Last time I talked about safety in Japan, including the way elementary school children walk to school in an organized group called a han, with a sixth-grade student as leader who keeps the kids in the group together and presumedly protects younger students from ijime (bullying). As with many things in Japan, this is part of a tradition that goes back for generations, and when my daughter went to school with the other kids in the neighborhood, she walked the exact path that her mother walked many years before…which was the same path used by her grandmother even earlier. I think the school han system is good because it keeps kids safe and gives them a structure to follow as they get accustomed to school life, and it’s certainly preferential to the Lord of the Flies trauma that was riding the school bus in America. Still, not everyone agrees it’s a good thing, like a friend of mine from the U.K. who had a Japanese wife and cute haafu son. My friend disliked the way the the kids were made to walk in a line wearing little yellow hats “like baby ducklings following their mother” because it seemed like a form of social programming which robbed them of their individuality. He eventually opted to take his family back to the U.K. rather than see his son assimilated into a really cute Borg collective. What do you think? Is preserving the tradition of kids walking to school together with neighborhood kids good, or should things be more flexible?
Japanese students walk to school in their assigned han; lead by the “head honcho.”