I don't know enough about bullying in Japan so I won't comment there, but I do have a strong stance on bullying in the US. And for the near future, I have no faith in bullying improving here (and probably Canada too). One of the policies I'm most disgusted about is that bullied kids rarely have the right to fight back. I never felt impelled to carry a weapon to defend myself when I was in school but I actually empathize with the kids who have. Schools don't provide the security blanket necessary to keep kids safe at all times.
Middle school is usually acknowledged as the worst time for bullying due to physical acts of aggression being paired with psychological kinds. Peer pressure and a desire to belong are at its strongest, meaning chances are lower others will help out victims than laugh at them. When I moved into a new neighborhood in 7th grade, I personally experienced bullying from boys trying to push me around until it became clear to them that as one of the strongest and fastest kids in school, and someone who didn't mind fighting back, I wasn't an easy prey.
On one such occasion, a teacher was notified, and the school tried to pin equal blame on me for retaliating against the bully rather than cowering into a corner and running scared to the administrators. Ultimately, I was fully exonerated, but the audacity of even thinking to punish the bully and me equally had me completely disillusioned with public school policy.
Now, if our stance on fighting back was consistent, then I could at least understand the rationale. However, the expectations in school—and in general—fly in the face of America's foreign policy, where any attack is met with immediate retaliation. Everyone always talks about how children are inspired by role models, and I couldn't help but wonder after seeing how quickly our country retaliated against terrorists post-9/11—sometimes against international pleas—how children should view acts of aggression.
And that's just the latest in a history of similar responses, from Pearl Harbor to how often presidential candidates promise war upon any entity that dares to attack us. If we respond an eye for an eye as a nation, then how can we not expect the same for impressionistic children? I suppose as the common proverb goes, "do as I say, not as I do." Too bad kids—and most everyone else—can spot hypocrisy from far away.
Now, with online so commonplace and online decency at all-time lows (mostly due to lack of direct contact and the feeling of anonymity, but at least most folks who used the internet back in the early 90s tended to be intelligent folks on the leading edge of technology who had the opportunity/money to get online), things are even worse for bullying victims. I suppose that even if they don't participate online, bullies can still spread online hate regardless that spill over to offline. Therefore, online is an unavoidable new avenue for bullying. I'm not sure if bullying is actually worse now than before, but one good thing is that making and uploading videos of bullying is so much easier.
It takes strong emotional fortitude to overcome bullying, and since parents can't be with kids at school, they often aren't of much help either. Parents of bullies may not be able to tell how their children act and parents of victims may not be able to say enough encouragement to offset the bullying they're unable to prevent. Schools themselves usually force the situation and interaction that creates bullying so they're responsible for eliminating this problem.
If schools had much tougher bullying rules (e.g. 1 proven case of bullying = suspension, 2 cases = expulsion) and if there were tougher anti-bullying laws with years behind bars for suicide caused by bullying, then bullying would quickly stop. But I still don't feel that policy makers have treated this issue seriously enough. There's a lot of rhetoric after-the-fact and very little protectionism. I was moved by last week's Amanda Todd story. Her story would almost be like a recent DirecTV "Don't" commercial (the ones that start with a minor mistake and then roll into an implausibly awful conclusion) if it weren't real and tragic.
One way schools can help prevent that sort of online mistake is to use her story as a simple case as soon as kids understand how to get online. Warn them of the dangers present and instill caution. Another option is to have older students from college or perhaps later high school to have counseling hours where smaller kids can talk to them about their bullying problems. I understand it's hard for kids to open up to adults, but perhaps they'd be more comfortable to do so to someone closer their age. Online can be a well of support, but it's often not personal enough to combat the face-to-face bullying kids experience at school.
Overall, anti-bullying laws have been getting better in the last few years but they're still not nearly strong enough to really make an impact on children. Sad to say, I think it'll take more child suicides—and more tragic ones at that—for US schools and society to really make a change.