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 24
A seafood importer in western Japan is recalling frozen fish from Vietnam after finding that packages of the product contained rat poison. (NHK)
Jul 24
Diplomatic records declassified on Thursday indicate that the Foreign Ministry concluded in 1971 that no passport would be needed for the Emperor should he decide to go abroad. (Japan Times)
Jul 24
Colorfully decorated floats have paraded through the streets of Japan's ancient capital Kyoto in the climax of the monthlong Gion Festival. (NHK)
Jul 24
The Supreme Court overturned on Thursday an earlier lower court ruling by lay judges in Japan that sentenced parents accused of abusing and killing their daughter in 2010 to a harsher punishment than demanded by prosecutors. (Kyodo)
Jul 24
The Japan Football Association on Thursday officially named Mexican Javier Aguirre as Japan's new national team manager. (Japan Times)
Jul 24
Police in Komaki, Aichi Prefecture, have arrested a 65-year-old truck driver over the hit-and-run death of an 83-year-old woman who was dragged for nearly 400 meters. (Japan Today)
Jul 24
Police in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, have arrested a 58-year-old man on suspicion of murder after his flatmate was found dead. (Japan Today)
Jul 24
Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Wednesday announced the bust of a business in the Ikebukuro district of Toshima Ward that sold illegal pornographic DVDs, reports TBS News (July 23). (Tokyo Reporter)
Jul 23
Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Wednesday visited a temporary shopping center, opened after the March 2011 disaster, in the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (Jiji Press)
Jul 23
A 22-year-old man pleaded guilty Tuesday to stabbing his former girlfriend to death last October in a high-profile stalking-murder case in Mitaka, west Tokyo. (Japan Times)
Jul 23
Kasumi Tochinai, a female acquaintance of troubled musician Aska, entered an innocent plea on drug charges at the Tokyo District Court on Monday, reports Nikkan Sports (July 23). (Tokyo Reporter)
Jul 23
Police in Okinawa on Tuesday arrested a 40-year-old woman after her 5-month-old son died in her car while she played pachinko. (Japan Today)
Jul 23
A group of residents from a village near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is planning to file for state arbitration so all villagers can be entitled to equal damages regardless of radiation levels of their areas. (NHK)
Jul 23
Inventor and performance artist Showta Mori has been getting a taste of internet fame recently for his videos featuring his quick-draw, arm-mounted iPhone sleeve gun, but that's far from his only creation or even his weirdest creation. (rocketnews24.com)
Jul 23
Earlier this year, a number of news outlets covered last year's launch of a Web site for the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest organized crime group. (Tokyo Reporter)