Answerman
How Bad Is Bullying In Japan?

by Justin Sevakis,

Lisa asks:

Is girls ganging up on other girls simply for talking to, or liking the most popular guy in school, as seen in so many anime shows, really a thing in Japan? So often you see these terrible situations where a lone girl is ostracized or even beaten by other girls simply because the "prince" said hello to her! It boggles my mind, and I would love to understand the cultural origins behind this outlandish anime scenario.

While the whole thing with a love interest for the hottest guy in school being bullied by a trio of girls who have dibs on him is something of an old hoary shoujo manga cliché, it's really not TOO far off from things that happen in real life. What you're seeing at work in that particular scenario is a combination of two distinctly Japanese social phenomenon.

The first is the old Japanese dating tradition known as the "love confession" or kokuhaku. The love confession, as those who've watched a lot of romance anime know, is the part where you awkwardly take the object of your crush somewhere private, tell him or her that you like them ("Suki desu!") and ask them to go out with you. Ideally, there are cherry blossoms falling dramatically when this happens. This is sort of the opposite of what happens in Western society, where you more casually ask someone out on a date, and if things start to happen, THEN you become a couple.

That love confession is REALLY tough for a lot of people. That moment of confession is a terrifying leap off the edge of an abyss, and a lot of people can't bring themselves to do it. They pine away in secret, and treat the object of their crush as an idol -- this distant god or goddess, an object of perfection, just out of reach. And as anyone who's been hormonally, deeply in love can attest to, things can get weird and they can get dark.

And that brings us to the second phenomenon, and that is Japanese classroom bullying. Now, obviously bullying is something that happens everywhere, but it's seen as a particular issue in Japan. In 2015 police only got involved in 200 cases, but the vast majority of the time it occurs, it goes completely unreported. Japan already has a suicide rate 60% higher than the global average, but teen suicide is a huge problem, and much of it is blamed on bullying. Every September 1, when summer vacation ends and bullied kids have to go back and face their attackers again, there's an alarming spike in these suicides.

Since there's huge societal pressure in Japanese schools (and society in general) to fall into line socially, those who stand out are often the prime targets for uniquely psychological attacks. Taunting can last months or years, and stretch far outside of school walls. Often, a group of kids, or even an entire class can be persuaded to gang up on a single victim -- and since the class spends all day in the same room together, that can really take a toll. The victim can be forced to commit crimes (shoplifting usually), and in the most serious cases, endure physical hazing.

This is one downside of youth being given much more control and free reign over their lives -- there is often not enough adult supervision to really stop this from happening. Homeroom teachers are often already stressed with trying to maintain order in their classes, and don't have much training in how to deal with bullying. Teachers have often found that intervening only made the problem worse. Many books and articles have been written about the bullying epidemic, but it's not clear, despite a recent decline in police-involved incidents, that Japan has a handle on the problem.

At any rate, it's easy to see how the combination of the Love Confession conundrum combines with the issue of bullying. The trope of being bullied for upsetting a class's normal social order strikes a chord with readers for a reason. Kids are awful to each other around the world. Japan is no exception.


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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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