ISALC, Lewis and Clark College

Ijime: A Social Illness of Japan

by Akiko Dogakinai

Bullying is a common problem in every generation and every country. In Japan, it is a fairly serious social phenomenon. Actually, the amount of ijime, which means bullying in Japanese, has been decreasing; however, the bullying is getting much more sinister than before. Five years ago, it was top news for the whole year after Kiyoteru Okochi, a 13-year-old junior high school student, committed suicide to escape from being bullied by his classmates. He left his note that proved and clarified the fact that he was suffering from cruel bullying. He was often forced to soak his face into a dirty river, his bicycle was broken repeatedly and his classmates even demanded that he bring money to them every day. The amount of money that he gave to the bullies reached about ten thousand dollars (Fredman, 1995). This was not the first time that students committed suicide because of bullying. But it was the first time that Japanese media gave a lot of coverage to the matter of ijime. After that, bullying became one of the most serious subjects in Japan. People wondered why his classmates had bullied him and why he was bullied. There are many possible answers, but none of the causes is simple.

First, we have to think about the traits of Japanese society. It is well-known that Japanese society is homogeneous. People tend to consider that being similar to each other is a virtue and gives a sense of relief or safety. People are afraid of being different from others. They do not want to feel alienated. They attempt to be like one another; otherwise, they will be considered deviants (Sakamaki, 1996). People will try to eliminate people who are different from them to protect themselves. In individualistic nations, like the United States, to be different has significant meaning. People have various thoughts and styles and they show them openly. But in collectivist countries, like Japan, the differences produce hard encounters. The differences might include people who have an exceptional ability, and they will be abused because of jealousy of others. For example, if a student is unusually good at math, the great talent may bring him a bully. He will be a target of ijime. Kiyoteru Okochi, himself, might have had an extraordinary skill.

Japan is also known as an academic, career-based society. As people care about their academic abilities, they study quite hard. It is usual that children go to a cram school after regular school. To get a good job, they are required to go to a high quality university. It is difficult to enter a university in Japan; therefore, it is almost a duty to study hard to go on to college. As they are so busy studying, they cut their time to relax or play (Fredman, 1995). This means that people have no chance to release their tension and stress. And this also indicates that children lose an opportunity to communicate and make friends. As they lose a chance to get social skills, they never know how to get along with friends and they are solitary (Sakamaki, 1996). It is possible that such stress or loneliness become a cause of bullying.

There is one more point that we should consider about the society of Japan. In recent years, the number of mothers who work outside the home has been increasing. They may be too busy and stressed to play or talk with their children. Children may be dissatisfied in such an environment. Children need plenty of affection from their parents, and a lack of love from them also can be a factor in bullying.

In contrast to working mothers, there is an another feasible motivation of bullying in the home. It is well-known in Japan that being given too much affection is a dangerous trigger. Because of love for their children, some parents do everything for them. They finish doing things before asking what their children want to do. They ignore their children's need for responsibility. They deprive their children's right of free choice and to experience new things. As a result, the children just know to follow alongthe circumstance that they are given and they may easily become involved in ijime.

Next, we need to think about the system of Japanese school, too. School and teachers try to apply strict rules to students. Children are supposed to conform to the rules (Sakamaki, 1996). This conformity is connected to the homogeneous society. For people in Japan, to break the order seems risky. That may be natural if we consider that feature, but the rules are sometimes too excessive. For instance, students are not allowed to grow their hair long. Children's curiosity is suppressed, and they must feel frustration from these regulations and this may cause bullying.

Now, we must not forget that bullying is formed with a bully and a victim. When a bully and a victim meet accidentally, ijime can be the result. Not just a motivation of one side creates a chance of bullying. Each child who is involved in bullying has a psychological condition, which makes him or her amenable to bullying. It may be brought about by social, home or school system.

Every aspect of Japanese society can cause ijime. Therefore, it is definitely impossible to eliminate bullying. It is as difficult as to change the society itself, but it is possible to reduce the number of ijime incidents. We cannot help hoping to see a society where less ijime happens and children play more actively and freely.




Fredman, Lauren. (1995, March). Bullied to death in japan (teenagers' suicides). World Press Review, 42, 25. AvailableInfoTrak SearchBank / A16812378 [Reprinted December 26,1994]

Sakamaki, Sachiko. (1996, February). Fates worse than death. Far Eastern Economic Review, 159, 38-40.  

Click here to meet Akiko!

Click here to see the writing assignment.

Return to top.
Return to Cause/Effect Page
Return to ESL 471 homepage.

Created by:
Updated: 11/14/99