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Japanese Deaf Culture

By Matthew Wallace


Japanese Deaf Culture

Living in Japan for a year and a half, one will quickly begin to see the differences and similarities of the East Asian culture to their own. The same is true of the Deaf and their culture.

Japanese Sign Language culture and recognition of the Deaf community is younger than that of America (Nakamura, 2007). In fact, through government programs and recognition, Sign Language education is only just now beginning to be encouraged, and through this, a nation-wide culture is finally being allowed to coalesce (Nakamura, 2007). Something I have noticed in my own time in Japan is the speed at which cultural differences are integrated into the Japanese way of life. In other words, because of it's homogeneous history and isolated geography, the Japanese tend to shirk away from that which is different. It is for this reason, I have been told, all Japanese children must have black hair to be allowed into public schools. The same isolationism is true for the recognition of the Deaf. "Japan is a late developer of Deaf educational opportunities," having only started compulsory education following World War II (Monaghan, 2003). It is also for this reason that the older Deaf generations are socially isolated than those of the current generation, having had little education and socialization previously (Monaghan, 2003). Moreover, Japanese Sign Language (from hereon referred to as JSL) is not used in hearing Elementary Schools. "Signed languages are ‘permitted' to be used, but only in the middle and high school levels and only as an aid to Japanese-language materials" (Monaghan, 2003). Because of the close association with JPL in a Japanese Public School, JSL follows Japanese language word order and grammatical forms more than ASL (Monaghan, 2003).

Also with each country or group of people and it's culture, there is a difference between the young and the old. In Japan's Deaf culture a few years ago, following High School graduation, Deaf children would search out a group of Deaf on their own. But now, with the pressure of going to a top-tier High School (in Japan, High School and College's importance is reverse to that of America), Deaf schools are seen as non-Academic, and thus entices the younger Deaf generation to go to a hearing institution. "...[K]ids go to mainstream schools and might never meet a deaf person" (Monaghan, 2003). But perhaps most surprising of all is that some of Japan's Deaf are isolating themselves: "predominantly young people identify as hard of hearing or hearing impaired...over ‘deaf' and do not join deaf groups. Why are younger deaf avoiding the traditional deaf organizations" (Monaghan, 2003)? The Tokyo Association of the Hearing Disabled, formerly known as the Tokyo Association of the Deaf, changed it's name solely to attract the youth that did not refer to his or herself as Deaf (Monaghan, 2003). It is important to note that not every Japanese youth has denounced, or failed to identify, with Deaf. What is known as U-Turn Deaf, some are returning to Deaf schools because it is where their friends are and ultimately how they identify themselves (Monaghan, 2003). Or in the case of "Deaf Shock," people who never identified themselves as Deaf are connected with Deaf groups and are harshly awakened to find a part of their identity they did not know they had (Monaghan, 2003).

JSL may have sprouted a unique culture different from ASL, but in some ways is very similar: "...[I]n [their] respective cultures, Deaf individuals tend to be more direct than their hearing peers" (Mindess, 2007). However, the differences are the most noticeable, both cross-culturally: With importance on separating public and private spaces, the Japanese Deaf would likely avoid video phone calls because Japanese people would never allow someone to see the inside of their homes (Mindess, 2007). And inter-culturally: For the hearing, the Deaf are seen as too direct, and their questions more probing than what they are usually asked in usual spoken society (Mindess, 2007). But it is the differences that make each Deaf culture so unique, and the struggles of being accepted nationally are the challenges that unite the whole of the world's Deaf.


Mindess, Anne. "Is Deaf Culture Universal?" Cultural Detective. Cultural Detective, 2007. Web. 20 Aug. 2011. <>.

Monaghan, Leila F. "11: U-Turns, Deaf Shock, and the Hard of Hearing: Japanese Deaf Identities at the Borderlands." Many Ways to Be Deaf: International Variations in Deaf Communities. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University, 2003. 211-27. Google Books. Web. 20 Aug. 2011. < books? id=aUIqOlcbZ6QC&pg=PA211#v=onepage&q&f=false>.

Nakamura, Karen. "About Japanese Sign Language." The Deaf Resource Library. The Deaf Resource Library, 18 Feb. 2007. Web. 20 Aug. 2011. <http://>.

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