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Two sides to corporal punishment practices in Japan

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

The December suicide of an Osaka high school basketball team captain who had been physically punished by his coach cast a harsh light on corporal punishment in Japan, and this week’s admission by the All Japan Judo Federation that Olympic female judoka had been physically abused and harassed by their head coach served to underscore just how widespread the practice is.

Following are questions and answers regarding corporal punishment:

Is it legal to dispense corporal punishment against students and minors?

Article 11 of the School Education Law, enacted in 1947, prohibits teachers from using corporal punishment. But there is no criminal penalty stipulated, unless the punishment results in death or severe injury, among other outcomes.

The child abuse prevention law forbids abuse against adolescents but also does not set rules on corporal punishment. In disciplining a child, one must exercise appropriate and considerate parental rights, the law states.

Other nations also ban the practice, but that doesn’t mean it has ceased.

Why does such punishment occur?

There can be a thin line between physically abusing students and pushing them to the limit for their own good, especially in sports.

The basketball coach who beat the Osaka youth reportedly claimed there were students “who improved from” his strict discipline and said physical punishment “is needed to make them stronger.”

Corporal punishment scandals are nothing new in Japan, nor are they limited to schools.

In 2007, a 17-year-old sumo wrestler died during practice at the Tokitsukaze stable, only for it to be revealed later that he had been beaten with baseball bats and beer bottles and had been forced to undergo excessive “battering” during practice.

His fellow grapplers meted out the violence, which was started by the victim’s stablemaster, Junichi Yamamoto, who before being ousted went by the name of his stable.

How can corporal punishment be justified?

Those who support the use of corporal punishment in education claim it is a necessary part of teaching.

One such advocate is Hiroshi Totsuka, who runs the Totsuka Yacht School in Aichi Prefecture. Totsuka’s school, a correctional center for children with behavioral problems, made headlines in the 1980s when several of its students died due to or following excessive punishment. Suicides at the school have also been reported.

Totsuka was arrested and found guilty of inflicting bodily injury that resulted in death. He served six years in prison, but still runs his school based on his harsh sense of discipline.

“Parents should consider themselves as failing if they keep their kids close and take care of them like pets,” his website states.

On the Osaka high school boy’s suicide, Totsuka in a TV appearance said the victim “had personal problems, since he was the only one” on the team who took his own life.

There are politicians who share similar beliefs. During a symposium in Tokyo last May, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) coleader Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo at the time, expressed support for physical discipline.

“Corporal punishment is one process of imprinting” and is necessary for raising a child, he said.

What do those opposing the punishment say?

Many suggest that pressuring and abusing a child or a student physically has no merit. One prominent vocal opponent is retired pro baseball pitcher Masumi Kuwata.

The former Yomiuri Giants ace has made repeated appearances on television claiming corporal abuse “is unnecessary.” Kuwata, who also pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, has revealed that he was physically punished in high school.

“Hitting a student doesn’t make anything better,” he said in a news conference Monday.

Is the government trying to abolish corporal punishment in schools?

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is drafting a law against bullying and is also reportedly mulling the inclusion of a draft provision that would require cases of corporal punishment to be reported by schools to local governments.

The LDP is expected to submit the bill to the Diet during the ordinary session that kicked off Monday.

How should the Japanese Olympic Committee handle the problem?

Upon receiving a formal complaint from the female judoka alleging physical abuse, JOC executives acknowledged their woes may only be the tip of the iceberg and other sports may be witnessing similar violence.

The JOC needs to act quickly if that is the case, since voting for the city that will host the 2020 Summer Games will take place in September.

The International Olympic Committee, which has supported the right of athletes to enjoy a safe and supportive sporting environment, will most likely view the issue as a minus for Tokyo’s candidacy.

Is corporal punishment an issue overseas as well?

Yes, and it has been for a long time.

One famous case was the death of a 15-year-old boy at the hands of his teacher in England in 1860, an incident that became known as the Eastbourne Manslaughter.

During his trial, the teacher claimed he should not have been held liable for his pupil’s death. The press sensationalized the trial and caused British society to debate the limits of discipline in schools.

The degree of restriction and whether it should only be prohibited in schools and not in the home vary depending on the country to this day.

  • Hachiko

    Make it a criminal offense. Easy. Sheesh.

  • Phillip

    I’ve been teaching 27 years and never have I had to consider the utter cowardice of assaulting a child as part of my repertoire of teaching tools, methods and techniques.

    Pick on someone your own size.

  • Link

    hahahaha. the example they cite from overseas is from 1860!

  • japanwho

    Surely making comparisons to England in 1860 is ridiculous. Haven’t both Japan and the rest of world moved on since then? The writer should have at least made comparisons to other countries in the modern era. As a teacher I have never felt the need to hit a kid and I have dealt with some real bad kids in inner city London schools. The previous comment is right, make it a criminal offense. This will surely make teachers think twice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bruce.gherbetti Bruce Dady Love Gherbetti

    The western example cited from 1860. Culturally and socially, Japan remains 150 years in the past.

  • Electra CV

    A friend of my mother’s has gone through multiple surgeries over the course of her adult life because as a pupil some 40 years ago her teachers made her hold her left palm out as he hit her with a stick.That happened several times during her years as a student. The reason? She was a lefty (which probably translated into sympathy for communism or something, who knows!) Did she try hard not to be one after receiving corporal punishment? Sure. Did it work? No.