AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 28

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Session 28: “Diversity and Social Inequality in Japanese Education: National Policy, Local Responses and the Lives of Students”

Organizer: Gary DeCoker, ASIANetwork, USA

Discussants: Ryoko Tsuneyoshi, , Japan; Chris Bjork, Vassar College, USA

Near the turn of the century, the Japanese government enacted a series of policies later termed Japan’s Third Great Educational Reform Movement. Influenced by neo-liberal arguments about the benefits of deregulation, privatization, and the devolution of authority, these policies provoked intense public debate, often based on ideological rather than empirical grounds. The papers anchoring this panel, in contrast, will document the effects of reform on educational practice and the learning opportunities provided to students. Each of the presenters will draw on ethnographic research conducted in Japanese schools to ground their discussion and analysis. Panel members will pay particular attention to education stakeholders whose experiences and opinions are often downplayed or ignored in media and government reports. Their analyses will highlight changes in domestic conditions and the influence of global ideology. Inequalities that were accepted in an era of economic growth, where opportunities seemed to exist for everyone, are now widely discussed in stark terms such as “winners and losers” and “underclass society.” In addition, over the last decade, international achievement examinations have provided data that confirm educational disparities that previously were seldom researched or acknowledged. The increasing number of new immigrants, along with the influence of global multicultural ideology, has brought attention to the way educational policy affects people at the margins of society. The papers included in this panel will examine the impact of recent educational change on members of those groups. They will document the way teachers and local communities are concomitantly negotiating societal changes and educational reforms.

“Sources of Cultural Inequity in Japanese Schooling”
June A. Gordon, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA

The continuing hegemonic ideology of Japanese racial and cultural homogeneity has not only resisted recognition of longstanding minority groups, including Koreans, Burakumin, and Okinawans, but also has shaped the response to Japan’s immigrant communities. Immigration and labor policy decisions since 1980 in Japan have led to the arrival of thousands of newcomers, including people from China, Southeast Asia and Latin America. This latter group, the Nikkeijin who come mostly from Brazil and Peru, are of particular interest since they are of Japanese descent. Officially seen as acceptable within a presumed Japanese identity, Nikkeijin experience lives as guest workers, not as a people reuniting with their homeland. Research among a range of low income schools and communities in Kanagawa prefecture that are trying to respond to the needs of Nikkeijin and other immigrants suggests that a pattern of cultural discrimination within Japan is affecting the educational experience of children already facing the difficulties of language and cultural dislocation. Interviews were conducted over a two-year period in primary, middle, and secondary schools with teachers, social workers, and parents. By looking from the margin, we are trying to both understand the schooling of low-income, minority, and immigrant children and their possible futures in Japan as well as better understand the nature of mainstream schooling.

“Educating for Human Rights: National Education Policies and Local Implementation of Buraku Education”
Christopher Bondy, International Christian University, Japan

Often ignored or marginalized in governmental discussions of education reform, national and local policies surrounding buraku education have long been a part of the debate regarding education reform. As a part of broad national policies known as Dowa (assimilation) Laws, Dowa Education had twin goals of educating about historical discrimination while enhancing the self-esteem and academic success of students from buraku districts. Begun in 1969, these policies coincided with the overall growth of the Japanese economy. Following the implementation, improvements in educational attainment for those from buraku areas were seen almost immediately. The continued educational improvement of buraku residents seemed to suggest that parity had been achieved. In 1997, the government implemented the final Dowa law, terminating in 2002, ending specialized buraku education. The policies of Dowa Education were broad enough to allow for differing approaches based, in part, on the political perspectives of specific communities. In some areas, the impact of Dowa Education exceeded the limits of those living in buraku communities, even after the various Dowa Laws ended in 2002. Drawing on a longitudinal study in schools in two buraku communities, this paper shows how Dowa Education was used in considerably different ways at the local level, from rejecting it as not being community centered, to considering it as a broad human rights education policy, with little or no mention of buraku issues. Some communities dismantled buraku education policies almost immediately after the end of the laws, while others continued some measures at the local level.

“Possibilities and Constraints of Japanese Education for Immigrant Students: Learning from the Lives of Filipina Immigrant Youth in Japan”
Tomoko Tokunaga, University of Maryland, College Park, Japan

From the late 1970s, Japanese society has experienced a new wave of foreigners primarily from Asian and South American countries. A flow of immigrant students to the schools has challenged Japanese education policies and practices, which are often criticized as valuing assimilation over diversity with little regard for equity. This paper, based on longitudinal ethnographic data, explores the possibilities and constraints of Japanese education by examining the experiences of Filipina immigrant youth in Japan. These young women migrated to Japan to reunite with their mothers who had left the Philippines due to economic circumstances. (Approximately 80% of Filipinos in Japan are women, most entering Japan as spouses of Japanese men or as entertainers.) By following the daughters of these migrant workers from middle school to a few years after graduation, the data reveals important lessons for educators, policy makers, and scholars, about how these young women negotiate metaphorical and literal borders. Due to structural forces beyond their control, such as immigration histories, exploitation and discrimination, these young women have to navigate complex and often inhospitable circumstances. Their lives in Japan magnify some of the limitations and possibilities of Japanese education for immigrant youth such as nationalistic and assimilative policies and in some cases xenophobic school cultures, as well as potential future employment in Japan. Learning from the lived experiences of these young women, this paper offers ways in which Japanese education could offer knowledge, skills and hope for immigrant students.

“Ethnic Schools and Multicultural Education in Japan”
Kaori H. Okano, La Trobe University, Australia

Ethnic schools are termed “schools for foreigners” in the official discourse in contemporary Japan, although these schools accommodate many Japanese citizens of varying ethnic heritage. Multicultural education has been discussed mainly in relation to “foreign nationals.” (Japan’s national census does not collect any data on the ethnic background of Japanese citizens.) There are approximately 300 ethnic schools in Japan, each offering fulltime schooling in a particular ethnic language outside the mainstream system of schooling, e.g., North Korean, South Korean, Chinese, South American. These schools operate under the rubric “miscellaneous school” with autonomy of curriculum design, but are unable to provide educational qualifications necessary for the mainstream adult world in Japan. Some of them are assisted and/or approved by the governments of the originating countries By focusing on “ethnic schools,” this paper directs attention beyond the mainstream schooling. It examines their roles in the processes of learning and teaching in Japan, in relation to the national and local government policies for managing the diverse student population. Drawing on fieldwork in the Kansai and Nagoya regions between 2006-2009 (stakeholders’ policy-drafts-under-discussion, observations of ethnic schools, and interviews with teachers and parents), it explores how ethnic schools negotiate a balance between: (1) promoting children’s life chances, (2) providing them with a place where they feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging, and (3) equipping them to make lifestyle choices. It also points to the significance of networking among ethnic schools that has emerged only in recent years.