An unexpected “gaijin moment”

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho...

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho, Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Robert Moorehead

At the beginning and end of each semester, my college faculty and staff gather for a fancy meal at a restaurant before a smaller group moves on to an Irish pub for a nijikai (second round of drinking). The nijikai crowd eventually shrinks down to a smaller group that heads to a third bar, for a sanjikai. At each place, everyone shares stories, laughs, and enjoys each other’s company in a mix of Japanese and English. Despite the fun, at the third stop I had a “gaijin moment.”

A “gaijin moment” is my Japanese adaptation of Eli Anderson’s “n**r moment,” in which non-Japanese are starkly reminded of their outsider status in Japan. In this case, the reminder came despite the smiles, laughter, and joyous karaoke singing of my colleagues.

The sanjikai took place at a small Japanese-style bar. The 16 people in our group settled in on couches in the back of the bar, as three Japanese hostesses came over to pour drinks for us, serve us snacks, and engage us in conversation. Thankfully, these women avoided the more dramatic flirting found in hostess bars, where the job is to flirt with customers, smile, sing, and get customers to buy drinks—what Rhacel Parreñas has defined as a form of sex work. (Anne Allison and Parreñas have produced great ethnographies of hostess work, for those interested.)

A Japanese woman in her 30s sat across from me and another foreign professor, poured us some watered-down drinks, and asked questions that non-Japanese often get—do you speak Japanese, where are you from, how long have you lived in Japan, etc. To her credit, she avoided exaggerated responses like “Oh really? Wow! That’s great!” Or maybe she read the look I probably had on my face.

English: Kabukicho, Tokyo

English: Kabukicho, Tokyo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I understand the history of the hostess role, I also understand the gender dynamics of paying women to serve me. Pouring drinks, wiping moisture off the glasses, re-filling drinks (with extremely watered-down booze), clapping their hands in time to the karaoke singing, and pretending to be interested in whatever I might say. I couldn’t separate their smiles from the fact that they were being paid to show those emotions … that I was paying them for those emotions.

At that moment, I realized that I am unable to turn off the sociologist in my head. I couldn’t get comfortable with the hostess-customer relationship. While there’s no shame in working as a hostess, I would have preferred to have gone to Ing, a rock bar that several of us had unsuccessfully lobbied for. At least the bar we went to was better than the place we’d gone to previously, a depressingly dark bar where the hostesses routinely yawn, check their watches, serve stale snacks, and pour drinks that are essentially watered-down gasoline.

Then came calls for me to join the karaoke. I demurred, as I listened to my colleagues sing one Japanese song after another, from pop to rock to dance music, generations of Japanese songs I had never heard. A few English classics, like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Frank Sinatra, made their inevitable appearance. But it was the endless medley of Japanese songs that made me feel like a gaijin. Everyone was nice enough, and even the hostess eventually moved on to other people. But sitting through song after song that I had never heard before, but all my Japanese colleagues seemed to know by heart, made me realize that, despite all the music that we had in common, we grew up listening to very different things.

Black Sabbath 1977 Ozzy Butler Iommi - "R...

Black Sabbath 1977 Ozzy Butler Iommi – “Reality Show” (Photo credit: Whiskeygonebad)

Odds are that if my Japanese colleagues had found themselves listening to people (try to) sing the heavy metal and rock tracks I grew up with (time for some Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden karaoke, anyone?), they would have felt similarly. As people pushed me to look for songs to sing, I drew a blank. Feeling like an outsider, I couldn’t even think of what I’d look for. Not that I really wanted to sing, but I felt like such an outsider that I couldn’t imagine anything I liked being in the computer system.

Eventually, I got forced to sign the last song of the night, and while people were originally searching for “Hey Jude,” I got stuck with “We Are the World.” Seriously. It would not have been my first choice, or my second, or my 153rd.

The next day, all sorts of songs popped into my head, making me wonder even more about what had set me off. After more than 7 years in Japan, it’s interesting to see that I can still feel like a total gaijin.

So a little empathy is in order whenever a native complains about foreigners not fitting in. Fitting in is a long, bumpy road. And just when you think you’re in the clear … more bumps.


Precarious Japan and Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kota Yanagidani

In her book Precarious Japan, Anne Alison discusses the depiction of precarious life in the film “Tokyo Sonata.” In the ensuring paragraphs, this paper introduces “Tokyo Sonata” first, and after that, Allison’s view of “Tokyo Sonata” is analyzed, and my opinion on the movie and Allison’s view comes in the final part.

First of all, this movie starts with the situation that one man loses his job, and the movie shows the family’s life in which the father struggles with hiding the truth about his job. After all, family got to know that he lost his job.

About this movie, Allison says there are also other stories of his sons and wife. They all face some problems and complicated and awkward situations; all members of the family have problems but they gather around the table and eat dinner in almost silence. According to Allison, this family represents muenshakai (relationless society) in which disconnectedness and incommunicativeness are occurring. She writes “No one speaks and no one knows, or asks, why the others look a mess” in his family, and her point is actually shown in his family. Also, Allison claims that the house can be a tool for analyzing the soul. In “Tokyo Sonata,” the soul of the family can be seen when the house actually plays the role of “house” which means the place for family members.

My opinion is for my contemporary situation, I really cannot imagine if I was fired while having a family. I may try to find another job while pretending to go work. However, as for muenkazoku (relationless family), I also cannot imagine how I would manage family as father, but from my experience, love is the most important element in family and this should be shown as a form.

In order to show love as father even mother, relationship have to be a big deal. This means that a family thinking love is relationship in a family must not be involved in muenshakai. The truth, however, is there are a number of relationless families in contemporary Japan, according to Allison. Like Allison points out, the cause of these families is market capitalism. Mentally, this market system makes the family, especially the father, think he has to focus on work in order to take care of his family. Then the mother thinks she is supposed to focus on housework and grow up sons or daughters.

Therefore, to put it simply, muenshakai (relationless society) is a by-product of overly developed capitalism, I think. It should be required not to change market capitalism, but to give rise to solutions like improving the welfare system, which directly leads to people’s happiness while we keep capitalism. Anyway, the government should be involved to make a change in our society.

Will Miku give us hope?

Lady Miku

Lady Miku (Photo credit: m61322)

by Zhang Shiwen

Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) has become a boom all over the world. Like the 2-D fetish or imaginary girlfriend of otaku, she is a digital character who sings with a human voice if people set music to it. Users can set the size of her body, so they can each have their own Miku. According to Bendako (2012), because users can make her move and sing, she is seen as satisfying their fantasy love, such as by saying “I love you” to them. Users can also create music and dance to make her do, and then upload it to the Internet. Following this, the most important reason for the boom is that although she cannot be felt as a human idol, she can imitate a normal human being to encourage users if they create good music, and communicate with them to make users feel happy (Bendako 2012). Miku has fulfilled what Allison said, that “human and the robot to understand each other like human beings” (Allison 2013:102). There came up a heart to heart relationship between Miku and users.

Around 20 years ago, the virtual pet, Tamagotchi, was very popular for people who wanted to experience keeping a pet. People take care of digital pets for fun when they are free, to feel warm when they feel tired, but they can stop and restart whenever they want. No matter whether it’s Miku or Tamagotchi, they are all the productions of prosthetic sociality. They are electronic goods, but we can communicate with them and they can affect us. Although they are digital, the relationship between human and them does exist.

Especially with the development of technology, the electronic goods that accompanied people have changed from a pet in a special electronic screen to a lovely, humanlike girl in computers, PSP, even people can see live performances by Miku on real stages. Moreover, people can use the Internet to share their own Miku music and dance to the world. Users can also get communication through Miku. It is said that these humanoid robots can help “promote companionship and communication” (Allison 2013:102). However, how about the real lives of people who feel healed by prosthetic sociality?

The interesting phenomenon in Japan is that compared to the overflowed information on the Internet, Japanese society is lacking in communication and humanity. People are interested in saying things on the Internet, but refuse to communicate with their families and neighbors. I totally agree with Allison’s criticism that prosthetic society will weaken “human ties in the family, workplace, and community” (Allison 2013:101). The bad effect is appearing, and I myself am an example.

My parents were very busy and had no time to take care of me, so they bought me a DVD player. Maybe they thought it was good for me to have a companion, like the mother is happy for her five-year-old son to have a Tamagotchi. However, I just repeated watching DVDs and wanted to be a good child to not be a nuisance (mendokusai). Now when I looked back over my childhood, I prefer being a bad child to having more touch with my parents. Due to that, I am afraid that I will become a user of care robotics, as I grow old. I do not want to taste loneliness again.

Prosthetic sociality will not save people. It is like a drug, which can make people happy temporarily, but the side effect, feeling lonelier, will continue in the future. People will grow older. The day when they get out of the prosthetic sociality will come, but they cannot find any connection with others at that time. People relay on digital life maybe because their parents or friends cannot give them more care or touch, or they shut down their family life themselves. However, as a result, escaping from the reality is not a good choice. I appreciate Tamura Hiroshi and others, who can face to the difficulties of life. The prosthetic society can be a good entertainment, but will not give us hope.


Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bendako. June 10, 2012. Hatsune Miku ha naze konnani ninkinano? [Why is Hatsune Miku so popular?]. Retrieved from

Who is Hatsune Miku?

How African Women See Themselves

by Yutaro Nishioka

The term colorism is defined in the work of Verna M. Keith, “A Colorstruck World: Skin tone, Achievement, and Self-Estimation Among African American Women,” as “the privileging of light skin tone over dark skin tone” (Keith, 2009). In other words, people with dark skin are seen as inferior to those with light skin. This view was somewhat hard for me, as a Japanese, to perceive in Japan, especially before I went to Atlanta at the age of 16 as an exchange student. Before I went to Atlanta, I had never known a black person; I had not seen a black person at school, supermarkets, stations, parks, libraries, or any other public places. Hence it is natural that I could not really perceive or feel colorism in Japan.

According to Keith (2009), black women (and even girls) are encouraged or even told to “marry light,” that is, marry a husband of lighter skin tone, so that they can at least “save” their children from having to go through the hardship and pain of being discriminated against for having dark skin, even if they had to suffer it themselves. Young black girls are even told not to play outside in the sunlight because that would make their skin even darker, which would make them “less attractive (often not spoken aloud)” (Keith, 2009).

While white or European features, such as “blue, grey or green eyes, straight hair texture, thin lips, and a narrow nose” are seen as “higher status,” more attractive, and intelligent, black or African features, such as “broad nose, kinky hair, full lips, and brown eyes” are devalued both inside and outside of the black community (Keith, 2009). This phenomenon, in my opinion, is horrible because not only do young black children get discouraged from playing outside—young children naturally like to play outside—but also the reason or excuse that the adults, or society, use for this phenomenon is extremely lame: having dark skin is somehow less attractive, and any attempt to avoid darkening the skin tone is thus justified. This can even affect who black American women will “date and marry” and the kinds of jobs they end up having (Keith, 2009).

To my surprise, these advices are given “out of love, and a deep historical understanding” of the discrimination against those with dark skin tone (Keith, 2009). This may imply that many black American women would rather “suck it up” and teach their children not to darken their skin any further to avoid undergoing the hardship, than fight the society and discrimination. It might be that the power of the discrimination against people with dark skin is so overwhelmingly strong and influential that they do not have a choice but to suck it up and do what the society tells them to do, that is, to avoid darkening their skin tone and marry a light skinned husband to make sure at least their children’s skin tone turns out lighter.


Keith, V. (2009). A Colorstruck world skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Colorism within the black community in the U.S.

by Nami Irikuchi

When I first read “A Colorstruck World” by Verna Keith, I could not believe that there was/is a discrimination against black people by black people. As most of us know, white people have discriminated against dark-skinned people, African-Americans in the U.S. People have thought that white people are superior to black people. The lighter skin black people have, the better life they can have.

What I want to say is that the differences of their skin color occurred because of genetics. The activation level of melanocyte is different between blacks and whites, and its activation level is decided by their genes. Even dark-skinned people who did not do wrong things to others have been discriminated against.

In the reading, Keith writes that dark-skinned mothers try to protect their daughters from sunlight not to have darker skin. I thought that if I were a dark-skinned women and had a dark-skinned daughter, what advice would I give to my daughter? If it is now, then I would not, but I would have advised if it was the past, when there was more discrimination against blacks. When I advise my daughter, I would not tell why I would try to protect her from the sunlight. They do not need to know the fact that dark-skinned women would not be preferred, and also black people did not do anything that was worth discriminated. Just because they have the darker skin, they would get discriminated against.

Some black males now also think that black females are less attractive, though they have the almost same color. I think that it is related to not only racism or colorism, but also gender issues. I found an internet article which said that black men try to date light-skinned women because they find them more beautiful than darker-skinned women. Furthermore, if they got married and had children with those light-skinned women, there is a possibility that they could have children who have “favorable features,” such as lighter skin and eye color. Those children might face less discrimination.

However, in that article, there is no statement about women’s preferences. As we can see, women are distinguished by their appearance at first, and if the appearance did not match to the preference, then men do not try to have a relationship with them. Somehow most people have the prejudice for dark-skinned people, and women still get hurt not only in the white community but also within the dark-skinned community.

Slavery is over. Colonialism is over. But there are still or more discrimination against black people. I think that the situation is very similar to the Japanese people’s attitudes toward Korean or Chinese people. Those people were colonized by Japanese government in the past, and although that period has ended, there are still some Japanese people who think that Korean or Chinese people are bad and they have to get out of Japan. I think that they have stereotyped thinking, and maybe do not know the facts. I also do not know the reality both in the U.S. and Japan, so I really want to research about those problems when I go to the U.S., or encounter some demonstrations for Korean and Chinese in Japan.

When I hear the word “discrimination”, I came up with “against black people” at first. Unconsciously, people tend not to be an attacker and that is why Japanese people try to think about “discrimination against black people”, but not “against Korean or Chinese people.”


Garrell, M. Colorism in black community still prevalent, unacceptable. The University Star. Retrieved July 1, 2014 from

Huff Post. (January 13th, 2014).  Retrieved July 3, 2014 from

Keith, V.M. (2009). “A Colorstruck world skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

The 1.5 Generation: Succeeding for the Family

by Tomoka Adachi

Among international immigrants, there are issues from family as well society, and those factors impact the 1.5 generation. Various external elements pressure each individual immigrant and help to develop the social life of immigrants in relation to the society, whether in the native country or the receiving countries.

Mostly, the social status in the home country is less significant when people migrate overseas. Social ties and qualified careers become less useful and less important in terms of the immigrant life in the host countries. There is a status shift for immigrants, especially the first generation, resulting in various forms which heavily affect the performance of the 1.5 generation. As a consequence, 1.5 generation children are under family pressure in terms of the parents’ expectations to have better performance and social success compared to native speakers.

I would like to take a personal experience to illustrate this problem. I am a 1.5 generation migrant to Japan. I migrated with my family right after I finished primary school. Even though my mother worked as a high school teacher for 15 years in the home country, she was working in the restaurant, shops and so on service-related sectors for part-time work, which are considered as lower-class jobs in Japan. Thus, I tend to push myself and want to improve Japanese language ability as soon as possible to cope with the school curricula.

There are mainly three reasons that drive me to think that way. The first reason is an acknowledgement of the sacrifice of my family members to fulfill my education and expenses in Japan. My parents are not only giving up their stable careers but also social status in the home country to migrate to Japan. This is an invisible and indirect pressure that has influenced me to take the responsibility to work harder on my school studies and activities outside of school to financially support the family.

The potential disadvantage as a foreigner in Japan is the second reason. Scholars have argued about the notion of ‘immigrant optimism’, in that Immigrant parents tend to have expectations about their children’s advance that are significantly higher than those of natives, or the working-class (Alba & Waters 2011). Although in Japan there are privileges as a foreigner, the 1.5 generation is not able to benefit from them. Sometimes they may even have a negative influence. Compared to my classmates, our starting line is different. I am disadvantaged in various means, such as a lack of language capability, social participation, access to the job market, and the possibility to enter university. Under this circumstance, I have been forced to take more effort to compete as a 1.5 generation migrant.

The limited education support and assistance in school is the third account I took. While I was in junior high school, it was tough for me to catch up with my academic studies because there were fewer learning directions and treatment by teachers to me as an international student. Thus, Japanese public schools, like their counterparts in other countries, continue to face the responsibility of preparing immigrant children for their futures in Japan (Moorehead 2013).

Overall struggles within the 1.5 immigrant generation are likely to be ignored, based on what is appeared on the surface.


Alba, R & Waters, MC. (2011) “The Next Generation: Immigrant Youth in a Comparative Perspective Dimensions of Second-generation Incorporation. New York: NYU Press.

Moorehead, R. (2013) “Separate and Unequal: The remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project” The Asia-Pacific Journal 11(32):3.

Citizenship and migration: Questions of identity and belonging

English: Coat of arms of the Philippines

English: Coat of arms of the Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mayumi Futagami

As I read the article “Citizenship and immigration: multiculturalism, assimilation, and challenges to the Nation-State,” I am reminded of my own family’s multi-cultural experiences with Japanese culture and Filipino culture. The book says that “immigration challenges and reaffirms identity” (Bloemraad, 2008) I also think that is true, because immigration makes you know and acknowledge a new environment in which you will be found out anew. These new things will change your knowing about the culture that you used to know.

Citizenship is important to have a legal status of “belonging to a country”. I know that we should belong to a country to group ourselves. However I have this kind of doubt for those people who have double blood lineage of other countries. Do we really need to be divided? How can we answer questions such as: What is your nationality?

In a situation in which you are born in the Philippines, your mother is Filipino, and your father has Japanese nationality, because of visa problems these parents have to apply for you to have Japanese citizenship because that citizenship makes it easier to go abroad. They think of your future. For instance my sister is “half” Japanese and Filipino. When you ask her what her identity or nationality is, at home she will proudly say “I am both Japanese and Filipino”, however when you asked her outside (e.g. supermarket, malls, schools) here in Japan, asking “Are you Filipino?, she will say “urusai” means “shut up”.

I feel that citizenship also matters through images. The rule of Japan that you could have a dual citizenship until age 22 is like just giving you time to think. It makes it really complicated for those young people for they are forced by the imagined tradition of the society. Citizenship makes the pressure of participation model in the society (ibid). When you say that your citizenship here in Japan is different, even if you have the lineage blood of Japanese you may feel a little shame. For as the transnational says about the image of your home country or maybe the home country of your mother or father, maybe both, does make differences good or bad. You may also think is true for the superiority of the country in which you live (e.g. comparing Japan and Philippines).

I don’t really feel ashamed of where I come from in social saying that I have Filipino and Japanese blood. However, it makes me feel sad and embarrassed when they compare those 2 countries in culture or tradition or daily lifestyles. It is because when they say something about it I feel like a little loss of which identity. I feel that why do we need to choose between 2 nations to find citizenship?

Sweden adopted dual citizenship in 2001 (ibid.). I envy this kind of policy in some points that when I am here in Japan I could say that “I am Japanese”, and if they say that “no you’re not”. I could say that, “even though I am Filipino I have Japanese citizenship.” As well as I go back to the Philippines I could also say the same thing because I already have the both culture that already compiled in my daily life.

Migrating for me here in Japan at first was a big challenge for even though I am Japanese in DNA, I felt at that time I am completely Filipino. However, as I migrate here and my father is Japanese I could find myself that I have the capacity or right to have the citizenship of Japan. I applied for it and did easily get it. I just feel it’s strange that we really need to have one kind of citizenship to define what kind of people we are. And some are forced, for there is what they called the “beautiful culture” of Japan and some “bad image” of the Philippines (in which people come to Japan to find jobs) which affects children.

Of course there are some exceptions of having the citizenship of the host country, e.g. Japan. Either you are born there, live there for long years, or marry a citizen there. This could happen to people who are old (come for work) or young people (come for education), etc. Taking Japan as a place where people migrate, there are many people do this and that they could find some loss of identity. Even though they are fully strangers in the host country, they feel that they somehow belong to it for they were able to adopt the culture and lifestyles.

A friend of mine in school here also feels that even though she is not really Japanese she could feel that she “culturally” and “traditionally” belongs to Japan. I don’t mean that it is citizenship that matters, I just mean that citizenship relates to identity. I see that citizenship is easy to answer when you never been out of the country. However as you try to move, taking the question where I belong is a really hard question, especially when you need to choose. I think it is not a matter of the society but also matters from your family decision of what to choose. I thought one reason was the importance of culture, or how advantageous it is to have that citizenship in the country or even overseas.

That is why I feel that citizenship matters in many aspects, where you belong, what you take important the most (culture or superiority), and more. In my point of view, citizenship is a hard thing to choose. However if I just think which is better for my future, Japan or the Philippines, maybe I certainly choose Japan as my citizenship for it will be easy for me to travel abroad.

International Migrant Integration through Education in Japan

by Curran Cunningham

Following on from my previous blog, which showed the importance of migrant remittances, I now turn my attention to the role of education in assimilating second generation international migrant families into Japanese society.

Yasuko Kanno’s paper ‘Sending Mixed Messages: Language Minority Education at a Japanese Public Elementary School’ focuses on that very subject. This blog will look at her interpretation—and criticism—of the Japanese education system at an elementary schooling level in this area.

Until the 1990s, it was considered a must that all courses and classes in Japan should be taught in Japanese. The purpose was to encourage integration among non-Japanese residents into Japanese society (Kanno, 2004).  Yet the method of teaching Japanese to non-native elementary students has thus far been ineffective. It has neglected the linguistic, thus academic, needs (due to the exclusively Japanese taught curriculum), of immigrant children. It has left migrants lagging behind, condemning them to become academic underachievers and marginalized as immigrants.

The system needs fixing. It cannot be disputed that a high proficiency in local language aids the understanding and even adoption of local culture. So it follows that Japanese language proficiency would allow second generation migrants to ascend the social hierarchy more easily. Without language proficiency, many migrants find their occupational choices narrowed to work not requiring Japanese fluency—work that is normally menial or at least low paying. And limited income affects educational opportunities, leaving no choice bur for parents to enroll their children into public schools instead of private schools, which must adhere to the Japanese Board Education’s defined curriculum, funding, and programs—notably lacking in L2 language support. This creates a self-perpetuating vicious circle, as generation after generation would be forced into a public school system which does not prioritise their needs.

Kanno underlines the importance of the role of teachers in the process of helping the next migrant generation assimilate into the host society. Teachers individually voice and project their messages, their beliefs and ideas onto the student, whether through simple language learning, cultural awareness-raising or even showing how to participate in a democratic society (Vaipae, 2001).

Teachers who educate migrants do not tend to be professionally trained and can communicate very little in the migrant’s first language (Kanno, 2004). Though the idea of diversity and ‘being proud of your origin’ is promoted in Japanese schools, little is done in keeping the migrant’s mother tongue alive (Kanno, 2004). Students may not develop knowledge of their first language much when learning their host country’s language, mastering neither properly in the end. Also there is a disconnect between Japanese and migrant students as they are taught in separate parts of the school. This obviously hinders communication between students, and stops Japanese student in turn taking advantage of migrant student presence to learn about the outside world.

Kanno wholeheartedly supports Cummins’s theory that “orienteers of culture and linguistic diversity are reflected in the policies and practices of school” (2000a, 2000b). Yet teachers in this respect engage in the ‘coercive relations of power’, as they do not question the social inequality found in Japan and reaffirm the status quo for minorities (Cummins, 2000a).  The education system is based around suppressing minority students’ linguistic and cultural identity as well as accepting the rules and values imposed by the dominant group as ‘natural, normal, universal…’ (Heller & Martin-Jones, 2001). With this, Kanno believes that not only teaching skills in general need improvement, but one must study the ins and outs of a society to create understanding.

Since the beginning, classes taught to migrants are academically lagging behind Japanese students of their age group. This gap widens as time goes on. Eventually they may find themselves in dire need of help and unable to compete in the job market. Interviews of teachers by Kanno at this particular Japanese elementary school showed that their lack of work ethic was in fact their parents’ responsibility. Teachers do not look at themselves as a potential reason for the problem and hence no changes are likely to happen in the near future unless there is a shake-up and reform of the Japanese schooling system.


Cummins, J. (2000a) Language, power and pedagogy. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Cummins, J. (2000b) Negotiating intercultural identities in the multilingual classroom. The CATESOL Journal 12 (1), 163-178.

Heller, M. and Martin-Jones, M. (2001) Introduction: Symbolic domination, education and linguistic difference. In M. Heller and M. Martin-Jones (eds) Voices of authority: Education and linguistic difference (pp. 1-28). Westport, CT: Ablex.

Kanno, Y. (2004). Sending mixed messages: Language minority education at a Japanese public elementary school. In A. Pavlenko (eds) Negotiation of identities in multilingual contexts. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Vaipae, S. (2001) Language minority students in Japanese public schools. In M. Noguchi and S. Fotos (eds) Studies in Japanese bilingualism (pp. 184–233).

Education for immigrant students: A reflection of society

by Jicheol Yang

Education for international students takes a role to reflect what society wants (Cage, N., 2008). Kanno (2006) analyzes four different kinds of educational institutions focusing on bilingual education in Japan. Kanno assumes that school vision and its education construct identity of students through bringing the idea of imagined communities. The idea of ‘imagined communities’ here takes the role that learners of second language have expectations or images of the communities where they will participate later.

Kanno reveals how visions of different four bilingual schools have decided their students’ paths after graduation. The schools concentrating on Japanese obviously follow what Japanese society wants and the other focuses on other languages. These results, at least for me, make the idea that the education supports immigrant students to realize their imagined communities with proper curricula for the imagined communities of the students. Thus, bilingual students are forced to be suitable to meet what society requires.

If you see the author’s work, schools makes their program become more adaptable for Japanese society to embrace their students. One school only operates its curriculum in English, but that school is actually based on western society, not Japanese base. Students attending that school mostly go back to western countries for their education and job. In that sense, students who imagine their future in Japan tend to have greater Japanese proficiency than in their original language, and others who expect their lives in their passport countries or other countries without Japan have a tendency to learn curricula with their mother tongue. This shows how international students and schools shape themselves to fit the society’s requirements, the imagined communities. Namely, imagined communities reflecting what society asks have influence to build students’ identification for their future.

The Korean case is more obvious to show that what society needs has serious influence on school programs, even governmental policies. The increasing number of multicultural children from international marriages, mostly between Korean and Southeast Asians, and the inflow of international students are dramatically increasing in Korea. There are several movements to make multicultural schools, but those schools are not for multicultural students and immigrant students to be comfortable with their multicultural background when they grow up in Korea (Lee, B., n.d). It is for them to have Korean proficiency and Korean value through education to reflect what Korean society wants.

For example, students of Chosun ethnicity that come from China have tried to learn Korean to have Korean nationality and work in Korean companies. It is because they have to prepare for their imagined community that is mostly Korean society. Multicultural schools that those student attend, thus, make their students become fluent in Korean. Therefore those schools focus on how to make bilingual students suitable for Korean society. Imagined communities happen in different way by status of students.

As in the previous cases, relatively poor students attend the multicultural schools to assimilate into Korean society, but the rich attend international schools that reflect the high level that Korean society requires. This means that richer immigrant students attend higher level  international schools. For example, Korea has fewer bilingual schools, but the most famous school for bilingual students is the Seoul international School. It is fully operated in English rather than Korean.

It is because of the tendency that Korean society requires students to have English proficiency even more than Korean. Although it was built for international students and some Korean returnees, there are also many Koreans attending the school who are born in Korea. The reason is that having better English proficiency certainly grants high-position jobs in Korean society. Also, Korean society evaluates that English is worth worth than Korean forces Koreans to enter those sorts of schools even through illegal ways (Lee, H., 2013). So, Korean society gives international students different imagined communities.

In short, schools make their curricula for immigrant students to assimilate into the imagined communities that the students dream. The curricula have changed by following what society needs and the situation of students. Namely, education plays a role that makes immigrant students assimilate to be suitable in certain positions in which the positions meet the situation of students rightly.


Cage, N. (2008, November 4). Education: A reflection of society. Retrieved June 24, 2014, from

Kanno, Y. Imagined Communities, School Visions, and the Education of Bilingual Students in Japan. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 2, 285-300.

Lee, B. (n.d.). Multicultural international school. . Retrieved June 25, 2014, from

Lee, H. (2013, April 10). 168 students did Illegal admission to foreign school [외국인학교 부정입학 163명 “출교”… 하비에르국제학교 절반가량 ‘무자격’]. The Kyunghyang.

Multiculturalism or Anti-Multiculturalism in Japan

English: Ainus wearing their traditional cloth...

English: Ainu wearing their traditional clothes, Ainu Museum, City of Shiraoi, Hokkaido, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Naresh Kumar

The Japanese version of multiculturalism is anti-multiculturalism. Every action or support, provided by the government and people of Japan is not for cultural minorities but for the social and cultural majorities. When we read the literature it provides us with skepticism. I believe that the job of the literature is not to tell us whether it is right or wrong, but it needs to urge readers to think critically before they decide what is right or wrong. There is a need to accept people for who they are, rather than trying making them into who we are. We all are different but isn’t that a good thing. Japan is the last developed country to move towards minorities’ rights. A tradition which was important to Ainu’s ancestors has become to modern Ainu, a matter of cultural survival. It is hard to find someone in the current generation who speaks Ainu fluently, and it is because of the oppression by the Japanese government from the past century.

The Ainu minority in Japan is struggling to keep up their identity and culture. The oppression from the government is not anymore but it has driven Ainu minorities towards extinction. After Japan started its internationalization, the slogans like international exchange, cultural exchange, etc., are heard very often. Commentators say that Japan is on the route of becoming a multicultural country. The notion of Japanese multiculturalism is embedded in Japan’s culture, education and society and this excludes minority groups of Japan.

In Hokkaido, Ainu museums and cultural centers can be found, but is it to distinguish themselves as different people or to provide a picture of Ainu culture for Japan? It is hard to figure out whether Japan is preserving history or ignorance. Many see Ainu people as part of Japanese people. However, it is hard to distinguish whether government policies are to include or exclude the Ainu people. Behind different policies promoting Ainu culture, there is a continuing story of Ainu discrimination.

The consensus by the government shows that there are around 30,000 Ainu people left (Onishi, 2008). However, the exact number of Ainu population in Japan in unknown as Ainu people are excluded from the census. Many argue that this is the result of an exclusion policy by the government. The Ainu language is passed through parents to children without any proper written forms (Aljazeera, 2010). 1974’s Ainu welfare program was introduced to raise the living standards of Ainu, but the Ainu’s living standards have lagged behind those of other Japanese (ibid). Many Ainu people hide their identity because they fear discrimination. Japan is the last developed country which is working towards equality but the process is really slow. I fear that if such cases of discrimination, exclusion from social welfare, etc. carry on, then Ainu population might extinct from Japan.


Aljazeera, (2010, February 4). Japan improves relations with Ainu. Retrieved from

Onishi, N. (2008, July 3). Japan Recognizes Ainu as an Indigenous People, but what comes next? Retrieved from