Yokohama school officials admit Fukushima boy who paid classmates was victim of bullying

Kyodo

The Yokohama Board of Education has admitted that a 13-year-old boy’s payments to classmates were the result of bullying when he was attending a local elementary school after evacuating from Fukushima Prefecture to escape the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Yuko Okada, the board’s chief, reversed her previous stance on the incident and apologized at a news conference Monday, following criticism of her earlier statement that she could not determine whether the payments were related to bullying.

The boy surrendered a total of around ¥1.5 million to classmates, according to his family.

According to a report compiled by a third-party panel in November, the student paid money to his classmates for leisure activities, such as playing arcade games, when he was in the fifth grade. They reportedly demanded the money based on the assumption that his family must have received government compensation related to the nuclear crisis.

The report said the boy presumably paid the money to avoid being bullied. It did not recognize the payments themselves as bullying but confirmed there were acts of bullying, such as being called a “germ” in reference to nuclear contamination.

On Jan. 20, Okada told a committee of the municipal assembly that the board of education was not able to determine that the money payments were the result of bullying, based on the school’s dealings with the students involved.

Okada held the news conference after the student’s lawyer on Monday submitted a letter by the boy to Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi requesting a meeting with her.

“Why does the Yokohama Board of Education see only part of (the incident) and not the whole picture?” the student wrote in his letter to the mayor. “Why did the school make the decision without listening to what the victim’s side said but with only listening to what the victimizers’ side said? … I would like to know why and I hope you will listen to my story.”

The boy entered the elementary school in Yokohama as a second-grader in August 2011, but after being called a “germ” he began missing school in the third grade, according to the report.

The boy’s parents told the school in May 2014 that their son was a victim of bullying and told the police in July that he was involved in money trouble with his classmates.