Zielenziger, M. (1998, April 19). Juvenile crime jumps to record high in Japan: Pressures on young blamed for increase. The Boston Globe, p. A16.
Youthful rebellion and school crime were not being talked about in Japan until January 1998, when a thirteen-year-old boy "killed his English teacher with a switchblade knife after she asked him why he was late for class." That incident was followed by the murder of a 14-year-old student, who teased a 13-year-old classmate and was stabbed to death in suburban Tokyo. Then, in Atsugi, another Tokyo suburb, a 16-year-old stabbed a 17-year-old student who demanded money from him.
One must be careful in stereotyping another culture as well as staying up with constant change particularly in urban cultures. Generalizations about conformity and law-abiding youth had truth to them but missed incidents of violent motorcycle crimes and dirty dancing that exist in Japan. This writer reports:
Here in orderly and homogeneous Japan, where trains run on time and no one jaywalks, there have been three murders and 54 knife-related incidents in schools from January to mid-April, 1998. Suddenly, mainstream Japan is learning what its teachers, child psychologists, and sociologists have quietly suspected for a half-decade. As the nation’s social fabric frays, student violence has doubled in five years and juvenile crime has reached record levels.
Japan’s youth crime rate reached almost three times that of the USA’s though the violence is with knives rather than guns which are strictly forbidden in Japan.
Manabu Sato, an education professor at Tokyo University who studies youth and crime, found that 45% of those arrested for crimes in 1996 were younger than 20. By contrast, in the U.S., youth under 18 commit only 18% of all crime. The ruling party of Japan promises to change the law lowering the age at which a young person can be tried as an adult from age 17 to age 15.
A day in the life of a junior high school student in Japan is not easy. They leave home early in the morning dressed in neat, dark blue uniforms, white shirts, and neatly knotted ties. They attend classes all day with 35 students in a room. The curriculum is tightly crafted and strictly enforced. According to Haruo Shimada, a professor at Keio University writing a book in favor of educational reforms:
‘Teachers are trying to control their kids by imposing strict school rules and turning their classrooms into jails. Kids get very victimized and react against it. That is the basic undercurrent making the Japanese educational system destructive today.’
After a tiring day, many junior high students attend cram school or "juku." Prodded by parents, students are given additional homework, preparing them for exams that will select them for prestigious high schools and colleges.
Masayuki Kobayashi, an assistant professor at Tokyo Gakugei University who counsels despondent teachers, offers this opinion:
‘There’s anarchy in the classroom. These kids are showing strong signs of aggression, and the teachers, who are from another generation, just don’t know how to handle it...The violence in school is not antisocial behavior, it’s asocial behavior.’
What the professor may have in mind is that these 12-15-year-olds are growing up without much peer and parental interaction while being tempted (as urban youth everywhere) by violent computer games, television programs, and movies. This is not an environment favorable to the development of social skills.
A suburban junior high school teacher was shocked to see a 14-year-old boy take a butterfly knife out of his pocket and stab himself in the hand. After he was rushed to the hospital, she was more saddened to see how little the educational system seemed to care. " ‘There was no effort to find out what was wrong with the child, or with the school,’ " she said.
Why are these students reacting so violently? Pressure from all sides and within is certainly a key factor. Dr. Sato puts it this way:
" ‘All the social contradictions of society are being put on their shoulders. All students see in their future is pressure and more pressure. So that’s why junior high school is the worst.’ "
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- What most surprised or impressed you in this article?
- Is stress a critical problem in teenage life? Are there schools anywhere in the world where some students don’t feel "stressed out?"
- What would be your recommendations for reducing teenage stress?
- Did your answer to #3 include reference to family, school, media and friends? How do each of these social systems contribute to unhealthy pressure and how could they help reduce stress in individual lives?
- Understanding the reasons for violent youthful stabbings in Japan, and suicides among students in Korea and the U.S., should help parents and educators reduce unhealthy stress in the lives of students.
- Providing better relationships and adequate down-time and private time, along with stress-reducing techniques, can help reduce violence, homicides, and suicides.
- The problems of youth usually reflect the problems of a society. A genuinely youth-oriented culture is a healthier society. This applies to churches and other organizations as well.
Dean Borgman cCYS