Tuesday, November 21, 2006

An Epidemic

No quotes this time, just listen...

I thought I'd gotten away from this problem, but it seems that even in Japan, certain behavior will never dissipate in schools. People underestimate just how screwed up (yes, I chose that pedestrian word for a reason), kids can get. Don't you remember? Hormones rising, sex everywhere (stressful whether you're having it or not), verbal taunts around every corner, emotions running high, the pains of homework on you every second?

You have the rest of your life to do with as you choose; in those times, all you could see were a few moments ahead. The next time that girl walks by your locker. The class you have with that jerk who you wouldn't mind seeing dead (a few moments, remember... consequences don't exist). The homework you need to finish in ten minutes. The people you try to avoid on a hourly basis so you don't spend the rest of the day hitting yourself, cursing yourself for not coming up with a clever retort, something to make them feel as horrible as you do. Don't sell it short - it's probably one of the most stressful times you will ever experience.

When people call high-schoolers "short-sighted", "immature", or "irrational", they fail to realize that their perspective doesn't matter. We're so different from them we just can't see anything. No one in high school is any of these things... from his point of view.

And apparently this epidemic has hit my new home. There are no school shootings, no bombs, no mass fatalities. If this had been another Columbine story about an oppressed teen lashing out, I probably wouldn't have been as surprised. But these occurrences, and the reaction of those who are supposed to be responsible, are unbelievable.

There have been a string of letters sent out to the education ministry of Japan, followed by successful suicides. All from students who have been alive less than fifteen years, all complaining about the intolerable abuse they received from bullies:

Japan pupil in 'suicide warning'
Suicide of 'bullied' Japan pupils
Two 14-year-old boys kill themselves in Fukuoka
14-year-old Niigata boy hangs himself

The deaths of these children are tragedies in themselves, but what really upset me was the ministry reaction to these events. Education minister Ibuki Bunmei, after receiving so many suicide notes by mail, informed these victims that they should not send him letters on the grounds that they would "confuse [their] parents." He has since taken a more human role in this, but his reaction seemed to be motivated by public concern rather than empathy for the bullied students.

Seven more letters from people threatening suicide have just been received by the ministry... "Teachers did nothing for me. I may be dead by the time this letter has reached you."

Full story here

The author of Trans-Pacific Radio posted an excellent write-up regarding this issue. This sheds some light on Ibuki Bunmei's behavior - in this case, implying that the public fiasco, the word spreading across the country, is the problem to be solved. Certainly I have to admit that the media and the administrators reacted in such a way, but I don't think it's the best picture of Japan for those of you outside looking in. It is true that Japanese people will go to great lengths to avoid "inconvenience" for others, not themselves, and sometimes the wires get crossed; instead of dealing with one person's problem, they consider the reaction of this problem by other people. Keeping the peace, so to speak, can result in some deadly consequences.

Mentor and pupil in Japanese culture: Senpai (先輩) and kōhai (後輩), respectively.

I like to talk, but I don't buy into everything I had heard about Japan before I arrived. True, many assumptions I had made about the corporate world were right on, but I haven't seen too many social preconceptions being proven true. Japanese women do love the foreigner for the most part; I don't see too many people eating in the streets, but it's not unheard of; people don't slowly inch away in fear when I sit next to them on a train. I know other people have had different experiences, but I think I'm through buying into every story I've heard. Japan is an open book, and I'll read it page-by-page in the order I observe it.

Also, I should point out - if you're a potential eikaiwa teacher, or someone considering a move to Japan, feel free to send me an email. I've got time to answer a few questions. If you're looking for some more information, this article rings very true.

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