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  3. Human Rights Education in Asian Schools
  4. Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ
  5. Human Rights Education in Kunijima High School

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Backnumber

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ

Human Rights Education in Kunijima High School

Osaka Prefectural Kunijima High School
Osaka, Japan

History of Kunijima High School

Kunijima High School celebrates its twenty-third anniversary this year. Looking back at those twenty-three years, the history of Kunijima High School has been a record of striving to create a high school with twenty-first century outlook based on the principles of human rights education. In other words, it has been a record of endeavoring to bring into existence an unequivocally globalized high school which respects the diversity of society through the process of empowering students belonging to minority groups in the Japanese society.

   Kunijima High School is one of the approximately 160 public high schools in Osaka Prefecture. It is located in Higashi-yodogawa Ward in the north-eastern part of Osaka city. Osaka Prefecture is geographically divided into 9 school districts and the school is in District No. 2 which has more than 20 public high schools within the area. Graduates of junior high schools, in principle, can only apply to one public high school located in the school district where they live. On the other hand, there are approximately 100 private high schools in Osaka Prefecture. Junior high school students, even from a different prefecture, can apply to any of them regardless of the school district where they live. The private high schools which require the payment of expensive fees are exclusively for those who can afford them.

   After the war, an enormous drive for admission to better schools resulted in an immense "education fever" among people. This is explained by the fact that in Japanese society the students' educational achievement is tightly linked to the acquisition of social status. Gaps in educational achievement led to the formation of another layer of stratification added onto the traditional hierarchy among schools. With the national high school entrance rate reaching around 96 percent today, every high school in a given school district has been classified and ranked according to "standard deviation difference in achievement scores." And in most of the cases newly-established high schools have no choice but to start at the lowest end of the rank.

   Before Kunijima High School was established in 1975, there was only one public high school in Higashi-yodogawa Ward which can only enroll 450 out of 1,800 junior high school graduates. It meant that many of the junior high school graduates from three discriminated Buraku communities in Higashi-yodogawa Ward, students with Korean background, and disabled students had to give up going to senior high school because of low scholastic achievement and financial difficulties of their families - difficulties that resulted from discrimination.

   With the campaign for a new local high school getting into high gear, an organization was established in 1973 to demand for the construction of another public high school in Higashi-yodogawa Ward. This organization is composed of more than 50 local community organizations including five local junior high schools, twelve local elementary schools, three branches of Buraku Liberation League, social welfare councils, the PTAs, the teacher's unions of local schools, and so on. After repeated negotiations with the prefectural and city administrations of Osaka, Kunijima High School was opened in 1975.

   Besides the fact that a newly-established high school has to start at the bottom of the school rank, there existed a strong prejudiced image against the three local Buraku communities nearby. Kunijima High School itself came into existence through the local movement initiated by the leaders of these Buraku communities. Kunijima High School was destined to start with a false label as a school that cares only for the interest of minority students like Buraku and Korean students.1

Days of Devastation

Kunijima High School had to suffer a complete devastation during its first few years. Students coming into the school were categorized into two groups: one from the two local junior high schools who are highly motivated to fight against any type of discrimination; and the other, constituting the overwhelming majority of the studentry, from other junior high schools who tended to maintain a prejudiced attitude against the school. These feelings were mostly planted into the heads of the students by their kins or their junior high school teachers. Some of these teachers allegedly told their students during their junior high school days, "A student with a poor score like you has no choice but Kunijima if you would like to go to high school at all," or "A problem student like you will end up in Kunijima High." Self-esteem hurt and pride beaten, those students felt alienated and frustrated from day one at Kunijima High School. No wonder they kept giving a variety of troubles to their high school teachers. (Female teachers were advised not to walk alone in the hall in those days.) Some became delinquent. Others remained in the same grade or dropped out of school because they could not keep up with the lessons at all. (Some of them could not understand math questions of elementary school level.) The teachers of Kunijima High School in those days had to put in countless efforts and tremendous energy to get their students and the school on the right track. Fortunately, they had some principles and a number of effective strategies acquired from the long history of DOWA education practices at elementary and junior high schools to rely on.

Learning Deeply from the Reality of Discrimination

The promoters of DOWA education have persistently held the slogan "We shall learn deeply from the reality of discrimination and build educational practices that assure better life and promising future for the children." "To learn deeply from the reality of discrimination" has now become a central proposition and common language of the promoters of DOWA education. We cannot eradicate discrimination just by preaching repeatedly that "discrimination is wrong." It is not enough for learners to acquire knowledge of Buraku issues. It is vital for them to understand through their own experiences that to think about issues of discrimination brings about positive outcome to them: broadens their perspective of humanity; creates less prejudiced and open attitude; builds capacity to empathize with others; and discovers self-identity. People usually think of Buraku discrimination in the context of discriminatory incidents concerning marriage and employment.

   However, the slogan clearly asserts that discrimination shows itself in the concrete lived experiences. The slogan has also encouraged all teachers to reflect on their own personal values, priorities, and attitudes by comparing them to the suffering, resilience, and generosity of Burakumin. When reading about or listening to the lived experiences of Burakumin, learners may think about their own experiences and recall feelings of vexation or they may come to an awareness that they had also hurt the feelings of other people. In short, "to learn deeply from the reality of discrimination" means recognizing one's relation to discrimination and transforming one's self. The DOWA education promoters have become keenly aware of discriminatory elements in education by visiting Buraku communities and exposing themselves to strong desire among Burakumin for discrimination-free life. With the close collaboration among the households, the community, and the schools, DOWA education has been shaped as a community-based educational reform initiative.

   Frequent home visits by the teachers are in line with the basic principles of DOWA education. The aim is mainly to gain the Burakumin's trust on schooling and to understand each student's severe background in order to ensure effective instruction. In school, many Buraku students could not concentrate on learning. They are frequently involved in misconduct. Traditionally, Japanese teachers treat students' misconduct with reprimand or punishment, but this method usually aggravates the Buraku students' distrust of teachers and the school because of their internalized sense of alienation. Through repeated home visits, some teachers began to understand this sense of alienation and underlying perception of discrimination as well as poverty. They tried to speak with Buraku students on their concerns in order to gain their confidence. Understanding the sense of alienation of minority students and students in difficulties is now widely recognized as the core philosophy in DOWA education. Some of the Kunijima High School teachers visit their students' home more than a hundred times a year.

Group Process

   Kunijima High School employs the group process in its DOWA education program. It is using for example jibun wo kataru (speak about yourself in the class). Students are asked to speak about their daily lives and their observations to their classmates. Teachers help the students focus on their deep concerns and real life problems. When the students skillfully represent their experience just as they experienced it, the listeners can re-experience and share the feelings. Jibun wo kataru has been considered a vital component of the DOWA education of Kunijima High School. It trains the speaker to look at his or her life objectively and critically, and enables him or her to surmount prejudiced views.

   Jibun wo kataru may also enable the speaker to reflect on his or her behavior critically and understand why he or she was carried away by emotions. As this process is repeated, the speaker becomes able to control his or her behavior more rationally. This project has also been of great benefit to the listeners. As mentioned above, most of the Kunijima High School students have severe surroundings. Many desperate and disoriented students end up having hateful feelings toward their parents and themselves because of their tough surroundings even though it was in fact the existing atmosphere and social system that should be blamed. Hearing their friends cope with their lives, express their determination not to let discrimination affect them, speak about their families and their own observations, the listeners are given a chance to identify their own problems with the story. The stories stimulate non-Buraku students to deal with their personal problems in relation to Buraku issues. They can put their lives in perspective. They can reorder their priorities. They can recognize where their frustration comes from. They can recognize why they hated their families. They can recognize why they hated themselves. They can visualize their liberation by joining the movement for social reform.

   The jibun wo kataru project of Kunijima High School which started many years ago at the level of each class has since evolved to each grade assembly where speakers talk about themselves in front of all students of the same grade, and then to a school assembly where speakers from each grade talk to the whole school population.

"A miracle's happened here!"

As more and more considerable progress is made in terms of group process, less and less misconduct is seen among the students.2 There was actually a marked decrease in the number of problems. And it was so dramatically reduced that one day a teacher who used to work in Kunijima High School said "A miracle's happened here!" when he visited and saw some classes in session. Endless time and effort was needed to settle the numerous problems the students kept making. It became inevitable then to enforce discipline among the students. But now once students are assured that they can freely express themselves and understand fully each other, they have no reason to prove themselves by pretending to be tough through repeated misconduct in school. The hard period of the school was overcome by shifting from a defensive style of teaching discipline to an offensive one.

Curriculum Reformation

The DOWA education practices described above are mainly intended to control the Buraku students' learning environment. Although they were necessary conditions for equality in education, they did not constitute sufficient conditions. To assure effective learning of Buraku students, the learning process had to be reconstructed and the curriculum itself had to be reformed. In Japanese high schools, instruction is usually given to a class of 40 students by a single teacher in a single sequence. This condition pose difficulties for Japanese teachers to set the pace of instruction. Some students, usually Burakumin, remain behind as a result. To tackle this problem, the DOWA education promoters provided school and out-of-school (usually using facilities in Buraku communities) extra-curricular instruction. But it turned out afterward that this kind of outreach instruction has been ineffective. For many students it was a mere extra burden and often resulted in lowering their aspirations. Also, it made many of them passive about learning.

   Japan is rightly called a "minnow society" which hates individuality and detests diversity; an inhuman, clannish, and unethical village society. The standardized curriculum of the government inevitably makes some students feel inadequate because each student has his or her own different interest, curiosity, and individuality. After all, as long as we teach our students under the standardized curriculum, the best we could say to students is to "Get better!" "Catch up with others!" or "Adapt yourself to school!" instead of school adapting itself to an individual student since the only existing scale of values or priorities in the society is an academic achievement which promises higher social status. This is the reason why Kunijima High School decided in 1996 after re-examining our preceding practices for twenty years to introduce a revolutionary school system which enables every student to develop his or her own ability according to his or her individuality. This prepares the most appropriate learning settings for each student, centering around an individualized program of study and based upon a life-plan of each student, by utilizing overall resources in school such as teachers, time, space, educational programs, worksheets, and media. That is what is now called Kunijima High Comprehensive Free Curriculum System.

Kunijima High Comprehensive Free Curriculum System

Under the Kunijima High Comprehensive Free Curriculum System, each first grade student can create the individual learning time-table for the second and third year after drawing up his or her own tentative life-plan. It means that the students can make their own curriculum based on their own disposition by choosing the subjects to learn among approximately one hundred and fifty given subjects.

   The subjects are divided into five categories though students do not have to stick to any particular category. Following is the curriculum:

a. Welfare


  1. To learn the basic idea of welfare and the techniques of nursing the elderly people or disabled people through practical training;
  2. To make competent students who can contribute to making a "co-habitable society" for the elderly, the disabled, and the small children in their own community.
   Welfare for Beginners / Social Welfare System / Welfare for the Elderly / Welfare Sports / Volunteer / Nursing Technics / Counseling/ Sign Language / Braille / Welfare for Children / Welfare for the Disabled/ Social Welfare Seminar / Food / Clothing / Family and Life / etc.

b. Multi-Cultural Understanding


  1. To learn the knowledge and techniques necessary for mutual understanding and cooperation essential for living in a culturally diversified world of today;
  2. To make competent students who have a good sense of globalization.
   Ethnic Study / Comparative Culture / Human Rights Worldwide /International Exchange Training / Multi-Cultural Understanding for Beginners / Ethnic Music / Ethnic Dancing / Foreign Literature Reading / Classical Japanese / Speech Communication / Communication in Japanese / English Communication / Performance in English /Practical English / English Conversation / Chinese / Korean / French / English Reading / English Writing / etc.

c. City Design


  1. To learn the history, culture, and industry of Osaka through field-work;
  2. To project the future image of Osaka as a city where everyone wants to live.
   Community Development Research / History of Hometown / Culture of Osaka/ Industry of Osaka / City Planning / Internet Communication / Sightseeing / Marketing/ Traditional Community Entertainment / Graphic Design by Writing Brush / Account-keeping / etc.

d. Ecology Science


  1. To learn about ecological environment through the survey of Osaka Bay and the Yodo River;
  2. To understand the current global environment and to learn the knowledge and techniques necessary to preserve our environment.
   Reading Weather Chart / Scientific Experiment / Natural Observation / Preservation of Wild Animals / Astronomy / Water Analysis / Environmental Science/ Food and Medicine / Life and Resources / Introduction to Anatomy / Atmosphere Analysis / Bio-technology / Scientific Skills and Society / Global Environment / etc.

e. Life-Design


  1. To cultivate the talent to employ the fruitful leisure and life-long learning habit.
   Home Medicine / Home Gardening / Outside Activities / Dance /Body Training/ Life Designing / Fermentation Science / Consumer Life / Social Life and Law / Study of Manners / Human Relations / Child-Nursing / Industrial Art / Ceramic Art / Wood-Work / Dyeing / etc.

   Participatory and vicarious approaches such as role-play, debate forum, simulation, and other methods have been utilized on the belief that passive learning alone does not bring about a meaningful change on the part of learners.

Exchange Program with the Bay Area of the U.S.A.

For the past six years, we have been implementing an exchange program with a variety of educational institutions at the Bay Area of the State of California in the U.S.A., which is famous for an advanced multi-cultural education that respects diversity in society. Through the program, we aim to attain four objectives:

  1. to help our students build the sense of citizenship in a world community toward the 21st century;
  2. to serve our local community in terms of widening its view about an international community;
  3. to support the improvement of the friendly relations already begun between Osaka City and San Francisco City as well as Osaka Prefecture and the State of California; and
  4. to support the promotion of the United Nations' Decade for Human Rights Education.
   The United Nations' Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali, in his speech during the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria in 1993 propounded the idea of making human rights a common language of humanity, a bond that ties people all over the world together despite cultural, economic, social and political differences. He proposed the propagation of a universal culture of human rights. Indeed, in order for human rights to have meaning to every person, they must have a strong influence on everyday living. Most people in Japan think that differences are bad. To be the same, or to fit into a given group, is good. This means that Japanese society puts pressure on minority members to assimilate. One of the main purposes of our tour is to give publicity to the current status of minorities in Japan and how those minorities are challenging the myth of a racially homogeneous Japan. Japan is widely perceived as a homogenous, harmonious society, a uniform cultural monolith. Not only is this view prevalent in Japan, it has also been actively promoted abroad. Examination of minority issues in Japan reveals this to be a myth. We believe that heightened consciousness and solidarity of Buraku people, Korean and Chinese residents, Ainu, Okinawans, and new immigrants from other Asian countries have the potential of remolding the Japanese society as a truly diverse and harmonious society. We consider it imperative to promote the process of building multi-cultural awareness and effecting social change. We take the movement of minorities as a positive force for social change.

The Pride and Identity of Buraku People

A few years ago, an interesting report came up about the visit of some Buraku students of Kunijima High School to a high school in Oakland, California. The students tried to explain the discrimination they face in Japan to the American students. They did well in making the explanation and had a good sense of fulfillment in doing so. But the same type of comment kept being raised again and again. It went like this; "I don't think I can ever understand what is Buraku discrimination. Why or how are you Buraku people discriminated? How can you be distinguished from other Japanese? You have no difference in outward appearances, language, religion, or anything else." The reaction from American students in particular to the Buraku experiences highlighted how discrimination wounds the victims and blinds the perpetrators in similar manner in different cultures. Due to the invisibility of Buraku people, discrimination manifests itself in ways different from those in the United States where physical, cultural, and linguistic features make minorities highly visible. The struggle against discrimination in Japan consequently takes different forms as well.

   After our Buraku students had tried to answer these questions without much success, one of the African-American leaders said the following:

   "The discrimination you face in Japan is not based on differences. The discrimination we face here in the State is based on a difference in skin color. I get the impression that you can run away from your suffering and fit into the majority group hiding your Burakumin status. But you don't hide away. You declare your identity as a discriminated Burakumin and address human rights issues. I wonder what makes you do that. We African-Americans cannot hide our racial ethnicity because it can be revealed by skin color. What lessons can those African-Americans indulging in drinking and drug or committing crimes trying to run away from the reality of discrimination learn from your movement in Japan? They may try not to run away from the reality and start to face it. They may join the social movement with much uplifted determination and highly-raised consciousness as you reveal and tough out your own Burakumin identity."
   This comment opened the eyes of many Buraku students who then realized that the African-Americans are impressed by the tremendous personal courage required to admit the pride of Buraku heritage in absence of physical difference from the rest of the population.

   Another African-American activist that we met in the US said,

   "Multi-cultural education here in Bay Area is sometimes very deceptive to us. It tells us to respect differences. Black is beautiful. Yellow is beautiful. White is beautiful. We are all beautiful. We were all born on earth. We are all equal in value. Wait a minute. Look at the reality. We are not equal in value. We are not treated as such. Whites are at the top. Blacks are at the bottom. It sounds nice to try to respect differences, but we must change the reality of discrimination at the same time. We should respect a horizontal difference among us, but we must eradicate a vertical difference among us, which is called discrimination in other word. We are repeatedly reminded of it when we meet people in the Buraku liberation movement in Japan. The bottomline of your movement is "No discrimination" or "To fight against any form or type of discrimination" while our multi-cultural education keeps saying "Respect differences." Please teach American students what the real multi-cultural education is all about."
   This incident has since triggered a heated discussion about the Burakumin pride or identity among the Buraku students in Kunijima High School and marked a big step in the "speak out" program.

   Kunijima High School students who, before traveling to the U.S.A., had participated for many years in DOWA education and in the movement can see that their struggle was relevant to other discriminated groups in the State of California, or the America's most diverse state where Korean-Black conflict, Rodney King's beating, the O.J. Simpson trial, and countless other issues like Japan-bashing and scapegoating, or bilingual education and anti-Latino immigrant issues make world-wide headlines.

   The discussion following the U.S.A. trip about Buraku discrimination has led us to a clear recognition of what the Burakumin identity is and how discrimination starts in general. People tend to believe or, more precisely, are deceived into believing that a difference causes discrimination. They suppose that some minority groups are discriminated against because they have a different skin color while other minority ones are discriminated against because they have a different religion. This is deceptively true as you can see from the reality of discrimination against Buraku people in Japan. This discrimination against them exists even though they have no difference in language, religion, or any physical appearances. Thus, the truth is that the present system of society, or the Establishment of today, requires some scapegoats, or cheap labor forces, to be discriminated against for the system to work well.

   Japan has collectively searched inside the nation, except at a certain period of time during the last war, for those scapegoats, which some emerging capitalist nations in Europe searched for by colonizing some Asian countries, and the U.S.A. did through trade of slaves from African countries. Difference comes after discrimination. Discrimination first, difference next. Even if a group of minority gets liberated from a discriminated position, another scapegoat would be found and get discriminated against at the next moment. Difference is merely a laid out smoke-screen for discrimination. This is where Buraku people can find their pride and identity. That is because it is only Buraku people who can accuse the present system of society of its discriminatory nature and take the initiative in the movement of social reformation, seeing through the smoke-screen of difference-oriented sort of discrimination.

   Our global exchanging program has yielded a lot of fruitful results since then.


   Today we hold three conceptual ideas of human rights education in Kunijima High School. The first is to cultivate the spirit and attitude of respecting other people regardless of differences, that is, not to allow and fight against any kind of discrimination. The second is to guarantee the right to equal education not in form but in substance through individualized curriculum. The third is to empower the minority students with the realization of their pride and identity in a global context through the exchange program with the multi-cultural education practices abroad.

End Notes

1. General Breakdown of Kunijima High School students

Buraku Students  60
Students with Korean Background  45
Chinese Students  6
Disabled Students (including those students who have a disabled member in their family)  60
Students exempted from school fee  210

Total Number of Students  840

2. Sharp Decrease in the Number of Disciplinary Suspension per Year

1989  212
1990  217
1991  169
1992  188
1993  171
1994  129
1995  91
1996  54
1997  31 (as of September 8, 1997)


  1. DOWA Education: Educational Challenge Toward a Discrimination-free Japan, Buraku Liberation Research Institute (Buraku Kaiho Kenkyusho), Osaka, Japan, 1995.

  2. Shattering the Myth of the Homogeneous Society: Minority Issues and Movements in Japan, JPRN Monograph Series, Japan Pacific Resource Network, Berkeley, California, USA.]