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Niigata school superintendent resigns over improper use of Japanese word for 'you'

By Scott Wilson, SoraNews24

If you’re a foreigner learning Japanese, then you can expect some leeway when speaking the language. But if you’re the superintendent of Shibata City schools in Niigata Prefecture, then your Japanese had better be impeccable.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for Ryoichi Yamada. As superintendent, he was sent to visit the family of a 13-year-old male student who had killed himself in June of last year due to relentless bullying. What should have been a heart-wrenching meeting with plans to make changes for the future instead ended up boiling down to one poor choice of words on behalf of the superintendent.

At some point during the conversation with the boy’s father, the superintendent asked: Omae mo hogoshakai ni kuru ka? (お前も保護者会に来るか).

The literal English translation of this phrase would be something like: “Are you going to come to the PTA meetings too?” (“PTA meetings” here meaning something closer to parents meeting and discussing policy with school staff.) But a more faithful translation might be something like: “So whaddya think about coming to some PTA meetings?”

For those who don’t know, Japanese has several different words for “you,” depending on who you’re speaking to. There’s the neutral anata, the diminutive kimi, the insulting kisama, and more. You can also just use the person’s name, or not use any pronoun at all, since it’s usually obvious when you’re staring straight at someone that you mean “you.”

Omae, the pronoun that the superintendent used, is a bit of a sharp word for “you,” used for men roughing around with each other, when you’re yelling at a thief, and other less-than-savory situations.

The reason that the superintendent used omae with the father is because he used to be the father’s teacher when he was in elementary school. You can kind of see where he was coming from, perhaps thinking that using the more informal word would bring them closer together. Or perhaps it was a simple slip of the mind.

▼ His use of omae made the news, as you can see here. (It’s the big red word in brackets in the bottom right at the beginning.)

Either way, the father was not happy with the superintendent’s word choice. He said: “I couldn’t believe (he said it) at that time. It felt like he was making light (of the suicide).”

The superintendent later apologized for his inappropriate utterance, but it was too late. He submitted his resignation a few days later, and will be stepping down from his position this week. The father of the boy has said that even if the superintendent changes, he still wants to work toward actually taking steps toward eliminating school bullying.

Here’s how Japanese Twitter reacted to the situation:

“What is wrong with his head?”

“How does someone like him become a superintendent?”

“Even if he was his old teacher, it doesn’t matter. You should never use omae with someone you’re apologizing to.”

“Using omae with rowdy kids is whatever, but that’s completely different than people you’re working with.”

“I’ve never respected anyone who uses omae to refer to other people.”

Source: Yahoo! News Japan via Hachima Kiko

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© SoraNews24

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It looks like he's over stepped the mark here, he should have been a lot more sensitive to the situation.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

It’s a derogatory way to refer to someone and everyone knows it. His lack of delicacy to a grieving father shows his incompetence for the job. Not a big fickler for correct language usually , nor am a fan language police but in this case the backlash is warranted. Just another arrogant idiot in power. These blokes are a breed unto themselves.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

“How does someone like him become a superintendent?”

Easy, he used to be a teacher, retired, got hired at the BOE and just continued to think he was better than everyone else!

Nice to see he got taken down a few pegs!

6 ( +7 / -1 )

The man spoke inappropriately at a sensitive time, but I disagree with anyone losing their job on a "one verbal strike and you're out" basis. If his apology was equally insincere, that's when you start to think about it. Can't anyone make a mistake and apologize any more? My son has broken a window in the past. Should he be in prison?

Everyone on Twitter sounds like they are one microsecond away from being completely outraged about the smallest matter. I wouldn't pay it any attention.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

JT, please tell Sora News that おまえ quote:"(It’s the big red word in brackets in the bottom right at the beginning.)"... is actually 'in the first line, top right').

Words in English for 'you' that work both ways depending on the emotion contained could be: "Hey man, Hey y'all, pal, youze, hey dude, etc." ie too familiar and buddy buddy for the situation. TPO.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Bullying in Japan is so much easier these days with social media.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

My son has broken a window in the past. Should he be in prison?

This Father's son is dead thanks to bullying, and the superintendent lost his job and is not in prison. Completely different scenario to yours.

I wouldn't pay it any attention.

When a child has killed himself because of bullying and the representative of the school talks like that, it should gain the utmost attention.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It really doesn't seem like the right job for this bloke. It's not the word so much as the awareness of what's going on. In such a situation, one would have to be extremely careful, reticent, and deferential. You can't miss the mark even a little, especially when you're representing a whole system that let down these parents and bears some responsibility for the loss of human life.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Given he had taught the man as an elementary school student but he was there to visit a bereaved father and not his old kiddo ward. A little humility could’ve done.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Meanwhile what becomes of the bullies ?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

He's an idiot for using omae in such a situation, and has no business doing the job he was doing...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I usually use the words 貴様、己 and てめぇ when addressing people. For some reason nobody wants to hang out with me.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The term is commonly used when bullying. To use it with the survivors of a bullying is inexcusable.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Bullying in Japan is so much easier these days with social media.

Bullying everywhere is so much easier these days with social media.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Bullying everywhere is so much easier these days with social media.

Indeed. A search on "cyber bullying" will show that this is a very general phenomenon in no way specific to Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I know it may sound insensitive but does one really need to quit for such a mistake?

Hopefully those twitter comments are as bad as it gets, otherwise it is no difference from bullying.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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