JWhat is Dowa education?

1 Definition of Dowa education


Dowa literally consists of two Chinese characters; "“¯ (Do-)" (pronounced "doh"; meaning "same") and "˜a (-Wa)" (pronounced "wa"; meaning harmony). The term "Dowa(“¯˜a)" was coined by the Japanese government during the Second World War in the early 1940s in an attempt to foster harmonious relations among soldiers. Buraku soldiers were discriminated-against by non-Buraku soldiers, and such conflicts were regarded as impediments to efficient mobilization of the military forces. The message about Dowa was given in the name of the Emperor, indicating "All soldiers are the Emperor's offspring (same), so you should keep cooperative relations (harmony) rather than being antagonistic toward each other."

The concept of Dowa originated in this way with a strong orientation toward assimilation under military rule. It has been widely employed as an official government term to refer to administrative policies and services related to Buraku issues.

The Buraku movement expressed its opposition to such usage by putting Dowa in parentheses like ".u“¯˜a.v" or by using "Kaiho Kyoiku" (liberation education) instead of Dowa education. Recently, however, the Buraku movement began to add a new identity to Dowa education as one pillar of a broad-based human rights education initiative in Japan. Consequently, Dowa education is more frequently referred to without parentheses these days.

In a nutshell, Dowa education today is an umbrella concept referring to all forms of educational activities, by both the government and the movement, for solving problems caused by Buraku discrimination. The problems are many: prejudice against Buraku; lower academic success of Buraku children; lack of self-esteem, etc. The difference between the government and the Buraku movement lies in the strategies they employ for the solution.

For government institutions, Dowa education means a segment of educational policy to cope with existing discrimination against the Burakumin. They include: 1) Improving educational facilities and services in Burakumin-enrolled schools; 2) Assigning additional (kahai) teachers to such schools to provide compensatory education; 3)Providing support for community activities of children, youth and adults; 4) Giving special financial aid to Buraku students; and 5)Distributing special curricular materials to teach about Buraku history and government measures.

For the Buraku movement, Dowa education means a set of educational strategies for democratizing the whole society to attain true equality of opportunity for Buraku and other oppressed populations. The objectives include: 1) Attaining parity in the level of educational achievement and in the rate of enrollment in secondary schools and in higher education institutions; 2) Developing critical literacy and sound learning capacities for Buraku children; and 3) Promoting community involvement in setting up school agenda.

The government and the Buraku movement differ in their definition of Dowa education. Is Dowa an assimilation of Burakumin into the existing social hierarchy? Or the creation of friendly interpersonal relations between Burakumin and non-Burakumin? Or does it mean a process of societal transformation to achieve non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all? Answers may vary depending on the perspective of what is really meant by "liberation."

Put another way, Dowa education can be divided into "Dowa education as human rights" and "Dowa education about human rights." The former deals with issues of school enrollment, school achievement and educational opportunities in general, while the latter is concerned with school curriculum and teaching efforts to change prejudiced views and to enhance human rights awareness.

Let us now turn to Buraku discrimination briefly before going into substantive discussions of Dowa education.


Discrimination against Buraku and Buraku people shall be referred to as Buraku discrimination in this booklet.

Buraku is a Japanese word referring to "village" or "hamlet." The word began to acquire a new connotation after the Meiji government (1868 - 1912) started to use "tokushu buraku" (special hamlet) in reference to former outcaste communities. The intention was to distinguish former outcaste communities clearly from ordinary villages. We may say that the government was partly responsible for the continuation of Buraku discrimination.

Almost a century has passed and the word "buraku" is generally recognized today as having to do with Buraku rather than a hamlet.

Buraku people or Burakumin ("min" refers to people) are the largest discriminated-against population in Japan. They are not a racial or an ethnic minority, but a caste-like Japanese minority. In Japan rigid social stratification has been characteristic, and the criteria of national membership have been finely tuned. In this cultural context Burakumin have suffered from social ostracism and struggled to liberate themselves.

They are generally recognized as descendants of outcaste populations in the feudal days. Outcastes were assigned such social functions as slaughtering animals and executing criminals, and the general public perceived these functions as "polluting acts" under Buddhist and Shintoist beliefs.

Although members of outcaste populations had actually been warriors, peasants and artisans, they came to be recognized as a different "race" as time passed after the status system was established in the early Edo era (around the 17th century) in the form of a "four class (warrior, peasant, artisan, merchant) plus outcaste (Eta, meaning filth-abundant people, and Hinin, meaning non-humans)" system.

Therefore, the discrimination against Burakumin is often characterized today as "racism within the same race" because they are native Japanese and indistinguishable from non-Buraku populations. Still, however, Burakumin are sometimes perceived as a different "race."

It is quite a difficult challenge, therefore, to define who is a Burakumin. A leading historian once defined Burakumin as "those people who were born, brought up and living in Buraku; those who were not from Burakumin family but came to live in Buraku in the recent past; or those who are living outside Buraku but have blood relationship with Burakumin."

However, there are many Burakumin who meet the criteria but are not perceived as Burakumin. In a way, it is non-Burakumin who determines who Burakumin is: "Burakumin are those who are believed to be Burakumin by non-Buraku people." To be more precise, we need to define how one becomes a Burakumin. This is a very tricky aspect of Buraku identity.

According to a 1987 government survey, there were about 4,600 Buraku communities and 1.2 million Burakumin. We argue, however, that the numbers should be more: about 6,000 Buraku and 3 million Burakumin. The difference is due to the method of counting used by the government. The government only counts the number of districts and populations receiving improvement measures by the government, while our estimate figures cover those who are actually or potentially subjected to discrimination regardless of whether they live in a Buraku or not.

We may say that the Buraku population accounts for about 2.5% of a Japanese, constituting the largest minority population, followed by a 1% figure of non-Japanese populations roughly 1.3 million, including about 0.7 million resident Koreans. In addition, there are about 50,000 Ainu people, an indigenous population in Japan.


Buraku discrimination has usually been discussed in terms of marriage and employment. Marriage has symbolized the act of allowing the entry of members of one family into another. Company recruitment has often been compared to marriage; being recruited to a company is like becoming a member of that corporate family. In Japan, where the concept of family has had such cultural implications, Burakumin have faced frequent refusals, though increasingly of an indirect nature recently, when they tried to enter "other families" Just because they were recognized as a "different, polluted breed" Actually, a number of Burakumin have committed suicide when faced with discrimination in marriage. Many promising Buraku youngsters with high academic achievements have been rejected by major corporations just because they were Burakumin.

It is important to note here that discrimination refers not only to its apparent forms but also to its hidden forms, including the Buraku perception of future opportunities as being narrow and limited as well as prejudiced views of Buraku people.

We encourage you to refer to other publications on Buraku issues in general for detailed discussions.


After the Second World War, the Japanese Constitution and the Fundamental Law of Education both ushered in a new era of democracy in Japan. The education system was democratized and the language of democracy was advocated throughout school curricula.

However, a disproportionately large percentage of Buraku children were not attending schools until the late 1950s. In other words, the basic principle of equal educational opportunities was not a reality for many Buraku children.

Concerned teachers, though small in number at the beginning, repeatedly visited Buraku homes to encourage their children to come to school. They found out that severe poverty discouraged Buraku parents from sending their children to school because the children helped earn a living and were indispensable as baby-sitters, too. More importantly, however, the teachers began to recognize that Buraku parents and their community had low expectations of the benefits of schooling against the background of past oppressive treatment of Burakumin in schools and limited opportunities offered even to academically successful Buraku students.

Those harbingers of grass-roots Dowa education challenged the contradictory nature of democratic education after the war. They argued that democracy and principles of non-discrimination should not just be spoken about but must be lived in reality. The government responded to the demand by initiating programs to offer financial aid and other support services toward the end of the 1950s.

In this way, grass-roots Dowa educators have constantly challenged such notions as "equal educational opportunity" and "democratic education." A national organization to promote Dowa education at the grass-roots level was founded in 1953 and named Zendokyo (National Federation of Dowa Educators' Associations).

In the 1960s and 1970s when full school enrollment had been attained for Buraku children, school curriculum reform became the next agenda. The Dowa education movement, promoted by a coalition of Buraku organizations, educators, parents and civic groups, began to demand that Buraku issues and history be taught effectively in schools and that opportunities be opened for more Buraku children to go to high school. As a result, school textbooks started to carry stories and references about Buraku history and issues, and the gap in the rate of advancement to high school was rapidly narrowed by 1975.

Through the 1980s and since, the major focus of Dowa education has been to improve Buraku home and community educational environments, to elucidate motivational processes for Buraku children, and to develop an anti-discrimination and human rights awareness-raising curriculum.

The important lessons learned from past efforts is that it is not enough to provide better school facilities, more teachers and more financial support for Buraku children, that it is not enough to provide more books and educational stimuli at home, and that it is not enough to tell stories of sad experiences of being discriminated against repeatedly in classes to invite sympathy and empathy with those who are discriminated against.

Dowa education now has to design (1) effective methods to improve Buraku children's sense of pride and self-esteem, (2) approaches to motivate them to challenge the limit of their potential so they can participate in a wider world of opportunities, (3) stimulating ways to encourage non-Buraku children to think of Buraku and human rights issues not just as others' business but as important matters to help enrich their mind, perspective and interpersonal sensitivities, and (4) effective curricula to educate a human rights-conscious generation of youngsters.