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There be all kinds of monsters among us

by Mark Schreiber

An old saying goes “Issun no mushi ni mo gobu no tamashi” (even a one-inch worm has a half-inch soul); i.e., even the most humble and powerless creature can put up with only so much before turning on its tormentor.

As if to confirm this aphorism, the media has been abuzz since belatedly learning that last September, a teacher at a public primary school in Gyoda, a city of 85,000 in northern Saitama Prefecture, filed suit against the parents of a girl in her third-grade class.

Reports on the TV wide shows and in the print media invariably referred to the defendants as monsutaa pearentsu (monster parents).

Apparently the previous June, the teacher had mediated a dispute between two girls, and the parents of one, believing the teacher had not been impartial, reacted with a torrent of verbal and written complaints to the school, the Ministry of Education, the Gyoda City office, the prefectural Board of Education, and the Commission on Human Rights.

“They even filed an assault charge at the Gyoda police station against the teacher, for touching their daughter on the back,” a reporter at a local news bureau told Shukan Shincho (Feb. 3).

The child had reportedly claimed the teacher had smacked her from behind. The teacher said she had only “lightly touched” the child.

The 45-year-old teacher charged that the parents’ persistent and aggressive complaints had traumatized her, leading to insomnia. She also maintained she could no longer function as a teacher, and demanded ¥5 million in damages.

According to a colleague, the teacher decided to proceed with the lawsuit because she “would be marked as a criminal” if the parents didn’t cease their attacks.

Despite the child allegedly being singled out for bullying by classmates, the parents kept her in school to maintain her record of perfect attendance.

Determined to find proof that his complaints were justified, the father even had his daughter secrete a voice recorder on her person before going to school.

“My kid would absolutely never tell a lie,” he’s quoted in Shukan Post (Feb. 11).

The school has declined to comment to the media, but perhaps as a result of the growing media exposure, on Jan. 21, the teacher tendered her resignation.

“She was a good teacher, but from last year I could tell she’d begun to appear haggard,” a colleague told Shukan Post.

It has been widely reported that this monster parent phenomenon by no means ends upon leaving primary school. In some cases, it continues while a child is in university, or even after reaching adulthood and taking up employment.

In Nikkan Gendai (Jan. 27), labor consultant Yuka Inage recalls a case where a parent complained to the company that her offspring was obliged to work overtime without compensation, and demanded overtime pay: “He’s too docile and won’t speak up for himself,” came the explanation. But from a legal standpoint, writes Inage, parents or guardians are only empowered to act on behalf of minors. If you’re really serious about claiming wages on your adult child’s behalf, you’ll require a power of attorney — a tactic unlikely to endear anyone to his or her employer.

Other species of “monsters” have also been making increasingly frequent appearances at government offices and businesses. Several years ago a business magazine, Shukan Diamond, devoted its Jan. 26, 2008, cover story to “claimers from hell.” As a prime example, it related the story of an infuriated resident of Uji City in Kyoto Prefecture, who persistently demanded the city replace all its manhole covers because they bore the manufacturer’s name, which happened to be the same as his surname. “My children will suffer harassment,” he ranted.

Diamond went so far as to categorize claimers into 11 basic types: 1) the outright sociopaths; 2) people who harbor a phobia of dirt or germs; 3) the goody two-shoes meddlers on behalf of others; 4) the self-righteous sermonizers; 5) those who imagine they are victims of some injustice; 6) those who feel they deserve deferential treatment just because they paid money; 7) the overly tenacious; 8) those with too much time on their hands; 9) the persistent, “stalker” variety; 10) those who revel in showing off their superior knowledge about the product or technology; and 11) the hysterical whiners.

Japan, in the view of those who must contend with the above, is metamorphosing into a nation where people don’t just raise complaints, but make false charges and pick fights at the slightest pretext.

The phenomenon inspired Shinichi Sekine to write a book titled “The Claimer Next Door” (Chuokoron Shinsha, 2007).

Sekine told an interviewer in Shukan Gendai magazine that he believes the recent barrage of bellicose objections reflects a change in the temperament of Japanese.

“They are not just complaining; their methods are becoming increasingly spiteful, such as demanding money or that an apology be made in writing,” he noted.

The archetypal image of Japanese as a people who are stoic and undemonstrative, it seems, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.