Problems with the Paradigm: the school as a factor in understanding bullying (with special reference to Japan)

SHOKO YONEYAMA, Centrefor Asian Studies, Universip of Adelaide, Australia
ASAO NAITO, School ofArts and Letters, Meiji University, Japan

ABSTRACT Studies on bullying at school proliferate, but the discourse is seriously lacking in sociological
perspective. The explanation as to why some students bully others has been sought primarily within the
personal attributes of the bully and the victim. Despite the fact that the school is the place where most bullying occurs, school factors that are correlated with the prevalence of bullying have been under-investigated. In Japan, however, schools have been subject to great scrutiny. By reviewing the Japanese literature on bullying (ijime), this paper discusses factors that appear to contribute to the school climate in which bullyng among students becomes commonplace. These include authoritarian, hierarchical, and power-dominant human relationships, alienating modes of learning, high levels of regimentation, dehumanising methods of discipline, and highly interventionist human relationships in an excessively group-oriented social environment. This paper sugests the paradigm of student bullying needs to be re-thought.

Overview: Bullying as an Individualised Social Issue

Bullying and victimisation of school students [l] is a relatively new area of inquiry, despite the large number of studies currently available. Even in Norway where pioneering work existed (Olweus, 1973; in Swedish), it was not until 1982 with the suicide of three victims that bullying was recognised as a social issue (Olweus, 1993).Likewise, bullying was first identified as a serious social problem in Japan in 1984 and 1985, when 16 pupils committed suicide in circumstances suspected of victimisation (Morita et al., 1999a), which was followed by the publication of the first scholarly work on the issue (Morita & Kiyonaga, 1986). In the UK also, it wits with the publication of the first book on the problem (Tattum & Lane, 1988) that bullying was established as an independent area of social and scholarly inquiry (Tattum & Herbert, 1993). The situation was more or less the same in other parts of Europe. It has been pointed out that, as at 1987, ‘the UK was not alone in failing to take bullying seriously’ (Tattum & Herbert, 1993, p. 2).

Although there might be some features specific to a particular society (for example, Morita et al., 1999a),there seems a general agreement that bullying consists of several key elements (Farrington, 1993; Rigby, 200 1). First, bullying is a type of aggressive behaviour inflicted by an individual or group to cause fear, distress or harm to the victim (for example, Roland, 1988, Olweus, 1993) based on a wilfd and conscious desire to do so (Tattum, 1988). It is the abuse of power (Smith & Sharp, 1994) committed by the powerful when there is an imbalance of power (for example, Olweus, 1993), be it physical, psychological or social. Thus, it is typically repeated over time (for example, Roland, 1988; Olweus, 1993) and felt to be oppressive by the victim (Farrington, 1993) who is unable to defend herself/himself (for example, Roland, 1988).

Numerous epidemiological and morphological studles have been conducted all over the world to provide reliable and detailed descriptions of bullying and victimisation among school students (for example, Smith et al., 1999). As a consequence, massive data have been accumulated on such aspects as prevalence, frequency, intensity, duration, place of occurrence, sex differences, different forms and methods of bullying (physical, verbal and relational), behavioural traits of bullies, victims, and bullyhictims, and so on.

As to the causation of bullying, however, further research is needed. The explanation of why some students bully others has been sought primarily by examining the personal attributes of the bully and the victim, and their family and social backgrounds. External factors that have been examined as potential causes of bullying include negative relations with parents and a cold emotional climate at home (Olweus, 1980; Rigby, 1993, 1994; Bowers et al., 1994), and exposure to violence and racial prejudice in the community (Randall, 1996). Bullying among school students have been seen primarily as an issue arising from factors external to and independent of school life.

Thus, school factors that are correlated with the prevalence of bullies and victims have been under-investigated (Farrington, 1993; Wolke et al., 2001). As yet there has been few studies focusing clearly on fundamental aspects of school, such as student-teacher relationshps, the quality of teaching and learning, and the methods of discipline contributing to bullying among students. This has been the case despite the fact that the school is the place where most of the bullying occurs (for example, Olweus, 1993), and that there can be a sigdicant difference in bullying/victimisation between different schools (IGgby, 1996; Rivers & Soutter, 1996).

The insufficient attention paid to the school context in the discourse on student bullying is part of a larger trend in the discourse on student aggression in general. Most intervention programs dealing with aggressive behaviour have focused on changing the characteristics peculiar to ‘at-risk students’ and have failed to address the larger social context, including that of the school (Van Acker & Talbott, 1999). Aspects of the school context such as the nature of academic instruction, classroom management and discipline, and the nature of social interaction all deserve greater attention, either as contributing factors or in preventative measures (Van Acker & Talbott, 1999).

A Sociological Framework for Understanding Bullying and Victimisation in Schools

In terms of the sociological study of bullying, the most hndamental finding so far is that bullying is widely prevalent among school students (Tattum & Herbert, 1993; Rigby & Slee, 1995; Morita et al., 1999b). Normally in sociology a wide prevalence of a problem is regarded as a social issue, worth examining as a potentially structural problem inherent in the particular social milieu. If it is a structural problem, there is a limit to what individuals can do to solve their everyday-life trouble: fundamental solution comes with the revision and change of the social structure itself (hhlls, 1970). In view of the extent of prevalence of the issue, the structural perspective appears underdeveloped in the discourse on bullying.

Although Goffman (1968) does not specifically address educational settings, his concept of ‘total institution’ is highly relevant to understand certain aspects of school (Beynon, 1985), especially the one based on the traditional, non-democratic paradigm of education. Like asylums, prisons and military establishments, schools are a social institution based on hierarchical and authoritarian relationships with clear division of socially defined roles. They are a bureaucratic organisation supported by rituals, disciplinary measures and punishment, which may involve the use of physical power. As an institution, schools have the socially defined goal of educating and socialising youth. Conformity and low tolerance to individual differences can be intrinsic to school life (for example, Beynon, 1985).

The commonality between schools and ‘total institutions’ provides the framework to think about the possibility that certain aspects of school can actually cultivate bullying. Tattum, for instance, remarks that schools ‘are not closed, military establishment but they are authoritarian, and boys’ schools in particular do create an aggressive atmosphere which may be seen to condone pupil-pupil aggression’ (1988, p. 13). Similarly, Smith & Sharp (1994) point out that bullying ‘is particularly likely to be a problem in social groups with clear power relationships and low supervision, such as the armed forces, prisons, and also schools’ (p. 2). The possibility of bullying being institutionalised behaviour has been discussed by Askew, who argues that ‘bullying is partly an outcome of the structure and organisation of schools themselves’ (1988, p. 69). More specifically, schools are authoritarian structures that include blaming, punitive, and disciplinary approach based on the use of aggression, power, and control; as well as a hierarchical and competitive ethos (as against caring ethos) that has little room for vulnerability.

The literature on disruptive behaviour among school students, which was extensive by the mid-l980s, had hardly addressed bullying (Tattum & Herbert, 1993). It suggests, however, that certain aspects of school are likely to generate bullying among school students. McGuiness & Craggs (1986) remark that the initial emphasis of the literature on disruptive behaviour was to hk the problem with factors outside school. After reviewing substantial numbers of research, however, they conclude that ‘problems of behaviour are firmly set within the social context of the school’, and that ‘school ethos is a major contributory influence on pupil behaviour’ (p. 15). The solution they propose in order to lessen dsruptive behaviour, therefore, is to improve the whole-school ethos, by reviewing curriculum to enhance students’ dignity, as well as by improving interpersonal skills among teachers and the quality of interaction between student and teacher.

The results of research on disruptive behaviour are reflected to some extent in the teacher-initiated, whole-school, anti-bullying measures adopted by some schools (Tattum & Herbert, 1993). They include reassessment of school management and human relationships in school from the viewpoint of Equal Opportunity (Elkins, 1993); and a whole-staff davelopmental approach to build positive human relationships geared towards understanding and tolerance. It is reported that such attempts have helped develop positive staff-pupil relationships, which inevitably had an impact upon the curriculum, the way it was delivered and its content (Davies, 1993). These examples indicate that schools can play a crucial role in reducing bullying in society, instead of providing a social environment hospitable to victimisation (Askew, 1988). Through the critical assessment of the hidden curriculum and underlying ideology, schools can very well be an agent for social change (Giroux, 1983). The sociological perspective of bullying outlined, however, has been extremely low key, whether or not it be a result of a deliberate strategy to involve schools in the anti-bullying campaign. Furthermore, Tattum (1993) remarks, referring to the situation in the UK by the early 199Os, that many schools deny the fact that bullying exist in school and adopt a ‘crisis management’ approach when necessary, instead of recognising that bullying exist in every school and developing a pro-active, ‘developmental’ approach. As pointed out earlier, the analysis of the relationship between bullying and school is seriously lacking in the discourse of bullying in general. It has not gone much beyond analysis into such things as school size and location (for example, Wolke et al., 2001).

There is also a question of how much teachers can do when they themselves have to work within a hierarchical, power-dominant management structure. Teachers can very well be caught by the contradictory demand to play the role of the teacher in a restrictive organisational structure while at the same time being expected to reduce bullying among students. The sociological perspective will help pursue this question and tackle the problem of bullying at its core. With this aim, the present paper first reviews the school factors mentioned, albeit peripherally, in the existing literature on bullying. It then introduces the discourse on bullying in Japan, which has been more clearly focused than any other on analysing the relationship between school factors and peer victimisation.

School Factors in the Literature on Student Bullying in English

In the past two decades, researchers working on the problem of bullying among school students have mentioned some school-related factors, although never as the focus of a study. Rigby (1997) found that a high prevalence of a ‘culture of bullying’ distinguished high-bullying schools from low-bullying schools. He remarks that uncertainty and hesitancy on the part of teachers to intervene may contribute to the pro-bullying school ethos Wgby, 1996). Likewise, Stephenson & Smith (1989) showed that schools with head teachers who understand bullying and can articulate their views on it tend to experience less bullying. Drawing upon a study conducted in the Netherlands (Rutter et ul., 1986), Junger-Tas suggests that bullying takes place less in an ‘effective school’. In such a school there is ‘a school-wide set of standards or norms of school performance and behavior; an acceptance by pupils of these norms, and a positive teacher response to good pupil behavior and achievements’ (Junger-Tas, 1999).

The student-teacher relationshp has also been discussed as a potential factor in student bullying, but only incidentally. The potential for the behaviour of a teacher to be a model for students has been briefly mentioned: students may admire the effective, authoritarian teacher and use himlher as a model to victimise fellow students (Rigby, 1996). On the other hand, teachers who are either too strict or unable to keep order in the classroom could cause pupils to dislike school, which may lead to an increase in aggressive behaviour, such as peer bullying (Olweus, 1999; Junger-Tas, 1999). Some teachers may deliberately lead children into bullying (Rigby, 1996); or a teacher’s negative attitude towards a student may provide the excuse for others to victimise him/her (Olweus, 1999). The use of sarcasm and subtle forms of ridicule by teachers may also contribute to classroom bullying (Rigby, 1996). Despite the amount of conjecture, no study has clearly focused on the question of how (or whether) student- teacher relationships may affect bullying behaviour among students.

There is also a more sensitive issue of student bullying by teachers. Conducting the first scientific investigation of this topic (in Norway in 1996), Olweus (1999) found that some 2% of 2400 primary and lower middle school students had been bullied by teachers, as many as 10% of the teachers had bullied students, and bullying by teachers had occurred in about 50% of the classes investigated. Bjorkqvist & Osterman (1999) have pointed out the growing awareness of this issue in Finland in the past decade. Again the question is how (or whether) student bullying by teachers increases the possibility of student-to-student bullying.

Learning is the facet of school life to which least attention has been paid in the discourse of student bullying. Rigby (1996) suggests that boredom, as the result of inappropriate subject content, inadequate teaching methodology, or poorly motivated teachers, may be an important cause of bullying. Others have suggested that academic competition could be a potential cause of bullying. A sense of being ‘a loser’ could provide an excuse to vent frustration on other students, or a sense of failure and lowered self-esteem could also make one an easy target for bullying. The ‘winners’ of the competition, on the other hand, may become arrogant and bully the weak (Rigby, 1996). Olweus (1993) investigated the hypothesis that aggression in boys is a consequence of
poor grades or failure at school: the hypothesis was unsupported.

Thus, potential causal links between certain features of school and student bullying have been suggested by many, yet most are little more than passing remarks. The question as to which features of school may be related to student bullying has not been systematically addressed in the discourse on student bullying in English.

The situation is slightly different in Japan. Although the empirical research addressing the causal link is limited, there is substantial literature in Japanese that suggests that the sociological milieu of the school is a major factor underlying student bullying. The present paper reviews such literature, and clarifies which aspects of school have been considered relevant. First, however, characteristics of student bullying inJapanese schools today will be discussed.

Characteristics of Student Bullying in Japan

The Japanese word for bullying, ‘ijime’ is defined by Morita as: [a] type of aggressive behavior by which someone who holds a dominant position in a group-interaction process, by intentional or collective acts, causes mental and/or physical suffering to another inside a group. (Morita et al., 1999a, p. ?)

As this definition clearly indicates, the most outstanding characteristic of ijime is that it is mostly group bullying (for example, Morita & Kiyonaga, 1994; Sugeno, 1997; Morita et al., 1999b). The 1997 data by Morita et al., show that only about 20% of bullying was carried out singly, and that 40% of these instances lasted for more than 1 week (Morita et al., 1999b). If ‘more than a week’ is taken as a benchmark for frequent bullying, this means that a single bully commits around 8% of frequent bullying in Japan, substantially less than the comparable data available elsewhere [2]. A Norwegian study found that a single bully committed some 35-40% of frequent bullying (Olweus, 1993). An Australian study of secondary students found that 6 1’10 of frequent bullying against a male victim, and 44% against a female victim, were committed by a single bully Rigby, 1996).

Group bullying often involves the whole class, and is typically supported by a ‘four-layered structure’ of victim, bullies, spectators, and bystanders (Morita & Kiyonaga, 1994). The ‘group dynamics’ hnction is the key to exacerbating bullying. It has been found that the more frequent the bullying is, the longer it tends to last (Morita et al., 1999b); and that the more persistent the bullying is, the larger the number of students involved (Morita et al., 1999b).As one student remarks: ‘the more audience there is, the more ferocious bullying becomes’ (Toyoda, 1995). Although bullying that involves the whole class is not unique to Japanese schools (see Olweus, 1993), the fact that it is one of the most common forms of bullying in Japan is noteworthy. It is also notable that in Japan classroom (and not schoolyard) is the main venue of peer victimisation, where some 75% of bullying among school students occurs (Morita et al., 1999b). It is therefore uncommon for the bully to belong to a higher grade than the victim (Morita et al., 1999a). When the group dynamics does not involve the whole class, the victimisation often occurs within a small group of close friends (Morita et al., 1999a). In a situation where every student in the class belongs to a small circle of friends, to be bullied within the group creates a really difficult situation. For fear of being isolated in the class, the victim clings to the group despite being bullied, trapping himself/herself into victimisation. This form of bullying is quite different from the one often seen outsideJapan, which involves perpetrators who are not in the victim’s friendship circle.

At the same time, bullying in Japanese schools often involves ‘ordinary’ and ‘good’ students both as victim and bully (Morita & Kyonaga, 1994). The profile of the bully does not remain the same (i.e. different students victimise others at different points in time; National Institute for Educational Policy Research of Japan, 2001). There is a temptation to put this in contrast with the image of a perpetrator outside Japan, where the bully is often depicted as an aggressive macho man, most probably a ‘problem kid’ or ‘at risk’ student towering over a helpless small boy. The fact that a ‘bullying career’ is often connected to the ‘criminal career’ also suggests the same; that is, fixed role as an aggressor (for example, Farrington, 1993). However, the contrast may stem from comparing different modes of bullying between different countries. Ijime can be very violent, and can involve threat and extortion. Bullying, on the other hand, can be psychological as well as physical, indirect as well as direct, relational as well as verbal. This aspect requires further investigation.

The School Factor as Discussed in Japan
Stress: Achievement Pressure and the Meaninglessness of study

The pressure of academic achievement is generally considered to be a factor closely associated with bullying among school students (for example, Inamura, 1986; Takano, 1986; Nihon bengoshi renmei, 1995; Inoue, 1996; Kobayashi, 1996). There has been little explanation, however, as to exactly how it works. There is only a vague expectation that the pressure to study increases the level of stress, which drives some students into aggressive behaviour; or that in order to escape from the anxiety associated with the examination, some students may play power games against the weaker (Terumoto, 1996, 1997).

A social milieu that constantly pressures students to work hard and compete with each other can very well be a source of stress. Theoretically speaking, however, there is no inevitable connection between achievement pressure and stress, nor between stress and bullying behaviour. Hence bullying is hardly a corollary of achievement pressure. In fact, since the mid-l980s, each time the Japanese media reported the suicide of a bullied student, the school the victim had attended was scrutinised. In few of these schools did the pressure to achieve academically appear to be particularly high. If anything, it seems that fewer cases of bullying occur in schools where students are clearly focused on study. If indeed there is an epistemological link between achievement pressure and bullying, with stress as the medium, it is necessary to identify other factors that lead achievement pressure to stress, on the one hand, and stress to bullying, on the other. In fact, there is nothing inherently harmfd or stress-inducing about achievement pressure per se. It becomes stressful and problematic when there is a mismatch between (1) achievement pressure felt by an individual student (through demands and expectations by others) and (2) the needs, abilities, values and resources the student can mobilise to meet the pressure. What should be added to this equation is the quality of learning associated with the achievement pressure. As generally understood, examination-oriented curriculum and pedagogy in Japanese schools tend to be least student oriented, and therefore inherently uninteresting to students. At the same time, the rapid pace of the examination-oriented curriculum has produced a sigdicant portion of students who become unable to follow the class at an early stage (for example, Yoneyama, 1999). Miyadai Shinji, a sociologist at Tokyo Metropolitan University, holds that with the structural downturn of the Japanese economy, students have ceased to believe that ‘it pays to endure boring classes at school in order to have a good job and a happy life in future’. As a consequence, he asserts, study at school has become even less relevant to students, a ‘mere drudgery’, a ‘completely meaningless time which seems to last forever’, which can be passed only by bullying Miyadai & Fujii, 1998).

No matter how stressfd the situation is at school, however, that alone does not explain bullying as normal and prevalent behaviour among ‘ordinary’ students. There must be other factors that bridge stress and bullying. Stressful situations may lead to aggressive behaviour when there is a social climate that encourages individuals to behave aggressively as a stress coping mode. If there is any direct linkage between achievement pressure and bullying, it is that ‘school ideology’ (i.e. the belief that one must attend school no matter what) and the highly developed meritocratic system of Japan (Yoneyama, 1999)bind the majority of youth to schools, where there is a social climate conducive to cultivating bullying behaviour among students. The question is: what constitutes the social climate in which bullying thrives in Japanese schools?

Power-Dominant Human Relationships

It has been pointed out by many that the nature of teacher-student relationships holds the key to understanding student-to-student bullying in Japan (for example, Azuma et al., 1986; Morita & Kiyonaga, 1994; Saito, 1996; Sugeno, 1997; Yoneyama, 1999). Based on an empirical study involving 767 primary and secondary teachers, Hata (2000)concludes that ‘teachers themselves provide the logic of ijime and the climate which approves ijime’, and that ‘they create the social environment which induces ijime’ (p. 94). In his study, one in three primary and one in four lower secondary school teachers indicated that what they say or do to students ‘has sigmficant bearing upon’ the bullying among students. When combined with others who indicated that ‘it has some (as against ‘little’ or ‘no’) bearing upon the bullying among students’, teachers who believed the causal relationship amounted to 88 and 73%, respectively. More specifically, what aspects of a teacher’s deeds might be associated with bullying among students?

The Teacher-Student Relationship as a Hidden Curriculum

First, Hata (2000) points out that practices commonly seen in teacher-student relationships would be considered bullying in a different context. This includes calling students ‘You!’ (omae, kisame) or by their surnames alone (as in ‘Suzuki!’), displays of favouritism, taking out anger on students, or hurting students by words. Bullying of students by teachers has also been pointed out. Hata found that 11-14% of teachers in primary and lower middle schools felt that they had ‘bullied‘ students either ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ (as against ‘hardly’ or ‘never’). Conversely, 11-15% of the students in the survey reported that they had been ‘bullied’ by teachers either ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’. According to Hata (2000), peer bullying is more unlikely to occur in a class where students feel that they have been bullied by teachers.

In other words, the teacherstudent relationship can constitute a hidden curriculum that promotes bullying among students. A more direct ‘copy-cat’ effect has also been pointed out. A close resemblance has been shown to exist between the way a teacher ‘disciplines’ a student and the manner in which students victimise fellow students. These include verbal expressions used to ‘put down’ students, norms against which students are customarily judged, scolded and labelled (for example being selfish, egotistical, self-centered), and forms of physical violence with which corporal punishment is applied (Yoneyama, 1999).

Others claim that teachers sometimes provide a reason for victimisation by favouritism, picking on or labelling a student (Morita & Kiyonaga, 1994; Sugeno, 1997). Some teachers participate, approve or side with the bully, because putting themselves on the side of the powerful students makes it easier for teachers to manage the class (Yoneyama, 1999). Some teachers also avoid, ignore, or pretend not to notice bullying among students (Yoneyama, 1999).

It has been pointed out by many that underlying the poor teacherstudent relationship is the fact that teachers rarely listen to students, despite the fact that willingness to listen to students is generally considered to be essential by students (Yoneyama, 1999). There is a clear tendency for peer victimisation to occur more frequently in a class where teachers are less willing to listen to students (Hata, 2000). With little communication between teachers and students, there is general lack of trust on the part of students about their teachers (Yoneyama, 1999; Hata, 2000).

The Principle Of Power

It is widely believed in Japan that there is a strong association between ‘corporal punishment’ (taibatsu) and peer bullying among students (Teshigahara, 1986; Kobayashi, 1995; Hata, 1996). The Japanese word taibutsu, which literally means ‘physical punishment’, is quite different from what is normally understood as corporal punishment in the West where it is expected to be used only in a highly regulated manner. Taibutsu often is nothing but an arbitrary use of violence by teachers. There have been a number of cases in Japan where students have been injured or killed by teachers in the name of corporal punishment. Even if the actual number of teachers who use overt violence (such as hitting, slapping and kicking) may be limited,Japanese schools are saturated with all sorts of ‘punishment’ that aim to inflict pain upon students (Sakamoto, 1986). Moreover, teachers who use physical violence against students are often incorporated as an essential part of the school management (Yoneyama, 1999).

The question is how deeply structural is the ‘unfair treatment of students by teachers’ in Japanese schools? As pointed out earlier, when teachers earnestly tackle the problem of bullying, they often come to the realisation that they are indeed part of the structure that encourages it (Umeno, 1998). Some teachers report that a breakthrough came in the classroom discussion on bullying when students raised the issue of the conduct of teachers. In one class, pupils suddenly became active in expressing themselves after the teacher read out a student composition criticising teachers (Umeno, 1998, p. 43). In another class, most students raised hands when asked: ‘Do you think that teachers and school are part of the problem and are responsible for peer bullying among students?’

One teacher writes that, after observing a number of classroom discussions on bullying, he was overwhelmed by the feeling of mistrust towards teachers and school that was shared by students. Umeno, who worked as a teacher for 7 years, remarks:

While disregarding our colleagues’ physical violence against students, we preach the importance of human rights to students. After discussing the nobility of The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we keep an eye out for unauthorised ‘one-point’ socks [3] students might be wearing. While ignoring student-to-student bullying ourselves, we accuse students for not intervening. The issues of bullying and school violence today have confronted us with the question of the raison d’&e of teachers and schools. (Umeno, 1998, P. 31)

Naito (2001) argues that schools in Japan are like ‘communes’, where students are expected to be submissive to the prescribed behavioural pattern even down to their psyche. This almost inevitably induces resistance. Teachers, on the other hand, are bound to maintain order and are assessed on that basis: they are blamed for failing to put students under control. Within this framework, Naito points out, teachers are driven to oppress students even by using violence and threat, and schools fhnction as if it were beyond the confines of civil society.

Naito (2001) further argues that teachers who resort to violence to ‘guide’ students, and students who are engaged in bullying just for ‘fun’, both operate on the same principle of dominating others by using power. He holds that ‘nori', the unpredictable, collective mood of the group at a particular point in time, provides the foundation for
bullying. It usually finds its target in someone in the group who is seen to be easily manipulated. Naito explains that students are thus exposed to three kinds of power structures in school: (1) official school rules and regulations; (2) unofficial use of violence by teachers, which is employed to ‘keep order’; and (3) the collective ‘nod violence by students, which is used to ‘have fun’.

According to Naito et al., (2002), although teachers hold legitimate power to control students, there is often a seesaw-like relationship between teachers who resort to violence to control students and students who also try to hold power in school by using violence. In some schools, the power relationship in school can flip over between power-dominant teachers and power-dominant students, dependmg on the actual profile of teachers and students. It is therefore possible that teachers are bullied by students (Sugeno, 1997). In other schools, violent teachers may act in connivance with violent students (Naito, 2001). The problem is that whchever party is in control in real terms, human relations in school operate on the principle of naked power.

Conformity and 'Group Management’

One of the primary aims o fJapanese schools has been to create ‘desirableJapanese’ (for example, Yoneyama, 2002). To this end, schools in Japan have put a great emphasis on the behavioural management of students. More specifically, to heighten conformity through effective group management has hnctioned as the fundamental principle of school education. Thus, the importance of being ‘the same as others in the cohesive group’ has been the central theme of socialisation in Japanese schools. The content of the sameness has been prescribed by school rules and regulations. Formally established groups, small units (han) and ‘homeroom’, have provided frameworks to the school life of students. Since 1993, as teachers’ assessment of students’ attitude was integrated as the central part of student assessment, the pressure to conform to the prescribed behavioural norm has become even more relentless (Yoneyama, 1999).

It has been pointed out that the greater the teachers’ pressure for students to be the same and for a class to act cohesively as a group, the greater the chance that bullying will occur in the class (Hata, 1996; Taki, 1996; Sugeno, 1997; Yoneyama, 1999). Takekawa (1993) found that that peer bullying tended to happen in a class where students were dissatisfied with the authoritarian way that teachers set norms and supervised students: providing little room for students to express their views, negotiate with teachers, or manage by themselves. He also found that there is a clear correlation between peer bullying and the adoption of the educational method called ‘rentai seikin’ where the whole group is held responsible by the teacher for something done by one or more members of the group. Elsewhere it is reported that students who have been punished in thismanner tended to be engaged in bullying more frequently than those who have not (Hata, 2000). Takekawa (1993) concludes that students, when feeling oppressed and dissatisfied, tend to lose positive commitment to the group, and that this creates an aggressive atmosphere in the class that often leads to peer bullying.

The typology of the bully and the victim by Morita & Kiyonaga (1994) adds an extra dimension to the explanation given by Takekawa. They found that all students involved in bullying in one way or another can be classified using two parameters. First is their attitude towards the school’s ‘core values’ such as rules and regulations, supervision and guidance by teachers, authority of teachers, and group activities. The second is the degree of independence or submissiveness of the student vis-&-vis the powerful, whether teachers or students. According to their analysis, bullies not only resist authority, but also feel negative towards the ‘core values’ of the school (i.e. they prefer decision-making by students, they feel negative about being obedient to teachers, and they do not like being controlled by rules and regulations).Victims, on the other hand, tend to be the complete opposite: they are inclined to be submissive and feel relatively positive about the ‘core values’ of the school.

This typology seems applicable to a wide range of situations. The bully could be an overtly ‘rebellious’ type, who uses counter-school values to attack victims who are more compliant with authority. This can happen in any school. In a highly regimented school, however, where the level of conformity among students has been maximised through the imposition of detailed petty rules, the Merence between the bully and the victim can be infinitely small, and the counter-school values may be well hidden from teachers. In such an environment, anythmg could be used as the reason for bullying. To be seen as being obedient to teachers could inspire someone to bully the obedient student. At the same time, the slightest diversion from the group norms could also be seen as a weakness to be targeted for bullying. In this sense, the pressure to conform comes not only from teachers, but also from students. The leading bully can very well be a ‘model’ student who has learnt to hide his/her dissatisfaction with authority. Yoneyama regards ijime as the expression of over-conformity on the part of students. She states that it serves as an illegitimate, ‘school-floor’, peer-surveillance system, which helps heighten the group conformity and perfect the enforcement of school rules, while at the same time students try to stamp out all signs of individuality from each other (Yoneyama, 1999).

Classroom as Confinement

Some have argued that the closed nature Japanese classroom itself plays a pivotal role in promoting bullying. In Japan, even in secondary schools, most subjects are taught in the same classroom called ‘homeroom’, where students of the same age belonging to a particular class spend most of the time together throughout the school year. Sugeno (1997) argues that bullying is an ‘inevitable by-product’ of the school, which aims to pursue ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ as a social institution. He maintains that the classroom is designed to close students off both socially and physically from the outside world, in order to maximise the control of students by teachers.

Naito adds to this by describingJapanese classroom as the place where each individual student is ‘enclosed’ as a whole person and forced to relate with others totally and completely through all sorts of activities in small groups. These activities (e.g. learning, eating, cleaning, and participating in school events) train them in group behaviour and group responsibility. He explains that, in this structure, students are constantly forced to be involved in human relationships that are not of their own choosing, without being able to maintain a comfortable &stance from others. The school thus constitutes a ‘commune-like’ social environment where students constantly check, regulate, manipulate and intervene with the ‘mind/heart’ (kokoro) of each other, without allowing anyone to be private and be himself/herself (Naito, 2001). In the commune-like environment, Naito continues, students seek the illusory sense of ‘omnipotence’ (zennokan) through bullying, in order to salvage their sense of cohesion of self. The more ‘commune-like’ the school is, the more bullying is likely to happen (Naito, 2001). Similarly, Miyadai (1997) describes the Japanese class as a ‘jam-packed train’. He states that Japanese classes are in a ‘touch-and-go situation’ due to the stress and frustration of students who are forced to be with ‘complete strangers’ for a ‘long time’ in a ‘limited space’ only to listen to the one-way lecture of ‘dull teachers’ (Miyadai, 1997).

To put it differently, the Japanese classroom is a prison-like space where students are bound to the many factors contributing to bullying. No matter how stressful the study, how authoritarian the teacherstudent relationship, how violent the teachers or fellow students, or how strong the pressure to conform, if students have a reasonable amount of liberty to move around within the school and break away from situations that could lead to bullying, the schools would not be felt to be so stifling.

In summary, the review of literature on bullying in Japanese schools suggests the following hypotheses.

1. A high level of stress among students exists as the background of bullying. Study-related factors-that is, the alienating nature of learning (boredom and the meaninglessness of study) and the pressure to achieve academically-are particularly relevant in explaining stress among students.

2. Students ‘learn’ power-dominant human relationships from the teacher-student relationship, where teachers hold legitimate power to control students, which is often used to put them down. Teachers’ legitimate power is often in conflict with the illegitimate power held by some students. The more overt the conflict, the more violent the school climate becomes. Regardless of who it is that holds real power, power-dominant human relationships persist in school. In this environment, students learn to be generally submissive to those who hold power, but be oppressive to those who are socially weaker than themselves.

3. Through the behaviour/classroom management applied at school, which emphasises conformity and group cohesion, students ‘learn’ to be less tolerant of individual differences, to diminish individuality as much as possible, and to be close to one another to the extent that they manipulate the mind/heart of each other.

4. Through the organisation of space and time in school, the classroom in Japan has become a ‘pressure-cooker’, where all the three factors already mentioned fuse to create ‘bullying energy’. In this cage-like environment, students are forced to relate to one another intensely without being able to keep a comfortable distance from each other.

The literature suggests, in other words, that almost all key aspects of school (i.e. learning, teacher-student relationship, behaviour/classroom management practice, and the spacial and time organisation of school) are intricately connected to each other in such a way as to promote bullying behaviour. These key factors are closely reflected in the characteristics of bullying in Japanese schools discussed earlier, namely: (1) that bullying occurs primarily in classrooms; (2) that group dynamics play a central role in determining the nature (length, severity, and the number of students involved) of bullying; and (3) that bullying is a ‘normal’ behaviour of ‘non-problem’ students (as well as ‘problem students’), suggesting a structural problem therein. As far as Japanese schools are concerned, it is very likely that school factors play a pivotal role in explaining bullying behaviour among students.


This paper does not claim that observations made in Japan are readily applicable to an understanding of bullying elsewhere. Like other student-related issues, such as suicide and non-attendance at school, similarities in ‘problematic behaviour’ among students across different societies do not necessarily mean that the causes are the same (Chiland & Young, 1990). What we have attempted to do in this paper, using the Japanese case, is to illustrate that these factors can be the key to understand peer bullying. The degree of relevance of each factor depends on the society. The authors believe, however, that irrespective of the society under review, the Japanese case epitomises some fundamental aspects of conventional schools as they exist today. The question is not whether the Japanese case is relevant, but to what extent it is relevant, for the understanding of bullying in other societies.

Generally speaking, when compared with the broadly ‘Western’ liberal-democratic education system, schools in Japan conform to the authoritarian and teacher-centred paradigm of education. The Japanese system resembles the ‘traditional’ mode of education that has been referred to as ‘banking education’ (Freire, 1972) or ‘the jug and mug approach to education’ (Bowles & Gintis, 1976). This mode of education aims to train students to be submissive through study: to receive knowledge given by teachers uncritically; not to ask questions; not to contradict teachers; and, ultimately, not to think critically, but to listen and swallow what they are told (Yoneyama, 1999). A comparative study on students’ perceptions of secondary school in Japan and Australia found that teacher-student relationships are perceived by students to be more authoritarian, school regulations and discipline measures are more regimented and pervasive, and the content of study is more prescriptive and less student-centred in Japan than in Australia (Yoneyama, 1999). The most salient indicator of the teacher-student relationship, as well as the social awareness of human rights of children as a closely related issue, is the prevalence of corporal punishment and other forms of physical power exercised by teachers upon students. While corporal punishment is now abolished in many parts of the world, this can be used as the main parameter to assess the quality of the teacher-student relationship and its correlation with bullying among students.

Schools often generate pressure to conform to the prescribed behavioural norms through rules and regulations. The studies on bullying in Japan suggest that pressure to conform and group management are areas that need to be carelidly assessed in relation to counter-bullying measures. If the class or school is full of aggressive energy that leads to bullying, there is a limit as to how much one can involve students in counter measures. In such a school climate, it is possible that techniques such as peer counselling could make the class/school an even more closed space for students (Naito, 2001; Naito et al., 2002). In such an environment, the solution to peer bullying will have to involve changing the school climate itself.

On the other hand, if the social climate of a particular school is seen to have a buffering effect on peer bullying, and the bullying is caused by other factors, methods such as anti-bullying education and peer counselling may be effective. Peer counselling will be particularly effective when only one bully is involved. In the case of collective bullying, however, peer counselling runs the risk of worsening the situation. It seems vitally important that the first step is to assess the school chate. Is it sufficiently democratic and fair for students to handle bullying problems? Is it necessary to review student-teacher relations as well as peer relations in order to redress the problem?

The more closely associated school factors of peer victimisation are with the educational paradigm of a particular society, the more inevitable it will be that the counter- bullying measures will involve fundamental changes of the school itself. If the problem is structural, so must be the solution. The review of the literature on peer victimisation in Japan suggests the following as strategies to prevent and reduce student-to-student bullying at schools.

1. The identification of the cause of school-related stress among students, or more precisely ‘distress’ (bad stress) as against ‘eustress’ (good stress that can be perceived as challenge). Structural sources of stress should be eliminated as much as possible.

2. The introduction of a learner-centred approach to education as much as possible, in terms of pedagogy, curriculum (e.g. module-based curriculum) and assessment.

3. The improvement of teacherstudent relationships. Most importantly, teachers should try to listen to students as much as they can as the basis for mutual trust and respect.

4.Learning by both teachers and student about harassment and discrimination; not only their moral implications, but also about legal and administrative procedures concerned.

5. The design of the physical environment of school so that it is a comfortable and pleasant place to be both for teachers and students; in particular, the abolition of the ‘homeroom system’ that confines the same group of students to a particular class­room.


The examination of peer bullying inJapanese schools suggests that it is necessary to focus more specifically on school factors as potential causes of peer bullying. The similarity in the phenomena of bullying across Werent societies does not necessarily mean that the explanation applicable in one society is readily applicable to another. The reason why one student bullies another may be attributed entirely to hidher personality or circumstances that have little to do with the broader social context. However, it would be safe to assume that conventional (as against alternative) schools in different societies share, to varying degrees, some fundamental principles as social institutions. In this paper, theJapanese school is seen as a case where the institutional features of schools are present in a most concentrated form-including hierarchical and authoritarian human relationships, alienating modes of learning, high levels of regimentation, and dehumanising methods of discipline. It is also seen as a social institution whereby individuals are compelled to relate to each other in a group without being able to keep comfortable distance from each other. Although the situation in Japanese schools may appear extreme, it allows us to think about student bullying with a clearer focus on the school environment as a primary causal factor.

If student bullying, at least in part, reflects a structural problem, then instead of focusing on ‘problem students’ and ‘problem behaviour’, it becomes necessary to examine the social structure of school itself. Instead of trylng to change the individual students concerned, it becomes necessary to change the school, or more fundamentally, the educational paradigm that formulates student-teacher relationships, the nature of learning, and the manner of keeping necessary order. Changing schools will not eliminate all the bullying among students (which may derive from factors other than school), but it has the potential to turn schools into places where pupils and students learn an alternative mode of human relations where individuals relate with each other freely without being dominated by power. Schools can be places where students learn to ‘de-code’ all the other factors that promote bullying outside the school context, instead of being places where power-dominant human relations are ‘re-learned’ and reproduced.

Correspondence: Dr Shoko Yoneyama, Centre for Asian Studies, Adelaide University, South
Australia 5005, Australia. E-mail:

[l] In this article, the word ‘student’ will be used to mean ‘school student’ even though ‘pupil’ might be a more commonly used word in some countries like the UK.
[2] Since both Norwegian and Australian data refer only to frequent bullying, this figure (i.c. 8%) would probably be the dosest comparative data currently available. Although the study by Morita et al. (1999b) satisfies two categories of the definition of bullying by Olweus (i.. ‘aggressive behavior or intentional “harm doing”’ and ‘animbalance of power’), it is based on less stringent definition with respect to frequency. That is, while the definition by Olweus demands the incident to occur ‘repeatedly and over time’, the study by Morita et ul. indude cases that happened ‘once or twice’ during the last term.
[3] Socks with a tidy decoration, which are different from the prescribed, plain socks.

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