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Unlike in some other parts of the world, Japanese schools have mostly remained open throughout the pandemic. How do they do it? As the new academic year dawns, Tomohiro Osaki went back to school in Tokyo to find out how teachers and students have learned to live — and learn — with the coronavirus.

Also in stark contrast to the situation in places like the U.S., the question of whether to reopen schools never really evolved into a hot-button political issue in Japan. As Osaki reports, part of the reason could be the almost pathologically altruistic mindset that is pervasive among Japanese teachers.

But even though most state schools in Japan never switched to remote education, the soaring amount of time kids are spending on screens at home during the pandemic has raised alarm bells, report Spencer Cohen and Tommaso Barbetta. So what is the right balance between digital and analog?

Second graders make sure they are distanced from each other during a physical education class at Funabori Elementary School in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, in March. | TOMOHIRO OSAKI
Second graders make sure they are distanced from each other during a physical education class at Funabori Elementary School in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, in March. | TOMOHIRO OSAKI

The coronavirus crisis has exacted a grim toll on Japan’s kids, with a record 499 schoolchildren having taken their lives in 2020. Girls have been particularly badly hit — as have women in general — with suicides by high school females surging to 140 from 80 the previous year.

While figures for bullying cases in the school year that ended last month are yet to be released, the 2019 academic year saw a record number of incidents reported by schools, with elementary schools accounting for the majority of the total 612,496 cases logged nationwide.

But bullying can start even earlier. Kyodo reports on the case of a 6-year-old boy who stopped attending a nursery after being bullied for dressing in girls’ clothing — a case that raises questions not only about how preschools deal with bullying, but also how they tackle sexual minority issues. A piece of paper with the words “left out,” “beaten up” and “go away” scrawled on tells the sad story.

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