1) Social welfare policy in Japan
The broader sense of the term ‘social welfare policy’ in Japan is similar to that of ‘social policy’ in the UK. This terminology has traditionally been used to describe personal social services in the Japanese context. This term can be classified into two domains: personal social services and social assistance run by the state. They have been the most important research areas for the study of social welfare policy.
2) Influence of British social policy studies
Japanese studies of social welfare policy have greatly benefited from British social policy studies since the 1970s. Many works of R. M. Titmuss and T. H. Marshall, for example, were translated into Japanese. For members of the JSSSW, Titmuss’s ideas in social policy, including the concepts of ‘social divisions of welfare’, ‘positive discrimination’ ‘universalism and selectivism’, ‘the social market against the economic market’ and ‘the gift relationship’, have been regarded as analytical tools and/or normative principles of welfare. In the same way, Marshall’s classical theory of historical development of social citizenship has been read by generation after generation.
3) Marxist tradition
In contrast, Japanese social welfare policy studies has traditionally been dominated by a Marxist or materialist approach before accepting the theoretical ideas of the Fabian perspective in the 1970s described above. A famous Marxist thinker Shouichi Kouhashi, who was one of founders of the JSSW, strongly termed social welfare policy as the inevitable product of the economic and social relations of capitalism since 1950s. His theory, however, gradually came to be criticized as a theory of economic determinism.
4) The social welfare management theory
The emergence of a pragmatic or managerial approach to the study of social welfare policy has increasingly become prominent in trying to overcome the Marxist deterministic or metaphysical perspective since 1970s. This approach was termed ‘the social welfare management theory’ (Shakai Fukusi Keiei Ron) and it insisted that studying social welfare policy no longer needed structural explanation and radical change but expected gradual reform by effective and incremental social planning. A promoter of this theory, Fumio Miura, who was one of the introducers of Titmussian inspiration, had successfully removed normative and ideological debates from the study of social welfare policy. His intention in this removal was to deliberately eschew the endless Byzantine debates on social welfare policy studies and rather provide practical theory that made it more fruitful and rationally accountable for policy makers and practitioners.
5) The Japanese model of welfare society
In the 1980s the government of the Liberal Democratic Party (Jiyuu Minshu Tou) had tried to keep welfare schemes small, emphasizing and strongly recommending the meeting of needs by family as part of the informal sector. This conservative policy agenda was called ‘the Japanese model of welfare society’ (‘Nihon Gata Fukushi Shakai Ron’) but it eventually reached its limitation in failure, as traditional family values and norms of supporting or caring for its dependents had increasingly changed due to the considerable diversification of family formation. Some critics argued that the male-bread-winner model of the family had lost its former position.
6) The structural welfare scheme reform
In the 1990s and after, the demographic change and fiscal crisis of the state have witnessed the growth of reformed personal social service policies with the introduction of user-oriented service provision. The establishment of the Long-Term Care Insurance Law in 1997 was the most prominent example. This enabled users and their families to choose care services they needed or demanded through the care management system by exchange of contribution. Care management approaches have overwhelmingly spread throughout service provision in the fields of the elderly, the handicapped and children. These policy modifications are entitled ‘the structural welfare scheme reform’ (Shakai Fukushi Kiso Kouzou Kaikaku), attained through the efforts and commitment of many researchers.
7) Recent issues
Furthermore, social change over the past ten years in this country has seen the growth of new political issues as tasks of the study of social welfare policy: the growing wealth gap between the rich and the poor, inequality of income and health, and social exclusion. The most visible theme in the political area is the problem of social inclusion, by which it is necessary to bring the excluded into (only) the labor market. Many activation or workfare policies for the excluded (jobless persons, working poor and temporary workers) have been introduced since the Democratic Party (Minshu Tou) took power. There has been a great flowering of a new focus of social welfare policy in the past few years: how to introduce and deal with job support for the able-bodied recipients of social assistance. Following this, some researchers have debated the possibility of introducing a Basic Income Scheme and a way to reconstruct the minimum income policy.
1) Early studies of social work theory
The study of social work in Japan historically has been influenced greatly by the western nations, especially the United States of America. Classical social work theories developed in the U.S. were introduced and applied to social work research and practice. In particular, at the developmental phase of social work in Japan during the 1950’s and 1960’s, notable casework books were translated intensively, including those of M.E. Richmond, G. Hamilton, C. Torre, and H. H. Perlman. While these early efforts guided Japanese social work studies and practice in a rational way, there existed a certain level of criticism by Marxists and other social scientists for a lack of consideration of the unique socio-economic and historical context of the Japanese society.
2) Original theoretical developments
Meanwhile, significant theoretical developments were also made by Japanese scholars. Shigeo Okamura was a notable figure who developed an original social work theory, by specifying unique functions of social work within a broader social welfare framework. He insists that social work is applied to solve difficulties in making use of social relations and institutions, and is characterized by 1) social, 2) universal, 3) self-directive, and 4) realistic principles. Later, he further developed a theory of community work that consists of 1) community care, 2) welfare community organization, 3) community development, and 4) preventive social work. Yuichi Nakamura, another pioneering social work scholar, proposed the importance of socially-oriented professional caseworkers by interlocking the social-relational perspective with that of social problems. In his book, "Casework in Public Assistance" published in 1956, the basic principle and method necessary for case work were clarified with the aim of attaining economic as well as human independence of the service recipient.
3) Modern social work theories and their application to fields of practice
Introduction of the system theory and an ecological perspective into social work caused significant effects on social work in the West as well as Japan. These perspectives gave a broader understanding of social work within a global environmental context, and triggered development of generalist social work which integrated practice methods including casework, group work and community organization. More recently, empowerment and strengths perspectives brought forward in the 1990s as well as the post-modern paradigm, have led to the flowering of user-centered approaches. Gensuke Komatsu was one of those who vigorously reviewed and introduced modern social work theories. Many others also investigated theoretical and practical issues of these emerging perspectives when applying them to specific populations and fields of practice, such as the elderly, the mentally ill, children, and the handicapped in various settings of social work.
4) Expanding community care and community-based social work
Community care has been a major trend since the 1970s in many western nations, as in Japan. The aging population has been growing rapidly, and the need for community care has become an urgent national concern. In 1987, the law for certified social workers and care workers was enacted in order to respond to the growing needs of people in need of social care. Accordingly, case/care management gained popular interest among social workers as well as other health professionals. In 1997, case/care management was formally instituted in the public long-term care insurance act for the elderly. Currently, the certified care manager plays a crucial role in supporting the daily lives of the elderly in the community.
Population aging as well as other major social shifts such as urbanization, prolonged recession, and the weakening of family and local ties have caused tremendous changes in the Japanese family and society. Social isolation as well as family abuse and neglect have become visible phenomena, which require community-based social work with an emphasis on networking and advocacy. There is no doubt that not only social work professionals and institutions, but also related individuals and organizations, in both formal and informal sectors, should join and work collaboratively in each community. Currently, there exists a great demand for social work to further develop, coordinate and lead such an "inclusive community care system".
5) Accumulation of social work research and need for evidence-based practice
Due to the innovation of computer technology and advancement of statistical measures, empirical social work studies have been increasingly accumulated since the 1990’s. Needs analysis of various population including the poor, the elderly, children and youth, the handicapped, caregivers and those with special needs have been conducted both at the national and local levels. Social work skills are also investigated in various settings including residential and community facilities. Professional associations such as National Association of the Certified Social Worker, are eager to monitor and evaluate practice of their members, and develop life-long educational programs. Meanwhile academic and professional efforts to establish quality social work have been noteworthy, evidence-based practice should be promoted to secure quality of life of people and professional accountability.