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.

May 31
North Korea fired a missile Tuesday but the launch appears to have failed, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. (Kyodo)
May 31
A Tokyo court sentenced former Japanese baseball star Kazuhiro Kiyohara on Tuesday to two years and six months in prison, suspended for four years, for possessing, using and purchasing illegal drugs. (Japan Today)
May 31
An estimated 15,000 people die annually in Japan from stroke, lung cancer or other diseases caused by passive smoking, according to a study by a health ministry research team. (Japan Times)
May 31
Okayama Prefectural Police are investigating a shooting incident outside an apartment in Okayama City that left an organized crime member dead, reports NHK (May 31). (Tokyo Reporter)
May 31
Japanese searchers scoured thick forest Monday, looking for a seven-year-old boy whose parents left him in mountain woods as a punishment, in a case that has infuriated the public. (Japan Today)
May 31
Kanagawa Prefectural Police have arrested a 43-year-old man who is alleged to have pushed his girlfriend into Yokohama Bay, reports TV Asahi (May 31). (Tokyo Reporter)
May 31
Defense Minister Gen Nakatani announced Monday that the Self-Defense Forces will be pulled out of Kumamoto Prefecture, 1½ months after the area was hit by strong earthquakes. (Japan Times)
May 30
Fukuoka Prefectural Police are investigating a 29-year-old female sex worker already in custody for attempted murder in a separate case in which an acquaintance fell to her death from a bridge, reports the Sankei Shimbun. (Tokyo Reporter)
May 30
The Japanese government said on Monday it was doing all it could to secure the release of a Japanese journalist being held hostage by an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, after an apparent photograph of the man was posted on the Internet. (Japan Today)
May 30
Five men died and another man remains in a coma after the station wagon they were traveling in plunged into a dam in Kawachinagano, Osaka Prefecture, on Sunday afternoon. (Japan Today)
May 30
A taxi company was penalized on Tuesday over one of its drivers refusing to pick up a man and his guide dog because it would've made the seats "dirty." (Tokyo Reporter)
May 29
Experts investigating a jet that caught fire at Tokyo's Haneda Airport say some engine turbines were severely damaged. (NHK)
May 27
Saitama Prefectural Police have arrested two organized crime members for operating a grow house for marijuana in Soka City, reports TV Asahi. (Tokyo Reporter)
May 26
Hanako, Japan's oldest elephant who made headlines for spending most of her life alone in a concrete enclosure, died at 69 in Tokyo on Tuesday, NHK (May 26) reported. (Tokyo Reporter)
May 26
A utility knife sitting on the floor near an intoxicated man's bag caused quite a stir in a Tokyo subway station, NHK reported on Thursday (May 26). (Tokyo Reporter)