Many studies on attitudes toward persons with mental retardation have been conducted in Japan since World War II. However, because all of these studies were published in Japanese, results have not been widely circulated abroad. It is our desire to introduce these Japanese studies internationally in a brief report. Because Japan has a unique culture, we believe that researchers in other countries will be interested in these investigations.

Japanese people very often distinguish between what they say and actually think (and we have special words, tatemae and honne, to make the distinction). Although these words are not easily translated into English, we can say that the distinction is between tatemae (what one says) and honne (what one actually thinks). What is said is intended to look good. A discrepancy between what people say and actually think might not be specific to Japan. In the United States in the later part of the 1970s, some researchers noticed a discrepancy between survey responses in a Gallop Poll and community opposition to building facilities for individuals with mental retardation (Kastner, Reppucci, & Pezzoli, 1979; Sigelmen, 1976). We have also observed the same discrepancy in Japan regarding community opposition. The difference between Japan and the United States is that such a discrepancy is not perplexing but natural in Japan because people frequently make a distinction between tatemae and honne. Many Japanese surveys show a high agreement about the establishment of residential facilities for persons with mental retardation (Minagawa & Narukawa, 1985; Nakamura, 1976; Sakurai, 1973; Shirai, Fujiki, & Shirai, 1977; Shirai, Fukiki, Shirai, & Tsukahara, 1978; Shirai, Shirai, Fukiki, & Tsukahara, 1979). Independently or despite such “superficial” positive attitudes, there is opposition by neighbors to the construction of local facilities. There has been no systematic research on such opposition in Japan. However, we see many reports in newspapers on community opposition. According to Berdiansky and Parher (1977), the main reasons for opposition in the United States are the impact on property values and safety problems for residents. We were surprised at how honestly residents expressed their feelings in the United States. Although the real reasons for opposition in Japan are not so different from those in the United States, Japanese individuals do not give candid reasons. As a representative example, we can cite the opposition in a district in Yokohama. The reason for the opposition was the possible destruction of the natural environment by the construction of a facility for people with mental retardation (The Asahi, 1997). (Actually, the location of the expected facility was not a special place but, rather, an ordinary site).

We can see an educational environment that reinforces such kinds of distinction in Japan. A survey of elementary school texts in Japan and the United States indicates an interesting fact (Imai, 1990). In the United States, the ability to assert one's ideas is considered a valuable behavior. In Japan, self-assertion is not emphasized as much. Keeping a good relationship with others with a “tender attitude” is a more important and desirable behavior (see Imai, 1990, for details). Teaching students how to have good relationships with others with a tender attitude, without emphasizing an importance of self-assertion, may promote the distinction between tatemae and honne, in which self-assertion is not needed for achieving a good relationship with others. Keeping this cultural climate of Japan in mind, we discuss the findings in Japanese studies about attitudes towards persons with mental retardation.

Findings by Japanese Investigators

Starting Point of Japanese Studies

In the United States and European countries, studies on attitudes toward persons with mental retardation were stimulated by the normalization movement and deinstitutionalization efforts. Thus, a number of studies were conducted in the 1970s. In Japan, Zentokuren (1962) published a study in the early 1960s, following the pioneering work of Kondo and Hata (1957). Zentokuren is the most important of the studies conducted in the 1960s. (Zentokuren is the abbreviation of the Japanese name of a nationwide organization, The Japan Teachers Association for Children With Intellectual Disabilities.) The survey was conducted nationwide with a large number of respondents: 9,166 parents of children without mental retardation who go to elementary or junior high schools. An example of the type of question used was “Do you wish to avoid involvement with persons with mental retardation, though you have sympathy for the people and their family?

Another nationwide study was conducted (N = 4,700) by the association (Zentokuren, 1965). In this study, the people surveyed were pupils in elementary and junior high schools. The survey included such questions as, “What do you think of children in special education classes?”

Such an early start for attitude studies was not due to the pressure of the normalization movement. The financial supports by the government for creating special classes in schools was increased in 1957 in Japan. As a result, the number of special classes increased rapidly. This increase in the number of special classes might have stimulated early studies aimed at dealing with difficulty resulting from the creation of special classes in general schools. The purpose in conducting these studies was to determine how to create a more positive attitude toward persons with mental retardation. Japanese researchers often say that our educational and psychological research studies are copies of those from the United States and European countries. However, with regard to the present topic, researchers responded to Japanese needs instead of replicating important studies from other countries. We not only started attitude studies earlier, but also conducted such a distinctive study using such a large sample (Zentokuren, 1962, 1965) that there is no comparable research in other countries. Ito and Tagawa (1967) asked Japanese people about the causes of mental retardation and whether they would be willing to marry a person who has a family member with mental retardation. The question on marriage has been employed repeatedly by other investigators. In our recent study we found that this question was the most important and indispensable one in Japanese studies (Tachibana & Watanabe, 2002).

Items Making a Great Discernment in Attitude Differences

An interesting finding was obtained in the United States. Harth (1981) showed that questions about areas in which the respondent was not personally involved did not show differences in attitudes toward both educable and trainable children with mental retardation, whereas answers to questions about areas in which the respondent was personally involved did reveal differences in attitudes towards both groups of children. Different responses to the same question were also found in different groups. Hazzard (1983) found no differences in questions regarding knowledge about persons with mental retardation between groups formed on the basis of whether group members had contact with individuals who have mental retardation. However, attitudes of the two groups differed in responses to a social distance scale. Hastings, Hewes, Lock, and Witting (1996) reported that the impersonal question about persons with mental retardation did not produce differences in response between a group whose members who had a training course and a control group. With regard to this problem, Japanese investigators have long called attention to such differences in responses made by children before investigators in the United States and Europe.

These studies include Zentokuren (1962), Nakamura (1968), Morita (1972), and Shirai et al. (1977). They found that one kind of question (“Do you wish to avoid involvement with persons with mental retardation, though you have sympathy for the people and their family?”) induced a highly positive attitude towards persons with mental retardation and another kind (“Do you think adequate financial assistance is given to persons with mental retardation?”) induced a very negative one: For such differences in responses, Nakamura used the terms tatemae and honne, respectively. Other researchers used other terms for these responses: response to “ego-involved” questions, which induced a negative attitude (Zentokuren, 1962); responses indicating knowledge about socially disability for questions that induced a positive attitude (Morita, 1972); response to questions regarding “thoughts,” which reflected a positive attitude, and “reality,” which resulted in a negative one (Shirai et al., 1977). Nakamura (1976) indicated as a general trend that items most strongly distinguishing between the “positive groups” and the “negative groups” were those that lead to a honne response. On the other hand, questions that lead easily to a tatemae response did not succeed in making distinctions; for example, Nakamura indicated, furthermore, that the positive group people were positive in response to both tatemae and honne questions. On the other hand, the negative group expressed positive responses to tatemae questions and negative attitudes to honne questions. The same pattern of response differences was also seen between a noncontact group composed of people who have no contact with individuals who have mental retardation and the “volunteer group” (people in Narukawa and Yasukouchi's, 1992, study).

Gender Differences

Internationally, it is well-known that girls express more positive attitudes than do boys (see the review by Rosenbaum, Armstrong, & King, 1988). In Japan, on the contrary, such distinctions have not been obtained. Inoue et al. (1979) did not find gender differences in answers to almost all questions administered to high school students, except for the issue of having a future desire to help to provide social services for persons with mental retardation. Several investigators discussed their results without reference to gender difference (Kifune, 1986; Morita, 1972). The failure to refer to gender effect may be the result of no differences by gender.

With regard to international studies in which adult respondents, including university students, were interviewed, adult females did not exhibit positive attitudes as frequently as did younger females (Beh-Pajooh, 1991). Some researchers did not mention gender differences at all (Sigelman, 1976). In Japan, many investigators did not find gender differences among adults in the general population. Kondo et al. (1957) did not find a gender difference among parents of students without mental retardation nor did Nakamura (1976) among university students. On the contrary, Zentokuren (1962) showed that fathers expressed more positive attitudes than did mothers, although the extent of the difference was not large. Nakamura (1992) demonstrated interesting results in adult gender difference. He found gender differences only to questions related to ego-involvement, and females showed more negative responses to the questions. There are a few Japanese studies in which researchers examined females' more positive responses to impersonal questions (e.g., Morita, 1972; Shirai et al., 1977). Some contrary results were reported by Narukawa (1995). He found a clear gender difference (i.e., females had more positive attitudes toward individuals with mental retardation across all factors obtained by his analysis). We believe that Narukawa found these exceptionally high positive results for females in this study by Narukawa because he employed questions mostly related to personal issues and asked about socially desirable attitudes.

Effect of Contact

The effect of contact with persons who have mental retardation has been thoroughly studied. Many researchers have found that positive attitudes (see Sandler and Robinson, 1981, for a review). Some authors are skeptical that such positive effects exist (Sandberg, 1982). Japanese researchers obtained similar results. Endo and Yamaguchi (1969), Morita (1972), Shimizu, Takahasi, and Shirakawa (1982), and Kifune (1986) showed the positive effect of contact on attitudes of pupils in schools with special education students. On the other hand, some investigators indicated a reverse effect of contact. Itoh (1997) pointed out in his review that some studies indicated that attitudes of pupils without mental retardation who go to school with special education students were more negative than those of pupils who go to school without special education students. In other words, school contact with children who have mental retardation did not always have a good effect on children without mental retardation.

Educational Level Differences

In Japan, Zentokuren (1962) demonstrated a positive relation between educational attainment and attitudes toward persons with mental retardation. It is reasonable to infer that as people become better educated their responses become more complex and sophisticated, although there are no published data to confirm this supposition. In other words, persons with higher education might have adopted a more complex behavior (i.e., socially desirable behavior) in responding to questions than persons with a lower educational level, who might speak candidly about what they really think. Shirai et al. (1978) found that males expressed more positive attitudes than did females in response to questions concerning “thoughts.” In our opinion, this finding might be explained more rationally. Adult males were inferred to have more education than did adult females in the study. In short, persons with more education gave more positive responses to questions related to socially desirable behavior.

Age Differences

As Rosenbaum et al. (1988) showed in their review of research, age had a complex effect on the attitudes. In Japan, Zentokuren (1962) found that attitudes became more negative with advancing age (from 20 to 50 years of age). Minagawa and Narukawa (1985) showed that younger people (teens and those in their 20s) showed a more positive reaction to a factor they called Coexistence, and older people showed a more positive reaction to a Cooperation factor. Morita (1972) found that junior high school students expressed more positive responses than did pupils in elementary school. Taking into account the complex results obtained in studies performed in other countries, we cannot clearly conclude that age has an effect on attitudes. However, taking into consideration the large sample size of the Zentokuren (1962) study, in which the authors found a clear relationship of attitudes with age differences, we can say there was a negative relation among adults, at least between the extent of favorable attitudes toward persons with mental retardation and the ages of persons without mental retardation.

A Unique Study

There is an important study that cannot be grouped into a type of study reviewed in the present paper. Furukawa (1978) performed a sociological study on adults with mental retardation who lived in a small fishery village. The author described a kind of utopian community for persons with (at least mild) mental retardation. In the village, males with mental retardation worked with persons who did not have mental retardation and had married. Females with mental retardation married or were supported financially by their relatives. The attitudes of persons without mental retardation towards those with mental retardation were very accepting, and although they were well aware of the difference, they seemed not to care. This is a most important point. The author analyzed why such an acceptable situation for persons with mental retardation was possible. He stated several points: The job was not too difficult for persons with mental retardation, so they are able to work together; there was a feeling of equality among village people, which had been maintained for generations; they felt that they shared a common blood relationship to each other; there was no competition among people due to the cooperative work in fishery. This study is unique and very interesting, even from an international viewpoint. Usually, in such a rural community, life should have undergone drastic changes during the rapid economic growth of Japan. We have no information about the village after the research had been conducted. Although the article has a relatively long English summary, we hope that the entire article will be translated into English with additional recent information about the village.

Unique Educational Practices

Regarding the education program supported by the Japanese Ministry of Education (called kouryu gakusyu, which means programs of joint activities), there are many reports called jissen kenkyu (practicing or practical research) conducted by teachers in elementary schools or nurseries. These are not usually published in academic journals (for some examples, see the review by Itoh, 1997). Many jissen kenkyu reports are a type of replication of the United States studies in the core area that is being addressed. On the other hand, there are some unique studies, which are conducted by an allied group of teachers. Some background information might be helpful for the introduction of the studies. The group of teachers (Aoki, 1995) are critical of the kouryu gakusyu being conducted as the major education program at the present time in Japan. They believe that (a) pupils do not necessarily understand people with disabilities solely as a result of contact with them, (b) pupils without mental retardation who participate in such a program as kouryu gakusyu may have only a superficial understanding about the children with disabilities and their accompanying social problems, and (c) children without mental retardation need guidance in addition to the contact experience in order to acquire a deeper understanding of children with disabilities. This group of teachers have proposed a program called “education for understanding people with disability.” Their idea is to emphasize respect for human rights for all people, including those with disabilities. (Although some might consider it needless to state respect for human rights, Japanese people generally are strongly conscious of duty, and they are somewhat lacking of a sense of their own rights mainly because they have been under an absolute monarchy for many ages.) These teachers propose to teach medical knowledge regarding individuals with disabilities and provide information about social problems that these people face. Pupils are expected to learn the “Declaration of the Rights of the Child” (UNESCO), “the agenda of the International Year of Persons with Disability,” etc. Pupils also listen to talks by, for example, people with disabilities, mothers of children with disabilities, volunteers for people with disabilities. We can see some examples of the curriculum content for elementary school in Aoki (1995) and junior high school in Fujimori and Yahiro (1995). In order to demonstrate what the children have learned from the program, the authors extracted part of a composition on the subject written by pupils and did not discuss the overall or averaged features pupils wrote about, including unfavorable examples. This is a very weak approach to assessing the benefits of the program because it is open to the criticism that the authors may have arbitrarily taken a favorable example from the composition and did not discuss the overall or averaged features pupils wrote about, including unfavorable comments. This weakness of their reports does not necessarily mean the education program itself is weak. Reports in which investigators used a more scientific approach to evaluating this program are expected in the future.

Future Studies

The Japanese studies on attitudes toward persons with mental retardation were performed mostly in the 1960s and the 1970s. In the 1980s, trials of the kouryu gakusyu as an education program were started, and these produced many studies (jissen kenkyu) on the effects of these programs, most of which, however, were not published on academic journals). In the 1990s, our society has changed from the 1980s. The idea of normalization has become widely known. The kouryu gakusyu and other educational programs designed to improve understanding of people with disabilities have been administrated more widely in schools. The movement of people with mental retardation from institutions to group homes has started (Watanabe, Mita, Horio, & Takahashi, 1998). Media campaigned repeatedly for the “International Year of Disabled Persons.” However, there are only a few Japanese studies concerning attitudes towards people with mental retardation published in academic journals after the 1980s. New survey studies with new ideas are expected to be conducted, and they should be published in international journals.

NOTE: References in which the title is bracketed refers to a paper written in Japanese. For readers who have no knowledge of Japanese language, we translated the Japanese titles into English. They are not necessarily translated word by word and were done without the authors' permission. Thus, these titles may not be literal.

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Author notes

Authors:Toshiaki Tachibana, PhD, (roku@inst-hsc.pref.aichi.jp), Head, Experimental Psychology Laboratory, Division of Behavioral Science, and Kanji Watanabe, PhD, Director, Division of Social Service, Institute for Developmental Research, Aichi Human Service Center, Kasugai, Aichi 480–0392, Japan