Increasing Diversity – Japan vs South Korea

Credit: gabuchan

Lately I have found myself in a slump, whether that be because of Japan or because of my job, I can’t exactly tell most days. It feels like an uphill battle to earn my students’ respect and get my teachers to understand me. I face a lot of narrow-mindedness as an expat, but I know that I have to work to meet ignorance halfway.

That being said, Japan has a long way to go in terms of multiculturalism. Not only that, Japan is a country of traditions, and often that means that new ideas are set aside for the sake of keeping traditions alive. A former history teacher in Japan discusses censorship in Japanese history classes and how it prevents good relations with its surrounding countries. In America, I noticed the opposite as many people are willing to set aside tradition for the sake of progress. I think a balance is where we should settle, but societal pressure complicates things.

I can’t blame my teachers for keeping lesson plans the same for years and years because once a new teacher comes in to learn the ropes, they are given a mentor who looks after them and joins their classes. Usually what I have seen is the new teacher completely forgoing his or her own plans and ideas in order to please the mentor teacher, even after the trial period is over and they are allowed to run their own lessons.

However, lately hope was sparked in me as I started reading articles on multiculturalism in Japan and Korea. It has always interested me comparing cultures and education systems because I want to understand how each works and how each can improve. It’s probably the grad student in me, but I feel like writing a research paper on every topic now.

Jasmine Lee became the first naturalized Korean citizen, and is now a member of the South Korean National Assembly, also the first foreign-born woman to do so. You can read about her amazing accomplishments here and here. One of the most amazing things I learned from reading about Jasmine Lee and the increasingly diverse Korea is that now Korea recognizes dual citizenship, something that Japan has yet to do.

Jasmine Lee – The first naturalized Korean citizen

The ability to hold dual citizenship is extremely important to those who are born to parents of different nationalities and also to those who wish to live long term in another country but do not wish to give up allegiance to their home country. I have many friends who have discussed with me how difficult it is being half Japanese and how a big concern for them is the fact that once they are of a certain age, the government might ask them to choose which passport they wish to hold and which to give up.

One such story is featured on Asahi Shimbun here. It is both exciting to see South Korea make strides in diversity by changing immigration laws and becoming more accepting of international marriages. Japan has a long way to go if it wants to catch up with South Korea on these fronts, but I think it must. Japan has kept it’s doors shut for so long that they don’t see the point in opening them sometimes. Many still protest against Koreans living in Japan, despite the fact that so many of them were born and raised in Japan and sometimes consider themselves Japanese.

Jasmine Lee talks about declining birth rates in South Korea, something that also plagues Japan. However, Korea seems to be more open to foreign-born women following their Korean spouses to Korea in order to start families.

Obama even claimed there was nothing wrong with the Korean education system and that they should continue down the path they are on. However, according to University of Oregon professor Yong Zhao, Obama is wrong. He believes Korea focuses too much on test scores and should reform their education system. Japan has the same problems in this department, but many believe the Korean education system to be superior. One thing is for sure, both Korea and Japan need more innovative learning tactics so that students don’t grow to hate studying. We need to produce long-term learners who are curious critical thinkers.

Of course Japan and South Korea are two completely different countries with different cultures, but in my opinion, music and media has helped spread a more positive image of Korea to the younger Japanese generation. My students study Korean, learn songs from Kpop, and watch Korean dramas. Such exchanging of culture will help the future relations between the two countries, and perhaps the two will be more open with each other. Korean music and entertainment companies certainly do their best to appeal to Japanese audiences, and many groups sing in Japanese and debut in Japan. However, Japanese entertainment companies are severely lagging behind and are losing out on the opportunity to increasing their audience.

I am hopeful that globalization will increase diversity and decrease ignorance. However, much still must be done to provide better resources to foreigners in both countries, and laws and policies need to be revised and updated for the 21st Century.

See Jasmine Lee in action!

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2 thoughts to “Increasing Diversity – Japan vs South Korea”

  1. I love your website and all of your blogs about life in Japan and Korea. The topic of diversity actually was a major part of my thesis dissertation research (two years ago) when I completed my graduate school program in Seoul.

    Korea is certainly becoming more diverse, which I am sure you will see firsthand. I wonder if Japan might follow suit with some of the multicultural policies implemented in Korea.

    1. Wow! Sounds like a good dissertation. I’m in the throws of my final graduate school class. Yes, Korea has always seemed more diverse and accepting than Japan, which is strange, since Japan became developed first. But I think the Japanese are still under the impression that all foreigners are completely alien and have little in common with them. Most of my friends and I mock the attempts the Japanese government has made to make Japan more accessible to tourists. Korea has always been about image, but unlike Japan they never seem to stop improving. Most offices in Japan look like they are from the 80s and too many have the mindset that things don’t need to change. My Japanese friends who travel are worried about their future because they despise the culture that dictates people should never leave their first job.

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