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A Survival Guide to Japanese Misbehavior

By 3 min read

Japanese kids have it rough, there are no two ways about that. As a teenager, being rushed through cram school, club activities and university preparation takes its toll. One of the unfortunate outlets for all this pent up frustration is いじめijime・bullying. As a result, teachers working in Japan need to be aware of some of uniquely Japanese forms of mischief that are common over here.

At the lighter end of the spectrum is the あっかんべぇakkanbee. This is a popular taunt in Japan where kids expose the reds of their eyes and stick out their tongue. It is often done behind the teacher’s back as a way to mock someone or provoke the target into doing something stupid.

As it is often used by young children, the あっかんべぇakkanbee appears in a lot of animes and mangas aimed at kids. Strangely, it has grown-up fans too and is a popular request for models to do this pose during photo shoots. To foreign people, there is nothing more bizarre than a picture of a perfect-looking model snapped with her tongue out and carefully made-up eyelid pulled down.

Another one that is popular with girls is the でこぴんdekopin. Here the person flicks the top of someone’s head with their finger. Fans of the Japanese anime Bleach will no doubt recognize that Isshin Kurosaki often uses a super-charged version of this as an attack (called an 鬼デコピンoni dekopin). Like a lot of いじめ, it is sometimes difficult to say whether this is being done to upset someone or as a sign of affection as it can be used for both purposes.

Bizarrely, 耳かじるmimikajiru・gnawing on someone’s ear can also be a sign of affection, so teachers will have to carefully judge by the situation whether it is genuine bullying or not. Similar to the あっかんべぇ, this is a common image in all kinds of media. Notably, it was immortalized as the front cover of heavy metal band Maximum the Hormone’s 2002 album.

If the other forms of bullying can occasionally be affectionate, the infamous カンチョーkancho is the epitome of viciousness. Coming from a slightly outdated word for an enema, the object of this ‘game’ is to put both fingers up the other person’s buttocks while their back is turned.

In most other countries it would most likely be categorized as a traumatizing sexual assault, but in Japan it is often considered hilarious and fully grown (albeit, usually drunken) men will even do it. Teachers should be on the look out for any kid clenching their two index fingers together as that is always a sign that a カンチョー is about to happen.

In Japan, a bizarre cult has arisen around the kancho and it is often seen in all kinds of places you wouldn’t expect. Japanese people raised during the early 2000s may even remember playing a game called 浣腸ゲームkancho geemu at the game center. The objective of this game was to use a plastic finger to, erm, actually it is probably best you don’t know any more about this particular simulator.

These are just some of the more common misbehaviours that teachers need to watch out for in Japan. For teachers, it is also important to remember that the Japanese attitude to a lot of these いじめ may be different to expected. Often things that would get kids severely punished back home are considered funny or harmless over here. If in doubt, always take the lead and shout the name of the mischief plus するなsuru na to make your kids think twice.

  • Oh, so women laughing loudly even while covering their mouths doesn’t count? What would the 決まり文句 for that be, 和まずに吹き出す?

  • GeneralObvious says:

    I teach in the public school system. I’ve worked in 8 different schools now, both bad and good classes, with students ranging from grade 1 to 9. It’s nothing like the U.S. public school system though. The student/teacher relationship and expectations of each of the groups are drastically different. Mannerisms, behaviors, attitude; pretty much nothing is the same.

  • NativeJ says:

    I can’t really see to do カンチョー in Japanese real school already.
    Then I haven’t heard of doing 耳かじる in Japanese school.
    (Either Maximum the Hormone or 漫画太郎)
    But There are many kinds of いじめ.
    Many japanese teachers have been boggled at student’s parents(Monster Parents).
    So they can’t say するな really.

  • Ganpuku96 says:

    Oh international schools appear to be better, but I can’t tell since I haven’t been into one. I do have been in a public school and damn it was good!! I had the most fun in my exchange in just that week. The students were more interested in me and in the school activities, it was such a nice place. I was just unlucky, most of my fellow exchange students went to really nice schools and had a lot of fun. It also depends on how much YOU make an effort. Japanese is your best weapon, train it hard.
    And also, international schools have a good English level compared to other schools and have many exchange students, wich are cons when learning Japanese, but it’s also a good place to find people interested in you and that may be willing to be your language exchange partner. Just have fun 😉

  • EroBotan says:

    カンチョー is popular in my country too .. or at least in my elementary school

  • GeneralObvious says:

    I’ve never seen kids do any of those things out side of anime characters, the only exception being kancho. Kancho is the most common thing you’ll see, followed by ass and genital smacking. It’s never malicious however.

    The real mischief you’ll encounter is usually far more physically or mentally abusive to other students. The really bad students will constantly shout things out during a class, or if they get angry, stand up and flip a desk or throw a chair across the room. I’ve seen kids stand up, walk across the room and smack or punch other students. I’ve also heard stories of it being done to teachers.

    I’m a public school teacher though, so my experience may differ from the experiences of a teacher at an English language school.

  • Ganpuku96 says:

    For me, it was quite shocking coming from a country where I thought misbehavior is something to deal with, assisting to a Japanese school as an exchange student and realizing they are actually worse than back home. I have to admit I attended a private, not so good high school so I was told their way of acting was common, but I was still really amazed by the fact that some students bully others in the middle of a class, sleep, make jokes like the ones mentioned up in this article, and disobey teachers scolding them. It was even worse if the teacher was a young lady or someone whit lack of presence or interest in their students. I even got to attend a 特進 where I assumed thing would be better, but I was disappointed when I realized it was even worse. This time, even I was target of いじめ sometimes when trying to defend one of the girls and another exchange student in my same class from the two main bullies in the class. My experience at a Japanese school was, unfortunately, disagreeable and disappointing. But I will always feel sorry the most for the poor ALTs and the young new teachers that are not able to keep the class on rails because of misbehavior.

    Can anyone relate to what I experienced or even went through anything similar?

    • GeneralObvious says:

      Sounds like the teacher you were with was new. Just like in any classroom in the world, if the teacher is inexperienced, then the students will test the limits and push the boundaries.

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