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Ijime: Barriers to Girls’ Access to Education in My Community

Girls in my community, a small town called Awa-shi, Tokushima in Japan, face challenges that are not obvious to many people from outside.

It is namely called iiime. It is not only girls’ affairs, but many boys also suffer. Ijime debilitates these children to voice their opinions for fear that someone will back fire at them. Ijime made these children to cry alone. Ijime made them not to go to school. Some children even drop out of the schools. Some children confined themselves inside their own rooms without talking things out with anyone, even with their own parents. Some children committed suicide because of Ijime. Ijime in Japan is a serious social problem. It happens everywhere in Japan. Ijime is unheard of in most developing countries. Not in advanced countries either. It seems like ijime phenomenon is only reserved in the context of Japanese social settings, even though opportunities to study is fully available. Many researchers and social workers, psychologists are puzzled, debated, trying to resolve it, but no practical solutions were raised in the past.

Ijime is a word to describe the situations where one child is targeted and bullied by a group of individuals. They are ignored, battered, abused, belittled, undervalued, despised, laughed at, and disliked not particularly for any logical reasons. The child who is targeted commits no crime or threatens no one, but may be different in appearance, different in behavior, backgrounds, abilities, ethnic groups, or life styles. The individual stands out. It is a type of peer pressure that goes against those who act and think differently from the rest. No one knows for sure who really started ijime. Some researchers commented that ijime is a form of scape-goatism that they take the individual in question to be held responsible for all the troubles and difficulties in life. It may be easier to see it when you compare western culture and Japanese culture. In western culture, individualistic opinions are encouraged and promoted, while in Japan, on the ground of collectivism, people habitually eliminate the individualistic opinions to conform to the vast majority in order to function the society in cooperative order.

Though, as a child, one would not know how to conform to the vast majority. Therefore, children, knowingly or unknowingly, perform ijime, to shape individuals to harmonize with others. Having said that, I, as a child, was no exception to the impact of ijime.
I refused to go to school when ijime happened to me. The impact of barrier, ijime, to education on me was the serious loss of interest in studying. I stopped going to school for three months. I hated studying simply because there were no friends in the class. No one dared to talk to or cheer me other than discouraged, ignored, talked behind my back or despised. As a small girl, I longed to go anywhere in the world than to the school. Ijime phenomena can create further influence, in the extreme sense, on individuals to mistrust others, deny the reality, and dislike people in general. By gradual process children learn to fit into the rest of the group. They start fearing to do anything different from the approvals of the group. Many children in their junior and senior high schools, try hard to level their scores of the exams down to the rest of the class so that they may not be appeared overly intelligent or foolish. They feel safe when they are in the middle ground not branching out of the group. Some children may be extremely frightened if they are rewarded or selected in the class for doing particularly well. It is a type of phobia that many Japanese cannot overcome. Even after entering their adulthood, still many carry such fear with them. Many Japanese feel extremely insecure when they are not with group or asked to voice their opinions

It took me a long time to overcome the fear of voicing opinions. Long ago, I remember being terrified standing in front of the class presenting my speech in my 20s. Teaching Japanese language in collages was a series of nervous breakdown when I was in California, U.S. Then taking drama courses helped me to loosen up a little. When I managed a hospital, as NGO director, in India helped me build confidence in me voicing my opinions to government, businesses, and universities. Through trials and errors, I overcame. Today, I established Support Women and Children in Nigeria (SWACIN), a NGO in Japan. As my age and experience advanced, I spoke and write with joy and grace today. Fears and frights for disapproval from groups, that used to disturb me so much, had gradually disowned me. Such freedom is indeed—no comparison to the materialistic reward, but—the greatest achievement ever made in life.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Abby A's picture

Japanese Bullying


You are incredibly well versed and have a way of writing that gives me both a larger social context as well as a personal story about the effects of igime on girl's (and boys) education. To me, this sounds a lot like bullying here in the US, an issue that has gained considerable attention with several suicides by students who were targets of bullying. Are you familiar with bullying? If so, how is it similar and different than igime?

I so appreciate you many of the points you bring up in your writing. Two themes that I believe are central and integral to understanding social problems are: the cultural differences between western cultures, where we are very individualistic, and eastern cultures, where collectivism is the social norm. These differences are often overlooked and incredibly important to understanding cross cultural differences, social isolation, difficulties with relocation/immigration, and more.

The second theme is that of peer culture in schools. You speak directly to the strong influence that peers have on the learning environment, sharing your first hand experience of avoiding school due to the negative effect of igime on your ability to have passion and drive for your studies. I did not know that many people in Japan are also targeted for being different or sacrifice their own potential to not be seen as different.

Thank you so much for sharing! I would love to hear more from you and learn about you life and journey now running your NGO.

Abby A
Pacific NW Woman

Hideko N.'s picture

Appreciate your comment and

Appreciate your comment and questions, and always welcome insightful ones like yours. From my observation, bullies in the U.S. and bullies in Japan have different purposes. Bullies in the U.S. have goals of eliminating particular individuals for hatred including ethnicity, race, economic status etc. But Japanese bullies simply want to eliminate someone different from the rest. They feel extremely uncomfortable for those who are standing up oneself independently without regard to the rest.

Yes, it is probably the most significant difference between the west and east. Westerners in fact do not like individuals who are overly dependent on others whereas Japanese do not like those who are independent.

Damaging impact of igime is the self-denial. Many of us do not know our own opinions because of years of threats since childhood. How awful it is not knowing oneself and accept all what others say…. Some people get married, choose religion, get jobs or quit jobs, buy house or sell house just because other people say so. They sacrifice their lives for others. In this case, the person’s potential cannot be disvered.

But there is positive side also. Since not many Japanese are self-centered, despite of earthquakes, tsunami, and other disasters, there is very little homelesses. In a small island like California, people, equals to a half of Amercian population is living fairly peacefully without disturbing one another. Between individualism or collectivism, which one do you prefer?
God bless,
Hideko N.

Pushpa Achanta's picture

Bold response

Dear Hideko,

I appreciate your personal transformation and vital contribution to assist children and youth. The world needs more like you to share and care for themselves and others.


Hideko N.'s picture

Thank you Pushpa Achanta

I was concerned when I wrote this piece because it does not totally correspond to the theme of this web site--to advance women's rights. Though I thank your comment. Rather than gender issues, igime is a very serious obstacles for Japanese children to overcome.



courage;vous êtez vraiment une femmes de lutte

neema weza

Hideko N.'s picture

Bon jour mais je ne parle pas

Bon jour mais je ne parle pas français. S'il vous plaît pardonnez-moi pour ne parler pas français. Je vous pardonnerai aussi pour ne parler pas japonais. Love, Hideko N.

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