SAFER SCHOOLS NEWS-VOL. 33
Japan, Violence and School Children
|“Like the United States, Japan is becoming a very tense country.”
In the American mind, Japan is a land of calm; hot baths, slow meals and leisure as a discipline. However, things are changing. The number of senseless crimes, often committed by teenagers, has risen so sharply over the past few years that it has given rise to a new phrase there:
“Seventeen and deadly.”
- A 17-year-old boy bludgeoned a shopper with a baseball bat after a fight with his father.
- Another beat his mother to death with a metal bat.
- Another teen stabbed an elderly neighbor to death because he wanted to experience killing someone.
- A 14-year-old beheaded his 11-year-old friend.
- Commuters killed a fellow train passenger because he asked them to step back so he could board.
- A young man dashed into a schoolyard and killed a 7-year-old boy with a kitchen knife.
A knife-wielding woman stormed into Takachiho kindergarten, stabbing a teacher.
An investigator checks a blood-stained path in the aftermath of the stabbing by a school janitor.
More recently the world has mourned with Japan as Mamoru Takuma, a school janitor, killed 8 children, wounded 13 others along with 2 teachers at Ikeda Elementary School in Osaka on June 8. Then, less than 2 weeks later at Takachiho Kindergarten, a woman burst in wielding a knife and wounded a teacher. The attacker has not yet been captured.
It appears that the curse of kids killing and being killed has become universal and is no longer exclusive to the United States. The actions after these tragedies also remind us of ourselves as parents and officials rush to find something to blame and start trying solutions.
Blame and Fixes
Police have pointed the finger for rising crime rates at foreigners. Others point to socioeconomic changes, an increase in the pace of life, and lowered social values. A noted criminal psychiatrist has said, “Japan is in a state of social breakdown.”
Laws relating to juvenile crime have been tightened to allow suspects aged 14 and 15 to face public prosecution for serious crimes such as murder. Schools are installing alarm systems. Some have trained teachers to use a baton for defense. Some tend to over react. In a small town near Kyoto, a principal’s determination to give students a safety lesson turned into an exercise in terror. One morning last month, fifth-graders at Kuni Elementary School were getting ready for class when a man wearing a cap and dark sunglasses burst into the room brandishing a 20-inch metal rod. Panicked 11-year-olds stumbled over desks and chairs trying to get away from the intruder – a teacher in disguise. One girl was so frightened that she got sick after returning home, and several students were too scared to be left alone. Disturbed parents complained to the local board of education and the principal apologized.
Most of the safety measures taken by Japanese schools have been noncontroversial. Gates have been shut at many schools, security guards have been posted and parents are organizing safety patrols. At Meguro Seibi Elementary School, a private institution in southwestern Tokyo, teachers have started locking the side gates when class is in session and requiring visitors to wear badges. One principal said, “The last thing we want to do is make children feel unsafe at school. We believe it’s a matter of raising awareness among teachers, not running kids through drills.”
A professor and author was quoted as saying, “We just have to keep intruders out. Fortunately, it’s not like in the United States, where the kids inside are the ones committing the crime.” Let us all join in the hope that this statement need not add the word “yet” in closing.
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