Статьи Скотта Гормана (Scott Gorman)

January 13, 2009

JAPAN’S CHILDREN: AN OUTSIDER ASKS SOME QUESTIONS, WITH RESPECT

I have been asked by Igarashi Shizuya, head of the Kisakata Youth Council, to write some of my impressions of the young people of Kisakata and Japan in general.

First I should say that my personal relations with the youth of this town have been excellent and that I have been treated with kindness and respect. In particular, I am thinking of the three girls of one family I have grown particularly close to (I won’t use the names to spare them any embarrassment, which I know can be terrible when you are of a certain age and singled out).

These young ladies have laughed with me, taught me some useful expressions, shared me some choice Akita-ben, and been friendly and open with me in a way, I must be honest enough to say, that would be rare with American children of the same age. I feel these girls have been raised very well. They are individuals and in no way just simply obedient and blindly agreeable. They have their own minds and act like it. But at the same time they are a part of their family and its functions without undue complaint, and show respect for elders inside and outside their family.

I have come into contact with many local young people because I have twice visited the schools for special events and was for a short time a substitute teacher at a local English conversation school. In that capacity I taught fifth grade boys and eighth grade girls.

Despite the fact that my Japanese is so poor as to be almost non-existent, instead of acting up and taking advantage of me, the young boys did their best to learn from me what I could teach them and showed great patience. The girls, who I challenged more because they have studied more English, got over whatever difficulties they may have felt and tried very hard, and treated me well.

But I am surprised to find out, in that class and in other situations, how little many of the children are involved in helping out around the home. In many cases, they said they never cleaned their own rooms, did dishes or helped with the cooking, or any other family chores. In America, except in perhaps the richest homes, children are expected to do chores that are age appropriate right along with the rest of the family. It is believed that it helps develop an understanding of cooperation among people, of just how much work there is to keep a home in good order and to push the point that everyone at even the earliest age needs to “pull their own weight.”

On the other hand, it seems to me that outside the home, in school and in clubs and other activities, children are often under too much pressure here. It sometimes seems as if they are always running from school to lessons to special classes to homework tasks. Does that leave enough time for simply being children, for the idle hours that we all need to learn to fill on our own to foster imagination and self-reliance? Does that allow us to create our own fun, to experiment with life, which is often the laboratory in which new ideas of each generation are born? I cannot say I know for a fact that this is a problem; I am new here and there are many things I don’t understand. If I am mistaken, I hope the reader will forgive me, but I think these questions are worth asking. I often read that for Japan to succeed in the new world economy and in an age of rapid internationalization that people must learn to act more boldly and with individual flair. Perhaps this is one area that deserves examination, this closely scheduled and heavy-demand life most young people seem to have, where there is implicit encouragement to simply toe the mark and not ask more of ones self as an individual, because the demands are already so heavy.

I often hear in conversation and read in national newspapers in Japan that the nation’s youth are inadequate and in some way not living up to the expectations of the older generations. This society seems to make being average, not standing out at all, as a desired model for young people. But in a world where international images and ideas inevitably reach Japanese youth as well as those of most other nations, they will naturally want to shine, to be a star, to be special. There is not a thing wrong with that, in my opinion, as long as that child also understands that there are still obligations to the society as a whole.

I believe that perhaps the instant negative reaction of many adults towards free thinking is doing more damage that the behavior itself. Children often act out; it is natural to test limits and boundaries. In most cases, after a period of experimentation, children in all nations naturally become more like their parents than most of them would care to admit. But if they are treated as outcasts, made to feel humiliated and caged, it may create irreparable harm in the fabric of the family and the nation as a whole. Better, in my opinion, to stretch tolerance and forbearance as far as they will go, only using discipline and severe restrictions in the most dire cases. The days when a teacher (I have not seen this in Kisakata but elsewhere) can be like an army officer, using severe language and restrictions and even physical means to enforce his or her will, is long gone. Children must be enlisted in the common cause through persuasion and positive example, rather than conscripted and threatened if they resist.

This brings us to bullying (ijime), often cited by older people as a reason why children must be severely controlled, lest they set upon each other.

But in an article called “Youth Problems and Japanese Society” in the June 2001 issue of the Japan Foundation Newsletter, Watabe Makoto (a noted professor of Education and Human Sciences at Yokohama National University and author of Kyuju-nendai no Seishun and Seito Shido no Riron to Jissen), suggests that the “problem” is largely an invention of the sensational media and a projection of societal obsessions.

“The underlying reason that bullying at middle and high schools has become a problem,” Watabe-sensei writes, “appears to be that Japanese adults, in interpreting such incidents, projected onto young people a motivation that the adults themselves strongly feel, namely, groupism. Moreover, the mass media have made the problem seem more serious than it actually is. Although most Japanese believe suicides among middle and high school students have increased since the beginning of the 1990s, the statistics do not confirm that belief nor is a cause and effect relation between bullying and suicide necessarily clear cut.”

Later in the same article, Watabe-sensei writes:

“In short, today’s middle school students themselves are not very concerned about bullying. It is highly possible that this problem exists only in the minds of us adults and was manufactured by the mass media and embraced by society. At the same time many other problems were apparently completely overlooked. These range from school work, grades, and future academic or career planning to excessively strict school conduct codes, the use of corporal punishment by teachers, compulsory participation in club activities and the delay in establishing specific policies to further promote the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Japan ratified in 1994.”

I strongly encourage anyone with a sincere interest in the actual state of schools and student behavior, as opposed to recitation of conventional wisdom, to read and contemplate the books of Watabe-sensei that are cited above. Perhaps they will shed some light on the increase in crime among young people, and suggest ideas to confront this issue without undue alarm or finger-pointing, but with resolve and the overall welfare of the children as the primary guide, as opposed to shoring up old values and viewpoints that may or may not have much validity in the modern world.

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