Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The November School Suicides

Well bad news. It seems that the disk that I saved my paper to isn't cooperating with my computer. Technology, got to love it.
Over the last 3 weeks Japan seems to have just got through an incredible amount of suicides in its junior highs and high schools. In almost all cases it is suspected that the reason for the suicides was ijime, or bullying. This problem seems to be ridiculously out of control. In so many cases students who are suffering from bullying are too ashamed to speak with anyone. And in many cases when they do, they're told that they either deserve it because they look funny, act weird, or smell. These things seem almost inconsequential to the western mind, but for Japanese society it the equivalent of being told that you're not wanted. In Japan for one to become out of touch, or disliked by the "group", in this case one's fellow classmates, it is unbearable. Although this is true, there seems to be a unique response of suicide in Japanese teenagers. It is very rare in America for teen's who've been diverted or who have committed suicide to have chosen bullying for a cause to want to die. Rather a much more varied list of reasons comes up.
One problem that afflicts Japan in many different corners of its society is its lack of a large mental health service sector. Most schools do not have social workers, and in many cases, to even go see a mental health expert such as a therapist is looked down upon. This social stigma in Japan impedes upon many kids, and adults from seeking help. In a society such as Japan (and those of many other highly "modern" nations too) many never have close friends because of the amount of work, and busy lives that most people end up leading. My fellow Japan blogger, Kern, an English teacher in Japan, posted a letter sent to all teachers in his school on the topic of the spate of suicides occurring suddenly this month. In it the education officials tell those who are suffering from bullying and teasing to speak with a close friend or relative. But they do not mention social workers, or other trained professionals who's job is to help people such as the kids who are considering committing suicide. The reason that this is, is because there aren't many social workers around to begin with. My last, and current Japanese tutors are both grad students training to become social workers. Both of them believe that so many of the problems afflicting suffers of bullying could be helped by having many trained social workers in Japan. They also realize that that for this to come about, the Japanese government and Ministry of Education will have to take steps in normalizing the image of seeking help from people such as therapists.
In books such as Japan: A Reinterpretation, and in Shogun's Ghost, the issue of schools failing to aid students suffering from bullying is given lots of attention. To learn a lot on this issue I strongly suggest reading these two books. A recent example of this was seen earlier this month. A female student in a Japanese school was being pressured by a group of fellow students routinely to hand over money to them. Up until her suicide she had collectively given them a large sum of money. She didn't sit quiet while all of this happened. Instead she complained to the school administration. When the principal reviewed the case he labeled it as not being a case of bullying. When the girl finally failed to get the school's help, from teachers and from other faculty members, she committed suicide. In the resulting chaos the principle apologized in a press conference. He told the media that he was terribly sorry for misreporting the seriousness of the bullying of the girl in a report he'd made on the issue. The next day he did not show up for work. The police eventually discovered his body hanging from a tree. Another case of suicide. So why did teachers and the very person in charge of the school fail this girl? There would seem to me a fundamental problem in how bullying cases are approached by many faculty members of Japanese schools. Also, why do those who conduct bullying do so? The answer is both a reflection of the problems facing all Japanese students, and the lack of discussion on certain ethical issues. In interviews those who bullied others reported that they found it to be a way to relieve the stress from their busy school lives. They also were reported to have said that those they bullied deserved it because of they thought, behaved, or form many other reasons.
I’ve got to get back to editing a draft of my AP Euro essay. I will come back later to discuss more on this. As a closing thought, I think that the tragedy of this problem truly rests in the bad responses that the education system comes up with to the problem. So far everything it has done has failed. Meaningful actions are needed

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