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Mukatsuku (Anger) and Kireru (Snapping) Among Japanese Youth

This article is a translation and edition of Benesse Educational Research Center, 1998, Kireru mukatsuku Monogurafu chugakusei no sekai, Vol. 61. Tokyo: Benesse Corporation. (Supervising Editor is Prof. Masashi Fukaya of Tokyo Seitoku Junior College)


Although Japan is much admired for the safety of its streets and its highly educated citizens, it has recently been troubled by the problem of classroom collapse or anarchy, namely, a breakdown of order in the classroom, and rising juvenile crime. While the crime rate among youth is still lower than in Western countries, Japan's parents and educators have been shocked by a series of murders, knifings, and other incidents that seem to indicate that even ordinary children are capable of suddenly committing crimes. Moreover, when reporting these crimes, the media has tended to stress that the perpetrator seemed to be just an "ordinary kid" until he or she snapped, implying that all young people are capable of such acts. After all, even seemingly ordinary young people talk of having repressed feelings of extreme discontent and blowing up with rage, and expressions of such feelings and behavior have become part of their everyday vocabulary.

A recent monograph (Volume 61) published by the Benesse Educational Foundation examines two terms, "mukatsuku" and "kireru," that are currently used by young people to describe a psychological state and a behavior that have been closely linked to the surge in juvenile delinquency and crime. "Mukatsuku" normally refers to the feeling of being dissatisfied, offended, irritated, or angry, but among young people, it also refers to a potentially explosive, repressed state from which they cannot find release. When this state continues and the young person is pushed to a breaking point, he or she may snap or "kireru." This refers to sudden, destructive behavior toward oneself or others in even an otherwise seemingly "ordinary" young person.

In the survey, questionnaires were distributed to 1,235 students in the seventh to the ninth grades at four junior high schools in Tokyo from May to June 1998. Follow-up interviews were also conducted. The purpose of the study was to obtain a better understanding of these phenomena and of the students who are fed up to the point of snapping, how teachers might better cope with this behavior, and what this behavior might mean for society at large.

Mukatsuku: angry and frustrated
How many students feel angry and frustrated and how do they express these feelings? Only 10% of the students in the survey reported rarely feeling angry. Girls, in particular, said they felt angry and irritated about relationships with friends. Half of the students try to control their anger, but others act out in violent ways toward objects or people. They tend to divert their anger in outward-directed or physical activities or solitary past-times, or engage in slightly hazardous or risky behavior. The expression "mukatsuku" tends to be used either when the student wishes to express dislike for, or rejection of, someone in an aggressive manner or when the student feels inner turmoil. It appears that in the lower grades, this word refers more often to an aggressive attitude toward other people while in the higher grades, it denotes inner feelings of dissatisfaction. This indicates that students are not adequately equipped with the vocabulary to explain their feelings and desires precisely and tend to use the same word to refer to different states of mind.

There appears to be a close relationship between feeling angry and frustrated and actually acting out or becoming enraged. 90.6% of the students who become enraged every day report feeling angry every day. Moreover, 16.6% who feel angry every day report that they actually snap or become enraged every day (Table 1).

Frequency of snapping (kireru) X frequency of getting frustrated (mukatsuku)

  Almost every day Several times a week Once or twice a month Several times so far None
Frustrated Almost every day 16.6 24.5 12.0 34.2 12.9
Almost every day 0.6 17.8 19.8 48.4 13.4
Several times (once or twice) a month 0.0 2.3 16.0 61.1 20.6
Several times a year/none 0.5 1.0 4.4 56.2 37,9

Kireru: snapping or becoming enraged
How often do students actually snap? According to the survey, 3.7% of the students snap every day while 12.9% do so several times a week. 14.8% snap one or twice a month. In other words, 30% say they snap or become enraged more than once a month. 18.9% of the students state that they have never snapped or become enraged, but 61.7% think that at least one person in their classes easily does so (Table 2 and 3). This indicates that the word, "kireru," may have a different nuance for each person. It is hard to imagine that 30% of all students lose control more than once a month.

Frequency of snapping

Almost every day 3.7
Several times a week 12.9
Several times(once or twice) a month 14.8
Several times so far 49.7
None 18.9

How many students snap in your class?
None 1 2 3 4 5 6 or more
38.3 11.2 14.7 11.1 5.7 8.9 10.1

Just what sort of behavior constitutes "kireru" and how do students feel about it? In their answers, these students said that they became violent, destroyed or damaged objects, became verbally abusive, withdrawn, or highly agitated. Only 36.4% of the students who became enraged felt that they should have exercised self-restraint; they tended to justify their actions by either saying that there was nothing else they could have done at the time or that they should have become even more enraged (Table 4). 16.3% of the students said they never felt like doing so. Most students felt sure that they would be able to control their temper, but only 31.1% of the boys and 19.7% of the girls were not confident that they could restrain themselves (Table 5 and 6).

How do you feel when you snap most seriously? X gender

  Male Female Total
Should have controlled myself 40.7 31.0 36.4
Could not controll myself 40.9 49.8 44.8
Should have become more enraged 18.4 19.2 18.8

Frequency of snapping X gender

  Often Sometimes Rarely Not at all
Male 12.7 34.5 33.6 19.2
Female 15.7 37.6 33.6 13.1
Total 14.1 36.0 33.6 16.3

What will happen if you snap? X gender

  Cannot controll myself Will not do anything serious Controll myself
Male 31.1 38.9 30.0
Female 19.7 48.1 32.2
Total 25.6 43.3 31.1

It is important to note that the comments submitted by students imply that "kireru" is immature behavior reminiscent of early childhood. Ninth graders, in particular, thought this to be true and found it similar to when a child throws a temper tantrum. 38.3% of all students answered there were no students in their classes who become enraged and 37.0% reported that there were only one to three for a total of 75.3%. In other words, there were either no immature students in the class or three, at most. This appears to be a reasonable result. It seems that students mature between the eighth and nine grades since more nine graders reported having no classmates who become enraged.

Students who snap or become enraged also report a feeling of malaise or physical discomfort in their daily environment. Many complain of not feeling well physically and lack of sleep (Table 7). They do not feel comfortable either at home or at school (Table 8). An overwhelming percentage of students who said they become enraged every day tend not to have even one friend with whom they can share happy experiences, who will listen when they are depressed, or who will listen to their problems (Table 9). Many also were involved in rebellious or delinquent behavior (Table 10).

Physical and mental condition X frequency of snapping

  Almost every day Several times a week Once or twice a month Several times so far None
Too busy 54.2 29.9 15.2 16.5 15.8
Annoyed by minor things 44.2 35.2 17.9 17.2 14.2
Feel bad 33.4 16.8 8.9 9.0 11.1
Cannot sleep well 25.6 16.1 10.6 7.7 8.8
Feel anger when not taken seriously 41.9 21.9 9.5 10.7 6.6
Poor appetite 14.0 6.5 4.5 5.3 3.1
 Percentages of "often"

What students feel when going to school X frequency of snapping and getting frustrated
  Snap (kireru) Frustrated (mukatsuku)
Want to stay at home Want to go to school Do not like school nor home Want to stay at home Want to go to school Do not like school nor home
Almost every day 49.8 32.5 17.7 43.9 29.8 26.3
Several times a week 39.8 49.1 11.1 46.4 37.9 15.7
Several times(once or twice) a month 39.6 53.7 6.7 41.6 50.5 7.9
Several times(once or twice) a year 36.3 57.2 6,5 41.0 49.8 9.2
None 32.5 61.1 6.4 32.4 58.1 9.5
Total 40.4 48,9 10,7 40.4 48.9 10,7

Do you have any friends? X frequency of snapping
  Do you have any friends who ... ?
  Shares joy with you Listens to you when you are upsetd Listens to your worries Cares about you
Frequency of snapping Almost every day 23.8 34.9 32.6 32.5
Several times a week 11.5 16.7 17.3 17.3
Several times(once or twice) a month 9.0 15.2 14.5 18.9
Several times so far 8.2 14.0 15.6 18.8
None 9.4 17.4 17.5 18.6
Percentage of those who do not have any friends

Experiences of deviant behavior X frequency of snapping

  Almost every day Once or twice a month None
Not wearing shoes properly 52.3 44.1 26.9
Staying out late 24.4 7.3 2.6
Riding someone's bicycle without permission 20.0 3.9 0.9
Drinking alcohol with friends 17.7 3.9 2.7
Smoking 11.1 3.4 1.8
Shoplifting 11.1 4.4 0.4
Riding a motorbike without a license 4.4 4.4 1.0
Percentage of "always" and "sometimes"

Adults are alarmed when young people talk about feeling angry and blowing up with rage, and this survey found that more and more young people claim to feel angry. Nevertheless, on the whole, they are able to control how they vent these feelings and use this type of language without intending its full and serious implication. In other words, there is not necessarily a parallel between the ways in which they talk about and express anger, frustration, and rage in their daily lives and the series of crimes that have made adults so anxious to understand adolescent psychology and behavior.

The survey found that when children have a network of warm, supportive relationships, they do not become exceptionally reckless or violent even during times of extreme duress. This indicates that weakening interpersonal ties are a factor in the emotional instability of young people today.

Against the background of the progressive decrease in the child population of Japanese society, it is also possible to see "kireru" as regressive, child-like behavior by students who are not sufficiently emotionally developed for their age. In fact, classroom collapse or the breakdown of order in the classroom are problems seen in the lower grades, and becoming enraged may also be typical of those students who lack the skills to express their frustration and channel their stress.

The school environment is not the only factor that contributes to rage. According to the survey, many students who become enraged do not have a good relationship with their parents. This may imply that the family plays an important role in providing the emotional stability that young people need, particularly during the pre-pubescent years.

The researchers who conducted this survey concluded that helping young people value themselves and their future as well as to respect others can mitigate the effects of rage insofar as they restrain the expression of violent tendencies. Feeling angry and blowing up are natural emotions and behavior, but mature people are able to express themselves in a socially acceptable manner. The survey concludes that violent behavior of young people in Japan is a global phenomena that can be seen as a developmental maladjustment of children who are forced to grow up too quickly.

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