Monday, December 29, 2008

Parental discipline first

Juvenile delinquency is on the rise in Japan. Searching for the causes of this social problem, many Japanese parents focus on how little teachers discipline children. But I believe parental discipline should come first.
A preschool boy and his pregnant mother walk into a doctor's waiting room. There are two seats available: a big chair for grown-ups and a stool for kids. The little boy takes the adult seat and starts to throw a tantrum after his mom asks him to move. With resignation, she squats on the little seat.
"This scenario is not so unusual," said the doctor. In his office, he often sees kids wield power over their parents. "One day it's a grade-school boy who's emptying out his mother's purse. Another day it's a tot who's stretching out her father's glasses. Every time, kids get their way." Do such parents have the right to rebuke teachers?
Japanese parents depend on school too much to discipline their children. At the same time, when teachers scold students, some parents complain about it. I work with many kids and have the opportunity to meet their parents. I am amazed at how lenient both Japanese mothers and fathers are toward their children.
While exchanging ideas on "family relationships" with a group of Japanese teens the other day, I said Japanese fathers should become more involved in their children's spiritual upbringing. They reacted rather coolly to my suggestion.
"My father is always away," said a third-year middle school boy. "The little time he spends at home is to get drunk and complain about everything. I hate him!"
"I guess it's a hard job supporting a family, but I don't really respect him," a second-year middle school girl said about her father. She said she does not recall ever having been scolded by her father, nor does she think he ever took the time to teach her any valuable lessons about life.
Once, the Pilanesberg Wildlife Park in South Africa was having a problem with juvenile delinquents killing their rhinos and harassing tourists. But they weren't ordinary juveniles. They were young elephants. This group of young elephants had been taken away from their parents and released as a group into the park with no older elephants to give them guidance.
Park rangers then arranged for some older male elephants to be flown in by helicopter. Once the adult males arrived, they began bringing the young wayward elephants back in line.
Dads, could there be a lesson here? "A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." So the solution to juvenile delinquency is parental discipline. It is fathers spending quality time with their kids.
I have three grade-school children. When I have to punish them to teach them the difference between right and wrong, it's not pleasant at all. It demands firmness. Yet, "he who loves well, punishes well."
By Joel Assogba [Shukan ST: Feb. 8, 2008 (Published in Japan Times ST)]

Bukatsu hell

"Exercising too much is bad for one's health." This maxim is largely ignored on the playing fields of Japan. Sports club activities occupy an inordinate amount of time in Japanese students' life. Many children go to school even on weekends and during summer vacations to practice sports.
When I began teaching in Japan, I was disturbed to see that students were allowed to doze off in the classroom because they were too tired. But I came to realize that most of them were not at fault. A simple English conversation class became a form of sociological study. Asking, "What time do you get up?" I was astounded by the number of students who were up at 5:30 a.m. and at school before 7 a.m. to play sports. It was a shock to see children making their way to school as I once returned bleary-eyed from an all-night excursion to Kumamoto. Before 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, whole baseball, soccer and athletics teams swarmed into my train.
I admit that clubs engender a sense of "belonging," but is it right to devote that much time to sports? Canadian students informally play various sports with friends a few times a week because they enjoy doing so, but many Japanese students, restricted to a single club activity, tell me that their practices are exhausting and boring. Enjoyment seems to come second to duty. In Japanese schools, those who refuse to join clubs are often viewed with suspicion, or even marginal hostility, as being anti-social and lazy; they are referred to as the "Go-Home-Early Club."
Other problems concerning club activities in Japan are bullying by some senior members and sexual harassment by some teachers who run the clubs. In extreme cases, victims suffer from severe depression or even commit suicide.
For example, during the summer camp of Kyoto Koka High School's athletics team in 2006, a 57-year-old coach fondled a 17-year-old girl. When the girl's parents were suing him, he suddenly died. Afterwards, other athletics team members started blaming the girl for the coach's death, causing her serious mental distress.
If club activities in Japanese schools continue to be so time-consuming and humiliating, more children will grow up alienated. Training to excess does little for enthusiasm or development. Moderation and variety are the keys to success.
A child's emotional and physical well-being depends mostly on a balance of rest, sound social interaction, and a positive learning environment. Club activities must provide children with every possible opportunity to be treated with respect and sensitivity. In this way, Japanese youngsters will foster a positive self esteem, a sense of responsibility, and good social skills.
Joel Assogba [Shukan ST: Feb. 29, 2008 (Published in Japan Times ST)]

Racism in Japan

Unconscious racial arrogance and disdain for ethnic minorities are pronounced throughout the world. It is more evident in countries where different races live together, but I believe racism is a worldwide attitude and is perhaps strongest in areas where, because of little contact with other races, it has neither been brought to the surface nor challenged.
In Japan, the part of the world where I have been active as a human rights activist for almost a decade now, racist attitudes run strong — in my judgment far stronger than in Western countries. Japanese children who are not ethnic Japanese experience racism from a very young age and can even be subject to cruel treatment by their peers and adults. Many of them are bullied at school.
Seven years ago, a Japanese-born daughter of a Peruvian acquaintance was bullied by her classmates soon after she began attending a public elementary school in Gunma. She had been taunted and ridiculed because of her different looks. Some senior students called her "strange foreigner" and raked their shoes against her heels in the schoolyard. The girl told her homeroom teacher, but no serious action was taken against the bullies.
A Japanese grade-school boy who had an American ancestor was abused by his teacher in Fukuoka about five years ago. The teacher pulled the pupil's nose until it bled. He also told him to jump off a high-rise condominium and die because he wasn't a pure-blooded Japanese. The confused child was quoted as asking his parents if he was "dirty'' because he had foreign blood. Initially the school refused to confront the issue until the boy's parents became vocal.
The issue of racism, although serious, is not openly discussed in Japanese-language media. Worse, the media often exaggerate crimes committed by foreigners and portray them as troublemakers. Also, it is not uncommon to hear some TV personalities and politicians making racist comments in public. Once I was watching a popular talk show on television, and I was astonished to hear a Japanese celebrity saying something like, "Japan used to be a pure-blooded nation, but unfortunately foreigners of all kinds are now mixing it with dirty blood.
In Japan, there is a myth that says Japan is inhabited by a single race, the Japanese. But now this myth must be challenged, because the nation is increasingly becoming multiracial.
A nation in which people are discriminated against by ethnicity, which infringes on basic human rights, can never be considered a true member of the global community. The failure of politicians, educators and parents to solve the problem of racism is debasing human dignity. This issue casts the question of whether Japan is capable of being a society of coexistence.
By Joel Assogba [Shukan ST: Feb. 22, 2008 (Published in Japan Times ST)]


The recent arrest of an elementary school vice principal in Hokkaido on child porn charges has highlighted the tragedy of children being used for pornography and prostitution in Japan. When police raided the vice principal's home, they found many obscene images of underage girls. He was even selling them online. I shudder to think of how many cases like this have gone unreported.
Pedophilia is rampant, not only in Japan but all over the world. It has been receiving serious attention from people in Western countries for at least two decades now. I can only hope that Japanese parents and educators finally stand up and fight this social disease. But I doubt it. Not only is child pornography apparently accepted here, but pornographic magazines and comics are in stores where even children can easily see them. Even vending machines sell X-rated stuff on the street.
The other day in a park near my home, I was shocked to see two grade-school boys reading weird magazines that contained pornographic photographs and drawings. "How can this be possible?" I thought. Then I remembered I was in Japan; a country where pornographic goods are even given away as prizes in some video game arcades.
The blind acceptance of child pornography and prostitution in Japan allows pedophilia to thrive. We, as parents and educators, must do something to stop pedophilia now. We must not allow another innocent child to become the victim of predators.
A pedophile doesn't have certain looks that distinguish him or her as such. The person could be married with children of his or her own. He or she could be a next-door neighbor, a family friend, a relative, a tutor, a coach or a teacher. Pedophiles tend to choose occupations that put them in close contact with children, such as teaching, counseling, day care, scouting, coaching, etc.
I am certainly not saying that all people in these professions are pedophiles, because the overwhelming majority are not. I am just saying we have to be aware of whom our children are spending their time with. Also, we must not allow the Internet to become an electronic babysitter for us. We must always pay attention when our children are online, monitor what they are doing and who they are talking to.
We adults in Japan must realize that the environment in which we live is also the one in which our children grow up, and together we must share the problems facing youngsters. We must get pornographic vending machines off the streets, pornography out of children's comics and video game arcades, and fight to have child pornography completely banned.
By Joel Assogba [Shukan ST: Feb. 15, 2008 (Published in Japan Times ST)]

Lack of restraint

One day, a Japanese friend of mine, his 2-year-old son and I were about to go to the amusement park in their car. The little boy was not in his safety seat; he was just standing in the front passenger seat. To my great surprise, the father did not feel it was necessary to restrain his toddler in the safety seat before moving off.
"Hey! Why don't you put your son in the safety seat first?" I asked.
"It's too much work to buckle him in the seat," he replied. "Besides, he cries a lot when I try to fasten the seat belt. I guess he doesn't like the seat."
"Aren't you concerned about your child's safety?" I said. "Even at low speed, a minor impact is enough to send your lovely son banging into the windshield if he is not in the safety seat."
He did not seem to agree with me. However, I insisted on putting the little boy into the safety seat saying, "You should use the seat because it's the regulation now." He finally stopped the car and put his son in the seat. The child did not want to stay in the seat and cried a lot, but I tried to calm him down while his father fastened the seat belt.
I am certain no one likes to hear awful stories about car accidents, especially ones that involve children. But the chilling truth is that many infants are killed every year in Japan because their parents do not feel it is necessary to restrain them in a safety seat. Ever since I came to Japan, I have been puzzled by the total lack of child restraint in family cars. I see countless cars with young children (sometimes two or more) standing up in the front passenger seat, grandmothers holding toddlers in their arms, mothers driving with babies strapped to their chest; but what I rarely see is a vehicle that has been fitted with a safety seat.
It defies logic. If parents didn't feed their children or give them water to drink, they would be tried for neglect, maybe even murder. Shouldn't parents have the same obligation to keep their children safe in a car?
To see beautiful little faces pushed up against the front and back windows of such well-kept speeding cars is criminal. But the Japanese police seem to be either unwilling or unable to do anything about it. If some kind of on-the-spot fine was introduced for offending drivers, I am sure this kind of irresponsible behavior would soon decrease or even disappear.
Maybe I am preaching to the converted here. I certainly hope that every parent reading this article already uses safety seats for his or her children. If not, I would like to call general public attention to the dangerous lack of awareness. There are plenty of conventional car seats available on the market. They are not too expensive and relatively easy to install. If you really do love your children, buckle them up in car seats for their safety.
By Joel Assogba [Shukan ST: Feb. 1, 2008 (Published in Japan Times ST)]