Hogen Fuda - the "Dialect Card"
Published: 1-13-2020

A dialect card (ho̅gen fuda) was a system of punishment used in Japanese regional schools in the post-Meiji period to promote standard speech. It was modelled after similar policies in Europe, particularly the French Vergonha.

During the Edo Period under the Tokugawa shogunate most Japanese people could not travel outside of their home domain. As a result, regional Japanese dialects were relatively isolated and became increasingly distinct. After the Meiji Restoration the government, in emulation of the European nation states, sought to create a standard Japanese speech. A Tokyo dialect, specifically that of the upper-class Yamanote area became the model for Standard Japanese, widely used in schools, publishing, and radio broadcasting. By the early twentieth century, the Ministry of Education and other authorities instituted various policies to reduce or suppress regional differences.

The use of Hogen fuda was most prominent in the Tohoku, Kyushu and Ryukyu Islands (including Okinawa) as they are geographically and linguistically most distant from the Tokyo dialect. The issue is most prominent in regard to Ryukyuan languages as there are groups, such as the Kariyushi Club, which advocate the languages to be officially recognized by the Japanese government as a language (and Ryukyu as a nation). While many mainland regional "dialects" in Japanese are also unintelligible and at least the Tsugaru "dialect" in north is considered just as distinct as Ryukyuan, there is no movement in mainland Japan for regional dialects to be recognized as languages.

In Okinawa, the card was initially voluntarily adopted by Okinawan students at the start of the 20th century, but became mandatory as assimilation policies increased following 1917. A student who spoke Okinawan would be forced to wear the card, until another student also spoke in Okinawan, and then it would pass to the new transgressor, with the student wearing it at the end of the school day punished by the teachers.

"I was just like a regular Japanese student. [A]t home, I spoke Okinawa lingo, and in school, standard Japanese. In those days, we had a policy of trying to encourage everybody to speak standard Japanese. And if you speak Okinawa lingo in school, we used to have demerit tags, hogen fuda.

And it's a shame to have a hanging thing [hogen fuda] all the time until you find somebody who speak the Okinawa lingo, and then pass on. If I ever get one, I used to go behind my friend, kick him from behind. And then he'd yell back in Okinawa hogen [dialect]. I'd say, "Ah, ah, ah." So I report to the sensei [teacher], and sensei passed the tag to him. I guess I was kind of naughty.

So anyway, because of it - this was way prior to the war, of course - the Okinawans spoke so much their own language, when you go to Mainland Japan, they'll look down, like a lower-class of people. So the school policy was, if you want to succeed in your life, you got to master standard Japanese. To encourage that, they had the demerit system of högen fuda if you speak hogen at school."

Takejiro Higa
Read a lot more of Takejiro Higa's Oral History stories

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Mary Goebel Noguchi; Sandra Fotos (2001). Studies in Japanese Bilingualism. Multilingual Matters. pp. 72–. ISBN 978-1-85359-490-8. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
Elise K. Tipton (2 October 1997). Society and the State in Interwar Japan. Psychology Press. pp. 204–. ISBN 978-0-415-15069-9. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
A Community of Memory - Sharing stories of Hawaii and things that amuse me Wednesday, December 12, 2007

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