Thursday, May 06, 2010
That is a picture of what I call the "stranger danger pole". This name is the name used by the foreign teachers that I know here in Japan. The real name is sasumata, which translates as something like "pushing fork" As you can see it is a long pole with a semi-circular shape on one end. The user grasps the pole on the other end and uses the semi-circle to pin someone by the waist to a wall or basically to push them away, all the while the user can keep a safe distance from the person being pinned.
In Japanese schools, as in every school, there are school drills that are conducted at fairly random times to make sure that the students are prepared in the case of a real event.
Fire drills at my school are pretty cool actually. One of the staff sets off big smoke bombs in a certain part of the building, say the upper west hallway, and then the fire alarm is pulled. Teachers and students have to figure out how, based on the smoke, they should evacuate. I think this is brilliant, but there is one major flaw. At my school the gymnasium is the evacuation area. The gymnasium is attached to the rest of the school.
There is another drill where we practice what to do if an intruder comes into the building. In this scenario, again, no warning is given. Across the anouncements the principal announces that there is an intruder. Students then have to, again, figure out how to get to the gym and avoid the intruder. The kids get to the gym and then the intruder (a teacher wearing a partial face mask and hat) enters by a side door and proceeds to hurl insults at the students and teachers and basically to act mean and threatening. At this point the intruder is subdued. Teachers surround the intruder and try to talk them down, eventually someone physically subdues the intruder. The "stranger danger" poles are always on hand and occasionally used. I have never used one myself, never even been in the act of subdueing the intruder. The closest I got was running around the school with the secretary, each of us with various office equipment as weapons, try to flush out the intruder.
The funniest part about the intruder poles is that they sit in a closet except for the day that they are brought out to subdue the intruder. They are not even handy should someone come in. On top of that, there have been numerous times when I have seen people just wander into school. Its always some nice old guy selling flowers or something, but the point is that there is no barrier to them coming in nor is there much concern when a stranger is seen in the hallways. The doors are unlocked and really anyone could get in at anytime that school is in secession. I don't mean to belittle the Japanese school system for trying to protect the students, but perhaps more should be done to ensure the safety of schools.
I actually asked Aya if she had these in school when she was young and she said no. The reason being that they came about because of violence in schools here, especially the Osaka massacre in which 8 elementary children were stabbed to death. In America and some other parts of the world there has been similar desires to respond to school violence. While I agree that measures need to be taken in schools I think Japan's most appropriate response is to examine the country's social policies regarding the treatment of mental illness. Often I hear people say that times have changed and usually I think that times really haven't changed, just the amount of people and therefore the amount of exposure to atrocity. However, when I hear about things like the Osaka massacre I have to wonder if maybe they are right.