HBC's assessment of Japanese schools would be incomplete without addressing the horendous incidents being reported at the county's vaunted schools. Japanese parents had thought that their children were save virtually anywhere. Very young children commonly walked to school or took public transport. Often they would wear brightly colored caps to make sure that motorists saw them. It was inconceivable to nearly all Japanese that their children would be rndarger at school. This was seen by the Japanese to be a problem in violence-plagued America, not their own safe society. Until recently they were correct. What has happened in Japan?
Japanese parents had thought that their children were save virtually anywhere. Very young children commonly walked to school or took public transport. Often they would wear brightly colored caps to make sure that motorists saw them. It was inconceivable to nearly all Japanese that their children would be in danger--certainly the though the children would be endanger once they reached school. This was seen by the Japanese to be a problem in violence-plagued America, not their own safe society. Until recently they were correct. Japanese crime rates were and still are a fraction of American levels--although they are growing. Violence at school was unknown--with one exception. Teachers were occasionally occurred with excessive zeal.
Modern Japan is a society in flux. As late as World War II (1941-45), Japan was a still largely agrarian society. Most Japanese grew up in rural communities or small towns. Everyone knew each other. Modern Japan is one of the most urbanized socities in the world. Yhis change has taken place in a very short period--perhaps faster than any other country. Surprisingly many of the problems associated with urbanization (isolation, divorce, unemolpyment, ect.) until recently did not appear to be occurring in Japan. This may have been in part because of the Japanese economic system where men were hired and spent their entire career with a single company. The modern "wired" society ha repaced the old certainties of family and village life. In effect, the company became like an extended family or clan. The economic problems of tyhe past decade (called the "lost" decade in Japan) has begun to change that. Layoffs and unemplyment have risen. Japanese salary workers can no longer depend unquestionably on their company. Many fell cast off and adrift in the new Japan and in many cases do not have an extended family to fall back on.
The Japanese media have reported in recent years a series of horrendous events which oftem mistify Americans. Vilence innAmerica often centers around money. Viloence in Japan often appears so mindless and unpredictable. The most horrifying incident occurred in June 2001 when a deranged man having lost a series of jobs, as a result of his bizare and vilolent behavior, burst into an Osaka primary school and killed scors of little children--six of which tragically died. Parents all over the world were horrified. In this single incident, the saftey myth that had enveloped Japanese school children evaporated.
While this was by far the most horendous event, Japan in recent years has been gripped by a series of such mindless incidents. The most notorious of course was the cult which released poison gas in the Tokyo subway during 1995. In 2001 a deranged person attacked comuters with a baseball bat. Suvh serious attacks have been growing for more than a decade. Some observers believe that violent crime levels are now comparable to levels in much of Western Europe.
The Osaka attack has not been the only school attack in recent years. A 7-year old in 2000 was stabed to death by a stranger on her school's playground. A 17-year old school boy hijacked a bus and killed a passager, a junior high student stabbed another student in a playground altercation, and a newsboy killed 3 members of a family.
It was the 2001 Osaka attack that has mesmerized Japan. The thought of a knife-wielding intruder bursting into a class of the youngest children, imaculately outfitted in their blue and white school uniforms, horrified the Japanes from the new prime minister on down. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told is people, "This is an awful case, so hard to understand. I've lost my words to console. These children are at their cutest, sweetest age. How can we deal with the fact that our safe society is beginning to collapse?"
Press reports have focused on the fact the the Osaka intruder was deranged. HBC does not entirely agree with that. He was in fact very calculating. He picked a primary school and attacked the youngest children there. He wanted to kill as many children as possible and realized that older children were more able to resist. After he was arrested he told the police that he was afraid to take his own like.
It should be noted that before the latest spate of attacks, Japanese newspapers had been reported on incidents at school where teachers had caused injuries to students. These incidents primarily occurred at secondary schools and involved breeches of school rules such as coming late to school or uniform infractions.
Japanese papers are full of editorials asking why these incidents are occurring. Right-wing journalists blame foreigners, a code word for the Chinese and Koreans in Japan--even though their numbers are minisule and the perpetrators of the most heinous incidents have all been Japanese.
Japan is still a relativerly safe society--at least in comparison to gun-obsessed America. The crime rate in Japan is much lower than in America. The murder rate, for example is only a fraction of the American rate, one-sixth according to one observer.
There are important differences between the Japanese and American school incidents. One of the major differences is guns. Japan has very strict gun control laws. Think for a moment what the Osaka intruder could have done if he had gotten his hands on a gun. Another difference is that in America the violence tends to be instigated by children, in one case even the older children in primary school. This was possible because of the prevalence of guns. In an exception to this, a intruder in California attacked a Jewish pre-school, motivated by rasist notions. In racially homogeneous Japan, this is unlikely.
Reducing viloence is one reason that many American schools. especially inner-city schools, have adopted uniforms in recent years. The impact has been limited, in part because uniforms have only been adopted in public primary and junior highschools--and usually on a voluntary basis. (Parochial students have been wearing simple uniforms for years.) Getting seconfary children to accept uniforms would be a very difficult proposition. The situation is different in Japan. Most Japanese secondary children werar uniforms--primary Prussian cadet and sailor dress uniforms. Many primary children wear uniforms, but only about one-third of the schools. The uniform is seen as a matter of discipline in Japan, but few see it as a factor in reducun viloence--especially as the vilence so often comes from outside the school.
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