Members from our Education in Japan online community have shared many stories of our children and incidents of bullied in Japan. What follows below here is a collection of our stories, suggestions and ideas on the issue of bullying and what can be done about it. Names and identities of members have been withheld for the protection of families and their children.
In general, teachers are very concerned about the quality of education they are providing — they have morning meetings, they get together and talk at the breaks sometimes, they spend the afternoon after school in the staff room. The older teachers are very good about helping the newer teachers. There are lots of “study activities” that get the teachers together with other schools. The vice-principals and principals also get together for meetings on a very regular basis to discuss school problems. Even the kids get together and discuss school problems like ijime, and
how to handle it. And it seems like the PTAs are also very active.
But I’m up in Hokkaido. It may be different down in Honshu. I will say, I think the smaller schools (50 or fewer students) seem to have
the more active PTAs. My kids go to a school of 15, and we have a lot of say in the school life.
However, it really depends on the parents, too. There was one (Japanese) mom who had a real chip on her shoulder from the
beginning, and I think her actions led to a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think she had a horrible experience in the schools in
Honshu, and projected it onto her son’s experience. She wound up pulling him from the school on the grounds of bullying. It was
really a shock, and there was much discussion about it among the teachers, parents and students. Was there a bullying problem? Well,
she felt so, and if she felt so strongly, she was right to take her son out of school. But I can’t help but wonder if she’d ever find a
school (and in the future a workplace) that would be bully-free.
Some schools, and some teachers, do have a problem. But I don’t think it’s fair to say they aren’t working on it.
How do you handle this in your own school (if you send the kids to school — international or public)?
I do it by going to PTA meetings, talking to the teachers during the home-visit and establishing a good speaking relationship (and if I
can’t, I know I have to do more work during the sankanbi). I have volunteered at the school in the past. I go to the mothers’ outings
sponsored by the PTA (or I used to, before I worked). My husband goes to mini-volleyball to keep in touch with other parents, and
give the kids a chance to play with their friends outside of school.
During sankanbi, I talk with the teachers — and since we’re such a small school, I usually have time for a little social chit-chat with
them. I talk to my kids, and if there’s a problem, I talk it over with the teachers. But I also respect the teachers’ time and
I think it’s much easier for parents in a big school to get disconnected, though.
Our family went through a slightly rough time when my boys were in Grade 2 & 3 (things are great now–knock on wood).
In our case, I guess I never even considered the teacher when I went straight to the principal. Since I had known the principal for 3 years
and had a number of prior meetings, I felt more comfortable dealing with him (the teacher change each year and are new to me). Now that I
think of it, my youngest stayed home one week and on the third day the teacher called to find out why and I told her he no longer wanted to
go to school b/c of the class situation. She came to our house that day after school to talk to us. I then met witht the principal the
following week. I didn’t complain about the teachers but what my sons were experiencing and what could be done. Another mother came with me to translate if I needed her and her son was also in my son’s class so it helped. I found out that the 3 bullies in my son’s class were
already known as troublemakers so I guess other mothers had already talked to the teacher and principal. In fact, the following school
year, the 3 were separated into different classes where they didn’t have a ‘following’ or close friends.
As a result of the meeting the principal increased the number of teachers on the playground during recess. Over a period of a few
weeks, the principal and each class teacher had a talk to each class individually about bullying. The school has a zero tolerance policy.
The principal patrolled the halls and visited all classes every day and assistant teachers were seen in ‘trouble’ classes. I have even
seen mothers visiting the school once a week to watch. I would drop in 2-3 times a week to watch my boys’ classes as well until things seem
to resolved themselves. Our PTA started up a new group that spent time at the school on the playground, going into classes to monitor and
walk the halls–all with the teachers’ support of course.
I heard from a sempai mother that a few years ago they had a problem with a particular child and 2 of the mothers from the class who knew
the boy’s mother went and talked to her. I’m not clear on the details but the mother took it seriously and the boy over time seemed to
improve his behavior. I heard that things were not good at home b/w the parents and the boy may have been taking out his anxiety or anger
out on others.
The fact that we are not a Japanese family seems to give us more ‘freedom’ to do what we feel is right and not be restricted by protocol.
N. in Kashiwa
Saga city has an anti-bullying policy. Here is a link to it when it was published in the city newsletter – URL:
We have a good “anti-bullying” policy at our sho-gaku, too. The school is even having a meeting about it for parents next week. A boy has been kicking and hitting my son, but since it is not acompanied by name-calling, bad language, I think this child just does not know how to communicate with words. He wants to play with my son. I’ve seen them playing well together on the playground.
The last “attack”, I was at the school and was very impressed with the way my son’s teacher handled the situation. Since she hadn’t seen the kick to the chin, and the attacker “couldn’t remember” what happened,, she went to get an eyewitness! The eyewitnesses account was the smae as my son’s. The principal also was there for support. I also learned that a school psychologist has been observing the class (this kid, actually). I feel rather sorry for this kid. I think he’s got some major issues — as do all bullies. (But of course the bullied need to be protected!)
We’ve gotten several apology phone calls from the mom. On the last one, my husband told her about our ward office counseling center and suggested she look into it. She had never heard about it and was grateful for the info.
My son is taking aikido. I think that has helped. I highly recommend it for boys and girls. It’s nonagressive self defense and great for building confidence. I’m from the “don’t fight back” camp, aikido supports this philosophy. Enrolling your child in such a class will also show your child that you are taking action about the bullying and they might feel better.
Hope this helps.
The advice below from another list was circulated among us during our bullying discussions:
What to do if your child is bullied in a Japanese School:
If the teacher is not helping, make a WRITTEN request for the head teacher for the grade (gakunen shunin) and the head of teaching
(kyouto) and finally the principal (kouchou) are included in future meetings. If possible, post the request to the principal. That is, the
teacher’s responses will bevisible to his or her immediate superiors.
If you feel that no obvious action is planned, or if promised action is not taken, mention that you will be forced to take the matter to the local
board of education (kyouiku i-inkai) to ask for their assistance if the school is unable to solve the problem without outside help. Schools
don’t like it when the kyouiku iinkai is involved, but once you make a written request for assistance in solving the problem, neither the
kyouiku iinkai nor the school can ignore you.
Keep a written record of communication, send letters registered if you have to, and if you are feeling really bolshie, take letters to the PO
and send them as “contents on record” (naiyou shoumei) which proves that you sent the letter you said you did, and that the contents are what
you claimed. This 1) prevents the school from claiming that you didn’t send/they didn’t receive correspondence, and 2) proves that the letter
contents are as you say they are. Probably you wouldn’t ever use the evidence this provides, but it makes it very clear to the school that
you are leaving a paper trail for future use.
Keep a diary or calendar and note ALL incidents, with names or at least number of students and grades/gender. Also note all communication with school and responses. Even though there is no proof that your record is accurate, it’s surprisingly effective. Often teachers are so used to
talking their way out of such things that they don’t even realize how big the problem is until you show them your record. Keep the record
for several years…even for ever…a kid who was kicking name in class and inciting groups of 10 boys to surround and pursue him in 3rd grade was moved out of the district under pressure from the school – but came back bigger and uglier than ever in JHS. His parents lied and said that
they’d never lived in the area before and never encountered name before JHS, but we had evidence to the contrary…
Don’t let yourself get isolated. Stay in touch with other parents and local bodies, know you are not alone, and name is not alone either.
Tell your class PTA rep AND write a letter directly to the PTA kai-chou (the PTA class rep, understandably, may not know what to do in cases
of serious trouble, and may well underestimate problems is her kid is not at risk). If any of the violence takes place outside the school,
contact your local neighborhood association (chounai-kai). Ours really helped us – and they went regularly to the principal to air their grievances about wild kids and their doings!
Call the police if you have to. It’s really helpful to keep the school informed of your planned next move – never present it as a threat,
always present it as “well, this problem is obviously too big for you/us to solve alone, and this situation is too dangerous to continue. We’ll
be contacting the PTA kai-chou/Board of Education/police if the need arises.” Of course, police will be looking for specific names, dates
and sequence of events. Nobody wants to call police on children, BUT police do have the right to follow up on troublemaking children, which may in the long run be in their best interests. Also, I’m cynically tempted to think that most principals really don’t think that the sacrifice of a
child or two is too high a price for their careers, so if there is a risk of serious violence or mental torment, don’t hesitate to get the help you need – and if that’s police action, so be it.
I don’t want to say this, but while I have a lot of respect and gratitude for individual teachers, I have no faith or trust in the school admin system. Every time I thought I knew how low they would go, they would surprise me. Keep a paper trail and NEVER trust a verbal
promise. Assume that the school will cover up and procrastinate unless physical injury or damage to property occurs. If it does, try to make
the SCHOOL pay for it out of their insurance, rather than simply getting the offending kids’ parents to cough up – because school insurance
claims have to be documented, while parent-parent transactions can be hidden from the Board of Education. After all, you’ve told the school
that injuries are occurring and are likely to recur, in a situation which you are legally obliged to expose your child to every day. Their
responsiiblity is quite clear.
My guess is that most schools just want you to disappear – either by shutting up and putting up with it or transferring/staying away from
school. I was surprised to find the same principal who denied taunting and minor physical violence for the first 3 years of elementary
school, coolly told me in late 3rd grade that “we know that name has been teased since he started school”. He came up with this confession after
several boys grabbed his glasses and stomped on them – i.e. property was damaged. Again, in JHS, we found that the principal told us that boy A
was fully responsible, and that evidence from other children supported the sequence of events in the police report. We sent the police report
to the Board of Education…and shortly found that the principal (not knowing that we had already contacted the BoE) had presented an
entirely different sequence of events to the BoE, one which absolved the school of any responsibility. What would have happened if we had trusted the principal?? How *on earth* was he able to get away with not submitting the police report?
A point to remember is that the kyouto is normally at a school longer than a principal, and s/he is more directly involved in the running of
the school and relations with the students and their families and surrounding community. In the principal’s mind, his or her client and
employer is the BoE, and those are the people s/he most wants to please.
You and your child are not the principal’s first priority, and since principals move every 3 years on average, they can make a big mess of
a school and then walk away from it (but if the mess attracts public attention and the BoE, they will lose pay and maybe seniority). The
kyouto usually has more influence on the day to day running of the school. However, in difficult schools, the kyouto is sometimes
a “plant” from the BoE, and may not have the trust of the teaching staff. This is why it’s important to involve the head of teaching for the grade.