The hours are long and expectations are high in Japan, so much so that a father just killed his son in the name of academic excellence.
Kengo Satake, 48, stabbed his son to death after complaining the child was failing to study for his junior high school entrance exam in Nagoya, Japan. The boy, Ryota, was rushed to the hospital but died from blood loss, according to the local police.
Satake told the police that he “mistakenly” stabbed his son, however, his neighbors claimed Satake often went overboard while disciplining his son and used to lock him out on the balcony as punishment for his disobedience.
Japanese parents, and admittedly other Asian parents as well, tend to approach problems differently than their Western counterparts, including their approach toward discipline, responsibility and education.
Parents in Japan are often under pressure for their children to attend prestigious schools and pass their tests with flying colors and the reasons for that are grounded in their meritocratic society. It is widely believed that high school and university entrance exams represent the first rung of the ladder to a high status in Japanese society. They claim a student’s excellence depends on him studying hard, not his innate intelligence.
Exam performance does not just reflect on the student but also on the family members and teachers, and this sharing of responsibility results in added pressure on the student to succeed. A student who fails his exam brings dishonor and shame to his entire family.
When these students are co-educated with their non-Asian peers, the drive to excel drives a wedge between them. Asian parents have blamed the proposed reforms to ease pressure on students as an exercise to dumb down their children’s education. Meanwhile, American parents believe lessons are being accelerated to accommodate Asian families who want their kids to sit in SAT prep courses and advanced placement courses.
As a result, there has been a sharp increase in suicides of children aged 18 and under during the start of September and April when school term begins, a 2015 study by Japan’s Cabinet Office found. Research also found suicide rates are considerable lower in March vacation time. These findings provide a strong relationship between academic pressure and suicidal feelings.
It cannot be argued that high academic success is one of the main factors that has helped to create one of the world’s most highly educated, technology savvy and productive workforce — but it certainly shouldn’t be achieved at the expense of a person’s well-being or, in the worse case, life.