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 02
NHK has learned that at least one-quarter of the people who died as a result of the earthquakes that hit Japan's southwest had gone home from temporary shelters before the second major tremor. (NHK)
May 02
The search on the ground for the last missing person in the series of powerful earthquakes that hit Kumamoto Prefecture recently was terminated on Sunday due to persistent fears of secondary disasters. (Jiji Press)
May 01
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida conveyed Tokyo's concerns over the situations in the East China Sea and the South China Sea to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, during their meeting in Beijing on Saturday. (Jiji Press)
Apr 30
In the latest development in the gambling scandal involving Yomiuri Giants players, the Metropolitan Police Department on Friday arrested restaurateur Satoshi Saito, 38, on suspicion of running gambling operations for the purpose of gain and former Giants pitcher Shoki Kasahara, 25, on suspicion of assisting the operations. (the-japan-news.com)
Apr 30
West Japan Railway Co. opened the nation's largest railway museum to the public in Kyoto on Friday. (the-japan-news.com)
May 01
Police in Chofu, Tokyo, have arrested a 47-year-old part-time worker on suspicion of assaulting a 13-year-old girl as she walked home in February. (Japan Today)
May 01
The Osaka District Public Prosecutor's Office has filed charges of drug trafficking against a 40-year-old woman who left a large quantity of illegal drugs inside a fast-food outlet, reports the Asahi Shimbun (April 30). (Tokyo Reporter)
May 01
An increasing number of people are using the "furusato nozei" hometown donation program to support Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, which has been hit hard by a recent series of strong earthquakes. (Jiji Press)
May 01
Kanagawa Prefectural Police are investigating what is believed to have been a murder-suicide in an apartment in Kawasaki City, reports the Sankei Shimbun (April 30). (Tokyo Reporter)
Apr 30
This year's spring decorations will recognize 4,024 Japanese and 90 foreigners for their achievements in business, culture and the arts, the government said Friday. (Japan Today)
Apr 29
Police in Chiba City have charged a 29-year-old man over the murder of a 41-year-old woman who was found dead in her apartment on April 4. (Japan Today)
Apr 28
Police in Denenchofu, Tokyo, have arrested a 41-year-old man on suspicion of violating the animal cruelty law after he killed at least 10 stray cats. (Japan Today)
Apr 28
Dignitaries and celebrities joined Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko for the annual spring party at the Akasaka Imperial Gardens in Tokyo on Wednesday. (NHK)
Apr 28
Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Tuesday raided the headquarters of a gang affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi over the alleged handling of illegal drugs, reports TV Asahi (April 27). (Tokyo Reporter)
Apr 27
A 28-year-old nursery school teacher who forced a 4-year-old boy to eat fried chicken covered with wasabi and recorded it on her smartphone, has received a suspended sentence from the Tokyo District Court. (Japan Today)