Today I went to observe a meeting of the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. I mentioned going to the open meeting in my diary back in December, and after that I felt that I wanted to see what a normal meeting was like. My original plan was to go in January, but that was the day I had to go to the hospital with Yuriko, so it didn’t happen. Today was the next meeting (they’re normally once per month), so I did go along.
There were a few general announcements, but for the most part the assembly split into two sub groups, the Education and Culture, and Daily Life groups.Â I sat in on the Education group, as I am suddenly much more interested in the educationaly provision for foreign children in Kawasaki.
The representatives apparently go out on “fieldwork” between the meetings, meaning that they go to various official bodies in the city to see what’s actually done. While I suspect that places get advance warning, and thus can clean up their act a bit, it’s still a good idea. This time, they had been to a number of lessons about foreign cultures and discrimination in middle and high schools, and the general opinion seemed to be that the lessons were good.
There was also a lot of information provided by city civil servants, obviously after requests at the last meeting. This was about the city’s school counselor system, and the systems for multicultural education in other countries. The latter revealed the (not terribly surprising) fact that countries with histories of immigration have more developed systems for dealing with the children of immigrants. Of course, this gives Japan the chance to learn from other people’s experience, which is generally a good plan if you can manage it.
The school counselor system was more interesting. Apparently, the city sends counselors to every middle and high school, for eight hours every week. Any students with problems can see the counselor to talk about them. I gather that this is, at least in part, a response to bullying, and suicides arising therefrom. However, the counseling is not limited by subject matter.
The problem, of course, is that it is limited by language. It seems that foreign students who speak Japanese do use the service, and often talk about problems arising from differences in language and culture. There were questions about what the city could do for children who spoke Japanese less well, but the representative said that they didn’t have the budget for either interpreters, or for bilingual counselors. He pointed out, quite reasonably, that such people are quite rare. I’m not sure how this can be solved; while some of the representatives basically wanted the council to throw money at the problem, that’s not reasonable for most of the languages, as there aren’t enough students to require a bilingual counselor on a regular basis. There might be for Portuguese, Spanish, and Tagalog, but most of the Koreans were born in Japan and thus speak Japanese. It is something that should be looked at, though, and that’s the sort of thing that I think the assembly can do well.
As I mentioned before, the assembly is formally established, but it has no authority. The mayor of Kawasaki has to receive its annual report, but he doesn’t actually have to do anything about it. The impression I get is that the city does, in fact, act on the report, but anything that takes more than negligible resources can take several years of campaigning. In a democracy, campaigning on behalf of people denied the vote is never a strong position, so it isn’t surprising that major changes are slow. After all, politicians are more concerned with the wishes of the people who can vote against them. On the other hand, when the assembly brings simple things to the city’s attention, they do seem to get done, and the city does consider major changes (it’s even, apparently, considering giving us representation to go with our taxation).
The next question is whether I will apply to be on the next assembly. Its term doesn’t start until April 2008, so I have plenty of time to think about it, and go along to some of the other meetings before I decide. I am seriously thinking about it, because I would like to get more involved in the local community. After all, this is where our child will be growing up, at least to start with.