Report by BBC
In Japan, more and more children are refusing to go to school, a phenomenon called “futoko”. As the numbers keep rising, people are asking if it’s a reflection of the school system, rather than a problem with the pupils themselves.
The term has been variously translated as absenteeism, truancy, school phobia or school refusal.
Attitudes to futoko have changed over the decades. Until 1992 school refusal – then called tokokyohi, meaning resistance – was considered a type of mental illness. But in 1997 the terminology changed to the more neutral futoko, meaning non-attendance.
On 17 October, the government announced that absenteeism among elementary and junior high school students had hit a record high, with 164,528 children absent for 30 days or more during 2018, up from 144,031 in 2017.
The free school movement started in Japan in the 1980s, in response to the growing number of futoko. They’re alternative schools that operate on principles of freedom and individuality.
Dropping out of school can have long-term consequences, and there is a high risk that young people can withdraw from society entirely and shut themselves away in their rooms – a phenomenon known as hikikomori.
So why are so many children avoiding school in Japan?
Family circumstances, personal issues with friends, and bullying are among the main causes, according to a survey by the ministry of education. Many schools in Japan control every aspect of their pupils’ appearance, forcing pupils to dye their brown hair black, or not allowing pupils to wear tights or coats, even in cold weather. In some cases, they even decide on the color of the pupils’ underwear.