DSQ > Summer 2008, Volume 28, No.3

There's a lot to discover about Japan; it is a fact that I myself dismissed for a long time as a Japanese. Until I encountered Disability Studies in the US in 2003, much of the history of the minority's fights against societal oppressions in Japan, including the Japanese disability rights movements, had been invisible and unknown to me. Furthermore, due to my own privileged status as a majority in the society, I had uncritically accepted the popular claim that Japan is a homogeneous country and therefore had long been ignorant of the diversity that constituted Japan and various groups of oppressed minorities such as Buraku people (descendents of stigmatized communities and of outcast groups during the feudal Edo period), the Ainu (an ethnic group indigenous mainly to Hokkaido), the Ryukuan (descendents of Ryukyu Kingdom that had been conquered and eventually annexed by Japan as Okinawa prefecture), descendants of former Japanese colonies (e.g., Korean residents), and other immigrants (e.g., Chinese, Taiwanese, Brazilian, and Filipinos).

Along with this new awareness of Japan's invisible histories, I have also begun discovering the accumulated wisdom, emerging knowledge, and hope drawn from the persistent resistance and explorations of various minority groups to seek for alternatives and a better world. I feel further energized to see how those multiple lines of social justice efforts have crossed each other from time to time in order to provide awareness of the nature of oppression and nurture sensitivity toward others' struggles. I see the growth of Japan's Disability Studies increasingly as part of a collaborative forum against all kinds of discriminations, oppressions, and exploitations.

Shinya Tateiwa, one of the leading scholars in Japanese Disability Studies, has recently invited Akira Kurihara, a political sociologist and a representative of Minamata Forum, to work with him and his colleagues on a five-year major grant-funded initiative (http://www.arsvi.com/a/index.htm). Kurihara has been well known for his efforts to draw knowledge out of the narratives of marginalized patients with Minamata disease — an illness caused by industrial pollution in the postwar Japan — through his interactions with the people in the field. Kurihara has also approached the issue of discrimination, and moreover the vision of Kyosei, "living-together" or "conviviality" in his translation (Kurihara, 1997, p. 25), from a wide variety of angles — from environments, the arts, culture, the issue of "care," labor, and rediscovering of our body-ness in the modernized lives. Furthermore, Kurihara has been active in creating a forum, either in physical or literal space, where a variety of voices, experiences, and histories can gather around the common urge to rebuild communities and revive the interconnectedness and interdependence of all living systems, including humans. In sum, Kurihara is one of scholars who embody the "scholarships beyond boundaries" (Kurihara, Komori, Sato, & Yoshimi, 2000-2001).

Working with such scholar, I see this collaboration as a critical opportunity in the development of Japan's Disability Studies to strengthen the base of its academic identity based on the nurtured sense of collective inquiries and renewed understanding that none of us can work from a safe space of "on-lookers." Rather, we must start from "the own discrimination and at the foot of the realities of relationships" (Kurihara, 1996, p. 26).

There's a lot to discover about Japan, and there will be a lot more for me to learn about Japan as well as about other countries. Wishing to share some of the histories and emerging knowledge of Japanese contexts, and additionally, hoping to create an opportunity to cultivate the sense of collective inquiries beyond the discontinuity often created by the language differences, my colleagues and I had started the project to host a Japan section in DSQ more than two years ago. We do not claim to achieve the goals we had originally envisioned at all. Language barriers proved greater than expected, and regrettably, most of the authors who had initially submitted proposals or manuscripts had to resign their participation. Thus, we present a very small, yet we believe a valuable, contribution in this Japan section of DSQ.

Following this introduction, Osamu Nagase, who witnessed the birth of the Japanese Society for Disability Studies (JSDS), provides a brief outline of the society's emergence and current development. Then we present a Cultural Commentary piece written by Yoshihiko Goto that critically analyzes the recent inauguration of Japan's new special education system by locating it within the societal contexts that fear youths with "developmental disabilities." We also provide two book reviews: One is written by Yasunobu Nozaki reviewing the work of Masahiro Morioka, who has proposed a new interdisciplinary academic approach called Life Studies. Readers may be interested in visiting Morioka's website (http://www.lifestudies.org/index.html), where he provides English translations for many of his works, although it may be hard to understand and/or appreciate his arguments as they have been translated by non-English users. His classic book Brain Dead Person (1989) advocated for a "human relationship oriented analysis," resisting a "brain-centered analysis," and arguing that brain death should be interpreted as a form of "human relationships." Many chapters of this book can be read in English at http://www.lifestudies.org/braindeadperson00.html.

I have also provided a long book review on Mutsuharu Shinohara's work, which critiques disability science that rationalizes the segregation of children with disabilities — a science still applies in Japan today. The book is only available in Japanese; thus I tried to provide as many details and illustrations as possible so the proposals made in the book can be conveyed, including their subtle nuances, to DSQ readers who may not be able to read the original Japanese text. Readers may be referred to a short piece written by Horland: "A Conversation with Mutsuharu Shinohara." It was published in the Equity and Excellence in 1989. Finally, we added a resource section that lists websites, online articles, and a bibliography on disability and disability studies in Japan. We hope that this resource section, along with other contents of the special section, will serve as an initial point of inquiry for those who want to further learn about disability studies in Japan.

Lastly, we would like to express our greatest appreciation to many who have been involved and helped us with this project, including the individuals who allowed us to read their proposals and manuscripts; reviewers who willingly contributed their services from their busiest lives; Professor Zach Rossetti of Providence College in Rhode Island for his most appreciated help with multiple English edits; and both current and previous DSQ chief editors who have continued to be supportive and understanding of the project. I would also like to thank my colleagues, Heike Boeltzig and Osamu Nagase, for their continued work that had to be prolonged for more than two years because of multiple demands to extend our project time.

Special Japan Section Editing Team:

Maho Suzuki
Ph D. student, Disability Studies / Special Education, Syracuse University

Osamu Nagase
Graduate School of Economics, University of Tokyo

Heike Boeltzig
Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts-Boston


  • Holarnd, L. (1989). A Conversation with Mutsuharu Shinohara, Equity and Excellence, 24, 2, 58-61.
  • Kurihara, A. (1996). Discrimination and the gaze [Sabetsu-to-manazashi]. In A. Kurihara (Ed.), The structure of discrimination in Japanese society [Nihon-syakai-no sabetsu-kozo], pp. 13-27. Kobundo, Tokyo.
  • Kurihara, A. (1997). On living-together [Kyosei-to-iu-koto]. In A. Kurihara (Ed.), Toward the living-together [Kyosei-no-hou-he], pp. 11-27, Kobundo, Tokyo.
  • Kurihara, A., Komori, Y., Sato, M., & Yoshimi, S. (Eds.) (2000-2001). Series: Scholarships beyond boundaries [Ekkyou-suru-chi]. University of Tokyo Press. Tokyo; Japan.
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Copyright (c) 2008 Maho Suzuki

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