Q14. Do Japanese schools provide ethnic education to minority students?

 No, ethnic education is non-existent in Japanese public education. The Japanese government does not have a comprehensive understanding on the status of foreign students who are technically not obligated to attend school. However, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) states that foreign students “are guaranteed to receive the same education as Japanese.” But at the same time the government maintains that education for foreign nationals is a “privilege,” and not a “right.” Furthermore, despite many recommendations by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Japanese government continues to refuse to provide special education to minority students.


 Japan is home to some 2 million foreigners including school age children. However the Japanese government does not fully understand the provisions required for educating foreign students. The table below illustrates three important statistics: A) registered foreign nationals by age (Ministry of Justice, 2015); B) foreign nationals enrolled in Japanese schools (according to the School Basic Survey by MEXT, May 2015); and C) foreign nationals enrolled in foreign schools (according to the materials provided by MEXT, May 2016). Finally, (D) a ratio of foreign nationals enrolled in Japanese and foreign schools


Table 1. School attendance situation of foreign studen

A. Number of registered foreign nationals by age B. Number of foreign nationals enrolled in Japanese schools C. Number of foreign nationals enrolled in foreign schools D. Ratio of foreign nationals enrolled in either schools (%)
Elementary School 71,425 45,721 11,120 79.5
Junior high School 32,843 22,281 6,292 86.9
High School 38,680 12,979 5,667 48.2
Total 142,948 80,981 23,079 72.7


 As you can see in the table, at all school levels, particularly in the high school level, a considerable number of school-aged foreign nationals are not enrolled in any school and it presumed that they may be attending unauthorized foreign schools (see Q14-2).

 When assessing the education of foreign children in Japan, it is important to note that the Japanese nationality law is based on the jus sanguinis (principle of blood) policy. This means that even if children are born in Japan, they cannot automatically become Japanese nationals. Among the various foreign schools, Korean schools are significant because they offer a comprehensive schools system from Kindergarten to University.

 Here follows are brief historical background on the schools- Korean schools were established immediately after Korea’s liberation in 1945 in order to teach the Korean community’s Japan-born children the subjects that were prohibited during the colonial era (1910-1945). These subjects were the Korean language, culture and history. In 1965, the Ministry of Education issued a notice to prefectural governors urging them not to recognize Korean schools in their jurisdiction as “miscellaneous” schools because these schools supposedly “nurtured ethnic and (Korean) national identity.” When the notice was issued, there were only two categories for schools: “legitimate” and “miscellaneous.” The Japanese government argued that neither category should be applied to Korean schools. In other words, the Japanese government was determined not to include the Korean schools in any school classification. Ironically, against the national government’s recommendations, all prefectural governors eventually granted the Korean schools the “miscellaneous” school status.

 Japanese law requires that parents or guardians send their children to school for a compulsory education (elementary and junior high school). However, according to MEXT, the law does not apply to foreign nationals. For example, the MEXT annual Basic School Survey, which should include all students in Japan, consistently excludes foreign national students. Similarly, the curriculum guidelines acknowledge that students with a disability require special attention, however, the needs of foreign students are not recognized. This suggests MEXT’s indifference and negligence toward foreign national students.

 Here are two accounts of foreign students’ experiences in Japanese public elementary schools. First, the principal told the guardian of a Korean student to give the child a Japanese name because it would be sad if he were bullied because of his strange name. Second, a Vietnamese student came home from school and begged her mother to give her a Japanese style name.” These two accounts sum up the reality in Japanese education where many students are pressured to use a Japanese name and hide their ethnic background. Furthermore, MEXT has never conducted research on this matter.

 The fundamentals of Japanese education focus around the national flag (Hinomaru) and the national anthem (Kimigayo). To non-Japanese the flag and anthem both symbolize Japan’s past aggression and colonization in the Asia-Pacific. Because of this background, some Japanese teachers have refused to stand or sing at school ceremonies, and in Tokyo alone between 2003-2016, nearly 500 teachers have been penalized. Furthermore, numerous foreign students and a few foreign teachers in Japanese schools resist these nationalistic tendencies on a daily basis.

 The Japanese government continues to ignore and refuses to implement special programs for minority students, which would include an opportunity for Korean students to learn their mother tongue Korean. Also, the frequent recommendations by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (2001, 2010, 2014) to introduce appropriate measures to guarantee minority students an opportunity to learn their own languages has been ignored.

 Article 13 of the U.N. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child both recognize educational rights for “all people.” Moreover, Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child further recognize the right of minority students to “enjoy their own culture” and “use their own language.” Although Japan has ratified all of these conventions, it refuses to create any substantial changes to the current situation.

 Basically, there is no obligation for foreigners to attend school, but if they wish to enroll in a Japanese school they are granted the same education as Japanese people including grants for free textbooks and school tuition. Due to these so-called benefits the Japanese government does not acknowledge there is a problem with their treatment of foreign students in Japanese schools. The only exception to this xenophobic policy towards foreign students is the government’s response in acknowledging the need for Japanese language education for foreign students. As of May 2014, 37,095 students including 7,897 Japanese nationals are receiving Japanese language education support.

 Despite MEXT’s insistence that it is not discriminatory towards foreign students because they provide with the same materials and conditions as the Japanese students, it continues to regard students’ attendance in Japanese schools as a “privilege” and not a “right”. From this evidence, it can be assumed that the probability of ethnic /cultural education for Koreans in the Japanese public education system is extremely unlikely in the future.