Mie Tanaguchi, 34, mother of a 5-year-old daughter, felt unbearably lonely. Her only friends were the mothers at her daughter's kindergarten, and lately she felt they had been excluding her. They were distant and cold, and she worried that their behavior would extend to her daughter. She couldn't stand for her daughter to be an outcast.
On this morning, it was Mie's turn to drive the children to school. Wakana and Jin, the two girls sharing the backseat with her daughter, might have been tired, or moody. Whatever the reason, they didn't speak. In her emotional state, Mie took their silence as an affront to her daughter, and she completely lost control. Pulling over to the side of the road, she pulled a slender knife from her purse, yanked the girls out of the car--and stabbed them repeatedly, leaving them for dead on the side of the road. Although both girls were barely alive when she sped away, they died soon after.
When Mie was found, bloody and in shock, she confessed to everything, detailing the loneliness and estrangement that led to her horrendous acts.
In Japan, most mothers are expected to stay home, and moms form close friendships with each other that last for years as their children grow. They form close-knit cliques, with a distinct pecking order. Women wear their finest clothes to the neighborhood park, entering into a series of "highly ritualized" behaviors in their attempts to be accepted: bowing deeply as a sign of respect for the dominant mom boss, they wait for signs of acceptance, turning to the next clique and the next with the same behavior until one group has allowed them to join.
When a woman is excluded, she worries for her child's future. And not without cause. Competition among the children is rampant. Getting your child into the "right" school is a must. Some schools require the children to take entrance exams when they are as young as two years old.
When Mitsuko Yamada's daughter did not pass an entrance exam into an exclusive Otawa kindergarten, she cracked, strangling the girl who did with the girl's own scarf. She was sentenced to 15 years in jail after turning herself in voluntarily, shocked by what she had done. Amazingly, one newspaper reporting on the case received over 1000 letters of support from sympathetic Japanese moms.
Miwako Nakajima, who wrote a novel about Japan's mommy cliques entitled Park Debut, opines, "I think these women have simply never grown up. In many ways, they seem to be locked in their own youths-the way they still bully through ostracism and have a 'leader' of the group."