Matsubara Senior High School (actual name), the fifth site that Professor Ikeda sought out for my edification, is famous in the annals of Buraku history, if not in mainstream Japanese educational history. It emerged out of intense struggle and fortitude among a community of people, led by students themselves, who believed that the educational needs of Buraku youth were not being met. Frustrated with the limited access to, and the focus of, the one public high school in the city, parents and community members joined with students to discuss the creation of a new high school. The main goals were to develop a curriculum and staff committed to anti-discrimination (han sabetsu), to deter attrition, and to maintain a strong local network. These basic tenets continue to ground the school to this day. The grassroots movement, “The Liberalization of Buraku” (kaiho domei), gave birth to the school in 1963 when the BLL founded a chapter in the city of Matsubara in Osaka prefecture. As momentum grew, education became a top priority and a second nursery school was established. In 1967, community members met at Nunose Elementary School (actual name) to discuss plans for establishing a local high school that would not require their children to travel across town to a school where Buraku youth experienced discrimination, low academic achievement, and low retention. The “anti-cross border movement,” ekkyoo, grew into a full-scale debate, leading to the Matsubara City Conference in 1972 where the student association from the existing Third Matsubara Junior High School took the initiative to join with the other two junior high schools in fleshing out the goals of a new senior high school. Forty thousand strong, the community came together to negotiate the plan. On April 8, 1974, after years of struggle, Matsubara Senior High School was officially designated as a ‘community’ school by Osaka Prefecture National Institute for Educational Policy.1 Unique in many ways, the school is foremost a space in which students come to understand the historical, economic, and social context for the oppression of not only the Burakumin but also Zainichi, and how this can impact
academic achievement. In order to accomplish such a liberating education, kaiho kyoiku, the school needed to be unfettered by traditional constraints and allowed the freedom to select and train teachers, as well as develop its own curriculum. One of the major challenges lay in finding staff committed to the goals of the school at a time when the discussion of the Burakumin remained taboo. However, it must be remembered that the late 1960s was a time when the National Teachers Union, Nikkyoso, still held power and retained a semblance of its postwar leftist leanings. These were people who wanted Japan to emerge from its militaristic tendencies, fling off the cloak of traditional social constraint, and move into a more democratic, participatory era. In this heady milieu, Matsubara Senior High School arose as a beacon from within one of the most impoverished areas of the Osaka region, offering hope and opportunity not only for the Burakumin, but for non-Japanese residents who needed and wanted an affiliation, an identity. Teachers were also attracted to Matsubara because of its reputation for innovation and resources. With 30% of its students below the poverty line and a large percentage of students from Buraku and Korean communities, Matsubara was designated a Dowa School, receiving special funding for additional teachers, programs, and materials. Such schools are not required to follow the nationally mandated rules for teacher rotation every seven years nor principal rotation every third year.2 Mr. Eki (actual name), the vice principal, kyoto sensei, of Matsubara High School has been at this school for twenty-three years, though 2001 was his first year in an administrative capacity. The argument for rotation is based on the perception that teachers should be required to teach students from all walks of life and all types of schools. While an admirable goal, it doesn’t actually work this way. Good connections can place one in a middle-class school as easily as lack of a network can leave you flailing in a “difficult school,” konnanko, dodging flying objects and abusive language.3 The rotation system also limits the degree of trust that can be established between the community and the school, especially in low-income areas where teachers usually do not live. Cynical educators say that this is the real intention of the system: to prohibit teachers and administrators from bonding with students and families. Understanding has the potential for creating empathy, which can lead to alliances and from the Japanese point of view, obligation-something most Japanese are very cautious about generating. However, in Dowa Schools bonding is encouraged, if not required through home visits and parental engagement. But Matsubara is not a konnanko, even though some Japanese might want to label it as such, because it does not rank high in academic achievement. Rather it is a well-run, carefully organized school that fosters creativity and support of its students, the vast majority of whom are from low-income homes. Parents want to send their children here; it holds a prominent and positive place in the community. Walking into the school one is first struck by the artwork that abounds. On my first day I was confronted by a life-size “picture” of The Beatles. As I moved closer I realized that it was made out of thousands of black toothpicks,
astonishing and lifelike. Maps of foreign countries hung on other walls with pins identifying sister schools or places where the students had studied or visited. A showcase featured photos of African American people, some foreign officials shaking hands with the vice principal, two black dolls as well as images from around the world. In the genkan (entranceway), where children trade in their street-soiled shoes for floppy slippers before entering the premises, hangs a poster pronouncing, “We value people of all colors.” Noriko, my graduate student from Osaka University with whom I am working, is amused by the idea and wording, as color is not used as a distinction in Japan but it was the closest thing I had seen to the idea of “people of color” in the U.S. There is a strange irony in this proclamation as those who are subject to the most prejudice in Japan are the Burakumin, who are, as DeVos and Wagatsuma noted forty years ago, the “invisible race.”4 Ethnically and linguistically Japanese, their history does not mirror that of African Americans though Japanese scholars often ask me to compare the two “groups.” Moving into Mr. Eki’s office for an extended talk, I am handed brochures on a variety of exchange programs he has developed with schools in other countries, including Vietnam and Gary, Indiana. The latter is an interesting commentary on how the city of Matsubara sees itself, Gary being viewed as the epitome of American post-industrial decay. Sitting down to coffee and cakes, Eki begins expounding on the importance of having a staff who understands the meaning of the school and unconsciously comments on his own situation: “If an inconsiderate principal comes to this school, all that this school stands for will soon be destroyed. It is essential that he accept students’ backgrounds. Whether he supports the liberation movement of Buraku or not is of little consequence. The important thing is his attitude toward Buraku people.” This is quite a statement made by someone who has supported and foregrounded the BLL in their work over the years. Clearly his message is that sincere commitment overrides political affiliation. He goes on to explain the condition of the school when he arrived as a teacher twenty-odd years ago: “The students were wild, out of control. We knew the situation could not be solved only by the efforts made by teachers.” With a strong belief in understanding the background of the students and the issues they bring to school, he began conducting home visits and encouraged his colleagues to do the same. Home visits are very rare in high school, though common in elementary schools in Japan. Interestingly, in 2005 home visits are still a part of what is expected of teachers at Matsubara, though Mr. Eki is aware that teachers are less interested in doing so when students are not “wild.” He admonishes his staff, telling them that “To educate a student is to see his life in full detail, not only when they are at school.” While the school has changed over the years, its population is similar in composition with one out of four students coming from families whose income is sufficiently low to enable them to receive exemption from tuition fees. Many families continue, ten years later, to be affected by the economic crisis of the mid-1990s. Eki sees a direct connection between parents’ loss of jobs and
“children’s loss of interest to live or to study.” For him Matsubara’s mission is to offer different ways of thinking about life and work and to stand out as an alternative to the monotony of traditional Japanese schools that value uniformity. Since few students go on to university or participate in juku classes, for most of them, Matsubara will be their last contact with formal schooling. Mr. Eki, aware of this reality, attempts to provide a useful, engaging experience, one which will broaden their horizons and serve them well in the future. He is particularly concerned that students leave his school with the “ability to adjust to various situations,” commenting that “children should have the sensitivity and communication skills to accept diversity.” Increasing diversity, in what have traditionally been seen as isolated enclaves inhabited by Burakumin, is a major issue. These areas, known for the low cost of rent and subsidized housing, have increasingly become a home to non-Japanese families who are starting their climb up the socioeconomic ladder. Zainichi youth have coexisted with Burakumin and other low-income Japanese for generations but newly arrived immigrants, in particular Chinese, have added to the complexity and indeed the social hierarchy. This increasing diversity has raised significant issues for teachers as well as policy makers, given that schools and communities oriented towards highlighting the elimination of discrimination towards Burakumin have had to adjust and broaden their focus to include others who also suffer indignities. This is in part the basis for the move from Dowa Education to Human Rights Education, Jinken Kyoiku, a shift that has had immense implications for the Buraku community.5 Given the diversity of students at Matsubara and its close identification as a successful Dowa School, I am curious to hear from teachers as well as Mr. Eki about recent changes in attitudes towards Dowa Education. Eki claims that the people who are most against Dowa Education are not those who attend schools like his, but rather parents of students who attend shingakkos, academically oriented high schools, who perceive Dowa Kyoiku or Jinken Kyoiku as time taken away from examination preparation. With high stakes placed on gaining a competitive edge, parents pressure these schools to stay focused on a limited set of subjects on which students will be tested. The principle is that if students want to study the problem of human rights, they should do it by themselves, not at school. But even at Matsubara, disagreement exists not on whether to teach Dowa Kyoiku, but how to do so. Eki says that he would like people to move beyond the platitudes of “You must not discriminate against others and think about why discrimination is harmful to all.” Given this context I ask Eki if he is able to distinguish Buraku youth from Korean Zainichi. “Of course I can,” he explains, and lists several markers of identity, some of which are no longer legally permissible, such as students who receive Buraku Liberation scholarships or reports that are passed on from junior high school detailing the status of the student. For Zainichi this usually means that two names are listed on the school roster: their Korean name and their Japanese equivalent. But Mr. Eki’s main source comes through informal
channels within the community. He adds, “We have a strong connection with Buraku people and they trust us, so they let us know the fact.” Teachers in Japan, as in most countries placed in this situation, are of two minds. One is that if a student’s record is revealed, teachers will hold preconceived ideas. The other, which is Matsubara’s stance, claims that teachers should have all the information available to them and “if you have prejudice after you know the facts, you should change your thought. Teachers, knowing the societal problems that affect the lives of students, are better able to see them within this context and provide assistance. Without a relationship of mutual trust, students will hide their situation, so this school is open.” Trying to make sense of the way in which Matsubara has been able to succeed under difficult circumstances, I am given the opportunity to interview a variety of teachers and to gather a fuller picture of the school. I offer three here, using pseudonyms.