Social Fabric of Japan: Case Studies of Selected Minority Groups

"In this curriculum, students learn about four groups of people living in Japan: the burakumin, Koreans, Ainu, and Okinawans. By examining these groups and their experiences in Japanese society, students will consider the questions raised above and gain a deeper understanding of some critical social issues present in diverse societies and how these experiences have contributed to people’s identities." (text taken from SPICE)
Published 2000 (81 pages) For Secondary - Community College students. Softcover - $29.95
Year of Publication
Number of Pages
Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education
Citation Key
Curriculum Unit
Average: 5 (5 votes)


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Review of SPICE unit on The Social Fabric of Japan

Field of Interest/Specialty: Curriculum
Posted On: 12/12/2017

Written by Janine Brill, 8th Grade ELA and Science, 7th and 8th Grade U.S. History, Mary Queen of Apostles School, New Kensington, PA
The Social Fabric of Japan: Case Studies of Selected Minority Groups is a SPICE (Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education) curriculum unit developed by Selena Lai. This self-contained unit is designed for use as a supplement to social studies, history, and global studies courses for grades 8-12. The unit is comprised of three lessons, each requiring 3-4 class periods.
Lesson 1, "Notions of Identity," focuses on factors that define each of us as individuals and as members of a group. Students partake in a simulation activity over four class periods. The unit provides specific instructions and guidelines for conducting the simulation where the teacher acts as a facilitator. This part of the lesson is exceptionally well-explained, and debriefing is crucial to the success of the students attaining the learning objectives. Students collaborate in four small groups for each of the three parts of the lesson: observers, a majority group, a minority group of 25% of the class, and a minority group of 15% of the class. The last part of Lesson 1 will provide the teacher with students' perceptions of Japanese culture, and give students an overview of minority groups in Japan. Before proceeding to Lesson 2, the students should clearly identify the differences between their perceptions of Japanese minorities and the reality of discrimination of minority groups in Japan. Students could also compare their perceptions with those of other minority groups in the United States. What factors influence such perceptions, and how do they or others react to such perceptions? How have perceptions of minority groups changed over the course of the United States' history?
Lesson Two, "The Burakumin," is divided into two parts over four class periods. In part one, which is quite personal and may be sensitive for some students, students compare their personal identities to how society identifies them, making connections between identity and discrimination. Each student receives one set of twenty identifier cards, each card has a specific aspect of identity such as race, money, weight, education, age, and place of residence. Using the cards, students discuss their definition of discrimination and refer back to Lesson 1. Cards are ranked according to how the student feels, and each reflects the way he/she is identified by others. Because of the sensitive nature of part one, the facilitator may choose to require written responses rather oral discussion. Part two introduces the students to Japan's largest minority group, the burakumin. Students begin with individual reading assignments about the burakumin and move into three group activities. The second group activity places students into three different groups in which each assesses a particular situation of the burakumin and shares their perspective based on their group's identity. In the last activity, students are challenged to educate others about discrimination. This particular activity could even be modified for a history class that focuses on the suffragist movement or the civil rights era in the United States. It is an enlightening activity for the students because they are responsible for designing a way to educate others.
Lesson 3, "The Ainu, Okinawans, and Koreans in Japan," provides three culminating sections that can be completed within three class periods. Prior to part one, students must have prior knowledge of minority groups in a historical context, i.e., how historical events are often related to other world events. Students will understand what nationalism is, and make inferences about the presence of Europeans in 19th Century Asia. Because of the large content embedded in part three, a "jigsaw" approach is used for gleaning information about the three featured ethnic groups. If time permits, part two could be extended to additional class periods so that every student is focused on the same group of people during the same class session. There are several videos available online that provide additional information or summarize each group of people. Debriefing is required for the beginning of part three. In this final culminating activity, students work independently to reevaluate their own perceptions from Lesson 1, and write an essay addressing diversity and how it shapes individual and collective identities.

Fantastic for social studies - needs some modification for foreign language.

Field of Interest/Specialty: Japan / Japanese
Posted On: 01/10/2016

Reviewed by Bridget Beaver, North Carolina Virtual Public School
This unit is excellently designed for a social or international studies curriculum. However, some parts of this unit could be very useful as a Japanese language teacher, especially when teaching culture lessons. Culture lessons should act as a “bridge” to culture, According to Vicki Galloway in her article, Bridges and Boundaries, Growing the Cross-Cultural Mind, Bridges are our attempts to contain culture within “highlights” and “impressions” through sometimes-crass overgeneralizations of a group of people. Notably, bridges always come from our perspective and are “superimposed with [the learner’s] own culture’s template.” Thereby producing fiction: “not the real culture, but a hybrid warped in reference to [the learner’s] own.”
Therefore, these lessons, when taught within the context of foreign language, act as a bridge from the learner’s own culture to that of Japanese culture.
The first lesson is designed to heighten the learner’s awareness of identity as a social construct, and create a safe environment for constructive class discussion on sensitive topics. The lesson includes a simulation activity where students can experience being in different identity groups that belong to a larger group as a whole. Then, they can make connections between this experience and real life.
Following this, the lesson introduces students to different minority groups in Japan and their perceptions of them. This was one particular part of the lesson I found interesting. In my own Japanese language classes, many of my students are totally unaware of any minority groups in Japan. However, this lesson provides a great “lead-up” to introducing them.
The second lesson centers on one of the largest minority groups in Japan, the burakumin. One part of this lesson I found might be interesting to add to a Japanese language class might be integrating current news and information in the target language regarding burakumin. The vocabulary underlined in the English-language reading might be a good start for learning Japanese vocabulary relating to buraku issues in an advanced level class.
The other part of this lesson I thought might translate well to a Japanese language class were the photos of buraku communities, these might be more suitable as conversation starters when teaching this subject in a more intermediate or novice level language class. They can be easily referenced with questioning and comparison and contrast between these buraku and non-buraku communities could be made.
The third lesson covers the Ainu, Okinawans, and Koreans in Japan. This is a great culminating lesson that builds upon what was covered in the first two, so students can apply and then compare and contrast the cases of these three different groups. Students are also encouraged to “draw parallels between the minority groups in Japan and those in other societies”
Of these three groups, I typically introduce the Ainu in my classes, although we have had some students who have been to Okinawa and/or have parents from there, in which case I will teach about Okinawan culture. Unfortunately, while I find the information about the Koreans very interesting and relevant, I have to stay within the realm of Japan for Japanese language class. I’m not sure how I might translate these lessons to a language class, but I think that perhaps including the information about both the Ainu and Okinawans, but in the target language, and using a worksheet like the comparison chart might be a step in the right direction.

Examining Connections Between Minority Groups in Japan

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art & Social Studies
Posted On: 07/07/2014

This SPICE curriculum unit with three highly-developed lessons exploring the concept diversity and function of minority groups includes a variety of activities that could potentially take a total of nine to twelve class period to complete. In exploring why diversity exists, this curriculum unit introduces the topic of minority identity issues while providing the framework and opportunities to extend this concept to modern-day people, places, and events through American history, world cultures, civics, sociology, psychology, or health courses. The three main lessons developed in this unit include an introduction to the notions of identity, the burakumin, and the Ainu, Okinawans, and Koreans in Japan through a framework that focuses on the enrichment of knowledge, attitude, and skills.
Lesson One includes a simulation exercise with an excellent introduction and a set of guidelines for teachers to follow so that this activity and debriefing session could be led by teachers throughout a building (from the experienced and creative instructor to the novice and unsure) as part of a school-wide cultural day. It would even be an interesting activity for a staff development workshop! The simulation not only provides an excellent way to introduce the role (and fears) of cultural exchange from time of the Silk Road to the age of imperialism, but it could also help students better understand why Commodore Perry’s fleet was so unwelcome or why Americans felt the need to use relocation camps during World War II. Best of all, the activities in this curriculum unit help students to relate these concepts to their own lives by creating practical situations, facilitating class discussions, and reflecting on concepts which require students to take ownership of their learning.
By building on the foundation laid in Lesson One, Lesson Two continues with opening activities which help students to reflect on their own identities before branching out and exploring the history of the burakumin and the role of discrimination. Through a variety of both independent and collaborative higher-order, critical thinking activities, students can compare the development of the burakumin to the establishment of the caste system in India, the abolishment of slavery in the United States (which was contemporary to the Japanese Edict of Emancipation), the identification and treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, or even modern-day housing inequalities in America. The establishment of this social class in Japan is also tied to the increasing role of religion in Japanese politics and culture, making Lesson Two open to connections with another SPICE curriculum unit (Religion in Japan and a Look at Cultural Transmission). While balancing the need for guided class discussion, there are multiple avenues for encouraging students to privately journal their thoughts as they investigate the role that a more educated society plays in bringing an end to discrimination. There is also a series of role-playing cards that invite students to work collaboratively to analyze and report on statistics related to the discrimination of burakumin. Once again, a thorough debriefing guide with leveled discussion questions is provided for the teacher to facilitate a meaningful assessment and application of these activities.
Lesson Three takes the previous two lessons one final step as it applies the concepts of minority groups and discrimination to questions of imperialism and the challenges of nation building with extensions to other societies. Once again, a variety of individual and group activities complement the presentation of new information in a historical context. Students are encouraged to use deductive reasoning skills in order to draw parallels with other knowledge such as the role of the industrial revolution, the influence of war, or the theory of social Darwinism in creating a national identity. All of this can be done within the context of the Meiji era or extended beyond and applied to America’s melting pot at the turn of the century. Three separate case studies from Japan, most especially the examination of the Ainu and Okinawans, would also make an interesting comparison to the study of the treatment of the Irish people and the challenges of preserving Celtic culture in relation to Great Britain or Hawaiian culture in relation to American annexation. Further investigation could be made of the Okinawans and the role America played on these islands during the Cold War. With a brilliant map of 19th century Asia laying the foundation and outlining the impact of imperialism on the East in a time of power struggles between and among the two hemispheres, students can explore the roles of geography, economics, and politics among distinct groups. Students could also use the three featured groups for a study in genetics as they examine the physical differences between the Ainu, Okinawan, and Korean people. Additionally, the fact that “birth in Japan does not legally ensure Japanese citizenship, unless one parent is a Japanese national” (61) and the 1950 Japanese Nationality Law would be a very interesting topic to compare with American immigration and citizenship policies, both past and present.
The resources included in this guide include pre- and post-surveys, detailed activity descriptions and handouts, supplemental guided readings (geared more toward the high school level but with key terms defined to help middle school students work through the material), and a variety of activities which challenge students to engage in the 21st century skills of creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical-thinking. Not only will it help our students understand how and why diversity exists, but it will also help us as educators see how we can raise awareness for cultural diversity within our communities as students begin to shape their own identities.

Review of Social Fabric of Japan

Field of Interest/Specialty: Japanese Language and Culture
Posted On: 08/05/2013

This excellent unit is designed for high school social studies, history, global/international studies, contemporary issues, and minority studies classes. It consists of three lessons, each of which requires three, four, or perhaps more periods. Although not among itsintended uses, I also recommend it as background material for Japanese language teachers who may not be familiar with Japanʼs minority cultures and related issues. To introduce its theme, let me cite a quotation in the unit introduction: Japan is widely perceived as a homogeneous, 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. It is a myth with serious implications, since it reflects a social ethos that makes no allowances for participation in society by persons of different ethnic or cultural heritage. (D. Coates, 1990). This unit does four things well. First, it thoroughly engages students in investigating issues facing four minority groups in Japan: burakumin, Koreans, Ainu, and Okinawans. Second, it includes a historical and geo-political perspective on how those groups came to be minorities in Japan, in particular the period of nation-building in Meiji Japan, situated in the context of European Imperialism in Asia and theories of social Darwinism. Finally, it also uses that content and context to enable students to reflect on and discuss such universal issues as sources of human identity, both as individuals and as members of groups, and general issues that minorities may face in any culture. And, it does all this using a variety of learning activities that appeal to different types of intelligences (Gardnerʼs theory is cited in the introduction). Besides its rich content, this unit could be used didactically as part of an anti-racism curriculum.
The unitʼs focus is far removed from the US context, but students are also asked to reflect on how the
concepts apply to themselves and to other minority groups with which they are familiar. Learning activities vary. The unit begins with an initial “Perceptions Survey” to identify a baseline for studentsʼ perceptions of Japanese and American societies. There is a certain amount of reading handouts and responding to thought-provoking questions in writing, such as journal writing, a little direct instruction (i.e., lecturing), lots of whole class discussion, and plentiful small group work. There is a simulation, in which groups are assigned different roles (with varying compositions of minority and majority citizens) and given tasks to accomplish. Care is also taken to properly debrief after the simulation. The culminating activity, in Lesson Three, is for each group of 4 to 6 students to be a TV news team and produce a news story about the Ainu, Koreans, or Okinawans in Japan, which can either be videotaped and shown, or presented live to the class. The rest of the class has a chart to fill in based on the presentations they watch. After debriefing and reflection at the end of the unit, the “Perceptions Survey” is again given to evaluate changes in studentsʼ perceptions of Japanese and American
societies. There are a few other points you might want to know about. This unit does require some fairly high level reading skills, and a mature attitude on the part of the students. A teacher should have clear procedures in place for productive group work before starting this unit. The unit includes all handouts needed, but Lesson Two requires one set of 22 identifier cards for each student. This amounts to some significant prep time, but if a teacher intends to teach this unit multiple times, lamination would be a good investment. Finally, due to the sensitive nature of questions of personal identity, a classroom environment in which all students feel emotionally safe will contribute greatly to the success of this unit. This unit was published in 2000. Many of the sources are much older.
This is fine in most cases. However, ten years after publication, it would be nice if the SPICE program could update the statistical data and political information, where possible. Absent this, it would be good for the teacher to spend a little time on the internet investigating how or if policies and actual attitudes are changing. Recently, the Korean community in Japan has undergone significant changes related to assimilation. Many Koreans born and
raised in Japan are culturally Japanese, marry Japanese, and thus have Japanese children. The scholar, John Lie, refers to this as a transition from zainichi kankokujin (Korean residents of Japan) to post-zainichi. Also, in the early 21st century, the so-called “Korean Wave” of imports of Korean popular culture to Japan occurred, raising the prestige of Koreans in Japan. These developments in no way diminish the content of this curriculum unit as a pedagogical tool, but it would be nice not to leave students with the impression that everything is as described. The past ten years in Japan have
been ones of rapid cultural change, but the more things change, the more some things stay the same.

Review by NCTA Seminar Participant, Barbara Litt

Field of Interest/Specialty: Japanese Language and Culture
Posted On: 05/19/2010

Please see the uploaded pdf file for the text of my review of this excellent curriculum unit.