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 05
The Japanese government has condemned the attack on the US ambassador in South Korea, calling it an unforgivable act. (NHK)
Mar 05
A total of 706 incidents linked to "dangerous," or quasi-legal, drugs were detected by police in Japan in 2014, up 5.6-fold from the preceding year, the National Police Agency said Thursday. (Jiji Press)
Mar 05
Ex-Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic has agreed to manage Japan, Japan Football Association President Kuniya Daini said Wednesday. (Kyodo)
Mar 05
A global framework for trademark registration will be changed to permit the use of Chinese and Japanese characters, making it easier to protect Japan's brands as its culture takes off in Asia and beyond. (Nikkei)
Mar 05
A report released Wednesday by the International Narcotics Control Board revealed that Mexican drug cartels have extended their reach to Japan, where methamphetamine seizures have doubled compared to the previous year. (UPI)
Mar 05
Two pedestrians were killed Thursday morning after a minivan crashed into a car at an intersection in Higashi-Osaka. (Japan Today)
Mar 05
While online smartphone games are all the rage, a new board game in designing a traditional Japanese-style rock garden is showing there is still a market for old-fashioned fun. (Asahi)
Mar 05
Japan's idol world is quite…expansive, for lack of a better word. Even with the wide variety of groups running around, it can be hard to really tell them apart-though we have to say there was no mistaking Osaka's Obachaaan for any other group. (rocketnews24.com)
Mar 04
Microsoft Corp. cofounder Paul Allen said on Twitter Tuesday the Imperial Japanese Navy's World War II battleship Musashi has been found at the bottom of the Sibuyan Sea off the central Philippines. (Jiji Press)
Mar 04
The world's oldest person says 117 years doesn't seem like such a long time. Misao Okawa, the daughter of a kimono maker, made the comment Wednesday, at a celebration a day before her 117th birthday. Appropriately, she was wearing a pink kimono decorated with cherry blossom prints. (nydailynews.com)
Mar 04
Police in Inagi, Tokyo, are questioning an unemployed 26-year-old man on suspicion of setting fire to at least 24 vending machines in the area this year. (Japan Today)
Mar 04
The Tokyo High Court rejected Wednesday an appeal filed by a former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult against a nine-year prison term handed down by a lower court for his involvement in three crimes. (Kyodo)
Mar 03
Japan Airlines flew a plane serviced entirely by women to mark the country's girls' day festival on Tuesday. (NHK)
Mar 03
Kiss, the veteran U.S. rock band famed for its makeup, elaborate costumes and wild stage performances, has adopted a new look to help revitalize a traditional Japanese art industry. (Asahi)
Mar 03
Osaka Prefectural Police on Friday announced the arrest of a late-shift taxi driver from Joto Ward for allegedly raping a number of intoxicated female passengers, reports the Asahi Shimbun. (Tokyo Reporter)