Photo/IllutrationThe father of a junior high school boy who killed himself in Otsu in 2011 wipes away tears in February after the Otsu District Court ruled that bullying was the cause of his suicide. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

“Kyaku-ijiri” is Japanese showbiz jargon for audience ribbing by “rakugo” comic storytellers and other live-performance entertainers.

A typical line goes as follows: “What on earth are you doing here in broad daylight? You really don’t have anything better to do, huh?”

Entertainers hurl good-natured “insults” from the stage to raise their intimacy with the audience by making them laugh.

The verb “ijiru,” which means “tamper with” or “fiddle with,” has also come to mean “make fun of” or “tease.”

It probably owes to TV variety shows, where clips of entertainers mocking one another are shown over and over to the amusement of viewers.

Some showbiz personalities even voice their gratitude when they are subjected to “ijiri” (ribbing) by their peers.

I’m not sure since when, but ijiri has become something of a keyword in cases of “ijime” bullying.

The offending parties would say what they were doing was ijiri, not ijime. I wonder if it’s their lame excuse or if they really believed it.

A court verdict last month concluded that bullying was the cause of a junior high school boy’s suicide seven years ago in Otsu, the capital of Shiga Prefecture.

According to the ruling, “A hierarchical relationship was firmly established between the ijiru party and the ‘ijirareru’ (ribbed) party.”

The victim was gagged with duct tape and also made to eat a dead bee. Surely, such acts can never be described as ijiri.

Every bully is insensitive and makes light of the anguish of the victim. The insensitivity should be enhanced by the now-common usage of the word ijiru. I suspect that the word is serving as a tool to justify physical and emotional abuse.

A series of reports have determined that bullying was the cause of suicides of junior and senior high school students.

Here’s something I must ask all young people: Are you not inflicting on anyone the sort of pain and despair that would make that person choose death?

You are kidding yourself if you believe your act is nothing more than harmless ribbing and not bullying.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 29

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.