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Participation as a Key Concept in Modern Japanese Youth Work

1. Theory of Youth Participation: 1970-1980s

Participation of young people was discussed frequently in the late 1970s in Japan. In 1979 the Youth Problems Council, which is one of the advisory bodies to the Prime Minister's Office, published a report entitled Young People and Participation. [1] In this report participation implies more than merely building a system of participation in a formal way. Participation is instead seen as a process for young people to willingly take on roles for themselves and to have a sense of participation in the group or community, creating a new society through voluntary involvement. Examples were shown of gradually increasing youth participation in families, peer groups, schools, and working places, as well as groups and associations, communities, the nation, and the international community. Jiro Matsubara, one of the drafters of the above-referenced report, explains that youth participation starts with a membership stage, subsequently developing into further stages of reference, participation, commitment, and service. [2]

Haruhiko Tanaka has criticized Matsubara's report in stating that the report does not reflect whether Japanese society is really an attractive society in which young people actively wish to participate, and the report does not provide any examples of critical participation of the society. [3] Hitoshi Mashiyama argues that the report is not based on the rights of young people and give them only duty to serve community and the nation. [4]

Shuhei Araya has commented on Tanaka and Mashiyama's papers. Araya summarizes that though Mashiyama proposed participation as a right of young people, he indicated that adults should request that young people participate actively in common works and projects of the adult society. Tanaka stated that the central issue of participation was how we provide the channels of participation for young people who have not yet taken any action but have a desire to participate. Araya said theories of participation of this period had the view that adult society involved young people in activities which were designed to be done with adults, even if they were pro-institutional or non-governmental. [5]

2. State of Participation of Young People in the 1980-90s

In the 1970s youth organizations and childcare agencies campaigned for increased youth participation by encouraging them to become members of these organizations. Every youth organization gained membership gradually in the 1970s thanks to this campaign. But the growth stopped in the 1980s and memberships stood still or declined somewhat. For example, the Boy Scout Association of Japan had a membership of 181,000 in 1970, growing to 332,000 in 1983 at its peak. But after that membership dropped to a reported 269,000 in 1990 and even further to 228,800 in the year 2000. One of the reasons for these membership declines is the decrease in the number of Japanese children, due to birth rates that have been gradually declining since 1973. Another notable reason is that young people tend to be disinterested in the group activities or group work approach of youth organizations.

The rate of participation in voluntary activities was reported as one in ten, or approximately 10% in the 1980s. [6] According to a more recent survey in 1996, this rate was observed to be 14.9% in teenagers and 13.7% among people in their twenties. This rate was fairly stable during the period. [7] However, activities regarding development cooperation and international exchange have proved to be especially popular among young people, and numbers have occasionally jumped when natural disasters struck, such as the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.

Since the 1980s young people have been leaving group work. Most group activities request or require members to follow some kind of rules or restrictions in order to participate in that activity. For young people who have no difficulty following these rules, group work can be a pleasure. But for others, there may be little or no attraction in joining a group and then being forced to follow its rules and regulations. When young people choose group work activities, they rely on the programs and ethics provided by adults or the organizations. Japanese society in the 1980s moved beyond the traditional main concept of youth organizations: endurance, order and service. Japan had reached the affluent society in the 80s, and the country was losing the incentive to catch-up with the West, which was a primary national purpose since 1868 and the Meiji Restoration. Japanese society has lost its basis used for organizing and grouping young people. Young people themselves perceive these changes in social purposes. [8]

Yoshitomo Tsutsui points out that youth culture has diversified since the 1980s, because young people's interests have become increasingly varied, and also due to the availability of many tools through media. He says that the circle culture was the major culture among youth until the 1970s, and it has turned out to be less important since the1980s. Young people today enjoy other activities such as comics, games, the Internet, and street cultures. [9]

3. Convention on the Rights of the Child and Harts' Participation Theory

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was adopted in 1989, recognizes children as developing citizens, and stressed that their voices should be heard in the decision-making that affects their lives. CRC sets universal standards for the protection and development of children, which have been easily undervalued compared to the rights of adults. The main concept of CRC is the best interest of the child, and it contains four major rights of the child; right of survival, right of protection, right of development, and right of participation. The biggest change is that the child is not only an object of protection, but also has the right and ability of participation. The first three principles of rights - survival, protection, and development, are the established rights of the child, and were set as goals to be realized since the Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924. On the other hand, the last right - right of participation - is the new right that contains a drastic change in relations between children and adults. The new rights of participation were articulated in freedom of expression (Articles 12 and13), freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Art.14), freedom of assembly (Art.15), and so on.

Some resistance and obstacles to realizing the right of participation of the child can be noted in both developing countries and industrial countries which are considered established democracies, because this right suggests a basic change in concepts of adulthood and childhood. The Japanese government joined CRC in 1994, but the country is somewhat hesitant to implement the right of participation and its legal basis is not well established. Kawasaki city government enacted the Children's Rights Act in 2000 for the first case in Japan, but it is a lengthy process for other local authorities to consider and pass this kind of legislation.

Roger Hart published a book entitled Children's Participation in 1977 with the help of UNICEF. He reviewed practices of children's participation in the area of environmental education worldwide, and proposed some theories and suggestions for effective participation. [10] There are three major points in this book. First, he proposes a model of participation as the ladder of children's participation Chart 2. In this model, there are five degrees of participation and three degrees of non-participation. This model has become popular in youth work and childcare. Secondly, Hart connected children's' participation with environmental education. A child's world is the space where they live their daily lives, a distance of about one kilometer between their home and school, though the distance varies according to their age. It is important for children to identify problems and resolve them in this sphere. The process itself is environmental education and leads to community development. Hart stresses that children should be the main actors to solve global environmental issues, because they know the community where they live the best.

Thirdly, Hart proposed a method for this process as follows: children start by identifying the problem, with an analysis of the identified problem following. Then they begin planning for solving the problem, and take actions toward implementing potential solutions. After an evaluating and reflecting process, if they succeed in solving the problem, they will move on to the next problem. If they failed, they will conduct further planning considering revisions or address a new problem. By doing this, children are expected to benefit from good relationships with adults in the community. Children will be given a sense of effectiveness rather than powerlessness, and will become good change agents in dealing with social problems in the future. Harts' theories on children's participation give us valuable hints for future practices in implementing children's rights of participation.

4. Conclusion

There are five points to be discussed regarding participation of young people. First and foremost, participation of young people leads inevitably to fundamental changes in the rights of adults and children. Education and youth work in the past were mainly supported by a system based on paternalistic authoritarianism. It will be a central issue whether the adult community can accept a drastic change away from such a system.

The second problem is the needed change in adult educators and youth workers. To maximize effective participation of young people, new approaches of working with youth are required. The old style of teaching, which aimed young people at attaining certain goals set by adults, should be changed. Educators and youth workers will adopt the role of supporter, facilitator or coordinator, rather than teacher, instructor or caretaker. Appropriate training of the facilitator will be important.

Thirdly, new support system roles should be implemented, especially in the public and private sectors. Governments are building upon a bureaucratic and authoritarian system, and they have never included any system which includes children's participation. The public sector accomplishes its roles best and most fully when society has a certain clear goal. But Japanese society since the 1970s has lost such a clearly defined goal, and people's needs have diversified. In these circumstances, NPOs will work well to find individual needs, and support and address those needs. As for youth work, NPOs will work better for young people. We should also seek effective and beneficial relations between the government and the NPOs.

Fourthly, we should discuss how we approach various kinds of youth cultures. If we ignore their cultures, participation will be nominal and mere tokenism. But youth culture changes over time, making it difficult for adults to accurately know and effectively work with them.

Finally, when we seek to increase the participation of young people, it is crucial to redefine the age of majority. Japanese laws define the age of majority as 20 years old. We should consider revision of the Juvenile Law and the Election Law, but discussions on this matter have not yet started.

[1] Seishonen Mondai Shingikai, Seishonen to Shakai Sanka (Iken Gushin), Sourifu, 1979.
[2] Haruo Matsubara, Nihon no Seishonen - Seishonen Kyoiku no Teisho, Tokyo Shoseki, 1978, p.187-189
[3] Haruhiko Tanaka, Gakkougai Kyoiku Ron, Gakuyou Shobou, 1988, p.134.
[4] Hitoshi Mashiyama, Kodomo Kenkyu to Shakai Kyoiku, Aoki Shoten, 1989, P.176
[5] Shuhei Araya, Gakkougai Kukan ni Okeru Wakamono no Jikokeisei, Master thesis of University of Tokyo, 2001, p.4
[6] Haruhiko Tanaka, Gakkougai Kyoiku Ron, Gakuyou Shobou, 1988, p.115-116
[7] Kokumin Seikatsu Hakusho Heisei 12 Nen Ban, Okurasho Insatukyoku, 2000, p.15.
[8] Haruhiko Tanak Hen, Kodomo Wakamono no Ibasho no Kousou, Gakuyou shobou, 2001, p.3-5.
[9] Haruhiko Tanaka Hen, Kodomo Wakamono no Ibasho no Kousou, Gakuyou shobou, 2001, p.144.
[10] Roger A Hart, Children's Participation: The Theory and Practice of Involving Young Citizens in Community Development and Environmental Care, UNICEF, New York, 1997.

Haruhiko Tanaka, Rikkyo University (2002) "Participation as a Key Concept in Modern Japanese Youth Work": Child Research Net. Retrieved Jul. 23, 2004, from the World Wide Web
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