Wm. Penn / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
We know TV is part of the problem, but could it be part of the solution too? I have been writing this column for over 18 years. During that time, hundreds of dramas and more variety shows than I would ever want to count have come and gone, but one thing has remained constant. Teen ijime (bullying) stories have continued to make news headlines.
Month after month, year after year, the evening news brings us these stories, but seldom does anyone take responsibility or seriously consider a solution.
The stories vary somewhat. Sometimes, the victims of bullying end up murdered.
In the far greater number of stories that go unreported, one assumes the victims find the inner strength to persevere or get themselves out of the school system.
Seldom do the news stories involve reports on conscientious administrators actively taking measures to make their schools safe for all.
Occasionally, as in the case of the student who recently tossed an improvised bomb into a classroom, the bullied fight back with violence of their own.
More often, the stories end and only begin to make TV headlines when the victims kill themselves. This was the case June 14 when TV Asahi’s Hodo Station reported on a middle school girl who had killed herself on school grounds a few weeks before. Her mother found a memo hidden behind a picture frame declaring she wanted to kill herself to stop the bullying and listing numerous ways of ending her life, including the one she finally chose–hanging.
The sad little memo carried a big message and the family, obviously at their wits’ end trying to get some sort of recognition of her plight, invited TV cameras in when local education officials came to call. The officials were cautious and reluctant to admit outright that bullying might have been the cause. One of these men was asked by the media after the meeting what he had thought of the memo. He noted that he hadn’t really read it all as he didn’t have his glasses with him.
Such honesty on air is rare. It is also a rare reminder of just how many obstacles the bullied and their families run up against in their efforts to get the Japanese education system to take their concerns seriously.
This endless bullying–which if one wants to be brutally honest is little more than societally condoned torture–has gone on far too long, and TV has done more than its fair share to promote an atmosphere of acceptance of the horror over the years.
Perhaps it is now time for the TV networks to salve their consciences a bit by stepping in to offer some help.
It is time for a variety show that will act as a hot line for bullying victims and take on the offending schools. Obviously, just how to do this will require some thought. But, as we have seen so many times before, Japanese TV producers can come up with a range of options beyond the imaginations of many other people. If they put their minds to the task, they’ll think of a format. And as much as I complain about the tasteless tarento, most of them are no more clueless or hapless than your average local bureaucrat. Many are far more talented.
Remember how Ikinari Ogon Densetsu (Thursdays, 7 p.m., TV Asahi network) last year took on the pesky problem of neighborhood junk hoarders who turn their homes into garbage dumps while the neighbors and local government seemed powerless to do anything about it? Remember how the TV program dispatched aspiring young talents to several sites to set up a dialogue with the offenders and spur on a clean-up effort? The tireless talents were actually able to work some small-screen miracles.
So why not send Take2 and Cream Stew and squads of other aspiring young comic duos out to the schools to investigate and shame them into recognizing their bullying problems and taking action.
I know this is an extremely optimistic proposal, but if a popular TV variety show could start spreading the idea among young viewers that ijime is not acceptable behavior, it might just begin to chip away at an old and unfortunately far too well-entrenched custom. And if school officials came to realize there were monitors ready to shine a national spotlight on them at any time, perhaps they would not be so quick to ignore reality.
Like a hard-to-cure cancer, 18 years from now the problem of ijime will probably still be with us, but TV could help to shrink it somewhat.
This and That Dept.: What makes the wide shows positively giddy? A tantalizing celebrity family spat, of course, such as the long-running Waka-Taka wars between two sibling retired sumo wrestlers, which recently flared up again after their father’s death. Masaru Hanada, formerly Wakanohana, is opting for silence, but former yokozuna Takanohana was center-screen all last week, racking up over five hours of live TV appearances and over 19 hours and 23 minutes of wide-show time, according to the Broadcaster (Sundays, 10 p.m., TBS network) tally. And the wide-show show has barely begun.