Two students were beaten to death by teachers and two others drowned while trying to escape from Totsuka Yacht School. The prosecution had demanded a 10- year prison sentence for the headmaster for using 'excessive violence' at the school.
'I was shocked by the sentence,' said Sonoko Ogawa, the mother of Makoto, one of the boys whom the court found had died from beatings administered as punishment by teachers at the school in Aichi prefecture south of Tokyo. In a post-mortem, her 12-year-old son's body was found to have 144 external wounds, and his wire teeth brace had been smashed back into his throat. 'I had to walk out of the courtroom when I heard the sentence,' said Mrs Ogawa.
The four students, aged between 12 and 21, died between 1979 and 1982 at the yacht school, which was set up to deal with emotionally disturbed pupils and routinely used corporal punishment as a corrective measure. The use of excessive violence in Japanese schools has been frequently criticised. Last year the headmaster of a school in Hiroshima prefecture in southern Japan was indicted for locking two students into a metal container in summer, where they both died of heat stroke.
Even after he was found guilty on four counts of manslaughter on Monday, the headmaster, Hiroshi Totsuka, defended the violent regime in his school. 'Corporal punishment is part of education. I don't regret what we did,' he said.
'That teacher must have mental problems,' said Mrs Ogawa. 'He was smiling all the time - it is unbelievable.' She described how she went to the hospital, but was not allowed to see her son's body because the doctors said it was too mutilated. He had died only eight days after entering the school.
Mrs Ogawa still feels bitter about Mr Totsuka, who has never apologised to her for her son's fate, and continues to run the yacht school. 'I can't believe the school is still operating,' she said, adding it was 'obvious' that the public prosecutor should appeal against the headmaster's lenient sentence.
In explaining why he was giving Mr Totsuka a suspended sentence, Presiding Judge Hiroshi Kojima said the school had stopped using corporal punishment since the deaths of the four students, and therefore there was no risk of the same thing happening again. He said the punishments meted out were 'severe', but were 'largely legitimate' as 'treatment or reform of the trainees'. He also gave suspended sentences to nine other teachers at the school.
The Japanese press strongly criticised the judgment, which the daily Mainichi Shimbun called 'ridiculous'. In an editorial, the Mainichi said 'we must not forgive any action which sentenced someone to death . . . Even if children have some problems inside their hearts, one must remember their dignities as human beings.'
The daily Ashai Shimbun published a letter written by one of the students to his parents shortly before he jumped off a yacht at the school and was drowned. 'This is not a society of human beings,' he wrote. 'Every day I am beaten. I am treated worse than an animal. Father and mother, please take me home.'