Something's Strange: Education in Japan (5) Nicknames are Prohibited!? - Director's Blog



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Something's Strange: Education in Japan (5) Nicknames are Prohibited!?

Japanese Chinese

On the news, I heard about one elementary school where students are told to address their friends by adding "-san" to the name and to avoid using nicknames because it leads to bullying.*1 Shocked to hear this, I wondered just what the teachers at the elementary school were thinking.

The well-known textbook in the field of developmental pediatrics, Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, Levine, Carey, Crocker., eds., provides a good explanation of the social skills that are important for getting along with others.*2 It refers to schools where social skills are explicitly practiced to help students who do not easily make friends or feel comfortable in group activities.

Levine separates social skills into two categories, verbal social skills and non-verbal social skills, and addresses the specific skills that apply to each. "Lingo fluency" is a skill that is included in verbal social skills. "Lingo" refers to jargon that is used within a circle of people. When children make in-groups with their peers, they also create a certain language that is only understood by those within the group. This can be seen as an activity in which people of all ages around the world engage regardless of the country and language spoken. Another important category of lingo fluency includes the use of nicknames for members within the peer group. Nicknames are also used for those outside the peer group. The names Botchan (Young Master), Akashatsu (Red Shirt), and Uranari (Pale Squash) that appear in Natsume Soseki's novel Botchan are nicknames made up for the teachers. The statute of limitations has run out, so let me say that when I recall the nicknames of my teachers in high school, I realize that nearly all the popular teachers had nicknames like Medaka (Killifish), Tako (Octopus), Aooni (Blue Demon), Raapon, or Dorinku, mostly named after what they often wore or said in class. Even friends called one another "Little Don," "Hakkai(pigsy)," or "Kawadebu (River Fat)." In my case, I was called "Bara," which did not mean "rose," but was rather a shortened form of Sakakihara. These days, whenever we get together and speak the language of our youth, it also creates a rather nostalgic feeling.

These are important social skills and by requiring children to address one another by adding "-san" to the name of others, what indeed are we expecting of them?

  • *1"Elementary Schools Increasingly Require '-san' and Prohibit Nicknames or Addressing Someone without a Title" The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 28, 2022.
  • *2 Levine, MD., Carey WB., Crocker AC., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics. 3rd Edition (Philadelphia: Saunders, 1999), 539.
sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.