Special Recognition of Third Culture Kids in Japan

The number of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) has increased its number due to globalization. TCKs are children who have lived in more than two countries other than their parents’ countries until they turn eighteen. In 1998, it was  estimated that there may be over four million TCKs globally. Considering that this estimation has been made over a decade ago, it can be expected that this number has grown significantly. Although the numbers of TCKs are growing, not many countries recognize them. However, in the study of TCKs, Japan is often raised as a good example of dealing with TCKs. Japan gives special recognition for Japanese TCKs as kikokushijo and provides special programs for them.

In the past, kikokushijo did not have a positive image, since many of them were “westernized” which caused them to lose some of their Japanese identity and that they looked arrogant to the Japanese. However, recently, their status is changing because their ability of languages and cross-cultural skills is starting to be valued (Fail et al. 2004, 325).

According to Goodman, kikokushijo are commonly defined as those “Japanese children who have lived overseas (Normally thought of as the “West”) for such a long period of time that they have lost many of their Japanese cultural traits; have certainly forgotten many of their Japanese-language skills; and have become imbued with non-Japanese ways of behaving, most notably with Western ideas of individualism (Goodman 2003, 178).” However, this is just the general definition to the term kikokushijo. There are many children that do not exactly fit this definition but still are considered kikokushijo. Goodman gives five general features that those who are considered kikokushijo have in.

1. Both parents of a kikokushijo are Japanese.
2. They went overseas before they are twenty years old.
3. They went overseas because of their father’s temporarily post overseas.
4. They have been overseas for more than three months (This is because if it is less than three months it is more like being a tourist than a kikokushijo).
5. When they return to Japan, they will enter schools that are part of the mainstream education system rather than going to an international school.

Because of Japan’s recognition of the existence of TCKs, Japan has created programs for them so that they will have to face fewer difficulties coming back to the Japanese society. Programs for kikokushijo were created because the Japanese felt sympathy for them since they did not choose to go overseas but had to go overseas due to their parents’ business. Since these kikokushijo have missed a large part of the Japanese education, it is hard for them to catch up to it. This would be a huge problem for the kikokushijo because in Japan, education is very important and in order to have a good job in the future, people must go to college. However, with the lack of the Japanese education kikokushijo have, it will be very difficult for them to enter college or even to high school as there are exams for applying for high school as well. As a result, many schools, including colleges, have considerations for the kikokushijo having special allowances to enter schools. Nowadays, there are many schools which have sections “for the kikokushijo”. Being kikokushijo in Japan is now a privilege because they have special education advantages.

Eakin, Kay Branaman. According to my passport, I’m coming home. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of State, Family Liaison Office, 1998.
Fail, Helen, Jeff Thompson, and George Walker. “Belonging, identity and Third Culture Kids: Life histories of former international school students.” Journal of research in International Education. 3. (2004): 319-338.
Goodman, Roger, C. Peach, A. Takenaka, and P. White, eds. Global Japan: The experience of Japan’s new immigrant and overseas communities. New York, NT: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

by Rashel Phillips

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