Ijime –Bullying in Japan | Sunday Observer

Ijime –Bullying in Japan

 Bullying, while an extremely sensitive subject in most nations, is a serious matter in Japan, where over 600 cases of bullying or ‘Ijime’ were reported in the past year which resulted in serious physical or psychological consequences, some of which even resulted in suicide. 

But though that may not seem like a lot on its own, it is common knowledge that the number of cases that go unreported are far greater. It isn’t only a school issue either, with harassment and bullying being a part of any community, like in the workplace. 

Japan is quite well known for its uniformity and conformity, it is their greatest strength that has let them triumph over great adversities. For example, recently with the coronavirus outbreak where all precautionary measures were accepted so well that quarantines weren’t even necessary. 

It is the source of their famous cooperativeness that leads them to support one another. However, this leads to an almost deplorable sense of otherness that is created when faced with anyone who stands out in any way. Should they be exceptionally outstanding or weak, both are equally vulnerable to be targeted. 


This is also why foreign or mixed raced students are almost certainly more vulnerable to this. Recently, Hana Kimura, an Indo-Japanese wrestler, tragically took her own life at 22 after a lifetime of being bullied as a result of her mixed ethnicity.  

Unfortunately, this aspect of Japanese bullying is also weaponised by the very authority that victims seek help from. Teachers have been known to single out targets of bullying and exacerbate things as most often than not, the ‘other’ usually would be the teachers themselves. To make things easier on themselves, by creating another ‘other’, the students would be with the teacher and as a result, the teacher would turn a blind eye to the bullying. 

The form of bullying in Japan is quite different from its western counterparts. While it is more physical in most parts of the world, usually in the form of violence, extortion and harassment, Japanese bullying has a tendency to use ostracism in addition to the more traditional forms of bullying. 

Silent treatment, ostracising, gossip and rumours, these methods may not seem too bad to people on the outside, but in Japan, a lot of value is placed in being a part of a peer group and they rely heavily on these relationships for security and happiness. 

This is why it is so difficult to even recognize if bullying even happens at all, as there is never any physical evidence. Very often it also results in creating hikikomori, or shut ins, students who can no longer stand  rejection by society and in turn lock themselves off from it entirely. 


In a group-oriented society such as Japan, the results also reflect that mindset. Should the victims blame themselves for the bullying, they will often times commit suicide or isolate themselves in order to no longer be the problem. Should they blame the bully, the victims will also extend that blame to all those involved, directly and indirectly, lashing out violently at everyone. 

Another reason this has become such a severe issue is because nobody wants to speak about it. The bully, the bullied or even the bystanders, because of the culture of stoicism, centuries in the making, will never speak out about the drastic issues plaguing them until it is too late. 

Schools themselves prioritize their reputation above recognizing a fatal flaw in their system, often denying the involvement of bullying when reporting a student’s suicide. Japan itself has difficulty admitting fault, as they half-heartedly attempt to make superficial changes to show that they are doing something but essentially helping only marginally. Even the media considers such topics as taboo and stories depicting bullying and suicide are often not only looked down on but actively suppressed.  

However, while it may be especially egregious in Japan, none of this is unique to it. Most countries, including our own, suffer from some aspects of this to varying degrees. Of course, as with everything, times are changing but in countries such as Japan, that is strangely obsessed with and at the same time almost violently resistant to change, it is difficult to see where things will go.