Staff writer

Change can begin with one small step, especially when it concerns trying to save today’s troubled Japanese youngsters, who are said to have become less patient and more violent in recent years, the head of a government panel on education said.

To encourage that step, the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister, released a report Tuesday that listed 87 ways to nurture and discipline children at home, at school and in their communities.

The panel compiled the report in the wake of recent violent crimes perpetrated by schoolchildren, including the May 1997 slaying and beheading of an 11-year-old boy by a 14-year-old junior high student in Kobe.

The report includes some basic — if not common-sense — suggestions, such as “communicate more with children” or “strictly teach and correct children regarding their wrongdoings.” Some critics doubt such a conceptual report will have an effect on what may be a deeply rooted problem.

But Tsutomu Kimura, head of the council’s subcommittee who compiled the report, insists it will be, if each person starts by making small attempts to change. One example he cited is for parents to go straight home after work. “At a company where I used to work, some workers often stayed out until 2 or 3 in the morning playing mah-jongg,” Kimura recalled. “I’m not against both parents working, but they should try to take a little time — even just a few minutes every night — to talk with their children,” he said.

Kimura, 60, head of the National Institution for Academic Degrees and former president of Tokyo Institute of Technology, sees the root of the “abnormal situation” with children in a postwar society that has made economic success its prime goal.

As a result, for many, academic background has become synonymous with personal value. This has intensified the war of college entrance exams and made children’s lives stressful. “Japanese have been busy pursuing their own interests. And this is what has made human relations shallow,” he said.

The consequence has been reflected in recent bribery scandals involving the bureaucracy, he said. Fed by money-driven values, many Japanese in high positions did not attain a sense of noblesse oblige, he said.

After living in Britain intermittently for four years, Kimura thinks Japanese parents can learn from the British. “There, children seem to spend less time at home, since they leave after graduating from high school. But while they are there, parents are good teachers of social rules.”

A memorable incident occurred when one of his son’s British friends was told by his father to clean the sink for the next user.

Even those without children need to play a role in improving the situation, Kimura said. “Just start (with yourself) by showing any small consideration to others, such as holding a door open for the next person to enter.”

Kimura has met with many parents and teachers throughout the nation who are enthusiastic about changing what they see as a worsening situation. He believes their passion is strong enough to ignite the rest of the nation into action. “I believe that the Japanese are a well-balanced people who, if steered by good leaders, will achieve a goal.”

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