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Rethinking of the Professionalism of Social Work in Japan

Yoshimura (2009) points out that although there was no national social worker licence before 1987, Japanese social welfare legislation had many titles for defining the status of social work employees. Table 2.3 shows the major titles of social work employees before 1987.

As above, we can find that the labor market of social work in Japan was composed of less-educated workers. In addition, a social welfare director might not have any background in social work training: As long as they can pass the competitive national exams, laymen can become welfare officers. This is another reason why the Advisory Council of Social Welfare in Tokyo City severely criticized poorly qualified workers in social welfare agencies and insisted on the introduction of accreditation for the social work field (Yoshimura, 2009).

After the 1990s, the rise of accreditation of social work continued and expanded to other welfare fields. The enactment of the CSW-CCW Law in 1987 encouraged psychiatric social workers in hospitals and psychiatric institutions. The Psychiatric Social Work (PSW) bill was proposed by the Mental Health Section, the Department of Welfare of Handicapped Persons, MHW, and was eventually enacted in 1997 but not without controversy. Even though the enactment of the PSW Law was highly disputed, the law itself was accepted by many hospital social workers and this legislation marks a further step towards professionalism in social work in Japan.

However, even though the certification of social work has increased since the end of the 1980s, the professionalization of social work still faces various challenges. Firstly, as mentioned above, the social worker who takes the national exams in order to obtain a social work licence has not necessarily studied in the college of social work. Moreover, knowledge about social work and social welfare is of no use when taking the national exam for licenced social work: English and
law are more important. Secondly, the social worker, who is supposed to be trained in a professional way, is not preferred by the peculiar Japanese bureaucratic system.

Table 2.3 Major Titles of Social Work Employees before 1987

Titles of Social Work Employees

Social Welfare Director (Shakai Fukushi Shuji)

Welfare Officer (Fukushi Shi)

Counseling Worker (Sodan In)

Guidance Worker (Shido In)


Social Welfare Service law in 1951

1. Child Welfare Law in 1947

2. Law for the Welfare of Mentally Retarded

Persons in 1960

3. Law for the Welfare of Physically Handicapped

Persons in 1949

1. Law for the Welfare of Mothers and Children in 1964

2. Law for the Welfare of Physically Handicapped Persons

MHW Ordinance

No.18 in 1966

(The Minimum Requirements about the Equipment and Administration of Relief, Correctional, Rehabilitation, and Sheltering Institutions)


Government officers who are constituted the core of social welfare workers in government sector

The welfare officers were allocated to welfare offices at prefecture governments to treat hard-to handle cases with highly technical treatment (Bureau of Social Affairs, 1981; Kuroki,

1951: 117–18)

The counseling worker seems to correspond to caseworker in contemporary American terminology (Yoshimura, 2009)

Japanese legal statements are quite ambiguous to the guidance workers. Even though the social service institutions have to employ guidance workers for helping client's behavioral corrections, they cannot utilize public resources or have formal jurisdiction over the clients.

Requirements (One of the following)

1. Accredited three subjects in college education

2. Short-term in-

service training

3. Accredited continuing education

1. Special educational programs accredited by the MHW

2. BA in sociology, education or psychology

3. Physician

4. Two-year work experience as SWD


1. Accredited three

subjects in college

2. Short-term in-

service training

3. Accredited continuing education

Source: Compiled by the author
In Japan, the rotation system, which is practiced among Japanese civil servants, is a crucial personnel policy. Under the rotation system, all Japanese officers on the basic level are trained as a part of the clerical sector in order to exchange to other sectors in the future. Usually clerical workers are reassigned to other sections every three to five years and these exchanges sometimes take place between extremely different sections. For example, a government officer may be relocated from the social welfare section to the civil affairs section. Okouchi (2000) argues that the personnel administration in Japanese government organizations presupposes the employment of laypersons.

Therefore, workers in Japanese bureaucratic organizations are not supposed to be experts in specific fields. Instead, they are expected to have high degrees of flexibility so as to fit into any section in the organization (Yoshimura, 2009). Because of this a professional social worker may not be the proper person for working within this personnel policy. It is more likely than not that a professional social worker would resign because their career cannot be continued under the rotation system. Undeniably, this personnel policy is a disadvantage to cultivating the professionalism of social work in Japan. Thirdly, the career development within social work is segmented and enclosed. There is a gap between the government and private sectors and mobility beyond sector boundaries is almost completely non-existent (Yoshimura, 2009).

Although a licenced social worker may have practical experience in the private sector, such as hospitals or corporations, the only way for them to work in the public sector is to pass the uniform recruitment examination which has an age restriction. In addition, the rigid personnel administration policy constrains mobility between local governments in the public sector. Consequently, social workers and welfare officers are enclosed in the internal labor market, which is divided into numerous segments. This is also the fatal point at which social work practitioners in Japan failed to develop an integrated organizational movement, as well as failing to form the profession across the public sector and the private sector.

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