Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
School bullying is a crime. In its most extreme form it is plain and simple assault - sometimes lethal assault, also known as murder or manslaughter. Isn’t assault an arrestable, prosecutable offense in Japan? How about stalking, extortion and torture? In more moderate forms it is still a crime of abuse. So perhaps parents, teachers, principals, police, politicians and social commentators would do better to take a straight legal approach to the problem. Instead of coddling bullies with remedial lessons about respect for others’ rights and the value of human life in regret-filled leisure and in the shadow of a tragedy, just arrest
them, detain them, prosecute them, and incarcerate them. Certainly that might have no deterring effect at all. But it will have a punishing effect, which is quite moral. It is what Americans call “zero tolerance,”which always struck me before as a lot of meaningless bluster and self-righteous posturing.
If we include bullying statistics among the battery of annual crime figures collected by the Prime Minister’s Office they would contribute to a more realistic picture of Japanese society, which in fact is neither harmonious and law-abiding at all, nor has it ever been. So I do not think it is going too far to declare that bullies are plain and simple criminals, not merely unkind children. Correctly identifying them and treating them as such will be good for them and for society. Correct identification is a virtue and the start of their rehabilitation.
Is this an unreasonably hard line to take, especially in light of the young age of school bullies - still minors? Maybe not.
Published on Sunday, November 26, 2006 as “Treat bullying as a crime.”
Bullying is part of Japanese culture. It happens not just in schools but in business offices, in prisons, in politics. I take it partly as an indicator of the true violence in Japanese culture, contrasting with the prejudicial notion Japanese have of America as a violent place. I think it is also an expression of the vertical social hierarchy here, the relationship of juniors (“kohai”) to seniors (“sempai”). Bullying is slowing coming to be seen as a crime and prosecuted - especially in light of more frequent fatal cases that have come to light in recent years. But it seems like such an obtuse no-brainier. Bullying is assault. Assault is a crime.