The Framework of "Bullying"


Although bullying is not a problem unique to our country, the nature of bullying that occurs can be distinguished from the bullying in other countries.

In other words, besides the bullied child (the victim) and the bullies (the assailant), there is the "gallery" or the audience who cheers on the bully or just observes the bullying. There are also the children who pretend to not see anything. This four-layer structure of bullying is well exemplified in the actual case of the well-publicized "mock-funeral" bullying that occurred in a junior high school, which led to suicide in 1986. In this case, one boy was bullied by his classmates who teased him that the world was better off without him and actually holding a mock-funeral for him. While a few of his classmates led this mock-funeral, his other classmates stood around and watched or participated in some form or other. Even his teacher was a participant. However, the boy that was bullied could not stand this cruel treatment and ended up taking his own life, leaving a single note reading, " When I go to school, everyday is full of unbearable things. There is nothing to look forward to." This is so tragic.

It is, in fact, extremely difficult to obtain any information about the child who is the aggressor, the bully. It is difficult, because there is the issue of having to honor the privacy of children and also that it is difficult to study in a valid manner. However, it cannot be denied that the children who are the bullies are not able to empathize with the suffering and anguished feelings of the bullied child. In other words, "the heart to sympathize" is lacking or is under-developed in those children who are the aggressors.

Many speculations are made about the bullied child. Some reasons given by those who have been caught bullying, are "s/he is conceited," "s/he has a mind of his/her own," "s/he is non-complacent" . These statements imply that the children try to find or determine that there are some unfavorable personality characteristics on the part of the bullied child. Furthermore, it seems that children who are academically not doing so well, are targeted in bullying. Other reasons given are, "s/he is introverted," "s/he does not show reactions," " s/he is not skilled at expressing him/herself," and "just easy to tease". However, when we review these reasons, it is not definite to who the bullies will target, but rather, it implies that the target can be anyone. There are, however, some children who are prone to become targets, like those who have just transferred to a school or those who are subject to socio-cultural discrimination in Japan.

The observers and those who pretend to not see anything may feel that they are not involved in actually bullying a student, but they are essentially a large role of the whole bullying scene. These children are in essence, giving a silent approval to the bullies, and showing their support. It seems they feel a bit guilty about these incidents, but if they had a chance, they may even become the actual aggressors. However, without these indirect bullies, today's bullying situation would probably not exist.

65% of bullies think that the person they are bullying has some weak aspect of their personality or that they have some dislikable characteristic and only 10% do it for fun. However, of the gallery, 35% feel that there is something "bad" about the other person, but 40% do it for entertainment. This indicates that there are more children who are considered the gallery and appear, on the surface, not to be directly involved in the bullying, but have a higher percentage of bullying for fun.

When we examine the family background of these gallery children, we find that the fathers are usually white-collar workers, the mothers are full-time housewives and the children do not have any financial constraints in their daily life. They also receive sufficient amounts for their allowance and usually have a strong interest in carrying pagers and in personal computers.

There seem to be many patterns of bullying behavior, but the most common these days, including the mock-funeral incident, is to make a joke out of one's situation. The mangas (comics) in Japan and recent television programming may be affecting and, perhaps influencing these children in some way. I believe human nature drives people to want to belong in the majority. Bullying may be a result of this human nature, and wanting to dignify one's status or to maintain the integrity of "belongingness."

Animals also behave in this manner. Roosters are said to have a pecking order, picking on roosters from the top down in a certain order. This ranking is said to be determined by the ability to gather food.

Children are underdeveloped, compared to adults, in their ability to balance and control their emotional, intellectual and social behaviors. Thus, it is easier for this balance to be broken and bullying to occur. I believe that it is our utmost priority to help children develop their empathy so they are able to feel the pain and anguish of the bullied child. It is also critical for our society to be rich in the various emotional potentials and to nurture a kind and sensitive youth population. It seems that the wealthier (in finances) a country is, these elements are deficient.


Masataka, N. (1998). Ijime wo yurusu kokoro. [The psychology of permitting bullying.] Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

Morita, Y., and Kiyonaga, K. (1994). Ijime kyoshitsu no yamai. [Bullying, a classroom epidemic.] Tokyo: Kaneko Shobo.

Write a comment

*CRN reserves the right to post only those comments that abide by the terms of use of the website.


Japan Today

CRN Child Science Exchange Program in Asia

About CRN

About Child Science


Honorary Director's Blog