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Another question mark over Totsuka school's education methods


According to a local resident, it was 9 o’clock in the morning when Totsuka Yacht School students were looking out the window at the girl who lay dead on the pavement in a pool of blood.

During the evening of the wake held for the 18-year-old who had committed suicide, sad ocarina tunes were heard from the dormitory as though to mourn the loss of her life.

Police investigators explain that the young woman from Yokohama had just been admitted to the school located in Aichi Prefecture. Repeated self-injury such as wrist cutting, domestic violence and acute social withdrawal made her parents desperate for help and enrolled her in the school. It was only three days later, on the morning of Oct 19, that the girl, while hanging washed laundry with a school superviser, leapt from the rooftop of the building. The attending supervisor had let her out of sight briefly to straighten one of the bed sheets when the incident occurred.

The school stated that there were no signs of suicidal tendencies, and the student had jumped before the superviser could take any action.

Totsuka Yacht School, known for the death of four students in 1983, became notorious for its excessively strict education program and corporal punishment. The 1983 case resulted in the 6-year sentencing of school representative Hiroshi Totsuka, now 69, for illegal confinement and injury resulting in death.

Aichi police initially looked into the school’s "educational policies" as a possible cause of the latest death, but seem to have concluded that the incident was a suicide in view of the fact that the deceased, who was taking mood stabilizers, had said to her roommate that she wanted to die.

The school was founded in 1976 to teach yachting, but became a boot camp for problematic children at a time when school violence was rampant. School founder Totsuka’s educational philosophy was to teach such youngsters the concept of shame and modify their behavior in a disciplined environment where students were required to live in a dormitory and train in the skills of yachting.

Trends had changed by the time Totsuka completed his prison sentence in 2006. Accordingly, the school began taking in students with problems such as social withdrawal and refusal to attend school. What remains questionable is whether Totsuka’s disciplinary approach meets the current needs.

Shukan Post asked to interview Totsuka at the dormitory on how he felt about his student’s suicide. From a window on the third floor, the headmaster only shouted, “What do you know about education? Can you define it? Can you? Go away!”

Journalist Ken Ko, who had reviewed and reported extensively on the school, comments that many parents are incapable of reprimanding their children. Raised without any notion on the difference between right and wrong, these children have no understanding of what is considered shameful. In that sense, Totsuka’s philosophy may be effective to some extent.

He adds, however, “In the case of children with issues like self-injury and withdrawal, who have never been subjected to being shamed in public, an adverse reaction can be expected.”

While parents continue to consult this school about their problematic children, the death of the 18-year-old only 3 days after her enrollment seems too tragic.

© Japan Today

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... many parents are incapable of reprimanding their children. Raised without any notion on the difference between right and wrong, these children have no understanding of what is considered shameful.

Absolutely. This is becoming a big problem- kids do a host of bad things and when reprimanded they either laugh it off or do it again. The parents, as usual, are completely and totally useless.

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Seems the Yacht Club is teaching a new way to go sailing. What a crazy name for a really strange sounding place.

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no signs of suicidal tendencies

That's not what you said in the last article. Still, if her suicidal talk wasn't reported to the woman supervising her then she can hardly be blamed. But with a school full of problem kids, why don't they have an effective perimeter fence on the roof? Solve this particular problem immediately if done properly. Too late for this girl though, but it's her own fault if she killed herself so I won't give her too much of my sympathy.

The758, I agree with you entirely. I come across this back home too, and recalling scenes from my past I can almost chart the way one lot of shoddy parents create the next even more shoddy parents, and I dread to think where we'll all end up.

This journalist, Ken Ko, seems to be able to sum it all up in a couple of short sentences. If only they were all that smart.

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They should invest in a few dryers and keep them on the first floor.

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With the low birthrate in Japan for the last 20 years, the situation has become similar to the little Emperors in China, little kids who are only children whose every wish or desire is fulfilled at all costs, with no time for discipline or unpleasantness. I myself have seen this happen in Japan, and see this as a race to the bottom, replacing the current crop of freeters, which should still be working in McDonald's at age 65 since they didn't save for retirement.

"The school stated that there were no signs of suicidal tendencies". Didn't the girl say she wanted to kill herself that morning? If the roomate didn't report it then the roommate must also take some responsibility.

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'no signs of suicidal tendencies'!? The girl was repeatedly injuring herself, she had cut her wrists and completely withdrawn socially! This girl needed psychological counselling, love and support! Not a strict 'yacht' school away from her home & family. This tragedy could have been pevented, I think.

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When totally abandoned by their elders, a shame-based youth culture will either become self-centred out of "rebellion" or worse, hide away from the world.

For there is a lack of self-discipline which cannot be inculcated in middle school by abandoning the child at some yacht school.

Parents, if you truly love your children in Japan, then it's time to emotionally support them even if it means you rent a small apaato and drive a Kei car.

Overall, urban life must be really harsh that parents both work, yet have no time to unconditionally accept their children.

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I take issue with the statement that the girl didn't exhibit suicidal tendencies. Cutting, while not a guarantee of suicidal ideation, is nonetheless a clear signal that the person in question is emotionally unstable and in need of support, not "shame" and "discipline." Acute social withdrawal? Domestic violence? Self injury? In what way do these indicators AT ALL represent a need to be taught right from wrong? This girl doesn't sound like the type who was going out all night, smashing store windows with baseball bats and howling like a banshee with her lunatic friends. She sounds like someone who felt abandoned and unworthy and excluded from the world. Then they shipped her off to what amounts to juvie and are surprised that she committed suicide? What?

Was she abused by her boyfriend? By another family member? What kind of domestic violence are we talking about? And please define "acute social withdrawal" for me, too, because I think the last thing someone suffering from social withdrawal needs is to be sent away to a strange school traditionally known for housing society's "bad" kids. If she felt worthless to begin with -- and it sounds very much like that was her mindset -- then effectively shipping her off to reform school like some uncouth delinquent would just re-enforce that belief.

Yes, there are plenty of children and adolescents whose parents have failed to teach them the basics of right, wrong, good, bad, sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Sometimes these children can be helped through an environment of even-handed, strict -- NOT ABUSIVE, thank you, but strict -- discipline, so long as that harsh environment is tempered with equal parts praise for each young person's accomplishments. This can re-enforce positive behavior while simultaneously deglorifying negative, delinquent behavior. So I don't understand why any "educator" would characterize their school as teaching children and adolescents "shame." Shame is a negative, dark emotion, and it shouldn't be the focus of any school's behavioral rehabilitation. Rather, a school such as this should focus on bolstering a student's sense of compassion and humility. That doesn't mean giving them a free-ride and catering to their every whim. It DOES mean teaching them the REASONS why certain actions are good while others are bad, and encouraging them to try and see the world through less jaded eyes. This is what their parents failed to do, either through inattention, apathy, or insecurity. If you're successful, the shame for past misdeeds will follow naturally, as will the sense of relief that they can put those old behaviors in the past and start fresh.

But if this article is taken at face value, it doesn't sound like this girl needed to be "shamed" into being a better person anyway. It sounds like she was already suffering from an EXCESS of shame; shame in HERSELF. Self-loathing, self-mutilation; she had no respect for herself, and she certainly didn't need someone calling her out publicly for her behavior. It's like setting a match to a stack of dry tinder; it would take no time at all for it to go up in smoke.

Regardless of what it's like today, the REPUTATION of the Totsuka Yacht School is one of severe, even fatal punishment, not supportive rehabilitation and character reform. Being sent to a place like that must have hit this girl like a hammer. "See? I hurt myself and I hate myself, and then they tell me I'm bad and send me to this school, so I must REALLY be worthless. Nobody could love someone as bad as me. I want to die."

It's all too tragic. I wish someone could have genuinely helped this girl and prevented this awful result.

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In America they put these troubled kids straight into the military then ship them off to Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan etc. -It seems to work and they grow out of it. =We can turn these kids into perfectly fine Borgs if just given the chance.

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If only we could send troubled kids to the military before they turn 18.

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