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.

Mar 31
Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, became on Tuesday the nation's first municipality to adopt an ordinance allowing it to issue certificates recognizing same-sex relationships as being "equivalent to marriage." (Japan Times)
Mar 31
In the wake of the suspicious crash of a Germanwings jet, the transport ministry is moving quickly to require all Japanese airlines to have two crew members in the cockpit at all times during flights. (Asahi)
Mar 31
Yahoo Japan has unveiled new rules for removing certain personal information that appears in its search results upon request. The privacy policy includes information that could pose a risk to a person's life. (NHK)
Mar 31
The Japanese government said Monday it will send up to 142,600 personnel in emergency teams within 72 hours to 10 prefectures that are expected to suffer tremendous damage in the event of a major earthquake at the Nankai Trough off Japan's Pacific coast. (Jiji Press)
Mar 31
A third-party committee investigating the deaths of 11 patients who received laparoscopic surgery at the Chiba Cancer Center said Monday that at least seven patients received treatment without prior ethical screening despite the extremely difficult nature of the operations, which were not covered by public health insurance. (The Japan News)
Mar 31
An appealingly playful polar bear has become a major attraction at a zoo in Kushiro, Hokkaido, where onlookers delight in seeing the animal rear up on her hind legs. (Japan Times)
Mar 31
An elementary school teacher in Hyuga, Miyazaki Prefecture, has been arrested after it was discovered that he had lied to a newspaper reporter regarding the presence of a foreign substance in a rice ball ("onigiri") lunch that he purchased at a convenience store. (Japan Today)
Mar 31
Police in Fukuoka said Monday they have arrested an assistant professor at Fukuoka University for trying to kill his wife. (Japan Today)
Mar 30
In the first application in Tokyo of a law that seeks to restrict the distribution of sexually explicit content for revenge purposes, police on Friday announced the arrest of a 50-year-old male for releasing illicit images of his former girlfriend, reports the Sankei Shimbun (March 27). (Tokyo Reporter)
Mar 30
In October of last year, weekly tabloid Shukan Jitsuwa reported on the recent increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Osaka's Tobita Shinchi red-light district. (Tokyo Reporter)
Mar 29
Police in Chofu, Tokyo, said Sunday they have arrested an unemployed 43-year-old man on suspicion of fatally stabbing a 63-year-old woman as she walked home on Saturday night. (Japan Today)
Mar 29
Crown Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik's three-day tour of Japan came to an end on Saturday and the couple were bid farewell by the Emperor and Empress of Japan. (hellomagazine.com)
Mar 29
One man died and another was rescued after a workboat capsized at sea off Hakodate, Hokkaido, on Friday. (The Japan News)
Mar 29
The first two volumes of the annals of the late Japanese Emperor Hirohito hit the shelves of bookstores across Japan Friday. (Jiji Press)
Mar 28
One in 10 adult women in Japan has experience of becoming a stalking victim and 30 pct of such women felt that their lives were in danger, a Cabinet Office survey suggested Friday. (Jiji Press)