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Boei Dai Blues

   It’s not uncommon for students at the private Baptist university where I teach to have transferred from more prestigious schools.

   Two years ago, I had a freshman who was in his late twenties. When I asked what had happened, he explained that he had dropped out of Tôkyô University, Japan’s Harvard, several years earlier. Girl trouble he confessed with a shrug. Another student who ended up auditing my classes more than four times admitted with a maniacal laugh that he had been kicked out of Keio University, Japan’s oldest institution of higher learning. “I may get kicked out of this school, too,” he added with more laughter.

   Hiroshi’s case, however, was something of a novelty. The strapping freshman had been a student at Bôei Dai (防衛大), the National Defense Academy of Japan a year earlier. Similar to West Point, Bôei Dai is a four-year military academy for those who wish to serve as officers in Japan’s military, er, Self-Defense Forces.

   “It was like hell,” he told me and went on to describe the rampant hazing and bullying by upper classmen. “Fifteen of my classmates quit after only three days. Three days!”

   “How long did you last?”

   “One semester.”

   He added that of the more than five hundred freshman who are accepted to Bôei Dai, only three hundred or so make it all the way through to graduation. A former graduate of the university wrote that out of the 530 or so students who entered Bôei Dai when he did, only 450 made it all the way to graduation. Most quit within the first week or so.

   High drop-out rates are not unique to Bôei Dai. According to a New York Times article from 1985, West Point, too, has a high level of attrition.

   “Through it all, the number of dropouts at West Point remains high," the article states. "Last year's graduating class of 986 officers began with 1,462 plebes, an attrition rate of 33 percent. It has been as low as 28 percent and as high as 40 percent. The academy considers 20 percent the minimum it should expect.” (The Baltimore Sun painted a similar picture of the situation at The U.S. Naval Academy.)

   “It took forever to get anywhere on campus,” Hiroshi recalled. “Anytime you came upon a teacher or upper classman you had to stop and salute until they passed. Walk three steps, stop and salute. Walk three steps, stop and salute. Walk three steps, stop and salute. It was bullshit.”

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