Saturday, 2 February 2013


“Sensei, I just wanted to tell you that Y-chan did an amazing job cleaning the toilets. She's very talented and is so hard-working.”
“Well, that’s just great M-chan. You two run out and play now.”
“You hear that, Y-chan? I told the teacher a compliment so now you owe me. From now on, I will never clean the toilets again, you will do it for me, and you will tell the teacher I did it. You got that?”


The front of my Japan Times this morning had a splash on the resignation of the women’s judo coach after using beatings to train the Japan Olympic team. This, thankfully, should come to an end now that the bright spotlight of publicity is on people whose abuse of authority* leads to suicides.


There’s a bullying problem at my daughters’ primary school. One girl -- through guile, evasion, threats and favours promised -- has reduced half the class to sobbing wrecks. The teachers and head teacher are aware of the problem, and have been for at least three years. But the bully has never been stopped. The staff hide behind procedure or the need for incontrovertible, written proof, while one after another of the bullied girls' parents meet teachers and learn that the authorities are aware of  the problem but seem incapable of solving it. Or, given the revolving nature of teaching posts at schools, are happier to allow their time to run out and leave the problem kid to someone else to sort out. There’s another term for this institutional failing: can’t be bothered.

The bully has instinctively worked this out and is happy to work the system to her own advantage, knowing fortune favours the brave: she will outlast the teachers’ term in office and she operates a divide and rule strategy with the other kids. Her classmates figure it’s easier to keep their heads down and keep quiet and hope some other poor bastard bears the brunt of M-chan’s torturing. For torture is what it is becoming for one of my neighbour’s daughter. Getting a minion to write “You die!” on the blackboard for all the kids to see is beyond the pulling of pigtails we’d like to think is the extent of an 11-year-olds’ bullying problems.

Well, if the teachers won’t act, we will. We’re not going to wait for some poor kid to take her own life before anyone confronts the bully. First on the agenda is to stop the division. United, victims are no longer weak. Then everything needs to be brought out into the open. We don’t care two stuffs for the school’s reputation. We care about the kids. If the conditions are right then all it takes is for one brave person to take a stand, and for the bully to see the tide has turned. But the tide has to turn. That requires clarity, dedication, organisation, charisma, bravery and sheer pig-headedness.

Step forward Our Woman in Abiko.

*An Apology. Our Man in Abiko was in two minds about taking the piss out of Abe-san in the last post for his abysmal English. Lord knows Our Man’s Japanese is abysmal and equally worthy of scorn. He hopes Abe-san understands that Our Man was merely looking for anything vaguely amusing and anti-authority, this being the default position of the blog. In the future, Our Man will endeavour to take the piss out of Abe-san for matters of hypocrisy, corruption, incompetence and/or substance if, going forward, anything of substance regarding Abe does come to light. But not of his baffling decision to bamboozle the world's movers and shakers with his impression of English.

Carry on.


kamo said...

Good luck to you. It's terrifying how Machiavellian some kids can be at such an early age. Hopefully you can reach a critical mass of support after which action has to be taken. Unfortunately it may be a case of making 'not taking action' seem like the more difficult and unpleasant option for the school staff.

As for the Abe thing, I don't think you need to apologise. If he'd been making off the cuff remarks at a diplomatic function, then yeah, you'd be a heel to take the piss. But he and a number of other people sat down and thought, 'Yeah, this is a good idea, well executed,' for reasons that are still opaque. And neither he, nor anyone near him, had the wit to point out that it was pretty sub-par. As I said before, he's the Prime Minister of a leading industrialized nation, not a nursery school student. He doesn't get points for effort.

Ἀντισθένης said...

'Our Lady of Abiko' will be saving one or several children decades of psychological difficulty, maybe even the bully herself, who I can understand it is hard to sympathize with, and who I would put at the bottom of my concerns too. Her parents are probably the real evil.

Administrators are tossers, Japan and Canada, at least. We teachers can be, but usually care more, both because we have to be in the room with the kids, and haven't become paper-pushing careerists. The only thing an administration understands is their feet in a fire. They will stonewall until they have lost the plot, then suddenly they will become SO amenable. Send 'Our Lady' and her troupe against the admin, not the teachers. Even if some teachers deserve it, that's a local victory at best, and a way for the admin to shirk the blame, more likely.

To the ramparts!

Anonymous said...

We have bullying problems at our grade school too. Even in the community itself. We see it early in the morning when drunks harass the kids on their way to school or when drunk hosts violently beat up their female customers as the kids walk past to school. Yet the school prefers to look the other way. The school officials "act" as if they are doing something but then stop after a few days. Most of the time the responses are the following: can't be helped/ not aware of the situation (then change subject)/look the other way. Even some of the teachers are bullies yet they have been there the longest and being "older" they are not questioned for their actions. My son is bullied in his class but he has come to accept it. The teachers say it is my fault because I interfere too much. It depresses me because when I talk to other mothers they always respond : It's the Japanese way. I watched a family of young boys who had learning disabilities being teased, pushed around, shoved until they cried just because they were different and didn't "act" properly. Their mother was physically abused at home, everyone knew that but she wasn't supported or helped. The mothers talked behind her back and bullied her because her kids were different, because she was seen as different. When I brought up the issue of the local kids bullying her boys it back-lashed. The mothers of the bullies blamed the abused mother, it was her fault her kids were different. I really do love the Japanese culture, but this first year of entering grade school has opened my eyes to a lot of issues that are ignored. I often feel helpless for those that I see are verbally or physically abused because when I speak up I am told to keep my head down and move on, that this is "the Japanese way" and I must accept it.(;_;)


Ἀντισθένης said...

'FushigiFox', I guess what they are admitting is that bullying is 'the Japanese way'. After all, it is. If only they were that honest...

Our Man in Abiko said...

I wouldn't go so far as to say bullying is the Japanese way, as tempting as that conclusion may be. A lot has happened since I wrote this post. I must update what all is going on, but like any group there are those (most) who advise doing nothing or who are scared to change. This is not exclusive to Japan, by the way, and neither is bullying. I'm hopeful of a breakthrough shortly though.