Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I enjoyed Chris Stevens’ opinion in “Mothers behind ‘ijime’ culture” (November 18th) because I think he’s really onto something there. We have already heard of Japanese mother’s park culture - the tendency of Japanese mothers who regularly gather in public parks where their young children play to order things hierarchically in a miniature replica of the greater domestic culture. Mothers’ park culture has led to trouble in the past, and continues to do so from time to time. Japanese park mothers are like a microcosm of Japan as a whole, a reflection of both virtues and vices. At the same time Mao Yamaguchi correctly cries out for the salvation of bullied children (“Saving the lives of the bullied”).
I am having difficulty comprehending why the problem persists. I know that children can be very cruel to each other, and I am familiar with their ways of thinking and behaving. But those who bullied 12-year-old Akiko Uemura of Gumma Prefecture to her death are not anonymous. Their identity is known, and it always is known in cases of school bullying. The problem is not an evasive phenomenon that can’t be grasped because it slips through our fingers like sand. Dealing with juvenile bullying is a matter of the will to do it. There they are! Bullies in our midst. He bullied yesterday, she bullied this morning. Now, arrest them. Next, prosecute them. Finally, punitively confine them. I know that the age of young offenders is usually a mitigating factor in holding them accountable, but perhaps it should not always be. In order for juvenile bullies and adults in this country both to understand that bullying is a crime and that bullies are evil they must be prosecuted. It’s not so much a matter of regulating manners as it is a matter of crime. It’s for their own good as well as ours, and I only suggest it out of brotherly loving kindness, not out of cold-heartedness or parochial obtuseness.
Published on Sunday, November 21, 2010 as “Willpower to prosecute bullies.”
Prosecuting bullies as criminals is an idea that I have written before and that has been printed before, too. Of course, if such a course was pursued then practically all of the juvenile population would be incarcerated in some manner and for some time at least, so impracticality compromises its eligibility as a stratagem. But still, I suggest it as a mechanism to drive home my “zero tolerance” attitude. Bullying can be classified as various legal offenses: physical or psychological abuse, and in extreme cases manslaughter, homicide or terrorism. The great ambition of my harsh punitive suggestion is to educate people to properly identify bullying and call it for what it is. I know people will say that my suggestions on the matter are not fair, they are not nor would ever be effective, and that they teach children the wrong lesson - if they teach them anything at all. Maybe I am just obstinately wrong-headed. I disagree. Japanese schools amply demonstrate an inability to control the matter, which creates an inviting crack for the wedge of a legal solution.
The kind of bullying that drives Japanese students to suicide is not just juvenile mischief. If it results in suicide then I think we can say that it is qualitatively something other than that, and there ought be some grounds for investigating the matter as more than a matter of classroom or schoolyard pranksterism among school age peers. It does not help bullies, but might actually harm them if they live their lives in blanket unawareness of their moral culpability. So the first step towards connecting the dots towards a recognition of moral responsibility is to make a framework for prosecuting and establishing legal responsibility. It does not help bullies if they do not accurately know who they are.