This article aims to provide a ground for a better understanding of the debate about tabunka kyōsei, a Japanese version of multiculturalism. The term tabunka kyōsei is now widely recognized as a key idea in the discussion of the social integration of foreign residents and immigrants in Japan. Some practitioners have embraced it as a promising vision of society, while others are skeptical or critical of the concept. However, considering tabunka kyōsei on an abstract, ideational level alone is not useful in assessing its role and significance on the practical level. In this article, I make a distinction between the discursive aspect of tabunka kyōsei, on the one hand, and its application to policies and programs related with foreign residents and immigrants, on the other. I pay attention to the emergence and dissemination of tabunka kyōsei because the process is particularly important for the critical examination of the concept. The term tabunka kyōsei has come to be associated mainly with the provision of support for foreign residents, and this has implications for the potential and challenges in employing the term.