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School bullies need to take responsibility for their actions

by Michael Hoffman

Special To The Japan Times

He left no isho (遺書, suicide note), so his deepest feelings can only be guessed — first from his jisatsu (自殺, suicide) at age 13, and secondly from the testimony of dōkyūsei (同級生, classmates) elicited in a tardy and grudging school and police investigation into the case.

On Oct. 11, the boy’s body was found in the grounds of his 14-story apartment building. Tobiori jisatsu (飛び降り自殺, he had jumped to his death). He was a second-year student at Ojiyama chūgakkō (中学校, junior high school) in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. The school’s kōchō sensei (校長先生, principal) told a kisha kaiken (記者会見, press conference), “Ijime wa hāku shite inai (いじめは把握していない, So far as we know this is not a case of bullying).” The kyōiku iinkai (教育委員会, the board of education) denied an inga kankei (因果関係, cause-and-effect link) between ijime (いじめ, bullying) and 自殺. The three boys deemed the leading kagaisha (加害者, perpetrators) of what the victim went through said no いじめ had taken place, claiming: “Fuzaketa dake (ふざけただけ, We were just fooling around.”)

Some fooling. Some fun. In November, three weeks after the death, the board of education distributed an ankēto (アンケート, questionnaire) to all 859 Ojiyama students. The results were not at first made public, leading to suspicions of a school inpei (隠蔽, coverup). In February the boy’s family sued the families of the three alleged ringleaders for ¥77.2 million in songai baishō (損害賠償, damages). The アンケート found its way into the court proceedings, which gave the public its first look at its contents.

They describe scenes for which the only adequate word is torture. The victim was allegedly routinely dōkyūsei ni nagurareta (同級生に殴られた, beaten by classmates) and hachi no shigai wo tabesaserareta (蜂の死骸を食べさせられた, made to eat dead bees). Citing the アンケート, the weekly Shukan Shincho has one Ojiyama student saying, “Nankai mo jisatsu no renshū wo saserarete ita (何回も自殺の練習をさせられた, He was repeatedly forced to practice committing suicide). Sensei ni sōdan shita kedo nani mo shite kurenakatta. (先生に相談したけど何もしてくれなかった, The teacher was consulted but didn’t do anything.”)

The jisatsu no renshū (自殺の練習, suicide practice) has dominated media coverage. At first it was denbun (伝聞, hearsay). Then the Asahi Shimbun found an apparent mokugekisha (目撃者, eyewitness) — a 15-year-old joshi seito (女子生徒, female student) who spoke of seeing the victim leaning backwards out of a third-floor classroom window and ochiru furi wo suru (落ちるふりをする, pretending to fall). This went on for about a week, she said.

The アンケート as excerpted in Shukan Shincho doesn’t make easy reading: “Mainichi no yō ni toire ni tsurekonde nagurareta” (「毎日のようにトイレに連れ込んで殴られた」 “Almost every day he was brought to the toilet and beaten by the perpetrators”); “Kami wo tabesaserareta” (「紙を食べさせられた」; “He was made to eat paper”); “Ichido sensei wa chūi shita keredo sono ato wa issho ni waratte ita” (「一度先生は注意したけれどその後は一緒に笑っていた」 “Once the teacher warned them but after that the teacher laughed with them”). Over time refinements were added to pure physical violence. For example, the boy would be taken to a supermarket and manbiki saserareta (万引きさせられた, made to shoplift).

Shukan Shincho is surprised to see no sign of hansei (反省, repentance) in the three alleged ringleaders. Quite the contrary, their families seem to be on the offensive. The mother of one of them is active in the PTA and is quoted (secondhand) addressing a meeting as follows: “Uchi no ko wa nakayoku puroresu gokko wo shite ita dake na no ni, hannin atsukai sarete gakkō ni ikenakunatta” (「うちの子は仲良くプロレスごっこをしていただけなのに、犯人扱いされて学校にいけなくなった」 “Even though all my boy did was good-naturedly play at pro-wrestling, he’s being treated like a criminal. He can’t go to school”). She reportedly added, “Uchi no ko ga jisatsu shitara, koko ni iru hogosha ya sensei no sekinin desu kara ne” (「うちの子が自殺したら、ここにいる保護者や先生の責任ですからね」”If my boy commits suicide it will be the responsibility of the parents and teachers here”).

More generally speaking, 119,891 shōchūgakusei (小中学生, elementary and junior high school students) were futōkō (不登校, absent from school) in 2010, not necessarily, though prominently, due to いじめ, according to education ministry figures reported in the Asahi Shimbun. That figure has been above 100,000 every year since 1997.