Japan's bad education
Under the current education system, Japanese students devote most of their effort to memorizing facts needed to pass exams. Even kindergarten students sometimes go to afterschool cram schools to prepare for elementary school entrance exams.

They have little opportunity to think critically or develop their own ideas. Faced with crushing stress and monotony, students often act out. While outside observers tend to think of Japanese schools as academically successful, the Japanese themselves have long understood their educational system's shortcomings and tried to fix them-albeit unsuccessfully.

In the early '70s the Japan Teachers Union, alarmed by a surge in classroom violence, bullying, truancy and suicides, began to push a new system known as yutori, or breathing space. It aimed to reduce school-related stress by giving students the freedom to freely exercise their imagination, develop intellectual curiosity and grow into valuable talent.

That was a noble goal, but the result was quite the opposite. Many teachers demonized competition, suppressed individuality, punished intellectual rigor and encouraged mediocrity in the name of egalitarianism. At school sports events, students who could sprint faster had to stop and wait so that everyone could cross the finish line hand-in-hand. Textbooks were dumbed down-the mathematical constant pi was reduced to just "3"-and classes trudged at turtle pace, adjusting to slow learners.

In order for the yutori reform to succeed, teachers needed to establish an environment where students could freely ask questions, express their opinions and explore new ideas. But many teachers failed to do so because they did not know how to encourage individuality while avoiding favoritism. Their solution: force everyone to act the same.

Sep 03
Fourteen more people in Japan have been confirmed to have dengue fever, sending the total number of cases to 36 since the first domestic case was reported last week, the health ministry said Tuesday. (Jiji Press)
Sep 03
Roundabouts were introduced at 15 locations around Japan for the first time this week, but many motorists were confused. (Japan Today)
Sep 03
The Criminal Investigation Command of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force on Tuesday sent to prosecutors papers on an officer for alleged assault and property damage over the suicide of a crewman after the officer's suspected bullying. (Jiji Press)
Sep 02
The Japan ALS Association says the fundraising activity known as the Ice Bucket Challenge has resulted in over 250,000 dollars' worth of donations in Japan. (NHK)
Sep 02
Indian PM Narendra Modi and Japan's Shinzo Abe have agreed at a summit in Tokyo to accelerate talks on a nuclear energy pact. (BBC)
Sep 03
When the young Thai woman saw an online ad seeking surrogate mothers, it seemed like a life-altering deal: $10,000 to help a foreign couple that wanted a child but could not conceive. (Japan Times)
Sep 03
A worsening outbreak of dengue fever in Japan has claimed its first celebrities-two young models sent on assignment to the Tokyo park believed to be its source. (Japan Today)
Sep 03
Mariko Tsukamoto, a 38-year-old mother of two, who joined idol group AKB48 as an adult member in April, has "graduated" and says she is happy to go back to being a mother. (Japan Today)
Sep 02
The controversial six-month dolphin hunting season began on Monday in the infamous town of Taiji, but bad weather would delay any killing, a local official told AFP. (The Guardian)
Sep 02
Hokkaido Prefectural Police on Monday accused a restaurant in Chuo Ward of violating labor laws by attiring waitresses under the age of 18 in bikinis, reports the Hokkaido Shimbun (Sept. 2). (Tokyo Reporter)
Sep 02
The best thing about the World Air Guitar Championship - now in it's 19th year - is that it seems to thoroughly appreciate its own absurdity. (akihabaranews.com)
Sep 02
A 20-year-old man went on trial Monday for killing his mother and chopping her body into pieces. (Japan Today)
Sep 02
NHK has learned that sirens set up to alert residents against possible disasters were not used in key areas when massive rain hit Hiroshima City last month and triggered deadly mudslides. (NHK)
Sep 02
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office on Monday decided not to indict Torao Tokuda, former head of hospital group Tokushukai, over a high-profile election fraud case, because he is seriously ill. (The Japan News)
Sep 02
Police in Tamamura, Gunma Prefecture, said Monday they have arrested a 32-year-old woman over the death of her 3-year-old son. (Japan Today)