Friday, December 08, 2006

Introducing E. G. May!

Who is this E. G. May fellow, you ask? Well, it's not really E G May, it's how you pronounce "ijime" in Japanese, which means "bullying" (it's more like /meh/ than /may/ I guess..). I use it a lot at work to tell the Japanese staff to quit picking on me, but in all seriousness, it's a problem everywhere I think, and has been getting a lot of press here in Japan.

Ijime, a Personal History

I got picked on a lot when I was younger, for a number of reasons. I guess it all started when we moved to Australia because I spoke like a bloody yank, but that didn't really last too long because I picked up the accent in no time. Pretty minor stuff, mainly making fun of the way I said "are". But being smaller than most of my peers, moving around a lot, and a having a big mouth, as the years went by I started feeling the heat pretty bad.

Being on the chubby side certainly didn't help, and by the time I hit high school I had turned from being outgoing and generally happy to being pretty withdrawn. I never went to Homecoming. I never went to Prom. I didn't play any sports. I had maybe 4 or 5 friends, 2 close ones, throughout the entire 4 year ordeal. I wondered how people could be nice to me one on one but so cruel when they were in groups -- your basic Breakfast Club bullshit -- and it made me really angry. The only reason people remembered me was because I punched someone in the mouth in the middle of class for making a holocaust joke (and attacking me), which led to a lot more inner turmoil. All of a sudden people who I had known since 5th grade but who were "popular" and had treated me like a subhuman were being all friendly and cool and wanting to talk to me -- just because I blasted some hilljack in the teeth. "That's fucked up," I thought, and it made me hate them even more. Still, I stood up for myself. I didn't let it go. Someone tried to physically intimidate me and I made blood go everywhere, and while it was too little too late, people treated me completely different. I guess it was my first class in the University of People-Will-Shit-On-You-If-You-Let-Them, where I learned that sometimes in order to be treated like a human, you need to act like an animal. The irony of it troubled me. It was really overwhelming, but I still found myself wondering why I didn't punch someone a few years earlier.

So why am I talking about this? I read this here article about some Japanese kids who kicked the shit out of another 17 year old in the park, made him strip, and took pictures of him with their cell phone cameras. The kid was an orphan, and was tormented by these kids with stuff like "You stink because you've got no parents." But that's not what got me about this article. The last paragraph was:

Two times, in June and November this year, the victim approached his teacher, saying he was being harassed. One of the youths got angry and accused him of "squealing" on them. To avoid trouble the teacher reportedly contacted the youth's guardians and explained the situation, recommending that the 17-year-old stop coming to school.

Recommending he not come to school? That was the teacher's solution. Awesome.

"Um, hi, this is Mr Fujiwara. That orphan of yours came to me yesterday and mentioned that he'd been getting picked on all the time? Yeah. Mmmhmmm.. Anyway, the other children have been spending a little bit too much time tormenting him these days and their school work is suffering, so if you could just go ahead and not send him to school anymore, that'd be greeaaaat."

Nice work, sensei.

In the US of A, we have the saying "The squeaky wheel gets the grease," meaning that if you bitch about something for long enough and loud enough, someone will placate you. In Japan, they have a saying for a similar situation, but it means the exact opposite -- "deru kui ha utareru," which means "The nail sticking up gets hammered down."

Welcome to the Land of Socially Institutionalized Bullying and Self Loathing. Leave your sense of self at the door. It'll be returned to you if you leave the country, but we'll be needing it back if you ever return home..

Still, there has been a lot of press about bullying in Japan lately, mainly because teachers are getting in on the action. Yeah, teachers are picking on the kids. Joining in the fun. Smacking down those pesky nails that insist on sticking up. Recently a middle schooler killed himself after being bullied by classmates and a teacher, and the smug looking school administrators with their half-smiled apologies on TV made me want to throw up. They pay a lot of lip service to solving the problem, but it's a socially endemic fact of life here in Japan. I see it at work all the time among adults even. Standing up for one's self in Japan is seen as being "the nail," conformity is demanded and enforced, and creativity and originality are almost non-existent.

"Hey everyone, look at little Hiroshi, he wants to draw something different than everyone else. C'mon Hiroshi, just do what everyone else is doing. It's better that way. Now, aren't you happy? Can I get a thumbs-up?"


Again, since I got picked on a lot in school I understand that Japan isn't alone in its bullying problem, but the motivations and results of it are a little different than in the USA, which is interesting to me. And, as always, this is Adventurepan, where we sometimes talk about Japan. Either way, when I think about all these Japanese kids who are going home at night and living in a personal hell of non-acceptance in what can be a very cold, cruel society, it makes me pretty sad. Japanese people have an infinitely larger capacity, almost desire, to put up with hardship than Americans do, and will go through enormous efforts not to be burdensome. That a human being at age 14, with all their potential, should feel that their very existence is too burdensome for society to handle and should therefore kill themselves is one of the most depressing things I can think of.

I reckon I'll have kids one of these years, maybe a little half-breed of my own, who will likely face some bullying of their own -- all my friends' half-breed kids do. I hope that I'll be able to give them the tools to deal with bullies on their own terms -- through violence; there's no other way -- but the integrity and wisdom to recognize it and put an end to things before it becomes a problem. Fortunately I don't have to deal with that problem now, but for the time being, I'll continue running around and freaking out whenever I see someone getting picked on, and making a complete fool of myself and yelling at children in public whenever they're ganging up on another kid "for the cause." Don't stifle different and creativity -- afterall, without creativity in Japan, we wouldn't have this:


Blogger brando said...

What a horribly depressing post topped off with a horribly strange video.

It's like they're making fun of bodyshaping or something, but they're dead serious.

I'm sure you've seen this workout vid, but it's still good.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

yeah, i like that video in your link. cuz if you go to the USA, you're gonna get mugged. and if you get mugged in japan, it's gonna be a gaijin.

here's an explaination of the video at the bottom of my post.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Jinxy said...

"and it made me hate them even more..."

Awesome post, Paul.

And very revelatory about you. Had no idea.

But then again, I never asked.

Coming from similar circumstances, I totally see it.

Whereas your predillictions lie in wanting to be Royce Gracie and putting the world's "Evil Doers" in an armbar, mine lean towards being transformed by a magical lightning bolt into the World's Mightiest Mortals.

Both of us, in our own sick and demented way, came upon a realization very early on that the only way to right the wrongs of the world was from a position of strength and not from mealy-mouthed bitching and complaining.

Rock on, Number One Soul Brother.

10:07 AM  
Blogger bucket said...

Even as an adult I was "bullied" in Australia for being American.

On NPR last week they did this whole cultural assessment of modern Japan. Some depressing stuff , one was for young men who never come out of their rooms, or reverse their waking hours so they only come out when everyone else is asleep. They said they do this because the pressures to succeed or do a job, or live a life according to a set standard is too much for them. They had a name for them, but I forget it.

I think Americans really appreciate and nurture the underdog story, which is the person becoming something out of nothing, usually by finding a new way to get there.

I know when we were considering moving back to USA I knew the fact that individualism, and this was especially important to me because I have girls, is more widely and universally promoted in America, was on the pro side of the list. I was really worried, as an American, to have another culture's pressures or expectations to be placed on my child.

Not that I don't think America has some screwy social pressures too, just you are usually far more aware of foreign ones. I also think often the ones in America are not as well organized.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

jinxy-- you got it.. i think every boy (young man?), at some point in his life, has a situation forced upon him where the only two choices are to fight or give up his milk money. whoever forces that choice on him will remember it and treat him accordingly from then on. there are bad people out there who like to leave you only those 2 options. what most peope in the USA (and Japan) dont realize is that most of the world really only thinks in terms of brutality and intimidation, and trying to talk it out is completely pointless.

bucket-- are you talking about "hikikomori"? the dudes who are totally withdrawn from society and dont do anything? you hit the nail on teh head i think -- americans recognize some of the problems, but it seems like in japan they go out of their way to ignore them or enforce them. theyll acknowledge problems but just shrug and say "cant be helped" when it in fact can. there isnt a huge sense of individual empowerment here like there is in the USA. its good and its bad i guess -- the USAs sense of individual empowerment may have sometihng to do with americans sense of entitlement they feel too. i guess any extreme is bad..

9:18 PM  
Blogger brando said...

Yeah, I think we've all had bully problems, but the key is to straight at the bully with everything you've got. You can't go after some third party, or or try appesement.

If you switch schools a couple of times when you're young it gives you a better handle on that.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous nedric said...

Great post, Paul. I had heard about these tragedies. It is all very nauseating. Good luck defending the different. I'm working at that too, in my own way.

With a name like mine, and having moved around a few times when I was small, I got a fair share of ridicule. Plus, I lived with a sister who was bigger than me.

I don't necessarily regret my fighting in math class to defend myself against a collective pecking party; nor do I regret the suspension. But after learning more about on the one hand genetic dispositions and environmental conditioning, and on the other hand renunciation and the expanse of the universe, I started to wonder why I cared. I'm just reflecting here, but if most people only think in terms of brutality and intimidation, and it takes such to respond adequately, then what is the point again?

8:49 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

it's not that most people only understand brutality and intimidation, it's that sometimes we run into people who do, and it's important to know how to deal with them according to their rules, because it's the only set of rules they understand. part of "verbal sparring" is negotiation, reasoning, talking things out, diplomacy, etc, and there are a lot of different ways of going about it. people will let you off easy, people will let things go.. but every so often we meet people who work through intimidation, and there's no negotiating with them. i thought i was done with that bullshit, then i started working in afghanistan where most of the execs (Americans) were a bunch of bullies, and it took a temper tantrum (from me) to get them to agree to work with me human-to-human. i'd been in country 2 weeks and here i was in someone's office screaming at him and telling him how disgusting i thought he and his buddies were, and demanding to know "just who the fuck they thought they were talking to". i couldnt believe i was put in a position that compelled me to flip out like that. but they wanted to see if they could strong arm me, and when i flipped out, they not only responded positively, they acted like we were buddies. it was really surreal.

it was a lesson tho -- one ive been learning over and over and over. a lot of people, particularly type-A personalities, are forever locked in the school playground mentality, and the only way to deal with them is with modified counter-bullying and escalation. then they go from yapping pitbull to little kitten, and it's a bit of a mind fuck for guys like me who dont operate like that.

what's the point of it all, you ask? i dunno. "takes all kinds" i guess? :) but one of the reasons i like my job now is that everyone has the "it's all cool, babies" attitude. no one is jockeying for position or promotion. everyone's just chillin. it's a nice little break from the real world of backstabbing and buddyfucking.

(i know i wrote about the japanese guy backstabbing me, but that has no bearing on my career or his self promotion. it was pretty meaningless, which made it all the more shocking and comical.)

9:14 AM  
Anonymous nedric said...

I get your point about specificity, and I share the sentiment. My problem is that either I let it fly way too long and so that no counter measure works, or I sit there analyzing the situation thinking that it is on the verge of working itself out. I find it takes a lot before I freak out on somebody - though on the inside I am steaming. I just have no knack for dealing with bullies. It feels like taking the positive ends of two magnets and trying to push them together.

After thinking about your post more, I started to wonder: would counter-bullying measures be worth taking if they necessitated crossing legal lines? I find in most cases of bullying, the bully's action is rarely illegal. While I understand that counter-bullying measures are warranted, there doesn't appear to be warrant for "taking the law into our own hands." Getting rough is one thing, committing to becoming a criminal is another. Am I making sense?

I would also like to hear your take on various kinds of bullies, like psychological ones, physical ones, etc.

(I still can't get over that a teacher joined in on the pecking. It would feel like a confirmation of my worthlessness to have some authority figure say it. Do you know if they responded by saying things like, "It was just a joke." Or, "Kids will be kids."?)

3:04 PM  
Anonymous nedric said...

Oh, I also wanted to ask about your Afganistan story. Did they intentionally set out to see if they could strong arm you in particular, or was that just their MO? Was it that you passed their testosterone test, or that they actually understood your criticism?

3:13 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

i guess the thing about intimidation is that it's pretty much all psychological. i mean, i was bullied, but i was never really physically harmed. maybe pushed around and stuff but early on i was really small and it didnt really take much to intimidate me. plus i dont have a real aggressive nature, so it didnt take much. i was a pretty juicy target i guess.

i dont think theyre sayin too much about what the deal was with the teacher gettin in on the action, because they're understandably embarrassed about it. ill be intereted to see how they handle it, cuz even tho this is a hypermodern society, they have some old school ways of settling things. not like in albania or anything, but more like "say sorry 1000 times and pay a buncha money and it's all good, but show the slightest lack of regret and you are completely fucked." muuuch more subjective than in the USA.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Hoss said...

So much for the Japanese having a superior culture. Christ, bullying a kid because he has no parents...NOBODY can match the cruelty that kids dish out, nobody.

Bullying is one of the few things that I have absolutely no tolerance for - never have. To me, there's nothing more damaging to the victims and nothing so pathetic that some asshole(s) has/have to flex their toughness on what are usually the most vulnerable kids in the school(loners/small kids/nerds). You wanna show me what a tough guy you are, go pick on some good-sized motherfucker, not some undersized kid who never did shit to anybody.

I never really worried about getting bullied. Although somewhat of a loner/nerd (although I did play sports, a lot of those guys where just on a different wavelength than me) I was always one of the biggest kids in the class (I topped out at a little over 6'3", and about 210 pounds by age 16), not exactly a target-rich environment for bullies. I actually got into a fight with one of the biggest scumbags in my high school when I was a senior because he kept picking on some little kid. I beat the shit out of him, and then took out his older brother, not because I was trying to be some righteous defender of the easily-picked-upon, but I guess because I identified with those kids on so many levels.

Maybe not so amazingly, I saw much of the same bullying, thuggish, cliqueish behavior on the football team in college that I saw in high school athletes.

My son is sizeable as a five year-old, good at sports, and likes boxing and judo. And I have already taught him that if I EVER catch him bullying or picking on anybody his ass will be mine(he's also kind of sensitive/empathetic so I don't think it will be a problem).

11:02 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

boxing + judo = good way to not get bullied!!! i think bullies beget bullies. kinda like the o'doyles in the adam sandler movies. if someone was bullying your son at school and u called his dad and approached him in a kind way, he'd probably act the same as his son.

college was a rude awakening for me too. i showed up to a new school in a new state where no one from my highschool went, thinking that things would be different. wrong. freshman/sophomore college dorm = highschool. getting picked on all over again = me. the only way i made it stop was by physically intimidating the ringleader. once again, gotta act like an animal to be treated like a human.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Paul, where did you go to college? I found that college was an entirely different experience than highschool.

I never really got bullied which is a little surprising as I'm somewhat of a smartass. I'll pause to allow you to recover from your shock. I'm not really sure why that is. It might be because I was fairly big or maybe I was just friends with the right people but I've never had to hit anyone.

The one confrontation I had was in 7th grade when an older kid tried to pick a fight with me. He punched me in the face and reacted by... well, doing nothing. I think it was pretty intimidating for him to have hit me so hard and have me still standing there looking back at him. I'm not sure why I didn't react but I think it was more intimidating than if I had punched him back. Later I had sex with his mom.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

tony -- having sex with his mom was probably more damaging than punching him in the face.

i went to the u of iowa, and was in the dorms right away. i didnt know a single soul at the entire school and i was eager to meet friends and "hang out" and all bright eyed and bushy tailed, which people saw. i guess i shoulda been more reserved and cared less or some shit. or worn flannel shirts and smoked weed and joined a frat. plus i was prety malsocialized, which didnt help im sure. but upperclassmen were always really good to me so all my friends were juniors and seniors my freshman year ('cept for the rowing team members).

12:58 PM  
Blogger brando said...

I had a problem with a bully. A big ginger and his lanky ginger friend. Gingers have no souls.

That was where I learned my "nip it in the bud" lesson. I let his nonsense go on for a while, and I basically set the precedent that I wasn't going to respond.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous chad said...

I got picked on quite a bit as a kid. I realized For the most part, all I had to do was agree with them say "Yep, I'm retarded." or whatever. In a large social situation, it would usually take the wind out of their sails...but your also not sticking up for yourself.

The times I feel regret about are when someone else was being picked on, and I didn't do anything about it. That happens all the time in school, this big mass of kids/friends just let the bully get away with crap. They might not feel comfortable with the situation, but they're not doing anything to stop it.

The few times I did step up, I always got called the 'friend' of the person being picked on

4:18 AM  
Blogger nedric said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous nedric said...


Something I find completely absurd about bullies is the fact that they don't see themselves as bullies. They cannot see themselves as bullies, and would never (or rarely) admit to being a bully. They would say they are "just having fun." Or what is worse, "I call it like I see it." Bullies fail to feel shame about being bullies because they more often than not delusionally conceive of themselves as some kind of hero.

Have you ever met someone that you really believed was a bully and actually identified themselves as a bully? Didn't think so.

One of the worst kind of bullies that I've experienced are those that not only fail to understand that they are the bullies in the drama, they on top of that claim to be champions of "goodness."

I usually try to tell people like this that they have a problem with their "assertiveness." I try to point out to them how they often corner people or trap them, and how that is a bully-ish thing to do. Once you corner someone ("in the locker-room"), and then start to antagonize them ("demand the lunch money"), you are a bully. Bullies put people in a doublebind.

Like this one guy I used to know - he demanded from me two contradictory things, and then criticized me for failing. Bully.

The point is, bullies are not always using physical strength. In the end, they are just dipshits that haven't figured out how to appropriately handle whatever little power they have (strength, leadership roles, intimacy, friendship, etc.). At times I even feel sorry for them...

Does that make sense?

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Nedric, you're right about the self concept of most bullies. Although I did know a guy in highschool who was really proud of the fact that he was a bully. For the most part I think you're right though.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous chad said...

Bullies usually lack empathy. Either by choice or by genetics,

Back in 5th grade I had this elaborate (for the time) scheme where a popular kid in our class was 'going out' with the most unpopular girl 2 grades below us. (Back then all you needed to go out was notes, and fuzzy stickers) To me, it was a funny game to see how long I could make their pretend relationship last. It lasted about three weeks.

The cool thing was after she found out, she wrote me a note that didn’t go “You suck…blah blah blah .”, but instead explained her feelings, and how she wasn’t a joke.

Before that, all I was thinking about was how fun it was for ME.

4:54 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

nedric-- RAH had a quote (i think maureen said it, help me out here brando) where he talks about how much he hates people who think that being brutally honest is doing the world a favor.

i agree with you too, but i think there's a fine line between motivating people to do things through intimidation vs motivating people to do things because they dont want to piss you off/are afraid of pissing you off. i guess it's a matter of active/passive and level of aggression? i saw a show on dr phil that, amazingly enough, wasnt about fat women with a victim syndrome. it was about these women that would run around screaming at everyone they met. no matter what they were doing they were freaking out 'cuz it got them whatever they wanted. they were so proud of being "bitches" and "telling it like it is," but in the end they were just bullies. dr phil sed so so it must be true.

tony-- hey, you gotta love what you do, right?

chad-- you were just a social scientist with underdeveloped morals. :) i think about the shit i did to people in middle school and i say to myself, "did i terrorize weak people?" then i realize that i went out of my way to upset everyone, particular popular people. i think my tendency to go out of my way to destroy the confidence of attractive women at drinking establishments may just be an extension of that.

7:27 AM  
Blogger brando said...

"All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness." - Tennessee Williams

I'm about 80% sure that it was in a Heinlein book too. I have it in my head that it was one his "wise old man" characters that was saying it.

"it was about these women that would run around screaming at everyone they met. no matter what they were doing they were freaking out 'cuz it got them whatever they wanted."

I've encountered oodles of women like that in the restaurant. When the women leave, their husbands apologize for them, and explain that they have to live with them.

It roughly translates to "Somebody save me!"

8:27 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

oh, im 100% sure it was in a heinlein book. i wanna say that either lazarus, his grandpa, or maureen said it. one of the hundreds of gems buried in his books that, when i read it, i think to myself "man i wanna remember that one" and keep me coming back i guess.

9:27 AM  
Blogger brando said...

RAH quotes, I love it.

"Gratitude: An imaginary emotion that rewards an imaginary behavior, altruism. Both imaginaries are false faces for selfishness, which is a real and honest emotion."

but I really love this one.

"Look, friends, the only possible way to enjoy life is not to be afraid to die. A zest for living requires a willingness to die; you cannot have the first without the second. The '60s and '70s and '80s and '90s can be loaded with the zest for living, high excitement, and gutsy adventure for any truly human person. Truly human? I mean you descendants of cavemen who outlasted the saber-tooth, you who sprang from the loins of the Vikings, you whose ancestors fought the Crusades and were numbered the Golden Horde. Death is the lot of all of us and the only way the human race has ever conquered death is by treating it with contempt. By living every golden minute as if one had all eternity."

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

I live every minute like I have all eternity. I lay around and think,"I'll just do that later, I have plenty of time."

7:55 AM  

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