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The Problem of Tōkōkyohi in Japanese Middle Schools Essay

Introduction Tokokyohi (???? ) has become an increasingly prominent issue in Japan since the 1980s. Official figures showed that there were 84,026, or 1. 9% of Japanese middle school students suffering from tokokyohi in 1997 . However, tokokyohi, which is classified as form of “school non-attendance”, does not appear to be a problem that is unique to Japan. A similar form of “school non-attendance” affects less than 1% of the student population in Britain, which has the situation under control .

In contrast, tokokyohi appears to be more problematic than the Japanese government wishes to acknowledge. Official Japanese figures appear to be artificially deflated as they do not account for tokokyohi sufferers who have special schooling arrangements . Moreover, among the 5,193 middle school students surveyed in 1988, almost two-thirds of them felt jaded about school but compelled themselves to continue schooling . This suggests that tokokyohi is a deep-seated problem in Japan as most middle school students have to confront the emotions that result in tokokyohi for some of their peers.

It is important to distinguish tokokyohi from other forms of “school non-attendance” such as school absence due to truancy as well as medical and economic reasons. In contrast to students who shun school due to poor physical health or financial constraints, tokokyohi occurs when an irrational fear of schooling compels students to miss school for more than 29 days with their parents’ cognisance . This sets tokokyohi apart from truancy, where students deliberately avoid school without their parents’ knowledge to partake in frivolous activities with others .

Unlike truants, students suffering from tokokyohi remain confined to their homes and are not characterised by misconduct . This paper will focus on tokokyohi in Japanese middle schools (students aged 13 – 15 years old). There are numerous reasons for tokokyohi ranging from societal problems to individual psychological difficulties. We will focus on three modern Japanese societal problems which lead to tokokyohi: children who are excessively dependent on their parents, shame society and educational mother.

However, the unique structure of Japanese society must be taken into consideration in order to understand the severity of tokokyohi in Japan. Hence this paper will explore the link between these three modern Japanese societal problems and traditional Japanese values and mind-sets. This link emphasizes the continued importance of these traditional values and mind-sets in the modern Japanese society and how these values and mind-sets affect societal attitudes towards education, eventually leading to tokokyohi in middle schools. Over-Dependent Children

About 50% of mothers whose children are in Japanese middle schools are full-time homemakers . Mothers’ domestic roles have become increasingly prominent after World War Two, motivating housewives to excel in these roles . This motivation drives them to emulate the role model of ryosai kenbo. Ryosai kenbo portrays an idealised virtuous woman who can handle household chores and nurture children well . To guarantee future success, mothers attempt to provide their children with excellent up-bringing and monitor their children’s behaviour closely to ensure proper learning.

The reduced size of the modern Japanese family also implies that mothers can devote more energy to monitoring their children, resulting in more intimate mother-child relationships . Such intimacy drives parents to shield their children from adversity . The shielding results in children who are incapable of autonomous decision-making, eventually developing into an over-dependence on their parents . Over-protective parents also worsen their children’s dependency on them when they accede to both legitimate and illegitimate demands from their children.

Some children exploit this by engaging in amae. Amae (?? ) describes the actions of one who tries to influence another to care for him/her unknowingly . However, these parents do not stop this behaviour as indulging their children’s demands is seen as an expression of maternal love . This gradually emboldens the child as they know that their parents will yield to their demands, including tokokyohi. Having always been cared for meticulously, these children begin to display signs of tension and fear when away from their parents , especially in new and unfamiliar environments such as schools.

These children experience difficulty being away from their parents for long hours when they attend school. Their tendency to maintain close physical proximity to their parents results in little personal time and few opportunities to socialise. Thus these children become socially inapt as they lack the requisite skills for interacting amicably with their playmates . This social awkwardness heightens their feelings of tension and fear when separated from their parents in a school setting. As a result, these children are more likely to develop a fear of schooling.

Moreover, the hectic curriculum in Japanese middle schools exerts more pressure on middle school students as compared to elementary school students. This is because Japanese middle school students have to undergo demanding high school entrance examinations . The additional stress may leave these children incapable of managing negative emotions due to routine separations from their parents . These children would eventually resort to tokokyohi in order to escape this situation. Kyoiku Mama, ???? (Educational Mother) In Japan, men are often assumed to be breadwinners while women are expected to stay home to tend to housework and childcare .

Fathers, being the breadwinner, spend long hours on business entertainment , which is emphasised by Japan’s business industry . This forces them to be away from home frequently, giving rise to ‘fatherless families’ . Thus mothers assume a central role in the family , taking charge of the children’s welfare and education. However, the competitive Japanese education system means that children find it harder to succeed. This gives mothers an added sense of responsibility in guiding their children towards educational success. This gives rise to kyoiku mamas (???? ), loosely translated into ‘education-mamas’ .

Kyoiku mamas are known for their borderline neurotic behaviour of controlling every facet of their children’s lives so as to outdo their peers academically . Kyoiku mamas strive to send their children to elite schools with the highest rate of future admission into prestigious universities . Some kyoiku mamas may opt to work in order to afford cram schools (juku, ? ) for their children . They endeavour to provide the best home study environment for the children. This includes bringing their children refreshments when they study overnight to researching on subjects that their children struggle with to coach them .

Modern “kyoiku mamas” may even seek professional help in guiding their children as they lack confidence in child-raising . Her ultimate achievement would be for her child to enrol into the prestigious Tokyo University as this would ensure a bright future for her child . The mothers’ desire for their child to succeed is mainly due to the gender roles in Japan and is supported by the change in power structure in the family. In the Japanese society, women are denied career advancement opportunities due to gender discrimination, preventing them from achieving any career aspirations that they might have had .

Hence, a kyoiku mama thrusts all her ambitions upon her children to achieve what she could not . However this is only possible due to the change from a patriarchal to a matriarchal family. As the fathers are frequently absent, mothers gain a larger authority in the family . They also suffer from loneliness and anxiety due to the lack of attention from their husbands . Thus mothers are then able to put all their energy into nurturing their child as an outlet of their pent-up loneliness, anxiety, and an extension of their ambitions. As discussed above, kyoiku mamas closely monitor their child’s life.

However this tight control may be detrimental to the child’s psychological well-being. In a stressful environment where every action must benefit their studies, these children may develop a fear of school and studying . Clinical psychologists have observed that most tokokyohi sufferers came from ‘fatherless families’ . The determination of kyoiku mamas for their children to succeed may cause the children to reject the competitive Japanese education system, causing tokokyohi . Shame Society In Japan, an individual’s actions are governed by the need to avoid shame on

oneself and the group that one belongs to. The Japanese society operates on a system of shame, where shame arises when one suffers a loss of dignity and respect . This sets Japanese society apart from Western societies that operate on a system of guilt. Guilt deters Western individuals from acting inappropriately in an autonomous environment . In Japan, failure to meet a personal goal or expectation of others results in self-reproach and disapproval from others, leading to shame. Japanese citizens are compelled to conform to socially acceptable conducts and norms to avoid shame .

Therefore being unique or individualistic is greatly frowned upon. The Japanese do not view conformity as an inability to assert autonomy . Conformity indicates that one possesses the will to sacrifice for the greater good of the group . This self-glorification also motivates them to conform. In the Japanese society, a shameful act by individuals implicates the entire unit they belong to, including the school and family . This stresses the children since failure puts their families’ reputation and honour at stake. Poor results would reflect badly on the children’s academic ability.

This would be attributed to parental failure in instilling appropriate work ethic. Fear of implicating their families through their academic incompetence might result in tokokyohi. Tokokyohi would conceal the children’s shortcomings since they avoid school activities and tests, hence preventing their families from being shamed. The demands of the society also force the individual to conform. Japanese are made to participate in activities that promote unity from young . They are inculcated with the idea that every individual should do their best to contribute economically.

Paper qualification is needed to secure stable employment . This makes academic excellence a prerequisite for stable employment. Individuals who fail to achieve academic excellence will believe that they have failed to meet the lofty standards set by the society. This failure exacerbates the shame caused by their academic incompetence. To avoid this shame, children who are unable or unwilling to excel academically could resort to tokokyohi. Social status, which is highly regarded by families in Japan, is boosted when the children enrol into a competitive school .

Many families strive to send their children into such a school. However, the competitive school environment would present the children with stressful social situations as they would be constantly judged by their peers and teachers . The children must always be at their best behaviour and will fret over the implications of their every word and action in order to be viewed positively. These children will be reluctant to attend school in order to avoid such situations, eventually developing school phobia, which contributes to tokokyohi. Traditional Basis: Shame.

Shame as a means of social control can be traced to traditional values and mind-sets in Japan. These traditional values and mind-sets include the emphasis on group harmony and the notion that humans are fundamentally good. Shame is used to reinforce conformity among the Japanese. The need for conformity can be linked to the group mentality that is prevalent in Japan. This group mentality refers to the individuals’ focus on their role within the group . They learn to appreciate the importance of others and their reliance on one another .

This appreciation starts within the family and eventually expands to the school and workplace . In order to ensure that the group functions effectively, Japanese society emphasises group harmony over individualism . The group’s interests are prioritised over those of its constituent members, giving rise to conformism. This emphasis is also reflected in the idea of honne and tatemae, which refers to the individual’s inner feelings and the appropriate social behaviour respectively . Honne is only expressed privately while tatemae is applied to interactions with strangers, colleagues and superiors .

This conscious effort to avoid publicly expressing innermost emotions that might discomfort or shame others can be seen as conforming to social norms. This also shows how group harmony takes precedence over individualism. The emphasis on group harmony can also be seen in how shame lessens tension between the members of the Japanese society. The use of shame as social control makes the Japanese more empathetic to the shame felt by others . This empathy restrains individuals from displaying their greater abilities, thus reducing feelings of inferiority that might be felt by less able individuals in the group .

Such a willingness to conceal their abilities also contributes to group harmony as less able individuals will not feel ostracised or intimidated by their more capable counterparts. Such restraint can also be attributed to the idea that flaunting one’s ability diminishes its worth . The influence of this idea on 15th century Kado art underscores its roots in Japanese tradition. The use of shame as social control is also derived from the Japanese idea that human nature is fundamentally good. This idea can be traced to traditional Confucian teachings in Japan . Shame seeks to appeal to this good and encourage conformity .

As humans are fundamentally good, the Japanese believe that there is no need to threaten humans with individual penalties. Instead, they seek to use shame to remind themselves to stay true to their good nature. Shame is thus used as a guiding light as opposed to guilt, which is used as a deterrent. In contrast, the traditional Western belief that humans are fundamentally evil results in the use of guilt and the threat of penalties in Western societies to deter any potentially harmful acts . This accounts for different forms of social control between the West and Japan.

Traditional Basis: Kyoiku Mamas and Over-Protective Mothers Kyoiku mamas and over-protective mothers can be traced from the oppression of women in Meiji Japan. Meiji Japan was a patriarchal society where women could only strive to become ryosai kenbos . Japanese women were only allowed into noble families to bear and rear children . These women, who were struggling to find their place and status in families, would put all their energy into nurturing their children . Both kyoiku mamas and over-protective mothers are modern manifestations of this oppression of women.

For kyoiku mamas, the ideology of “good wife wise mother” still weighs strongly on them. Women are expected to juggle household chores and their children’s education even if they hold full-time jobs. A woman who allows others to care for her children would be looked down upon as not sufficing in her job as a mother . The Japanese believe that mothers should be blamed for bringing up unsuccessful children rather than the children shouldering the blame themselves for their lack of success . Mothers, who are burdened by such extreme responsibility, will push the children to and beyond their limits.

To these mothers, only by successfully nurturing their children can they achieve the ideals of “good wife wise mother”. This gives rise to kyoiku mamas. Over-protective mothers strive to encourage their children to excel due to the mothers’ obligation to nurture them well, increasing interaction between mothers and children. This greater interaction would foster a closer mother-child relationship. The resultant strong maternal love might drive mothers to shield their children excessively from adversity. This shielding would cause children to become over-dependent on their mothers.

Thus, the ryosai kenbo role model, which can be traced to the Meiji period, can result in over-protective mothers and over-dependent children. The pervasive ideology of the roles and responsibilities of Japanese women, together with the need to achieve it, leads to kyoiku mamas and over-protective mothers, which in turn contribute to the situation of tokokyohi in Japan. Traditional Basis: Amae Amae, which perpetuates the relationship between over-dependent children and their mothers, can also be traced back to traditional Japanese mind-set.

Traditionally, the nation of Japan has been viewed as a giant family unit with the Emperor at the core . A common reverence for the Emperor unifies the numerous disparate Japanese families into a giant family unit . The Emperor enjoyed an exalted status despite his ceremonial position and reliance on officials to handle state affairs . Officials are expected to comply with the Emperor’s subtle demands in a dynamic relationship that embodies the concept of amae . Such reverence can be traced back to before the Tokugawa period [1603-1868 CE] and continues even today .

This reverence drives Japanese families to emulate the relationship between the Emperor and his officials . With the child being important in the family as discussed earlier, the family’s emulation of this relationship results in the child assuming a position in the family that is similar to that of the Emperor in Japan. This allows the child to engage in amae, which facilitates the child’s over-dependence on the mother and contributes to paternal approval for demands such as tokokyohi. Thus amae can be seen to be rooted in the traditional Japanese reverence for the Emperor, and continues to be present in modern day families.

Conclusion In our paper, we have shown that although Kyoiku Mamas, shame society and over-dependent children are some of the direct causes of Tokokyohi, the foundations of these factors can be traced to traditional Japanese values and mind-sets such as reverence for the Emperor, ryosai kenbo and Confucianism. These traditional values and mind-sets, which were prominent in the past, continue to hold great importance today. This is evident in how these traditional values and mind-sets continue to influence modern Japanese education.

The continued importance of these values and mind-sets also show that tokokyohi is a complex problem that is rooted in the foundations of Japanese society. The severity and complexity of Tokokyohi also means that the Japanese government must play a bigger role in tackling this issue. Future research could explore why the Japanese government appears reluctant to acknowledge the scale of this problem and assess the viability of solutions that focus on advising the families of these tokokyohi sufferers. ? Bibliography Allen, Eileen K. , Glynnis . E. Cowdery, and Jennifer M. Johnson.

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