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Japanese films featuring school ijime (bullying) are as common as cherry trees in Ueno Park, and for good reason. When I was teaching at a boys’ high school in Kodaira, western Tokyo, I would sometimes see signs of ijime, such as the returnee kid whose natively fluent English inspired titters from his classmates — until he stopped volunteering to speak. Or the quiet, timid kid who explained his bandages and bruises as the results of sports-club practices — until he stopped coming to school altogether.

But in facing a class of 40 rambunctious 15-year-old boys my first concern was less ijime than order. To keep it, I had to hold their attention with everything from jokes and games to, when all else failed, tossed erasers. (Though my usual target was the wall, not some miscreant’s head.)

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