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Hi Blog. We are still hearing about Japan’s overzealous enforcers of Japan school rules, particularly when it comes to hairstyles, in what Debito.org has long called the “Hair Police“. This phenomenon particularly affects NJ and Japanese of diverse backgrounds, who are forced by officials to dye and/or straighten their naturally “Non-Asian” hair just to attend school and get a compulsory education.
Bullying is rife in Japanese education, but when it’s ignored (or even perpetuated) by officialdom, this feeling of powerlessness will leave children (particularly those NJ children targeted for “standing out“) and their families scarred for life. (As discussed at length in book “Embedded Racism“, pg. 154-5.)
It’s happened in Yamanashi to Debito.org Submitter Senaiho, who after many months of fruitless investigation has lodged a formal criminal complaint against his daughter’s school officials. Read on for his report. This issue has appeared in about 45 articles in Japanese media. Here’s hoping this blog entry helps attract attention from the English-language media too. Dr. Debito Arudou
December 17, 2018
By Y&D Senaiho
Everyone’s child is unique, at least most parents think and rightly so. All children are all unique in their own way. We felt no different when our fourth child was born. A beautiful baby girl who took the most honored place among three older brothers and we were constantly filled with joy as we watched her grow into a young woman. Little did we suspect after putting three boys through the difficult early-teen years of middle school in Japan, what we were going to experience when our little bundle of joy began her middle school enterprise.
Her first year of middle school began pretty much as her elementary school years in the Japanese public educational system finished, she would wake up every day more or less eager and looking forward to the days activities of classes, meals, meeting and playing with friends, and she would come home in the late afternoon bubbling with stories of the days events and happenings. We began to notice a dramatic change when she was no longer looking forward to going to school, or would leave reluctantly with a dire look on her face. Inquires about what was wrong only got short answers: “Nothing” or ominous silence.
We finally discovered the reason for her distress from her home room teacher. The cause was that she was being teased by a group of female classmates on account of her “Gaijin smell” or what we later came to know as “body odor”. I put it down to active hormones caused by puberty. Being the child of an Asian and western marriage, there was the scientific fact that she most likely has a larger than average (for Japan) number of sweat glands that secrete the proteins that causes body odor. No big deal, I thought, nothing a little deodorant would t fix, right! How naive I was.
We requested and got a C.A.R.E. package from my mother in the US in short order, filled with a wide assortment of feminine deodorants and fresheners. Along with these, daily baths, regular changes of underwear, and any other regimen we could think of, we tried. I have to say I never noticed any remarkable body odor in her presence, just the usual teen aroma that wasn’t any more or less fragrant than some of the odors I have noticed while teaching large groups of university pupils, and early adults. Our efforts were apparently not sufficient enough to relieve the offense of those in her class who were so nauseated. The teasing and complaints apparently continued for several months and into my daughter’s second year of middle school. She became less and less careful about things in general, and began showing signs of depression. Professional counseling seemed to help a little, but didn’t alleviate the root cause; Bullying for being a smelly half-gaijin!
Things seemed to have gotten out of control about the middle of the first semester of her second year, in order to try to reduce the teasing, her teacher decided that she needed to have her hair cut. We made an attempt in the evening of that day’s request by the teacher, but the next day on arriving to school my daughter’s haircut was deemed insufficient. The teachers decided to take matters into their own hands and decided to cut her hair in full view of other students and without our consent or even contacting us to ask permission.
That evening our daughter came home so traumatized that all I can say is that she has not been to school since that event. It was hard for me to understand how having ones hair cut could be so traumatic, but combined with all the other harassment that had been going on up till that point, it seemed to be the last straw. This was when the big cultural divide between the Japanese school system and my upbringing in the American school system came into full raging view. I vividly remember being in the third grade of elementary school and for some reason one day decided I wasn’t going to go to school anymore. My mother who happened to be an elementary school teacher herself, told me about the wonderful Truant Officer who would pay us a visit and force me to go to school. “He might even put your father and me in jail if you don’t go to school” she said. I decided I really didn’t want to see my parents go to jail; it would affect meals, Christmas presents and so on, I reasoned thankfully. The next day I reluctantly announced that for the good of all I will agree to return to school. I expected the same outcome with my daughters truancy. How could anybody just refuse to go to school? ‘This will not continue’ I remember thinking, after all it is “compulsory education” right? How wrong I was.
When my daughter’s absence went from a few days to several weeks I became alarmed. I got quite an education on where the burden of an education lies within Japanese society. Suffice it to say that it seems the entire burden is on the legal guardians of the child as to what constitutes an acceptable educational environment as far as the school system is concerned. On the other hand there are all kinds of educational laws on the books as to what and how the school system in obligated to make a safe and acceptable learning environment, especially with regard to compulsory education up through middle school. Cutting a child’s hair is not acceptable, as is allowing an environment of bullying and/or harassment, physical or mental. We spent the next year and six months trying to get the school to accept the responsibility for the trauma my daughter has suffered and to make a safe environment for her to return to her studies. All to no avail. Not only would they not even consider our issues, they branded us “Monster Parents” and tried to ignore that they had any responsibility whatsoever. However according to Guidebook of School Dispute Resolution by Kamiuchi Satoru, pg 216-217, The legal responsibilities of compulsory education in Japan are:
There shall be:
1. No provision of reasonable consideration based on developmental disability support law, disability discrimination prevention law
2. No response to bullying, contrary to the ordinance such as bullying prevention measure promotion law, Yamanashi city bullying countermeasure contact council, etc.
3. No School accident judgment incompatible and not pursuant to the “Ministry of Education, Culture, Administration” guidelines on response to school accidents.
What this legalese means in real life, is that the onus is legally completely on the school to make it safe and secure for every student to attend, including making any accommodations for special needs like attention deficit disorder, special training, or bullying awareness, really anything that would hinder any student from being able to participate in their education. In actuality, at least as far as the school system in our part of Yamanashi is concerned, they are still operating according to pre-Meiji era standards of education. According to Sakata Takashi (School Legal Mind: p. 3) This system assumed that the parents, neighborhood, and school would work together informally to solve any disputes. In fact, what has happened is that Japanese society has changed, within the past couple decades or so, so quickly and completely that Japanese compulsory education has failed to catch up. In fact modern Japan with the collapse of the economic bubble and dramatic decline in the number of child bearing couples finds itself at odds with an educational system stuck in the past. Parents are bucking heads with school officials demanding more and better legal responsibility and dispute formal resolution on the part of the schools their children attend.
For the parents of children born and/or being raised in Japan, who come into educational issues with school officials, this will require a willingness to choose a more legalistic route in settling disputes with school officials and even on occasion, parents of classmates. Changes come to all eventually, even Japanese education.
Satoru Kamiuchi, “Guidebook Of School Dispute Resolution” (Nihon Kajo Publishing, 2016) 216-217.
Takashi Sato, “School Legal Mind,” (Gakuji Publishing 2015) Introduction.
Update January 9, 2019
Since writing this article in the spring of last year, there have been several developments in our case. At the end of 2017, we submitted a petition to the Yamanashi board of education requesting they do an investigation into the bullying, and reasons for the trauma experienced by our daughter. As a result of this experience she has been absent for almost the entire last two years of her middle school education.
Over the course of 2017 with the help of our local Ombudsman, we managed to collect over 1500 signatures requesting that the school board do an internal investigation into the causes and responsibilities of the incidents regarding our daughter. The school board agreed to do an investigation. At the end of 2018 after reports of monthly meetings of the school board (in which we were not allowed to participate), we were informed that the results of this investigation completely exonerated the teachers and any public officials of any misdeeds or responsibility regarding the treatment of our daughter. It was all our fault as incompetent parents that our daughter was bullied and suffered such trauma that she was not able to attend school. Shame on us. We have requested to see a copy of this report, but have been informed that will not be allowed. The reason given is that it contains the names of private individuals involved whose privacy must be protected. Bullspit! We tried to be civil and it got us nowhere.
As of January 8, 2019, we have filed with the Yamanashi Pref. Police a criminal complaint naming the school principal and three teachers as defendants. Later that afternoon we also held a press conference. As of this writing articles regarding our case have appeared in several newspapers across the country. Since it is still early in the criminal case, I am sure there will be many developments over the next several weeks and months. I will strive to keep you informed as these occur. — Y&D Senaiho
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