This thesis argues that ijime (bullying) is a product of the regimented culture of the Japanese education system, which place a heavy emphasis on conformity. It also argues that addressing the problem of ijime requires a reculturing of Japanese schools. The thesis highlights Japan’s long battle against ijime, which is a consequence of the unremitting drive to educate suitable Japanese citizens.
The thesis investigates the characteristics of Japanese education, which is based on a national form of meritocracy and egalitarianism, to find if there is evidence that Japanese schools systematically legitimise oppression of those who do not conform. It examines the socio-historical development of ijime, revealing the serious extent to which the problem has become inherent in Japanese society, leaving little prospect for significant improvement. The five major ijime-suicide incidents, Shikagawa in 1986; Ohkouchi, 1994; Ohno, 2000; Takigawa, 2005 and Mori, 2006, are also studied in order to show how ijime can escalate to a disturbing level and in some cases develops a criminal element.
Ijime has become a major social problem over the past few decades in Japan, causing serious absenteeism and even suicides among school children. In response, the Japanese government introduced “relaxed education”, which reduces student workloads and provides diversity in learning. Within the schools, organisational support systems have also been developed to help students with problems. Despite these measures, ijime still regularly occurs and the number of those who find it difficult to go to school is increasing. There has been no indication of serious improvement.
This thesis is partly based on an analysis of the views and experiences of Japanese students and teachers. The results indicate that Japanese students perform ijime to discipline nonconformists for the sake of providing order, and that teachers are involved in ijime either as direct or indirect initiators. Ijime has been, either intentionally or unintentionally, accepted by many some students and teachers. Moreover, the results show that many students target individuals to guarantee collective identity, implying that they need to participate in the collective act of ijime for their social survival at school. The Japanese school is shown to be one place where ijime is still accepted because it facilitates universal conformity and peer solidarity.
The thesis identifies two major problems resulting from the group-oriented culture of Japanese education. One problem is that, despite its egalitarian educational policies, the Japanese school system has created a hierarchy among students, allowing conformists to punish or marginalise nonconformists. The other problem is that a heavy emphasis on group life at school to promote peer solidarity has augmented the risk of exclusion by students who maintain collective identity by alienating someone. The findings show that ijime has been promoted by the cultural values and goals of conformity, and that the problem of ijime will not be alleviated without changing the regimented system of Japanese schooling.