DSQ > Summer 2008, Volume 28, No.3


In this brief paper, Japanese names follow the practice in Japan — that is, a family name first followed by a given name. For instance, in "Ishikawa Jun," Ishikawa is his family name and Jun is his given name.

The birth of the modern disability rights movement in Japan

"Aoi Shiba no kai"1 , which was a group of people with cerebral palsy, has had a lasting impact on the disability scene in Japan. When another murder of a disabled child was committed by a parent in 1970, the community was sympathetic to the parent who killed her own child. Parents' associations petitioned for lenient sentencing. This was the usual reaction. For the first time, however, disabled people, represented by Aoi Shiba no kai, made a public protest by stating their views against the killing. Their well-known platform was announced the same year.2 The most famous passage has been the third one which stated that "(w)e deny love and justice." This means the denial of love that kills disabled people, and justice that shows sympathy to parents who kill their disabled children.

Aoi Shiba no kai inspired the birth of disability studies in Japan. Those who were "forced to think" by activities of Aoi Shiba no kai included Tateiwa Shinya, one of the leading Japanese disability studies scholars, who made a ground-breaking contribution with his work of "Sei no giho" (Ars Vivendi — Sociology of Disabled People Who Left Home and Institution) in 1990, as well as with subsequent works, including "Shiteki Shoyuron" (On Private Property) in 1997. It is very interesting to note that his work has shifted to the distribution of resources, one of the major issues of Japanese disability studies.

Establishment of Japan Society for Disability Studies in October 2003

The process for the formalization of disability studies in Japan started with the publication of "Shogai gaku eno shotai" (Invitation to Disability Studies) in 1999. The book was co-edited by Ishikawa Jun and Nagase Osamu. This led to the formation of study groups and seminars on disability studies in Osaka and Tokyo in 1999 and finally to the establishment of Japan Society for Disabilities Studies (JSDS) in October 2003. Its inaugural meeting at the University of Tokyo invited Dr. Paul Preston, National Resource Center for Parents with Disabilities, U.S.A., who presented on "Parents with Disabilities and Their Children without Disabilities." Ishikawa, a blind sociologist from the University of Shizuoka, was elected as the first president of JSDS and Nagase of the University of Tokyo as the first executive director.

The research journal of JSDS is entitled "Shogaigaku Kenkyu" (Journal of Disability Studies) and three issues have been published as of June 2008. The editor-in-chief for the first three issues was Kuramoto Tomoaki of University of Tokyo. Currently JSDS has about 480 members and is headed by Asahi Yoichiro of Nagano University. Ichinokawa Yasutaka of the University of Tokyo is the executive director.

Trends and development of disability studies in Japan

Themes of annual conferences of JSDS have reflected, not fully but surely to a certain extent, the primary interests of the disability studies community in Japan. The locations and central events hosted at each annual conference so far are as follows:

  • 2004 (University of Shizuoka) — A special dialogue session by Ishikawa and Tateiwa on "The Invisible and the Visible, and Equality of Freedom."
  • 2005 (Kansai University) — A special report by Sugino Akihiro on "Accessibility of Disability Studies: Three Studies on Issues of Intellectual Disabilities"; a symposium on "the Contact Point between Disability Movement and Disability Studies: With reference to the 'Law to Support the Independence of Persons with Disabilities.'"
  • 2006 (Nagano University) — A symposium of "Disability Studies of Services for Students with Disabilities: Questioning the Past and Present Barriers in Admission, Learning and Employment"; a symposium on "Technology and Disability."
  • 2007 (Ritsumeikan University) — A symposium on "Disability and Distributive Justice: Is the Basic Income the Answer?"; a symposium on "the Possibility of the Dialogue between Disability Studies and Deaf Studies."
  • 2008 (Kumamoto Gakuen University, scheduled to be held October 25-26) — A symposium on "Disability Studies of Stigma — Minamata disease, Hansen's disease, and disability studies" and a symposium on "Disability Studies and Social Work."

The latest achievements of disability studies in Japan include two important publications from 2007. Hoshika Ryoji (University of Tokyo), in his "What is disability? — Towards a social theory of disability," explores disability as a phenomenon in which individuals experience disadvantages intensively. Hoshika analyzes "severe disability" as complex disadvantages. He also identifies the snowballing process of mobile disadvantages turning into employment disadvantages as the multiplication of disadvantages. The concentration of disadvantages experienced by disabled people, Hoshika argues, is clearly understood only in a developed social context.

Sugino Akihiro (Kwansei Gakuin University), in his "Disability Studies: Theoretical Issues, Background, and Scope," points out that further theoretical sophistication of disability studies in Japan is needed, and for that, the better understanding of the social model of disability is essential. He reviews the developments of disability studies in the U.K. and U.S.A., which are based on the social model of disability, and analyzes their differences and similarities as well as their applications of disability studies perspectives to disability policies in both countries. He identifies major issues of disability studies in Japan as (a) family as a barrier, (b) meritocracy and discriminatory legislation, (c) disability studies and feminist theories, (d) the social model as a practice, and (e) users' sovereignty and disabled people's sovereignty (tojisha shuken).


  • Aoi Shiba no kai (1970). Ayumi, 11, 25 October 1970.
  • Hoshika, R., (2007). What is disability?: Towards a social theory of disability [Shogai towa nanika: Shogai no shakai riron ni mukete]. Seikatsu Shoin. Tokyo; Japan.
  • Ishikawa, J., & Nagase, O. eds. (1999). Invitation to Disability Studies [Shogaigaku eno shotai], Akashi Shoten. Tokyo; Japan.
  • Sugino, A., (2007). Disability Studies: Theoretical Issues, Background, and Scope [Shogaigaku: Rironkeisei to shatei], University of Tokyo Press. Tokyo; Japan.
  • Tateiwa, S., (1997). On Private Property [Shiteki Shoyuron], Keiso Shobo. Tokyo; Japan.
  • Tateiwa,S., et al. eds., (1990). Ars Vivendi: Sociology of Disabled People Who Left Home and Institution [Sei no giho], Fujiwara Shoten. Tokyo; Japan.


  1. "Aoi Shiba" literally means "green grass." Aoi Shiba no kai therefore means, an association of green grass.
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    • We identify ourselves as people with Cerebral Palsy (CP).

      We recognize our position as "an existence which should not exist" in the modern society. We believe that this recognition should be the starting point of our whole movement, and we act on this belief.

    • We assert ourselves aggressively.

      When we identify ourselves as people with CP, we have a will to protect ourselves. We believe that a strong self-assertion is the only way to achieve self-protection, and we act on this belief.

    • We deny love and justice.

      We condemn egoism held by love and justice. We believe that mutual understanding, accompanying the human observation that arises from the denial of love and justice, means true well-being, and we act on this belief.

    • We do not choose the way of problem solving.

      We have learned from our personal experiences that easy solutions to problems lead to dangerous compromises. We believe that an endless confrontation is the only course of action possible for us, and we act on this belief.

    ("Ayumi", no. 11. p. 1. 25 October 1970, NAGASE's translation.)

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Copyright (c) 2008 Nagase Osamu

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