So another Japanese kid has committed suicide because of issues at school. Like Japanese prime ministerial resignations or American gun massacres, it’s yet another of those events that seem to roll around so regularly that, while on an intellectual level you know you should care to some degree, in actuality it’s hard to summon up more than a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders. Even a real shrug feels like too much effort.
It’s harder to care about those because they’re harder to fix. You can’t cure complex social problems just by taking a pill or castigating a single individual or sub-group, much as many would wish it were so. It’s simple for people to direct their rage at individuals who think continuing their golf round is an appropriate response to receiving news of their countrymen’s deaths, say, or who decide to walk into a cinema and shoot anything with a pulse, or go to work at a high school and knock about the very students they’re supposed to have a duty of care towards.
It’s simple because it’s right. These people should be held in contempt (to varying degrees, obviously). But a working definition of insanity is doing the same thing multiple times and expecting different results. Anger is wholly justified in these cases, but it doesn’t fix anything. We’re human; we have and should strive for a certain control over our more animal instincts, but we can’t deny them completely. We prefer the big statements to the unobtrusive background work. We love being wise after the fact. A firefighter who rescues a kid from a burning building gets rightly praised as a hero, but the legislator who passes regulations against shoddy construction practices and thus saves many more lives in the long run gets nothing, except maybe abuse from the construction lobby about rising costs and red-tape. The surgeon who performs your gastric bypass surgery is a god-like genius who gives you a new lease of life, but the Surgeon General who previously advised you to cut out the booze and fags and maybe get off your arse and take some exercise every once in a while is yet another interfering representative of the Nanny State wasting taxpayers’ time and money.
And so to Osaka, where Sakuranomiya High School is, after the intervention of Mayor Hashimoto, closing down its specialist Sports Course. This in response to that (again, undeniably tragic) case of a student killing himself, citing in his suicide note the physical punishment he suffered at the hands of a P.E. teacher there.
It’s highly doubtful that the dead student was the only one to receive such treatment, so what better way to support all the other students who were also victims than by scrapping the very thing they were willing to endure such abuse for? Nice work Toru! You’ve got seven fucking kids, how have you never heard about babies and bathwater?
I can’t stand the man, and it’s only as I write this that I’ve realized exactly why. Because he’s yet another instance of the quick-fix, the superficial overestimation of individual significance at the expense of addressing the more serious systemic problems. Yes, he’s something of an outsider to the Japanese political system with his youth, his Burakumin background, and his upstart party politics, but that’s merely a reflection of how myopically insular and inbred Japanese politics really is. He’s yet another arrogant prick who seems to want power simply because he feels he deserves it, as opposed to actually wanting to do something productive with it. He got elected 14 months ago, and I still don’t know what it is he really wants, apart from to see Osaka become a metropolitan prefecture and his name on the front pages as often as possible. That’s not quite the game-changing demolition of the status quo it’s often portrayed as.
Personal animosity aside (see how easy it is to let it obscure the real issue?), this is also the man who has previously endorsed physical discipline in schools (education is ‘20,000 percent coercion,’ apparently, and 0% maths), and who sent out city workers to check that teachers were not only standing during the national anthem, but also that their lips were moving too. It all trickles down. These teachers learned their ‘methods’ long before Hashimoto came to office so you can’t pin the blame entirely on his door, but they certainly didn’t have to look too far for confirmation of the acceptability of hastily applied strong-arm tactics when it comes to motivation and dispute resolution.
I won’t hit my children. It’s unacceptable because it’s a blank statement that force is the ultimate arbiter of any disagreement. I’m not so naïve as to believe that the use of force is never appropriate in any circumstance – sometimes it’s definitely the lesser evil – but using it is an outright admission that you’re incapable of dealing with the issue in any other way. It’s what you do when you’re all out of other options, when you either can’t or don’t wish to entertain any alternatives. Ultima ratio regum. If you’re in a position of authority or leadership and the first tool you regularly select from your Barrel O’ Persuasion is something to scrape the bottom of it with then (and here the barrel metaphor falls down) you’re a cunt.
More to the point, if you have somehow constructed an educational or home environment where physical aggression really is the least worst approach you could adopt then your other problems run deep and wide enough to make the Amazon look like a trickle of kitten’s piss. These are kids. These are my kids. I want to encourage them to think, to question, to argue for themselves and decide what’s right. I recognise I’m unlikely to have the patience to engage with that all the time, but what’s the point of even trying if they feel that all that really matters is who can hit the hardest?
It’s the same with my other kids, to an extent. I also want my students to think, to question, to argue, but it’s a forlorn hope most of the time. The concept of a single correct answer is so ingrained it’s nigh on impossible to push beyond it. And that right answer is, of course, whatever the teacher or textbook says it is. Discussion in Japan begins and ends with the Appeal to Authority. ‘Because I said so.’
This is why I loathe the senpai/kohai tradition. It’s culturally licensed bullying. Look at Shinsuke Shimada. He’s tearing apart a struggling comic’s act! Hilarious! Now he’s spouting off with his ‘wisdom’ and they all have to sit there nodding like he’s the fucking Buddha or something, because he’s the senpai and they have to listen. There’s no real tradition of satire in Japan, nothing where the weak mock the powerful because you don’t take the piss out of your senpai, regardless of how full of shit they might otherwise be, even if it’s notionally a comedy programme and your senpai’s boring the arse off everyone present. No, the ‘jokes’ revolve around physical violence and the powerful mocking the weak. Look! Now Shimada’s hitting a woman! Be still my aching sides.
I realize he’s gone now, and I’m not complaining, but it’s a hydra and if you cut him down another will rise in his place. I could name any number of other current programmes where the ‘comedy’ revolves around bullying the undeserving and the desperate. Shimada wasn’t the problem, the culture he was part of is the problem. A culture where bullying is not just tacitly accepted, but openly expected, endorsed, and approved of at all levels of society. I’m not holding out hope of that getting fixed any time soon. If ever increasing numbers of dead children can’t act as a spur to change, it’s hard to know what exactly will.