Our Movement for Promoting the Establishment
of a Sign Language Law in Japan
The Circumstances Around Deaf People in Japan
For over 70 years, the Japanese Federation of the Deaf has, has fought to realize an environment where sign language communication and information access are guaranteed. After the establishment of the country’s first school for the deaf in Kyoto in 1878 (Meiji 11), the number of schools increased to over a hundred across the course of the Taisho (1912 – 1926) and Showa periods (1926 – 1989). The alumni associations of these schools became the foundation for the establishment of groups and national organizations for the deaf, which would become the driving force for bringing the issue of social recognition of sign language to the government.
However, that’s not to say it’s been a smooth road from the time when deaf persons would be scorned with derogatory terms like oshi and tsumbo to now, when the establishment of a law surrounding sign language is now being considered. To begin with, after 1920 (Taisho 9), it became a common misunderstanding in deaf schools that sign language would impede Japanese language acquisition, so many of these schools purposely eradicated sign language from practice. Even so, the children, students, and graduates and deaf schools continued to use sign language for communication. The fact that sign language continued to be used and develop even throughout a period of intense suppression shows the innate human need for language acquisition. In spite of this, over a long period of time, sign language acquisition continued to be put off by deaf education, and deaf people felt a sense of inferiority for using it.