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.

Nov 29
Japan is suffering a serious butter shortage as the Christmas season approaches. The agriculture ministry has asked dairy product makers to provide ample supplies of butter for family use. (NHK)
Nov 29
Convenience store giant Seven-Eleven Japan will soon exempt foreign visitors from paying the consumption tax at certain locations. (Nikkei)
Nov 29
Thailand's parliament has voted to ban commercial surrogacy after outrage erupted over the unregulated industry following a series scandals including the case of an Australian couple accused of abandoning a baby with Down syndrome. (Japan Times)
Nov 29
Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun said Friday it will cut the pay of two reporters over the retraction of their articles on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, saying they erred in describing the tumultuous few days after the accident. (Kyodo)
Nov 28
In the mining town of Gällivare, located in the Swedish section of Lapland, contestants have gathered for the Santa Winter Games. (rocketnews24.com)
Nov 29
A master of shogi, or Japanese-style chess, has challenged a former world chess champion. (NHK)
Nov 28
Prince William will visit Japan and China early next year to promote British interests and his personal efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade, his office announced on Thursday. (Japan Today)
Nov 28
Rock musician Johnny Ohkura died of pneumonia at a hospital in Tokyo on Nov. 19, it was learned Thursday. He was 62. (The Japan News)
Nov 28
Police have arrested a 47-year-old man on arson and attempted murder charges after he attempted to set a hospital on fire in Hachioji, Tokyo, by throwing Molotov cocktails against walls inside the building. (Japan Today)
Nov 28
A man attacked his former girlfriend and her father with a hammer at their home in Osaka on Wednesday night. (Japan Today)
Nov 28
CNN journalist Paula Newton is waiting to try the world's best whisky at The Society bar at the Shiodome Park Hotel in Tokyo. Her verdict? "The drink was very good." (Japan Times)
Nov 27
Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Wednesday announced the arrest of a female sex worker for allegedly threatening to kill a celebrity doctor two months ago, reports Nippon News Network. (Tokyo Reporter)
Nov 27
UNESCO has decided to add the traditional techniques of crafting Japanese-style "washi" paper to its list of intangible cultural heritage. (NHK)
Nov 27
The Utsunomiya District Court in Tochigi Prefecture on Wednesday convicted two men over the illegal disposal of a body after they dumped the body of a young woman in a cardboard box near a quarry in Sano on Aug 4. (Japan Today)
Nov 27
Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Wednesday announced the bust of a prostitution ring that utilized social media services to recruit customers, reports Nippon News Network (Nov. 26). (Tokyo Reporter)