So, this reverse fad in Japan -- of schools going to the Japan-inspired model in India just when India is moving to an America-inspired one -- is pretty strange.