Local Education Policies and Practices For Ethnic Minority Children In Post-War Japan


 Presenter (s) Sayaka Hashimoto, UCL Institute of Education, Aoyama Gakuin University

This study examines the provision and development of local policies and practices for the education for ethnic minority children in post-war Japan with a particular focus on the conditions for and motivations behind their development.

In an era of globalisation with greater human mobility and migration, Japan has increasingly struggled with educational issues relating to children who have ethnic minority background. In fact, Japan’s population of foreign nationals has doubled in the last few decades. Indeed, from comprising 0.7 per cent of the population in the 1960s, the proportion of foreign nationals increased to 1.7 per cent in 2007, and is 2 per cent as of 2018 (Ministry of Justice 2018). What is more, the statistics do not include those who have naturalized as Japanese and become a part of ethnic minority groups, including the Ainus and Okinawans as former inhabitants in Hokkaido and Okinawa, and Koreans and Chinese whose ancestors arrived before the end of World War II. The number of naturalized Koreans between 1952 and 1996 is estimated to be more than 200,000 (Okano 2006) and more than 133,000 people mainly from Korea and China have become naturalized in the last decade (Ministry of Justice 2018). Furthermore, the statistics do not include unregistered immigrants. As such, in spite of a common perception of homogeneity, Japan has become “a multicultural society with many diverse nationalities and ethnic groups” (Tsuneyoshi 2011, 108).

One outcome of this increased diversity has been a rise of ethnic discrimination, including unequal learning opportunities for ethnic minority children. Indeed, in contrast with Western countries, Japan’s national policy towards such children demonstrates a “lack of state-sponsored support” (Burgess 2011, 1). For instance, there is a significant level of school absence or non-attendance by ethnic minority children, especially those who are not of Japanese nationality. The Japanese Constitution states that education is compulsory for school-age children who are Japanese nationals. However, this stipulation excludes those who are not Japanese nationals. This implies that there is no legal redress for truancy among non-nationals. According to Kyodo (2016), more than 13,000 school-aged ethnic minority children did not attended school in 2010. This figure is estimated to constitute about 16 per cent of all children who do not have Japanese nationality, far exceeding the 0.01 percent of truancy among children with Japanese nationality. This underscores the observation of the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX 2016) that there are few integrated and systematic policies at the national level with regard to education for ethnic minority children in Japan. Despite these figures, the national government has taken few steps towards making education compulsory for non-national children.

In the place of state-sponsored support, Japan’s schools, related local institutions, and local governments supplement the needs of ethnic minority children at the regional and municipal level through the development of local policies and programmes (Okano 2006). Interestingly, in contrast to many Western countries, Japan has failed to develop adequate policies to integrate non-national or ethnic minority children into the education system at the national level. Indeed, despite Japan’s long history of centralized governance, these needs are being met at the local level.

This distinctive pattern of policy development and Japan’s policymaking process have been largely overlooked by Western scholars. Western scholarship has failed to examine how Japan has been developing policies and practices for educating ethnic minority children through a bottom up process that starts at the local level. As such, I address a gap in the research regarding the development of local education policies and practices for ethnic minority children. This study uses Japan and its local areas as case studies for examining these issues—this is particularly interesting considering that policymaking is traditionally a centralised process in Japan. This analysis ultimately examines whether this bottom-up strategy is an anomaly or if Japan actually has similarities to other centralised states.

This study first provides an historical overview of local government initiatives with respect to education policies for ethnic minority children. It then examines the policies and practices developed in two local areas with high and low concentrations of ethnic minorities, Kawasaki City in Kanagawa Prefecture and Nozawa Village in Yamagata Prefecture. In doing so, this study found that, often guided by local practices, many local governments have developed their own education policies to support ethnic minority children in local schools. This study also found that local organisations have actively contributed to national government policymaking with regard to educational provision for ethnic minority children.

Therefore, this study provides a brief overview of how local governments have initiated and developed education policies for ethnic minority children in Japan. The value of this study is underscored by the fact that the national government has been significantly affected by these policies, often at the persistence of local councils. In examining these dynamics, this study addresses a significant gap in Western academic literature regarding the way in which Japan has been developing policies and practices for educating ethnic minority children from the bottom up. The complete details of this study will be provided in the presentation.

Burgess, C. 2011. “(Mis)managing diversity in non-metropolitan public schools: The lack of state-sponsored support for “newcomer” children.” In Minorities and Education in Multicultural Japan: An Interactive Perspective, ed. R. Tsuneyoshi, New York and London: Routledge.
Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX). 2016. Migrant Integration Policy Index: Japan. (Online), 30 September. http://www.mipex.eu/japan
Ministry of Justice. 2018. Heisei 29-nenmatsu genzai ni okeru Zairyu gaikoku ninzu nitsuite [Statistics of foreign residents in 2017]. http://www.moj.go.jp/nyuukokukanri/kouhou/nyuukokukanri04_00073.html
Okano, K. H. 2006. “The global–local interface in multicultural education policies in Japan.” Comparative Education 42(4): 473–491.
Kyodo. 2016. Gaikokujin no shugaku, husho 16% [16% in education status of foreign children logged as “unknown”]. The Nikkei 14(March): 34.
Tsuneyoshi, R. 2011. “The ‘newcomers’ and Japanese society.” In Minorities and Education in Multicultural Japan: An Interactive perspective, ed. R. Tsuneyoshi. New York and London: Routledge.

Leave a Reply