Violence among Japanese Youth

By Lamont-Brown, Raymond | Contemporary Review, August 2000 | Go to article overview

Violence among Japanese Youth


Lamont-Brown, Raymond, Contemporary Review


RECENTLY the British Heart Foundation published a leaflet, Get Kids on the Go, in which parents were advised to encourage their children to get more exercise. The Foundation has also emphasised the alarming decline in physical activity since the late 1980s. Researchers noted that by the age of fifteen boys in particular have established a pattern of non-physical activities: watching television (while eating junk food), surfing the net, chatting to friends on the telephone, and generally avoiding all forms of active play. The BHF captioned a montage of three such youths with 'Heart disease; the early signs'.

Similar research has been conducted in Japan by Dr Shizuo Machizawa, who mirrored the findings of the BHF. His research goes much further, to notice a sinister trend of shonen hanzai (juvenile violence). Since the early 1990s specialists in adolescent personality disorders like Dr Machizawa, and others in related fields, have studied the elements which make up what they call 'Japan's diseased body politic'.

Beginning with the premises set out in the ancient Japanese adage Kyoiku-wa Kokka Hyaku-nen-no Kei, that Kyoiku (education) is the foundation of any nation's puissance for a hundred years, the researchers looked at Japan's escalating 'classroom chaos'. By 1997 Japan's senior high-schools had in excess of 110,000 drop-outs; records in 1998 clocked up over 127,000 truants at elementary and junior high schools, while high percentages of pupils at all levels of education were unable to cope, or keep up, with everyday projects. Teachers' groups also recorded increases in bullying, juvenile delinquency, student violence against each other and teachers, as well as classroom anarchy.

All this was a startling set of revelations in a country held up by others to be the most highly educated and socially disciplined in the world. Japan had been ultra-successful in importing, assimilating and improving western technology to enable the war-tom empire to become a highly developed, wealthy, democratic manufacturing nation. To keep up with all this the Japanese educators did produce a 'cramming and examination hell' for students bent on achieving the national target of a secure job in a prestige company based on a good education.

Along with good grades went the ability to 'harmonise and conform' to make Japanese companies competitive. Out of Japan's achievement of postwar high growth, then, developed a homogeneous workforce, the worker-ants of the second largest economy in the world.

Then it all went wrong. Global uncertainty, severe market competition, a world recession centred on information technology, the problems of an ageing society, a falling birthrate, redundancy and recession all combined to cause Japan's current problems.

It was probably such groups as the Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives) who first began to perceive the malfunctioning of Japanese education and its knock-on effect on Japanese youth. A trawl of the Japanese newspapers makes the new violent trend all too clear:

* 1997 Kobe. A fourteen-year-old youth murdered and decapitated an eleven-year-old mentally handicapped boy. In true samurai (warrior) revenge-style he placed the severed head at the gate of his school with a letter saying his murderous actions were a protest against education being compulsory.

* 1998 Osaka Prefecture. A thirteen-year-old boy murdered a female schoolteacher. (This was the first of a series of child perpetrated knifings.)

* 1999 Aichi Prefecture. A sixteen-year-old stabbed his girlfriend when she endeavoured to end their relationship.

* 2000 Aichi Prefecture. A seventeen-year-old attacked and severely injured an elderly man and stabbed his wife some forty times. …

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