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Ijime (Bullying)

The academic achievement of Japanese students has been well examined and their scholastic excellence has been well documented. However, the psychological consequences of these youth are not as well-known overseas as it is being discussed in Japan today. Here, some recent problems among school-age children are , ijime (bullying), tokokyohi (school refusal), suicide delinquency, psychosomatic disorders, developmental disabilities, reading retardation and eating disorders (McClure & Shirataki, 1989). I would like to discuss the problem known as ijime, in the Japanese schools, because it is a unique phenomenon of Japanese schoolchildren.

Ijime in the Japanese schools is a very violent phenomenon, sometimes resulting in death of the victim (Murakami, 1989). Most incidents of ijime begin in junior high school when children begin to experience the pressure of preparing to take the examinations for high school admission. Takano (1986) indicates that bullied children are usually clueless to why they have become the target of bullying. Bullying has existed in schools and has been viewed as problematic for many years. However, recently, the incidents are becoming increasingly emotionally abusive and sometimes resulting in death. The two salient characteristics of ijime are (1) the very dark and cruel nature of violence and (2) the acts of violence (emotional and physical) are conducted in groups against one victim or a several students (Kadokawa, 1998; Kikkawa, 1987; Murakami, 1989; Schoolland, 1986).

The motivation for conducting ijime in groups seems to stem from the fact that, if the violence is conducted on a single individual by a whole group, it is more difficult for the bullied student to fight back. There are students who are not direct participants of ijime, yet fail to make any effort to defend the bullied student or to report the incident(s) to an authority figure. They fail to defend or help the victim, for fear that they will be perceived by the bullies as being "the same type of person" (as the ijime victim). Consequently, they fear that they might become the next target of violence. These children, however, appear to be unaware that by bearing silent witnesses, they are actually facilitating the situation by indicating approval and support, and by being passive participants. Many bullies are unaware of the seriousness of their actions, feel no remorse toward their actions, and consider it a part of play and that the victim is chosen for no significant reason (Sato, 1987). Bullied children are often the victims of being ignored, pinched, beaten, threatened, forced to bring money to the bullies, forced to disrobe in public, etc.

It is interesting to note that in a country where membership to a group is taken very seriously and personally, the type of bullying that becomes problematic and sometimes leads to violent ends is that which involves victimizing a fellow student so that s/he cannot be part of the group any longer. (Of course there are other horrible acts of physical violence also in incidents of ijime) There is a strong sense of dependence, obligation and responsibility attributed to the group and the other members of that group. The Japanese individual is able to attain, through this dependence on the group, a sense of security and collective identity. Belonging to a cohesive group is an important aspect of a Japanese person's life throughout the lifespan. This explains the passive participant's role in the scheme of the ijime.

Often, when a serious case of ijime is discussed , the school and society is blamed for (1) not being able to recognize the seriousness of the incident and for (2) being a place which induced ijime behavior. Another characteristic, is that there are many efforts to understand the nature of the children's behaviors (e.g. what type of student is bullying and what type of students are being bullied), and there are even periodic anti-ijime campaigns by the Ministry of Education as well as many ijime hotlines. However, what seems to be missing is the continuity factor in the child's life identifying tendencies for these sorts of behaviors. Schwartz, Dodge, Pettit and Bates (1997) have found that early socialization patterns affect the social behavior of aggressors as well as victims. Their study showed that boys who experience physical abuse and who were witness to adult aggression in the home showed more aggressive behavior middle childhood and the dysregulation of emotions. These same children were also more prone to peer victimization. This study also mentioned that biological factors and attachment patterns could be pieces of the puzzle.

Thus, it is clear that there are various factors involved in bullying incidents. Kadokawa (1998) argues that there is a "dehumanization" trend in the Japanese society today, where interaction among humans is decreasing. He states that the long climb to economic recovery (after the second World War) and economic stability -- where industrialization was prioritized in the homes and society -- resulted in sacrifices made in the families and societies. Thus, this resulted in a generation in which the children are not very attached to their families or neighbors and are rather indifferent to these relationships. Perhaps, in a culture where group belongingness is highly valued as it is in Japan, drawing from the above study by Schwartz and others, early socialization of being neglected or not belonging in the family, may lead to dysregulation of emotions in the Japanese child. Not only may it be intended, but also, the inevitable situation where the mother is solely responsible for childrearing (because the father can spend little time in the home on a daily basis), may lead to emotional and social maladaptations.

Long (1987) proposes that the shrinking extended family size may cause the mother to feel overly self-conscious and anxiety-ridden about raising the children by herself (without the help of her mother, or other relatives who have experienced childrearing). This, in turn, may result in an excessive and unhealthy amount of attention and nervousness concerning all aspects of the child. The fathers' situations at work, which ultimately affects their private life, may also be a significant contributor to the weakening ties of the family unit. This is not only due to the diminishing power as the "head of the household", but also due to the long hours spent away from the house. Hence, researchers speculate that because the children cannot see their fathers at work where he is strong and ambitious, but see only the "lazy" side of him, he cannot be a good role model, which results in him becoming emotionally as well as physically distant from his family (Hoshino & Kumashiro, 1990; see also Long, 1987; Wada, 1991). Subsequently, each member of the family carries on a lifestyle independent of the other members where there is little communication or sharing of a common activity among family members (including between the parents) such as eating meals together or involving children in household tasks. This weak bonding among the family members and the alienation of each member discourages children from consulting their parents in times of trouble and turmoil (Takano, 1986; Yanai, Tokushige, Sunaga & Togashi, 1986).

These are just a few of the factors to begin to think about when trying to solve the Japanese children 's ijime puzzle. It seems that the underlying causes of these incidents may be due to the socialization environment of the child as well as early experiences of social interaction and emotional regulation in childhood. The ideal goals and actual implementation in the Japanese educational system seem to be disparate and a source of frustrating conflict. The suggested goals for fostering a healthy and comprehensive school culture are excellent and hopeful. However, without changing the whole environment of the child (including the family and society), as well as the competitive structure of school admissions, it may be difficult to foster a nurturant academic lifestyle. It is imperative that the psychological world of these schoolchildren be explored and understood, using rigorous methodological tools and techniques, to better accommodate their needs and to facilitate their academic achievement as well as their emotional and social development.



  • -Hoshino, Y. and Kumashiro, H. (1990). Tokokyohiji no chiryo to kyoiku [Education and treatment of school refusal children]. Tokyo: Nihon Bunka Kagakusha.
  • -Kadokawa, A. (1998). Henyou suru Wakamono Bunka to Kyoiku [The changing culture of youth]. In Ijime to Futoukou [Bullying and School Refusal]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
  • -Kikkawa,M. (1987). Teachers' opinions and treatments for bully/victim problems among students in junior and senior high schools: results of a fact-finding survey. Journal of Human Development, 23, 25-30.
  • -Long, S.O. (1987). Family change and the life course in Japan. Ithaca: Cornell East Asia Papers.
  • -McClure, M. and Shirataki, S. (1989). Child Psychiatry in Japan. Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 28, 488-492.
  • -Murakami, Y. (1989). Bullies in the Classroom. In J.J. Shields, Jr. (Ed.), Japanese Schooling: Patterns of Socialization, Equality, and Political Control (pp. 145-151. University Park; The Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • -Sato, K. (1987). "Ijime" wo megutte [About ijime (bullying)]. In K. Suzuki and S. Matsuda (Eds.), Gendai shonen shirigaku. Tokyo: Yuhikaku.
  • -Schwartz, D., Dodge, K.A., Pettit, G.S., and Bates, J.E. (1997). The early socialization of aggressive victims of bullying. Child Development, 68, 665-675.
  • -Schoolland, K. (1986). Ijime: the bullying of Japanese youth. International Education, 15, 5-28.
  • -Takano, S. (1986). Ijime no mechanism [The intricacies of the bullying syndrome]. Tokyo: Kyoiku Shuppan Kabushiki Gaisha.
  • -Wada, N. (1991). "Yutakasa" to kodomo no jinken [Affluence and children's human rights]. Kodomo Hakusho, 1991, 125-137.
  • -Yanai, H., Tokushige, A., Sunaga, K., and Togashi, M. (1986). Ijime: Mienai kodomo no sekai [Bullying: the hidden world of children]. Tokyo: Keio Tsushin Kabushiki Gaisha.
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