Japan Schools Tracking Students by Radio? — Well, Yes and No...

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“The nail that sticks out, gets pounded down.” ~ Ancient Chinese saying

Several people have sent me an article “proving” to me the draconian horrors of the Japanese school system and that system’s methodology of brainwashing and cowering students — thereby leading to a docile populace. I am here to prove to you that this is not the entire story, and is just one more example in a long list of poor reporting that has lead to another cultural misunderstanding of Japan.

The article in question states:

“Some schools here (in Tokyo) this month began trial runs in which students carry chips that have tiny antennae and can be traced by radio, with some of the kids attaching the tags to their backpacks.

The chips send signals to receivers at school gates. A computer in the system shows when a student enters or leaves.”

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? “Big Brother” here and now. But, upon closer examination and knowledge of how the school system in Japan is run, I can show you how this article is not reporting all the facts — And as such, is not entirely true.

First off, the article mentions “tags on backpacks.” This signifies children from 5 until 12 years old. Children in Japanese schools, both public and private, usually use backpacks to bring their books and materials to school.

The question here arises when you refer to public or private school. This radio tracking system is not in place at any public school and is, indeed, only in place at a few private schools.

Private schooling in Japan is very competitive and very costly. Only the children of the wealthy can afford to go to private school. The private international girl’s school near my house, “Seisen,” runs 1.6 million yen (about $15,000) per year, per student (the last I heard) and that cost does not include uniform, lunch, books, stationary, and transportation.

Not only are the private schools exorbitantly expensive, they are extremely strict in dress code and student behavior. For example, here are rules from my wife’s private school she went to as a child (the rules for private schools have basically not changed at all). I will only give you the rules for girls as I am not familiar with rules for boys’ school — although I would imagine they are even more strict. These are typical private school rules in Japan:

  • Hair — If hair is past shoulder length, it must be either cut or always tied in “up” or pony tail fashion. Permanents, waving, or hair coloring are absolutely forbidden.

  • Absolutely no facial decorations. No earrings. No makeup. No jewelry of any kind on hands, wrists, or ankles.


Same school — Different uniform for summer (left) and winter (right)

  • School-designated uniform only — Must be properly worn at all times whether on or off campus. All buttons must be buttoned down. No folding or rolling up of sleeves. No badges or decorations on uniform.

A student in uniform is representative of the school, no “trouble-making” of any sort will be tolerated. Whether within school hours, on campus, or not; if a student is wearing the uniform they will be considered “in school.” (Usually, after 8 PM, a student must be out of uniform and at home — unless that student is a member of an after-school club, sports team, or activity.)

  • School-designated skirts only — Must be knee length. Cannot be shortened or lengthened.

  • School-designated socks only — Must be worn 15 cm. up from ankle (some students glue them to keep them at the correct height).

  • School-designated shoes and laces only — Must be worn properly. Laces always properly tied.

  • School-designated hand-bags or back-packs only. No decorations, key chains, or accessories, etc, on bags allowed.

  • Absolutely no plastic or paper bags to be carried while in school uniform.

  • No cell phones in school.

  • Students are forbidden to have driver’s licenses. Some schools will require driver’s licenses and demand that students turn them in to the school where they will be returned upon graduation.

  • No part-time jobs without written approval from the school.

  • A student may never appear in any form of mass communication under any circumstances.

Public schools do not have these rules. These are the rules for private schools. These rules are discussed with the student and parents and mutually agreed upon before admission. Competition to enter a private school is tough and, as I mentioned, it is costly.

If a student does not wish to abide by the school rules, no problem; the school will allow the student to quit and enter a public school at any time.

That is why this “Japan’s schools keeping track of students by radio” is quite misleading. The schools that are doing this are private schools and are doing so with the parent’s expressed consent. This is considered a part of how Japanese private schools consider students in uniform, “their own.” And in turn, the school feels responsibility for those students’ safety whether those students are on campus or not.

You may find examples of “Big Brother” in Japan; but this is not one of them.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.

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