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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 23:02 GMT
Japan's deadly bullying problem
As part of the BBC's Generation Next season, Chris Hogg in Tokyo looks at the problem of bullying in Japanese schools, which has led to a spate of recent suicides.

Pupils at Sakura Higashi Junior High School in Tokyo
Schools in Japan are being urged to stem the problem of bullying

At Sakura Higashi Junior High School on the outskirts of Tokyo the face of a 15-year-old girl who killed herself after she was bullied fills the large screen on the stage in the school hall.

Every single pupil has been brought into the hall to hear from Kasumi Komori's mother.

As they are shown images from Kasumi Komori's life the children watch in silence.

Some of the girls are clearly upset. More so when Kasumi's mother stands up to address them.

"I am not here to lecture them," Midori Komori tells me later. "I hope I can just give them an opportunity to think about life."

Midori Komori travels around Japan trying to raise awareness of bullying and what can happen if it is ignored.

'Hard to spot'

One of the teachers, Masaharu Kurihara, explains that they have made sure every pupil is present because he says "bullying can happen any time, anywhere, to anyone".

That is a candid admission you will not get in every school in Japan.

Midori Komori
Every adult has to teach children not to do anything they don't want their friends to do to them
Midori Komori

But it is a difficult problem that most schools struggle to deal with.

Talking to me in the playground after the lecture the students complain that bullies are part of school life here in Japan.

Anna Takahashi is 15. "I think there's bullying everywhere," she says. "I think it is a difficult problem. It is hard to spot bullying or to know how much it is hurting someone."

Ryusuke Hikichi, 14, told me the talk had made him think that he really should not become involved in bullying. "It made me realise it really can hurt people."

And Kana Adachi, also 14, admitted she would not know what to do if she came across a bullying incident.

"I would want to stop the bullying or at least to try to listen if someone told me they were being bullied but I am not sure if I would be able to do much when faced with actual bullying," she said.

Anonymous letters

A string of recent suicides by schoolchildren has focused more attention on the problem.

Five killed themselves in four days in November. Bullying was blamed in just about every case.

Bullying is not a new problem in Japan. Bullied children had killed themselves in the past.

What was different this time was that for a week almost every day there was a new school suicide related to bullying.

Kasumi Komori
Kasumi Komori's mother hopes lessons are learnt from her death

It forced schools to ask themselves if they were doing enough to prevent it.

Anonymous letters that claimed to be from suicidal students were sent to the education ministry.

Were they cries for help or heartless hoaxes? Nobody knows. But it added to the feeling of unease in Japan.

For Midori Komori, the mother who lost her daughter when she committed suicide after being targeted by bullies, it is pretty obvious what needs to be done.

Everyone - teachers, parents and other adults - should work together to tackle the problem, she says.

"Every adult has to teach children not to do anything they don't want their friends to do to them. If we can teach our children that I think we will no longer see bullying in our society," she says.

As her talk comes to an end all the pupils in the school stand up to sing a song to her as one.

Mrs Komori is moved to tears.

Schools like this one say they are doing all they can to stamp out bullying. The talk was arranged long before the recent spate of high-profile student suicides.

But this is a country where conformity is prized. Those who do not fit in can find themselves stigmatised.

For a mother who knows the pain the bullies can inflict, the best hope is her words will give them something to think about.

Suicide of 'bullied' Japan pupils
13 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan schools warned on bullying
29 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan pupil in 'suicide warning'
07 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Japan
26 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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