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Assumption Minoo, Japan : To open oneself to the reality


..To open oneself to the reality …
to go over and beyond textbook knowledge…
An Educational Activity of the Social Studies Department of Assumption - Minoo

Osaka’s Kamagasaki district rarely makes the news. And as Japan’s largest slum — the name does not officially exist anymore.
Approximately 25,000 people are there. Geographically this area is near the urban center, however far from the modern image of Osaka which is the second largest city of Japan. Now the country’s tallest terminal building looks down on this district and its residents. Kamagasaki is a nameless place with people in the society.
Since Japan’s post-war rapid economic growth, and particularly in the 1960’s, Kamagasaki has been a destination for the poor, in the hope of work as a day laborer. And Airin Labour and Welfare Center is a key location and gathering point. Always some older men sit and wait with all their goods ; each and every one of them patiently hoping that the day will be a good one, and that they will get some work.

But at the same time, it is a place filled with humanity amidst extreme poverty.
Yet in its terrible poverty, Kamagasaki has a distinct sense of community, along with an openness rarely found in the big city. People smile and talk with each other. They share their food just bought by the earning of a day’s work. People always look out for one another.

The students have their study tour in this district once a year. The object of this activity is to see the reality of the society and understand human rights. The staff of the social studies department has made the plan and started this project since 26 years ago. The girls learn about this day laborers town and join the activities to support them as they volunteer, to go for the midnight patrol or the service of giving free meal.
We give this experience to the girls as the opportunity to understand human dignity. From their textbooks, the students learn that “human rights is the universal right which all people have” and “to respect human rights” means “to respect others as human beings”. However, here in KAMAGASAKI, there is a big contradiction : homeless people who cannot get a job because they are aging or injured by an accident… Sickness and unemployment cause economic depression. People live by the free meal they get once a day and the aluminum cans or cardboard boxes that they can gather for recycling (but the income for this is not enough to get a meal for the day).
When the girls see this reality of our society, they are confronted with the big question that challenges and even contradicts what they learned from their textbooks. At the same time the girls recognize in themselves that they also have their prejudices about homeless people and the place of KAMAGASAKI. They notice that people here are human like themselves but that their human rights are not respected.

This year, they joined the service of giving free meals as part of the volunteer group. There were more than 400 people who were waiting for this service while at the background one can see the modern beautiful shopping building.
After this experience one of the social workers gave them a conference in the Assumption Sisters’ house. This opened their eyes to the reality and the prejudices that people in general have (including themselves) and helped them understand better what is at the heart of this social problem, the impoverishment. He shared about the old people who cannot walk to the place of the free meal ; the man who died while waiting for the free meal ; especially during the winter, the reality of the death was always very near to them.
Then he guided the students to the immersion experience. They saw and felt the severe reality of the old, day laborers’ life. After this experience, they shared with each other their feelings and recognized the prejudices that they had before.

I would like to mention the reason why we continue with this educational activity. Now the Japanese government is carrying out the project to develop artificial intelligence (AI) to be able to reach the standard level for the entrance examination of the national university (it means very high intelligence level). However, one scholar said, “AI cannot go over or beyond the humane, because the humane has the ability to imagine the invisible that the letters do not express. I think that we, humans, have the capacity to imagine and the insight to go into the words. The students have learned so much more than the words --- “this district of the day laborers, KAMAGASAKI”, “the homeless”. We hope that the girls continue to develop this capacity to read over and beyond the words and see the presence of the humane who live together in the society.

Hiroyuki OKAMOTO
Social Studies Department Teacher of Assumption Minoo


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