Before reading the experiences

First of all, I’d like to tell you about the participants and their words.

Linguistic and cultural minorities

The people represented here live in Japan, where they are linguistic and cultural minorities. Linguistic and cultural minorities are people whose languages and culture are non-dominant within the region in which they live.

Languages in Japan

When we think about people studying Japanese, we usually imagine students studying hyōjungo, or “standard” Japanese, but in a country that stretches wide from north to south, we also find the languages of the Ainu and Ryukyu peoples. In addition, Japanese languages also include the many wonderful regional dialects, each with its own sounds and usages that are distinct from hyōjungo, through which distinctive customs and cultures are passed down.

Various forms of non-verbal language

On the other hand, people who communicate without relying on hearing or sight have their own communication tools such as Japanese Sign Language, Sign Language for Japanese, and Braille. Sign language, in particular, is a language unique to people who do not rely on hearing, and uses hand movements and facial expressions instead of sounds. The language of sign language, like any other language, has developed alongside a distinctive culture.

Japan: Home to many languages

Japan is home to many people who use languages other than Japanese. As of the end of June of the first year of Reiwa (2020), the number of foreign residents, including immigrants who come to Japan through marriage or work and so on, international students who enter Japanese universities to study Japanese or specialist disciplinary knowledge, reached about 2.83 million, the highest ever (2019, Ministry of Justice). As of 2016, it is said that there are 297,000 people with hearing impairments (Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 2018).

  • Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (2018) “Summary of results of the 2016 survey on the difficulty of living (national survey on the actual conditions of children with disabilities at home)”
  • Ministry of Justice (2019) “Regarding the number of foreign residents as of the end of the first year of Reiwa”

The many languages and cultures of Japan

In this way, Japanese society, which has always been rich in terms of language and culture, is now becoming more diverse due to the increase in foreigner residents.

Obstacles faced by those who can’t speak Japanese

However, people who do not use Japanese in Japan are minoritized. And, unfortunately, it’s a reality that minorities embedded in this culture who use languages other than Japanese find it difficult to live in Japanese-speaking society.

Sharing the realities of hardship

The purpose of sharing the experiences of these people in their own words on these pages is to—even in a small way—empower people in similar situations, and share knowledge and promote understanding among those people whose situation is quite different. I hope that the act of reading these experiences can have various uses for you, including getting to know others, and learning Japanese itself.