Bullied Out of Japan: Part 3 (Final)

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.

International School

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.




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35 Responses to Bullied Out of Japan: Part 3 (Final)

  1. Pingback: Bullied Out of Japan: Part 2 | Savvy Kenya in Japan

  2. Batuz says:

    I’m glad that Jeremy is back in Kenya. I know it was a hard decision moving him away from you but I think it’s the right thing. Sometimes we go through hardships and we don’t know why this is happening to us. I pray that God may gift you a resolution to your current hardship. You may even find a balance e.g. say you find a school in Japan that suits him or maybe he can be visiting you for a month when school closes for holiday.


    • SK says:

      Thank you. I like the option where I find a suitable school. But I don’t think the option of visiting me in Japan can be a balance for us, I need to raise my child.


  3. EK13 says:

    What a bitter-sweet ending. You will be reunited soon and I love that Jeremy is back to his old self. I hope he doesn’t forget his Japanese though.


    • SK says:

      Thanks. Unfortunately, every time I call him, he only replies in English. He is fast forgetting Japanese. I need to find someone to keep teaching him in Nairobi, otherwise it would be such a waste.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. tony says:

    Thanks for the heads up, you are a strong lady, I met you just the other and could not imagine in my mind of what you have been through. all will be well.


  5. Yael Aldrich says:

    There are combination schools that are mostly Japanese but they are teaching in English, so much so that the kids come out with no typical Japlish accent and speak fluently for their grades. If you contact me I will talk to my friend and get some names for you. They are not in Mitaka though, rather Minato-ku and the like.


  6. Denise says:

    I’m proud of you for making the decision to save your son. Not even grown adults can function in their full capacity under this burdensome culture of the fake nice Japan. I’m so happy to know that Jeremy is smiling in the sunshine with his own friends and family. He was always a happy and friendly child as I remember him from the days at church. My exit is exactly 1 week away and I can’t wait. It can’t come faster.


    • SK says:

      Hi Denise, thank you. Yes, he was always a happy child and his smile is back. I hope you are enjoying some well deserved break from rule-based Japan!


  7. Author says:

    I reblogged all three parts. As a teacher of returnee students, most of them mixed, I worry constantly about them getting bullied or harassed. Stories like yours are so sad, but so important to share. My heart broke for you, and I’m so sorry the education system here failed you and your son. I’m happy he’s recovering, and I wish you two all the best.


  8. East or West home is best!


  9. Evah says:

    Kudos to your commitment to parent Jeremy, to stand up for him and to care for his entire being. I pray that someday you will be reunited for good. It is sad that we treat the foreigners in our country well but end up getting trouble in their countries. I’m so glad the bully didn’t harm your son extremely, that boy is strong and resilient.


    • SK says:

      Hi Eva, thank you. He has already bounced back from the reports I hear, and I hope these memories will one day be but a distant dream. Let’s hope we get reunited soon.


  10. Annsue says:

    I’m sorry that Jeremy- and you by extension had to go through that. I hope that somehow those bad memories escape his mind forever. Never imagined that the Japanese are this intolerant. Perhaps he can be visiting you and his Ishikawa friends from time to time.


    • SK says:

      Thanks Annsue. I hope he will be okay in the end as well. Some Japanese are pretty intolerant even of their neighbours, the Chinese and Koreans. Visiting me in Japan is a temporary solution though. I want to raise my child. Hoping for a solution soon.


  11. It was difficult story to read, but your son is lucky to have a mother knowing what is the most important and being able to act accordingly. I hope you will find better solution in near future. I was brought up in Ishikawa prefecture and now lives in abroad. I know how bullying functions in Japan and I remembered that it was difficult even for a local girl like me. I was always trying to assimilate myself to the other kids not to be targeted.
    We are very keen to find out differences, so bad.
    I wish you all the happiness in your future life.


    • SK says:

      Thank you Yoka. It’s painful to be separated right now, but I can’t just make rash decisions. I’ve got to think about the future.


  12. Wangui says:

    My son is half Japanese and we decided as soon as he was born in Tokyo, that we would raise him in Kenya. He shall experience Japan in university when he is already grown up, confident and comfortable in his own skin . Raising a foreign kid in Japan is toture. At least Nairobi is very multicultural.


    • SK says:

      You made the right decision. I know another Kenyan family that’s also relocating back to Kenya after their son went through a similar experience as mine, but in Kyoto. I hope more parents read this blog so they are better informed when making decisions on whether to live in Japan or not.


  13. Douglas Perkins says:

    Wow, that is quite painful to read. I hope things get better going forward.

    To others worried about similar situations, one schooling option not mentioned in the post is private (non-international) schools. I work at a private JHS/SHS, so it couldn’t have helped this family, but in our school and some others, there are enough students with various international connections or backgrounds that it feels normal. Maybe 5% of our student body? Ballpark, anyway. We don’t have an official count, nor would we want one. Private schools are expensive, but typically less expensive than international schools, and they could be a good option for some families.


    • SK says:

      A private school might have been a good option, I agree. But it takes time to change schools unexpectedly, and I needed time to figure things out and for Jeremy to heal so the first thing I did was send him home. Not just the bullying factor but for many other reasons as well, I feel my time in this country has come to an end.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Miho Maehiro says:

    I admire your brave decision. Good for him.
    I do wish you can live with him again in near future.


  15. Pingback: Solo Ski Trip… with Friends | Savvy Kenya in Japan

  16. Tsuyoshi says:

    The Youtube video on you and your son by BEJ brought me here and I’ve read through all 3 articles about your son.
    As a Japanese, I really feel ashamed of both Roy’s bullying and teacher’s handling of it in school.
    I strongly feel your son or any student either foreign or Japanese should not suffer a bullying in the Japanese school system, but as you’ve found out, this kind of situation is so common and old at schools in Japan, or you could say even traditional and inherent.
    Reading your articles, it seems to me that you did everything you could have done to improve this situation without causing too much trouble to others if this one had be one of those ordinary bullying incidents.
    But I’m afraid to say that this Roy turned out to be not an garden variety bully, who usually after two or three scolding stop doing it.
    At this eventuality, there are several things you could do beyond sensible things you had already done probably based on many advises you got from your friends and members of your support group.
    There is a good chance that you have already considered these extreme measures and discarded as not feasible, but I will explain them anyway, because even if these measures should fail, worst can happen to you is just getting out of Japan and nothing worse off.

    A. Make as loudest noise as possible about this situation and force both teachers and his parents not to help addressing the issue once and for all.
    To achieve this goal, there are several things you can do such as 1. consult with your superiors and colleagues in Hitachi and seek help, not just your immediate superior and the same department members but also board members and HR department members as many as possible. 2. record real-time bullying incidents and his teacher’s mal-handling of the situation in audio and favorably visual by having your son carry small IC recorder or something (
    which usually can be borrowed from HR department), 3. report these incidents directory to the school principal and the city education committee with a document discribing both incidents and teachers handling, favorably with audio or visual recordings.
    If things are worked out well, there will be a good chance that ether concerned incompetent teachers be replaced with competent ones or Roy’s parents will move to a different school district, or there could be both.
    Usually these cannot be an option as you could say ‘causing too much trouble to others’, but ‘not to cause too much trouble’ can sometimes work both ways and receiving end of responsibility may not confined only to you but directed to the other parties.

    B. Let your son fight against Roy as strongly as possible, while avoiding injuring Roy too badly.
    This sounds barbaric and is barbaric and may not be accepted as a viable option in the current educational scene. But, well, this was the norm and even encouraged when the bullied is a boy 30 or 40 years ago back when I was an elementary student. I still remember vividly in a master piece animation titled ‘Raccoon Rascal’ that a bullied main character boy trained boxing and revenged a bully. In Japan of those days, some boys, I admit not many, but some went to Kendo, Karate, or Judo school or something, became strong enough and made many friends so that being a target of bullying incomprehensible. Even today, you can probably have your son train one of these if he is willing.

    Hope these can be additional food for thought in this matter.
    If not, sorry for taking too much of your time reading too long sentences.

    In any case, best wishes for you.


    • SK says:

      Hi Tsuyoshi,

      Thank you for your comment. You advised either making noise or having Jeremy defend himself against the bully. At the moment, he is in Kenya with my parents and with the coronavirus situation, he might be there the whole of this year because of travel restrictions.
      If he comes back to Japan, I plan on moving to a different district with more foreigners. I also plan to enrol him in martial arts classes so he can learn to defend himself.


  17. Cate says:

    I’m so sorry Savvy this has pained me to the core. The last comment reminded me of karate kid the movie featuring Will Smith’s son. You are a great parent and I pray you find peace .


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