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Teen violence rising in Japan

A policeman was slashed by a teen-ager trying to steal his gun  
March 14, 1998
Web posted at: 1:38 p.m. EST (1838 GMT)

TOKYO (CNN) -- A 13-year old killed his teacher after she scolded him for being late. Another student stabbed a classmate who had teased him about his frizzy hair. Even a policeman was slashed by a teen-ager trying to steal his gun.

Such scenes are growing more common in Tokyo, a city that's long been considered one of the safest in the world.

While the Japanese are familiar with teen violence in other countries, such as the United States, until now they felt that youth violence was not a problem in their own country.

Teen violence rising in Japan

But that sense of security is evaporating, after a series of attacks and murders.

Even more troubling is that nearly all the recent offenders are students in junior high. More often than not, the weapon of choice is a so-called butterfly knife. Youngsters say the knife became popular after a popular weekly TV drama showed the teen star, Takuya Kimura, using such a knife.


"I'd say seven or eight of my friends have one," said one student. Another admired how cool the actor looked holding the knife.

While that could explain why more kids may be carrying knives, it doesn't explain why they're using them. In any society, the teen-age years are difficult. But some say teens in Japan are even more prone to explode, because many are only-children, brought up in relatively easy times.

"Today's society is very affluent. Children are not trained to endure; they're given anything they want. That's why they can't stand even small problems at school or at home. So when they act, they make extreme moves," explained school counselor Minako Itoh.

One mother said that children raised on a diet of video games, are out of touch with reality.

"It's a virtual generation. In their games, if they press a reset button, people come back to life. So they don't think much of stabbing, or even killing someone," she said.

Aftermath of violence  

Japan's rigorous academic system is also in the spotlight, as it was when there was a rash of children committing suicide in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

"It's stress. Some know how to deal with it. But I think there are more that don't," said one mother.

But stress is a fact of life for teens everywhere, and this leaves experts pessimistic that the recent rash of teen violence can be dismissed as a passing phenomenon.

"Even if they abolish knives, children will find other ways to escape pressure. The true voices of children need to be heard," warned Itoh.

Tokyo Bureau Chief Marina Kamimura contributed to this report.


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