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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume II

Zendokyo and Other Groups: Teachers' Commitment to Dowa Education*

Ichiro Akashi

Japan's defeat in World War II began the country's march toward democracy. The 1947 Fundamental Law on Education laid the foundation for postwar education for democracy. Buraku discrimination survived the war and was symbolized by the poor school enrollment rate of Buraku children. For instance, in the early 1950s in Nara, the ratio of long-time absentees in junior high schools (those who never attended classes at the start of school year) was 35 percent compared to 2.7 percent for non-Buraku students. Buraku children were counted on to help their family and often not sent to school because of the dire poverty which was a result of discrimination. Most educators, however, perceived it as the result of Buraku parents' lack of understanding of the importance of education or the children's lack of motivation to study. Most schools made no serious efforts to promote Dowa education. Discrimination was widespread.

In 1948, in Kochi Prefecture, a small number of so-called fukushi kyoin (welfare teachers) began to try to solve the low enrollment problem by visiting Buraku homes and advising Buraku parents. They were the harbingers of Dowa educators; they listened to the voices of Buraku parents and heard the hidden messages therein. They reflected on the meaning of education and emphasized the need to learn from the reality of Buraku discrimination.

Buraku Demand for Government Measures

All Romance Struggle

In 1951, a magazine named All Romance carried a short story titled "Tokushu Buraku" (Special Hamlet) written by a staff member of the hygiene section of the Kyoto municipal government. It portrayed a Buraku community, using its real name, as full of crime, violence and squalor. The Buraku movement harshly criticized the Kyoto municipal government for failing to help the Buraku community, and took the publisher to task. The denunciation revealed that Buraku communities in Kyoto suffered greatly from poor housing; lack of a fire fighting system, sewage and waterworks; and a low school enrollment. This so-called "All Romance Struggle" became a model for a number of subsequent struggles against other local governments.

The Yoshiwa Junior High School Incident

In June 1952, a social studies teacher, in discussing the "four class plus outcaste" system in the Edo era, stated that the ancestors of the outcastes had been slaves or foreigners in the Heian era (794-1191) and that they were called yotsu (four-legged) or eta (filth). He then wrote down these epithets and asked students to raise their hands if they knew them. Most students immediately looked at a Buraku student in the class who felt he was being targeted. Buraku parents, hearing about this incident, declared that they would no longer send the children to the school because "Our children do not go to school to be discriminated against. We will not entrust our children to the care of this school and its teachers."

   This incident left the following lessons:

  • Most children are already aware of Buraku discrimination even before they start school, and many are prejudiced against the Buraku. Therefore, the Netako wo okosuna (Don't wake up a sleeping baby) approach is not effective.
  • Dowa education should be promoted in cooperation with the community by systematically guarding against discrimination.
  • It is vital to educate students to care for and support each other so that they develop a strong anti-discrimination consciousness and attitude.

Supply of Free Textbooks

Since 1963, textbooks have been supplied free of charge to elementary and lower-secondary students in Japan as part of the compulsory education system, in accordance with Article 26 of the Constitution. It should be noted that the struggles of Buraku parents and children brought this about. By the latter half of the 1950s, most Buraku children were enrolled in schools. Many, however, could not afford school textbooks or stationery. The struggle for free textbooks developed in Buraku communities in Osaka, Nara, Kyoto and Kochi prefectures. For instance, in 1962, in Gose City (Nara prefecture), Buraku children went to school without textbooks and demanded that textbooks be supplied free to all in accordance with the Constitution. In response, the local school board promised to request for a special budget so it could supply free textbooks starting in the second trimester. The demand for free textbooks, first voiced by Buraku communities, expanded nationwide and finally led the government to acquiesce in 1963.

The Founding of Zendokyo and the Evolution of Dowa Education

The Birth of Zendokyo

The Zendokyo or the National Federation of Dowa Educators' Associations was founded on 6 May 1953. Its was strongly supported by the Buraku liberation movement. The history of Zendokyo is also the history of postwar Dowa education. Dowa education already existed in several prefectures, but there was no supporting national organization before Zendokyo. Representatives of Dowa educators in nine prefectures (Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Wakayama, Nara, Shiga, Okayama, Tokushima and Kochi) and two cities (Kyoto and Osaka), all in western Japan and mostly in the Kansai region, gathered at its founding assembly. Zendokyo led a broad, mass-based education reform movement, focusing on how the schools could help children, parents and the Buraku community fight discrimination. It accommodated diverse ideological viewpoints and political positions.

Expansion of Dowa Education Nationwide

At the same time, local governments began to issue guidelines and provide materials for Dowa education as follows:

Local administration unit
Title of Guideline
Wakayama Prefecture
Hyogo Prefecture

Guideline on Dowa Education
Guideline on Dowa Education
Kyoto Prefecture
Nagano Prefecture

Basic Policy on Dowa Education
Dowa Education
Okayama Prefecture

Tokushima Prefecture
Maizuru City, Kyoto Prefecture

Guideline on Democratic Education (regarding Dowa Education)
Materials on Dowa Education
Materials on Dowa Education
Nara Prefecture
Kochi Prefecture

Guideline on Dowa Education
For Better Understanding of Dowa Education

Kyoto City
Hiroshima Prefecture
Osaka Prefecture

Guideline on Dowa Education
Guideline on Dowa Education
Basic Policy on Dowa Educationin Schools

When the Dowa Policy Council's Recommendation was issued in 1965 and the Law on Special Measures for Dowa Projects enacted in 1969, Dowa education rapidly expanded in scale and scope, and Dowa educators' associations were formed in other prefectures. Thirteen were established and joined Zendokyo in 1966; now there are Zendokyo chapters in 31 prefectures and 3 cities.

For the past several years, more than 20,000 participants have gathered at Zendokyo's annual convention. This is the largest education-related gathering in Japan. However, Dowa education practices in western Japan are still central to Zendokyo activities. They must be expanded nationally.

Postwar Dowa Education

The major developments in Dowa education for each postwar decade can be summarized as follows:

1950s: Coping with issues of school enrollment and delinquency.
1960s: Struggling for better school facilities and services, including the free supply of textbooks.
1970s: Developing the Dowa education curriculum and supplementary materials.
1980s: Broadening the scope of Dowa education to cover other anti-discrimination and HRE issues.
1990s: Networking with HRE workers around the world.

Lessons from Discrimination

Zendokyo has consistently believed that it should learn from the reality of discrimination and build educational practices that will assure a better life and future for all Japanese children. "Learn from the reality of discrimination" has come to guide all Dowa educators. But what does it actually mean?

We cannot eradicate discrimination just by preaching that "discrimination is wrong." It is not enough for students to learn about Buraku issues. It is vital that they experience discrimination themselves in order to deepen their own understanding of it; they ultimately benefit, as they will acquire a broad perspective of humanity, open and less prejudiced attitudes, capacity to empathize with others, and self-identity.

People usually think Buraku issues are limited to discrimination in marriage and employment. However, discrimination exists everywhere. The slogan "learn from the reality of discrimination" has encouraged educators to reflect on their own personal values and attitudes. When students consider the suffering, resilience and generosity of the Buraku, when they read or hear about the experiences of the Buraku, they may become sensitive to other people's feelings.

In a nutshell, to "learn from the reality of discrimination" is to recognize one's relation to discrimination and to transform one's self.

Results of the Dowa Education Movement

Dowa educators have become keenly aware of discrimination in education by visiting Buraku communities and listening to the Buraku's aspirations for a life free from discrimination. Through close collaboration between the home, the community and the school, Dowa education has become a community-based educational reform initiative. The Dowa education movement addresses the need to improve educational facilities such as school buildings and the community youth centers, to provide scholarships for Buraku children, and to assign more teachers to schools. It has also developed learning materials featuring Buraku community life and labor. By organizing compensatory education classes and Buraku children's community activities, Dowa educators strive to improve Buraku children's academic performance. Dowa educators know through decades of experience that strengthening community-school ties and relating learning activities in school to real life are vitally important to children's ability to learn. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified in Japan in 1994, and the five-days-a-week school system was started on a bimonthly basis in April 1995. More educational reforms and curriculum development efforts are needed to meet the demands of the new situation.

The Place of Dowa Education in Japanese Schools

Goals of Dowa Education

Dowa education is not a special form of education. It refers to all kinds of educational activities that aim to eradicate all forms of discrimination. It has the following goals:

  • Deepen knowledge about the history and nature of Buraku discrimination by answering the following questions: What is Buraku discrimination? How did it evolve? Why does it persist today?
  • Develop children's awareness of and sensitivity to the need to eradicate discrimination.
  • Cultivate caring and cooperation among children to empower them to fight discrimination.

Dowa education is expected to be integrated into all subject and non-subject areas.

The Education Ministry's Policy on Dowa Education

The Ministry of Education issued an official notice on Dowa education in 1952. It characterized Buraku discrimination as "a vestige of the feudal practice of distinguishing and despising a minority of fellow compatriots" and Dowa education as an effort to "see to it that the spirit of fellow compatriots as one is carried out through school and out-of-school education." However, it was only in July 1994 that the ministry issued guidelines titled Dowa Education Materials in Schools: To Promote Dowa Education and Guidance on Discriminatory Incidents, which emphasize among others the following three points:

  • Dowa education should be integrated into all school activities.
    Dowa education is necessary in all schools regardless of whether they are near Buraku communities or not, and in all subjects, moral education, special activities, etc.

  • The key concerns of Dowa education should be clarified.
    The main objective of Dowa education is "to eradicate unreasonable, persistent Buraku discrimination and to establish the spirit of respecting human rights in education based on the idea of equality under the law." To attain this objective, all schools should re-examine their objectives, define good student behavior and establish guidelines for all grade levels. They should ensure that the experience of Buraku children is properly represented in the curriculum and that Dowa education will not just provide information, but also cultivate a desire in the students to solve Buraku discrimination.

  • Guidance should be appropriate to the different needs of school subjects.
    Dowa education should be conducted systematically in all facets of schooling and all subjects should be examined from the perspective of Dowa education.

More than 30 years have passed since the Dowa Policy Council's Recommendation of 1965. Although the ministry's recent move was the result of pressure from the growing Dowa education movement, we appreciate the initiative as it will significantly promote Dowa education in areas where it has hardly been conducted. We expect that this synergistic framework will help expand and enrich Dowa education further.


* This article was originally published in 1995 as part of Dowa Education: Educational Challenge Toward a Discrimination-free Japan, edited by Yasumasa Hirasawa and Yoshiro Nabeshima, Osaka: Buraku Liberation Research Institute. In this publication, Dowa education has been defined as an umbrella concept referring to all forms of educational activities by both government and the Buraku movement to solve the problem of Buraku discrimination.

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