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Social Work in Japan

Hubert Liu

As with most other Asian countries, in Japan modern social work as a professional concept was introduced by Western countries. In Japan, a modern concept of social work was introduced with the 'movement of civilization' that occurred in the late nineteenth century.1 For more than 100 years, Japan's social work followed Western models, and then after World War II, Japan gradually completed its welfare institution in pensions, health insurance, and medical services. Through these efforts, Japan became the first pioneer of the welfare state in East Asia. But, even though the model of the Japanese welfare state was recognized by many scholars, its substantial function was disputable because of the unbalanced developing welfare system and shortage of professional social workers (Ito, 1995). The lack of balance can be observed in terms of the government's welfare expenditure. Japan's welfare institutions, education, and health care are the dominant parts in welfare expenditure, yet the amounts spent on social welfare services and public assistance are less than in other welfare states. Another difference between the Japanese welfare state and Western welfare states is that the total welfare expenditure of the former is largely lower than the latter. Therefore, in this sense, Japan's welfare institution is a prototype of the 'welfare society',

rather than a Western model of 'welfare state' (Takahashi, 1997).

This argument was popular during a period of time, especially when the traditional European welfare states faced a so-called crisis of the welfare state since the 1980s. However, essentially, Japan's lower welfare expenditure led to its limited financial resources being distributed to certain departments of the welfare system in order to pursue as much 'productivity' as possible. As a result, the model of welfare state in Japan follows the features of welfare productivism, and the development of the social work profession must be seen against this background.

In addition, we have to keep in mind that Japanese social work is not the same as that which can be seen in Western countries. This is because the development of the social work profession is always embedded in a society which, with its specific culture and social context, may be different from one place to another place. Furthermore, the maturity of the social work profession in a society also

1 The movement of civilization in Japan took place in the late nineteenth century and was known as the 'Bunmeikaika', which meant a gradual process whereby the Japanese accepted Western culture, including the institutions, instruments, and ways of thinking. In 1868, Emperor Meiji promoted Meijiishin, which was seen as the official launch of the movement of civilization that greatly improved the progress of modernization. relates to the timing of its introduction and length of development. Meanwhile, the government's and the public's attitude toward the profession are also crucial to the professionalism of social work. Therefore, in order to examine the development of professionalism of social work in Japan, it is necessary to explore the theme according to a historically analytical viewpoint.

In this chapter, we will firstly review the initiation of modern social work

in Japan, and then describe the reestablishment of social work after World War

II. Moreover, several changes and reformations of Japanese social work will be explored, particularly focusing on the rise of accreditation in social work. After rethinking the development of professionalism of social work in Japan, the conclusion looks at the challenges and possibilities for the future.

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