As Japanese society diversifies with an influx of foreigners, multicultural education has a critical role to play in achieving educational equity and affirming cultural diversity of students from various cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds. Since the 1980s, Japanese scholars and educators have introduced, interpreted, and reappropriated multicultural education from the West, and have developed the field in conjunction with different education genres (e.g., human rights education, Dowa education, Zainichi Korean education, and education for international understanding). Scholars often use the term multicultural coexistence education (tabunka kyosei kyoiku) to discuss the role of education to realize a society of multicultural coexistence. Contemporary debates and controversies regarding multicultural education focus on the “3F” (namely, food, festival, and fashion) approach, the absence of social justice perspectives, its narrow scope, and the invisibility of majority Japanese.
Although the concept of multicultural education was imported from the West relatively recently, when the number of newcomer students increased in public schools during the early 1990s, Japan has its own versions of multicultural education, such as Dowa education and Zainichi Korean education. These forms of multicultural education policies and practices, which were primarily developed in the Kansai area, take a somewhat progressive approach toward achieving educational equity and reducing discrimination against minorities. Today, multicultural education is often associated with education for newcomer students.
Although the national government has provided remedial education (e.g., Japanese language and adaptation classes) under the notion of equal treatment, numerous nonformal education sites have played critical roles in achieving equity and empowering newcomer students. Multicultural education policies and practices remain peripheral in Japan at the national government level; nevertheless, grass-roots movements have emerged where local governments, nonprofit organizations (NPOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), concerned teachers, researchers, minority youth and parents, and community organizers are attempting to transform assimilative education policies and practices into more equitable and inclusive ones. With the rise of multicultural coexistence (tabunka kyosei) discourse, Japanese society is taking incremental steps toward achieving the goals of multicultural education.