The Seven Virtues Of The Samurai – Why Tiny Japan Became An Economic Superpower In 24 Years!

Historically, many societies have had classes or groups of people who were extraordinary in ways that made them famous or notorious or both, in their own time as well as today.

The largest and probably the most famous of these classes of people were the samurai of feudal Japan-the professional warrior class that ruled the country from 1192 until 1868, during which time they made up from ten to twelve percent of the population.

The strengths and profound influence of the samurai on Japanese culture and society were based on concepts adopted from a number of philosophical and religious beliefs, particularly Shinto, Zen Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.

One of the most important of these concepts was the fragility and briefness of life. Of course, all rational individuals become aware of death at a young age, but the urge for life is so powerful that most people suppress this knowledge and behave as if they are going to live a very long time, if not forever. Not surprisingly, this deeply ingrained behavior has extraordinary consequences that are mostly negative.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all refer to the inevitability of death and use this fact in an attempt to persuade (and frighten!) people to behave in a certain way. It goes without saying that these attempts-often irrational and inhuman-have not been successful.

As contrary to common sense as it might seem today, the only large group of people who fully recognized and accepted the fragility and briefness of life and based their way of living on this knowledge were the samurai warriors of feudal Japan-both famous and notorious for their incredible martial arts skills, their ruthlessness in war, and the equanimity with which they faced death.

Members of the samurai class were taught from childhood that life is as fragile as a cherry blossom that can be wafted away by the slightest breeze, and that they should live their lives accordingly, obeying all of the obligations that made up their world so that they could die at any moment without remorse for having failed to live up to their responsibilities.

Samurai warriors generally followed this philosophy of life with profound diligence for two very simple reasons. First, they were subject to being killed, or having to kill themselves and sometimes their families as well, at a moment’s notice. And second, they believed that if they failed to behave according to the precepts that controlled their class they and their families would be disgraced forever.

The samurai knew that if people were always aware that they could die at a moment’s notice they would be far more likely to follow what became known as the Shichi Toku (She-chee Toh-kuu), or “The Seven Virtues.”

These seven virtues, which were taught as the moral and ethical guidelines of the samurai, became the code of conduct prescribed for them (their “commandments” if you will). They covered virtually all of the areas and topics of human interest and needs, especially those that involved appearance, personal relationships, and living a well-ordered life.

Here are the Shichi Toku in the order of their importance in the daily life of the samurai:


Kennin (Kane-neen)-

Indomitable Spirit, Fortitude & Perseverance

From childhood, both boys and girls in the samurai class were taught and required to demonstrate extraordinary spirit, fortitude and perseverance in all of the facets of their lives.

This training literally began in infancy, with babies still in arms being instructed in when and how to bow properly, followed by constant instruction in all of the basic elements of a very precise etiquette that included how to dress, how to eat, how to sit, how to dress, how to bathe, how and when to use respect language, to withstand cold without complaining, to withstand pain without flinching, to never give up in anything they set out to do, to get revenge against any insult, and to immediately obey the orders of superiors-including orders to commit suicide.

From around the age of six or seven all samurai boys who were not physically or mentally impaired were required to engage in training in kendō (ken-dohh), literally “the way of the sword” and figuratively fighting with a sword-first using wooden swords or wooden staffs.

This training, overseen by instructors, generally took place every day for several hours, becoming more intense as the boys approached their teen years. Youths were formally and officially recognized as “samurai warriors” when they became fifteen years old, at which time they were required to wear two swords at all times when they were in public-a long sword for attacking others or defending themselves, and a short sword for committing suicide when that occasion arose.

Young samurai who were assigned to military units were required to continue their daily training until they retired from wounds or old age. Those who became administrators, including the highest ministers and the shoguns themselves, continued regular training in kendō throughout their active lives.

All shoguns, vice-shoguns, fief lords, and ranking members of the shogunate and fiefdoms had their own kendō training centers staffed by masters. In addition to their own training, they regularly staged exhibition bouts and tournaments.

The masters in these training centers were invariably middle-aged and older warriors who had gained fame by killing many opponents during their earlier careers, and in numerous cases had developed their own style of sword-fighting that was taught in their “schools.”

Because of the competition and intrigue that was typical among the fiefs of feudal Japan, and the fear of the shoguns that one or more of the fief lords would rebel against them, the training in kendō was taken very seriously by the samurai class.

One example of the lengths to which some samurai fathers went in training their sons in kendō was the practice of having them cut the heads off of several convicts or prisoners to get the feel of it and to be able to do it efficiently.

In one famous historical example of this kind of practice, some ten condemned men were line up in a row and a fifteen-year-old samurai youth was instructed to decapitate all of them one after the other. He rapidly cut the heads off of all of the men except one, saying he was tired and would spare the man’s life.

This was the kind and degree of kennin that was expected and demanded of the samurai, and is one of the facets of the samurai legacy is still very much in evidence in the character and behavior of present-day Japanese.


Shinnen (Sheen-nane)

Conviction & Faith

The demanding life of the samurai required that they develop extraordinary conviction that their attitudes and behavior were admirable and better than other lifestyles. It also required that they have absolute faith in their ability to succeed in life despite the challenges and obstacles.

Over the generations these traits became so deeply embedded in the character and personality of all Japanese that they developed an extraordinary superiority complex that led most of them to believe that they could do anything they set out to do.

This complex had a powerful influence on Japanese society-aesthetically, economically, politically, and militarily. In some cases this influence was positive; in other cases it was negative.

Some of the results of the negative side of this complex became well-known internationally in the 19th and 20th centuries because of military campaigns by the Japanese against Korea, Russia, China, the U.S., Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific.

On the positive side, the superiority complex of the Japanese, buttressed by unbounded shinnen, led them-more than a thousand years ago-to routinely create masterpieces in their arts and crafts industries; to construct the world’s largest wooden buildings and to develop highly sophisticated earthquake technology that has preserved them to this day; and, between 1947 and 1970, to turn their war-devastated country into the world’s second largest economy.

While the present-day cultural and technological accomplishments of the Japanese would not generally be attributed to a superiority complex, they nevertheless are manifestations of the conviction and faith-and pride-that the Japanese have in their ability to create and innovate…and, in fact, are an extension of their built-in belief that they are a superior people.


Shincho (Sheen-choh)

Care, Caution, Discretion

One of the paramount characteristics that Japan’s samurai had to develop from a very early age was that of exercising extreme shincho (care, caution, discretion) in their daily lives.

Even when very young it was necessary for them to be extraordinarily careful in the way they behaved toward others because of the demands of their formalized, ritualized and unforgiving etiquette. As they grew older, these demands became even stronger and more encompassing.

There were occasions when something as simple as a failure to bow in the established and expected manner could mean death-sometimes instantly. Giving the “wrong” gift or no gift at all to a high-ranking person could be equally disastrous.

There were innumerable situations in which failure to be discreet could result in the ruin of a person, and sometimes their family as well.

The samurai therefore developed a cultural sixth sense that helped guide them through the intricacies of their system of etiquette-first because it was a matter of survival, and as time passed, because it became a matter of both honor and pride.

Most present-day Japanese, particularly the older generations, have retained much of the traditional built-in shincho reaction in their relationships with others because the level of day-to-day physical and verbal etiquette remains high.

The shincho factor in Japanese behavior invariably kicks into gear when they are dealing with non-Japanese-and the higher the business, diplomatic, and social level of the people involved, the higher the level of shincho that is engaged.

It is therefore especially important for foreigners dealing with Japanese to be aware of this factor in their character in order to accurately evaluate their actions and reactions.

The tatemae (tah-tay-my), or “faade” element in Japanese speech (that I explore in detail in my book, Japan’s Cultural Code Words), is an extension of the shincho factor.

The built-in shincho compass of the Japanese typically results in them concealing their true thoughts and intensions at the beginning of negotiations with a ceremonial faade that is only gradually removed as the dialogue progresses…if the opposing team is aware enough of what is going on to persist in chipping away at it.



Righteousness and Justice

Despite the ruthless and often barbaric aspect of the culture of the samurai there was an underlying theme of seigi (say-ghee), or righteousness and justice, in their moral and ethical code.

Japan’s feudal history is, in fact, filled with examples of the extraordinary sense of righteousness and justice of the typical samurai. These examples include such things as demonstrations of goodwill and honesty that go above and beyond what is normal.

I recall a number of such instances in my own early years in Japan in the 1940s and 50s. On one occasion I stayed overnight at a small inn in the Akabane district of Tokyo, and forgot a raincoat there when I left the next morning.

Some two years later, during which I totally forgot about the coat, I went back to the inn. The instant I stepped into the entrance foyer the proprietress of the inn said: “Ah! Mr. De Mente! You forgot your raincoat!”

Many of the historical examples of the manifestations of seigi are far more telling. Among these are common occasions when retainers of fief lords or other high-ranking samurai would become disillusioned with the morality and ethics of their superiors and commit suicide, leaving a message beseeching them to mend their ways; a very powerful way of getting their point across.

I remember at the end of World War II some American businesspeople were amazed when Japanese companies informed them that they would honor prewar payments and other obligations owed to the Americans, even when the American firms had no records of such debts.

In present-day Japan examples of seigi range from ordinary people going to extremes to return lost items to their rightful owners-including wallets containing money-to businesspeople who remain loyal to partners and suppliers even when it is seriously disadvantageous for them to do so.



Moderation and Temperance

The conduct prescribed for the samurai was based on aspects of court etiquette that had been imported from China during the 6th and 7th centuries and had become institutionalized and ritualized over the generations, first at the Imperial Court, then from the 9th century on at the courts of domain lords who were mostly excess princes sent out to govern the provinces.

This conduct included the apparel and accessories the samurai wore (which denoted their rank), the style of dressing their hair (which required that a portion of their heads be shaved every morning), the way of carrying their swords, their way of sitting in formal and informal situations, the way of bowing, the way of speaking (in the vocabulary used and in the tone of voice and manner of delivery), the way of greeting people (which varied by their rank), the way of handing something to someone, the way of drinking, the way of toasting someone or an occasion, and so on.

In other words, there was a precise, prescribed way of behavior that covered virtually every aspect of the daily actions of the samurai…to the point that their behavior was a conspicuous and unmistakable demonstration of whether or not they had absorbed all of the features of the samurai culture-and whether or not they chose to follow them.

Choosing not to follow the established rules of conduct was a very serious decision to make, and could have serious and often fatal consequences. Again, Japan’s feudal history is filled with examples of warriors deliberately or unknowingly failing to follow the prescribed etiquette, bringing ruin to themselves and often to their families as well.

There was also a prescribed etiquette for common people, particularly in their interactions with samurai. During the early years of the last shogunate dynasty (the Tokugawa Shogunate, 1603-1868), it was made the law of the land that a samurai could kill on the spot any commoner who failed to show him the prescribed respect. The samurai could then apologize and walk away. This law was known as kirisute gomen (kee-ree-suu-tay go-mane), literally “regretful killing.”

The strictness of the samurai culture resulted in the majority of them being extraordinarily self-restrained in their behavior, not only to uphold the honor of their class but also as a matter of their own survival, since they were extraordinarily sensitive to slights from other samurai and were obligated to take immediate revenge against such insults by killing the guilty individual. [During the Tokugawa Shogunate an edict was passed making it necessary for samurai to apply to the shogunate for official permission to embark on revenge killings.]

Another aspect of the education and training of the samurai was their indoctrination in Buddhism and Confucianism, which taught temperance and moderation in all things.

Obviously, all this is not to say that most samurai were paragons of sessei, but the majority did scrupulously abide by the etiquette prescribe for this class, resulting in a level of temperance that was extraordinarily high by world standards.

The legacy of the samurai inspired sessei has not fared well in contemporary Japan. It is still visible and important in formal situations, but informally, particularly in drinking situations, it is typically thrown to the wind.

Interestingly, the reason why the Japanese have traditionally “let their hair down” when drinking is that throughout the history of the country the only time that people could legitimately and safely ignore the strict etiquette and “be themselves” was when they were drinking-a rule that applied more to commoners than to samurai.

However, during the last two hundred years of the Tokugawa Shogunate during which there were no clan or fief wars to fight, many lower ranking samurai who were often idle (they were forbidden to work), became dissolute and would often get drunk in public, become boisterous and sometimes destructive-including testing their swords on innocent passersby.

This phenomenon resulted in the Shogunate establishing a network of koban (kohh-bahn) or “police boxes” (small sub-stations on street corners that were generally just large enough to hold a desk and two chairs) to help keep unruly samurai under control.

The koban remain a significant part of the present-day police infrastructure in Japan, and many of the contemporary koban in main areas of larger cities are big enough for a staff of four or more policemen.

Instead of being keepers of the peace, however, the primary role of present-day koban policemen is serving as local information centers for people looking for destinations in the area. (Addresses of buildings and houses in Japan do not have anything to do with the streets they happen to be on or near, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint addresses without detailed instructions and/or maps.)

Several other Asian countries, impressed with the concept of the koban, have copied them.



Benevolence and Charity

It may be difficult for people who are only casually acquainted with the history of the samurai to associate benevolence and charity with samurai warriors during the long feudal era-as well as after the samurai system ended in the 1870s and the sword-carrying warriors were recast in the uniforms and with the weapons of Western-styled military forces of the day.

By contemporary Western standards much of the behavior of the samurai during both of these periods was, in fact, barbaric and savage. But, historically, it was not any different from the standards that existed in the West during the Middle-Ages, and which did not begin to change until the latter part of the 1800s…the same period when the samurai class was dissolved.

In other words, the samurai of Japan did not have an exclusive monopoly on barbaric and savage behavior. That was a trait that has been common in most societies throughout the history of mankind-and still is in many societies.

The genuine jizen (jee-zane) of Japan’s samurai was mostly overshadowed by their role as warriors, their view and treatment of death-their own as well as that of others-and by their role as judge and jury in establishing and enforcing laws to control the behavior of commoners.

Just as in the West during the same period, torture was a key part of the samurai justice system, and execution methods included those that were designed to be especially painful.

But behind this very real public image, one of the key principles in the indoctrination of the samurai class was the Buddhist concept of benevolence and charity, and it was followed most of the time by most samurai in positions of authority. There are many historical examples of city and town samurai magistrates who were famous for their wisdom and benevolence.

Over the generations of the long samurai era these same jizen character traits became imbued in the culture of the common people, but the drama of the samurai way of fighting obscured the goodwill and hospitality that has been characteristic of ordinary Japanese throughout their history-a characteristic that still persists today and is often so unexpected by foreign visitors that they are astounded.

One of my favorite anecdotes that emphasizes the character and behavior of the typical Japanese involves the famous writer-author Lafcadio Hearn. He went to Japan in the late 1800s on an assignment for an American magazine and was so entranced by the behavior of the Japanese he proclaimed that living Japan was like living in paradise, and remained there for the rest of his life.

Hearn was referring to the refined etiquette of all Japanese, and specifically to the innate hospitality and incredible honesty and goodwill of ordinary Japanese.

But traditionally the Japanese practice ofjizen was more complicated than all this suggests. It was first of all generally limited to members of the exclusive groups that made up society as a whole, and in effect was group-oriented rather than universal.

Outside of these primary groups jizen was generally applied only to those whose goodwill and cooperation were necessary to achieve specific goals-such as government officials, teachers and doctors.

Interestingly, the Japanese have traditionally regarded foreigners as special guests of the country, and have typically treated them with special benevolence and charity. This cultural factor remains very much in evidence today and is one of the reasons why most present-day foreigners in Japan find living there seductive, as Hearn did more than a hundred years ago.



A Life filled with Hope

Despite the many cultural and governmental restraints that limited the options and opportunities of the Japanese prior to modern times, the Japanese were not a morose or morbid people. They had a marvelous sense of humor, loved jokes and puns, and had a variety of celebrations and parties of one kind or another throughout the year.

The Japanese were among the first people to travel widely within their own country for recreational purposes, especially to enjoy the incredible beauty of both the mountain and coastal areas of the country.

And Japan was the first country that had a nationwide network of roadside inns at regular government-prescribed distances from each other that were specifically designed and managed to cater to travelers, virtually all of whom traveled on foot (also by government decree), and were therefore on the road for weeks at a time when traveling long distances.

All of these feel good and enjoy yourself aspects of Japanese culture were manifestations of the fact that the major religions of Japan-Shinto and Buddhism-were based on positive and happy beliefs that included sensual pleasures of all kinds.

These elements in the culture of Japan imbued the Japanese with a sense of kibō (kee-bohh), or hope, that helped them deal with the strict lifestyle imposed by the samurai over a period of nearly eight hundred years-a period during which they served as role models as well as created and enforced the edicts that controlled the behavior of the common people.

As the generations passed, the six other virtues promoted by the samurai gradually impregnated the mindset of all Japanese, and continue to this day to distinguish them from other people.

This is not to infer that all of Japan’s samurai were paragons of these six primary virtues, or to ignore the fact that the definitions and nuances of all of these virtues were based on Japanese values and aspirations, which often differed fundamentally from Western precepts.

But within Japanese society during the age of the samurai the level of ethics, manners, morality and overall behavior was as high-if not higher-than has ever been achieved, before or since, in any other society. And this encompassed many of the most desirable and admirable beliefs and behavioral traits that were part of the Hebrew and Christian traditions.

The overall legacy of the samurai remains today the foundation of Japan’s etiquette, ethics and morality-weakened here and there by the importation of democratic ideals of individualism and selfishness from the West, primarily the United States, but nevertheless visible in every area of society.

The one area of Japanese culture that is the most visible to foreigners, and the one in which they can participate without prior knowledge or experience, is the fun side, the pleasure side, which combined is probably the largest single industry in the country.


In summary, it was the legacy of the samurai spirit that made it possible for Japan to become the world’s second largest economy between 1950 and 1975-notwithstanding the wide-open American market and the billions of dollars the United States government spent in Japan procuring supplies for the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Without the spirit, the perseverance, the will and the pride that had become the hallmarks of the samurai character, it would have taken the Japanese decades to overcome the devastation and loss caused by their defeat in World War II, much less become an economic superpower.

Copyright 2011 by Boy Lafayette De Mente. All rights reserved.

Invisible – NOT CYBER – Bullying in the School: Part III – The School Bus and the Classroom

This is the third in a series of three articles related to Invisible Bullying. We refer to it as invisible because it is happening virtually within 25 feet or less from adult supervision and it is going completely unrecognized because the supervisors are often on a completely different “wavelength” from the students they are supervising. Like the adults in the Charlie Brown specials, they are invisible to the students and speak a different language.

We refer to this as Decontextualized Supervision, and although it can prevent seriously bodily harm and make sure people get outside in a natural disaster and maintain general law and order, it does nothing to assist the victims of bullying during the school day. We spoke in Part I of the bullying that occurs in plain sight in the school hallways. Teachers, before you punish a child who is continually late to class automatically, will you please look at that child and ask yourself if this person looks like a person intent on beating the system or one who someone intends to beat on. If you are not sure, err on the side of caution and begin with the assumption that the child is purposely taking the long way to avoid hallway bullies that he or she dreads having to pass each day- because they are really lurking out there- even if you don’t see them.

In the cafeteria, what do you surmise when a kid shows you his new Social Studies Book with a piece of pizza smooshed in the middle? If there are kids that always go to help the librarian instead of going to lunch, does anyone ask the child why?

More children than you would think dread walking in the hallways and going to the cafeteria because of the constant abuse. Yet, for us adults, most of the time we glance into the cafeterias or down the hallway, and everything looks fine to us, except for perhaps a little too much noise. Which group- the kids or the adults have a mistaken impression? Which group of people is out of touch with the realities of the situation? Which group is working with no contextual backdrop? As a supervisor of students, what skills have you developed beyond making comments like, “Keep it down you people, or else!” “If I have to come down there you aren’t going to like it!”and, “I want the both of you to knock it off or you will be seeing me for detention for the next week!” When you said that last one, was it really an even battle, or might someone be the constant perpetrator?

So, we have spoken about the hallways and the cafeteria as being dreaded places for many young people. Next we will talk about the school bus, and this of course, includes getting on and off the school bus at the beginning of each day- another big reason for latenesses to school- an effort to avoid the gauntlet!

The law asserts that the school is responsible for each student who is transported to school from the time they leave their house in the morning till they return. That, of course, is ridiculous because we have enough to worry about in the building and since administrators are not really like the assistant principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off- running all over town chasing people like idiots, to expect the school to police someone’s street for the thugs that dwell there is very unrealistic. That being said, once again the bullies are at work at the bus stop in the morning terrorizing the weakest kids. Is anyone surprised that most new Elementary & Secondary schools are being built with pick-up lanes and older buildings have changed the traffic patterns in the parking lot for the cars of parents who drop off and pick up their children each day? 15 years ago, kids either walked to school or rode the bus, with very few parent pick-ups Overprotective? Tell it to the parents of children undergoing this terror every day. Additionally, even the students who are not bothered have learned early on to keep their mouths shut lest they be next on some bully’s “Hit list”.

An additional problem is that, in a school district where the population is sparse, there is only one bus run and all the schools in the district start and end at the same time. This means that your kindergarten child is on the bus every day with high school students, hearing all of the jokes, the verbal and physical abuse, and maybe even providing the bullies with additional easy targets for money, pencils, pens, markers, as well as abuse.

Another problem that nobody grasps is that almost all school districts, in an effort to contract out for everything including teachers, have done away with their busses and hired an independent contractor. The job of bus driver now is taken by someone happy to work part time and with no idea about discipline codes of the school and the disciplinary process. We recall one situation where a bus driver blared a radio the entire ride to and from school with religious music. Another driver curses and swears at the kids who are experts at getting an untrained adult to “take the bait” and lose their temper. In a school bus, people are hit, kicked, spat upon, verbally, assaulted, groped, propositioned, denied seats, their books and belongings are tampered with, they are tripped, the abuse folks, is endless. Occasionally you can see a story of a parent who, fed up with the school’s process, takes matters into her own hands and enters the bus to confront the bullies. Attention you professionals- this is real stuff- we aren’t making it up, and it is torture every day for children that nobody in the school ever hears about, and the driver cannot be expected to see since his or her eyes are on the road. Occasionally, an untrained bus driver will try to set up some kind of specific seating, and often they operate, like the supervisors in the school, with incomplete knowledge of who the culprits really are or they completely ignore the bullies in the hopes that nothing big will happen that day. The truth is, nothing actually noticeable ever happens when a adult watches, yet a girl could still be having lewd remarks about oral sex whispered in her ear, or a kid could be getting touched in some inappropriate way or having someone tamper with their violin, and no adult can see it and no one dares talk about it. The students law of Omerta- is even more iron clad than the Mafia.

I bet you think this is all exaggerated- I mean, really, it can’t be that bad can it? After all, I work in an upper middle class place that fancies itself to be like a private school. Please, we implore you school people, make friends with the students who operate on the dark side. They will enlighten you as to the goings on in their world that you don’t see even if you are looking in the right direction. Well-to-do students can be as cruel and heartless and, in our experience, often even more so than their less fortunate counterparts- and the parents of these children are much quicker to threaten bringing in the “dream team” of lawyers as opposed to working with the school to improve their child’s behavior.

Now we switch to the classroom where one would think that law and order and the prevention of bullying would be the easiest to accomplish because there is a confined area with a teacher watching. Here are some examples of how children can be bullied in plain sight right in the classroom. I take you back to 1965. We are in the band room of a suburban high school where the morning rehearsal is taking place. A very overweight Japanese boy was the tuba player. At least twice a week, the bullies, of which the writer was at least an encouragement to the bullies would have him kicked out of band practice for passing gas out loud during the rehearsal. When the loud gas-passing sound occurred, everyone in the section would get up and walk away yelling, ” Ugh, Benny (his nickname) that’s disgusting”, “I’m not sitting near him”, “he’s a pig”, etc. This would happen during a pause in the playing and the band director’s attention was diverted. The band director, ever the willing dupe, went for the frame up and would angrily toss Benny out of the rehearsal. The problem was, Benny was not passing gas- one of his tormentors was making the gas passing sound, and when it was made, everyone in the section joined in the collective disgust at “Benny” passing gas. In an assembly, when there was a lull in a speech being given by the principal about patriotism, this writer, seated halfway back in the middle of a row, got up to use the lavatory. A “friend” yelled out, “This is boring, I’m Leaving!!! Everyone in the auditorium immediately looked at me and I stood there trying to tell nobody in particular that it wasn’t me who said that. I got detention for a week and worse, of course, since it was still the sixties, even more when I got home.

That is one kind of dilemma. Here’s the next one. A student punches another student in class or pushes his books off the desk for example. The victim, tired of the constant abuse that has been going on every day decides to confront the bully. The teacher turns around from writing on the board, sees the victim standing up in front of the bully in a confrontational pose and immediately sends the victim to the office for his/her aggressive behavior. Do you know your students? After the first few days, any experienced teacher already knows, either by sight, or through the grapevine, which student requires constant scrutiny. When the bully is sitting there looking innocent and a non bully is striking an aggressive pose, do you think that might be a good time- or perhaps after class, to delve into the story with greater intellectual curiosity? The bullies, friends, know the precise moment to strike. As a teacher, do you pay attention to who is going to the lavatory and the time the person always goes? You are right, it’s an impossibility for the most part. Know that abuse is occurring in the lavatory constantly. Creating a process which disturbs the process of the bullies is a good thing, but a teacher must be aware of the context. False equivalency where both parties are told essentially to “sit down and shut up- both of you!” is hurtful to the one who was not doing anything in the first place, but it does bring order, if not justice, to the classroom. Call some Moms and invite them in to sit with their child throughout the class. When the grapevine learns of what you did, most people will stop their devious actions because the shame of one’s Mother sitting in class next to him or her will be a sufficient deterrent.

How about the locker room? How about students paying another student money to snap a picture of someone in the locker room changing clothes and having it go viral? Tampering with one’s clothing and belongings, stealing, physical abuse, verbal abuse is occurring all the time in the locker room and the teacher is generally sitting in his or her office or waiting for the students in the gym. Yes, we realize that the school district refuses to hire anyone past a half day because then they have to give the person benefits, but if there is any place that needs constant watching it is the locker room. Do you have any idea how many students never dress for gym in the high school, choosing instead to take an F and then take Physical Education in summer school where they are required to, for example, walk around the building each day or swim, or go bowling?

Finally, you have all heard the adage, usually said in jest that, “You just can’t find good help anymore!” Well that adage is true in the world of substitute teachers. Most schools cannot find enough trained teachers to serve as substitute teachers. We have seen substitutes actually sleeping in class and others who smell as though they have never showered. Most commonly, however, the substitute teacher seldom, if ever is actually certified in the area of the person he or she is replacing. Now you have a situation like this… A student who strikes another student is seen by the substitute teacher who asks, “What is your name young man?” “Joe Smith!” answers the student.

Bullies love substitute teachers because to begin with, they don’t know anybody’s name. Add to this the fact that the new teachers we see today are different than the old timers who saved up every day so when it came time to retire, the retiring teacher could collect full pay for a year or more. Today’s teacher misses school for the slightest reason without any regard for 30 years from now. The result- infinitely more days with substitute teachers coming in when they can be found.

The week after Thanksgiving is Christmas shopping week, for example- don’t look for a full staff in that week! When substitutes can’t be found the regular staff is asked to watch the class during their duty free period or whole classes are sent to the auditorium where adults who would rather be somewhere else are assigned the task of watching the students during a duty-free period. Check the floor of the auditorium after a couple of mass coverage classes… that will give you some idea about the passion that the supervisor is bringing to the task at hand.

In summary we make these assertions and offer these admonitions.

  1. Most of the bullying that occurs in schools occurs in plain sight and goes unperceived by adults because the adults cannot conceive of such a thing happening in such a place. They approach their responsibility with no grasp of context. They are good at keeping the noise down. No justice can be expected here for the victims. The greatest plans by mental health professional and counselors are doomed to failure without a grasp by the adults of the world in which a student operates.
  2. There is no actual safe place in the school from a bully. The busier the place the better. Bullies need to experience some discomfort and disruption of their process. Be creative. Get Mom in there to walk next to Junior all day for starters. Machiavelli would have referred to this as a “Signal Example”- the effect of which is to deter future bullies- it’s the reason that the law considers punitive or exemplary damages- to send a message to future would-be wrongdoers.
  3. Take a close look at students who frequently miss school, are late for school or class, never dress for gym, or never go to the cafeteria because they want to help a teacher. Do all of these people really look like trouble makers trying to beat the system thus deserving of letter- of- the- law school discipline or do they give off a different message?
  4. Have a meeting in August with all bus drivers to explain to them how the disciplinary process works so there might be a shred of consistency between this disparate group of individuals, most of whom think school discipline would be no problem if the administrators would just “kick a little more butt.” Nobody told them that this kind of punishment is generally against the law- and educators do not make the law- politicians do- educators just try to carry out the law.
  5. Have incentives for teachers who do not miss any school days. At least they know the names of the students. The bullies hate that!
  6. Take the time to develop a working relationship with students who are usually on the wrong side of the discipline code. Many of them are dying to talk to an adult about what is going on but no one has ever taken the time. The police ALWAYS have their informants who operate under cover. Have incentives for these individuals too. The effect will be to disrupt the plans of the Bully. You will know, for example, when someone has brought a weapon to school. In one district, we excelled at this. Kids were always coming in early to tell us things. They became very caring too and would alert you if a certain student looked “strange” that day and could be on drugs, or drunk, for example.

We guarantee that you will be amazed at what you, the adult, did NOT know about what was really going on- even if it was hiding in plain sight. Bullying is never going to go away. Schools are a microcosm of the society we live in. How civil is that society these days? A look at the embarrassing behavior of our elected officials should provide you with some clue as to how fast bullying will disappear. Creativity, perseverance, and awareness are crucial to making any changes in the status quo- get some parents and kids on your side as well.

The Girls of Harajuku, Japan

For the Virgin traveller in Japan, Harajuku is one of those ‘must see’ places on the Japan tourist circuit. Without a doubt the most famous street of Harajuku’s is Takeshita. It is highly doubtful that you will see such a place back home – taking into consideration that I am originally from a place of 3,000 people and sheep outnumber humans by 1000:1 it holds especially true for me.

So who are these infamous Harajuku Girls?

Harajuku gyaru (girl) is the phrase most commonly used to identify girls who hang around Tokyo’s Harajuku district. And of the many varied sites, definitely some of the more eye-catching are the lithe figures of the girls that flank the streets there. A word of warning though, “All that glitters is not gold” and all that looks like a girl is often not either.

You will find the fashion styles not only diverse but in some cases exceedingly bizarre. I often notice myself mentally ‘high fiving’ the girls for their courage and complete lack of self-consciousness. Here are a few of the genres that I have been privileged to see in my trips down those lanes: Gothic Lolita, Gothic Maid, Wamono, Decora, Second-Hand Fashion, and Cyber Fashion (which tends to feature goggles, masks, leather and latex.) In one of my more memorable trips I even saw several girls wearing fake blood and bandages.

What possesses these girls to dress in such an outrageous (and often provocative) way you ask yourself…

A number of of them are evidently doing their best to imitate rock bands such as Japan X (this band almost deserves a post of it’s own.) If we put on our social anthropology coats and glasses (or goggles if you want to get into the swing of it) and burrow deeper we can appreciate that for many others this is a form of escapism. At the peril of over-generalizing I have observed Japan to be a very homogeneous society and this weekly indulgence allows them to briefly escape the majority of the rules of Japanese society. It gives them individuality not as certainly apparent while wearing their usual school uniforms or workplace costume. And perhaps at the heart it gives these wonderful ladies an outlet to express, often in very sexual ways (with ripped stockings, garters, and mini-skirts, etc), the oppression of the Japanese female in their predominantly male dominated society.

I have created the opportunity to talk to quite a a small number of of these girls over the years to try and grasp what makes them ‘tick’ and found the Harajuku Girls, underneath all the make-up and bling, to be like the girl next door – tremendously polite, gracious and warm-hearted.