Sunday, December 23, 2007

I Gotta Stop Reading the On-line News

Okay. I know I promised never again to be political. But this isn't so much political as . . . just observational? I woke up. I put my morning pot of coffee on. I turned on the computer and made the mistake of doing the rounds of the English language on-line newspapers. In the Mainichi Daily News I found an article about a prestigious high school wrestling team that has gotten in trouble because several of the older team members have been bullying the younger members. You know, doing things like wrapping towels and t-shirts around the younger guy's necks until they lose consciencness. That kind of fun, team bonding, character building stuff. You can read the article for yourself here.
(the article is "Top Aichi high school wrestling club members suspended for bullying")

So I stumble into the kitchen, shuffle up to my coffee maker and peer at the pot. Still not finished brewing yet. Damn. Back to the computer.

This time I read an article about an adult man, the boss of a decoration company, who has killed an employee. He was disciplining him by punching him in the gut in front of the employee's home. (The article doesn't mention if the employee was married, a father or not, but I guess if he was, then the boss wanted to teach the whole family a lesson.) You may peruse this article here. (The article's headline is "Tokyo boss arrested for fatally 'disciplining' employee: 'I went too far')

Okay. This time I clip back on into the kitchen, pull out the coffee pot (although it still isn't finished brewing) tip out some strong black liquid into my coffee cup and replace the pot. I stand for a second or two listening to the angry hissing noises my coffee maker now makes as it boils a few drops of spilled coffee that fell on the burner. If I were awake, fully awake, I'd be making similar hissing noises over the news stories I've just read, but as it is, I stand there and let the coffee machine do the hissing and booing for me. Back to the computer where I plop down, open up this blog and hit "new post".

You know, frankly, if this employee hadn't ended up dead at a hospital from his boss's stomach punch, it wouldn't be news here at all.

People lament the extent of grade school, junior high and high school bullying taking place here in Japan but bullying really isn't limited to early or later child hood education. I think the younger generation is just in a kind of bullying "boot camp." You're either in training to be a bully or to be bullied. You are being tutored in accepting, sanctioning and most insidiously of all in tolerating bullying as being a normal part of the social structure of heirarchy. The scariest part of bullying for me is that whenever one kid is singled out for the abuse there is a crowd of kids that are simply on the side lines watching that abuse taking place. Everyone is being conditioned by bullying--conditioned to do it, endure it or take it for granted as part of life, no big deal, the way things are.

Bullying takes place in the work place here--both emotional and physical bullying-- and it is unofficially sanctioned. My husband has an ex boss whom I hate and he still can't understand why. Part of the reason I hate the ex boss is because he is/was a bully. He treats the majority of those employed beneath him as crap. He is a very successful man and my husband even admires him. (My husband, the workaholic, is spinning around so quickly on his rat wheel that he never doubts the wisdom of the system here) I didn't admire the guy so much when he lectured Masa for taking a day off after having surgery on his hand. His reasoning was that he himself, at Masa's age had often worked for over a month straight without taking a day off and that my husband was setting a poor example for other workers in the office by taking the post operative day off.

I'm not saying that Japan isn't trying to do something about the problem of bullying. In fact, one of the classes I observed at Reno's school last year was about the ijime (bullying) problem. The teacher had the kids generate a list of words and phrases that made people feel bad about themselves. Then they dramatically put big "X's" over all those words and decided not to use them with each other. Then the teacher asked kids to contribute words and phrases that made them feel good about themselves when someone said them to them. These were the words that they decided they would try to use with each other.

Of course, Reno came home and started to use quite a few of the crossed off words with her sister. . . but because I had been at the lesson I was able to nip that in the bud quickly. (We're talking slang in Japanese here. If I hadn't been at the class I wouldn't have had a clue what some of those words meant!)

Reno has also brought home a national hot line number for children to call if they are experiencing ijime and don't feel comfortable confiding in a teacher or parent. She currently has a binder, a ruler and a handy index card with this hot line number on it.

The government is allowing parents and their children to sue schools and individuals over issues of bullying.

But if a Dad comes home well past midnight for over a month because he "has to work late" (without overtime pay) or if a Mommy is systematically excluded from the social circle at the PTA meetings or from the class meetings at her kid's school, or if a young woman is given the cold shoulder by absolutely every single one of her female colleagues at work, or Daddy's boss cuffs him upside the head for a mistake on the job. . . no one is passing out any binders or rulers to the adult folk.

And the young folk are sitting on the sidelines, clutching their bullying hot line paraphernalia, watching, listening and learning.


illahee said...

AMEN. that's all i can say. amen. *sigh*

Christelle said...

Interesting insights here and like many people often comment, so well written.

However, I would like to digress and wish you a Merry Christmas!

azumarisan said...

Merry Christmas Laura!

Kim said...

My sentiments exactly. I'm afraid to send my little one into the Japanese school system and I WANT my husband out of the work hell here. ARGH!

Merry Christmas late and a Happy New Year, early.

medea said...

Word. I don't think any of the actions schools are taking to stop bullying will work if the kids watch the teachers bully each other. It starts with the teachers and in the homes...

Abigail Munday said...

Am I surprised about the bully-rific wrestling team being in Aichi? NOT ONE BIT!

I taught in three middle schools in Aichi for three years and saw LOADS of bullying up close: teacher to teacher, student to teacher, and student to student. Was there ever anything satisfactorily done to stop it? Not to my knowledge. And I was the bad mean nasty American for blowing the whistle when a student said "shinei" to me or when I observed a male student punch a female teacher in the shoulder, just to name two examples of the numerous ijime I saw in the schools. Gets me riled just to think about it.

Anyway, I'm glad I found your blog via mommyinjapan. I live in Hyogo and our hubbies work together, so it's nice to read another American's viewpoint on life here in the Land of the Rising Sun. Rise on, Sun!