by Akie Kuwano
Although Japan used to be referred to as ethnically homogeneous, the number of immigrants reached more than 1.5% of Japanese population in 2005. Despite this shift in immigrants’ population, Japanese education system is reluctant to change. In order to keep Japan as secular nation, Japan persists in its principle of separation of religion and education. However, this attitude often creates problems between Japanese schools and migrants parents/children. The problems are mostly evident in the case of Muslim migrants because their religion, Islam, rules not only the realm of their private life, but also their behavior in the public sphere. The main problems those Muslim migrants are facing in Japanese public schools is about school lunch.
One example of Muslim faith conflicting with school lunch in Japanese school is Ramadan. Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, provides that the ninth month of the Islamic calendar as Ramadan, the month of fasting. Many Muslims start Ramadan at the age of 7, just about the time when children start going to elementary school. Although it is medically proved that Ramadan does not cause any medical illness to healthy individual, without having any knowledge some teachers feel it abuses children.
The other instance is Halal food. Islam regulates what followers can eat and cannot eat, according to Qur’an. Food that is compatible with Islamic teaching is known as Halal food, while the others are called Haraam. The most frequently used Japanese condiments like soy sauce or mirin are Haraam because they usually contain alcohol. Accordingly, many of the lunch that Japanese schools provide are Haraam to Muslim children. In order to avoid Haraam foods, Muslim children often bring their own lunch box from their home. Some school view this as unequal to other Japanese children, some school urge Muslim parents to pay for school lunch.
To sum up, it is the lack of knowledge which preventing Japanese schools from handling problems correctly and flexibly with Muslim migrants children. It is understandable that Japan wants to eliminate religion from public sphere because in Japanese sense religion is what governs people’s private life; however, Japan also needs to understand that religion is sometimes inseparable from their public life and is even forming their culture, in which the society needs to pay respect to accommodate population from foreign countries.
Mina, Hattori. (2007). “Development of Religious Value for Indonesian Muslim Children in Japan: A Case Study of Voluntary Educational Activities in Nagoya City”, Intercultural Communication Studies, Vol.19