Chicago Shimpo
U.S. Social Work Delegates Report on Visits to Osaka
Covering Various Areas, Contrasting Japan & U.S.

• The U.S. social services professionals who visited the city of Osaka earlier this year shared their observations recently on various aspects of social services in Osaka and Japan.
• The delegates gathered at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago on November 13 to report on their trip, which was part of the Chicago Sister City International’s exchange program led by the organization’s Osaka Social Services Committee.
• Four of the delegates - Caitlin Morris, school social worker serving the Brookfield School District; Hilda Hernandez, Working on Womanhood Program Manager & Youth Guidance; Margaret Miles, Assistant Professor of Social Work at Concordia University; and Ben Walker, Counselor/Case Manager at the Howard Brown Health Center - were present at the occasion.
• The fifth member of the delegates, Cleopatra Watson (Postsecondary Workforce and Success Program Manager), was absent.

• As an introduction, Masami Takahashi (Professor of Psychology at Northeastern Illinois University), who led the trip, gave a brief outline of the city of Osaka:

・ Population: approximately 2.6 million (as of 2015), 25% of which are elderly. This exceeds Florida’s 23%.
・ Welfare recipient rate: 34 out of 1,000 residents, the highest rate in Japan.
・ LGBTQ: Osaka has a “LGBTQ Partnership System,” the first of its kind among the larger metropolitan cities in Japan.

School System in Osaka & Japan
Reported by Caitlin Morris, LCSW

• Japan has a compulsory education system that extends over nine years, up to the U.S. equivalent of the high school freshman year. A majority of the students move on to high school upon completion of the compulsory education. The high school graduation rate is 96.7% in Japan, higher than that of the U.S. at 83%. Many high school graduates choose the path to college.

• Osaka, like Japan, puts high priority on education – school hours in Japan are among the longest in the world, in a stark contrast with the U.S., one of the countries with shorter school hours.
• It is common for young students in Japan to take classes after regular school hours to prepare for the college entrance exam or just extra tutoring. The cost of such additional activities is a financial burden on not-so-wealthy households.
• Japan’s is a collective culture where the members of the society think and act in terms of group. Accordingly, education of the equal level and quality is provided by the government across the nation regardless of the household’s income level.
• According to the report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”), students’ socio-economic status explains only 9% of the variation in their academic performance in Japan, while it explains 17% in the U.S. The average rate of the OECD member countries is 14%.
• A teacher’s salary comes from both the Japanese government and the prefectural government, irrespective of the regional variables such as the average household income and property values.
• Each prefectural government is responsible for hiring teachers, who then are to be assigned to the schools in the prefecture. Their system of teacher rotation – moving teachers around to a new school every three years – benefits both the teacher and the quality of education.
• There are many good teachers in the U.S. as well, but they tend to be attracted to a school in a reputable school district that promises a higher pay. In Japan, teacher’s pay does not vary based on the school’s location.
• In conclusion, Morris noted that it’s important to remember the crucial difference between Japan the U.S. – namely the fact that Japan, being a homogeneous nation, doesn’t have problems characteristic to the U.S., such as ethnic diversity and racial inequality.

Domestic Violence and Foreign Workers in Osaka
Reported by Hilda Hernandez, MSW, QMHP

• In addition to a nationwide domestic violence (“DV”) hotline, Japan has 243 shelters for DV victims across the country. The city of Osaka has four, and the delegates visited one of them, Higashi Sakuraen, a 70-unit living facility for mothers fleeing violence with children.

• Hernandez observed that many children at the shelter suffer from psychological disabilities due to domestic violence, and noted that they would struggle as adults if they don’t receive appropriate support now.
• In order to remove their fear and make them feel safe, the community members provide the children at the shelter with support in many forms. They make sure that the children can go to school safely, for instance, while maintaining a good relationship with the local police.
• After-school programs such as tutoring are also provided by the community members, as well as programs to rebuild trust, including counseling and community-wide open forums to improve support.
• There are also efforts to promote healthy attachments and prevent isolation to empower the mothers.

Immigrants in Japan

• Currently, the immigrant population in Osaka accounts for 4.5%, while the national average is 1.2%.
• The nationalities of the non-Japanese residents in Japan include: Chinese (28.5%); South Korean (17.6%); Vietnamese (10.2%); Filipino (10.2%); Brazilian (7.5%) and Peruvian (7.5%).
• In Osaka, the distribution is somewhat different: South Korean (55.1%); Chinese (27.1%); Vietnamese (6%); Filipino (2.7%); Brazilian (0.7%); and Peruvian (0.4%).

• While public support (primarily from schools) is available for the majority of these minorities, the minorities of these immigrants usually receive no support. The Japanese government, Hernandez points out, does not classify these people as immigrants but labels them all as “foreigners.”
• Those with Japanese ancestry, such as Japanese Brazilians and Japanese Peruvians, are allowed to come to Japan without restrictions, but they are not automatically considered as Japanese residents. They maintain citizenship of their birth countries, and it is rare that they obtain Japanese citizenship.

Progress is slow

• Hernandez noted that Japan’s acceptance of immigrants and ethnic diversity is improving, but the progress is extremely slow.
• Many foreigners in Japan work at food processing factories and live in nearby areas.
• Because they keep close to themselves and speak their mother tongues, the language barrier is often left untouched for them to integrate into the Japanese society. That leads to problems such as isolation and lost learning opportunities for their children.
• Immigrant children’s problems are serious – insufficient language skills (they don’t have a chance to speak Japanese at home though they learn it at school); inadequate understanding of school curriculum (their parents can’t help them there); and failure to pass high school entrance exam or dropout from high school. These problems often result in failure to secure good, stable employment as adults, leading them to follow the same life cycle as their parents.

• What’s needed to tackle these problems? Hernandez suggests: (1) encourage immigrants to obtain Japanese language skills and basic academic ability that’s necessary for high school graduation; (2) encourage them to become a member of the society, to be responsible for the future of the country through promoting diversity; and (3) encourage them to contribute to the population growth and to the society as a whole.

• Such measures may appear simple, Hernandez said, but they are not easy to carry out in a society like Japan, where isolation due to “not being a native Japanese” is always spelled out.

• The director of the Institute for Human Diversity Japan told the delegates that the organization has been providing a “minimum level of support” of tutoring but the attendance is extremely low. It’s because the service is offered in Japanese, not in the native languages of the immigrants. They don’t even know that the program exists.
• Hernandez feels there are a lot to learn from cases like this.
• “[In the U.S.,] we offer support programs in the native languages the individuals can understand,” she said. “When support is not provided in native languages, it constitutes another barrier.”

Social Work in Japan: Education and Training
Reported by Margaret Miles, LCSW

• The delegates visited 17 different organizations in one week during the visit to Osaka.
• Miles was specifically interested in how the people in Japan came to learn about social work and what their motivations were.

• Social work in the U.S. was established during the 1920s as a field in higher education. In contrast, it’s relatively new in Japan.
• The Japan Association of Schools of Social Work was founded in 1955 by 17 academic institutions. As of March 2010, 148 four-year universities, 13 junior colleges and eight vocational schools offer programs in social work.
• To date, there is no graduate program in social work offered in Japan. The country puts emphasis on undergraduate education for educating future social workers.
• In Japan, a social work student studies the subjects prescribed by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and take the standardized national exam to be certified as a social worker, whereas in the U.S. a social worker is licensed by the state. The exam in Japan covers 19 different subject areas, some of which share similarities with those in the U.S.
• As for social work education, Miles observes the 19 subject areas in Japan’s national exam indicate the country takes a more “generalist” approach than “specialist.”
• In the U.S., social work education on the undergraduate-level is more generalistic, whereas it moves further into specialized areas like children and family or mental health on the master’s level.
• It’s worth paying attention to the future development of Japan’s social work education, to see how Japan may provide specialistic education, Miles said.

• What motivates Japanese social workers to enter the field?
• Miles shared the story of a woman who runs a “kids café” that provides meals to hungry children in the neighborhood. She opened the cafe when she came to realize that there was an issue of children coming home from school hungry. In her case, it was her awareness and passion that led to a solution, which is now her life work.
• Another case involves a man who had signed up for a government job, which could have been a street sanitation worker or social worker, and ended up as a social worker as his “assignment.”
• Not everyone in social work in Japan is necessarily in the field because they had personal passion for it. Some were placed on the job without having their say.
• “It’s really interesting how people’s motivation impacted the connection to their work,” Miles said.

• Miles teaches self-care classes for social workers to prevent burnout. Burnout and self-care are terms that the people in the profession in the U.S. are widely familiar with.
• When she talked about them in Osaka, people gave her a “kind of boring stare” that said “what’s burnout?” “What’s self-care?”
• She thinks it comes down to Japan’s work ethic – work extremely hard at whatever your position is. It’s not in the same domain as the American concept of self-care.
• As for the concept of burnout and prevention, Miles observed it may not be well recognized among the people in Japan.

Elderly Care in Japan
Reported by Ben Walker

• Japan is a “super-aging society” - as of 2014, roughly 25% of the Japanese population was over the age of 65, compared to 15% in the U.S. The rate is projected to climb to 40% by 2060. Accordingly, Japan’s health care system and welfare services are highly advanced.
• The other side of the coin is the shrinking population due to the declining birth rate. A serious threat to the country’s future, the low birth rate is attributed to the growing trend among women to pursue careers and the expanding job opportunities for them.
• The shrinking population aggravates the problem of an aging society, pushing up the national budget for elderly care services.
• Shrinking size of households is another cause of the increase in elderly care cost.
• For the old adults living alone, Walker observed a high degree of integration into the local community. That brings value in interdependence between the local community and the aged in it. On the other hand, he didn’t see much of the mental health perspective, which can be commonly observed in the U.S.

• Walker was impressed by the elderly care services and facilities the delegates visited.
• For example, a senior lunch program in Osaka, which is operated by three volunteer teams in the community, offers lunch to local old adults for 500 yen (about $5). Members of the volunteer teams, also old adults themselves, take turns to prepare the meal (quite a feast for 500 yen).
• Care for the elderly with disabilities goes “beyond just elder care” based on what they can do, and considers measures to improve their conditions.
• In bathrooms of a private, government-funded elderly care facility, exercise equipment is installed for those who have fallen to recover muscle strength, in addition to the standard fall preventions. Walker hasn’t seen such “post-fall support” measures in the U.S.
• The facility’s staff - nurses, therapists, counselors and helpers - seemed well supported, Walker added, so that they can provide face-to-face services to their clients.
• They are also well trained and invested that they can eventually manage the facility. This kind of client-oriented service and staff training is not something that can be commonly seen in the U.S., Walker said.

HIV and LGBTQ in Japan

• There are about 28,000 HIV patients in Japan, compared to the U.S.’s 1.2 million.
• The viral suppression rate – the rate of the patients who take medication to keep HIV at a low level - is 70% to 80% in Japan, compared to roughly 50% in the U.S.
• The HIV care facility the delegates visited was previously an organization that had provided counseling and translation services to foreigners with HIV. During the discussion there, the delegates observed the social and cultural stigma attached to HIV and LGBTQ was a major topic.
• Walker noted that attention to HIV among Japan’s general public is low, the common attitude being “it’s a foreign disease.” People’s attitude toward LGBTQ and HIV often is: “Don’t get into it in the first place.”
• Barriers to better understanding of HIV include low emphasis on sex education and HIV prevention, low perceived personal risk, and LGBTQ discrimination, Walker said.

• The LGBTQ population had been visible in Japanese history, but today in modern Japan, they are associated with social stigma.
• Generally, there is no “true religious opposition” against LGBTQ, but there is little legal protection for them.
• In July 2018, the city of Osaka passed a bill to accept same-sex marriage.
• Transgender people are covered by the universal health care, but stigma attached to them is “incredible,” Walker observed.
• Still, there’s a ray of hope in increasingly strong grassroots activities, as seen in the Pride Celebrations and other public demonstrations.


Masami Takahashi


Caitlin Morris


Hilda Hernandez


Margaret Miles


Ben Walker