Once the norm, corporal punishment is still a debated topic in today’s Japan even decades after it was outlawed. I, myself, as an American who grew up in the 80s and 90s, am terrified to even raise my voice to a child in the classroom. Imagine my shock this past week to discover not one but multiple instances that demanded the harshest corporal punishment imaginable! Even my bleeding liberal heart could not be persuaded otherwise.
Last week, kids at my school learned X, Y, and Z. Seemingly innocuous subject matter, to be sure. However …
I pointed to “X” on the all-mighty ABC chart and, as expected, my students crowed, “X!” We chanted the name of the letter and its sound. We sang the name of the one child-accessible word beginning with “X” – “X-Ray.”
I pointed to “Y” on the chart. “Y!” cried my students. “Yellow, yellow!” we shouted. “Yolk, yolk!” It was becoming quite the raucous lesson.
I pointed to “Z” on the chart.
“Zed!” they howled.
I lurched as if kicked in the stomach. Zed? Zed??? I held an unsteady hand out to balance myself.
Perhaps it had only been little Kumiko, I thought feverishly. Perhaps she was the only one who for some unimaginable reason had said “zed” and her loud voice had drowned out the others’. Perhaps my other kids were still worthy of being called good students. I decided to give them another chance – needed to give them another chance.
Swallowing roughly, I shakily swung my pointer stick back to “Z.”
“What’s this?” I asked again in the most timorous, hopeful voice. I waited in breathless thrall.
“ZED!” cried my children – all my children. There could now be no mistake. I tried to imagine which one of my fellow teachers could have been responsible for this monstrosity. Had it been Duncan from Vancouver? Kim from New Zealand? Aussie Mike (and I had so liked Mike!)? English Steve or Irish Sean – had they been the ones to betray our mission? Fine friends indeed! Oh, there would be consequences for this grave insult. And none of the sorry culprit’s “But America is the only English-speaking country not to blah blah blah” noise. Zed – how dare they?
But first, the children.
In my broken, weary, no longer bleeding heart I knew that there was only one thing to do – the cane for each and every one!!!! Zed. Zed!
And yet, in Japan, corporal punishment is now illegal.
My hands were tied.