BULLYING IN JAPAN: SUICIDES, EXTORTION AND THE OTSU SCHOOL BULLYING CASE

BULLYING IN JAPAN

null Bullying (ijime) is a big problem in Japanese schools as it is schools in many countries. The Japanese Ministry of Education (MOE) defines bullying as a physical or psychological attack against weaker one(s), which brings deep suffering to the victim(s) (Ho-musho- 1994:3). School bullying began to receive attention after the sensational media coverage of a series of suicides related to bullying in the mid-1980s. One 13-year-old committed suicide, leaving a note describing how he had been repeatedly bullied by several boys at his middle school. He had been beaten, threatened with death, and was forced to perform humiliating acts. Before his suicide, he even received a sympathy card signed by his classmates and four teachers, including his homeroom teacher, after they staged a mock funeral for him in the classroom (AS February 3 1986; AS February 6 1986). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Since 1985, the MOE has collected data on bullying cases that teachers referred to the board of education. Not all teachers report all bullies, so the MOE’s figures underestimate the incidence of bullying. In the 2002-3 school year, 39,000 cases of bullying were reported in public elementary, middle, and high schools (Naikakufu 2004a). The number of cases peaks among fifth- to ninth-graders, and then decreases among high school students. ~

Morita categorizes four roles in bullying: victims, victimizers, the audience, and bystanders. Several children, the “victimizers,” bully a child, the “victim,” and the rest of children are the “audience” who cheers for the bullying, and the “bystanders” who allow bullying without intervening (Morita and Kiyonaga 1994:48-52). According to the 1996 and 1997 surveys, more than half of middle school students said they did nothing about bullying (So-mucho- 1998:15-19). Unfortunately, the majority of bystanders are afraid of being bullied if they intervene, or because they do not care about the victims. Morita points out the characteristics of bullying in Japan: 1) bullies are invisible to teachers and others; 2) victims can become victimizers, and vice versa; 3) anybody can be a victim; 4) there are many unidentified victimizers and a small number of particular victims; 5) very few children try to stop bullying; and 6) the bullies often exhibit other types of inappropriate behavior (Morita and Kiyonaga 1994:21-28). In many cases, bullying occurs among classmates and members of extracurricular clubs. ~

In 2010, the number of recognized bullying cases rose for the first time since 2005. There were 75,295 cases, a 3.5 percent increase from the previous year. In 2009, there were 73,000 reported cases of bullying in primary, middle and high schools, down 12,000 from the previous years and down from a high of 125,000 in 2006. Some have said the decline is due more to dodgy survey techniques than significant declines.

The Japanese Ministry of Education reported over 125,000 cases of bullying in the 2006-2007 school year. Of these 60,897 were reported in primary schools; 51,310 were un middle schools; and 12,307 were in high schools. By contrast there were 30,918 reported cases of bullying during the 1999-2000 school year. Of the total, 19,400 were committed in middle school; 9,100 in elementary school and 2,300 in high schools. The dramatic increases between 1999 and 2006 are at least partly the result of a broader definition of bullying that includes “cases in which a child feels her or she has been bullied” and the inclusion of slander on the Internet and on cell phones.

School Bullying in 2012

Kyodo reported: Regional legal affairs bureaus responded to a record 3,988 school bullying cases in 2012, up 20.6 percent from 2011, the Justice Ministry announced. The bureaus received 14,746 reports in total about school bullying in the reporting year, and urged schools to carry out thorough investigations or recommended that victims file police reports in 3,988 cases, the ministry said. Meanwhile, the number of reports about defamation on Internet bulletin boards also reached a record-high 3,926 cases, it said. [Source: Kyodo, March 2, 2013]

According to Jiji Press, “A total of 144,054 cases of bullying were reported at schools in the April-September first half of fiscal 2012, the education ministry has said in a report on a nationwide emergency survey. The six-month figure was more than double the annual total of 70,231 cases reported in a regular survey for fiscal 2011. The ministry believes the spike in cases was due to increased awareness by teachers, who included minor cases in the survey as well. [Source: Jiji Press, November 24, 2012 ==]

Of the total, 278 cases were recognized as serious, perhaps life-threatening. Most such cases have been resolved or are in the process of being resolved. About 80 percent of the overall cases have been resolved, the survey said. By prefecture, the highest number was 30,877, in Kagoshima Prefecture, while the lowest was 132, in Saga Prefecture. About 88,000 cases of bullying were recognized at primary schools and 43,000 at middle schools. ==

In March 2013 Japan Today reported on an elementary student who was caught after stealing 235,000 yen in 16 different incidents, from the wallets of teachers who had been working at the Nozato Elementary School in Osaka City.

Types of Bullying in Japan

Takaaki Ishikawa and Yasushi Kaneko wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Bullying can be obvious when it includes overt violence. But it has recently taken insidious forms such as group shunning or defamation on the Internet, and thus has become less noticeable to adult observers. It seems that any member of a class could be a bully or victim. [Source: Takaaki Ishikawa and Yasushi Kaneko, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 10, 2010]

Bullying is more often psychological than physical. The types of bullying include teasing (31.6 percent); verbal insults (17.9 percent); physical violence (14.9 percent); ostracism (14.2 percent); theft (7.6 percent); shunning (5.2 percent); blackmail (2.2 percent); harassment (1.3 percent); and other forms (5.1 percent), according to the reports filed by teachers in the 2002-3 school year (Naikakufu 2004a). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

According to a 1997 survey of fifth to ninth graders (N=6,906), 13.9 percent of them had been bullied, and 17 percent of them had bullied someone else between September and December of 1996 (Morita et al. 1999:19). The types of bullying reported by bullied students (N=959) include slanders and teasing (88.3 percent of elementary school students and 85.2 percent of middle school students); being ignored/ostracized (60 percent and 54.2 percent); hitting, kicking, and threatening (39.8 percent and 33.3 percent); malicious rumors and graffiti (31.8 percent and 34.6 percent); and the extortion of money or the destruction of belongings (16.7 percent and 17.7 percent). Eighty percent of victims had been bullied by a group, and 60 percent of them said they had been bullied for a week or more. Bullying occurred in classrooms (74.9 percent); corridors and stairs at school (29.7 percent); in clubs (29.7 percent); on school grounds (12.3 percent); in the gymnasium (9.7 percent); at the school entrance (7.6 percent); in bathrooms (5.4 percent); in schoolyards (2.2 percent); and outside of school (19.0 percent). Among those who were bullied outside of school (N=467), bullying occurred during their commutes between school and home (46 percent); at home or at a friend’s house (21.4 percent); in juku (cram schools) (13.9 percent); in the neighborhood (10.3 percent); in community clubs (7.9 percent) and other places (20.1 percent) (Morita et al. 1999:36, 41-44). ~

Types of Bullying Cases in the 2002-3 School Year (percent): 1) Elementary School: A) Verbal insults: 16.3 percent; B) Being ridiculed: 30.1 percent; C) Having belongings hidden: 8.1 percent; D) Being ostracized: 19.1 percent; E) Being ignored by a group: 5.7 percent; F) Physical violence: 13.7 percent; G) Blackmails: 1.4 percent; H) Forced intrusive friendliness: 1.3 percent; I) Others: 4.3 percent. 2) Middle School: A) Verbal insults: 18.3 percent; B) Being ridiculed: 32.8 percent; C) Having belongings hidden: 7.7 percent; D) Being ostracized: 12.9 percent; E) Being ignored by a group: 5.2 percent; F) Physical violence: 14.7 percent; G) Blackmails: 2.1 percent; H) Forced intrusive friendliness: 1.2 percent; I) Others: 5.1 percent. 3) High School: A) Verbal insults: 19.6 percent; B) Being ridiculed: 28.4 percent; C) Having belongings hidden: 5.6 percent; D) Being ostracized: 8.8 percent; E) Being ignored by a group: 3.6 percent; F) Physical violence: 19.3 percent; G) Blackmails: 5.4 percent; H) Forced intrusive friendliness: 1.4 percent; I) Others: 7.9 percent; (Source: Naikakufu 2004a). ~

Internet Bullying in Japan

Internet bullying involving middle school and high school age youths is increasingly becoming a problem in Japan. One survey in 2008 found that a high percentage of Gakki-Ura-site: bulletin boards used by young people in Japan contained abusive messages often directed by one young person against another.

E-mail bullying is especially common with middle and high school students. Those that engage in the practice often hide their identities; send hate mail and fake message using the return e-mail of others; and tap into certain cell phone website to get the e-mail addresses of others. In one case a couple received fake message from the other saying they wanted to break up. They did break up. The messages are believed to have been sent by someone jealous of the couple’s relationship. “Bombing” refers to practice of sending up to 10,000 messages with false return e-mail addresses.

In March 2008, a 13-year-old girl hung herself in the bathroom at her middle school. She apparently was distraught after being scolding by the parents of a girl she had sent a defamatory e-mail message to. In June 2008, a 16-year-old girl hung herself at her home, leaving behind a note saying that nasty things had been written about her in her blog. One student confessed later that she wrote “Die” and “you make me sick” in the dead girl’s blog.

In October 2008, of 14-year-old middle school student in Saitama hung herself in her room. The suicide was initially attributed to scolding by her parents over test results. But in a suicide note she left behind the victim said she hated middle school and mentioned the names of people who wrote nasty things about her---like she’s “disgusting” and “I don’t want to get into a swimming pool with her”--- on a public cell phone Web site.

A professor at Gunma University designed an online-bully detector that uses keywords such as “irrigating,” “disgusting” and “kill yourself” to detect possible abusive messages.

Bullies and Their Victims in Japan

In August 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Middle school pupils accounted for about 80 percent of all students charged with bullying at schools in the first half of 2012, a National Police Agency survey showed. The number of middle school students arrested, taken into custody or given warnings by police for bullying from January to June totaled 103, compared to 13 for high school students and nine for elementary school pupils. The total of 125 was up 38 from a year before, according to the report. Of the students involved, 118 were categorized as bullies, while seven were classified as victims taking revenge. The report showed 61 students, or 51.7 percent, were charged on suspicion of inflicting injury. Nineteen students were charged with extortion or blackmail, 16 with assault and seven with forced sexual contact. [Source: Jiji Press, August 10, 2012]

Those who bully are frequently the classmates and acquaintances of the victims, and the same gender as their victims. Victims said that the people who bullied them were classmates (80 percent), the children in the same grade but not classmates (24.1 percent), older children (9.1 percent), and younger children (2.9 percent). The number of those bullied by their classmates decreases as the students grow older. About 80 percent of elementary school children and 70 percent of middle school students reported that someone they often played with or someone they sometimes played with had bullied them. The majority of victims were bullied by members of the same sex and by two or more “friends.” [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

A third of the bullies who were surveyed (31.1 percent of boys and 37.5 percent of girls) felt guilty, and another third (29.5 percent and 38.7 percent) felt sorry for victims. One-fourth of them (21.9 percent and 20.4 percent) did not think anything of it, some (18.0 percent and 14.4 percent) worried about being scolded and others (8.4 percent and 12.0 percent) worried about their victims getting even. On the other hand, more than a fourth of girls (26.9 percent) thought that the victims deserved to be bullied, compared with 13.6 percent of boys. Some thought bullying was fun (16.2 percent and 11.6 percent) and felt great (8.1 percent and 7.7 percent) (Morita et al. 1999:46, 48, 52-53, 56, 80, 82). Many students take bullying as a part of a game, and do not feel guilty (Ho-musho- 1994:2). ~

Reasons for Bullying in Japan

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Japanese sociologists say that bullying is product of the conforming pressure of Japanese society. Children are bullied for being too smart, too dumb, too ugly or simply being different. Other scholars say it also a release for the academic pressure to do well in school. One of the most distressing thing about the bullying incidents is that few of the victims felt they could turn to their parents or teachers for help. A study of children who were considered bullied found they felt they had poor communication with their parents and suffered from parental violence.

Tokuhiro Ikejima, a clinical psychologist at Nara University id Education, said, “In Japan, bullying tends to happen between very close friends, and the situation os often worsened because bystanders do not try to intervene, The bullying often takes the form of social exclusion rather than violence.”

"A survey of middle schools found that the rate of bullying in classrooms where signs of classroom breakdown are seen is about five times higher than in classrooms where relations are good and rules are obeyed," said Shigeo Kawamura, a professor at Waseda University's school of education, told the Yomiuri Shimbun. "If students' frustration with school rises, it's more likely that certain students will become punching bags for others to vent their frustration.”

One survey taken in 2009 found that 80 percent of kids accused if bullying have been bullied themselves. Crime related to bulling, including extortion and assault, increased by 68 in 2006 to 233, a 20-year high. The highest number of cases (638 cases) occurred in 1985.

Bullying is caused by various factors, including psychological stress and frustration; financial extortion; the game of bullying; sanctions against an uncooperative person; the exclusion of someone different; jealousy and envy toward someone outstanding; and the avoidance of being a victim (Takekawa 1993:11-13). Adolescents have psychological imbalances between their maturing bodies and their immature minds, and struggle to build an identity. Bullies are more likely to be frustrated and to feel inferior, and to exhibit irresponsible, impatient, self-centered, flamboyant, and inconsiderate behavior (Ho-musho- 1994:22, 25-6). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Those who bullied tend to be more frustrated with teachers, classmates and class activities than those who have not bullied (Morita et al. 1999:94). The pressure from the competition for high school entrance examinations causes frustration and inferiority complexes among the less academically successful children. In addition, unstable home environments and family problems cause children to feel insecure. They derive self-esteem and relief from frustration by bullying (Ho-musho- 1994:25). ~

Bullies and troubled students tend to have similar characteristics: they do not like teachers, cannot fit into their classes, have troubled family relationships, have little discipline, do not cooperate and are self-centered. Physical violence, extortion, threats, and destruction of property are also related to delinquency. It is important to note that bullies can be victims under different circumstances: 5.8 percent of boys and 6.9 percent of girls, as well as 9.7 percent of elementary school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students were both victims and victimizers (Morita et al. 1999:45, 86). ~

Bullying Victims in Japan

Bullying victims complain of being kicked, slapped around, tortured and humiliated by other students. A common form bullying is placing garbage in the shoes of a victim. In severe cases, victims become virtual slaves to bullies who extort huge sums of money and beat their victims so severely they have to be hospitalized. Bullying has resulted in some suicides and is responsible for a large number of children avoiding school. In 1993, a bullying victim in northern Japan suffocated to death after being rolled up in a gymnasium mat and stuffed into a closet by his junior high school classmates.

One survey found that 14 percent of children had experienced some kind of bullying. This rate is low compared to Britain, where 40 percent have been bullied. Japan, however, had the highest rates of students being repeatedly bullied. The rate of bullying has reportedly declined in recent years. Some educators are suspicious of these statistics, saying that many cases of bullying go unreported.

Any child who is different from the other children can be a target of bullying in the Japanese school culture, which values conformity. Those who are bullied tend to be slow learners, those who broke a promise or told a lie, have strong personalities, pretend to be good children, are selfish, or are new to the school. Even “good students” can be bullied (Ho-musho- 1994:27). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Girls (15.8 percent) report being bullied more than boys (13.1 percent). Among those who had been bullied (N=959), 58.3 percent of them were bullied once or twice during the trimester, 12.6 percent were bullied once or twice a month, 10.1 percent were bullied once a week, and 19.1 percent were more than two or three times a week. Less than half (46.4 percent) said that the bullying lasted one week or less, and 27.9 percent said bullying lasted longer than the four-month trimester. As the children grow older, the period of being bullied becomes longer. Among those who were bullied, 16 percent of elementary school students, 24 percent of boys, and 16 percent of girls in middle schools were bullied once or more times a week for at least one trimester. Those who were bullied a few times or more a week tended to have no friends (7.7 percent/1.5 percent of all students) or have only one friend (8.2 percent/1.9 percent of all students), and 37.9 percent had six friends and more, compared to 61 percent of all students. More victims and victimizers than those who were neither thought that they were not liked by their classmates (Morita et al. 1999:20, 26, 30-31, 90, 92, 166-167). ~

Behavior of Bullying Victims in Japan

Many victims endured bullies, without seeking help. Almost half of all boys did not tell anybody about bullying incidents while the majority of girls (54.7 percent of elementary school and 64 percent of middle school girls) told their friends, if no one else. Less than a quarter of them told their homeroom teachers. More than one-third of girls, 28.4 percent of elementary school boys and 17.7 percent of middle school boys told their parents. About half of those being bullied did not want their parents to know. More than half of boys and almost two-thirds of girls wanted their friends to stop the bullying, while one-third of elementary school students and one-fourth of middle school students wanted their homeroom teachers to intervene. However, almost one-fourth of boys did not want anyone to stop it (Morita et al. 1999:62-73). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

A few victims confided in their parents about the bullying. Only 13 percent of girls and 10.9 percent of boys who were bullied wanted their parents to stop the bullies. Older children tended to keep their parents from finding out about bullying incidents. Less than 30 percent of the victims’ parents knew about the bullies, while 7.3 percent of the victimizers’ parents knew what their child was doing. Among parents who knew about the bullying, about half of them discussed it with teachers, and if they did, two-thirds of bullying incidents were at least reduced, if not stopped (Morita et al 1999:204-225). ~

About 40 percent of the boys and 20 percent of the girls told their victimizer(s) to leave them alone, while 31 percent of the boys and 14 percent of the girls fought back. More girls than boys called upon friends for help (6.4 percent for boys and 27.6 percent for girls) and their teachers for help (9.8 percent for boys and 17.4 percent for girls). The victims who fought back (45.8 percent) or told victimizer(s) to leave them alone (43.9 percent), found that the bullying stopped within one week, in contrast to those who went to a teacher (30.3 percent), cried (34 percent), or ran away (33.8 percent). Half of all victims came to hate their victimizer(s), and many middle school victims (31.8 percent for boys and 41.7 percent for girls) came to hate themselves. After being bullied, approximately 40 percent of girls and more than one-fourth of boys were depressed and almost half of girls and one-fourth of boys became unwilling to go to school (Morita et al. 1999:58, 60-61, 106-107). ~

Parents and teachers need to recognize the early symptoms of victimization before bullying escalates, because the majority of the victims of bullying do not tell parents or teachers, and either try to endure the suffering by themselves or try to solve it among peers. Bullied children naturally dread going to school. They arrive late to class if they show up at all, and have difficulty concentrating. These children often seek refuge with the nurse teacher and stop participating in the activities that they once enjoyed. They come home in tears, and might start bringing a knife to school. The bullies gives them cruel nicknames, scrawl graffiti on their desk, chairs, notebooks or textbooks, break their chair or desk, tear their clothes, steal their money, and physically attack their victims. Bullied children stop going to school and engage in risky behaviors, including suicide attempts. According to the 1988 survey, about one-third of students with school refusal syndrome said they would not go to school because of the bullies. According to an inspector of the Family Court, 30 to 40 percent of children at risk have experienced being bullied (Ho-musho- 1994:23-39). In the 1998-9 school year, as many as fourteen students in public primary and secondary schools may have killed themselves because of problems in school (AS December 16, 1999). ~

$500,000 Extorted from Bully Victim

In 1999, a 15-year-old student, who was severely beat up twice, and repeatedly tortured and burned with cigarettes, turned over $500,000 to boys who bullied him. The bullies spent the money on designer goods and games at video arcades. They once beat their victim so badly his face swelled to 1½ times its normal size and had plans to kill their victim and make it look like a suicide by forcing him to write a suicide note before they killed him.

The whole affair began in June, 1998 when the leader of a group of 10 bullies accused the victim of making a stain on the leader's hat and demanded $50. The victim paid up. After that the bullies began demanding more money. The mother became suspicious when her bank alerted her that her son had withdrawn $5,000 from her account. The boy then confessed his problem to his mother, who was the beneficiary of a $300,000 life insurance after her husband died, and gave the money to her son and borrowed money from relatives to prevent the attacks.

The victim was ultimately rescued by the sympathetic son of a yakuza boss. The son had met the victim in the hospital after the bullies broke a couple of his ribs. After the victim explained what had happened to him some yakuza members confronted the parents of the bullies and told them politely what their sons had done and told them pay the money back and followed that up with threatening phone calls.

The 10 bullies were arrested. There was some discussion on whether or not to try them as adults which would mean they would face sentences of 10 years. If not the worst that could happen would be reform school.

Bullying Suicides in Japan

One study found that 12 students who committed suicide between 1999 and 2005 were bullied. Of these two left behind notes that bullying was the cause of their suicides; four others were determined to have killed themselves because of bullying. The other six were bullied but the bullying was note necessarily the cause of their suicides.

Bullying was been tied to at least 20 suicides among school children between May 1994 and April 1996. The bullying issue became front page news in 1994 after one child, 13-year-old Kiyoteru Okouchi, who committed suicide after being bullied into stealing over $11,000 from his parents by classmates who used the money at the local pachinko parlor. After having his held under water in a river by the bullies and being stripped of his clothes in a school gymnasium, the eighth-grader hung himself from a tree in the family garden.

In his suicide note Okouchi promised to pay his mother back the money and that "living life under this kind of pressure wasn't worth it." He also wrote: "They took money from me, including 1,000 yen my grandmother had given me and the money I planned to use for having my haircut. I had to cut my own hair. I should have committed suicide earlier but did not for the sake of my family." One of the boys who bullied Okouchi said he never felt pity toward his victim because he considered bullying to only be a game.

Five other students committed suicide around the time of Okouchi death. One hung himself and left behind a note saying that the suicide was an experiment and not a result of bullying. Another hung himself and left behind a note that named the three classmates who had tormented him. The third student threw himself in front of a train and no one is sure why. The hanging death of a forth student was blamed on bad grades but earlier bullies wrote "Die" on his school bag and beat him so badly he required stitches.

A high school student from Sakai, Osaka Prefecture who killed herself in October 1999 and a sixth grade student from Takikawa, Hokkaido, who attempted suicide in September 2005 and later died from related injuries left behind suicide notes that indicated that bullying prompted them to her to kill themselves.

Tomone Matsuki, a sixth-grader in Takikawa, Hokkaido, hanged herself in her classroom in September 2005, dying in January the following year. The incident became a major issue after it was discovered that the Takikawa education board had hidden the fact that she wrote in a suicide note that she had been bullied. Matsuki's family then filed a lawsuit against the city. The Sapporo District Court pointed out that teachers could have been aware of the bullying if they had looked out for the girl and shared information with each other. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court. [Source: Takaaki Ishikawa and Yasushi Kaneko, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 10, 2010]

Bullying Suicides in Japan in 2006

In 2006 the focus on bullying in school reached new heights after a series of suicides related to bullying received a lot of media attention. In October a 13-year-old junior high school hanged himself in Fukuoka after being bullied by three 14-year-old boys who unbuckled his belt and removing his pants in a school restroom. Every day the bullies told the victim things like “You’re irritating” and “Die.”

The victim left behind a note that said “I can’t live anymore because of bullying” and “I contribute my money to my class if I die.” It was revealed that not only was he harassed by other students he was also tormented by a teacher who among other things called the student a “hypocrite” and a “liar” in front of his classmates. A court ruled the three boys engaged in delinquent behavior, but did not take any disciplinary action against them, for forcibly removing the victims pants.

A few days later 14-year-old boy hung himself in Nara, a 12-year-old girl leapt from a housing project in Gifu, a 14-year-old boy hung himself in his home in Saitama and a principal at school with bully-related trouble hung himself. The girl left behind a note and earlier had complained about being tripped up by classmates and ridiculed for being short. It wasn’t clear whether she was really bullied or was just depressed and painfully introverted. The boy in Saitama had been bullied into giving money to another student. The principal is said to have been distraught over failing to report a case of two girls in his school being bullied for money. These suicides were attributed in part to television coverage of the bullying issue.

Bullying Suicides in the late 2000s

Sometimes the bullies are the ones that commit suicide. In February 2007, a 14-year-old middle school student leapt to his death from the eighth floor a nine-story apartment building in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture after being reprimanded at his school for bullying.

In September 2007, three third year high school students were detained in connection with the suicide of a classmate. The three youths had bullied the victims and demanded that he pay ¥10,000 for “lies” he had told them.

In March 2009, a 16-year-old boy hung himself after being bullied in school. He left a message on his computer that named seven classmates who bullied him.

In August 2009, a 14-year-old boy committed suicide by setting himself on fire on a street in Nagoya. At his school bullies made fun of his dermatitis and pulled his bags away from him. Nine months earlier his mother had complained about the bullying to the school.

In September 2009, two middle school girls in Fujieda, Shizuoka Prefecture lept to their deaths from the parking lot on a roof of a six story building. One of them left a message on her cell phone that began, “the reason I’m being bulled...”

See Eleven-Year-Old Killer, Famous Crimes

Bullying Suicides in 2010

In November 2010, a 13-year-old middle school girl leapt to her death from her sixth-floor apartment in Sapporo immediately after calling the emergency number 110, telling the operator “I’m going to kill myself right now.” By the time firefighters arrived five minutes later she had already jumped, landing in the parking lot. A note left behind suggested she had been bullied. In it she said she was ignored by some students and verbally attacked with words such as “disgusting.” She also said she disliked giving speeches as part of Japanese language class.

In October 2010, a 12-year-old bullying victim Akiko Uemura committed suicide. Her mother found her hanging by a scarf from a curtain rail in her room. According to to Yomiuri Shimbun discipline had completely broken down in a sixth-grade primary school classroom in Gunma Prefecture where Uemura went to school...her cries for help had gone unheard by school authorities. Despite initially denying Uemura had been bullied, administrators at Niisato Higashi Primary School in Kiryu in the prefecture admitted Monday she had been a frequent target of abuse by classmates. [Source: Takaaki Ishikawa and Yasushi Kaneko, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 10, 2010]

Takaaki Ishikawa and Yasushi Kaneko wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “According to reports by the school to the education board, Akiko began to eat lunch alone in late September. Her teacher rearranged students' desks and instructed them to eat lunch in groups, but the situation did not change. She ate lunch alone for about two weeks, according to her school. Two days before she committed suicde Uemura appealed to a teacher other her homeroom teahcer. Crying over hving to eat lunch alone. [Ibid]

Every time Akiko's father asked her teacher to improve the situation, she only said, "OK." In October, Akiko began to stay home from school often. When her father told her teacher she would be absent from school, the teacher said, according to him, "A mental problem, again?" After the suicide some of the students expressed sympathy for Uemura. One said, “I felt sorry for her.” Another said, “I thought I’d eat lunch together with her the next day.” Other studnst though they aid tey didn’t really care, [Ibid]

Order in the classroom had broken down under the teacher, who previously had not been in charge of a homeroom for a long time. The clasroom was dirty and diorganized, Students insulted and mocked the teacher and refused to sit where they were supposed to. Bullying among students gradually spread. Many students said the teacher was too lax and they did not listen to her. "Akiko was bullied but the teacher was unaware of it," one student said. [Ibid]

The report by Akiko's school to the education board indicated that such bullying is difficult to uncover. "There is no physical bullying," a report said. It also noted, "She was often alone [at school] and didn't seem to be resisting any bullying."

Bullying-Related Suicides in 2012 and 2013

In July 2013, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A second-year middle school student fell to his death at a condominium building near his home in Nagoya, city officials said. A notebook found at the 13-year-old boy’s home contained writings indicating he planned to commit suicide and that he might have been bullied. According to city officials, a resident living near the condominium reported to the boy’s school, city-run Meiho Middle School in Minami Ward, Nagoya, at about 3:30 p.m. that the student had fallen from the building. The boy was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead at about 5 p.m. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 13, 2013]

The boy’s mother was visiting the school that evening for consultations, saying the boy was not at home and that she found a notebook containing writings hinting he would commit suicide, the officials said. The board of education said there were phrases scribbled in the notebook that read, “More than one person told me to die,” and “I’m sick of myself.” No specific individuals’ names were included, the board said. There were only morning classes at the school that day. The boy attended his classes, then went home. He likely left his home before 3 p.m. to head for a condominium where he previously lived. A member of the soft tennis club, he was active in school activities. He made a bid to become the class conductor for their performance in the school’s choir festival in November.

In September 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A middle school student has fallen to his death from an apartment building in an apparent bullying-related suicide. Police believe the 12-year-old male student jumped from the building in Sapporo to kill himself. At about 7:10 a.m. Wednesday, a neighbor found the boy lying on the street in front of the building where he lived. The boy was then taken to a hospital and pronounced dead at about 8 a.m. from severe bodily injuries, sources said.According to Hokkaido prefectural police and the Sapporo city education board, the boy's belongings included what appeared to be a suicide note saying, "I want to die because I've been bullied." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 7, 2012]

Japanese Teenage Boy in Coma for Months After Bullying Attack

In September 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A 15-year-old boy who attended a middle school in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, has been in a coma since January after he was punched and kicked by three of his classmates, according to investigative sources. The then second-year student had reportedly been a target of chronic bullying by the trio since enrolling in the middle school in 2010. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 14, 2012 ~~]

“The incident occurred on Jan. 5 during a winter recess. After finishing morning activities related to a sports club that the boy and the trio belonged to, the three told the boy to come with them to a city park where they allegedly punched and kicked him repeatedly. Noticing that the boy had stopped moving, one of the three called for an ambulance. Prefectural authorities arrested the three later that day on suspicion of injurious assault. They were later sent to a juvenile reformatory. ~~

“The trio reportedly told the police they punched the boy because they "disliked the boy's attitude," claiming the beating was the result of a "one-on-one fight" rather than bullying by the group. Further investigation, however, led to the suspicion that the three likely assaulted the boy in turn while surrounding him.The school did not acknowledge the boy had been bullied until it conducted a questionnaire-based survey among its students in January after the incident. Up to that point, the school had recognized altercations between the boy and the trio on eight occasions from April 2011 to December 2011, including a fight that broke out in class after the boy was teased by the trio. At that time, the teacher reprimanded both the boy and the trio, possibly unaware the boy had been bullied. ~~

“The survey, conducted among about 130 second-year students in mid-January at the request of the boy's family, revealed alleged chronic bullying by the trio. Respondents reported they saw the boy frequently beaten by the trio and others immediately after they enrolled in the school in 2010. There were also reports of the boy being verbally abused with phrases such as "kimoi" (creepy) and "Don't come near me." The boy also was forced to wade into a pond to retrieve a ball the trio threw into the water, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned. ~~

“According to the municipal board of education, the incident occurred in the second term from September 2011 to December 2011. The trio threw a ball into a pond near the school, then ordered the boy to retrieve it. As the boy waded into knee-deep water, the three taunted him and took pictures with a cellular phone. They later showed the images to their friends for amusement. The board of education also found the trio forced the boy to play a game involving money dubbed "the home run game," in which the boy pitched a ball for the trio to hit. According to the rules established by the trio, the boy had to pay 500 yen every time they successfully hit the ball. The education board said it could not confirm whether the boy actually paid money. ~~

“The boy's mother demanded the municipal board of education and the school conduct a thorough investigation, saying she "wanted to ask my son, but he can't speak now." "Why couldn't the school prevent the incident from occurring when it was aware of the troubles [between my son and his classmates]?" she said. The mother recalled the boy had complained of a stomachache around last April and often missed school. Now she wonders if that might have had to do with bullying. But the boy started going to school again the following month because he "loved the club" he belonged to, according to the mother. ~~

“The boy has been hospitalized in a coma for eight months since the January incident. He has suffered cardiac arrest twice--just after the incident and again this spring. He was weaned from ventilatory support, but is still being fed through a tube. His mother goes to the hospital every day after work to take care of her son. ~~

Combating Violence and Bullying in Japan

After the eight children were killed at a school in Osaka in 2001, schools began locking their gates, organizing parent patrols, stalling cameras, arming teachers with weapons and encouraging them to take martial art classes.Some schools have installed automated locked gates and biometric palm vein scanners---that can read the prints of relatives and others who have registered their palm prints---to keep unwanted intruders out of the schools.

The government has proposed suspending bullies from school and easing the definition of what constitutes physical punishment. There is been an effort to get kids to help each other battle bullying though meetings, mediation, tutoring and befriending,In 2007, the government introduced a plan to crack down on bullying by imposing harsher punishments on bullies and teachers that encouraged bullying or turn a blind eye to it. Students caught bullying face suspension from school. Some politicians have pushed for a return of corporal punishment, especially for students that repeatedly break the rules, and giving teachers more flexibility in issuing physical punishment.

There are supposed to be rules and procedures for suspending students involved in bullying---the School Education Law, revised in 2001, requires it---but school boards have not established them. Students who are bullied at one school are allowed to transfer to another school if they cite bullying as a reason.

Some students are taking their complaints to the courts. In Hyogo Prefecture, two high school students sued five classmates and the Hyogo prefectural government for about $100,000 demanding compensation for physical and mental harassment inflicted them. The plaintiffs claim they were beaten and bullied on a daily basis over the course of several years. One of the victims sustained severe burns when hot 70 degree water was poured on them.

New Anti-Bullying Legislation

In June 2013, Japan’s diet enacted an anti-bullying bill to prevent increasingly serious bullying cases at elementary to high schools. Kyodo reported: “Under the newly enacted law, bullying that causes serious physical and mental damage to victimized children or forces them to be absent for long periods of time is defined as constituting a “serious situation.” The move came in the face of a series of bullying cases, including a high-profile one in which a junior high school student killed himself in October 2011 in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, after being severely bullied. [Source: Kyodo, June 21 2013]

On Japanese government efforts to links acts of bullying to criminal charges the Yomiuri Shimbun reported in May 2013: “The education ministry has compiled a list of bullying acts that should be reported promptly to police, and has communicated this list to prefectures and boards of education of large cities through an official notification … as many schools have expressed confusion over what type of behavior could be considered a criminal act, the ministry stepped in to provide concrete examples that should be reported to police, to encourage schools to respond quickly to dangerous behavior. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 20, 2013]

For example, “hitting and kicking” is equivalent to an assault charge in the penal code, according to the notification. “Putting fecal matter in a person’s mouth and threatening to inflict harm if he or she tries to spit it out” is considered extortion and “intentionally wrecking a bicycle” is property damage. The notification also gives specific examples of cyberbullying, which has become conspicuous among young people, that could be subject to criminal charges. Examples of such online behavior include “sending an e-mail threatening harm if a student comes to school,” which is blackmail, and “calling a classmate a ‘shoplifter,’ ‘creep’ or ‘annoying person,’” which is subject to defamation charges.

Classroom Management Against Bullying in Japan

Teachers often offer little help, sometimes even ridiculing children who are different. A 12-year-old in Osaka sued his teacher for standing by and doing nothing while he was bullied by other students.

Some homeroom classes have an environment that is conducive to bullying. These homeroom classes have several common features. Students spread vicious rumors about the “teacher’s pet,” there are cliques that exclude and do not come to the defense of unpopular students, students break school rules behind the teacher’s back, defiance of authority is regarded as “fun,” and students feel compelled to blend in (Morita et al. 1999:104-105). It is important to create an atmosphere in the homeroom class that does not condone bullying, through instilling a sense of fairness in the students and encouraging friendships. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Unfortunately, few classroom leaders are willing to stop bullying, or can lead the class without bullying. Most bullying occurs in the presence of bystanders (Morita and Kiyonaga 1994:33). Almost 45 percent of all students responded that they did not stop bullying when they saw or heard about such incidents, while only one-fourth of students told their victimizers to stop. Ten percent of students asked for help from adults when they saw or heard others being bullied. Older students did nothing to stop bullying (Morita et al. 1999:100-101). According to a 1996-1997 survey, 33 percent of male students and 23 percent of female students blamed the victims of bullying, while about one-fourth of middle school students blamed the bullies (So-mucho- 1998:17). ~

According to a survey of middle school students, bystanders are more likely to come from nuclear family with stay-at-home mothers. Masataka suspects that the attitudes of bystanders are caused by the childrearing style of stay-at-home mothers who spoil and overprotect their children (Masataka 1998). Bullying violates the human rights of the victim. Bystander children need to understand the victim’s perspective, and learn not to tolerate bullying through human rights education. ~

Homeroom teachers can create a homeroom class in which bullying is not tolerated. Teachers need to control their students. If the teacher is too strict, the students become frustrated and stressed, and accept the necessity of targeting the weak and vulnerable. If the teacher fails to control the class, the students are free to act as they like without fear of punishment, and tend to “play” at bullying their classmates (Takekawa 1993:14-17). ~

Teachers need to keep an eye on students who are likely to be bullied, because only one-fourth of those who were bullied spoke to a teacher, in most cases a homeroom teacher. In fact, approximately 40 percent of elementary school students and one-third of middle school students who were bullied wanted a homeroom teacher to intervene. More than half of the victims said that their teachers did not know about the bullying, although 41.8 percent of them said teachers intervened it. In these cases, more than 60 percent said that the teacher’s intervention was effective. It is interesting that bullying occurs even among teachers. More than half of all elementary and middle schools have reported that bullying occurred among teachers as well (Morita et al. 1999:136-143, 201). ~

A research group established by the MOE in 1994 recommended in its 1996 report the most effective ways of preventing bullying: 1) Schools should teach children to consider bullying from the victim’s point of view and to recognize that bullying is a violation of human rights. 2) Teachers should learn to recognize the signs of bullying before the behavior escalates. 3) Homeroom teachers should cooperate with other teachers, such as teachers in the extracurricular activities of the students, under the leadership of the principal to prevent bullying and discipline bullies. 4) Teachers should attend in-house counseling workshops. 5) A nurse teacher should participate in coping with bullying. 6) Schools should work with outside counseling professionals. 7) School counselors should be deployed to schools. 8) Schools should extend special consideration to victims, such as forgiving school absences, changing their homeroom class, transferring them to another school, and suspending victimizers. 9) Teachers should cooperate with parents. 10) Parents should discipline their children (Monbusho- 1999e). ~

Teachers should lead discussions on bullying with their students, help those who bullied express their frustration, and offer emotional and spiritual support to the victims (Ho-musho- 1994:49-53). Teachers need to attend counseling training and workshops, and work closely with school counselors. Since the 1995-6 school year, school counselors have been assigned to some schools. In the 2001-2 school year, 6.6 percent of elementary schools, 25 percent of middle schools and 6.6 percent of high schools have school counselors. The MOE plans to assign school counselors to all middle schools until the 2005-6 school year (AS August 24, 2002). Since 1995, the National Education Center has provided a toll-free hotline for information and counseling about bullying in order to help students, parents, and teachers. ~

Bullying as a Criminal Act in Japan

Bullying can become a criminal or legal matter if the victim is injured or killed. In 2003, police were called in on 106 bullying cases, and 229 youths were arrested (Naikakufu 2004a). If an offender is younger than 14 years old, the Child Consultation Facilities usually takes the case to the child welfare commissioner and committees (Child Welfare Law 26 and 27). If necessary, they can bring the case to the Family Court. With children between the ages of 14 and 19, the Family Court hears the case. The young offenders may be admitted into a juvenile home, a home for juvenile training and education, or a children’s shelter (Juvenile Law 24). If the offender is 14 or older, and the bullying was violent enough to warrant imprisonment, the Family Court decides whether or not the case should be transferred to a criminal court. [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

Some parents of the victims who took their own lives or were killed because of bullying may sue the school and the parents of the offenders for compensation. The courts can find the school guilty of negligence if the damage could have been prevented if the school had recognized the bullying, and handled it appropriately. If a child is not mature enough to predict the consequences of his or her behavior, the parents will be responsible for the child’s crime, unless the parents prove that they have not neglected their parental responsibility (Civil Code Law 714). If a child has the ability to take responsibility, the parents are not responsible for the child’s actions, unless there is a clear causal relationship between the violation of supervision obligation and the child’s behavior. Middle school students are old enough to take legal responsibility for their behavior; therefore, parents are not held liable unless their negligence is proven to have caused the bullying (Ho-musho- 1994:73-74). ~

Two Boys Held after Bullying Victim's Jaw Fractured

In January 2013, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Two middle school students have been arrested in connection with the bullying of a 14-year-old boy in Handa, Aichi Prefecture, who suffered a fractured jaw after being punched by one of them in October, the local education board announced. The assault victim, a second-year student at a municipal middle school, had been a target of bullying since September, the board said. The victim was told to go to a park in the city on the evening of Oct. 27, according to the municipal middle school and board of education. In a park restroom, he was punched in the face twice by a 14-year-old classmate, sustaining a fractured jaw bone. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 2, 2013 <:>]

His parents reported the assault to police, and the classmate was arrested on Nov. 15 on suspicion of inflicting bodily injury. Another boy, a third-year student who was allegedly in the restroom with them during the incident, was arrested on Dec. 3. Seven second- and third-year students were reportedly at the park when the assault took place. According to the investigation, the assault on the victim was carried out at the urging of another classmate, 13, whose relationship with the boy had soured. This boy had been hitting the victim since the previous month, the local education board said. The victim's parents said the boy had been hit more than 50 times, while the classmate said he was just "playing." <:>

NTV reported: “Four junior high school students have been arrested for bullying a classmate by hitting him with a mop and kicking him, police said. The incident took place on June 4, 2013 at a school in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture. One of the teachers at the school found the 14-year-old boy crying and the school reported the bullying to police. Three of the four boys have admitted bullying the boy since last year, while fourth denies the charge, police said. One of the bullies said the victim never complained about it before. Meanwhile, the school said that in May, it had warned one of the bullies after a teacher saw him kick the boy in the stomach, NTV reported.

Fifteen-Year-Old Bullies Arrested in Osaka

In July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Police arrested three third-year middle school students on suspicion of assaulting a classmate in an apparent case of bullying in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture. The three boys, all aged 15, allegedly burned the hair of a 14-year-old boy and broke his nose, the police said. The Neyagawa Police Station arrested the three boys on charges including assault. The police also took into protective custody two other boys, both aged 13, who were also said to be involved in the bullying. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 27, 2012]

“According to police, the boys admitted they had bullied the boy since he was a first-year student at the school, quoting one of them as saying they bullied him "just for fun." The five boys were allegedly involved in tying the arms of the boy behind his back and burning the hair on his head with a lighter at a city park at about 1:30 a.m. on May 20. One of the five went further on May 28, punching the boy in the face in a classroom at their school and at a city shrine, police said. The boy's injuries from this incident took about two weeks to heal. [Ibid]

“The boy's homeroom teacher noticed his face was swollen when he came to school the next day. After the teacher confirmed he had been bullied by the other boys, the school's principal consulted with the police station, and the boy and his guardians filed a damage report with the police.The boy reportedly told the police the other boys had used him to run errands and extorted pocket money from him since he was a first-year student. "I had no choice but to obey them. If I refused, they'd hurt me by kicking and punching me," the police quoted the boy as saying. [Ibid]

“According to the Neyagawa city board of education, the boy was the subject of violence on two occasions in his first year by the three boys who were arrested. The school recognized that bullying was going on and made sure the boy was in a different class from the alleged bullies in his second year, which they believed had solved the problem. However, the boys began spending time together again in the third year. The police said one of the two 13-year-olds is a second-year student at the same school and the other is a second-year student at Moriguchi municipal middle school in the prefecture. [Ibid]

Man Fined for Striking Girl's 'Bully'

In August 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Kanazawa Summary Court has fined a 53-year-old man 300,000 yen for striking a primary school boy, who the man said had bullied his daughter.According to the ruling on Wednesday, the man, a restaurant owner in Ishikawa Prefecture, hit the boy in the face at 8:40 a.m. on Oct. 27 last year in a classroom of the public primary school his daughter and the boy attend.The ruling said the man struck the boy because his daughter, 12, asked him to do so out of fear she would be bullied again when she went back to school. The girl had been unable to attend classes for a certain period due to the bullying, it said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 10, 2012 ^+^]

The ruling went on to say, "It is understandable a parent would want to help their child, but barging into a classroom during lessons and assaulting the boy in front of other students is extremely aggressive." After the judgment, the man told the press, "I'm sorry for beating up the boy, but there was no other way to protect my child." He also complained that details about the bullying were left out of the ruling, such as who bullied his daughter. A board of education in the municipality where the school is located denied the man's claims, saying no bullying had taken place. The man received a summary order in January to pay a 300,000 yen fine for injuring the boy, but requested a formal trial, saying he wanted a public appeal to argue his daughter had been bullied. ^+^

Otsu Bullying Suicide

In October 2012, a second-year middle school student In Otsu in Shiga Prefecture committed suicide by jumping from the top of the 14-story condominium where his family lived after being bullied. The students suspected of bullying the boy, all classmates, were aged 13 or 14 at the time of the bullying. In Japan, people aged 14 and over can be held criminally responsible

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “According to a survey at the school attended by the boy, 67 of the 330 students who responded said they had seen the second-year boy physically abused, and 16 said he been made to practice committing suicide. Some students called or sent an e-mail to bullies to inform them he would take his own life just before he did so. The second survey revealed the bullies "held a mock funeral" for the boy and "choked him, saying it was practice for when he killed himself.” [Ibid]

“The bullies allegedly beat the boy up in a bathroom, forced him to eat dead bees, scribbled on his face, made him shoplift, extorted money from him, pulled down his pants and held him in headlocks. [Ibid]

Otsu Suicide Victim’s 'Ravaged Room and Practice Suicide

In July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The room of the 13-year-old boy Otsu bullying victim was vandalized by the bullies a day before his suicide, according to responses to a student survey conducted by the Otsu municipal education board. Police are trying to confirm whether the vandalization at the boy's family's condominium may have triggered his suicide, as the boy reportedly told the bullies by e-mail the same day that he would kill himself, sources said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 14, 2012]

“A student in the same year as the boy, who provided his name on the survey, said in his response that he heard the boy's room had been vandalized by the bullies a day before the suicide, according to the sources. At least five other students said in their responses to the survey that they heard the boy had told the bullies of his plan to kill himself. "The boy sent an e-mail that said, 'I'm going to die tomorrow' to the three bullies," one of them was quoted as saying in the survey. "[One of the bullies] sent back an e-mail to the boy, which said 'You'd better die,'" another student was quoted as saying in the survey. [Ibid]

“The Yomiuri Shimbun also reported: “The middle school boy who committed suicide last October was forced by three boys to lean backwards out of a third-floor window as "suicide practice," according to a female student at the school. The girl, who was in the same grade as the deceased, The Yomiuri Shimbun she sometimes saw the boy at the window near his classroom, surrounded by the three students believed to be the bullies, who ordered him to practice committing suicide. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 21, 2012]

“In a city education board survey of all students at the school after the boy's death, 16 wrote about this suicide practice. The board, however, concluded it could not confirm the event took place because all 16 said they did not directly see the suicide practice but only heard about it. The female student said she did not complete the board's survey as she "can't trust the school because it overlooked the bullying.” [Ibid]

“She said she saw the practice several times from September to October, in which the boy was forced to stand against the window, put his hands on the frame and lean back out of it. The three boys surrounding him laughed, saying, "Practice committing suicide." "They looked like they were just messing around. But I thought it was dangerous," the girl said. "It's painful when I think that might have resulted in actual suicide.” [Ibid]

Poor Response by Teachers to the Otsu Bullying Suicide

According to a survey at the Otsu school attended by the suicide victim boy some students claimed the teachers were aware the bullying was going on but turned a blind eye. Henshu Techo wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The student had his eyes, mouth and hair bound with adhesive tape by three classmates, leaving only his nose exposed. A student who saw the scene reported it to a female teacher. The teacher cautioned the bullies by saying, "Cut it out" from a safe distance. To my mind, she behaved like the wife of a gang boss who chides gang members over quarrels in a yakuza movie. In another incident, the student was punched by one of the bullies in a school restroom. A student who was aware of the incident reported it to a male homeroom teacher, who continued his activity preparations, saying only, "Wait a second." [Source: Henshu Techo, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 21, 2012]

“According to the school's principal, the Yomiuri Shimbun also reported, despite being alerted by students, teachers at an Otsu middle school did not recognize that a student who committed suicide was being viciously bullied, and brushed off a punch-up between the victim and one assailant as just a fight. "The teachers assumed the student had a fight with his classmates. If we're accused of overlooking the bullying and missing a chance to grasp what was happening, we'll have to accept that," he said at the Otsu municipal office. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 16, 2011]

“The principal disagreed with the Otsu education board's comment that the teachers were aware the 13-year-old student was being bullied before he killed himself. "We didn't know for sure that the student was being bullied. We didn't notice, rather than didn't suspect," he said. The principal said he had been told twice the student was bullied before he committed suicide."I heard from some teachers that there was a [physical] power gap between the student and his classmates, and he often lost fights," he said. [Ibid]

“After the student and a classmate thought to be one of the bullies had a fight on Oct. 5, six days before the boy killed himself, the boy's homeroom teacher and several other teachers discussed how they should deal with the issue. However, the teachers concluded the incident was only a fight because both sides denied any bullying was going on and said there was no problem, the principal said. [Ibid]

“In another incident, the student reportedly had his arms and legs bound with headbands during an athletics festival on Sept. 29. Many students said they saw the incident, but the principal insisted the teachers had not noticed anything. "Many students said they told [the offending students] to stop. But the teachers told me they didn't see any bullying. They didn't see the boy" being tied up with headbands, he said. [Ibid]

Poor Response by the School System and Police to the Otsu Bullying Suicide

In mid-October, the school conducted a survey covering all of its students over the boy's death and submitted the results to the prefectural police later in the month. However, the police received only a summary of the results, which did not include certain student responses such as "the student was forced to practice killing himself" and "teachers tacitly approved the bullying." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 12, 2012]

“The board initially did not make public the students' claims that the boy had been forced to practice killing himself, saying the respondents were anonymous and it was difficult to confirm the allegations. [Ibid]

“But public outrage grew as details of the bullying and the apparent unwillingness of the school and municipal authority to take action gradually emerged. The city received bomb threats, one of them made against the school. The case took another turn when the education board released the findings of a follow-up survey it conducted in November. The second survey revealed the bullies "held a mock funeral" for the boy and "choked him, saying it was practice for when he killed himself.” [Ibid]

“The father reportedly attempted to submit a criminal damages report three times after his son committed suicide, but the police did not accept it. However, the station declined to receive the reports, saying that because the boy was dead, "it will be difficult to confirm the facts necessary to launch a criminal case" regarding bullying. [Ibid]

“In mid July, the prefectural police searched the school and office of the education board as places related to suspected assaults committed by the three students. Ryo Nishii and Seiji Tabata wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The bullying incident at an Otsu middle school has taken an unusual turn, with police launching investigations into the school and the city's education board over suspicion they have been trying to cover up the incident. The police said their aim is not limited to pursuing the incident as a criminal case, but also to establish a true picture of the incident. However, some national police officials voiced concern that the prefectural police may be going too far. [Source: Ryo Nishii and Seiji Tabata, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 14, 2012]

“There are two reasons the police decided to launch an investigation. One is the Otsu municipal education board's slipshod handling of the incident, which has led people to believe it concealed information. Another reason is public criticism against the police themselves for their reluctance to look into the case. The rejection drew fierce criticism from the public, but police pointed the finger at the school."We could have dealt with the incident differently if we'd known the details of the two surveys," a police investigator said. [Ibid]

Parents of Victim File a Lawsuit in Connection with the Otsu Bullying Suicide

The victim’s parents filed a lawsuit against the three bullies, their parents and the municipal government, demanding 770 million yen in damages. The municipal government admitted the boy had been bullied, but said they could not confirm a direct link between the bullying and his death. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 12, 2012]

“The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The complaint, which accused the three students of assault, extortion, intimidation and three other counts, was accepted by Otsu Police Station. According to two of the father's lawyers, the remaining three counts were coercion, theft and destruction of property. The act of lodging the complaint "reflects his [the father's] strong will to do everything he can for his son," one of his lawyers said.The 47-year-old father released comments through his lawyers, saying, "We'd like to have all the facts unearthed to prevent similar suicides." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 20, 2012]

“The father listed specific acts of bullying he says were suffered by his 13-year-old son in a statement. The claims include: 1) The three students put his son in a headlock, punched him and burned his hand with cigarette butts (suspected assault). 2) They threatened his son to make him give them money and forced him to reveal a bank account PIN number (suspected extortion). 3) They forced his son to repeatedly practice committing suicide (suspected coercion). 4) They forced his son to shoplift (suspected theft). 5) They ripped up his son's textbooks and school materials, and damaged other belongings as well (suspected destruction of property). [Ibid]

“I can now tell my son the complaint was finally accepted," the father said in a statement read by one of his lawyers after filing the complaint. "I hope the facts will be revealed, and that the boys [who bullied my son] will be punished, apologize and work to improve themselves.” [Ibid]

“The alleged bullies said in a written response to the damages suit filed against them, "It wasn't bullying, but a prank."According to a senior prefectural police official, they initially planned to decide whether it was possible to establish cases based on the charges by the end of August. However, the investigation could be prolonged as many people need to be questioned and there are many factors involved in the bullying case. [Ibid]

Innocent People Harassed, Rumors Spread on Internet in Connection with the Otsu Suicide Case

In late July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Ppersonal information about the students who are alleged to have bullied him and their relatives has been posted on the Internet. However, some of the information provided includes names, workplaces and other data of people who have no connection with the alleged offenders. The Shiga prefectural police are investigating the cases on suspicion of defamation and intimidation. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 30, 2012]

“Earlier this month, the name and a photo of a man in his 60s who works at a hospital in Shiga Prefecture were displayed on an online bulletin board with a message that he is a grandfather of one of the alleged bullies. The person's family name is the same as that of a relative of one of the alleged bullies and his job is similar. The man is unrelated to the student. Following the Internet posting, the hospital was flooded with telephone calls and e-mails calling on the man to apologize to the student who killed himself and asking the hospital why it employed a "relative of a killer." The hospital received hundreds of complaints a day at first. Though officials explained that the employee had nothing to do with the case, the hospital still receives several harassing phone calls a day. [Ibid]

“In another case earlier this month, an Otsu woman in her 60s was wrongly identified as the mother of one of the alleged offenders on an online bulletin board.The office of a women's organization that she belongs to received at least 50 harassing telephone calls a day. The office also received a letter saying the sender would throw concentrated sulfuric acid into the woman's face.The woman said she often wakes up late at night in terror and cannot get to sleep again. Her health has deteriorated. [Ibid]

“Why are such people being harassed when they have nothing to do with the bullying or the boy's suicide? One answer can be found on a TV personality's blog.Dewi Sukarno, known in Japan as Madame Dewi, posted on July 10 the photos of three students, schoolteachers and others with claims that they were responsible for or connected with the bullying. However, some of the people displayed had no connection with the case.CyberAgent Inc., a Tokyo-based company operating the blog service, demanded the names and photos be deleted, and she complied on July 11. However, the popularity of Dewi's blog rose from 249th among showbiz celebrities to ninth on July 11 and to top of the heap the following day. [Ibid]

“Another factor that helped spread the wrong information was "matome saito," websites that collect and display information about specific topics from information on online bulletin boards and other websites. In the Otsu bullying case, wrong information on another online bulletin board was carried on such a website. Though the website carried a correction, it did not delete the wrong information. [Ibid]

Image Sources: xorsyst blog

Text Sources: Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~; Education in Japan website educationinjapan.wordpress.com ; Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated Japan 2014

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