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.

Feb 01
Militants believed to be with Islamic State have posted an online video that appears to show the killing of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto. (NHK)
Feb 01
Through "tears of sadness," Kenji Goto's mother urged people to respect his wishes for peace hours after a video posted online Feb. 1 apparently showed her son being killed by an Islamic State militant. (Asahi)
Feb 01
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. <7011> and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, successfully launched a backup information gathering radar satellite on an H-2A rocket on Sunday. (Jiji Press)
Feb 01
Officials at Japan's Meteorological Agency are warning that a snowstorm could be heading for the eastern coast of Hokkaido as a low pressure system developing off the coast lashes the region with powerful winds. (NHK)
Jan 31
The Aichi Prefectural Police said Friday that the 19-year-old Nagoya University student who has admitted killing a 77-year-old woman last month apparently used her cellphone to take pictures of the victim's corpse. (Japan Times)
Feb 01
Police in Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture, have arrested a 32-year-old woman for abusing her 10-year-old son by using a hot lighter to burn his buttocks and other parts of his body. (Japan Today)
Jan 31
Snow blankets houses in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward on Friday morning. (The Japan News)
Jan 31
Manga giant Katsuhiro Otomo won the Grand Prix Award at the prestigious Angouleme International Comics Festival on Jan. 29, marking the first time that a Japanese creator took the event's top honor. (Asahi)
Jan 31
Police in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, have arrested seven 17-year-old youths over the attack on five other youngsters who had been riding bikes and listening to music last October. (Japan Today)
Jan 31
A Japanese woman who was helping a Fuji TV crew covering the Japanese hostage situation was killed in a traffic accident near the Turkey-Syria border on Thursday. (Japan Today)
Jan 30
Police in Higashi-Osaka said Friday that a 44-year-old woman attacked a group of elementary school boys walking home from school, injuring some of them. (Japan Today)
Jan 30
Police in Saitama Prefecture said Thursday they have arrested 11 people who, as part of an organized scam group, call up individuals claiming that they had missed a payment for using a website that is actually free to use. (Japan Today)
Jan 30
Despite being centuries-old, the core traditions of Setsubun can seem as silly as its common English rendering, The Bean-Throwing Festival. (rocketnews24.com)
Jan 29
A Nagoya University student who says she killed an elderly woman found dead in the 19-year-old's apartment has also admitted poisoning a former high school classmate, investigative sources said Thursday. (Japan Times)
Jan 29
Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Thursday searched a Yamaguchi-gumi headquarters in Chuo Ward for the alleged sale of drugs to musician Aska, reports TBS News (Jan. 29). (Tokyo Reporter)