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Bullying (Ijimeru)

Japan With Kids - Forums: Education in Japan: Bullying (Ijimeru)
By Dian Mertani on Tuesday, June 18, 2002 - 4:33 pm:

I heard from news and friends that lately (the last 10 years or so) the 'ijimeru' has been increasing and give a very negative effect on the targeted child (I heard even a kid suicide because of this !).
I am thinking to send my girl to Japanese school because international school is too expensive, but this is one of my concern (my husband doesn't put any worry about this 'ijimeru' thing, he said it is everywhere).
If anybody have any opinion and experience about this, it will be appreciated. Being a 'different' (read: gaijin) in Japanese school seems like a good target?

By Melissa Mcnulty on Wednesday, June 26, 2002 - 11:36 pm:

Hi Dian

I worked as an ALT (assistant Language teacher on the JET program) in two Japanese high schools. There was a foreign kid at one of the schools, and he did not encounter any problems with bullying. He was a very confident teenager, who had some Japanese language skills before he arrived (half-way through my year at the school), and was the kind of kid who would give as good as he got, so he would not have been a very good target anyway. Also, being a senior high school, the problems with bullying seem to be less than at middle schools. A friend of mine worked at a middle school where one of his students was a victim of bullying. Tragically, this student committed suicide. The student was Japanese. In the aftermath of his death there was much hand-wringing done in the prefecture where this took place (Saitama), and I made a point of discussing it with the teachers at my schools and with the students in my classes. Not alot of headway was made. The teachers were concerned, but seemed resigned to it "yes, it's a very bad problem, but what can we do about it?" was the general feeling back then (1996). The students were very quiet, probably because no-one wanted to stand out in the group and say something - part of the group dynamic that feeds the whole problem in the first place. Probably the most disturbing piece of information that I got was from my closest friend at one of my schools, a young teacher who told me that in some cases, the teacher actually adds fuel to the fire by not exactly encouraging the bullying, but being aware of it and not stopping it, even as it is occurring in class. Sometimes the teacher will pick on the bullied student too. I really want to stress here that this is the exception rather than the rule. When I asked her why students were bullied in the first place, she told me it was to do with the Japanese need to be part of The Group. Easy targets for bullying were those with some sort of physical disability, or who stood out in some way(e.g. a returnee student), or who were just a bit different from evryone else, awkward or shy etc ("the nail that stands up gets hammered down" is the saying that applies here). Again, I have to stress that this is in relation to Japanese students, and it is hearsay. In my experience, and to my knowledge, the people most at risk from ijime at Japanese schools(from middle school level and up) are Japanese kids. Becuase a basic tenet of ijime is to ostracize the person from the Group, perhaps foreign kids don't have as much of a problem with it, because we aren't really ever expected to be part of the group in the first place. I also suspect that a foreign kid is much more likely to tell her parents if something was going on, so the issue could be resolved before it escalated to extent that it has for other students.

Anyway, this is just my experience and thoughts about it, I know that there are many others out there who have much more knowledge and expertise than I do. And remember too, Japanese schools turn out some of the finest scholars in the world, so it all has to be weighed in relaton to the overall picture of what a child gets from going to a Japanese school.

Yours is a very timely post for me, because I wanted to write about the problem of bullying too. You don't say how old your daughter is, but my daughter is 21 months old. I too have thought about the problem of will she be a target for other kids because she's foreign. I thought I wouldn't have to address that problem until she reached school age, but alas, no. A couple of months ago we were at our local playground when a small group of elemantary school-age boys surrounded her, yelled "gaijin!" at her, and threw sticks at her. I quickly intervened and removed her. Earlier this week we were at the playground again. There were some more 5-8 year-old kids there playing. My daughter was running around after them, and then tried to join in. The girls went up to her, stared at her, screamed and shriecked "kuwai!" and ran away from her, leaving her standing there looking bewildered and upset. I was furious because the whole scary gaijin thing is getting a bit old. I completely understand them not wanting a younger kid tagging along, but ostracising her because she's foreign really got to me. I told them that she wasn't scary, she was just a little kid, and one of the mothers took her daughter to task on it, the other ones didn't. But it did leave me wondering about what my daughter would encounter at elemantary school. I think your husband is right when he says that bullying happens everywhere, and kids can be really awful to each other. But they can also be wonderful. After the second incident at the playground, a boy came up to my daughter and tried to play with her. The difficulty is, I guess, in separating general playground cattiness from specific targeting of someone with a difference. I think that living in fear of your kid being bullied is to close off the opportunities to allow people to be kind.

But, just as a final thought(sorry this is long), I spent two years as a kid going to a school where I was in the minority(as a white kid). It was very hard, I got picked on, but I also learned so much, and made some wonderful friends. I gained an insight into Maori and polynesian culture that I wouldn't otherwise have had. It helped make me into the person I am today, someone who loves living and traveling in foreign cultures, and I gained an insight into the harsh realites of racism (I, as a white kid could escape into my privaleged world, my classmates couldn't) and social injustice. So, bearing this in mind, I would have to say, don't fear too much what hasn't happened yet. There are some wonderful opportunities for your daughter in a Japanese school. If she has a hard time, then take the next step. Good luck with your decision. I too, would be interested to hear what people have to say.

By Dian Mertani on Thursday, June 27, 2002 - 6:28 pm:

Dear Melissa,
Thank you for your comprehensive thought of this suject that relief me a bit. My girl is 20 month old at the moment. She was born in Japan and has been attending Japanese day Care Center since she was 6 month old. She has no problem in the Hoekkoen at the moment and play just nicely with all Japanese friend. But sometime being a 'gaijin' she got more attention and more praise of 'kawai' from teacher or other adult because she has big eyes, not like Japanese. I'm a bit worry that it will create a kind of jealousy and make he being a target.
My husband always told me, the important is how we teach her become a person with confidence and not feel bad being different. That way, ijime will not work on her.
I'm also agree with your point that it seems foreign kid is more communicative to the parents.
Thanks again, please keep me posted if you have any more information about this.

By Cornelia on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 1:53 pm:

Melissa's comments above present very similar observations to my own. I also think that Japanese kids are at higher risk than newly arrived foreign kids. I also think that foreign parents might be more likely to jump in and intervene at the earliest signs of their child running into problems, whereas typically Japanese parents will not get involved as quickly, or their child will not even tell them there is a problem until it is already escalated to a severe situation.

I'm bringing this up now because of the following rather shocking story in the news where the teacher is the bully (he, whose name seems not to have been published in the press, has been suspended for 6 months, but lawsuit will probably take years before it is resolved). I would really like to stress that this is rather exceptional. In other words, I don't think this story should overly influence a decision to use the public school system. If anything, this whole episode will strengthen the opposition to such harrassment and clarifiy for all the school systems, their administrators, and parents what sort of problem to watch out for and intervene in:

Lawyers aid schoolboy harassed over American heritage

The Japan Times: Oct. 9, 2003
FUKUOKA (Kyodo) More than 500 lawyers have joined hands with a 9-year-old boy in a lawsuit filed Wednesday with the Fukuoka District Court demanding 13 million yen from his school and a teacher who repeatedly ordered the child to kill himself.

The boy, a fourth-grader who attends a municipal school in Fukuoka's Nishi Ward, suffers posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of his teacher's actions, according to the lawsuit.

In an effort to show solidarity with the pupil and to make him feel that he is not isolated, 503 lawyers from around the country have put their names to the lawsuit. It is rare for such a large number of lawyers to be involved in one case.

According to the suit, between May and June this year the 46-year-old male teacher repeatedly told the boy, whose great-grandfather is an American, to commit suicide, saying such things as: "Your blood is filthy, jump from your condominium and die," and "Haven't you died yet? Make sure you do today." The teacher has since been suspended from work.

Furthermore, the teacher injured him on several occasions by making the boy choose from five forms of punishment, when it came time to go home. In one such punishment, "Pinnochio," the boy's nose was pinched so hard that it bled, the lawsuit said.

Lawyers for the boy, who suffers convulsions and nausea and has said he wants to "change his blood" and that he does not deserve to live, made an appeal to colleagues nationwide asking for support.

Additional articles (in Japanese) include more detail:

By Amy Uehara on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 1:48 pm:

In lieu of the recent attempted murder of a little Fukuoka boy whose great-grandfather was an American (i.e. foreign), I thought the following article on 10 ways to celebrate our ancestors would be interesting to do here where sameness is a virtue. We can invite neighbors, use in our private lessons, give talks at school and so on and so forth to show that none of us is ashamed of those who came before us to make us who we are today and none of us deserves to die because of skin color, hair style, blood thinning, political or religious animosities, or anything.

NEWS FROM ANCESTRY.COM: October Is National Family History Month
Recognizing the massive surge in popularity of tracing one's roots, the U.S. Congress has officially designated October as National Family History Month by unanimously passing a Senate resolution (S.R. 175).

This resolution celebrates the fact that more than 80 million Americans are actively searching for information about their ancestors and also encourages others to begin their search

"Experts say that in the United States, genealogy is now the second most popular hobby next to gardening," says Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "It is only natural that we want to find out more about our ancestors, and what better way to bring families closer together than by discovering more about the story of your own family?"

By Janine Boyd on Saturday, January 22, 2005 - 4:46 pm:

With 2 blonde children attending a regular Japanese elementary school I armed them with two assertive ways to deal with possible bullying.
1. When kids point and say "gaijin"
Just laugh and point back and say "nihon jin". This seems to highlight to silliness of the comment but more importantly give the child to power to retalliate without being nasty.
2. For all other bullying, threaten to "kiss" the offender and watch them run! My kids especially like this one.
Both worked and my kids have no problem with bullying.

By Amber Matthews on Thursday, March 23, 2006 - 7:15 am:

I was a student in Japanese elementary school from 4th grade through 6th, starting off without any Japanese language skills. The gaijin name-calling, the isolation... it definitely affected me.

However, there were some good points to it, and I'm glad I went there instead of an International School. I got an experience most people do not get, and an insight into Japanese culture my parents wish they could have had. If only I'd thought of yelling back, "nihon-jin" at the kids!

Fortunately, I had a great teacher who made sure I was protected from the worst of it, and one of my friends that'd I'd walk to school with made sure I didn't do anything too un-Japanese. Right now, I'm working on a book about my experience, so that others can see what it's like.

By Steve B on Friday, March 24, 2006 - 10:02 am:

Amber, Your "insider" experiences will be invaluable for both gaijin and Japanese schoolkids and very interesting for many parents
too. Good luck with your book. I'm looking forward to reading about your story and insights.

By Yuko Kubota on Friday, March 24, 2006 - 10:56 am:

To Amber and some other posters, I sympathise to your unfortunate experiences and truly admire your positive attitudes.

Some people, including locals, tend to think that bullying exists only in modern Japanese public schools, but it was always there. It's also in private schools, and you can see it in any country.

When I moved from my hometown Tokyo to live in L.A. at age 7, local children (of various race, actually) pulled my hair, chased me with a whip, and stuck my hand in the toilet pot. But it never bothered me for a long enough time, since the majority of children were always supporting me, and fought for me, and the teachers were understanding.

On the other hand, there was another time when I had no support and a horrible teacher, which affected me very much, even though the bullying itself wasn't as harsh. What I want to stress is that the key is more about increasing support, and to not let negative things offend your mind.

By May Ose on Sunday, March 26, 2006 - 1:55 am:

hello amber

thats a nice idea and i might contribute too coz i mean i have a son who goes to a japanese elementary school and before i was soooo worried that he may not be able to mingle or catch up with the japanese kids. but i was wrong. thanks to his teacher who have a bit of english skills, she helped me a lot through my kids homework and etc. anyways good luck on your book and keep us updated.

By Joel Assogba on Saturday, April 22, 2006 - 12:37 am:

SOS RACISM (Multiethnic Kids)

A week before my eldest daughter started elementary school in 2002, I went to her school and talked to the Principal, Vice-Principal and all the teachers about the importance of teaching children to respect individuality and accept others who look different as equals, but they didn't take me seriously. About two weeks after school started, she came back home from school very sad, telling us that one of her classmates told her to change her natural brown skin into "normal" hadairo (ochre) color. I called the teacher and the Principal right away to urge them to deal honestly and democratically with the matter, calling us for a face-to-face meeting with the child and her parents, but the Principal refused. The parents did not take the matter seriously either; when my wife talked to the child's mother on the phone, she laughed about the matter as if it wasn't a serious problem. Finally, I went to talk to the School Board officials to ask them to do something about the problem. Again, I was disappointed. They evidently don't think racism is a serious problem in Japan and don't want to act.

My children have darker skin than the other Japanese children, and many people openly make cruel and racist comments about them: "kitanai," "makkuro," "baikin," "unchi," "kimochiwarui," "kurokoge," etc. When I go out with them, many parents also point at us "gaijin." Those people are wrong because my children are not foreigners in Japan; they are born here and are Japanese citizens just like the other Japanese children. And above all, they love Japan and the traditional Japanese culture.

I think racism is a very serious disease that Japan needs to cure. Racial discrimination in society, in public and private institutions, in senior and junior high schools, in elementary schools, and even in kindergartens, is evidence that much needs to be done before Japan can experience multiethnic harmony. Education will certainly play an important role in curing the disease of racism. Racism here is based on the idea that the Japanese belong to a "unique ethnic group" that is totally different from all the other ethnic groups in the world. The education system must make a considerable effort to denounce this myth. To do this, schools must familiarize students with the reality of the "singleness of the human family," and explain that all of the people in the world belong to the same human race. Because of the importance of the problem, this view should be introduced into the curriculum from kindergarten through to the 12th grade, and reflected in every course a child takes during the 12 years of schooling. This approach would help to prevent racism. Imagine all the students in Japan learning that Africans, Europeans, Americans, Asians and Australians - all races - are all related. They would be fortified against the poison of prejudice that they are exposed to in their homes and in society.

We must teach our children that all human beings come from the same ancestral stock. Every person on our planet belongs to the same species. This unity, however, does not mean uniformity, but implies a celebration of diversity, because once the reality of unity is understood, diversity becomes an asset rather than an obstacle. Imagine what life would be like if all the people in the world looked alike, thought, spoke, and felt the same way, if all flowers were the same color, if all foods tasted alike. Life would simply be monotonous. We should all understand that "variety is the spice of life" and cherish differences because they are extremely important.

Multiculturalism and ethnic diversity have become important issues in many countries around the world in recent years, and the Japanese government too must consider them seriously and provide helpful programs for developing the skills citizens need if they are to contribute to, and survive in, an ever-changing and diverse society. Diversity will be utilized to reinforce Japan's stature among the nations of the world. It will teach the Japanese to accept and respect diverse views, welcome debate, listen, discuss, negotiate and compromise for the common good of the world. We all know that recent advances in information technology have made international communications more important than ever. Japanese citizens who can speak many languages and understand many cultures will make it easier for Japan to participate globally in areas of education, trade and diplomacy.

Japan must make it possible for women and men of the world's many ethnic groups, religions and cultures to live together, to encourage different people to accept and respect one another, and work collaboratively to build an open, resilient, creative and thoughtful society.


I'm an African-Canadian educator, writer-illustrator and human rights activist based in Fukuoka.
I publish trilingual (Japanese/English/French) illustrated
books for kids. I have also designed and published a poster to promote multiculturalism and diversity in Japan.

I have represented Canada at the Expo-2005; to promote universal values (Peace, Love, Compassion, Diversity, Respect for Life...) through my books.

I travel all over Japan to promote the same values and the education of the heart at schools, community centers...

Please ask your local and your kids' school libraries to purchase my books and poster. I am also available for AUTHOR VISITS and LECTURES (at PTA meetings...)

Book Review in The Daily Yomiuri

My website:

My blog in English:

My blog in Japanese:

At the Expo-2005 in Nagoya:

Author Visit in Kumamoto (in Japanese)

Lectures on Human Rights (in Japanese)

God Bless You All!!!

Joel Assogba
(For Peaceful Tomorrows)

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