The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

NPO helps intl kids integrate into Japan

- By Ikuko Higuchi Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Agrowing number of children in Japan have foreign roots, with one or both parents having a non-Japanese background. Such children can o en face societal challenges, such as having to learn Japanese, and some observers say there is a lack of support systems.

Hiroko Kobayashi, who has headed a nonpro t organizati­on (NPO) that has helped nurture such young people for more than 20 years, recently spoke with

e Yomiuri Shimbun about the status quo, and how we can help children with internatio­nal background­s.

Kobayashi was born in 1948 in Aichi Prefecture. A er raising three children, she began volunteer work with kids in around 2000. Five years later, she founded with colleagues a Tokyo-based NPO called Minna no Ouchi — meaning “home for everyone” — and became the organizati­on’s leader in 2017. Since 2019, Kobayashi has served on the Tokyo metropolit­an government’s committee for intercultu­ral cohesion.

According to Justice Ministry statistics, as of the end of 2021 there were about 2.76 million non-Japanese living in Japan, hailing from 194 countries and territorie­s around the globe. Of them, about 294,000 were age 18 or younger. About 95,000 children had Chinese roots, followed numericall­y by children from Brazil, the Philippine­s, South Korea and others.


Hiroko Kobayashi: Our organizati­on runs Kodomo Club Shinjuku, an evening study class for elementary and junior-high school students with foreign roots. About 25 children gather to learn Japanese, English, math and other subjects from volunteer teachers, including university students. O en, these kids

nd it di cult to stay up to speed with regular school classes, but their records gradually improve as they attend our lessons.

e children have various internatio­nal background­s: Some were born in their parents’ home countries, then traveled here with their families, while others were born in Japan to non-Japanese parents. A number of other children have a Japanese parent and a non-Japanese parent. ere are also youngsters being raised by non-Japanese mothers who have separated from Japanese spouses. If the mother can’t speak Japanese very well, the child’s Japanese vocabulary can su er and they o en also struggle to become pro cient in the mother’s native language.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: According to a survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, there were about 58,000 elementary, junior high or high school children who needed special lessons in Japanese in

scal 2021 — a 70% rise on scal 2010. About 10% of such children do not receive support at school.

Kobayashi: For example, some children understand the word “kuroi” (black) but not “kuroppoi” (blackish). Others may not know such ower-related expression­s as “shibomu” (wilt, wither) or “guttarisur­u” (wither, languish). As a result, they struggle to stay abreast of classmates from early in elementary school.

eir vocabulary may be limited, but they can speak Japanese well. at’s why

the teachers and children o en don’t realize there’s a problem, and teachers can think that a child’s poor academic performanc­e is down to not working hard enough. If we do nothing, it’s highly likely such kids won’t be able to graduate from high school and become independen­t. We continue to run our evening classes because we don’t want such people to live in poverty in Japan.

Yomiuri: About 500 children ranging in age from fourth grade elementary schoolers to third year junior high schoolers have attended your organizati­on’s evening classes. In 2017, you opened the Ibasho Minna no Ouchi facility for children, which they can use as a place for study or interactio­n.

Kobayashi: Some children may appear to be Japanese and have Japanese-type names. But they can o en feel as though there is a wall around them because of di erences in their home environmen­ts.

Some children with a foreign background have worries that are particular to themselves. For example, some who have come here from another country start to wish they could live here permanentl­y because the country is safe and clean. But it can be extremely di cult for them to obtain a full-time working visa, even though they understand Japanese customs and can speak Japanese

uently. If such children can eventually work here o cially, it would be bene cial to them, and Japanese society. ere are no o cial statistics, but I believe there are many such children. I hope the government will consider what it can do for them.

Yomiuri: Your organizati­on has held a foreign-picture-book reading event for Japanese parents and children at a library in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, for more than 10 years.

Kobayashi: Last scal year, the event

featured books from Myanmar, ailand and the Philippine­s. We asked mothers of students who had completed our classes to read out books from their countries. Our graduates and library sta workers then translated the stories into Japanese and relayed the meaning.

e mothers say they really love this experience; it seems that they can gain con dence by taking part in Japanese society using their own languages. It’s important for them to contribute to society as part of the workforce but also to be part of something that respects their cultures.

Yomiuri: Many people from Ukraine are coming to Japan due to Russia’s invasion of their country.

Kobayashi: Support for Ukraine is certainly important, but we must remember there are many other foreigners living in Japan. We can buy various products and enjoy a number of reasonably priced services thanks to workers with foreign background­s who work low-paid jobs at bento boxed lunch factories, cleaning rms and other places. I’d like more people to be aware of this.

Looking ahead, Japan will increasing­ly have to rely on people from overseas. If they can live happily here, then society will remain stable. If there is a foreign person living near you, I hope you will have some interactio­n with them. Small deeds by each and every individual will lead to a cohesive intercultu­ral society.


It’s common now to see non-Japanese people working at convenienc­e stores or restaurant­s in Japan. However, having a more internatio­nal population does not necessaril­y lead to intercultu­ral cohesion. Kobayashi’s words make us keenly aware of the need for everyone to be open and accepting. (July 29)

 ?? The Yomiuri Shimbun ?? Hiroko Kobayashi speaks to The Yomiuri Shimbun.
The Yomiuri Shimbun Hiroko Kobayashi speaks to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

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