Japanese Education in the 21st Century
Previous Table of Contents Next


Contents of This Chapter
      1. Sumire Adaptation Classroom
  2. 4-2    BULLYING
    1. 4-2-1    TYPES OF BULLYING   
    1. 4-3-1    YOUTH AT RISK
      1. Violence in Schools and Outside Schools
      2. Drug Use
  5. NOTES

Homeroom teachers and teachers on student guidance committees have been responsible for addressing the problems, such as school refusal syndrome, bullying, and juvenile delinquency.  Concerned with the increasing number of school-related problems, since 1995 the Ministry of Education has deployed professional school counselors to schools to consult with students, parents, and teachers.  This chapter will present current school-related problems, and discuss how schools are solving these problems in cooperation with parents, counselors, volunteers, and law enforcement.



The Ministry of Education (MOE) defines “school refusal syndrome (tōkōkyohi)” as “the phenomenon where students do not go to school or cannot go to school, despite a desire to go to school, due to some psychological, emotional, physical and/or social factor, and environment, with the exception of illness or economic factors” (Monbushō 1999f).1  In the 1960s, those students were diagnosed as “school phobic,” based on psychiatric behavioral abnormalities.  These students were distinguished from the students whose non-attendance was caused by financial and family problems (Morita1991b:18).  Since the 1980s, the number of students with school refusal syndrome has been increasing rapidly, and school refusal syndrome has become a nationwide school problem.  In 1966, the MOE began to keep records of those students who were absent from school for 50 days or more because of “school phobia.”  However, since 1991, the MOE has counted those who were absent from school for 30 days or more in terms of school refusal syndrome.  These students are called “the students of non-attendance at school (futōkōsei).”2

The number of students with school refusal syndrome in the 2001-2 school year was the highest since the first records were kept in 1966.  Approximately 139,000 children, including 27,000 elementary school students (one out of every 275) and 112,000 middle school students (one out of every 36) were out of school for at least 30 days.  This is twice as many as the number of 66,817 recorded in 1991 (Monbukagakushō 2002a; Monbukagakushō 2002b).  The magnitude of this problem indicates that the causes of school refusal syndrome remain unaddressed.  However, in the 2002-3 school year, the number of students with school refusal syndrome decreased to 131,000 students with school refusal syndrome from the 2001-2 school year (Monbukagakushō 2004a).  According to a 2004 survey, teachers and/or school counselors cannot personally see 28.2 percent of students with school refusal syndrome, even when they visit their home (AS April 16, 2004).

Two types of students have school refusal syndrome: those who cannot go to school because of emotional or neurotic problems; and those students who do not intend to go to school because of truancy.  Truants deliberately skip school to spend time with their friends.  They tend to be low-achievers, act rebelliously toward teachers, be late for school, ditch classes, and have family problems.  About 14 percent of middle school students with school refusal syndrome are truants (Table 4.1).

Many students with school refusal syndrome want to go to school and/or think that they should go to school, but cannot because of emotional disturbance, anxiety, or some other neurotic problem.  School refusal syndrome frequently means specifically this type of student, not the truant.  One-third of elementary school students and one-fourth of middle school students with school refusal syndrome have emotional disturbances.  One-fourth of students with school refusal syndrome feel apathetic towards school and do not feel like going to school.  One-third of elementary school students and one-fourth of middle school students with school refusal syndrome have several combined causes (Table 4.1). 

These children usually stay at home and do not like to meet people.  Many of the students with school refusal syndrome have sleep disorders and abnormal hormone secretion (AS July 13, 1999).  To all appearances, they are ordinary children with average or above average school performances.  However, they tend to be overly sensitive, anxious, serious, perfectionist, selfish, timid, and/or anti-sociable.  Their parents, in particular their mothers, are likely to be overprotective and demanding (Inamura 1994:12, 103, 138).

Table 4.1    Types of School Refusal Categorized by Schools in the 2001-2 School Year

Elementary School (26,503 cases) Middle School (138,696 cases)
Problems in school 5.3% 7.5%
Delinquency 0.7% 13.6%
Not feeling like going, apathy 17.9% 21.1%
Emotional disturbance 32.8% 24.5%
No intention of going 3.4% 4.9%
Several reasons 30.7% 24.3%
Others 9.2% 4.2%
(Source: Monbukagakushō 2002b)

Teachers and schools, not students, listed the causes of school absenteeism for the students in the survey.  The causes can be school-related (19.7% for elementary school students and 40.2% for middle school students), family and home problems (28.9%/16.8%), and the students’ own physical and emotional health (36.6%/34.6%)(Table 4.2).  However, the main cause of school refusal syndrome is problems with peers, especially bullying.  According to the 1988 survey, about one-third of students with school refusal syndrome said they would not go to school because of bullying (Hōmushō 1994:32). 

Poor academic performance accounts for 8.9 percent of school refusal syndrome cases in middle school students, many of whom are also troubled students.  Family problems, such as divorce and poor relationships with parents, can also cause school refusal syndrome.  More than one-fourth of the cases of school refusal syndrome are linked to the psychoneurotic problems, such as emotional disturbance, extreme anxieties, and stress (Table 4.2). 

Table 4.2    The Direct Causes of School Refusal as Reported by Schools in the 2001-2 School Year

Elementary School (26,406 cases) Middle School (110,198 cases)
Friends (e.g., bulling, quarrels) 10.8% 21.9%
Teachers (e.g., punishment, scholding) 2.2% 1.5%
Poor academic performance 3.2% 8.9%
Extracurricular clubs 0.2% 1.4%
School rules 0.4% 3.4%
New schools, new classes, transfers 2.9% 3.1%
Change of home life (e.g., father's transfer) 8.2% 4.9%
Parents (e.g., scolding, rebellion) 16.5% 8.0%
Family problem (e.g., quarrels between parents) 4.2% 3.9%
Illness 7.3% 6.2%
Other reasons relating to themselves (e.g., extreme anxiety and stress) 29.3% 28.4%
Others 8.2% 3.2%
Unclear 6.6% 5.2%
(Source: Monbukagakushō 2002b)

Since the 1980s, the rising number of students with school refusal syndrome has been attributed to the “weak” and spoiled children of the “wealthy society,” and the intense pressure of the “educational credential society.”  Until the 1960s, middle school students with school absenteeism were mainly students living in poverty who had to work to help support their impoverished families, or truants who were mostly from disadvantaged and poor families.  As a result of the economic boom of 1953-1973, almost all Japanese consider themselves middle class.  Since the 1970s they have enjoyed unprecedented material wealth.  Consequently, the majority of students with school refusal syndrome no longer come from economically disadvantaged families. 

Several studies suggest several reasons for the rapid increase of students with school refusal syndrome.  One is that children have been overly indulged by their parents.  With the prevalence of one- or two-child families, children are spoiled and have become accustomed to getting their own way.  Another reason is that students are exhausted from too much schoolwork and from too many expectations from their parents (Takagaki et al. 1995a:5-6; Morita 1991b: 10; Inamura 1994:138). 

Many more students drag themselves to school with the burden of anxiety and tension, and exhibit the symptoms of school refusal syndrome.  According to a 1988 survey of 6,000 eighth graders, 70.8 percent of them have thought that they did not want to go to school, and one-fourth of them tended to be absent, be late, or go home early.  If the children have a hard time getting up in the morning or dawdled instead of getting ready in the morning, they may eventually develop school refusal syndrome (Morita 1991a:24, 26, 137; Takagaki 1995:153, 155).

[Back to the top]


The Kagawa prefectural board of education issues a manual, informing parents of early signs of school refusal syndrome.  Children who may be suffering from school refusal syndrome frequently complain about their friends or their teachers.  They may withdraw to their rooms, saying that they are tired.  They may appear depressed or apathetic, and their grades may start to drop.  They may delay going to school by taking an inordinate amount of time to prepare for school, and may try to avoid going to school by saying that their head or stomach hurts, especially on Mondays (Kagawa-ken 2000).

The manual also mentions the early signs that children evince in schools: 1) they become quiet, and start to play with younger children; 2) they are isolated from their friends, and stay alone in the classroom; 3) they lose enthusiasm and become passive in classes; 4) they begin to go to see a nurse teacher in the health room during recess; 5) they lose their concentration, and become negligent in classes; and 6) they forget to bring their homework.  The manual advises parents to consult homeroom teachers, school counselors, and public counseling centers when their children exhibit any of these symptoms.  Parents are encouraged to be open to children and to create a warm and welcoming home environment.  Moreover, they should not be too interruptive.  It is also important for children to assist with chores around the house (Kagawa-ken 2000). 

It is important to build a support network of teachers, parents, nurse teachers, counselors, and physicians to help students with school refusal syndrome return to school or to find an alternative means of education.  Nurse teachers have taken significant roles in counseling students with school refusal syndrome in their health care rooms.  According to a 1995-1996 survey, 28,400 students spent their school days in the public health room, instead of the classroom (Ogi 2000:102).  Since the 1995 amendment to the School Education Law, nurse teachers can be the chief educator of public health, and since the 1998 Amendment to the Law of the Teaching Certificate, nurse teachers with at least three years of experience can teach public health classes in middle schools and physical education in elementary schools (Morita et al. 1999:237). 

Among students who were absent from school for 30 days or more in the 1997-8 school year, one-fourth returned to school by March 1998.  Teachers may help these children return to school in several ways.  Teachers may visit the students at home and discuss their schoolwork and social lives with them.  By calling the students, or picking them up in the morning, teachers show an interest in their students and persuade them to attend school.  Discussions with parents about the environment at home may reveal underlying issues.  Finally, discussions among teachers may provide insights and solutions to the problem of school refusal syndrome (Nihon Gakkōhokenkai 1997).

Teachers in elementary schools are advised to show sympathy and understanding to the family of students with school refusal syndrome so that they earn the parents’ and the children’ trust.  It is important for first- to third-graders to get involved with their classmates.  But fourth- to sixth-graders tend to be sensitive to the involvement of their classmates; therefore, teachers may avoid sending a classmate to their homes (Takagaki et al. 1995a:6-8).  The regional Centers for Educational Counseling provide services to students with school refusal syndrome, their teachers, and their parents. 

The Wakayama JTU has opened nine Centers for Education Counseling with 63 counselors.  A handbook distributed by the Center advises teachers not to force students with school refusal syndrome to go to school, and not to press them for an explanation.  Instead, it suggested that teachers should visit those students once a week, play with them, and tell them to relax at home.  The handbook also advises teachers to talk to the parents, cooperate with them, and ask parents to keep a daily journal about their child.  According to the handbook, it is important for the students to reintroduce themselves gradually to school, by playing with friends after school, participating in school events, visiting the nurse teacher in the health care room only in the morning or in the afternoon, and attending school once or twice a week.  Mutual trust with teachers and classmates help students to feel comfortable about returning to school.  Middle school teachers are advised to be patient, and not to pressure the students to return to school.  Teachers may spend time with those students by going out and shopping together to develop a bond.  Teachers may also help students study and plan (Takagaki et al. 1995b:132-136; 153-165). 

Parents can assist their children return to school by being accepting and understanding.  Morishita, a clinical psychiatrist who consulted more than 300 students with school refusal syndrome and established a high school for them has learned from his practice that children with school refusal syndrome are cured only when parents accept them and say, “You do not have to go to school.  You can take a good rest at home.”  It generally takes half a year for mothers to fully accept that their children have stopped going to school, and takes three years for fathers (Morishita 2000:84, 95).  The Associations of Parents of Students with School Refusal Syndrome provide an opportunity for these parents to learn how to accept their children, and encourage each other to overcome their hardships. 

As the number of students with school refusal syndrome has rapidly increased since the 1980s, public “adaptation” classrooms and private “free schools” have been established specifically for them.  According to a 1999 survey, there are 779 public “adaptation” classrooms and more than 200 recognized private alternative schools in Japan.  In the 2001-2 school year, the number of students who attended public “adaptation” schools was 11,266 (1,968 elementary school students and 9,298 middle school students) (Monbukagakushō 2002b). 

Since 1992, the MOE has allowed the prefectural board of education to count attendance in private “free schools” as regular school attendance.  In 1984, parents of students with school refusal syndrome founded the Concerned Society for School Refusal Syndrome, which developed into a nationwide Network for Parents Who Have a Child with School Refusal Syndrome in 1990.  The support networks have summer camps, group counseling, and meetings to find the best solution for their children (Tōkōkyohi 1992).  The National Association for Home Schooling promotes home schooling for children with school refusal as an alternative to school education.  Furthermore, since April 2002 the educational Board of Education in Shiki City in Saitama Prefecture has sent temporary teachers and volunteers with teaching certificates into the homes of children with school refusal syndrome for one to four hours of daily instruction (AS February 15, 2002).  In 2005, the MOE plans to provide a weeklong camp for elementary and middle school students with school refusal syndrome so that they can experience group activities (Sankei Shinbun August 13, 2004).

Students with school refusal syndrome confront problems during the high school admission process because of their chronic absenteeism and poor grades.  High schools select applicants based on the test scores on high school entrance exams, and their attendance, grades, conduct, and extracurricular activities.  Students with school refusal syndrome by definition have poor attendance and consequently poor grades.  The MOE has suggested that the prefectural boards of education consider special treatment for students with school refusal syndrome who are applying to public high school.  Some prefectures exempt their poor attendance.  For example, beginning in the 1997-8 school year, Kagawa prefecture set up a 5-percent quota for students with school refusal syndrome who can be judged only by the test scores of their entrance examination (AS April 8, 1999).  The Shizuoka prefectural board of education set up a similar quota for such students, who take written examinations, compose an essay, and complete an interview without their school reports being taken into consideration (AS September 29, 2000). 

Students with the syndrome may attend correspondence schools or evening high schools if they are not ready to return to regular daytime high schools.  They may study at home and take high school equivalency examinations.  In recent years, many students who had school refusal syndrome attend daytime courses of evening high schools where the students stay in school for shorter amount of time, and the environment is more casual.  Some students attend evening middle schools. 

Since attendance at high school is not compulsory, there are no public facilities specifically for high school students with school refusal syndrome.  In fact, there are many young adults, called “hikikomori,” who confine themselves in their homes and isolate themselves from the society.3  Many specialists claim that the number of hikikomori may have reached one million (Morishita 2000:220; Saitō 2003:56).  Among the hikikomori, those who have confined themselves in their homes for six months or more, almost 60 percent are 21 years old or older, and one-fourth had been hikikomori for at least five years.  Men are 2.7 times more likely than women to be hikikomori, and 41 percent had experienced school refusal syndrome (AS May 9, 2001).  Some public health centers operate day care activities for hikikomori.  Public services for young adults with psychological and psychiatric problems are needed.  The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare helps hikikomori to find jobs through the system of registered companies for hikikomori.  The MOE plans to offer a program in 2005 to provide social experiences to hikikomori through three months of group camping so that hikikomori can experience work and volunteer activities (AS August 24, 2004).

It is important to create a more flexible educational system for elementary and middle school education, in order to avoid labeling students with school refusal syndrome as socially unfit.  The government has started to recognize alternative educational institutions such as home schooling and free schools, and to grant eligibility for their graduates to attend high schools.  The cooperation of parents, homeroom teachers, nurse teachers, school counselors, and physicians as well as the increasing number of school counselors will help students who have school refusal syndrome to return to school.  However, school administrators and teachers also have to find and cure the school-related causes of school refusal syndrome, such as bullies.

Sumire Adaptation Classroom

The Kagawa prefectural board of education provides counseling for students with school refusal syndrome and their parents in public counseling centers and youth centers, and runs 17 adaptation classrooms.4  Most of these classrooms are located in community centers, not in schools.  Attendance in the adaptation classroom is counted as school attendance.  The students study and play freely with other students with school refusal under the supervision of teachers, and prepare to return to school.  Most students with school refusal syndrome stay at home; therefore, attending an adaptation classroom is their first “stepping stone.”

There are many more students who stay home, and are not able to come to the adaptation classroom.  Homeroom teachers and a nurse teacher hold the primary responsibility for counseling students who have stopped attending elementary school.  In middle school, the school counselor collaborates with a homeroom teacher and a nurse teacher to treat these students.  Three middle schools in Marugame share one school counselor who has an office in one school, and visits the other middle schools at their request.  Homeroom teachers visit the students at home, and talk with their parents.  It usually takes some time for parents to admit that their child has school refusal syndrome.  Parents tend to blame the school and the teachers, while teachers tend to consider home environment as a cause of school refusal syndrome.  In reality, it is often difficult to have good cooperative relations between teachers and parents. 

The Sumire adaptation classroom has operated in two small rooms in the community hall since 1992.  In February 2001, there were three sixth-graders (two boys and one girl), two eighth-graders (one boy and one girl), and two ninth-grade boys.  One sixth-grade boy returned to school, but he came back to the adaptation classroom two months later when I visited the class.  Two ninth graders had already been accepted by a private high school, and one of them was preparing for the public high school entrance examination in March.  One eighth-grade boy had begun coming to the adaptation class for only two days.  Most students planned to return to school in April for the 2001-2 school year when new schools and classrooms awaited all students.  The sixth-graders would begin middle school in April, and the eighth-graders would have a new homeroom class and a new homeroom teacher.  There are always fewer students in the adaptation classroom in April when many students try to fit into a new school environment. 

One full-time teacher and two teachers’ aides usually supervise the students.  The classroom operates from 9:00 to 3:00.  The students do whatever they like, playing electric games, ping-pong or cards, reading comics or library books, and talking with teachers.  They have a pottery-making workshop once a month.  The teachers told me that they used to have a daily study schedule for the students, but that the students stopped coming to the classes because it was too much like the traditional classroom routine.

After that, the teachers let the students decide what they wanted to do.  Those children who have a hard time complying with strict regulations and schedules are willing to come to this less regimented classroom.  Parents and teachers meet once a month, and a school counselor is also occasionally invited for consultation.  The adaptation class teacher keeps in touch with homeroom teachers in regular schools, and provides follow-up services for students who return to school.  These students are always welcome to visit the adaptation classroom after they return to their regular schools. 

There were seven students and three teachers in the small main room when I visited the classroom in the morning.  Most students arrived around 9:00, though they are allowed to come to class any time they want.  There are a large table, one video game station, one computer, one sideboard and a sink in the main room.  A table and chairs are in the other room.  All students want to play video games, and they take turns using the game station.  One student used the computer to write an essay for a collection of students’ compositions.  One sixth-grade student brought textbooks and studied with a teacher for about an hour every day.  The students mingled, talked, and read comics.  Snack time was at 10:00.  Then they played around in the classroom again.  Around 11:00, most students went out to the baseball field, and played catch or badminton for one hour.  They had lunch together in the classroom for one hour.  Then they played games and cards until 3:00, when all the students went home.  All students were relaxed and comfortable in the classroom, and had good relationships with their teachers.  The three teachers were more like their mothers or big sisters, and made sure that the students enjoyed coming to the classroom. 

[Back to the top]



Bullying (ijime) has always been a fact of life, both among children and among adults.5  The MOE defines bullying as a physical or psychological attack against weaker one(s), which brings deep suffering to the victim(s) (Hōmushō 1994:3).  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 MOE has collected data on bullying cases that teachers referred to the board of education.  Not all teachers report all bullies, so the MOE’s figures underestimate the incidence of bullying.  In the 2002-3 school year, 39,000 cases of bullying were reported in public elementary, middle, and high schools (Naikakufu 2004a).  The number of cases peaks among fifth- to ninth-graders, and then decreases among high school students.

Morita categorizes four roles in bullying: victims, victimizers, the audience, and bystanders.  Several children, the “victimizers,” bully a child, the “victim,” and the rest of children are the “audience” who cheers for the bullying, and the “bystanders” who allow bullying without intervening (Morita and Kiyonaga 1994:48-52).  According to the 1996 and 1997 surveys, more than half of middle school students said they did nothing about bullying (Sōmuchō 1998:15-19).  Unfortunately, the majority of bystanders are afraid of being bullied if they intervene, or because they do not care about the victims.  Morita points out the characteristics of bullying in Japan: 1) bullies are invisible to teachers and others; 2) victims can become victimizers, and vice versa; 3) anybody can be a victim; 4) there are many unidentified victimizers and a small number of particular victims; 5) very few children try to stop bullying; and 6) the bullies often exhibit other types of inappropriate behavior (Morita and Kiyonaga 1994:21-28).  In many cases, bullying occurs among classmates and members of extracurricular clubs. 

Bullying is more often psychological than physical.  The types of bullying include teasing (31.6%); verbal insults (17.9%); physical violence (14.9%); ostracism (14.2%); theft (7.6%); shunning (5.2%); blackmail (2.2%); harassment (1.3%); and other forms (5.1%), according to the reports filed by teachers in the 2002-3 school year (Naikakufu 2004a).

According to a 1997 survey of fifth to ninth graders (N=6,906), 13.9 percent of them had been bullied, and 17 percent of them had bullied someone else between September and December of 1996 (Morita et al. 1999:19).  The types of bullying reported by bullied students (N=959) include slanders and teasing (88.3% of elementary school students and 85.2% of middle school students); being ignored/ostracized (60% and 54.2%); hitting, kicking, and threatening (39.8% and 33.3%); malicious rumors and graffiti (31.8% and 34.6%); and the extortion of money or the destruction of belongings (16.7% and 17.7%).  Eighty percent of victims had been bullied by a group, and 60 percent of them said they had been bullied for a week or more.  Bullying occurred in classrooms (74.9%); corridors and stairs at school (29.7%); in clubs (29.7%); on school grounds (12.3%); in the gymnasium (9.7%); at the school entrance (7.6%); in bathrooms (5.4%); in schoolyards (2.2%); and outside of school (19.0%).  Among those who were bullied outside of school (N=467), bullying occurred during their commutes between school and home (46%); at home or at a friend’s house (21.4%); in juku (cram schools) (13.9%); in the neighborhood (10.3%); in community clubs (7.9%) and other places (20.1%) (Morita et al. 1999:36, 41-44). 

Table 4.3    Types of Bullying Cases in the 2002-3 School Year

Types Elementary School (%) Middle School (%) High School (%)
Verbal insults 16.3% 18.3% 19.6%
Being ridiculed 30.1% 32.8% 28.4%
Having belongins hidden 8.1% 7.7% 5.6%
Being ostracized 19.1% 12.9% 8.8%
Being ignored by a group 5.7% 5.2% 3.6%
Physical violence 13.7% 14.7% 19.3%
Blackmails 1.4% 2.1% 5.4%
Forced intrusive friendliness 1.3% 1.2% 1.4%
Others 4.3% 5.1% 7.9%
(Source: Naikakufu 2004a)

[Back to the top]


Those who bully are frequently the classmates and acquaintances of the victims, and the same gender as their victims.  Victims said that the people who bullied them were classmates (80%), the children in the same grade but not classmates (24.1%), older children (9.1%), and younger children (2.9%).  The number of those bullied by their classmates decreases as the students grow older.  About 80 percent of elementary school children and 70 percent of middle school students reported that someone they often played with or someone they sometimes played with had bullied them.  The majority of victims were bullied by members of the same sex and by two or more “friends.”

A third of the bullies who were surveyed (31.1% of boys and 37.5% of girls) felt guilty, and another third (29.5% and 38.7%) felt sorry for victims.  One-fourth of them (21.9% and 20.4%) did not think anything of it, some (18.0% and 14.4%) worried about being scolded and others (8.4% and 12.0%) worried about their victims getting even.  On the other hand, more than a fourth of girls (26.9%) thought that the victims deserved to be bullied, compared with 13.6 percent of boys.  Some thought bullying was fun (16.2% and 11.6%) and felt great (8.1% and 7.7%) (Morita et al. 1999:46, 48, 52-53, 56, 80, 82).  Many students take bullying as a part of a game, and do not feel guilty (Hōmushō 1994:2).

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 1993:11-13).  Adolescents have psychological imbalances between their maturing bodies and their immature minds, and 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 1994:22, 25-6). 

Those who bullied tend to be more frustrated with teachers, classmates and class activities than those who have not bullied (Morita et al. 1999:94).  The pressure from the competition for high school entrance examinations causes frustration and inferiority complexes among the less academically successful children.  In addition, unstable home environments and family problems cause children to feel insecure.  They derive self-esteem and relief from frustration by bullying (Hōmushō 1994:25). 

Bullies and troubled students tend to have similar characteristics: they do not like teachers, cannot fit into their classes, have troubled family relationships, have little discipline, do not cooperate and are self-centered.  Physical violence, extortion, threats, and destruction of property are also related to delinquency.  It is important to note that bullies can be victims under different circumstances: 5.8 percent of boys and 6.9 percent of girls, as well as 9.7 percent of elementary school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students were both victims and victimizers (Morita et al. 1999:45, 86). 

Any child who is different from the other children can be a target of bullying in the Japanese school culture, which values conformity.  Those who are bullied tend to be slow learners, those who broke a promise or told a lie, have strong personalities, pretend to be good children, are selfish, or are new to the school.  Even “good students” can be bullied (Hōmushō 1994:27). 

Girls (15.8%) report being bullied more than boys (13.1%).  Among those who had been bullied (N=959), 58.3% of them were bullied once or twice during the trimester, 12.6 percent were bullied once or twice a month, 10.1 percent were bullied once a week, and 19.1 percent were more than two or three times a week.  Less than half (46.4%) said that the bullying lasted one week or less, and 27.9 percent said bullying lasted longer than the four-month trimester.  As the children grow older, the period of being bullied becomes longer.  Among those who were bullied, 16 percent of elementary school students, 24 percent of boys, and 16 percent of girls in middle schools were bullied once or more times a week for at least one trimester.  Those who were bullied a few times or more a week tended to have no friends (7.7%/1.5% of all students) or have only one friend (8.2%/1.9% of all students), and 37.9 percent had six friends and more, compared to 61 percent of all students.  More victims and victimizers than those who were neither thought that they were not liked by their classmates (Morita et al. 1999:20, 26, 30-31, 90, 92, 166-167). 

Many victims endured bullies, without seeking help.  Almost half of all boys did not tell anybody about bullying incidents while the majority of girls (54.7% of elementary school and 64% of middle school girls) told their friends, if no one else.  Less than a quarter of them told their homeroom teachers.  More than one-third of girls, 28.4 percent of elementary school boys and 17.7 percent of middle school boys told their parents.  About half of those being bullied did not want their parents to know.  More than half of boys and almost two-thirds of girls wanted their friends to stop the bullying, while one-third of elementary school students and one-fourth of middle school students wanted their homeroom teachers to intervene.  However, almost one-fourth of boys did not want anyone to stop it (Morita et al. 1999:62-73). 

A few victims confided in their parents about the bullying.  Only 13 percent of girls and 10.9 percent of boys who were bullied wanted their parents to stop the bullies.  Older children tended to keep their parents from finding out about bullying incidents.  Less than 30 percent of the victims’ parents knew about the bullies, while 7.3 percent of the victimizers’ parents knew what their child was doing.  Among parents who knew about the bullying, about half of them discussed it with teachers, and if they did, two-thirds of bullying incidents were at least reduced, if not stopped (Morita et al 1999:204-225). 

About 40 percent of the boys and 20 percent of the girls told their victimizer(s) to leave them alone, while 31 percent of the boys and 14 percent of the girls fought back.  More girls than boys called upon friends for help (6.4% for boys and 27.6% for girls) and their teachers for help (9.8% for boys and 17.4% for girls).  The victims who fought back (45.8%) or told victimizer(s) to leave them alone (43.9%), found that the bullying stopped within one week, in contrast to those who went to a teacher (30.3%), cried (34%), or ran away (33.8%).  Half of all victims came to hate their victimizer(s), and many middle school victims (31.8% for boys and 41.7% for girls) came to hate themselves.  After being bullied, approximately 40 percent of girls and more than one-fourth of boys were depressed and almost half of girls and one-fourth of boys became unwilling to go to school (Morita et al. 1999:58, 60-61, 106-107).

Parents and teachers need to recognize the early symptoms of victimization before bullying escalates, because the majority of the victims of bullying do not tell parents or teachers, and either try to endure the suffering by themselves or try to solve it among peers.  Bullied children naturally dread going to school.  They arrive late to class if they show up at all, and have difficulty concentrating.  These children often seek refuge with the nurse teacher and stop participating in the activities that they once enjoyed.  They come home in tears, and might start bringing a knife to school.  The bullies gives them cruel nicknames, scrawl graffiti on their desk, chairs, notebooks or textbooks, break their chair or desk, tear their clothes, steal their money, and physically attack their victims.  Bullied children stop going to school and engage in risky behaviors, including suicide attempts.  According to the 1988 survey, about one-third of students with school refusal syndrome said they would not go to school because of the bullies.  According to an inspector of the Family Court, 30 to 40 percent of children at risk have experienced being bullied (Hōmushō 1994:23-39).  In the 1998-9 school year, as many as fourteen students in public primary and secondary schools may have killed themselves because of problems in school (AS December 16, 1999).

[Back to the top]


Some homeroom classes have an environment that is conducive to bullying.  These homeroom classes have several common features.  Students spread vicious rumors about the “teacher’s pet,” there are cliques that exclude and do not come to the defense of unpopular students, students break school rules behind the teacher’s back, defiance of authority is regarded as “fun,” and students feel compelled to blend in (Morita et al. 1999:104-105).  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. 

Unfortunately, few classroom leaders are willing to stop bullying, or can lead the class without bullying.  Most bullying occurs in the presence of bystanders (Morita and Kiyonaga 1994:33).  Almost 45 percent of all students responded that they did not stop bullying when they saw or heard about such incidents, while only one-fourth of students told their victimizers to stop.  Ten percent of students asked for help from adults when they saw or heard others being bullied.  Older students did nothing to stop bullying (Morita et al. 1999:100-101).  According to a 1996-1997 survey, 33 percent of male students and 23 percent of female students blamed the victims of bullying, while about one-fourth of middle school students blamed the bullies (Sōmuchō 1998:17).

According to a survey of middle school students, bystanders are more likely to come from nuclear family with stay-at-home mothers.  Masataka suspects that the attitudes of bystanders are caused by the childrearing style of stay-at-home mothers who spoil and overprotect their children (Masataka 1998).  Bullying violates the human rights of the victim.  Bystander children need to understand the victim’s perspective, and learn not to tolerate bullying through human rights education.

Homeroom teachers can create a homeroom class in which bullying is not tolerated.  Teachers need to control their students.  If the teacher is too strict, the students become frustrated and stressed, and accept the necessity of targeting the weak and vulnerable.  If the teacher fails to control the class, the students are free to act as they like without fear of punishment, and tend to “play” at bullying their classmates (Takekawa 1993:14-17).

Teachers need to keep an eye on students who are likely to be bullied, because only one-fourth of those who were bullied spoke to a teacher, in most cases a homeroom teacher.  In fact, approximately 40 percent of elementary school students and one-third of middle school students who were bullied wanted a homeroom teacher to intervene.  More than half of the victims said that their teachers did not know about the bullying, although 41.8 percent of them said teachers intervened it.  In these cases, more than 60 percent said that the teacher’s intervention was effective.  It is interesting that bullying occurs even among teachers.  More than half of all elementary and middle schools have reported that bullying occurred among teachers as well (Morita et al. 1999:136-143, 201).

A research group established by the MOE in 1994 recommended in its 1996 report the most effective ways of preventing bullying:

1.    Schools should teach children to consider bullying from the victim’s point of view and to recognize that bullying is a violation of human rights.

2.    Teachers should learn to recognize the signs of bullying before the behavior escalates.

3.    Homeroom teachers should cooperate with other teachers, such as teachers in the extracurricular activities of the students, under the leadership of the principal to prevent bullying and discipline bullies.

4.    Teachers should attend in-house counseling workshops.

5.    A nurse teacher should participate in coping with bullying.

6.    Schools should work with outside counseling professionals.

7.    School counselors should be deployed to schools.

8.    Schools should extend special consideration to victims, such as forgiving school absences, changing their homeroom class, transferring them to another school, and suspending victimizers.

9.    Teachers should cooperate with parents.

10.    Parents should discipline their children (Monbushō 1999e).

Teachers should lead discussions on bullying with their students, help those who bullied express their frustration, and offer emotional and spiritual support to the victims (Hōmushō 1994:49-53).  Teachers need to attend counseling training and workshops, and work closely with school counselors.  Since the 1995-6 school year, school counselors have been assigned to some schools.  In the 2001-2 school year, 6.6 percent of elementary schools, 25 percent of middle schools and 6.6 percent of high schools have school counselors.  The MOE plans to assign school counselors to all middle schools until the 2005-6 school year (AS August 24, 2002).  Since 1995, the National Education Center has provided a toll-free hotline for information and counseling about bullying in order to help students, parents, and teachers.  

Bullying can become a criminal or legal matter if the victim is injured or killed.  In 2003, police were called in on 106 bullying cases, and 229 youths were arrested (Naikakufu 2004a).  If an offender is younger than 14 years old, the Child Consultation Facilities usually takes the case to the child welfare commissioner and committees (Child Welfare Law 26 and 27).  If necessary, they can bring the case to the Family Court.  With children between the ages of 14 and 19, the Family Court hears the case.  The young offenders may be admitted into a juvenile home, a home for juvenile training and education, or a children’s shelter (Juvenile Law 24).  If the offender is 14 or older, and the bullying was violent enough to warrant imprisonment, the Family Court decides whether or not the case should be transferred to a criminal court. 

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.  If a child is not mature enough to predict the consequences of his or her behavior, the parents will be responsible for the child’s crime, unless the parents prove that they have not neglected their parental responsibility (Civil Code Law 714).  If a child has the ability to take responsibility, the parents are not responsible for the child’s actions, unless there is a clear causal relationship between the violation of supervision obligation and the child’s behavior.  Middle school students are old enough to take legal responsibility for their behavior; therefore, parents are not held liable unless their negligence is proven to have caused the bullying (Hōmushō 1994:73-74).

[Back to the top]


4-3-1    YOUTH AT RISK

According to the Juvenile Law, juvenile status refers to youths under 20 years of age.  Juvenile delinquency includes: 1) criminal acts by juveniles aged 14 or over; 2) illegal acts by juveniles under 14 years of age; and 3) pre-delinquency by juveniles, such as runaways.6  Responding to the recent increase of teenage murderers,7 the revised Juvenile Law in April 2001 lowered the minimum age for criminal punishments from 16 to 14.  The Criminal Law does not punish illegal acts by those 13 years of age and younger.  These cases are handled by the Child Welfare Law and may be referred to the children’s shelters or the home for juvenile training and education.

Three Family Court judges hear cases that involve youthful offenders.  In the case of a serious or particularly violent crime like murder, the Family Court allows prosecutors to attend court sessions.  If there is any dissatisfaction with the decisions of the Family Court, the prosecutors can appeal.  If the defendant is 16 years of age or older, and commits an offense punishable by the death penalty, by penal servitude, or by imprisonment, his or her case is referred to the Prosecutor’s Office.

In 2003, 175,000 juveniles were arrested or were taken into protective custody by the police.  Among these, 144,000 juveniles, 17.5 per 1,000 youths between the ages of 14 and 19, were in protective custody for criminal offenses.  That total comprised high school students (43.4%), middle school students (26.4%), unemployed (13.8%), employed (9.1%), college students (3.9%), and others (3.4%).  Almost one-fourth (24.1%) were girls.

Their offenses included larceny (56.4%), embezzlement (26.7%), assault (5.6%), extortion (2.8%), homicide, robbery, arson, and rape (1.5%), and others (6.9%).  Almost 1,800 were arrested for robbery, and 80 were arrested for homicide.  Nearly half of the larceny arrests were for shoplifting, and the rest were theft of motorcycles and bicycles.  In 2003, 2,684 members of motorcycle gangs were taken into custody on criminal charges.  The police also took 1,299,000 people under the age of 20 years old into custody for misdemeanors such as drinking, smoking, and running away.  In addition, 22,615 runaways, 41.2 percent of whom were middle school students, were placed into protective custody (Naikakufu 2004a).

Students at risk were traditionally low-achievers who came from disadvantaged or dysfunctional families.  Many were also repeated offenders.  However, in recent years, troubled youths are more likely to be ordinary students who become unpredictably violent.  Ordinary students, and even good students suddenly “explode in anger” (kireru) or “burst into anger” (mukatsuku), which leads to impulsive acts of violence.  For example, in January 1998, one middle school student suddenly erupted, and stabbed his teacher to death after the teacher warned him about his misbehavior (AS January 29, 1998).  Over the next two months there were copycat crimes (Sōmuchō 1998:29-32).  Japanese people are prohibited from owning guns.  Otherwise, there would be many juvenile crimes involving guns.

Educators, journalists, professionals, scholars, and policy-makers have become greatly concerned with the rise in juvenile crime.  Many critics claim that children are spoiled and undisciplined, and they turn to violence out of stress and frustration.  According to the report of the Deliberative Committee on Youth Delinquency, troubled youths have no self-control or respect for rules.  According to the Committee, the causes of delinquency are chronic discipline problems, the inability of schools to respond to a diverse student population, and the younger offender’s lack of consideration for others.

Furthermore, a decade of recession has created many unemployed pessimistic youths who are vulnerable to juvenile crime.  In 2003, there were estimated 370,000 youths without jobs.  These unemployed youths, 4.5 percent of all youths, accounted for 31.2 percent of homicide, robbery, arson, and rape and 60.7 percent of stimulant drug abuse (Naikakufu 2004a).  They are also influenced by violence in the mass media, and video games.  There are also many psychologically troubled, antisocial teens and young adults (hikikomori, “those who isolate themselves”), who may cause or find trouble.  Neighbors and community leaders used to watch and discipline youth at risk on the street.  However, the weakening social bonds in urban areas have undermined the power of these social controls.

The Committee proposes cooperation among schools, parents, and the community, the nurturing of each child’s creativity, giving teachers a stronger grounding in counseling, and the deployment of school counselors, as measures to prevent juvenile crimes (Sōmuchō 1998:312-313; AS July 23, 1999).  Schools are the main place in which students learn self-discipline.  The teachers in student guidance committees discipline troubled students in cooperation with a homeroom teacher, a nurse teacher, and the supervising teacher of their extracurricular clubs, as well as with community youth centers and the police.  Teachers visit homes and remain in contact with the parents of troubled students.

In 1995, the MOE began to deploy school counselors (who had been trained as clinical therapists) to some public elementary and middle schools, where they worked with students, their teachers, and their parents.  Human rights education and volunteer activities can instill in students a respect for the law, for life, and for the rights of the victims of bullying.  The lessons learned from volunteer activities help the students, especially low-achievers, to enhance their self-esteem through service to other

Violence in Schools and Outside Schools

In the 2001-2 school year, there were 33,129 cases of violence in public schools, a decrease of more than 9.4 percent from the record high of 36,577 cases in the 1999-2000 school year.  School violence included fights among students (47.2%); vandalism (36.1%); attacks upon teachers (16.0%); and attacks against people outside of the school (0.7%).  School violence took place mainly in middle schools (77.8%), but also in high schools (17.8%) and elementary schools (4.4%).  In addition, 5,101 cases of violent crimes were committed by students outside of school (Monbukagakushō 2002b).

Because middle school education is compulsory, students are rarely expelled.  However, in the 1999-2000 school year, 84 middle school students were prohibited from attending classes for between 3 and 20 days because of violent behavior in school.  Thirty-five of these students had assaulted a teacher (AS December 15, 2000).

High schools, on the other hand, have the authority to suspend or expel students who violate school laws.  In the past, groups of students were responsible for school violence, but now, a single student perpetrates many cases of school violence.  The MOE plans to expand the number of school counselors to work with these students.  In 2003, 716 cases of school violence were reported to the police, and 1,019 students, mostly from middle school, were arrested (Naikakufu 2004a).

The students who commit school violence share many characteristics.  Many perform poorly in class, have adversarial relationships with teachers and peers, lack self-control, and have a need to be the center of attention.  At home, they often have overprotective or domineering parents.  School violence became a problem in the early 1980s when groups of students vandalized school buildings and property, and assaulted teachers.  In the 1981 report from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, 70.1 percent of those who committed school violence were poor in academic classes, though many of them were good athletes.  They were not satisfied with their school life and despised their teachers.  They approved of violence more than other students did (Ota 1994:124, 130-133). 

In 2003, 1,154 cases of domestic violence caused by juveniles were reported to the police.  The violence was directed against mothers (51.6%), furniture and other property (15.5%), fathers (13.4%), relatives in the household (11.5%), siblings (5.5%) and others (2.5%)(Naikakufu 2004a).

In the United States, 9 percent of high school students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or club, on school property in 2003.  In the 1999-2000 school year, there were 16 homicides and 6 suicides of school-aged youths at elementary or secondary schools (ages 5-19).  Away from school, there were 2,124 homicides and 1,922 suicides among youth ages 5-19 (NCES 2004b).

More than 4,000 policemen patrol the hallways and playgrounds of schools in the nation.  In Los Angeles, every 49 high schools and almost all middle schools have at least one police officer (Los Angeles Times March 24, 2001).  Many schools use metal detectors, security guards, and closed circuit television surveillance, and conduct random searches of students’ bodies, possessions and lockers, in order to promote school safety.  In 1994, President Clinton signed the Gun-Free Schools Act, requiring that any student caught bringing a gun to school be expelled for one year.  Elementary schools provide training in anger management, impulse control, appreciation of diversity, mediation and conflict resolution skills in order to prevent children from engaging in at-risk behaviors (Schwartz 1996).  Many districts have alternative schools for troubled students, and many schools have their own special programs for troubled students.

Drug Use

Drug charges include the possession of stimulants, marijuana, and paint thinner.  In 2003, 16 middle school students and 36 high school students were among the 524 youths who were taken into protective custody for possession of stimulant drugs.  The most popular of these substances is paint thinner.  In 2003, 2,835 youths including 291 middle school students and 463 high school students were charged with possession of paint thinner, and 185 youths (including three middle school students and 38 high school students) were charged with possession of marijuana (Naikakufu 2004a).  The government and the police provide special counseling for drug abusers, support anti-drug programs in the community and schools, and promote anti-drug campaigns through pamphlets, television, radio and other media.

In the United States, 22 percent of high school students reported in 2003 that they had smoked marijuana in the past 30 days and 6 percent reported using marijuana on school property (NCES 2004b).  Another survey found that 11 percent of middle school students experimented with drugs (TIME July 5, 1999).

[Back to the top]


Under the Penal Code, anyone who performs a sexual act or commits an indecent act with a male or female less than 13 years of age is subject to punishment, whether or not the act is committed by violence or threats.  The Child Welfare Law also prohibits enticing a person younger than 18 years of age into obscene acts. 

Before the 1999 Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and for Protecting Children, if a man had consensual sex with a girl 13 years old or older, he would not be punished, unless the girl pressed charges.  However, since the 1970s, prefectural governments have made their own regulations, which give law enforcement the authority to punish men who solicited a prostitute who was younger than 18 (Oji 1998:168-171).

The 1999 law imposes stricter punishments on sex offenders, brokers of child prostitutes, and on dealers of child pornography.  Those who bought the services from child prostitutes face imprisonment for up to three years, or a fine of one million yen or less.  The brokers of child prostitution could be sentenced to a term of up to three years or a fine of no more than three million yen.  Professional brokers could go to prison for five years and be fined up to five million yen.  Dealers of child pornography would face prison sentences of three years or less or a fine of three million yen or less.  Those who “buy” a child for the purpose of a child prostitution business would face one-year to ten-year prison sentences.  Anyone who trafficked in foreign children for the purpose of prostitution would face prison sentences of two years or more.

All of these punishments are applied to Japanese people, even if the crime is committed abroad.  It will stop child prostitution through the notorious sex tours of South East Asian countries, Japan’s online child pornography industry, and the problematic “dating service” telephone clubs of teenagers.  In 2000, 613 suspects were arrested in 985 cases of child prostitution, 164 suspects were arrested in 170 cases of child pornography (U.N. Committee 2003).

In 2003, 4,412 youths, including 19 elementary school students, 1,315 middle school students, and 1,882 high school students were taken into custody on prostitution charges.  The arrested youths said they prostituted themselves voluntarily (71.4%), because they wanted spending money (29.0%), because there was a particular man they liked (21.1%), because they were curious (12.9%), and because they wanted sex (5.5%).  More than one fourth of arrested youths said that their friends had persuaded them (26.0%) (Naikakufu 2004a).

In recent years, many girls have begun to use “telephone clubs” to engage in sexual relationships for money.  Telephone clubs allow women and men to communicate anonymously to arrange meetings.  Women can join without fees.  Therefore, it is popular among underage girls.  In 1999, there were 3,122 such clubs.  If they are caught, the men who bought the girl’s service are usually punished, and the police take the girls into protective custody.  More than half of the 836 child prostitution cases from November 1999 to October 2000 were associated with these clubs (AS January 26, 2001).

According to the 1996 survey by the Tokyo Government, one out of every four students said they knew someone who joined a “dating service” (enjo kōsai) telephone club, and four percent of girls among 110 high schools in Tokyo said they participated in this behavior (Oji 1998:150).  According to another 1996 survey, 10.2 percent of male students and 17.0 percent of female students in middle school, and 6.6 percent of male students and 27.3 percent of female students in high school had already used telephone clubs.  Girls joined telephone clubs because they found it fun, were bored, wanted to tease their dates, found it thrilling, wanted to play, wanted to talk about eroticism, and the telephone bill was free (for women) (Sōmuchō 1997:69). 

Tougher regulations, sanctions, and public education about the dangers of child prostitution would help prevent the increase of child prostitution.  The National Police Agency announced in 2001 that it would regard telephone clubs as part of the sex industry, and prohibit anyone under 18 years from using telephone clubs, under the revised Law of the Justification of the Entertainment Industry (fūzoku eigyō tekiseikahō) (AS January 26 2001). 

[Back to the top]


School refusal syndrome, bullying, juvenile delinquency, school violence, drug abuse, teenage gangs, and teenage prostitution have been on the rise.  Homeroom teachers and teachers in student guidance committees handle these problems in schools.  Since 1995, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has designated school counselors to deal with these problems by working students, parents and teachers.  The MOE promotes strengthening teachers’ counseling skills and encourages the cooperation among teachers, parents, school counselors, and outside professionals.  Smaller class sizes allow teachers to pay closer attention to their students and to recognize the early signs of these problems.

The number of the students with school refusal syndrome has increased rapidly since the 1980s.  In the 2001-2 school year, one out of every 36 middle school students had school refusal syndrome.  The majority of the causes are related to school problems, such as bullying.  Schools need to develop a support team of parents, homeroom teachers, nurse teachers, school counselors, and medical doctors to work with these students so that they can return to school.  Local governments have begun to accept transfer credits from students who have been schooled at home or in free schools.  Furthermore, school administrators and teachers have to find a way to reduce the causes of school refusal syndrome, such as bullying.

Bullying usually occurs among classmates and members of extracurricular clubs, from the fifth to ninth grades.  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, it is important for homeroom teachers to create a homeroom environment that refuses to tolerate bullying.

The number of 14- to 19-year-olds in protective custody for juvenile crimes rose to 141,775 (16.7 per 1,000 youths) in 2002.  Delinquent behaviors include larceny, embezzlement, assault, murder, robbery, arson, and rape.  Moreover, there were 33,129 reported cases of school violence in the 2001-2 school year.  To a greater degree than ever, troubled students include “normal” students who became unpredictably violent.  Violent youth are more likely to have been indulged by their parents, and resent the regimented school routines.  The teachers in the student guidance committees handled troubled students in concert with a homeroom teacher, a nurse teacher, a supervising teacher from their extracurricular clubs, parents, community youth centers and the police.


1.    The problems of school refusal syndrome are discussed in English (Lock 1986; Yoneyama 1999).  Inamura, a psychiatrist, analyzed school refusal syndrome from a clinical psychological perspective (Inamura 1994).  Morita and Hosaka linked school refusal syndrome to the role of schools and society (Morita 1991a; Morita and Matsuura 1991; Hosaka 2000).  Takagaki et al. collected case studies on students with school refusal syndrome and the parents’ support network (Takagaki et al. 1995a; 1995b; 1995c).

2.    Since 1999, the MOE has replaced the term from “school phobia” (gakkō girai) with “non-attendance at school” (futōkō).  Since 1990, the Ministry of Justice calls the problem “school refusal syndrome/non-attendance” (Hosaka 2000:14-15).  The more neutral term “non-attendance at school” (futōkō) is generally preferred to “school refusal syndrome” (tōkōkyohi).  I use the term “school refusal syndrome” only because it refers to the problem more directly in English than “non-attendance at school.”

3.    The term “hikikomori” was popularized by several well-publicized murder cases committed by hikikomori in 1999 and 2000.  In one case, a 37-year-old recluse kidnapped a girl and kept her confined to his home for nine years, a home that he shared with his mother (AS January 29, 2000).

4.    I visited the Sumire adaptation classroom on February 22, 2001.  The case study is based on my classroom observation and interviews with the teachers.  The information is also based on communication with a teacher’s aide from the adaptation classroom and an elementary school teacher on December 26, 2000.

5.    The White Paper on Education and the White Paper on Youth present annual official data on bullying as reported by teachers.  Morita et al. conducted a comprehensive survey about bullying as reported by students in 1997 (Morita et al. 1999).  Bullying is analyzed through classroom and school factors (Morita and Kiyonaga 1994; Morita et al. 1999; Takekawa 1993; Nihon Bengoshi 1995), and psychological factors (Inamura and Saitō 1995, Masataka 1998).  The Ministry of Justice (Hōmushō 1994; 1997a) has circulated several manuals about how to handle bullying, and the Association of Attorneys (Nihon Bengoshi 1995) has discussed bullying as a human rights issue.

6.    Japan’s report about the Convention on the Rights of the Child (U.N. Committee 1998a) summarizes the official views and policies on troubled youth and the children’s rights.  Annual data regarding juvenile delinquency are presented in the White Papers on Youth (Naikakufu), Education (Monbukagakushō) the Police (Keisatsuchō) and Crime (Hōmushō).

7.    In 1997, a 14-year-old boy beheaded an 11-year-old boy, and put his head at the school gate of his middle school in Kōbe in May 1997.  He stuck a note in the mouth of the victim, calling himself the “School Killer” and stating that he enjoyed killing.  The Family Court found that he was responsible for four other assaults, including the death of a 10-year-old girl.  He was sent to a juvenile home with medical facilities.  The Kōbe Regional Court in 1999 also ordered the boy and his parents to pay more than 100 million yen as compensation (AS March 11 1999).

[Back to the top]

Previous Table of Contents Next

Copyright 2005  All rights reserved.