5-1 Bullying

5-1-1 Legal Measures Against School Bullying
5-1-2 Bullying Cases
5-1-3 School Responses to Bullying
5-1-1 Legal Measures Against School Bullying

Bullying (ijime) has always been a fact of life, both among children and among adults. The MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) defines bullying as a physical or psychological attack against weaker one(s), which brings deep suffering to the victim(s).

School bullying began to receive attention after the sensational media coverage of a series of suicides related to bullying in the mid-1980s. One 13-year-old committed suicide, leaving a note describing how he had been repeatedly bullied by several boys at his middle school. He had been beaten, threatened with death, and was forced to perform humiliating acts. Before his suicide, he even received a sympathy card signed by his classmates and four teachers, including his homeroom teacher, after they staged a mock funeral for him in the classroom (AS February 3 1986; AS February 6 1986). Since 1985, the MEXT has collected data on bullying cases that teachers referred to the board of education.

Bullying usually occurs among classmates and members of extracurricular clubs. In most cases, several children bully a particular child, and the rest of the children become the “audience” or the “bystanders” (Morita and Kiyonaga 1994). Thus, homeroom teachers should create a homeroom environment that refuses to tolerate bullying.

It is important to note that any student can be both a victim and a victimizer. According to the follow-up survey, which conducted twice a year from 2007-2012, almost 90% of students had experienced of being both a victim and a victimizers of bullying: “being ignored by a group” and “being ostracized” or “being blackmailed” during 6 years from the 4th- to 9th-year grades (Kokuritu Kyōiku 2013).

Act for the Promotion of Measures to Prevent Bullying

In 2012, bullying became a major social issue again in the wake of tragic incident of a 13-year-old boy, who took his own life after being assaulted and bullied by his classmates. Responding to the public criticism to school’s inappropriate responses and the cover-up by school authorities, the MEXT conducted an emergency survey on bullying. In 2012, the number of reported bullying cases surged to 198,000, 2.8 times more than 70,000 cases of the previous year, probably due to intensified efforts from the government to encourage students and schools to report the incidents of bullying.

In 2013, the government enacted the Act for the Promotion of Measures to Prevent Bullying which stipulates basic policies and measures for society to deal with bullying. This law obligates each school to establish a basic policy to prevent bullying and establish an in-house organ to deal with the problem. Schools and municipal boards of education would launch an investigative panel for “serious cases of bullying.” The panel include the police to examine the facts.

The MEXT recommended “a survey concerning bullying” for all schools in order to respond in the early stage before bullying become serious. The educational counseling system of school counselors and teachers specializing bullying was also established to prevent and react to the bullies in the early stage (Monbukagakushō 2013a). Almost all schools have been preparing questionnaires and gathering answers about bullying several times a year. Since 1995, school counselors have been deployed to schools to help the teachers in the case of bullying. The National Education Center has provided a toll-free hot-line for information and counseling about bullying in order to help students, parents, and teachers. In 2007, 24-hour consulting for bullying by telephone started as well.

Bullying as Crimes

Bullying becomes a criminal or legal matter if the victim is injured or killed.

Some parents of the victims who took their own lives or were killed because of bullying may sue the school and the parents of the offenders for compensation. The courts can find the school guilty of negligence if the damage could have been prevented if the school had recognized the bullying, and handled it appropriately.

5-1-2 Bullying Cases
Number of Bullying Cases

Since 1985, the MEXT has collected data on bullying cases that teachers referred to the board of education. Not all teachers report all bullies, so the MEXT’s figures underestimate the incidence of bullying. Since 2006, the number of bullying started to be counted from the perspective of the students who were being bullied, not from the formal recognition of school. Therefore, the number of bullying cases increased dramatically from 20,000 (1.5 cases per 1,000 students) in 2005 to 125,000 (8.7 cases per 1,000) in 2006.

According to the survey of bulling cases by homeroom teachers, 323,000 cases of bullying in the 2016-17 school year (cf., 186,000 cases in SY2013), the highest number on the record, 23.8 cases per 1,000 students in SY2016-17 (13.4 cases in SY2013), were reported (Figure 5.1.1; Table 5.1.1). Two thirds of all schools (68%) reported bullying cases. Most of cases (91%) were already solved by the time of the survey (Monbukagakushō 2018g).

Table 5.1.1 Number of Bullying Cases and Number of Bullying Cases Per 1,000 in ES, MS and HS in SY2013-14 and SY2016-17
NumberNumber per 1,000 students
Elementary school119,000237,00017.836.5
Middle school55,00071,00015.620.8
High school11,00013,0003.13.7
Special needs schools7681,7045.912.4
(Monbukagakushō 2018g)

In SY2016-17, the number of bullying cases peaked at the 2nd grade (46,000) and the 3rd grade (45,000) in elementary schools and then at the 7th grade (37,000) in middle schools (Figure 5.1.2; Table 5.1.2).

Table 5.1.2 Number of Bullying Cases by Grade in SY2016-17
(Monbukagakushō 2018g)

The victims tend to be slightly more boys than girls (56% of cases in elementary and middle schools and 55% in high schools). There were 396 “serious bullying cases” which caused serious damage to the victim’s life, body & mind and assets or caused the victim to be absent from school. 10 students took their lives because of bullying in SY2016-17 (Monbukagakushō 2018g).

It is difficult to obtain the number of bullying cases objectively because the reaction to bullying is personal and schools tend to underestimate bullying cases. Some degree of verbal insults always occur among the students. Teachers count bullying as a case when they find the student suffer from bullying. In SY2016-17, the number of bullying cases varies from 97 cases per 1,000 in Kyoto Prefecture at the most to 5 cases per 1,000 in Kagawa Prefecture at the least in the nation. 12,000 schools (31% of all schools) reported that they did not recognize any bullying case (Monbukagakushō 2018g).

Causes of Bullying

Bullying is caused by various factors, including psychological stress and frustration; financial extortion; the game of bullying; sanctions against an uncooperative person; the exclusion of someone different; jealousy and envy toward someone outstanding; and the avoidance of being a victim (Takekawa 1993). Adolescents have psychological imbalances between their maturing bodies and their immature minds, and their struggle to build an identity. Bullies are more likely to be frustrated and to feel inferior, and to exhibit irresponsible, impatient, self-centered, flamboyant, and inconsiderate behavior (Hōmushō 1994).

According to the reports filed by teachers, schools found two thirds of bullying cases (66%), via the questionnaires of bullying (52%) and homeroom teachers (12%) in SY2016-17. Also, the victims of bullying themselves (18%) and the parents of the victims (11%) brought bullying cases to their teachers/schools.

The victims of bullying consulted with a homeroom teacher (78%), other teacher(s)(9%), a school nurse teacher (3%), a school counselor (2%), consulting organizations (0.7%), parents (24%), friends (7%), others (e.g., persons in the community) (0.5%), while 7% of victims did not consult with anybody. Since the 1995-96 school year, the MEXT has deployed school counselors to schools to help teachers. Only few victims of bullying consulted with school counselors (2%) in SY2016-17 (Monbukagakushō 2018g).

Types of Bullying

The types of bullying include verbal insults; being ignored by a group; and being ostracized; physical violence with play (Table 5.1.3). In recent years, online bullying through mobile text messages, Internet sites, and blogs have grown dramatically. Mobile phones have been banned in schools and security companies have deployed Internet surveillance.

Table 5.1.3 Bullying Cases in Elementary School (ES), Middle School (MS) and High School (HS) by Type of Bullying in SY2016-17
Types of bullyingESMSHSTotal
Verbal insults and being ridiculed146,00061.747,00065.78,00062.0202,00062.5
Being ignored by a group, and being ostracized37,00015.610,00014.31,90014.949,00015.3
Physical violence with play57,00024.011,00015.31,60012.270,00021.6
Physical violence16,0006.83,4004.76004.820,0006.3
Being extorted money and/or goods3,4001.49001.24002.94,7001.5
Having belongings hidden15,0006.24,2005.98005.920,0006.1
Slander by computer/cell phone (online bullying)2,7001.15,7008.02,20017.411,0003.3
Total Number of Bullying Cases237,00071,00013,000323,000
1. Multiple answers allowed.
2. The total number cases include the cases in special needs schools.
(Monbukagakushō 2018g)
5-1-3 School Responses To Bullying
School Responses to Victimizers of Bullying

Homeroom teachers and/or guidance teachers listen and guide the victimizers of bullying. Principals and vice-principals (6% of cases) and school counselors (2%) also joined advising the victimizers. Schools may take them out of their own classroom and teach them in different classrooms for a few days (13%). Almost half of victimizers (46%) were reported to the parents, and 43% were advised to apologize to the victims and their parents (Monbukagakushō 2018g).

Very few cases (839 cases, 0.3% of all cases) were reported by schools to the police in SY2016-17. The police arrested 224 students, including 48 elementary school students and 136 middle school students, on the bullying cases. 70 students were sent to the family court, 6 to juvenile training schools, 25 were on the probation, 7 to children’s self-reliance support centers, and 159 to child welfare centers (Monbukagakushō 2018g).

School Responses to Victims of Bullying

Homeroom teachers and/or guidance teachers listen and consult the victims of bullying. School counselors (4%) also meet and counsel the victims. Teachers visited victims’ houses (14%) in SY2016-17. Schools rarely transfered victims to another class (0.2%) or cooperated with the board of education (3%) and the other related institutions, such as the child welfare centers (0.5%). 130 municipalities allowed the victims to transfer to another school outside of the school district, and 131 elementary students and 184 middle school students were transferred to another school (Monbukagakushō 2018g).

Prevention Measures Against Bullying

Almost all schools (98%) conducted questionnaires of bullying several times a year in order to find bullying in the early stage in SY2016-17. The questionnaires have simple 5 to 10 questions in an identified form or a unidentified form. The questionnaires help teachers and schools to evaluate and improve their countermeasures against bullying in the future.

Most schools have homeroom teacher and/or guidance teachers conduct a meeting with the students individually (89% of schools) and visit the student’s home (62%) concerning bullying. Half of elementary schools (52%), most middle schools (82%) and some high schools (15%) had homeroom teachers exchange daily journals with their students to prevent bullying (Monbukagakushō 2018g). It takes enormous efforts and time for teachers; however, daily exchange journals help understanding the students and build more trust with the students.

Some homeroom classes have an environment that is conducive to bullying. These homeroom classes have several common features:

It is important to create an atmosphere in the homeroom class that does not condone bullying, through instilling a sense of fairness in the students and encouraging friendships.

Teachers need to attend counseling training and workshops of bullying, and work closely with school counselors. According to the reports filed by teachers, most teachers studied the countermeasures against bullying through the teachers’ meetings (96%) and in-school teachers’ trainings (76%) in SY2016-17. They worked with a school counselor, a school social worker, a school nurse teacher actively (85%). Some teachers organized a meeting with PTA and community organizations about bullying (42%)(Monbukagakushō 2018g).


[Back to the Top]