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
・ LGBTQ: Osaka has a “LGBTQ Partnership System,” the first of its kind
among the larger metropolitan cities in Japan.
School System in Osaka
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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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
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
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
• 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
• To date, there is no graduate program in social work offered in Japan.
The country puts emphasis on undergraduate education for educating future
• 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
• 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
• What motivates Japanese social workers to enter the
• 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
• 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,
• 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.