Corporal punishment is banned in Japan's schools but the recent suicide of a teenage student has brought to light the extent to which teachers use violence to 'teach' their students.
On December 23, a 17-year-old boy was found hanging in his bedroom in Osaka. The youth, who has not been named, had been struck as many as 40 times by his basketball coach the previous day and an investigation has revealed the abuse had been frequent and long-running.
Exactly one month to the day that their son committed suicide, the parents of the boy who killed himself filed a criminal complaint against the teacher who allegedly physically punished their son to the point that he wanted to die.
Prefectural police in Osaka accepted the complaint and will question the 47-year-old coach of the Sakuranomiya High School basketball club, who has not been identified, before deciding whether to go ahead with criminal proceedings.
Despite the outpouring of shock at the behavior of the teacher in the media, among politicians and parents, it has apparently not put an end to a practice that has already long been banned in Japan's schools.
Drastic teaching methods
Education authorities in Aichi Prefecture were forced to react quickly after it was revealed that a science teacher had forced two students to drink diluted hydrochloric acid after they reported an incorrect result in a science experiment on January 18.
Many children stay silent about abuse
Officials of the local board of education said the teacher had informed them that the acid posed no danger to the children as it had been diluted, but they were taking no chances given the bad press that teachers are receiving.
"As this incident posed a risk to the life and health of students, it was a grave failure of leadership and we can only apologize to the students and their families," the board said in a statement.
"We are currently deciding on disciplinary measures for the teacher involved," it said, adding that senior teachers also visited the two students' homes to express regret for the incident.
Eight days earlier, a teacher at an elementary school had physically punished an autistic student aged 10 by binding his wrists with a plastic strap. The incident came to light when the boy had to be treated by a doctor.
In the wake of the Osaka suicide, the Asahi newspaper demanded in an editorial that school authorities admit that despite the ban on corporal punishment, this was not an isolated case.
"It is known that violence is often used in coaching at every level of education - from elementary schools to universities," the paper said. "Coaches should be strictly instructed not to use violence on students.
"More importantly, parents, school authorities and teachers and students should make efforts to create an environment that will not allow bodily punishment in sports training," it added. "It is suspected that there is even a tendency to praise as 'dedicated' those coaches who use violence in training."
Blind eye to violence
"If people turn a blind eye to such violence, it won't go away."
There was a renewed surge of anger when it became known that the school had been warned of a problem with the coach but ignored it.
More than a year prior to the incident, the Osaka city government received a tip that players on the basketball team were frequently the target of abuse and ordered the school to investigate. The school did not ask students about the allegations but informed the board of education that there were no cases of physical punishment.
An investigation after the student's death revealed that 21 of the 50 players had been physically punished by the teacher.
"This case is absolutely horrible, but what is perhaps surprising is that the boy himself does not appear to have complained very loudly and that none of the other kids spoke out either," said Tom Gill, a professor of anthropology at Meiji Gakuin University. "There is a culture of silence and complicity, that this sort of behavior is the norm.
"There is this sense in the Japanese education system that this sort of physical hardship and making the kids endure is good," he told DW. "I imagine many physical education teachers consider themselves to be the law and there are probably some who believe Japan is going down the pan as a result of the soft and overly liberal bureaucrats at the Ministry of Education that has made them ease up on studying too hard."
Head teachers and boards of education are complicit in keeping such abuse of children under wraps as it is impossible that they are not aware of what is going on, Professor Gill said.
But he is not optimistic that there will be meaningful change forced upon teachers as a result of the death of the Osaka student.
"Every time we have a case like this, people say they are shocked and the media ask what society is coming to, but then it all blows over and people just carry on as before," he said.
"If this had happened in a US school, the parents would have very quickly sued and until we start to see that sort of response from parents here in Japan, then I think this will continue."
That change may, however, have just started.
On January 23, a former student filed a damages lawsuit against her school and the coach of her judo team seeking Y5 million (41,095 euros) in damages for injuries she claimed she suffered at the hands of the coach.
The woman, who has not been named, accused authorities at Fujimura Girls' Junior and Senior High School of subjecting her to corporal punishment, including being struck with an iron bar. She claims the abuse ruptured her left eardrum.
The school has admitted that the coach slapped the girl but maintains it is not liable for damages.