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Pop Culture in Japan: Juku

Japan has one of the most highly educated populations in the world, but its educational system is not without its faults. The pressure-cooker atmosphere created by the need to get good grades to attend the best schools and colleges has led to the development of a parallel education system of juku or "cram schools".

It's estimated that some forty percent of children go to juku at some stage, with attendance pretty much compulsory for those who wish to get into the country's top universities. Kids start as young as five years old at these cram schools, prepping for the "examination hell" to be endured at each stage of their education until they reach university, where they can finally relax (degree study is often treated like a three-year holiday between school and career).

The pressure put on kids to get good results and to fit into the homogenized society nurtured by the education system has led to the disturbing phenomenon of ijime , or bullying, which results in several deaths a year, often from suicide. There's also been a sharp increase in incidents of violence at schools, and although the figures are low compared to other industrialized countries, they're worrying enough for the government to have made educational reform, emphasizing creativity and respect for the individual, a priority.

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