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.

Jul 03
A plane powered by the sun's rays landed in Hawaii Friday after a record-breaking five-day journey across the Pacific Ocean from Japan. (AP)
Jul 03
Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako have arrived in the South Pacific nation of Tonga to attend the coronation of King Tupou VI. (NHK)
Jul 03
Tokyo labor regulators sent their investigation papers on footwear retailer ABC-Mart Inc. <2670> to prosecutors on Thursday, accusing the company of having forced employees to work illegally long overtime hours. (Jiji Press)
Jul 02
Reigning champions Japan will meet the United States in the Women's World Cup final for the second tournament in a row after a 2-1 defeat of England on Wednesday, victory coming after a cruel and unlucky injury-time own goal from Laura Bassett. (Kyodo)
Jul 02
The nation's population stood at 126,163,576 as of Jan. 1 this year, down 271,058, or 0.21 percent, from a year before, marking the steepest fall ever, a government survey said Wednesday. (The Japan News)
Jul 04
The body of a decapitated cat was found in the bicycle parking lot of an apartment building in Tokyo's Itabashi Ward on Thursday, police said. (Japan Today)
Jul 04
Police in Yamanashi Prefecture said Friday that a 41-year-old man arrested on a charge of abandoning the body of a woman in her 20s in a forest, met the woman through a suicide website. (Japan Today)
Jul 04
The 71-year-old man who set himself on fire on a Tokaido Shinkansen train on Tuesday told his sister he might kill himself during a phone conversation about 10 days before the incident, The Yomiuri Shimbun was told by the sister. (The Japan News)
Jul 04
Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Friday announced the raid of a pachinko parlor operating illegally in Bunkyo Ward, reports Nippon News Network (July 3) . (Tokyo Reporter)
Jul 04
Pop star Hikaru Utada said on her official website Friday that she just gave birth to a baby boy. (Japan Times)
Jul 03
Ibaraki Prefectural Police on Thursday announced the bust of a marijuana cultivation operation in Tsukubamirai City, reports the Ibaraki Shimbun (July 3). (Tokyo Reporter)
Jul 03
Police in Kanagawa Prefecture have arrested a 23-year-old man on suspicion of stealing a bag belonging to the director-general of the Civil Aviation Bureau, while he was on a train last month. The bag contained a tablet computer which contained confidential information as well as a contact list for emergencies. (Japan Today)
Jul 02
A 71-year-old man who set himself on fire on a shinkansen bullet train Tuesday had repeatedly complained that the pension he received was not enough to live on, one of his neighbors said Wednesday. (Kyodo)
Jul 01
Shortly after a Shinkansen left Tokyo bound for Osaka at 11 a.m. on June 30, a passenger in the train's No. 1 car became suspicious about a man who was behaving erratically. (Asahi)
Jul 01
Each year, the four-day Mitama Matsuri, a festival held on the grounds of the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, attracts approximately 300,000 revelers. (Tokyo Reporter)