A Multicultural Society and Minority Issues

by Prof. Nakajima Tomoko



It is my pleasure to be given this opportunity to make a presentation before you at such an international gathering. At the same time, it makes me feel somewhat perplexed. One of the reasons for that is because I do not subscribe to any particular faith nor religion; therefore, my religious consciousness is not very strong. Another reason is that, although the theme of this conference attracts me very much, I happen to belong to a majority group as far as my social status is concerned, that is, I am of the so-called Yamato race, not disabled nor handicapped, except that I am a woman and I have my own profession.

Even from the majority point of view, I can say that this society of ours has not in the past encouraged, nor self-consciously pursues today, to build a multicultural society. Only recently and sporadically have there begun the efforts of creating a "life together" between the majority and the minority people. In other words, I have very little to preach before anybody on the subject of this conference, let alone before those of you assembled here, not only from different parts of Japan, but from overseas who may belong to certain minority groups in your given context as well as those of you who dare to work for building a society of "life together."

I believe, however, that being here with you today is an opportune challenge given to me to meet in the course of the efforts that are now in the making. One Japanese proverb tells us: "Even chance meetings are the result of karma," meaning "things happen because they are predetermined to happen." Thus, with that spirit, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts.

I understand the first consultation was held in 1974, or 20 years ago, at this very place in Kyoto. At that time in this city, a hot issue was very much alive concerning a relocation plan of the Kyoto Korean High School. Upon the announcement of the plan by the school, it faced strong opposition from the local people in the projected neighborhood, and soon a support group for the high school was organized by the Korean residents along with some Japanese people, consisting mainly of students and common folks. It grew to be a totally new breed of people's movement in terms of its style and also of the issue that was at stake. The support group later gave birth to yet another group which focused its attention more specifically on the question of education for Korean children in Kyoto. It was this group of concerned people that was instrumental in putting pressure on the city of Kyoto to draw up in 1981 a tentative proposal for an education policy for foreign residents. Had it not been for this group, the proposal would not have been finalized in 1992 and incorporated in the city's education policy.

When the relocation support movement was being formed, I myself came to take part in it as a college student. This experience, in turn, led me to the study of education for Koreans in Japan. My motivation in this field was also greatly influenced by the fact that an "ethnic education" class was newly offered at my college in response to disputes over a discrimination case that happened right on our campus. As for my topic of study, education for Koreans, I learned a great deal, not in college classrooms, but from Koreans and Japanese people as well as those who were involved in various social movements and those with the issue of education on practical terms. Lately, to further develop my study from a theoretical perspective, I have done extensive research on the topic of multicultural education as taught in different countries, especially in the United States. It is only during these recent years that I am beginning to appreciate the real meaning of what it was which took place 20 years ago.

Multicultural Education and a Sense of Contemporaneity

It was in the early 1980s that I came across what is called "multicultural education." In Japan, I believe I was one of the pioneers in this field, even though we were way behind the world level. Researchers and scholastic circles in Japan were very insensitive about the issues of minorities, of social inequality and of ethnic and cultural diversity. When I first came to know about multicultural education, I was rather shocked, not because it was something beyond my comprehension, but, on the contrary, it had so much in common with my own subject, education for Koreans in Japan.

For example, (1) multicultural education was brought into existence because minority people themselves demanded one; (2) it understood respecting an ethnic culture as deeply related to one's feeling of self-esteem; (3) it originally began with an idea to ensure minority people their own ethnic education and later began to aim at correcting and eradicating ethnocentrism and racial prejudice on the part of the majority group; and (4) multicultural education called for a drastic review of the whole educational environment, which included the curriculum, methods of conducting classes and other aspects of teaching - in other words, it was not enough to simply add something called an "ethnic education course" to the ongoing curriculum. Another feature that was observed in common was that the most difficult obstacle in pushing such education forward lay in the attitude and awareness of school teachers.

Until recent years, the resident Korean question was regarded as something quite unique in its nature, as far as generally held views were concerned, or something that could not be found anywhere else in the world. Because of the emphasis on their status as resident foreigners, it was considered to be almost a taboo to discuss the issue on the same ground as other minority groups in different countries. The term "minority" or "minority problem" was understood in Japan (largely because of a linguistic problem arising from the translation of it) to mean that which has to do with ethnic or racial matters among the same citizens or nationals in one country. Thus, a sharp line of distinction was drawn between the resident Korean question and the so-called minority problem in the world.

During the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of news reached us here from the United States concerning various movements and activities by African-Americans - then called Black Americans - and other minority people, but their historical background was thought to be unquestionably distinctive from that of the resident Koreans in Japan: one having a history of slavery and voluntary immigration and the other of being colonized. Nobody would deny the unique aspect of the history of the resident Koreans and their living in Japanese society while retaining their Korean nationality, even after generations. We also have to remember that their homeland has been divided for so long. I have to say, just to remind us all, however, that stressing uniqueness often hinders an attempt at mutual learning.

In the course of the civil rights movement of African-Americans, not only legal and social equality was being fought for, but also cultural equality was very much at issue. The people there began to take a fresh look at the culture of African-Americans and to rediscover their contribution to American society. In education, they demanded that the school curriculum be re-examined and that they be provided with opportunities to learn their heritage and culture. Native Americans, Hispanic and Asian-Americans and later some ethnic groups from among the whites as well were influenced by such developments. They all advocated respect for the cultural uniqueness of individual ethnic groups, which, in turn, led to an ethnic revival movement throughout the United States. Later women, the disabled, the aged, homosexuals, or "the socially weak," also joined these forerunners. Out of such turbulent days of the 1970s, the philosophy of multicultural education came to be born.

While all this was going on in the United States, we in Japan came to witness an utterly new kind of social movement that was different from traditional ones staged by long-existing Korean groups or by Japanese teachers' unions. The new style of movement was born from the legal struggle against the Hitachi Corp. as far as the resident Koreans were concerned, while for the Japanese, it was from the examples laid by the Buraku liberation movement. The Hitachi case was discussed at the first consultation 20 years ago and developed into a movement with international solidarity, having launched a worldwide boycott campaign against Hitachi products. In the years that followed, a variety of important developments emerged from among Koreans in Japan in terms of minority dynamics. They said they would continue to stay in this country while rightfully affirming their ethnicity as "resident Koreans," which is in its essence a minority declaration in Japanese society. They also moved forward, mounting campaigns against discriminatory practices, including demands for the abolishment of the nationality clause. Although all these were born from the uniqueness of being resident Koreans, they certainly shared contemporaneity with what was being done by other minority groups throughout the world.

Japanese teachers began in the 1970s to try to meet the challenge of education for Koreans within the Japanese school system. They began with no prior training or experience, groping their way. Their trials were also in line with multicultural education after all. Previously, Japanese school teachers paid very little attention to the ethnic background of the children in their classes. Likewise, they were far from being aware of the ethnocentric nature of just about everything in their school, including the curriculum, teaching methods, their own attitude to children, etc. Buraku liberation education had a great deal to do with challenging teachers' attitudes in this regard. It made the teachers realize that they had to first accept just the way children are rather than indoctrinate them to the way they ought to be. Only then were they able to appreciate those children who, having to hide their Korean background, appeared depressed or who pretended to be "super tough." To give a critical review of assimilation-oriented education that had been promoted until then meant naturally to re-examine the kind of democratic education that was propagated in the postwar period. Thus, the teachers took their first steps forward, while respecting human rights, in the direction of establishing viable relationships with the children by assisting Korean children in being more ethnic-conscious, on one hand, and helping Japanese children to combat their prejudiced and discriminating ideas and practices, on the other.

Those school teachers who were working on this new educational theme might not have known then that quite similar developments were being undertaken in the United States, Canada and Europe. Paradoxically enough, universality is often identified in what is unique and individual. Schools in Japan have become ever more multicultural during the last several years, reflecting an increased number of migrant foreign workers, or so-called "newcomers." In Japan today, given such social change, multicultural education is at last attracting considerable attention as a program that can keep up with the needs and challenges of not only Koreans but also the children of these newcomers.

From `Internationalization' to Multiculturalism

While throughout the world the keyword of the 1970s and 1980s was "life together" among races and peoples of different cultural backgrounds, in Japan, it was "internationalization" - an obscure word perhaps even to this date. The term was used in such a context as to say that Japan, being an economic superpower, by now needs to shape up accordingly. An international community then was understood to be another universe somewhere outside of Japan. My observation is that few people in this country knew that Japan was part of the existing international community and, at the same time, needed to be opened, or, I may say, it was a kind of "internationalization" that was pressured from outside. That was why another phrase was invented, that is, "domestic internationalization" or "internationalization from within."

"Internationalization," as I understand it, consists of the concept of sharing a challenge with the international community. If this is so, then building multiracial, multicultural societies has been, and still is, a large universal challenge. Therefore, Japan also must mind this point as well. To sincerely address the problems of a similar nature within our own society will pave the way I believe for this country to become a truly respected member of the international community and to enjoy mutual understanding therein. We in Japan should avoid by all means attempts to cover up minority problems or to belittle the issue by invoking such fuzzy concepts as "domestic internationalization."

During the years when "internationalization" was understood on this level by most Japanese, it was the minority people who were experiencing genuine internationalization. Networking and solidarity building of the minority groups has been moving ahead rapidly, perhaps in order to partially confront the moves of businesses whose internationalization or international collaboration, by the way, needs to be monitored closely.

Take indigenous people's movements, for instance. The one which was mobilized by Native Americans, the indigenous people of North America who used to be called "Indians," was referred to as "red power" as contrasted with the "black power" of African-Americans in the 1960s. The Native Americans' move ignited subsequent organizing drives of, and among, other indigenous groups around the world. In 1974, the International Indian Treaties Council (IITC) was formed, which, in turn, undertook the task of appealing for indigenous rights to such international bodies as the United Nations. The council also began to communicate with indigenous groups operating in Australia and in the Latin American countries. Today in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations there are 12 non-government organizations (NGOs) of the indigenous peoples of the world that have been granted advisory status. The indigenous Ainu people of Japan have been represented since 1987 in the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (UNWGIP) through which they keep in touch with other native peoples of the world.

The government has officially recognized since 1987 that the Ainu people do exist, but it maintains that all of their legal rights are duly protected by the existing law. The authorities announce this in the face of the fact that 85.5 percent of the Ainu people have expressed that they have been discriminated against, according to a survey conducted in 1986 by the Ainu Association in Hokkaido. The existing law which I mentioned earlier is called, appallingly enough, the "Law To Protect Former Savages in Hokkaido." To replace this discriminatory legislation with a new set of laws prepared by the Ainu themselves, a campaign is under way at the present time for their enactment in the Diet, our national Parliament.

In 1994, the Ainu had their first representative, Mr. Kayano, take a seat in the Diet. With this turn of events, the Diet secretariat was reported to have gotten into an argument as to what to do if the man came to the session in Ainu costume or if he spoke the Ainu language in deliberation. This is because it has been an established custom for people to take off headbands upon entering the hall of the Diet. As you know, many people come there with appeals and petitions; and at such time, they often wear headbands. Well, should the Ainu headband, which is a part of their traditional costume, be treated the same way? And as to the choice of language(s) in the Diet, I hear that there is no particular one specifically designated, eloquently showing how deeply the Diet, the core element of our democracy, has subscribed to the idea of "Japan as a single ethnic nation."

Let us get back to the question of the international solidarity of minorities. Apart from what I have already mentioned, the Buraku liberation movement is also promoting worldwide solidarity with other minority groups. There is the example of the Koreans in Uji City as well, which is one of the neighboring cities of Kyoto. There are approximately 80 households, or 380 Koreans, living in one corner of Uji City. During the war, they were forced to work on the construction of military airfields; and after the war, they settled there. There were no running water facilities available in their neighborhood. No decent jobs were available either. Despite such hardships, they raised their families and even built a Korean school on their own. Now, after all these years of sweat and tears, they are today ordered to evacuate the neighborhood. Although the issue is deeply rooted in the question of postwar compensation, nothing has been done on the government level, neither central nor local. The Nissan Corp., the legal owner of the land in question, has shown no interest in fulfilling their responsibility in the case. Thus, the Koreans in the community alone are defending themselves in court. In order to strengthen their movement, they have solicited support from various groups not only within Japan but also in Germany, the United States and other countries.

Why is it though that you have to put your opinion ads in the pages of American newspapers? It testifies, for one thing, that Japan will not feel hurt unless some pressure is applied from the outside world. As for the question of postwar compensation, it has been the position of the Japanese government (also of many businesses concerned) to let it simply wither away with time. But nothing fades away. Instead, the question of redress is gaining more attention to the point where something has to be done.

The Past 50 Years in Japan: The Postwar Era and the Japanese

In 1995, Japan will be observing the 50th anniversary of the defeat in the war. Fifty years should have been ample time for the nation to come to calmly recognize the meaning of what has taken place and to share the fruits of such reflections among its people in concrete terms. The reality of Japan today is completely the opposite, however. The postwar compensation issue still remains unsettled as it was before, and we see politicians one after another with words of justification for Japan's purpose and role in the last war. Even worse, we have seen an increase in 1994 of violence and harassment, particularly in cases directed against the Koreans here.

Just to mention a few examples, the Kyoto District Police Department ransacked the Kyoto district headquarters of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (pro-Pyongyang); criminal acts were committed against students attending Korean high schools in Japan as symbolized in the incidents in which they were physically attacked and/or their chima-chogori (ethnic costume that was adopted as school uniforms for the girls) was slashed at train stations on their way to school. In addition, Korean students attending Japanese schools openly with their Korean names were also subjected to persistent harassment.

As far as harassment against Korean students, it is nothing new: it has been repeated during the past few decades whenever some "troubles" were reported from the Korean Peninsula. Every time girls in chima-chogori were picked upon as prey by middle-aged Japanese men for the most part, that is to say, there are also younger and older men, and even women, who harass anybody who may appear to be Korean. These incidents take place reportedly in train stations, inside train cars and on public roads. However, offenders have not been caught nor have any bystanders at the scene come to help the victimized youth. In some instances, the same individuals have been attacked repeatedly.

Why is it that certain Japanese people want to, or resort to, attacking girls in chima-chogori when such news reaches Japan from the peninsula as north Korea's nuclear development program (the mass media's approach to particular issues has been under fire). A list of incidents would easily become a much longer one if we were to include the number of those who felt sympathetic to those acts that are reported, although never actually committing any crime as such themselves. Here I have to point out a weak understanding of history by the Japanese people who conveniently have decided to find a refuge in the syndrome of "we-the-victims," which truly symbolizes what has occurred in the past 50 years in this country.

The Germans have over and over again taken pains of questioning their history, especially in relation to the crimes committed by the Nazis. Even in the United States, the people there are groping to re-evaluate what the Vietnam War was all about to them. Opposition forces against such trends are, of course, everywhere in these countries. However, we have to admit, to be fair, that there are also social forces very much alive which try to counter such reactionary moves. Japan, as I see it, has not yet reached that point.

I now report the following with a certain level of relief, if I may call it so. Against the outrageous move of the Kyoto District Police Department, more than several organizations and university groups issued statements of protest in relation to the incident. Protest rallies were also organized by the concerned citizens. Clearly different from what it used to be in the past, these responses on the part of the Japanese people were rather quick. In the end, the police department was forced to deliver words of regret, though not exactly an official apology. Quite a similar development was seen afterwards in the cases of harassed girls in Korean school uniforms. After the news reports, some Japanese and Korean schools decided to start opening their doors to one another for mutual exchanges, and the press began campaigns of introducing ethnic schools. Thus, efforts of mutual learning have been made on a wider scale. Some citizen's groups have also decided to take up the issue of harassment against those students who live under their ethnic names.

All of these things happened, however, only after events had taken place, that is, in response to what had already been committed. It will, therefore, perhaps take years before such grassroots efforts may grow into a sustainable force which will be strong enough to be able to prevent further occurrences of the same nature. Only when such efforts are shared among the total body may this society of ours in Japan be able to accept resident foreigners as they are and finally to strive to build a multicultural society of life-sharing.

(This article was presented at the second International Consultation on Minority Issues and Mission Strategies, October 1994, Kyoto, Japan.)