Toddler killed by kindergarten rival's mother

BUNKYO-KU, where a toddler was strangled a fortnight ago, means "Borough of Culture". As the name suggests, it is one of the smartest, brainiest and snootiest areas in all of Japan.

To the east is Tokyo University, the most prestigious in Asia, and scattered among the parks and temples of Bunkyo-ku are a crop of superior colleges and higher education institutes.

The concentration of good universities has encouraged a concentration of elite high schools; associated with the smart schools are smart kindergartens. And it was from one of these, attended by her older brother, that two- year-old Haruna Wakayama was snatched last month.

One moment she was there, the next she had gone. A frantic search involving hundreds of police produced no trace.

Then, three days later, a weeping 35-year-old woman named Mitsuko Yamada walked into a Tokyo police station with a story to tell. It was she, according to the police, who had lured Haruna away from her mother, and took her to the nearby public lavatories, where the child was throttled with a scarf.

After wrapping the body in a black bag, Mrs Yamada took it by train to her parents' home in the countryside, where she buried it in the back yard.

But if the circumstances of the murder were shocking enough, it was the alleged motive which has provoked the greatest horror. For according to police leaks, Haruna was killed because of education.

Both Mrs Yamada and Mrs Wakayama had sons at the elite Otowa Nursery School, where the abduction took place. Both had two-year-old daughters who had been entered for similarly prestigious kindergartens.

A few days before the murder, Haruna had been accepted for a place, while Mrs Yamada's daughter had been turned down. The details are still hazy, but the Japanese media are in little doubt - Mrs Yamada killed her victim in a fit of envy.

The murder has highlighted once again the species known in Japanese as kyoiku mama - "education mums". For decades, the country's teenagers have gone through so-called "examination hell", the annual struggle to get into the best universities, but recently the ordeal has begun even younger.

Prestige secondary schools, which prepare children for university, are in turn served by elite junior schools, which recruit from the cream of the kindergartens. In the past 10 years, an even more alarming industry has established itself: cramming schools for toddlers and even babies, to prepare them for "entrance examinations" for nursery.

Teachers estimate that there are 5,000 of these infant scholars in Tokyo alone. In Bunkyo-ku, 80 per cent of children have sat through some kind of "exam" by the time they are six.

A typical course of tuition costs 1.2m yen (pounds 7,400) for an exam which typically consists of identifying colours and a few minutes of baby talk. But the talents and potential of children are hardly the point here - the kindergarten cramming craze is all about competition between parents.

A glut of media reports on nursery schools last week depicted them as seething cauldrons of adult ambition and rivalry, as bitter as that of any office. The magazine Aera interviewed a professional counsellor who reported growing numbers of young housewives tormented by the psychological warfare among their peers.

"In the past raising healthy children was something respected and admired in itself," said Hisako Nagahisa, a psychologist at Tokyo's Shirayuri University. "But nowadays women find it harder to take pride in the job of bringing up children. These women look for a simple way to measure their own worth in the eyes of society, and they find it in their children's entrance examinations."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
film

News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is reported to be in final negotiations to play Doctor Strange for Marvel although the casting has not yet been confirmed
film
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Life and Style
fashion

World Beard and Moustache Championships held last week

News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Copycat culture: the Chateau Zhang Laffitte in China, top, and the building which inspired it, in Paris, bottom
architectureReplicas of Western landmarks are springing up in unlikely places
Sport
Rolando Aarons watches as his effort finds the corner of the Manchester City goal to give Newcastle the lead
footballManchester City 0 Newcastle 2: Holders crash out on home turf
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English Teacher - Saffron ...

Primary Supply Teacher - Northants

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Primary School Supply Teache...

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Maths Teacher - Saffro...

Chemistry Teacher - Top School in Malaysia - January Start

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain