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Documentary looks at why Japanese parents let young kids walk to school by themselves

101 Comments
By Krista Rogers, RocketNews24

Many foreigners in Japan are shocked to see young Japanese schoolchildren walking to and from school by themselves, or even taking the trains or buses alone. While these sights would probably lead to more than a few concerned stares in many countries overseas, they’re perfectly typical scenes in Japan.

Australian TV channel SBS 2 recently shared a mini-documentary titled “Japan’s independent kids” on YouTube, which gives a brief look at the differences between one young Japanese girl’s commute to school versus that of a young Australian girl, while examining some of the societal factors that lead to differing expectations regarding independence for children in each country.

Take a moment now to watch the approximately eight-minute video below, then scroll down for our summary of its major points and net user comments.

The short documentary begins by sharing the Japanese proverb "Kawaii ko ni wa tabi o saseyo," or “Send the beloved child on a journey.” This saying, which holds that children should learn to take on challenges and difficulties from an early stage in life, alludes to the fact that Japanese children are typically socialized into becoming independent and taking care of themselves at a younger age than are many children in Western countries. One striking example of this young independence is in how Japanese elementary school students commute to school on a daily basis.

Viewers next meet the adorable seven-year old Noe Ando during a typical day on her commute to elementary school, which she makes alone by train. She even has to transfer once at JR Shinjuku Station, which is the busiest station in the world by number of passengers. Just walking through the station can be a harrowing ordeal in itself for an adult, let alone for a tiny child during rush hour.

While sending a seven-year-old off by herself to navigate public transportation would be unthinkable for many parents outside of Japan, Ando’s mother shares her own perspective: “Her parents won’t be with her so she has to learn how to solve things herself. If she gets lost or catches the wrong train, she has to figure it out on her own.”

The filming crew then interviews Jake Adelstein, an American investigative journalist known for being an expert on organized crime in Japan, who experienced cultural shock on a personal level when his own four-year-old daughter began to walk to school on her own in Japan. He makes an observation later in the video that Japanese society and work culture would have to be completely reorganized if parents were held accountable for transporting their children to and from school every day.

Finally, we meet the Fraser family from Australia, whose 10-year-old daughter Emily is driven to and from school every day by her father. When told that if she lived in Japan she would’ve already been traveling to school by herself for four years, she replies, “It’s cool.” Fraser is already looking forward to high school, when she will be allowed to walk home and let herself in with a key independently.

The documentary then transitions into a brief discussion surrounding the societal differences and expectations for children in Japan and Australia. As one Australian man comments, “Our society suffers from a paranoia about leaving children on their own.” The narrator also reveals that Japan has more than five times the population of Australia, but less than one-fourth the homicide rate.

English-speaking Internet users who saw the video shared some of their comments on online forum Reddit:

“I think besides the lower crime rate, Japanese communities tend to be a little more collective when it comes to child rearing…I think that many [Japanese] kids if they were lost or in trouble would have very little problems with asking strangers for help, especially elderly people. I was raised to be the complete opposite, every stranger is a possible criminal who may want to hurt me. ”

“The girl is the video is not a normal case: she has to travel that far by herself because her parents are sending her to some kind of special private school. It’s far more common for elementary schoolers in Japan walk a short distance to the school nearest to their home. The younger kids rarely walk alone: there are designated spots where they meet up with other neighborhood kids and walk to or from school as a group. The older kids act as leaders for the group.”

“I think, in general, the point it is making is true. Japanese kids are expected to be a lot more independent a lot earlier than their western counterparts. Not necessarily in all cases, or situations…but in general. They just picked a somewhat extreme set of examples to make the point.”

How was your own experience going to school as a child compared with that of the two girls interviewed above?

Sources: YouTube/SBS2Australia, Reddit

Read more stories from RocketNews24 -- Fukushima Mother to Reporter: “I Wish My Daughters Were Never Born” -- 65-year-old arrested for theft: “I never worked” -- “I think I love you…”: Romantic confessions from around the world

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101 Comments
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I'll let other posters talk about whether or not Japanese children are really more independent or not, but what I think is really stupid is because parents want their children to walk to school, there are many schools here in Aomori where there are only three or four students. The amount of money wasted on keeping a school open all so that kids can walk to school is criminal. I don't think it is for the kids benefit either.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

How was your own experience going to school as a child compared with that of the two girls interviewed above?

Left home about 8:00. Walked about a mile to school. Met a friend on the way. (1960 aged 5) Two years later, aged 7, I was ready for anything. (short cut through the quarry, alternative route across the railway lines)

Jump forward to 1990, somewhere in north Wakayama. Daughter leaves at about 8:00, joins a group of friends, and walks about half a mile to school. Parents posted at key points on route. A couple of times we had warning of a pervert in the neighborhood, and so extra parents on the route.

Jump forward to 2002, somewhere in Scotland. Son walks half a mile to bus stop to catch the school bus. Little shit sometimes sleeps in, so I drive him to school.

These cases are hard to compare. Local circumstances make a big difference. The only significant difference I noticed in Japan were the 'chikan' alerts posted here and there. It seemed weird at first, but kids seemed to know what a chikan was, and could easily report such things to parents, teachers, other adults. I'm not sure kids here in Scotland could do that.

14 ( +15 / -1 )

This saying, which holds that children should learn to take on challenges and difficulties from an early stage in life, alludes to the fact that Japanese children are typically socialized into becoming independent and taking care of themselves at a younger age than are many children in Western countries.

Ok, let's stop right now with this fantasy crap. If this is supposed to be about kids becoming independent, and able to take care of themselves, please explain why there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of adults that are single in this country, AND still living at home with Mommy and Daddy, AND living off of them as well.

Independent? Right, more stereotypical BS trying to make the "image" of Japan different from the reality.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I was growing up in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s, it was quite common for young children to go to and from school by themselves, or walk to the park, beach etc. Then there were some horrific crimes in which children were kidnapped and murdered (the Beaumont case being the most notorious). That case completely changed the way parents thought about letting young children go out by themselves. It had a profound effect on society and I still remember it today.

Now, in Australia, it would be rare to see children under 10 walking to and from school by themselves.

Interestingly in Japan, despite the child murders we've read about this year, I have yet to see the sort of change in society about letting youngsters go out by themselves that took place in Australia.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

One of the only times you see kids outside is going to and from school. Perhaps their parents should encourage them to go out and play too.

16 ( +18 / -2 )

I think the elephant in the room here is that Japanese kids do get kidnapped, raped and killed with some regularity and yet parents are still willing to take the risk.

Japanese kids do seem to be given 'Independence' to walk home but it's more out of convenience for the parents than any noble cause to develop the child's character.

The irony here of course is that while Japanese children seem to be more independent as children somewhere in the process of growing up in Japan they lose that independence as they reach adulthood - western adults are far more independent on the whole than Japanese adults with many of them living at home and dependent on their parents, while in Australia and other western cultures people leave home at 18 to live by themselves.

11 ( +22 / -11 )

I was discussing this with a few friends recently and there was a wide range of opinions. Here is my view: different courses for different horses.

By that I mean what may work in Japan may most certainly not work in other countries. And parents' behaviour and their protectiveness of their children in every country will be dependent on the circumstances and conditions prevalent in their own community.

I grew up in Japan. I went to elementary school nearly 9 km away from where I lived. It involved either a long walk to the public school bus stop and then a ride on the public bus and then another short walk to the school. Or, as I hit 4th grade, actually riding to school on my 5-speed.

It was amazing. I was independent, it was my time, I had to learn to navigate roads and bus systems and all of that. I never once considered that I might not be safe.

But that was Japan in the late '70s. Then our family moved to the southern U.S. Just as the Atlanta Child Murders were taking place. Here I was an elementary school age boy who had grown up in Japan watching stories on the nightly news about children being murdered.

Of course, there was no biking to school for me there. It was a school bus pickup and dropoff right in front of my house. Or parents taking me or pickup me up from school.

I am sure that parents everywhere, even those that thrive on helicopter parenting, would love to have the options that exist in Japan. However, the reality is that they just aren't able to do what parents do in Japan. And in many cases, for good reason.

That said, I think the ability for parents to send their elementary kids off to school in the morning unaccompanied is a really good thing.... For Japan. For now.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

The third paragraph from the end make an excellent point, which is that the Japanese girl's situation is atypical of the average elementary school kids' journey.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

America used to be like this also, when I was young we either road bus because it was to far or walked if we lived within a mile.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

And here we go again... the incessant curiosity of what foreigners think of Japan by the Japanese themselves. I've never seen another country more concerned with what others think. I think Abe has it right.... he is just doing what he thinks is right for Japan with out regard for what others think. Japan needs to stop the preoccupation with what others think and just do what is good for them.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

Japan is safe. That is the total story.

-5 ( +6 / -11 )

In the days before the Nanny-state ninnies took over, yes, kids used to walk or bike to school. Yes, there were bad people back then, too, including on the staff.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

I don't have any kids myself, but with the increase of murders and kidnappings I would be really worried about my kids safety walking alone like that. In my neighborhood they have old people patrolling the route which is a great idea. Can never be too careful these days.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I think it's pretty accurate to say that the practice of letting children walk to school on their own isn't universal, nor is it based on a widespread effort to make kids more independent. Like a lot of things here, it is based on what other people do or what has always been done. Local elementary schools have brigades of teachers and parents patrolling the streets and manning crosswalks as others have pointed out. There are senpais usually at the head of the group to lead the younger ones, and this is the most normal method of getting to school where I'm from.

For those who travel long distances to private schools, the situation is as described in the story. However, I think it is naive to imagine Japan as a place free of the worry of crime. In some conversations I've had with young women in this country, a lot of them have experienced some sort of traumatic incident on a train when they were in elementary, junior high, or high school. For fear of public shame and so as not to worry their parents, many of them never told anyone what happened. But knowing this, I don't think I'd ever let young children take the train alone. The possibility of harassment or molestation is high enough that in their 9-12 years of traveling to school everyday, there is something significant to worry about.

And I call BS on the whole argument about "independence," at least in terms of that being some guiding factor for raising children in this country. Commuting is about the only thing I can think of in terms of Japanese society being comfortable with early independence. The rest of children's lives are carefully managed so they really never have to make an independent choice until they reach... College? Full adulthood? It's really hard to tell since I can't consider even many young adults here "independent."

As I said above, and this is just my opinion, the practice of sending your kid to a faraway school alone is because that's the way one is supposed to do it in that situation. Do mothers really consider a child's independence, or are they considering what others will think if they escort their kid to school everyday? Is it a financial decision? Buying another teiki can be expensive, and so can driving your child to school if it is so far away. I think either of these reasons are probably more likely than some perceived effort to raise kids to be more self-sufficient for the sake of building character.

I dunno... I think Western media sees what it wants to see about Japan to point out some flaw in our own societies. Maybe some would disagree, but that's basically how I feel every time I see an "in-depth" look at Japan produced by outsiders.

14 ( +17 / -3 )

@Kansaichris

I believe you but I just found your exposition kinda funny. The many girls you spoke to wouldnt tell their parents, authorities or anyone else for fear of public shame and so as to not worry their parents, but they tell you.

You must be very handsome or soemthing.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

"Many foreigners in Japan are shocked to see young Japanese schoolchildren walking to and from school by themselves, or even taking the trains or buses alone."

You can count me as one of those who was shocked (and a little perplexed) when about twenty years ago I saw tiny school children walking the streets of central Tokyo. Now I'm OK with it, at least in Japan.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

gokai_wo_manekuSEP. 14, 2015 - 08:38AM JST Japan is safe. That is the total story.

Not if you're a woman and not if you are a kid according to news reports, but living in ignorance is stress-free I suppose.

0 ( +9 / -9 )

Nowadays, parents ought to be concerned not only about paedofiles, but also crazy teenagers and unemployed people who pose a danger to both young and old on the street.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Most adults have long train commutes to work, so the children are just getting used to long commutes at an early age.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Maybe this says more about Australia and Australian TV than it does about Japan.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

...alludes to the fact that Japanese children are typically socialized into becoming independent and taking care of themselves at a younger age than are many children in Western countries.

I nearly choked to death on my breakfast when I read this. This should win the BS of the year award! I mean, Japanese are far less socialized than their western counterparts; and very few westerners live at home with their parents well into their thirties.

0 ( +7 / -7 )

the incessant curiosity of what foreigners think of Japan by the Japanese themselves

It's an Aussie documentary for Australian consumption.

Interesting that the lobbyist from the pedestrian safety group (who claims that kids can't cross roads safely until they're ten) can't see the forest for the trees: school runs increase the risk to pedestrians.

The school commute for Japanese kids is a single-function device in terms of instilling independence.

It's play time and spontaneous interaction with other kids (and adults) in non-rote activity that gives kids street smarts.

Tiger moms and Juku unwittingly deny their children this important development opportunity, to the detriment of Japan's competitive advantage as a nation.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I was walking alone to school at 6 for 15 minutes(700m, somewhere in Europe), and my kid walks, rain or shine, for 45 minutes(2km) in Chiba. I see nothing abnormal or different with this..

5 ( +6 / -1 )

In some conversations I've had with young women in this country, a lot of them have experienced some sort of traumatic incident on a train when they were in elementary, junior high, or high school. For fear of public shame and so as not to worry their parents, many of them never told anyone what happened.

I've had many, many conversations like this. I've even had students show up for in tears because of being approached or hassled on the way to my lesson. All refused to go to the police, or even tell their parents.

BTW, I now teach at a private international school, and not one of my kids walks to school - they either use the school bus, or get dropped off and picked up by their parents. You should see the line-up of Mercs and Beamers outside the school gate every morning and afternoon! The cops hate us.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

I think because of the mass media putting out way too many scary stories about child abductions here in USA, parents are forced to effectively cloister their children. It's getting so bad that you rarely see even children in playgrounds unless they're accompanied by several adults. No wonder why American children have more difficulty socializing than in the past, in my opinion.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

@F4HA604

You must be very handsome or something.

Well, that... and these are ex-girlfriends, so there's some degree of trust there. They have certainly told their friends as well, so it's not a secret they keep hidden from everyone. It's just a reluctance to tell their parents anything. I don't think that's unusual, even outside of Japan. I think they just didn't want their parents to see them differently or cause them any worry.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

"I think Western media sees what it wants to see about Japan to point out some flaw in our own societies." I think this is true. I also agree that young people do not seem very independent. Many, when looking at media about western kids, say that they wish they also had their own specific dreams of the future at such young ages. They often don't know what they want to do and don't know what they think about things in general. "Independent" is not a word I'd use to describe Japanese youth from my experience teaching.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Dangerous times let a kid go to school alone.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

I think that, unless it is an unusually dangerous area, young Japanese kids can walk to school, with older kids looking after younger kids. It's when they get into high school or university with their eyes glued to a cell phone that they are most at risk, probably as they cross the street or ride a bike while texting.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

How was your own experience going to school as a child compared with that of the two girls interviewed above?

I couldn't have done it at the same age for starters. I was too easily distracted and frequently lost track of time pursuing my own interests. I'd have been hours late. Our elementary school was fairly close to home and my mother also worked at a school, so we could leave roughly the same time. This made her driving me and some neighborhood kids to the same school every day very convenient. But when I hit 10 years old, I was expected either to walk or bike to school on my own. The car was for foul weather only.

My biggest concern about Japanese kids walking to school from such early ages isn't that some miscreant will attack them, but they'll horse around and get injured or run out in front of a car. Kids in our area walk in groups with their little helmets on and seem to be pretty well wired together, but I worry when I see them gathering at the corners waiting for the light. I worry someone among them will have a little mental drift and take a step at the wrong time. Other than that, there are usually older people out for strolls with their dogs or alone around the same time the kids are passing, and lots of junior and senior high kids among them. I'm trusting everyone to look out for each other.

So far so good!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@igloobuyer

I think the elephant in the room here is that Japanese kids do get kidnapped, raped and killed with some regularity and yet parents are still willing to take the risk.

This statement seems to reside in a dream land where countries where kids don't generally walk to school have no such crimes, or fewer, which is not the case AT ALL.

In the real world, relinquishing the streets to the bad guys has bad results. If us good people want to keep the streets, we have to get out and avail ourselves of them, not hide away. And yes, that includes the children.

Its like running away from a dog. The dog most likely would have left you alone if you had not shown him such fear.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

As soon as my daughter is old enough to go to school, I'll be walking her to school. I'm not afraid of her being kidnapped or mugged, etc. I'm afraid of her being hit by a damn car. If I lived in the country maybe I would feel differently but I live in the city and let's be honest... however safe this country is the drivers can be absolutely reckless. I've been tapped by moving cars several times and god knows how many times I've almost gotten run down by some absent minded idiot over the years, and I'd venture to say I'm more aware and vigilant than your average 7 year old.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

“Her parents won’t be with her so she has to learn how to solve things herself. If she gets lost or catches the wrong train, she has to figure it out on her own.”

They don't tend to figure out what to do when they are kidnapped, abused, and murdered though, do they? And you can't tell me that doesn't happen at an alarming level here. The idea of 'letting them grow up' with a bit of tough love, and it's not because they want the kids to be independent but because the parents have other stuff to do, but the bottom line is it is negligent. Sending them off in a group is one thing... but by themselves is just plain taking a risk with their lives.

Not worth it, and not fostering 'independence' when the system here dashes any idea of independence altogether, from cradle to the grave.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

Japan is so safe that parents can do this without much worry. There are always surely some (more or less) psychos/wackos (but not so many here unlike America) somewhere but it seems that they can't kidnap/seduce kids easily and kids know well how to run away from such strangers when they faced bad situations, otherwise parents will not let children go alone.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

It's ironic.

Japanese parents are trying to make their kids independent by having them negotiate the journey themselves... to the place where any sense of independence will be completely hammered out of them!

17 ( +18 / -1 )

About thirty years ago kids used to walk and ride to school in Australia. I know this because I did it from the age of six. I do not know why this has changed, but I do think it has a lot to do with the media and its ability to make the world a frightening place.

I am not sure whether Japanese kids are more independent than their foreign counterparts, but in some facets of their lives they appear to be, eg. cleaning the school, serving lunch and walking to and from school to name but a few. But you know it is all relative.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Kids are always taught they are safe as long as they stay in crowd such as busy road/street, busy train/bus, convenient stores, except dark road/street. Kids will call parents or go to nearest Koban when kids feel chased/seduced by strangers. Kids know where Kobans are on the way to school.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Japanese kids do get kidnapped, raped and killed with some regularity

Horse puckey. This is a statement that is so utterly relative and subjective as to be practically useless in any serious discussion of the question.

Just a brief consideration of the sheer number of Japanese kids who do walk unmolested to and from school across the archipelago should cause any rational person to marvel outright at how safe Japanese streets really and truly are.

And that's the crux of it. Japanese streets are incredibly safe with the occasional aberration.

Honestly, I much prefer the idea of teaching our children the world outside the walls of our homes is a place to be an active participant rather than one to hide away from out of crippling mistrust. This approach, IMO, is far more beneficial to the overall health of society than raising an entire generation of children on a steady diet of fear extrapolated from snippets of "If it bleeds, it leads" nightly news.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

No way I would allow any child under 15 in Australia the independence to commute for live at school alone. Yes in Japan but no-way in Austraila. Unless the school is in eye sight of home. The place has a big problem with Pedophiles.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

John-SanSEP. 14, 2015 - 01:37PM JST No way I would allow any child under 15 in Australia the independence to commute for live at school alone. Yes in Japan but no-way in Austraila. Unless the school is in eye sight of home. The place has a big problem with Pedophiles.

What makes you think Japan doesn't. Remember that child pornography was only made illegal this year in Japan.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Pornography in some websites/books seems very dangerous to see but it doesn't hurt/kidnap kids. Streets seem still safe to walk alone.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Interesting subject & comments.

Just a few of my own observations - some of which others already mentioned.

for the millions of kids here the videos story is atypical - long, long busy train commutes.

in my city of 0.5 million most kids walk to school (residential zoning means no long commutes). But most of the schools have no car parking, drop off areas or waiting areas (many front narrow streets) so commuting by car is impossible..

Children walk in groups most of the time, often with senior students. Before & after school, many of the street corners have local volunteers (mothers, retirees etc) wearing bright fluro vests manning them, guiding the children across even small intersections. In some cases these volunteers are spaced every 100+ metres or so.

Primary school students in my city are banned from riding bicycles to school. Junior high students must live more than 2+ kms away to apply for permission to ride a bike.

regarding independence - a very subjective field - from my experience many children here, other than walk to school or cram school, don't / can't do much by themselves. It's rare for kids to do housework or chores here. Most of their outside free time is highly structured and organized. You have to literally make a booking to play with friends in many cases. It would not be common to hear a simple expression like, "I'm just going over to Taro's place to play". Or a mother to say, "you kids are driving me crazy with all that noise, why don't you go outside and play?"

school environments can be extremely anti-independent environments(not all of course) as the group takes precedent in the socializing process. This continues thoughout schooling, uni & workplace. This is exemplified by the school testing systems, still now mainly based on multiple choice type problems with little room for free written answers, explanations or own ideas. Groupism is one of the bonds of Japanese society and independent thinking can surely create social problems.

Is one society more independent than the other? Well I'm not making judgements - but trying to create an image that Japanese kids are independent because they walk to school is not really convincing. Most have no choice.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Remember that child pornography was only made illegal this year in Japan.

That certainly makes a titillating and damning soundbite, but the truth of the matter is the the production and distribution of child pornography in Japan has been banned since 1999, with penalties ranging from 3~5 years imprisonment with labor or fines ranging from 3 million to 10 million yen (US$24,000~$83,000).

The ban you're trumpeting is the June 2014 ban on the possession of child pornography. Yes, it's shocking that it took that long for a ban on possession to take place, but playing fast and loose with the facts in order to bolster your position just undermines the legitimacy of your concerns.

Abduction by child pornographers are by far not the biggest danger facing children on the streets of Japan.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Yup... Japan the country where we are independent but not independent... all depends of the whims of some few people that only are able to criticize.

To be honest... I think there are many more countries that let kids walk to their schools, house, playgrounds alone... that mommy/daddy has to walk/drive them is more of a "few" over paranoid countries... and some countries that there is always clear and present danger, like Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Kenya, etc.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Most of the theories I've read here do not makes sense. I grew up in the Philippines and children of lower social class definitely are very independent. As young as I can remember, we walk and take public transportation on our own. Philippines has a high crime rate and has very dangerous public roadways. That said however, we do not leave home when we turned 18. That is not because we are scared to be independent but to the contrary, we feel obligated to keep our family united. We support our aging parents. The odd thing is when we migrated to the US, we rear our children like the americans do. We do not want our children to be obligated to us when they turned 18.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Couple of years ago I saw a couple of little girls in yellow hats and those huge backpacks on a busy train and no parents. When I was 7 (early 70s) I walked to school with friends... it was an army town so was pretty safe. Only thing we really had to worry about were IRA bomb threats (and one actual attack) and our own made up monsters - the skinheads who lived in caves behind some houses.

Do Japanese kiddies really have the common sense to be able to travel to and from elementary school? When I was that age I was still a child, played as a child and thought as a child.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Igloobuyer: 22 million population and the amount of conviction is one reason. Just in the last 12 months, there is three ongoing Royal commission. NSW, VIC and a Federal. A South Australia Minister for Child welfare was convicted of child pornograpthy some 2 years ago. Just recently a Managering Supervisor in South Australia Child Welfare who been working in that position for 5 years, Was arrested for heading a International Pediphiles ring. No! it not safe to be a child alone at anytime is Australia. Japan is way safer.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

I took a 30 minute train ride everyday in lower school, and never had any problems. We didn't have smart phones or anything like that, so I had to read manga or talk to friends. Quite fun actually.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

This issue here is relative safety. In my hometown kids used to walk around and play outside unattended because it was safe to do so. Likewise people used to leave their front doors and car doors open, but those days are gone now. As the gap between rich and poor grew so did the crime rate. Japan is relatively safe. But "only a few cases pop up now and then of crimes" you say? Well, just look at the crime section on the front page of JT's website. Recall the recent, horrendous crimes against children! But, " but, but, but" you say? Well, even if crimes don't occur as often as other countries, isn't one child kidnapped, molested, and or murdered one to many? It's disgusting to me that this writer would oh so devilishly imply that Japanese kids are raised to be more independent and socialized than western children when in fact everyone knows the opposite is true. I can't believe that people can't put 2 and 2 together and see the relationship between economics and crime. I tell you what!: put a western kid and a Japanese kid in a dangerous situation and see who is more likely to think independently and out of the box. I don't have to tell you who my money is on.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Do Japanese kiddies really have the common sense to be able to travel to and from elementary school?

In Japan, what kind of common sense is it that you think they should have? Don't talk to strangers? They know that one. Stay out of the street? They learn that too. The degree to which small children in Japan adhere to traffic safety rules would astonish many in the West, but then again, a year doesn't go by when some Westerner new to Japan is left speechless by Japanese who wait for pedestrian crosswalk signals at 1AM to change when there are no cars around.

The point is, the surrounding environment largely dictates what common sense means, and in Japan, it means kids can reasonably expect to be able to walk to and from school safely and without fear of IRA bombings or imaginary skinheads living in the hills. Why can they safely expect this? Because it's the reality.

It's almost as if Western critics of Japan are disappointed that the country isn't more dangerous and are frustrated that they can't effect the kind of irrational, bat$#it crazy panic that grips many in the West at the mere thought of a child venturing too far from the protective cover of a parent. It's not at all unlike the flotilla of critics who's hackles raise when Japan's relatively low crime rate is even mentioned. "No, it's not" they exhort, citing loosely interpreted "research" claiming police fudging of actual crime numbers. But just as is true with that argument, the proof is in the pudding with the actual observable safety Japanese children enjoy in public all across Japan.

Children are safer here, and as such, enjoy the liberty of being able to go to school, shopping, to a friend's house to play, all without armed escort.

Don't hate the reality. Accept it for what it is and enjoy it.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

I think the elephant in the room here is that Japanese kids do get kidnapped, raped and killed with some regularity and yet parents are still willing to take the risk.

ah, igloobuyer. you never miss a chance to try and ding japan, do you? there is no elephant. an ant perhaps, but no elephant. you must live in a parallel universe if you think that the crimes you mention occur with some "regularity."

1 ( +4 / -3 )

John-SanSEP. 14, 2015 - 04:28PM JST Igloobuyer: 22 million population and the amount of conviction is one reason. Just in the last 12 months, there is three ongoing Royal commission. NSW, VIC and a Federal. A South Australia Minister for Child welfare was convicted of child pornograpthy some 2 years ago. Just recently a Managering Supervisor in South Australia Child Welfare who been working in that position for 5 years, Was arrested for heading a International Pediphiles ring. No! it not safe to be a child alone at anytime is Australia. Japan is way safer.

To me all these statistics speak of is greater levels of open reporting, investigations and convictions of pedophiles, not more cases of pedophilia. Compare the effectiveness of law and police between the countries and reportage.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

LFRAgain: "a year doesn't go by when some Westerner new to Japan is left speechless by Japanese who wait for pedestrian crosswalk signals at 1AM to change when there are no cars around."

Hogwash. I came to my office this morning by bike and hit a red light at this TINY little T-intersection where there really is no need for a light, and I was the only one who waited for it out of all pedestrian or bicycle traffic, and the only (noticeable) foreigner. Even a scooter went through the red light (punk with the usual no helmet, revving, etc.). So don't suggest Japanese follow road rules any more regularly than anyone else because I can count hundreds of infringements a day in a short commute, and the police would make a mint of they did their jobs.

Braniac: "Interestingly in Japan, despite the child murders we've read about this year, I have yet to see the sort of change in society about letting youngsters go out by themselves that took place in Australia."

They exist, it's just not as noticeable. There are a lot of seniors these days who volunteer their time standing at key points along walking routes, as well as PTA members who do 'patrols' or stand at crosswalks, etc. These increase when there is a murder or kidnapping, and having a number of Japanese PTA and school administrator friends I know they constantly talk about how to make things safer. The problem is often with the city -- just a couple of years back there used to be a kind of crossing guard system where some people were employed to do the aforementioned cross-walk duties, etc., but the government cut that in the first round of cutbacks, knowing full well that they could depend on (take advantage of) people volunteering to do it for free because there was no other choice. Official changes are expensive, unless they are cuts.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

If this is for the purpose of courage and boldness then it has zero result because Japanese kid are shy than the rest of the world.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

LFR... I wasn't criticising Japan... the point I was making is that when I was that age I wasn't as grown up as these kiddies appear to be. I would never have been on a train on my own... and wouldn't have been allowed to anyway. I played close to home and only went away from our close with older children. From that perspective these little children are certainly more grown up.

I also agree with Smith (gasp!) that I've seen plenty of Japanese people flagrantly flouting that unwritten law about crossing the road only at a green signal... as well as plenty of other 'rules of behaviour'.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

They don't tend to figure out what to do when they are kidnapped, abused, and murdered though, do they? And you can't tell me that doesn't happen at an alarming level here.

Any proof of that? One case happens here an it's on the news 24 hours a day until someone's arrested. What are the stats for England? There was just a huge child sex ring broken up there a few months ago, wasn't there?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I learned two things about commuting to school this year from my own experience as a parent. 1) I wanted to move to a rural area in Japan where few other children live, mostly just agricultural vehicles on a long straight road between rice fields. The commute for my soon-to-be first grader would be a little over 3 km. We tried it; my conclusion--country kids with such a walking commute in all weather conditions must become generally physically stronger and healthier than their city counterparts who have short walks, and have to breathe in car exhaust. (2) If we did move to the aforementioned location, I'd love to ride my bicycle with him part way to school (or give him a ride in bad weather), to a place where other kids gather to walk, but that I am told is NOT done. Cycling even only part way, with Mom, is too dangerous I am told. And no place to park the bicycle (along the fence line doesn't seem to be an option). I also wanted to cycle to my son's preschool with him, he on his own bicycle as he is now six and a good rider. I found a safe route. Then my son confessed he felt ashamed about being the only one to cycle to school. The staff had indicated their disapproval, told me I couldn't leave my son's bicycle there for the day, and so we gave up that idea.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sweet video. Reminds me of why I like Japan so much and why it is worth defending it.

What are the statists for crimes against children and have they changed at all?

We all tend to suffer from confirmational bias. The media tends to encourage that. If all you knew about Japan was what you read here, you would think it was the murder and abuse capital of the world.

What about a folding bike, Stacy?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Japan is safe. That is the total story. yet we keep hearing stories of kids being taken, killed , beheaded, cut into small pieces, drowned etc etec. title should be "Japans false sense of security for there children" My kids live about 1 km from school in Japan, they only walk when there in a group. otherwise I take them by car. chances of my kids being kidnapped are a lot less than kids that walk by themselves

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

This is mainly a matter of urbanism, I think. Japanese cities are eminently walkable and dense enough for a 15,20-minute walk to suffice to reach all proximity stores and services, and they have train networks that extend almost everywhere. Getting around without a car is easy and safe. Even the streets are generally well designed for pedestrians, whether these are the narrow residential streets that force traffic to go elsewhere or crawl at very low speeds or the wide, comfortable sidewalks on most arterial streets with trees or poles at the curb to keep cars away from pedestrians and cyclists.

In North America (and Australia I guess), it's completely different. Since WWII, cities have been designed to facilitate car travel almost exclusively. Everything is built to favor fast car travel, forgetting that straight, wide roads don't allow pedestrians to walk any faster. Low residential density means that few people tend to reside within reasonable walking distance of their local school, and this often requires crossing fast 4+-lane arterial streets that feel unsafe even for adults. As a result, most kids are driven to school, either by their parents or in school buses. Likewise, since most stores and other amenities are beyond walking distance of most homes, kids have little incentive to leave their house and explore their neighborhood, they are utterly dependent on their parents chauffeuring them around and providing everything for them.

There is also a cycle in place, where the more parents drive their kids to school, the more traffic there is around schools when kids arrive or leave, which makes it more dangerous to walk or bike there, and so pushes the remaining parents to also consider driving their kids to school to protect them from the other parents driving around school.

The walkability of Japanese cities also allows kids to stay after schools at clubs far more easily. The club culture of Japanese schools would be basically impossible to achieve in schools dependent on school buses with fixed schedules or parent chauffeuring.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

There's a lot of talk of "independence" in this thread, and I think we're talking about two different ideas with the same word. I thought a very interesting choice the film crew made was to show the Japanese girl brushing her hair, while the Australian girl's dad was brushing her hair for her. Another parallel was where the Japanese girl packed her own bag while the Australian girl's father packed hers. It contributes to my feeling that this isn't about "independence" in terms of taking initiative, being creative, or trailblazing. When others say walking to school displays "independence", they mean it in the sense that it recognizes the child's capability to be responsible for his or her own self care. Even while parent volunteers watch the route for safety, the kids are doing the work of getting themselves to school. As a bonus, if they're walking with other kids, they're learning to take responsibility for others and hold each other accountable as well.

Bad things can and will happen. I am looking for traffic death statistics for children in Japan to back this theory up, but I have a hunch a child is more likely to die in a car accident than she is to be kidnapped or killed walking to and from school.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Here is the reality.

In the USA 95,000 children were murdered per year (2012 figure).

In Japan, the record high was 121 (1998) and is currently around the 105 from 110 per year level.

WTFJapan, if you only live 1km, why not use a bike like all the other school moms?

You are much more likely to kill a child driving an automobile than riding a bike with them. To sya nothing of the asthma deaths etc it causes.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The walkability point above is bogus because in inaka, kids can walk 5km or more to school each way. My kids are lucky in that they do a 4.5km round trip. One of the other mothers watches them across the one busy road they cross. Where we live gets a lot of rain, and snow for nearly four months in winter. They still walk.

Personally, I don't see my kids walking as a sign of independence. However it is good for the kids to get exercise and good that parents are not afraid of paedophiles as in certain other countries. My kids and their friends all seem to eat loads of snacks, but there is nothing like the number of kids with weight problems. I suspect the exercise from walking to school is an important limiting factor.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Back@home

In the USA 95,000 children were murdered per year (2012 figure).

Not even close to true. The overall murder rate in the US for 2012 was just under 15,000, with around 500 of them being minors (under 18, presumably much less for those under say 13). If the 100 per year 'child' (you don't specify age) murder rate is accurate for Japan (a country of less than half of the US population) then the child murder rate in the US is like 2.5x higher than Japan. Of course that's still terrible, but less than the nearly 1000x higher than you suggested.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I grew up in a small town in the 70's. My experience was very similar. In the spring of my preschool year, it was decided that we were old enough to walk home alone. Th e teacher watched as we crossed the street in front of the school. We then walked down a couple of blocks, cut across the park, and crossed another street to ours. I was four. Three of us walked home together; the oldest was already five. In the fall we started kindergarten. It was about a mile to school. For the first week, my friend's mother walked us most of the way to school (up until a major intersection with an elderly crossing guard). After that, we walked to and from school by yourself until it was too cold. By the spring of second grad, the school allowed us to ride bikes to and from school.. There were no cell phones. If something happened, which it rarely did, it was assumed someone could run and tell the crossing guard or we could make it home.

So much has changed, my son's kindergarten, a couple of years ago, wouldn't let anyone under the age of 18 pick them up and sign them out. Even my daughter who had been away at college for a year and had her own car wasn't allowed to get him and bring him home. Besides the assuming people are bad (and aren't going to help a small child).I think we've become afraid to kids getting hurt. I remember two kids in fifth grade getting hurt bad enough they needed stitches while they were out on their own. No one decided it was too dangerous or worried about what could have happened.; rather the general attitude was "well, at least they knew what to do when it happened." (They both had sent a sibling home to get their parents)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In the US first thing would happen is the child predators would have a field day. Last but not least the school teachers and the school district would report the parents to Child Protections services for neglect!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

WTFJapan, if you only live 1km, why not use a bike like all the other school moms? well firstly my eldest boy elementary school doesnt allow children to ride bikes to school, and he`s way to big to sit in a child seat on the back. so its walking or car, my youngest cant ride a bike yet and he certainly wont be walking to daycare by himself. we live in a semi rural area so cars are a must for getting around. Also being in our area the population density is much less than in the cities which means less eyes easier for weirdos to do there work.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

In Japan, the record high was 121 (1998) and is currently around the 105 from 110 per year level.

In 2009, the total death as a result of murder for children between the age of 5-14 is 30.

http://kangaeru.s59.xrea.com/G-Tasatu.htm

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@savethegaijinS

Sorry, the US figure should be around 3,000 per year.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sorry, the US figure should be around 3,000 per year.

According to the FBI, in 2013, 1 027 people under 18 were murdered, 393 between the age of 5 and 16: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded-homicide/expanded_homicide_data_table_2_murder_victims_by_age_sex_and_race_2013.xls

So yeah, Japanese kids are no less safe than American kids who are driven everywhere by their parents, in fact, they are much safer.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Let's see:

Kindergarten: I went there alone on foot after my mom showed me where it is and how to cross roads safely (very short distance) Elemetary school: I went there alone and on foot High school: I went there alone on foot and by bus Apprenticeship: See above until I had a car.

As was the norm for any kid growing up in the 70s and 80s in Germany. And this gave me independence. If I wanted to visit any fair or any event, I used public transportation. My parents had no problem with letting me ride the train unattended for hour long journeys. Once I was grown up and actually had a car I could check out places further away without worrying to get lost. And much later I visited Japan without having booked tours or speaking/reading the language and in the first week even without having a smartphone. Yes, I took the wrong train twice, but hey, adventure.

If I look at the school run in the US nowadays, I can only shake my head.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

According to NPA data, a grand total of 58 people between the ages of 6-19 were murdered in 2013.

http://www8.cao.go.jp/hanzai/whitepaper/w-2015/html/zenbun/part3/s3_14_01.html

0 ( +1 / -1 )

All readers back on topic please.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I grew up in Canada in late 80s and early 90s...I walked to school, but as a group with my older sister and friends. Any one who would let a younger child walk to school alone, even here in Japan, is crazy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"I think that's a very relevant point, NathalieB, in when making decision about one's children's safety.

I'm looking at one paper and it's saying, "A parent is the principal suspect/perpetrator in 50% to 70% of all family child homicides"

If 58 Japanese kids between the ages of 6-19 is the figure, and an amazing figure too, then "by strangers" equates to 20 to 30 per year.

It's safe.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Discussion here seems focussed on child murder rates in US & Japan.

The video was focussed on the notion that "Japanese kids are more independent than Aust. kids because they walk to school".

As I stated earlier, this is just so much stretching of miniscule data as to be bordering on absurd. One girl's story was created as representative of a nation. I gave evidence that can be witnessed daily giving a very contrary line. And the sbs crew who made the video, used pathetically simple techniques to illuminate the childs independence by showing her brushing her teeth and her own hair (wow) and the Aust father brushing his daughters hair. What great science that is. Spare us all please.

The video was very good as a human-interest story showing how one kid in a mega city gets to school. Using it as a wide brush to paint a picture of 2 societies falls so short of the mark - which is why we need to be very careful with what we believe as presented by the media.

From my humble observations here, independence isn't one of many young Japanese kids great strengths. Mothers reign.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Discussion here seems focussed on child murder rates in US & Japan.

Because safety is arguably the number one factor in why many Westerners can't reconcile their idea of what's an appropriate level of vigilance for children and Japan's.

There's a TV show here in Japan called ”Hajimete no Otsukai," that has been broadcast in some form or another since 1991. It's based on an extremely popular children's book of the same name, or in English, "Miki's First Errand," written by Yuriko Tsutsui and illustrated by Akiko Hayashi and first published in 1976.

The premise of the children's book is that a 5-year-old girl named Mii-chan is asked by her mother to run to the local corner grocery store to pick up some milk and whatnot. She's told to be careful not to forget the items she needs to buy, and most importantly, not to lose the money her mother gave. The story then narrates the adventure this girl experiences simply walking a few blocks to the market and back all on her own.

I would venture to guess there isn't a Japanese person under the age of 50 who is unfamiliar with this book, and the TV program I mentioned is also quite popular, billed as a "touching documentary" where the studio film crew coordinate with parents to document their own child's "first errand," with film crews strategically located along the route the child is to take on the way to completion of their errand.

Every episode features a different real child and every episode concludes with parents tearfully explaining the anxiety and ultimately pride they felt throughout the entire process of giving their child a chance to undertake and (usually) succeed at such a relatively challenging task for the very first time.

My point is that this aspect of children moving publicly through Japanese society without a parental escort -- a fairly strong benchmark of independence, if there ever was one -- is an engrained part of life here. People think it's important, and as as result (IMO), make certain that the environment is conducive to allowing it to continue happening. If there is any one thing that's sacrosanct in Japan, I'd wager it's the right for children to be able to walk about in public unmolested and free from danger. The high value Japanese society places on this idea is part of why it works -- It's enabled through sheer tyranny of will (hat tip to Norm).

Contrast this with the 1972 animated "I Can Remember" segment featured in a 1972 episode of the American program Sesame Street, in which a child is sent to the corner store by his mother for ostensibly the same reason, to get a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, and a stick of butter. It was normal then for a child to be sent to the store alone, even in low income urban communities, often the target of much of Sesame Street's content.

Different countries and different times, but not that alien a concept, sending a child out alone. It's interesting to see the two very different paths these two societies ultimately took from the 1970s.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

LFR - thank you for your comments.

I don't disagreee with your sentiments re the general level of safety for a child here, say compared to Aust ( I don't know the states). And safety in general across the age spectrum. I've rarely felt threatened here compared to Aust.

But my point was, being a person(child ~ adult) of independence is not solely reliant upon safety. The program puts the notion to an Australian viewing audience, that kids here are so much more independent because one girl can brush her hair and commute to school alone. It was a very shallow portrayal of reality. I could just as easily make an 8 min docu in my city showing how the inter-dependence of Japanese society through kids is reinforced by group, communal activities. I'm sure many Australians would be surprised to see kids walking to school in groups, supervised by "uniformed" volunteers along the main routes. (routes are designated in my city as the correct way to go to and from). The regimentation of daily school life - from sitting 40 in a class in rows of desks, all in the same perfect uniforms (my prefecture), all learning the same stuff at the same age as all the others because - well, er ...they are the same. I could make such a program - BUT would it be a fair reflection on all kids in Japan. No.

As I alluded to in earlier posts - many of the children ~ uni students I've come across over the decades here lack confidence outside their group and comfort zones. Not unique in that, but it's prevalent enough to be significant.

If the problem is the semantics of the term "independence" then so be it, but by my reckoning it includes the ability to express oneself freely without fear of ridicule or disapproval by others. To have an independent opinion and the conviction to challenge others. I don't often see it. A terrible cliche, but holds a grain of truth for this society "the nail that stands out gets hammered down". Not exactly conducive to indepenence. Far greater analysts than I could ever imagine to be, have written tomes on the nature of groupism in Japanese society.

Also your mentioned Hajimete no Otsukai as if it was true for all Japanese. TV is an illusion - be careful. Also - did you watch the documentary? Hajimete no Otsukai was featured.

Finally, I agree that freedom of movement is an integral aspectof being independent, but if freedom of indivdual thought is not actively encouraged and engaged then it's a shallower independence.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

if freedom of indivdual thought is not actively encouraged and engaged then it's a shallower independence.

Do kids need individual thought or a real independence?

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

Browny,

Excellent points one and all. And I agree with you entirely regarding what constitutes "independence" when looking at Japanese society overall. Every example you've provided have mirrored my own observations of the Japanese public (and private) school system, with one foreign documentary seeking to upend what I believe anyone who has spent any reasonable amount of time in Japan can say without hesitation is the truth -- Japan is a collectivist society that places enormous value on the benefits of conformity, and not independence, at least not as many Westerners have come to define it.

The documentary in question reminds me of the cyclical passion with which Western public policy makers look to Japan for the next quick fix for societal ills at home. In the 70s, it was the introduction of "hans" or groups to public elementary classrooms. In the 80s, it was trying to import and adopt the Toyota Method. In the 90s, it was the establishment of community policing based on the Japanese police "koban" model. In the 00's, it was green tea and edamame to cure all of one's aches and pains and even stave off aging. Who knows what it's bee tomorrow? But I'm just as surprised as I believe you are that they would get this particular aspect of Japanese culture and society so completely . . . well, wrong.

As for how relevant "Hajimete no Otsukai" is to most Japanese, I don't base my belief that it is on a TV show. Do recall, the television show was born of the success of the children's book, and not the other way around. Since 1977, "Hajimete no Otsukai" has sold more than 202 million copies and ranks at No. 17 on the list of all-time best selling children's books in Japan. There's a reason for this. The story resonates with the public.

I'm perfectly aware of the illusory nature of TV, but I'm also aware that TV will often reflect what its viewers want. And what they often want is reinforcement and continual reminders that the ideal of being able to send a 5-year-old to the store safely is one worth preserving and perpetuating, even if only through pop culture depictions found in a well-choreographed TV docutainment show.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

What's the difference between independence and real independence?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

LFR - thanks again. Interesting discussion.

An interesting read in related field is Takeo Doi "The anatomy of dependence" focussing on the concept of "Amae"and "The anatomy of self: the indivdual versus society".

Perhaps you are familiar with, but if not I reccomend as a good read. Doi is probably the most famous/respected Japanese academic in the field of psychiatry.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Tina

Do kids need individual thought or a real independence?

Individual thought, definitely, yes... individualism should be encouraged. That leads to creativity and an enquiring mind. Independent? Only after a certain age - I think 7 is maybe a wee bit young to be properly independent. At that age kids still need to be protected and kept safe from those who would do them harm.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

As someone alluded to way up in the comments said, I disapprove of walking home alone because the kids are not taught to pay attention to their surroundings. Of course, this is most likely because of the relative safety, but as evidenced by many adults, not learning to watch your surroundings leads to a lot of people doing annoying things like stoping in front of doors/ticket gates, making sudden turns right into other people, blocking walkways, etc.

And, of course, of course Japan is relatively safe, and I know even in countries where people don't let kids walk home alone there are higher murder rates.....but if it were my kid, no way I would want to take a risk with their life until I knew they had enough common sense and awareness to walk alone. Even if the murder rate is low, we still have to make sure to reduce the chances of our kids being a victim. Low and zero are not the same thing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

browny,

Thanks to you as well. Yes, I've got Doi on my bookshelf, that very same book in fact. Good stuff, his work. Thanks for the chat. Have a good one.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Do kids need individual thought or a real independence? ive never know anybody without individual though that was independant. preprogrammed thought doesnt make people independant, actually the opposite.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

individualism should be encouraged.

I think kids need obedience than individualism. Of course their interests should be encouraged to pursue, but individualism? I saw many people not only kids in the west who are so spoiled, maybe because of too much indivisualism?

.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

"Many foreigners in Japan are shocked to see young Japanese schoolchildren walking to and from school by themselves"

I imagine those foreigners are shocked at a bunch of stuff, lol.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

In my experience, a lot of children in the US appear to suffer from some kind of hyperactivity or attention deficit problems bith mentally and physically in comparison to Japanese children.

Why this is, I don't know. Diet, media bombardment, confusion between the meanings of self-centeredness versus individualism and, of course, increasingly drugs even within childhood. I love how well mannered and composed Japanese kids are on the whole, of all ages. The teenagers are definitely improved by not have the same drug and gang cultures.

I've always remarked on how similar those who "think different" actually are and so I have to consider it as highly superficial.

There is nothing denying of one's individuality to accept and go along with an orderly, respectful society. I would say that's more a choice between a sort of pathological degree of egocentricism versus considering the effects of one's actions on others.

Just a references back to the statistics, it's worth nothing that child death come across as a very broad U shapre, meaning, they peak with infant deaths - and then bottomline - and then peak again with teenage misadventure.

This means that, in reality, during school age your children have almost zero chances of being kidnapped or killed on the way to school and back. Indeed, statistically, they have a much higher chance of dying at home!

And, of course, 60 - 70% of murders are caused by individuals they know not "evil strangers".

I mention this because of the "arms race" I see on American roads, mothers justifying even more armoured tanks (SUVs etc) on the grounds that they want to protect "their children" on the school runs. Not thinking, of course, what happens in they hit someone else.

Compare that to the floatilla of mamacharis and kei cars in Japan and it's a very clear reflection on the differences between the societies. It's a kind of MAD (mutually assured destruction) mentality versus a society where people remain open and vulnerable, but where consideration for others first continues.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

From my experience (born & grew up in Japan), walking to & from school from an early age not only risks the safety of a child, but also lacks the bond & communication with the parent(s). I just think it is an important part of day whether it is a short distance or not that somebody is there to listen to the child & be there for him/her. My mother tried to let me be 'independent' since I was small and I know now ( I didn't realize at the time) that I was pushed away from her. Now that I became a parent myself I can understand that my mother was trying to bring up 'a good child' who can do things by herself. It did work in some ways...I became so independent that I left Japan and now living abroad far away from where my parents live! However, it also did some damage to my childhood and that's because I was not allowed to be a child when I was a child. I had to grow up fast.

Although I am not planning to drive my own child around all the time, that is because I think it is important for her to take time for herself, learn how to be safe and simply it's good to walk with fresh air, and not because I would like her to be independent and grow up fast.

I think it's kind of sad for the Japanese girl. Unless she wants to do this herself, she is forced to do it to some degree and in worst scenario she isn't going to have a sense of security in her life-a feeling of protection that a child can get from his/her parents.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

You know that old saying: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil? Jake Adelstein is simply sharing his hell with the rest of the world. He has been doing reports on how Japan is chock full of gangsters, criminals, child porn, and prostitution and perversions of all types. Now he has to raise a child, a girl apparently, in that environment. Wow. I would not wish that on anybody. He has a lot of nightmare fuel. A lot of it he had to dig really hard to find, too.

On the other hand, kids in my neighborhood walk as much as 2 km: a 4 km roundtrip to school every day. Not only has there been no incident that I am aware of, but there are volunteer crossing guards. Everyone watches out for everyone else's kids.

I walked about the same distance back and forth in the US when I was in kindergarten. I really don't think it is a big deal.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I think the elephant in the room here is that Japanese kids do get kidnapped, raped and killed with some regularity

It depends on what you mean by regularity.

In the US, kidnapping -- and all crime against kids -- is at an all-time low.

See http://www.freerangekids.com/crime-statistics/

The facts are one thing. Hysteria another.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@kansaichris: I've had with young women in this country, a lot of them have experienced some sort of traumatic incident on a train when they were in elementary, junior high, or high school. For fear of public shame and so as not to worry their parents, many of them never told anyone what happened.

Doh! What part of INSTITUTIONALIZED CHILD ABUSE don't you understand?

The kids are sent out there to be molested, and to get used to it, and not to tell anyone!!! :-(

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

My daughter will be starting elementary school next year and I'm not comfortable with this at all. Luckily we live pretty close to the school and so she will have a short distance to walk, and the group should be big by the time they reach us. I heard from someone that the principal is a a really nice guy and even helps patrol the area. But if they think that patrolling is necessary why even let the kids walk by themselves to begin with? I would also prefer to walk her to school since we will probably not have much time to bond during the week other than mornings.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

therougou

Its demonstrably fine.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have to agree with LFRAgain that Japan is mostly safe with an aberrant happening. When we look at the news in Japan and see a crime, sometimes the crime is in Ibaraki or Fukuoka, whilst I am in Tokyo. The amount of crime in Atlanta or Philly, the two largest cities in my regular US life, IN ONE WEEK, is much more than in the entire country of Japan in a month if you just go by the local news. Murders/rapes/gunplay/ etc. I read the happenings of crime on Japan Today or NHK, and realize that this is Japan news...not just Tokyo news. The local news in big American cities has enough crime that it doesn't report other cities crimes unless it was of national interest.

On the local news in Tokyo you can hear about a girl slashed in Ibaraki. In Atlanta you won't hear about a girl slashed on the train in Philly. Each city has enough of its own crime. In Japan rapes/murders/gun play/robberies/ are at a far lower rate. The news on Japan today is for all of Japan. The crime in the top 6-7 American cities alone will far outnumber the entire archipelago of Japan. We read of ALL these stories and think..wow!..high crime...not really..its all relative.

Its a good thing that kids learn to navigate to school independently. But that being said it is the other things that are just as problematic like aberrant cars etc. I would at least part of the time go with the kids to familiarize myself with the goings on and pitfalls of the route. (If you as a parent are able to sometimes that is...no judgement here.) Somewhere along the way though Japanese society takes away the independence with the heard mentality...making it difficult to be an individual. That is the problem...at least as some of us see it. For others that way of life is fine. Its up to you as a parent to decide how much freedom you want your childs train of thought to have.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Used to have a 25 minute walk to school in all weathers in the UK in the early 60s - major northern city. Family had no car, bus route was not exactly convenient, and relatively expensive. Children used to walk in groups from different neighbourhoods, easily identifiable from their uniforms. Older kids would take care of the younger ones. Never experienced any problems. No kids ever went missing, and traffic lights and road crossing attendants (lollipop ladies) ensured safety when crossing the road.

Schools kids would travel by bus alone on holidays to the city centre and parks, cycle everywhere, even take the train. Always warned never to talk or take sweets from strangers, and be back on time. Seemed to work!

Did hear in later life of the prosecution of the local scoutmaster for inappropriate touching of cub scouts, but that was outside of school.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

How can one not like Japan after seeing the video? It is amazing how, after showing that the Japanese are so much more independent ascribe this behavior to "group socialization" and "Japan corp" :-)

Browny1

Doi is probably the most famous/respected Japanese academic in the field of psychiatry. Alas he died in 2009. He was a Christian and very stiff upper lip (I only saw him once at a conference) and took Japanese to task for their fawning around so he was popular with Western scholars too. He reinforced the common view of Japanese as interdependent, while getting a lot of things right. I think what he got right was non-linguist aspect of amae and Japanese culture. It is not that the Japanese are not independent - they walk to school on their own from age six -- but that do not speak out. They only walk the walk.

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Growing up in '70s America, it was common for kids to walk to school or to the distant bus stop alone from a young age, not to mention spending weekends roaming around their neighborhoods as they pleased. Studies show that the crime rate was the same back then as now, the difference is everything is so much more sensationalized in the Internet age people think crime against kids is much more rampant. What a shame...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If this is common in Japan, why are no other children in the streets, on the bus, or in the trains or subway station?

This piece has taken one family and made them all of Japan.

They started out with a premise and then found their data.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Germany seems to have a lot in common with Japan. Children travelling to school by tram, bus, bike, or on foot, are legion. My daughter (11) and son (10) are among them. They use the bus and the train. As did I when I was little. My parents came with me on the first three days - and that was it. From then on, I was expected to manage on my own, and I did.

In retrospect I have to say that this has indeed paid off. Navigating foreign territory has never scared me, and the same seems to hold true for my own children.

But even in Germany, things are changing. Kids are no longer just a member of their respective family, it seems, but they have become coveted possessions, even life-time projects. Consequently, they seem to get pampered (and driven everywhere by car) more and more. German police actually keep pleading with the parents to let the kids walk at least the last few hundred yards, since all those cars in front of the schools pose more of a threat to the children's security than any other factor does.

Some parents even drive straight onto the school yard and insist on carrying their child's school bag upstairs to the classroom. A behaviour that has now prompted many schools to put up signs on their front doors, reading "From here, I can manage on my own!" Alas, some parents still don't take the hint... My daughter's best friend from primary school was not allowed to walk that one mile between our houses on her own. Her mother insisted on bringing her, and also always picked her up again. No matter what time of day or year, no matter what the weather conditions were like.

But like I said: For a large part, German kids are like Japanese kids: Independent from an early age. And while strengthening their characters may not be the primary goal in all instances, as one commenter suggested, it certainly is a reliable side effect.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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