Social Problems


        Traditionally, Japanese culture is organized around groups. Adults view children that have problems with group behavior and interpersonal relationships as the deviant ones. Adults most highly value social cooperativeness in children because they hold this trait to be more important than individual interests. The "bad" children are those who reject the life of the group in favor of an egocentric, individualistic existence. Little emphasis is placed on teaching children to think of themselves as individuals within society. Japanese children that are extremely group oriented may have acquired those values of obedience and conformity at the price of autonomy and social understanding.

        This is an even bigger problem when combined with modern Japanese parents' obsession with creating an academically superior child. The good child is considered to be the one who can respond to adult expectations and excel in school by receiving high grades. This has caused extreme competitiveness among Japanese students. This competitiveness, and the conflicting expectations for modern children to be the best in school but also serve the traditional purposes of the group, confuses children and causes frustration. This contributes to other social problems such as bullying and truancy.


        The elementary school system in Japan had enjoyed a long history of success until recently. There has been a breakdown of discipline in classrooms that is referred to as Gakkyu hokai, or class disintegration. Teachers are unable to control their classrooms and chaos often erupts. Researchers argue that the traditional teaching methods of elementary school are too inflexible and that lessons have become too boring for today's Japanese youth. The strict rules and regulations that are in place stifle children's opportunities to construct their own standards of appropriate behavior. Elementary school life is controlled to the smallest detail. Also, class size may be too large for one teacher to both educate and teach social values. Educators have suggested that schools must not only hire more teachers and reduce class size, but also rethink the system of forcing scheduled lessons on children, and instead explore more interesting teaching methods. For more on recent educational reform, go to the Elementary School page .


         Bullying is a problem that has become more prominent among Japanese children. It first became important in Japanese society when it became the supposed cause of a rash of suicides among school-aged children in the mid-1980s. Bullying is referred to as ijime. Recently, bullying has manifested itself in the form of exclusion. Children band together to ostracize a particular student, thereby solidifying the group and at the same time asserting their superiority. Researcher David Crystal says "in closed social systems such as that of Japanese schools and Japanese companies, the dynamic of inclusion and exclusion generates fierce competition between group members to conform as closely as possible to the norms of the group" (pp. 251). The negative side of the relentless competition in schools is manifesting itself in the social problem of bullying.

        The competition in schools and the phenomenon of bullying both lead to another social problem, that of truancy. When children do not perform as well as they had hoped in school, they may feel that they have failed expectations. Japanese children then become easily frustrated perfectionists whose confidence is quickly broken when confronted with difficulty. These children may frequently "give up" on school and seclude themselves at home. Children that fear bullying may neglect their studies and refuse to go to class. Also, the numerous and inflexible rules and regulations in Japanese schools stifle student's freedom. Some children want to avoid this restrictive and competitive climate. Bullying and truancy remain two serious problems within Japanese society.

        The social problems of Japan seem to arise from a variety of sources. These include the demands of the Japanese elementary educational system, as well as the dynamics of Japanese family life. Japan is a highly developed country, and the social problems that it deals with are characteristic of this fact. There is much information available about generational problems and issues regarding education and schools. More traditional social problems, however, are not dealt with in many publications. Therefore, social problems such as poverty, hunger, etc., are not included.
Sources for this Page

Crystal, David S. 1994. "Concept of Deviance in Children and Adolescents: The Case of Japan." Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal 15:241-266.

Jiro, Saito. 1999. "Grownups Should Listen to the Kids." Japan Quarterly 46(April-June):83-88.

Shotaro, Takahashi. 1999. "Chaos in Elementary Classrooms." Japan Quarterly 46(April-June):78-82.

More Resources (pdf annotated bibliography)

The purpose of this site is to inform web users on the status and lifestyles of children in Japan. This site was designed by Joanna Boyle, Rachel Riezman, Hannah Wolod, and Ellen Vollmers as part of a collaborative web project for the first year writing seminar Children & Society at Tulane University taught by Professor April Brayfield.