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Kawabata, N. (2001). Adolescent Trauma in Japanese Schools: Two Case Studies of Ijime (Bullying) and School Refusal. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 29(1):85-103.

(2001). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 29(1):85-103

Adolescent Trauma in Japanese Schools: Two Case Studies of Ijime (Bullying) and School Refusal

Naoto Kawabata, Ph.D.

In Japan, Ijime (bullying) is one form of trauma that has drawn considerable attention. One reason that Ijime has been highlighted is that some students who were bullied committed suicide. In some cases, the people around a victim failed to notice that he had been bullied until his suicide note revealed the names of classmates as victimizers. At times, the victim's parents have decided to sue the schools for overlooking Ijime, but often the school could not find any evidence of bullying. Newspapers and television news program would report the teenager's death with banner headlines. But no one ever really knew what the truth was.

In less tragic cases, Ijime may trigger school phobia or school refusal, which is another big issue in Japanese schools. Since the first case report of school refusal (school phobia) was presented, the number of cases has increased and is still increasing. Psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and counselors have treated these cases from the viewpoint of individual pathology and family dynamics. Many people, however, have also pointed to the importance of such environmental factors as academic competitiveness, control-oriented education, and school violence. Ijime can now be seen as one of the major environmental factors in school refusal.

I would like to present two related cases of junior high school students, both of whom suffered from Ijime and started refusing to attend school. Ijime in these cases was not the severe group ostracism that is often seen in Japanese schools. In fact, the incidents could be called common troubles among students. But I think they provide us with good materials for examining the nature of the interpersonal trauma and psychological difficulties Japanese adolescents are faced with. With these case materials, I want to discuss several issues related to Ijime and school refusal. First, I present a preliminary discussion of how to see the interpersonal trauma. Second, I focus on the isomorphic nature of the traumatic events and individual's internal issues. Third, I argue the importance of cultural context in which Ijime and school refusal occur.

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