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Hi Blog. We’ve talked numerous times before about GOJ-approved (and other) textbooks in Japan’s primary education (particularly in regards to teaching “morals“), and their issues with racializing “foreigners” and people of diversity in Japan. Here’s the latest version in a new textbook, from Debito.org Reader XY, who is facing an uphill battle in teaching his young child how to view diversity in society. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
Subject: Problematic depictions of race in a dōtoku textbook for first graders
Date: April 26, 2021
To: Debito Arudou <email@example.com>
Today I’m contacting you because I’ve to share something problematic concerning the dōtoku (morals) class taught in Japan’s schools. My child just entered primary school and because of the questionable reputation the dōtoku class gained during the last two decades, I put the dōtoku textbook under scrutiny. As I suspected it didn’t disappoint me and provided two sections I find highly problematic when it comes to race images and relations in Japan.
But first I want to provide the bibliography of the textbook in question.
Shōgaku Dōtoku: Yutaka na Kokoro 1-Nen, Tokyo: Kōbun Shoin, 2020 (“Primary School Morals: Having a Heart Full of Plenty, Year One”, approved by MEXT in 2019) (click on images to expand in browser).
The first two photos are of the cover and the imprint, including a list of authors.
And now to the two problematic sections I found.
The first one stretches from pages 26 to 29.
It shows a story of a lumberjack who lost his axe in a pond. A goddess appears from the pond, shows him a golden axe, and asks him if it’s his one. He declines. Next, she brings him a silver axe, but he declines again saying that his axe is made of iron. The goddess is impressed by his honesty and gives him his iron axe together with the golden and silver ones as reward for his honesty. The neighboring lumberjack hears what happened, gets envious, and wants those precious axes, too. He goes to the pond and throws his axe into the pond on purpose. The goddess appears and offers him a golden axe. The envious lumberjack immediately claims that this is his lost one, but the goddess knows that it’s a lie and disappears, leaving the envious lumberjack without any axe. The textbook then asks the pupils how they feel about the behavior of the envious, lying lumberjack.
The story is a classic and the questions raised are fair enough, but I think the depiction of the characters is literally begging for criticism. The goddess is obviously modelled after something stereotypically Ancient Greek, but that’s not a big deal. To me the problem lies within the looks of the two lumberjacks. While the honest one could pass as an ordinary J-salaryman if you draw him in a suit, the dishonest one looks like a stereotypical Western lumberjack, complete with a very pronounced large nose to convey the “proper” racial stereotype of a white person to first graders. Not very flattering.
The second problematic section stretches from pages 100 to 103.
It deals with a blonde, white foreign girl called Emma from Australia transferring to the class of the protagonist. But if you go on and read the text, you’ll quickly find out that this “foreign” girl (and the text blatantly says gaikoku no hito) from Australia is actually a “hāfu”, having an Australian father and a Japanese mother (tick the box for the stereotype of a white man marrying a J woman).
So, the girl isn’t a gaikoku no hito, at all, but would have Japanese citizenship by bloodline through her mother in the real world. A barefaced, unjust gaijinization of a certain type of birthright Japanese. The story goes on with the description how Emma marks correct answers (with a check rather than the Japanese circle) emphasizing differences and that Emma is not able to speak Japanese properly, yet (tick box for the next stereotype about “foreigner’s” language skills). The story concludes with the typical anticipation of the Japanese girl – the protagonist – looking forward to converse with Emma in English after the start of English classes.
I identified three major problematic points in total:
- Gross gaijinization of a birthright Japanese just because of having a foreign father instead of doing the morally correct thing and teach that the so-called “hāfu” are as Japanese as any “pure” Japanese.
- The claim that Emma is bad at Japanese because of her “foreignness”, which can easily proliferate the stereotype that “foreigners” can’t speak Japanese (properly), even if they have a Japanese parent (and therefore aren’t gaikokujin (or gaikoku no hito, wording that is more about origin than legal status) in the first place).
- A strong focus on differences rather than similarities as human beings no matter what race someone belongs to.
Overall an extraordinarily poor example, sidelining mixed-race Japanese to gaikokujin status and planting this legally false and socially outdated idea into the minds of first graders. A G7 member should do away with the proliferation of such bs. It’s 2021, not 1921.
In conclusion, I think that these two texts sneak in stereotypes into the minds of Japanese first graders that are detrimental to foreigners and international (racially diverse) Japanese. The first one subtly conveys a “foreigners can’t be trusted” kind of message, the second one treats legal Japanese with international heritage as genuine gaikokujin and overemphasizes differences over similarities, and also proliferates the obnoxious gaikokujin = blonde eigojin stereotype.
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