NEYAGAWA, Osaka Prefecture--Police arrested three junior high school boys in connection with the bullying of a classmate, which involved setting the boy’s hair on fire and breaking his nose.
Osaka prefectural police said July 25 the three 15-year-olds, all in their third year at a Neyagawa municipal junior high school, are suspected of assault resulting in injury. The police also notified a child guidance center after taking into custody two additional boys, both 13 and in their second year of junior high school.
The arrests came as school bullying has gained renewed attention in Japan after it was learned that a 13-year-old junior high school student in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, committed suicide in October after being tormented repeatedly by classmates.
According to Osaka prefectural police, the five teenagers told investigators that they had been continually bullying the 14-year-old victim for fun.
The victim told investigators that he had been forking over thousands of yen (tens of dollars) in cash to the three arrested classmates every month since he was in the first year of junior high school.
Investigators suspect the five boys used a cigarette lighter to set the victim's hair on fire in a park in the early hours of May 20.
According to investigators, one of the bullies inhaled gas from a cigarette lighter and blew the gas toward the victim's head, which was being held down by two other boys. The gas was lit as it moved toward the victim.
Two other boys used their cellphones to record the scene, police said.
One of the bullies cut the victim's hair the next day to conceal the frizzled parts, police said.
One of the three arrested students is also suspected of punching the victim in the face in a classroom and on the grounds of a nearby shrine after school on May 28. The boy’s nose was broken.
According to the Neyagawa municipal education board and other sources, the victim had been taken into protective custody on the night of May 26 after three of the bullies forced him to wade out into a river.
The three fled the scene, but the victim told the police the names of the three tormentors. Sources said the bullies found out about this and beat him up two days later.
The victim's homeroom teacher noticed he had a swollen face and asked him about it. The student first told the teacher that he had fallen, but after about an hour he confided that he had been beaten.
On May 30, the school principal informed the Neyagawa police that the student was apparently being bullied, the sources said.
On July 25, the Negayawa municipal board of education held a news conference and apologized for failing to intervene sooner. The board acknowledged that school staff members knew that something was going on between the victim and his classmates.
School bullying has been a major social concern in Japan since the 1980s. It has drawn renewed attention in recent weeks after a disturbing bullying case in Otsu came under the media spotlight.
When the junior high school in Otsu conducted a questionnaire of its students after the boy's suicide, 16 answered that they had heard that the victim was forced to "rehearse suicide."
The municipal board of education, however, never disclosed this finding until news media uncovered the fact earlier this month. And the education board initially denied any causal relationship between the bullying and the suicide.
Amid mounting public criticism, however, Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi on July 10 said she believed that the boy committed suicide because he was bullied. Shiga prefectural police began investigating the case on July 11.
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