educational system and Ijime
I think most foreigners here and many Japanese people agree that Ijime*
problem that needs to be fixed. But any
advice on how seems to fall
on the deaf ears of those in charge. The few articles I have read say
basically the same things.
Ijime is so severe because students are trapped
in the same classes all day, and they have no one
teacher to identify with.
They get little
support from complacent teachers or parents who feel it’s just
a part of growing up. Frequently
teachers contribute to the problem and often
encourage the kid to drop out. This is all
related to the group mentality, the
articles suggested, because every group is defined by its outsiders.
recommended solution is to change the class structure, so students aren’t
stuck in one class and can ‘network’
for friends. They also suggest a stronger
teacher presence in the classroom and the everyday
presence of counselors.
While I think this is
all true, I also think it’s a little more complicated.
Its good in theory, but it doesn’t really examine the root causes for the behavior,
or why the classes and teachers are organized the way they are.
The root causes
lie within the structure of Japanese society. It goes a
lot deeper than complacent
teachers who are too tired to enforce discipline.
First, I’d like to mention a few things about culture.
Our cultures provide
a framework for how we perceive reality. When we are operating within our
own culture, we take
for granted that that’s the ‘natural’ order of things.
It isn’t until we experience (or study) a foreign culture that we can really
understand the relativity of our own.
Cultural awareness isn’t just knowledge
of another culture, its knowledge of our own
culture. While we are still more
comfortable in our own culture, we come to appreciate why we do
things, not just
‘that’s the way its done’. One
reason any change is so slow in Japan is that there
is a general lacking of this awareness. You
can’t change behavior if you don’t
understand why its there. The other thing cultural awareness does is help to
erase the boundaries
between what we think we do and what we actually do.
We are all members of social groups, and as such we all have mental
of what makes each of us a members of those groups, or how we should act as such.
For some of us, these standards are often flexible, and can adapt to accommodate all
that group. The strong voices of minorities in our own cultures sometimes
to adapt. Most Japanese have a very complex and defined concept
of what it means to be
Japanese. In Japan, it’s the members that are expected
to adapt to accommodate the
standards. Though there are entire sub-cultures
of Japanese people who defy these rules,
they get singled out as anomalous
individuals (or ignored entirely), thereby protecting the
greater ‘Japanese identity’.
mental standards don’t always reflect reality, change requires an
awareness of the discrepancy, or a confrontation that forces change.
Through ijime, these confrontations can be avoided.
The organizations of the schools doesn’t just exacerbate the problem,
it validates it. The schools' organization is not arbitrary.
The other thing about
culture is that it thrives based on its ability
to be reproduced in the younger generations. Because
schools in Japan
have the liberty of assuming all the students share a common culture, they
have become an institutionalized
way of passing on that culture.
organization plays an important role in this transmission.
The school’s organization reflects that of the adult world.
This provides a ‘safe’
environment to test the limits of proper social behavior.
Behaviors are reinforced or
discouraged through discipline. Lack
of discipline in certain cases is not accidental.
In this way students learn the social skills for successfully navigating the
world on their own. This is one of the most important stages for forming their
of what it means to be ‘Japanese’.
In the West, our social groups change frequently.
ingenuity and skill over age or overtime hours. In
order for us to be successful
in this environment, we have to learn flexibility and creativity. We
to be independent. We
learn these skills in junior high school when we get
our own lockers and unique class
schedules. We immediately get seven different
social groups to deal with.
We teach independence by rewarding individuals
who excel in certain areas.
In Japan, dedication and age are given the most
weight. Consistency is
rewarded over skill. To be
people must learn how to function as part of a group. Support the group
and it will support you.
They also learn these skills in junior high school
when their single class becomes
their main social group. The fact that
classes are often left unattended reinforces the notion that students must
work within the group.
With no adult to intercede or take control, students
are forced to learn how to establish and deal with the group’s
appointed Honchos, students are encouraged to settle conflicts internally.
Punishment for a class disturbance may fall on everyone, but the class then
has the freedom to
punish the individuals. If students contribute to the group,
their lives will be
When a Japanese baby is born, he is immediately thrust into an
social group, with complex rules. When
he’s older, where he goes to school
or work is in large part determined by his test scores. If he doesn’t like
his work group, he has little
opportunity for change. To be
he has to work with what he’s given.
This is an essential skill, since being
Japanese means you are expected to conform to a certain
If someone doesn’t agree with these standards, they have few choices.
Since almost everyone in Japan shares this identity, there’s literally
nowhere for dissenters to go.
They either reluctantly conform, or
become social misfits, with a bunch of shame heaped on them.
(Or they commit suicide).
When kids see others
bullied by students and teachers, they learn
the consequences of not conforming. Single
class groups help teach this skill,
but the bullying reinforces its necessity.
Suggesting they switch to multiple class format is tantamount to asking
them to stop being so Japanese. Considering
the function class groups serve,
reluctance to change for a few individuals is understandable. The
the majority comes first. Japanese teachers know that functioning, as part
of a group is a necessary
skill. Ostracized individuals are seen in some ways
as lacking this skill.
Either the bullying teaches them how to conform, or it
drives them out. If
they can’t conform, they have on some level ‘failed’ at
being Japanese. It seems
logical to us that Ijime is bad, but it also supports
the conformist system in which the majority are successful and comfortable.
The truth is it’s easier to ostracize one individual than it is for everyone
else to reorganize their
mental concept of what it means to be Japanese.
what acceptance would require.
It may sound like changing the school system means changing the culture.
That’s how a lot of Japanese people feel, like its westernization.
understandable considering they’ve spent their lives learning how to be successful
through conforming, and here we come along telling them to accept people as they are.
Even if they do disturb the Wa. They consciously or
sub-consciously see change as
a threat to their cultural identity. It is in fact a threat, but only to their perceived
In reality, it would take hundreds of years of prolonged foreign pressure
to really change any
culture, much less one as homogenous as Japan’s.
the current system would only validate those who already think differently.
The school systems
won’t change because of Ijime, there’s too much else
involved. Ijime will only change when the standards for being Japanese become
flexible. This requires awareness, and the current rate of exposure to
isn’t really enough. The current mentality allows them as a group to
dismiss foreign advice as
‘not the Japanese way’. Only when the majority of
people, or those in power, realize that what
they think makes them Japanese
isn’t really what makes them Japanese, will they be more
receptive to positive
change. A change in the
skills demanded by the adult corporate world could
encourage change in the educational system, but this would also require a
of unfamiliar flexibility.
Aside from that, I think change on a small scale can occur through the
subversive tactics of teaching children gruesome Western fairy tales.
* Ijime is a severe form of
bullying where a single student is ostracized and
bullied by all the other students. They are essentially left without any
support from any end. This happens to different kids for
various reasons, boys who are effeminate
are frequently singled out.
They may be physically abused, sometimes put in the
hospital, with severe or
life threatening injuries. Frequently these kids drop out of high
suffer severe depression and hole up in their rooms. Sometimes it ends in
Almost everyone else claims to not know why they are depressed, or committed
genuinely shocked. Its possible they really are unaware that these
kids suffer any more than
any other kid. All students have senior students
(sempai) whose job it is to 'toughen
them up' in club activities. Many Japanese
people are unaware that 'Ijime' differs
from the typical sempai relationship,
or that its really a problem.