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.

Oct 30
Police in Komae City, Tokyo, on Thursday questioned the owner of a beauty salon over the murder of the salon manager whose body was found on the premises. (Japan Today)
Oct 30
Tokyo prosecutors are searching the house of a former aide to Lower House member Yuko Obuchi over the recent political funds scandal. The scandal drove Obuchi from her post as Economy, Trade and Industry Minister. (NHK)
Oct 30
Japan's Crown Princess Masako attended a banquet for visiting Dutch royals on Wednesday in her first such appearance since developing a stress-related illness more than a decade ago. (abcnews.go.com)
Oct 30
Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said Wednesday he had a "nice meeting" with Chinese President Xi Jinping, less than two weeks ahead of a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders in Beijing where there is a window of opportunity for the two countries to thaw icy relations. (Kyodo)
Oct 29
Japan came in 104th in the World Economic Forum's gender equality rankings for 2014, up from 105th the previous year but still far behind other major industrialized nations, the Geneva-based group said Tuesday. (The Japan News)
Oct 30
Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Thursday announced the bust of a risque bar in Machida City for licensing violations, reports Jiji Press (Oct. 30). (Tokyo Reporter)
Oct 30
A 25-year-old man who works as a host at a club in Tokyo's Kabukicho district has been arrested for trying to extort 3 million yen from his girlfriend by threatening her. (Japan Today)
Oct 30
In spite of a recent fall in organized crime membership, Fukuoka Prefectural Police on Monday released a manga comic to discourage participation in yakuza gangs, reports the Nishi Nippon Shimbun (Oct. 27). (Tokyo Reporter)
Oct 29
Japan's Crown Princess Masako on Wednesday is attending a banquet at the Imperial Palace for the first time in 11 years. (NHK)
Oct 29
Three types of Japanese-style paper, or "washi," are to be added to UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage. (NHK)
Oct 28
Parts of Hokkaido experienced the first snowfall of the season on Tuesday morning. (Japan Today)
Oct 28
Japanese health authorities say a Canadian man who arrived in Tokyo from Liberia with symptoms of a fever has tested negative for the Ebola virus. (NHK)
Oct 28
Residents of Kesennuma now hold the distinction of creating the country's longest tuna roll. (abc7news.com)
Oct 28
Monday marks exactly one month since Japan experienced its deadliest volcanic eruption in decades. The eruption of Mount Ontake in the central part of the country killed 57 people. 6 others are still listed as missing. (NHK)
Oct 27
Four members of one family, including two young children, have died in a fire that broke out at a church in the central Ishikawa prefecture of Japan. (skynews.com.au)