Corporal Punishment in the Schools and Homes of Japan - Papers & Essays



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Corporal Punishment in the Schools and Homes of Japan

Corporal punishment can occur in the home, at school, and even in institutions for handicapped children. The history of corporal punishment dates back probably to the earliest days of ancient Greece and Rome in the West, and naturally Japan has a similar history, although it is difficult to trace this form of punishment to such an early time. However, this can be traced to the 7th Century.

1. Corporal punishment in Japanese schools

Corporal punishment in the schools of Japan has been reported by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Schools suspected of using corporal punishment during the years 1990 to 1995 number from 600 to 850 per year, or about 2% of the public schools all over Japan. Of these schools, 25% to 85% received legal sanctions. (Fig.1)

The number of cases of corporal punishment reported from 1990 to 1995 was approximately 700 to 1,000 cases each year. Although 30% to 45% of the teachers responsible for these cases received legal sanctions, only one or none of them were dismissed each year. (Fig. 2)
These two figures show that corporal punishment has been increasing during the past five years or so.

The Educational Research Center, Benesse Corporation, conducted a retrospective survey on approximately 600 mothers of 13-year-old children.
The survey revealed that 44% of the children had received no corporal punishment during primary school (ages 6 to 12 years), but 56% of them had been punished in this manner once or more since that time.

The number of punished children increased with age. Boys are more often victims than girls, but among the teachers involved, neither sex predominated.
This study also analyzed the feelings of parents and children regarding the punishment. Nearly half the children felt the corporal punishment they received was severe or too severe for what they had done.

Among the children, 20% developed ill-feelings for their teachers, and 30% became dissatisfied with them. While 50% were able to accept or tolerate corporal punishment, 30% of these later came to dislike their teachers. Only 5% continued to like their teacher after being punished.
The mothers' feelings were as follows: 50% were able to accept or tolerate the corporal punishment because their child had misbehaved, 16% of the mothers denied their child had misbehaved, but only 20% protested the teacher's use of corporal punishment.

Also, 14% of the mothers felt that punishment was effective in creating discipline, 68% approved of occasional punishment, but only 17% disapproved of corporal punishment on any occasion.
The rate of corporal punishment acceptance was higher among fathers at 50%, against 30% among mothers. It is noted that the shorter the school career of the father, the higher his acceptance rate was.

In general, parents considered "mild corporal punishment" acceptable, but they did not approve of "striking," "punching," "beating," or "kicking." Milder corporal punishment means "spanking on the bottom" and also, "kneeling," or being "forced to stay after school and study," which are acceptable to parents. However, parents believe that corporal punishment is always permissible in cases such as "delinquent behavior," "dangerous activities," or "bullying."

2. Corporal punishment in Japanese homes

Corporal punishment no doubt occurs in Japanese homes, but so far there is no well-documented study on how school children are treated in their homes. As expected from the parents' disapproval of corporal punishment in the previous section, we can only imagine that while this may occur at home, it is probably less frequent, if it happens at all. However, concerning corporal punishment of younger children at home, generally considered child abuse, the following epidemiological study can be introduced.

Some 435 cases of child abuse encountered at pediatric departments of general and children's hospitals, and practicing pediatricians, were registered with the Department of Child Ecology, National Children's Medical Research Center, and the National Children's Hospital from 1986 to 1995. According to the rationale given by the abuser for the abuse, 36.3% stated "discipline and education" as the reason(s), or used the child's behavior as their excuse. (Table 1) Such treatment is considered corporal punishment when it occurs in the home.

3. Discussion

Corporal punishment at school is legally prohibited in Japan. The first law prohibiting it was passed in 1879, 118 years ago, when a western-style education system was first introduced. However, it was repealed in 1885. It was reinstated in 1980, repealed again in 1900, and then reinstated in 1941 during the war period. These legal reversals occurred each time the education system was changed.

Therefore, since the 1940's, and particularly after WW2, when the American education system was reintroduced, corporal punishment has been continuously legally prohibited. This occurred much earlier than in the other developed countries. (Table 2) Especially in 1948, the Ministry of Justice announced that striking, punching, or kicking children, or making them kneel or stand straight and rigid for a long period, or refusing permission for them to visit the lavatory or eat lunch, were all specifically prohibited. Yet, while corporal punishment is therefore legally prohibited in Japan, this type of punishment still occurs in this country.

Corporal punishment may cause the following problems and risks for children.

1) Children may suffer injuries. Even deaths were attributed to corporal punishment before WW2.
2) Children are not able to make subjective judgments based only on physical suffering and pain.
3) Children have difficulties developing good human relationships with the punishers (teachers and caregivers).
4) The balanced psychological development of children is threatened, and these experiences may affect later development of their human relationships throughout their lives.
5) School violence among children might be caused directly or indirectly by teachers or parent's corporal punishment.

One must consider why, although legally prohibited, there is still corporal punishment in the schools of Japan. The following are the three main reasons why eliminating corporal punishment is so difficult.

1) The level of understanding of corporal punishment varies a great deal among children, parents and teachers. There is no common agreement on the benefits or problems related to such punishment.
2) Teachers in general still depend on corporal punishment to solve difficult guidance problems, and parents expect teachers to maintain discipline as they teach.
3) Not only teachers but also parents fail to consider corporal punishment in terms of basic children's rights, although many countries, including Japan, affirmed the Children's Rights Treaty sponsored by the United Nations in 1989.

Corporal punishment at home should be treated on an equal basis with "child abuse" in general. However, discussion on this point is left for another paper.
Teachers and parents involved in corporal punishment are usually in stressful situations of various types, and therefore a system to support them emotionally as well as physically is one of the important prerequisites for solving this problem. Such a program should be organized within the school system for teachers and at the community level for parents.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, corporal punishment, although legally prohibited, is still a problem at school and in the homes across Japan. Programs must be put in place to eliminate corporal punishment, particularly since the Children's Rights Treaty was concluded in Japan.


H.Sakamoto: Study on Corporal Punishment, Sanichi Shobo Pub. (in Japanese), 1995.
University of Education and Science, President Situation of School Children's Guidance Problems and Ministerial Policy, Government Report, (in Japanese), 1995.

K.Fukuya: Corporal Punishment, Monograph: Primary School Children Now, Vol.6-1, Educational Research Center, Fukutake Shoten (Benesse Co.), (in Japanese), 1986.

M.Tanimura: Registration Report on Child Abuse in Japan, Personal Communication, 1997.

Table 1

Rationale given by Child Abusers for Abuse:
Child Abuse Registration (435 cases)
Department of Child Ecology
National Children's Medical Research Center

A. Discipline given for Behavior / Personality / Character Problems 20.0%
B. Problems relating to the child himself or herself
1) Hated behavior and / or character of child (71 cases) 16.3%
2) Unwilling to care or nurse child (124 cases) 28.3%
3) Unable to accept responsibility for child-care : Neurosis (28 cases) 6.4%
C. Problems of Parents themselves including Family Background (125 cases) 28.7%
D. Others or No Statement (224 cases) : Sexual Abuse and others

Intention and Probable Intention of Education or Discipline given as Reason:

Table 2

History of Legal Considerations (Education Law) regarding Corporal Punishment in Japan

1986 (72): Beginning of Modern Education

1879: Law Prohibiting Corporal Punishment Enacted
1885: Repeal of Law Prohibiting Corporal Punishment
(in loco parents)
1890: Law Prohibiting Corporal Punishment Reinstated
(Law for Primary Schools)
1900: Law Prohibiting Corporal Punishment Repealed (Again)
1941: Law Prohibiting Corporal Punishment Reinstated (Again)

1945: Corporal Punishment Continuously Prohibited since the End of the World War 2

Re: France (1887), Germany (1970), Sweden (1979), UK (1986)

(%)= % of total suspected schools

Fig. 1 Number of Public Schools, where Corporal Punishment were suspects, and Legal Sanctions

( ): Number of Dismissed Teachers  (%): % of total cases in the respective year

Fig. 2 Number of Cases of Corporal Punishment at School and % Involving Legal Sanctions for Teachers
Noboru Kobayashi
Professor, Konan Woman's University (Puericulture), Director, Child Research Net

Masako Tanimura
Director, Department of Child Ecology, National Children's Medical Research Center

Yukio Shimauchi
Director, Educational Research Center, Benesse Corp.