Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)

Christians living in Ikuno (Osaka) have been doing ecumenical local action together in their localities for more than half a century. This time I selected to introduce briefly here the history and activities taken place in Ikuno that I consider unique in Japan.

The local activities of Ikuno with regard to human rights and the registration system for foreigners are well known. Such activities started at the beginning of 1970 when a group of Christians held prayers meetings for Christian unity. While praying and sharing opinions together with regard to the realities going on, they realized that there was a need to study about their local situations, so in 1975 the "Study Group for Local Activities in Ikuno" got started. But people found out that the local residents needed to be also included and thus the name of the group was changed to "Local Activities Social Gathering". Again in 1977, the 8 Christian churches in the region came together to establish the "Ikuno Council for Local Activities".

The Ikuno Council", since its establishment, focuses its activities on the local problems of the region, like human rights violations, education and welfare. All various Christian denominations work together in those fields, and there are also changes in their commitment following the arrival of new times.

This is clear, for instance, when one looks at matters regarding human rights, where in 1970 they rose in campaigns to demand the abolition of nationality discrimination to obtain public housing or to enter private schools. Such movements opposing the removal of discriminations resulted in obtaining the rights of the people.

The following is a list of the main events. In 1980 Christian churches worked efficiently against the foreign registration law and in 1984 the Executive Committee against Fingerprints was established. Later on, thanks to the increase of persons and groups supporting the issue, a National Organization, called the "National Christian Coalition for Issues Related to Foreign Registration Law", was organized in 1987. All such efforts resulted in the full abolition of the system of fingerprints in 1999, as we might recently recall.

Since 1990, as a result of newcomers and of the increase in the numbers of overstaying foreign workers, the Center for Legal Support of Koreans opened at the Korean Christian Center (KCC). The Center works for the improvement in the working conditions of foreigners and provides legal advice to newcomers who came to marry and live in Japan.

Christian groups adapt themselves to answer local needs in the fields of education and welfare. For instance back in 1977, when there were no literacy classes for Koreans living in Japan, the "Ikuno Omoni Hakkyo" school was started, and again in the 1980s, when youth delinquency became a local issue, training programs for youth leaders were organized with the support of Christians. In the 1990s, the "Ikuno Liaison Camp" was organized once a year to promote exchange programs for children of the region.

In the field of welfare, one example is the "Ikuno's Children Home", a welfare institution run by the Franciscans for disabled children at Ikuno's Catholic Church since 1973. A new workshop opened in the 1980s to give training to graduates of the children's home, and later on, in the 1990s, the Lebens Schule institution provided rest to those disabled people tired from work. Every year many disabled children and volunteers spend time in the mountains doing reforestation work under the sun and spiritually refreshing themselves.

Besides this, from the 1980s the Ikuno Ethnic Festivals were organized and they became part of the local community events. They are not held nowadays, but a new FM radio station, established in the 1990s, transmits cultural local programs.

I just mentioned here some of the main local activities of Ikuno, according to the passing of times. Since they are ecumenical, each Christian denomination tries to make the most of its own characteristics, answering the needs of each locality and times. They cover a vast field of activities and I hope people can understand that, year after year, the content of their programs widely expands. Now, Ikuno is a region where different cultures live together, and, as a result, ecumenical groups that get together provide a model for common action programs.

This time I had to limit myself to offer a small portion of all activities. I hope to introduce some other time several different activities going on at Ikuno.

I want to thank Fr. Willehad Zinnecker for his kind cooperation in preparing this article.

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