Japan sees itself as a homogeneous country, where we have deemed 98% of our citizens as ethnically Japanese. This belief has allowed us to be ignorant about racism, which is believed to be “uniquely Western” (Russel, 2018). The Ministry of Justice, in 2017, released a survey on discrimination in Japan. This unprecedented questionnaire revealed bitter results; 30% of non-Japanese had responded that racist language had been directed toward them (Russel, 2018). By 2019, according to a survey by the Anti-Racism Information Center, nearly half of foreign nationals had been through racial discrimination in Tokyo (Kyodo, 2019). In reality, Japan has low tolerance when it comes to those who they consider “outsiders”. In fact, right-wing populism and xenophobia has grown inside of Japan. Japan, since after World War II, has branded itself as homogeneous by culturizing their citizens. They took away ties that other ethnicities had to other cultures, and exposed them solely to Japanese culture, forcing them to believe that they are Japanese. This culturalization disregards minority groups and the structural discrimination and inequality they may face (Kitayama, 2018).
Professor Kitayama of Osaka University states that talk about race is taboo in this country because of its imperialistic background, as Japan has “distanced itself from a pre-war imperialist self-concept that had been based on the ideology of a deliberately multi-ethnic state” (2018). We have turned a blind eye to those that have been forced to become resident aliens, who are mid- to long term residents (Immigration Bureau of Japan). The Ministry of Justice has announced that 2.4 million nationals of foreign countries were registered in the system, which makes up 1.8% of the population (2016). This number, however, does not represent uncounted minorities. Indigenous people such as the Ainu and ethnically Korean and Chinese naturalized citizens are said to reach up to 5.7 million people, which would mean that they account for 5% of the total Japanese population (Okano and Tsuneyoshi, 2010). In addition, a notable rise in the population of foreign residents can be seen. As of January of 2018, 2.5 million people, or 2% of the population is made up of foreign residents, which is at the highest it has ever been (Mizuho, 2019). That being said, Japan fails to address a more holistic approach when it comes to diversity in schooling.
As mentioned above, though claiming to be monoethnic, Japan has long standing issues that cannot continue to be ignored. There must be many causes for this, but it can be hypothesized that education is one factor. In fact, both systemic and individual racism can be found in education in Japan today, although global educational initiatives have been enacted, specifically in Education for International Understanding (EIU). The Japanese government puts an emphasis on internationalization and its ability to compete in the global market. It tries to unite the Japanese by strengthening a feeling of a united identity instead of critically analyzing the idea of ethnic Japan (Kitayama, 2018). In schools, racism exists against Korean children attending Korean schools, Buraku children who are unable to attain excellence in academic performance, and non-Japanese in the mandated education system and in the form of bullying. These then connect to serious matters in the real world. Racism continues to harm the same people. Beyond high school, graduates from Korean high schools face inequality, Burakumins’ poor academic performances cause them to fall into poverty, and blatant discrimination against those who are ethnically non-Japanese are common in society. This paper will examine the roots of these prejudices in education.
Discrimination against Korean Children attending Korean Schools
During World War II, under Japanese colonization, Koreans were banned from using their ethnic language. After Japan surrendered, Koreans established more than 500 Korean schools. Though they were issued to decrease the number to 50, they were also denied Japanese nationality, resulting in a lack of guarantee of the right to education. In 1968, Korean schools were labeled as “miscellaneous”. This is the third type of school after “regular” and “technical”. To become accredited as a “regular school” by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), schools must follow the Japanese curriculum with Japanese textbooks and be taught in Japanese. This makes it unattainable for a minority group to give education with their ethnic language in a “regular school”.
Foreign schools in Japan have disadvantages. Financially, the local government supplies a fraction of what private schools receive, and the central government does not provide any support, generating a need for high monetary aid from parents. Furthermore, in 2003, MEXT granted a tax exemption to Western foreign schools which disregarded Korean foreign schools. In addition, Korean students are excluded from the system of exemption of high school tuition fees and enrolment subsidies due to the fact that they are a “miscellaneous school” (NGO Network for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Japan, 2014). They are also unable to become a subject to services including complementary health care. Lastly, the diplomas of foreign schools are, in a few cases, not a valid legal qualification. This causes problems in the case when these students want to enter or transfer to a Japanese school or get higher education. Especially in regard to higher education, some were even denied taking the entrance exams of universities (HURAK, 2017).
Aside from the systematic racism, there is racism found at the individual level. Hate speech and hate crime and the relationship between Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are proportional. Since the 1980s, when relations get unfavorable, hate speech and hate crime have occurred against Korean school children. In a survey in 2015, 37% of 1500 children have identified hate speech online. Hate crime has also appeared, and there was an incident where students were attacked by anti-Koreans for their traditional Korean attire. Schools reacted by having the students change in schools to protect them from further hate crimes (Brasor, 2016).
Buraku’s Poor Academic Performance as a Result of Discrimination
The word Buraku refers to outcast members from the Meiji era. To this day, they still are being discriminated against though they are the same as the majority in regard to appearance, language, or religion. In the past, they were left to do the dirty jobs, also known as “polluting acts”. Although the “Emancipation Edict” of 1871 was declared to invalidate the class system, it did not have any meaningful measures to end discrimination (Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, 1997). The Ministry of Justice has called for “the elimination of prejudice and discrimination in relations to Dowa issues”, without any concrete methods to erase discrimination (Buraku Liberation League, 2014). To this day, Buraku discrimination is not yet an issue of the past; at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) made a statement about discrimination against Buraku in Japan. In it, the IMADR said that the “effect of discrimination against Buraku people continue to be found in different areas of life” (2016) In 1996, the Law for the Measures for Promotion of Human Rights Protection was implemented for human rights education and mitigating human rights violations. Currently, there is an estimated 6000 Buraku communities with over 3 million residents. They face discrimination especially in marriage and employment (Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Institute, 1997). It can be said that that they face discrimination in the education sector as well, as they historically, have had less access to education (Center for US-Japan Comparative Social Studies, 2005).
Kubota has pointed out that Buraku’s poor academic achievement is related to their parents’ disregard for the significance of performance as a means of educational credentials (2006). The lack of will in education can be seen in their low enrolment rates. Until the 1970s, the rate of Buraku students’ enrollment in secondary education was only half of the national average (2005). A survey by the Osaka Prefectural Government states that the majority of people would avoid a house located in the Dowa district (Buraku Liberation League, 2014). A member of “Buraku Heritage”, Tami Kawakami also stated that others do not want to be affiliated with the Buraku, making them stay away from the area (Abema, 2018). This would implicate that schools in these areas consist of mostly Buraku; meaning, they experience little discrimination within the student body. That being said, there are non-Buraku teachers within the schools. In a school as such, these teachers have shown prejudice against Buraku, especially towards their parents. They believe that parents did not provide sufficient parenting or adequate support in education. An elementary school principal, in an interview, had explicitly said that Buraku children do not have the ability to concentrate in school (Boocock). This prejudice toward Buraku students translates to subconscious behavior differences in teachers’ minds, as proven in the expectancy effect (Simstrom, 2018). When a person expects more from another, they are more likely to nurture and encourage them to develop. In this case, Buraku students are likely to receive low expectations, thus it can be concluded that they are being taught with negligence.
Furthermore, there are cases where others have come over to schools in Dowa regions to hurt Buraku. Midori Takeda, an education coordinator, had recalled graffiti on the walls of her school in the Dowa region that said, “Disappear, school of the Buraku” (Ameba, 2018). In this way, discrimination could reach school grounds, hurting the victim’s identity and self-confidence. A Buraku ninth grader had answered that they cannot be smart because their parents did not get a good education (Boocock). These ideas cause low self-esteem, ultimately affecting academic performance as shown in the Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes experiment by Jane Elliott (1968). Elliot had divided her all-White students into a hierarchy based on eye color. Through this exercise, her students felt that the discrimination had caused them to do poorly because they felt that they were inferior to their counterparts (Frontline, 1985). The American Psychological Association assesses this as the “stereotype threat” (2006). Through this phenomenon, Buraku students fail to achieve academic excellence as the stereotype against them is one that states that they cannot perform well in education.
Discrimination against the non-Japanese in Education
As Japan continues to diversify with a steady increase of immigrants, a 125% increase in the last decade, 0.61% of school children are non-Japanese nationals (MEXT, 2014). Although this is the case, the centralized and egalitarian national education system is not designed for immigrant students. Immigrant children are excluded by the ordinances placed upon education and placing them in schools is seen as a “favor”, or supplementary (Tokunaga, 2018). In fact, in Article 26 of the Japanese Constitution, the right to education is written to be for the kokumin or citizens. Education from grades 1-9 is mandated by the state, and citizens get notices before their child meets the applicable age. In contrast, not only do foreign nationals not get notices, they must be accepted by the local education board for their compulsory education. Sakuma criticizes that these exclusive policies structurally keep immigrants away from society (2006, as cited in Tokunaga, 2018). In 2010, MEXT presented a survey showing that an average of 0.7% of children were not enrolled in education, and 21.5% had no information. In addition, among those who attended schools, Oomagari, Takanati, Kaji, Inaba, and Higuchi found that less than 40% of Brazilian and Filipino 17-year olds did not pursue secondary education, compared to 98% of Japanese attending high school (Yamaomoto, 2014).
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) lacks measures for multicultural education, and Japanese school culture commonly prioritizes “harmony (wa)” or “togetherness” over the individual. Tokunaga states that these relate to schools lack of value in social justice, equity, and diversity (2017). Assogba criticizes that Japanese schools must teach children that all people are of the same human race (Japan: Fighting Against Racism). In fact, they do not allow immigrant children to embrace their culture, but they direct them to change to better suit Japanese culture. Teachers are often times not experienced in teaching students who are not able to speak Japanese, especially in rural areas compelling them to teach non-Japanese students about their culture (Maruyama, 2018).
Bullying is another serious issue in Japanese education. MEXT has defined bullying (ijime) as follows: “Ijime is an act by a student, or students, toward another student that inflicts some physical or psychological consequences causing the receiving child mental or physical suffering” (Kawano, 2016). In 2013, an anti-bullying law was implemented in an attempt to prevent bullying using character education and measures to find bullying at an early stage. In spite of this, juvenile suicide rates have been on a continuous rise. (Siripala, 2019). MEXT reported 414,378 cases of problematic behavior in 2017. Meaning, more than 3 in 100 students were subject to this behavior. This has been a record high, but MEXT has explained it as increased proactivity in schools. The validity of this interpretation can be questioned as the degree of bullying has seemingly worsened (Nippon writers, 2018). Another survey done by the Tokyo Metropolitan School Personnel in Service Training Center in 2013 found that the majority of the students have experienced inflicting or receiving bullying (Kawano, 2016). Japanese school children often target those they determine are different from them. This makes non-Japanese a target. As a matter of fact, there are vast cases in Kawaguchi schools where the bullying of Kurdish students is rampant. Hidenobu Matsuzawa, the head of an NGO to support Kurdish people in Japan, says that bullying develops easily because there are unable to understand the language and culture (Mainichi, 2019). Takenoshita interviewed 142 foreign-national students. The majority of students reported being bullied as well as being discriminated against, causing them to develop negative self-esteem. These are a concern to these children’s parents and many wish to send their children to more diverse schools. The greater number of people are, however, unable to afford the high tuition fees that international schools require (Yamamoto, 2014). Due to these reasons, non-Japanese children, especially immigrants, face low rates of attendance, progression, and academic achievement (Maruyama, 2018).
Japan cannot ignore their issues about race any longer. Minorities are facing prejudice both systemically and individually. Korean schools do not get the same benefits as, not only “regular” schools, but as Western international schools that are classified as the same “miscellaneous” schools. The rocky relationship between Korea and Japan further drives a wedge between the two peoples, and hate speech and crime are directed towards Korean, especially when relations deteriorate. Buraku people, although the first ever group to become targets to erase discrimination, still face prejudice today. They cannot break free of their poverty cycle with the lack of support in education. Non-Japanese are also not treated the same way citizens are, and their education is not mandated by the state. Thus, they must commit to getting their education for themselves. However, the situation is not desirable with teachers who are unable to understand their situation and rampant bullying. The problem with the education system is that Japan is not doing enough to promote diversity or multiculturalism in this globalizing era, and the offender is often ignorant about being the cause. For Japan to become a more accepting country, vast changes must be made, starting in schooling.
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