Today is another drama review day. I have only recently been introduced to this drama, but it depicts Japanese school life in such a real fashion that I feel it needs to be introduced. But first, a little back story on how this relates to me.
I have worked at a Japanese jr. high school in Kawagoe since September and have spent a fair amount of time observing students during a classroom situation – aka students in my English class. There are the students who actually pay attention and take careful notes, the students who just have no clue what is going on no matter how hard they try, and those that just don’t give a damn and sleep during class. I have seen teachers attempt to wake the students up only to have them fall asleep again, try to motivate those that don’t understand and want to give up, and praise those that perform well. However, it is only recently that I have really been able to see behavior that is a result of the school socialization process and those that oppose it.
Japan has many social issues in its schools. I am sure most Americans have the stereotype that a large majority of Japanese school children either commit or consider suicide. There is also the problem of bulling in schools. Now, I can almost say for certain that very few, if any to be honest, of the students I teach are considering suicide. However, I have recently begun to see the effects of bullying. Now, bullying in Japan is very sneaky. Japanese kids may not be the smartest in an English classroom (have caught a few students cheating on exams), but when it comes to bullying it is very difficult if not downright impossible to catch someone in the act. One of my second year students, who is very energetic and friendly, is apparently popular with the boys (not in a sexual way, she is not a slut) but they enjoy talking with her. Naturally, other girls do not like this, so she gets teased and is sometimes accused of doing “that” with the boys. What can I say, very jr. high school.
However, recent developments have occurred that suggest this has been taken a step further than just using words. This student was supposed to play in the band which is shown in my previous entry. However, sometime last week her flute just vanished. She knows that she left it in the music room overnight because she could not bring it home. On that day, she was one of the last to leave the music room because she was getting in all the practice she could. The following day, she was one of the last people to arrive for morning rehearsal, and when she arrived her flute was already gone. The poor thing spent the entire week in tears because her parents bought her that flute, which cost over $1000, and now she could not perform in the band in honor of the third year students.
In summary, many teacher believe she is a victim of いじめ (ijime) bullying.
CD cover to season 6’s soundtrack.
So, what does this have to do with the drama Mr. Kinpachi? Well, this drama is the story of an 3rd year jr.high school class in Japan; its teacher is Kinpachi Sakamoto (坂本金八 Sakamoto Kinpachi), Kinpachi-sensei has a lot of social commentary on issues such as homosexuality, gender identity disorder, and psychological pregnancy–as well as bullying (of both students and teachers), teenage pregnancy, teenage suicide, hikikomori, and the extreme pressure to do well in school.
The series began in 1979, a pivotal year when issues such as delinquency and on campus violence reached a fever-pitch amongst the educational spectrum; “Kinpachi Sensei,” portrayed by former singer Tetsuya Takeda of Kaientai fame, attempts to resolve such problems using a blend of charisma, honesty, and humor and wit.
In 2001, the series helped to rocket Aya Ueto (a very famous actress – I am a big fan) to greater national attention after she portrayed a student with gender identity disorder; Kinpachi made it his mission to teach the class about issues relating to gender identity so as to stop Ueto’s character from feeling consistently alienated from her peers.
Part of Kinpachi sensei’s enduring appeal is the fact that the character’s energy and dynamism help to steer him through all of life’s difficulties; there never seems to be a single time in the show’s history in which Kinpachi is not beset by a host of social or personal problems: teen bullying, Kinpachi’s son developing cancer, or violence directed against teachers.
a screen cap from season 7. I have not seen this season yet, but I imagine that the boy Kinpachi is holding destroyed the classroom, most likely as a result of bullying(?).
In summary, this drama portrays a really real view of a sometimes ignored part of Japanese schools. I have only been able to find season 8 (unfortunately with no subtitles) and it is so real that it really freaks me out. Social issues have already been raised from monster parents” who go so far as to attempt to get a teacher fired just because they gave their child a bad grade on a test to internet message boards where students are able to bully their classmates without anyone knowing their identity. What Kinpachi is able to do, is provide each problem with a possible solution – although there are very few teachers that are able to go to the extremes that he does for his students. While what is does may be impossible for everyone to do (such as stay all night at an internet café to talk to one of his students who is in trouble) such things like visiting the home of a student who has been sick for too long, or holding homeroom sessions to address current events and attempt to resolve social issues that have appeared in class, the way in which he talks and reacts is very real and a very good representation of what I have seen.
Here is a quote from the series by the actor who plays Kinpachi:
“In these times, I think it’s important to discover and develop who you are as a person. I have come to think this over the many years I have known Kinpachi. I have asked myself what is the most important thing you can do in your life? I have come to the conclusion that, in the everyday interactions of life, it’s working out what sort of person you want to become.
Lately, as I see all the stories about child crime in the news, I think that these children have become obsessed with the Internet and are too busy to be kids messing about with their friends to really come to be confronted with and understand who they are as people.
Time alone is vitally important, as it is during such times that you can take a good long look at yourself. In times past, you could see all the bad things about life in the delinquent children. But I think nowadays, it is in the children in whom such great expectation is placed that you see the bad side of society.
Being 15 years old is no longer a carefree time.”
I happened upon this site while searching for video files from the series, so I encourage you to check it out if you are interested: http://kinpachi-sensei-7.blogspot.com/
You can find the official site here: http://www.tbs.co.jp/kinpachi/
I am sure I will post about some of these social issues eventually.