Teaching Tolerance

September 25, 2002 1 min read
The cultural mix in urban areas where many immigrants reside is forcing greater tolerance and acceptance.

This industrial center south of Tokyo is like many fringe cities, marred by steel and textile mills on one side, dotted with attractive condominiums and markets on the other. With 1.2 million residents, the city has its share of ethnic, if not racial, diversity as well. But diversity is somewhat new to Japan and is defined rather differently among a population that is still overwhelmingly Asian. Although many students here and in other urban districts have similar physical features, differences in language, culture, and educational experiences have taxed many schools.

A declining Japanese birthrate and the country’s need for labor have led to an influx of immigrants from North and South Korea, China, Brazil, and the Philippines. In the past, non- Japanese residents, and even citizens returning after living abroad, were considered outsiders and mistreated in many communities. With their numbers increasing dramatically in recent years—though the nearly 1.7 million non-Japanese represent little more than 1 percent of the total population— the cultural mix in urban areas where many immigrants reside is forcing greater tolerance and acceptance.

Education officials in Kawasaki City have been pioneering in this regard, trying to raise cultural awareness by focusing on communication skills and kosei, or coexistence, says Yoko Hakura, a curriculum director for the school board. As part of the new integrated-studies period, students are taught about North and South Korea, where a large minority of the district’s students, or their parents, were born. The district offers Japanese-language lessons through a community center. Guest speakers are invited to school assemblies to share folk tales and customs or perform plays or music that reflect their cultures.

At Fujimidai Elementary School, there is an air of internationalism. Principal Hiroshi Nagai’s office is papered in colorful world maps. Dolls adorned with the traditional costumes of other nations dress window sills and book shelves. The music to “It’s a Small World” bellows from the teachers’ workroom next door. Cultural references are woven throughout the curriculum.

In choosing the school’s slogan, the youngsters picked up on the theme and listed their goals: “To Be Cheerful, Thoughtful, Energetic, and Friends With the World.”