Once I understood the depth of what was happening (see part one and two here), I ended talked to many people, both Japanese and non-Japanese. Their experiences and advice opened my eyes to the truth about the Japanese society that produces a self-policing community. I am not an expert on Japanese culture. However, there is a collective agreement that bullying is particularly vicious in Japanese schools. There are studies upon studies. This culture extends to the workplace, where the spirit of stoicism and “not causing trouble” philosophy are enforced. Until people just can’t take it any more, and walk onto the tracks of the passing trains. Suicides are pretty common in Japan. Including teen suicides and kids in elementary school. See article: Two former classmates ordered to pay ¥37 million in damages over bullied Japanese boy’s suicide. If you don’t want to “cause trouble” with your suicide (your family will be ordered to compensate the railway company for the inconveniences you cause), then there is a suicide forest for you to go quietly.
This is rapidly becoming dark.
Of course each country has its good and bad sides. Just the other day, there was a stampede in a Kenyan primary school in which over 15 children died when a stairwell collapsed.
Japan paints a perfect picture to the world, but it has its dark side too.
I didn’t pay attention to this dark side until my son became a victim of bullying. Then things went rapidly downhill and all I could see was the dark side of this country.
I could illustrate this with more examples. Like during sports day soon after I had visited the school, after he had had a fairly good day, they went back to the classroom to change out of their sports wear. I had a feeling and went to check on him, only to find the teacher holding him back because he was about to explode. Asking him what was wrong, the teacher said that Roy had once again something nasty to Jeremy. Why is my child the one on the receiving end of the “punishment/admonishment?”
I am sure things would have been better had we stayed in Ishikawa. But there are very few jobs in Ishikawa and my social life was deadish there. What I’ve heard is that if your kid continues into elementary school with the same kids from nursery school, they are less likely to experience this bullying.
Anyway, I weighed my options.
Fight the bullying – as you can see, group bullying is part of the culture here. The nail that sticks out gets hammered in. If anyone associates or tries to help the victim, they also become a target of bullying too. So the victim becomes isolated. I did not have the energy to take on the entire culture. In individualistic countries like America, you can take on the bully and his parents one-on-one, and can even find people to support you. Here, no one wants to “cause trouble”.
Home schooling – well, I am a single parent and I work. Not feasible. Even if I hired a teacher, I would have to pay her my entire salary.
Moving to another district with more foreigners.
Well, in Japan, diversity is still a myth. There are very few foreigners (less than 2% of the population I believe) and when it comes to kids in Japanese schools, that percentage is even less. Secondly, there is no guarantee that the bullying/isolation won’t happen in that school. It is part of the culture of conformity, bullying that one person who threatens the averageness, the sameness, the very identity of the group. The identity of what it means to be Japanese.
Furthermore, moving costs are insanely high here. I need close to 800,000 Yen ($7,000) to move to another 2LDK. Transportation costs, deposits, key money, real estate agency commission, money to change the lock, etc. Not forgetting the fee needed to break my current lease, which runs for two years. And there is no guarantee that the next place will be peaceful.
This would have been the ideal option from the beginning. The student body is diverse. The culture isn’t that of conformity, stoicism or avoiding trouble. Except for the astronomical costs. At 31, I am not in that income bracket yet. I just began my career after a 4.5 year break from employment.
Finally… out of Japan
None of these solutions could urgently resolve my problem anyway. I had withdrawn Jeremy from school when he had a major episode where he was fighting the 2nd graders.
I tried working from home. My company is nice like that. But it was not feasible to work from home with a healthy, energetic boy bouncing his soccer ball against the walls. He was returning to his old self now that he wasn’t going to the toxic school environment.
I called my mother. She was more than willing to have him for now.
I booked a flight two days to go. I asked for time off. It was a nice, smooth flight on Ethiopian Airlines (yes, my first time on Ethiopian was good!). Jeremy was going home.
While home, we visited my grandmother (who by the way, had also been a single mother who bravely raised her 7 kids). I did not know that I’d be seeing her for the last time, for she passed way last November. Jeremy represented me at the funeral.
Schools were on holiday. Every day, he played outside freely with the other kids on holiday, like children should. He started picking up Swahili. He picked up some Kisii words. He was learning to be a kid again.
There is so much pressure on school kids here in Japan. They forget their pencil, you get a phone call at work. Something as trivial as forgetting a pen at home make a kid become riddled with anxiety. They carry the ridiculously heavy randoseru, instead of comfortable backpacks. They need to fit in, to not stand out. They need to do their Kanji drills. If they make a mistake, it’s a big deal, instead of taking it as part of learning. They learn to not ask questions, to not ask why, to just follow the rules. They become the next generation of… wait I am going off tangent here.
I went back to Kenya after Christmas. He was doing well but it was clear he was missing me and I had missed him too. I still miss him every day.
In January, we found a local school in the neighbourhood. I do not want my child waking up at 5am to to a school far away, to avoid traffic. (We need to resolve the traffic problem in Nairobi by the way.) The public school is overwhelmed with the number of kids, while in Japan, some schools are closing for lack of children! The population is declining, and every year, fewer Japanese kids are born.
I came back to Japan in January. Bread has to be earned. I believe I have some big decisions to make very soon, but I am happy that Jeremy is happy now. The light, the sparkle in his eyes has returned. He’s got his confidence and smile back.
My goal in 2020 is to be reunited (live together again) with Jeremy.
P.S. You can now see why my friend’s visit to Japan in November last year was quite timely as I got to re-experience Japan as a tourist, not forgetting I almost dated a Japanese actor, which was a hilarious and welcome distraction.