Japan: The Bully and the Bullied

The problem of bullying is a recurring theme in Japan, one that makes periodic appearances in the media driving up ever-increasing levels of alarm. An incident in which videos of bullying in a Hokkaido school were posted on YouTube (and subsequently removed) made headlines in late 2006. A government survey released last week [ja], which found that that the number of cases of bullying has increased sixfold [ja] over the result of the year before, has exacerbated fears yet again. While this increase is attributed in part to a change in the way bullying is defined and measured [ja], the rise is nonetheless telling: from 20,000 cases in 2005 the number ballooned to an estimated 125,000 cases in 2006, including six cases of bullying-related suicide [ja].

Not everybody is taking the news sitting down. Japanese world boxing flyweight champion Naito Daisuke is tackling the problem by talking at schools to children [ja] about his own experiences being bullied as a child. Pressure has also been put on schools [ja] to change the way that they deal with bullying.

Bullying-induced suicide at Takigawa school

Blogger tekicho makes a perceptive observation about the problem:


This is a touchy thing to say, but bullying will not go away. The basis [for saying this] is that even among adults, as everybody well knows, there is also bullying.

But how has this culture of bullying developed? Blogger nano3000xp delves into its origin:


Bullying will not go away. It has been around for a long time, and naturally it will continue from here on. The reason is that bullying is a way of letting off frustration. This is the true nature of every individual human being. At work, in society, and at school as well, when people [join together] to form groups, and make a place for themselves, then a place of interaction of human relationships is necessarily born.


I've used difficult words, but to put it another way, a place of exchange is born where a person acknowledges other people, and is acknowledged by other people. Once that place is fixed, a relativizing (ranking) is established based on a certain standard. At work or in an organization, this would be things like a person's rank. In the police or self-defense forces, differences in rank are absolute, and as long as you are in this place, what the superior officer or boss says is absolute.


As far as one can tell looking at the history of humankind, there are no cases in which this relativizing was not there, and in every social system (capitalist as well as communist) there exists some kind of hierarchical system.

It is easy to theorize about a phenomenon without an actual case to compare to. On one message board, a 15-year-old girl writes about her experience being bullied and provides such a case:


I am being bullied right now at school.
I once went to the teacher so they could tell them to stop, but that seems to have had the opposite effect.
It's become even more horrible now.


Both boys and girls, I'm being called names by nearly everybody.
It hurts a lot and it's really difficult to take. I'm thinking of quitting school.
I'm thinking of attending freeschool, I want to go to some other school.
(But if I haven't graduated, I suppose finding work will be really terrible…)


Would it be better if I started working?
As well, I haven't yet told my parents about any of this. They would be against it, and anyway I don't know how I would tell them. I am really anxious about what will happen next. … From here on, what should I do?

A blogger from an educational NPO that works with children provides a second-hand account of another case of bullying:


I receive inquiries by Email and phone
from a third grade student worried about bullying.


Bullied from the first year of elementary school.
Their shoes were taken and hidden away, and they were called nasty nicknames.


If the student tells their parents, the parents will get angry and come to come to school, so they stay quiet.
The teachers will talk about it in front of everybody, and it will get out, so they stay quiet.
Even close friends follow the bully.


What would be the best thing to do?
You want to enjoy going to school, right?
What would be the best way to do that?
I ask these [questions] and see.


In ethics [class], think about bullying with everybody else.
I want to do it in class.
This is what [the student] answered.


Instead of whether they are getting bullied or
who is getting bullied,
they really felt the importance
of the whole class thinking together about bullying.
And this decency completely took my senses by surprise.


When I try to respond to acts of bullying one by one,
then the conversation has a tendency to begin and end with things like:
Who is the victim?
Who is the perpetrator?
And who will take responsibility?


When you do this, then they get hurt yet again,
And dealing with the children,
as well as their relationships with adults,
becomes much more difficult.


While it is important to stop the bullying that happens right before your eyes,
it is not that easy.
More than this, raising shared awareness among all students in the class,
thinking together about bullying,
and prioritizing preventative education,
this is the thinking of the members [of our organization].

Finally, blogger ojezal69 provides some more encouraging thoughts when he writes about Naito Daisuke, the Japanese world champion boxer who was bullied as a child:


Naito is amazing. When he was in junior high-school, he was bullied, but he wanted to erase that fact, so with that thought in mind, he worked hard and managed to become the world champion.
I feel that he has brought courage to kids who are struggling right now with bullying.
He says that he worked really hard with that memory [of bullying] in his mind.
The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Please visit www.befrienders.org to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.


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