Staff profile

Professor Kaori Okano


College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce
Humanities and Social Sciences
Department of Language and Linguistics

HU3 235, Melbourne (Bundoora)


BEd, MA, PhD

Membership of professional associations

Association of Asian Studies (US); Asian Studies Association of Australia; Japanese Studies Association of Australia; Comparative and International Education Society (US); Japan Society of Sociology of Education (Japan); Australia and New Zealand Comparative and International Education Society

Area of study


Brief profile

Kaori H. Okano is a Professor in Asian Studies/Japanese in the School of Humanities. She researches and writes on sociology/anthropology of education, youth, women and multiculturalism in Asia (especially in Japan); and on comparative education.

Kaori’s monograph, Young women in Japan: Transitions to adulthood (2009, Routledge) received an “Outstanding Academic Title of the Year 2010” award from the American Library Association. The book is part of a longitudinal ethnography tracing the same group of women from 17 to 30 years of age (1989-2001), a sequel to her 1993 book, School to work transition in Japan: An ethnographic study. The study is ongoing, with the next sequel examining middle adulthood.

Kaori has published extensively on how education reproduces/ameliorates social inequality. Her book, Education in contemporary Japan: Inequality and diversity (1999, Cambridge University Press, co-authored with M.Tsuchiya) was later published in the Malay language (2004, and reprinted in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009). Kaori has edited three books: Language and schools in Asia: Globalization and local forces (a special issue of Language and Education, 2006), Minorities and education in Japan (2011, Routledge, with R. Tsuneyoshi and S. Boocock) and Asia Education Handbook (2011, Routledge, with Y. Zhao et al).

Kaori is an editorial board member of two international journals, Language and Education: An International Journal (Taylor & Francis, UK),  Globalisation, Societies and Education (Carfax, US), and The International Education Journal: Comparative Perspective (Australia). She has been affiliated with Kobe University and Waseda University as a research fellow during her sabbatical years. Originally from Japan, Kaori began her professional career as a secondary teacher of Japanese and Asian Social Studies in Sydney and New Zealand in the 1980s, prior to completing a PhD and joining La Trobe. At La Trobe she has taught subjects in Asian Studies and Japanese.

Kaori is the President of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia (JSAA).

Kaori was the convenor of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia (JSAA) 2015 Conference, to be held on 30 June - 3rd July 2015. The Conference website is at:


Research interests

Gender, Culture, Sexuality

- Class-gender-ethnic identity

Social and Cultural Anthropology

- Education and social inequality (class, ethnicity and gender)

- Ethnography of schooling

- Longitudinal ethnography

- Multiculturalisms and education in Asia and Japan

- Non-formal education and civil society

- Sociology / anthropology of education in Japan

Teaching units

  • AST1IJI : Asian Studies - Introduction to Asia: Japan and Indonesia.
  • AST2MMA: Asian Studies - Making of Modern Asia.
  • AST3CIA: Asian Studies - Critical Issues in Contemporary Asia
  • AST2/3 UJS: Asian Studies 2/3 – Understanding Japanese Society.
  • JPN4007, JPN4008 (Japanese)

Recent publications

Books (1993-)

Journal articles and book chapters (2006-)

  • Okano, K. (accepted), “Education of new migrants and the civil society in Japan: Non-governmental organisations and ethnic schools”, In In Khun Eng Kuah & Jason Eng Thye Tan (Eds.), Educating marginilized communities in East Asia: State, civil society and NGO partnerships. Routledge.

  • Okano, K. (accepted.) Transnational migration and urban education in Japan. In Pink, Willian T. & Noblit, George W. (Eds.) International handbook of Urban Education. Springer.

  • Okano, K. (2016b). Nonformal education in Japan: Its interface with formal schools’ in Okano, K. (ed), Nonformal education and civil society in Japan. London: Routledge. Pp.1-16.
  • Okano, K. (2016c). ‘The Changing relations between “schools for foreigners” and formal schools in Japan’, in Okano, K. (ed), Nonformal education and civil society in Japan. London: Routledge. Pp.109-132.
  • Mackie, V., Okano, K., and Rawston, K. (2014a) ‘Japan: Progress towards diversity and equality in employment’. In Klarsfeld, A., (ed.)  International Handbook on Diversity Management at Work: Country perspective on diversity and equal treatment. 2nd edition.Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar. Pp.137-161.
  • Okano, K. (2014b) ‘From “internationalisation”’to “multicultural co-living” in Japanese schools’ in Steele, S., Stevens, C. and J. Breaden  (eds) Internationalising Japan,  New York: Routledge.Pp.53-67.
  • Okano, K. (2014c). ‘Researching race/ethnicity and educational inequality in Japan’, In Stevens, P. and Dworkin, G. (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Race and ethnic inequalities in Education. New York: Palgrave. Pp.422-449.
  • Maeda, K. and Okano, K. (2013a) Connecting indigenous Ainu, university and local industry through the Urespa Project. The International Education Journal: Comparative Perspective 12(1): 45-60.
  • Okano, K. (2013b). ‘Indigenous Ainu and Education in Japan: Social Justice and Culturally Responsive Schooling’, in Craven, R.,  et al (ed.)  Indigenous Peoples: Education and equity, Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing. Pp. 3-25.
  • Okano, K. (2013c). ‘Ethnic schools and multiculturalism”, in DeCoker, G. and Bjork, C. (eds.) Japanese Education in the Era of Globalization: Enduring Issues in New Contexts. New York: Teachers College Press. Pp.85-100.
  • Okano, K. (2012). Language and citizenship in education: Migrant languages in government schools. In N. Gottlieb (Ed.), Language and citizenship in Japan (pp. 58-78). London: Routledge.
  • Okano K. and Tsuneyoshi, R. (2011c) ‘Introduction: An interactive perspective for understanding minorities and education in Japan’, in Tsuneyoshi, R., Okano, K., and S. Boocock (eds).  Minorities and education in multicultural Japan: An interactive perspective. London: Routledge, pp.1-26.
  • Okano, K. (2011d). ‘Overview of long-existing minorities and education’, in Tsuneyoshi, R., Okano, K., and S. Boocock (eds). Minorities and education in multicultural Japan: An interactive perspective. London: Routledge. pp.29-43.
  • Okano, K. (2011e).’Ethnic Koreans in Japanese schools: Shifting boundaries and collaboration with other groups’, in Tsuneyoshi, R., Okano, K., and S. Boocock (eds),  Minorities and education in multicultural Japan: An interactive perspective. London: Routledge, pp. 100-125.
  • Okano, K. (2011f) ‘Adaptive learning at the global periphery: Cultural overview of education in Japanese civilization’ , in Yong Zhao, Jing Lei, Guofang Li, Ming Fang He, Kaori Okano, Gamage David, Ramanathan Hema, Megahed Nagwa (eds.). Handbook of Asian education: A cultural perspective. New York: Routledge, 183-198.
  • Okano, K. (2009b) 'Education reforms in Japan: Neo-liberal, Neo-conservative, and “progressive education” directions', in David Hill (ed.) The rich world and the impoverishment of education (Volume 4 of Global Neo-liberalism and education and its consequences). New York: Routledge, pp. 238-258.
  • Okano, K. (2009c) 'School culture', in Yoshio Sugimoto (ed.) The Cambridge companion to modern Japanese culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 92-112.
  • 岡野かおり (2009d)「学校教育での生徒たちの経験:マイノリテイ」ローレンス マクドナルド編 『世界から見た日本の教育』東京:日本図書センター 
  • Okano, K. (2007) 'Career adaptability: Transition from school to work in non-college bound adolescents in Japan', in Vladimir Skorikov and Wendy Patton (eds) Career development in childhood and adolescence, Rotterdam: Sensepublishers, pages 295-311.
  • Okano, K.H. (2006b) ‘The global-local interface in multicultural policies in Japan’. Comparative Education 42(4): 1-19.
  • Okano, K. (2006c) 'Introduction: Globalisation and local forces'. Language and schools in Asia: Globalisation and local forces, Language and Education 20(4): 263-269, a special issue.
  • Okano, K. (2006d) 'The impact of immigrants on long-lasting ethnic minorities in Japanese schools: Globalisation from below'. Language and schools in Asia: Globalisation and local forces, Language and Education 20(4): 338-354, a special issue.

Research projects

Current projects

  • Beyond formal schooling: Non-formal education and civil society in Japan. Kaori leads a team of international scholars to produce an edited volume with the above title, examining learning in the civil society, the private sector and local governments, and the interface between formal schooling and non-formal education. 
  • Sociology of education in Japan This is a  monograph project which updates her 1999 book, Education in contemporary Japan, focusing on major changes in the last decade. She has a contract for this book with Routledge, with the tentative title, Schooling in Japan: Transnationalism, multiculturalisms and social inequality. 
  • Middle adulthood: a longitudinal ethnography. Kaori is working on the third phase of the longitudinal study on growing up in Japan, sequel to two previous books. The first one is School to work transition in Japan: An ethnographic study (1993) which covers 1989-1990, followed by Young women in Japan: Transitions to adulthood, (2009a) which covers up to 2001. The current phase of this project examines 2001-2015 (middle adulthood, ages 30-45), which she intends to publish as a monograph.
  • Longitudinal sociolinguistic study of non-standard language variations and change: Working class women’s language in Japan 1989-2013. This is an interdisciplinary collaborative project with Melbourne-based sociolinguists:  Lidia Tanaka (La Trobe), Shimako Iwasaki (Monash University), and Ikuko Nakane and Claire Maree (Melbourne University). The study analyses a series of conversations that Kaori has recorded over the years for her longitudinal ethnography (Project 3 above) over the years, and examines how different aspects of language use have altered in the sociological context of individual life courses.

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