Japanese police have arrested a boy for cheating on his university entrance examination by using a mobile phone to photograph the questions and get the answers from accomplices on the Internet, in what turned out to be Japan’s biggest news story in months.
The incident began with a 19-year-old Sendai man (or “boy” as the Japanese media calls him) who was taking a year out after graduating from high school to attend prep-school, in the hopes of passing the gruelling entrance examinations for one of Japan’s 4 top universities. He resided at their dormitory.
He decided on a “cunning” scheme (literally – the English word “cunning” in Japanese actually means “cheating”), in which he took a mobile phone into the entrance exams and then mailed photographs of especially difficult questions to an accomplice, who then posted the photo onto the Japanese version of “Yahoo! Answers” and relayed the correct answer back to the student, all in real time as the exam was going on.
By some astonishing happenstance, posting evidence of his cheating on a public website accessible to millions resulted in an investigation, but rather than a report to university authorities or some angry ranting on 2ch, the investigation took the form of a full police manhunt by Japan’s national high-tech crime unit in Kyoto, who demanded logs from Yahoo! and then traced the IPs used back to the cheater.
The mass media soon made the investigation their lead story, and police subsequently resolved to make an example of the young man by charging him with “fraudulent interference with the official duties [of the university]“, and after a short manhunt they succeeded in arresting him.
The man being taken to jail by police amidst a media circus:
As a result of the Yahoo! connection he came to be identified by the Yahoo! username used, “aicezuki,” although his actual identity has not been released. Some 180 questions in total were asked using the account over an extended period of time, covering English and maths, with as many as 8 questions answered this way in a single exam. The man police arrested claims he acted alone.
Graduation from a top university is generally essential to the career prospects of Japanese salarymen, but actual university life is undemanding – the difficult and extremely crucial part is instead the university entrance examinations, which is why so many Japanese children and young adults find themselves herded into cram schools or forced to take a year out to try again for entry.
Thus it is probably no exaggeration to say that with entry to a respectable university now all but impossible and his name tarred with a cheating conviction, the career of this young man is probably over before it began.
Perhaps of more interest than the incredibly petty nature of the offence is the handling of the case by Japan’s mass media, who have been treating it akin to an ongoing murder manhunt for several days, with endless diagrams, expert opinions, and even subtitled announcements of the arrest on unrelated programmes.
Reporters have even been pursuing the suspected cheater’s family, and when the suspect “went missing” for a time after making a distraught apology to his family critics of the reporting were left with the distinct impression he might have been hounded into suicide.
The bizarre fixation on the story by both media and police has already been the subject of extensive criticism, with the media widely accused of manufacturing a national scandal out of an inconsequential trifle, and the police of trampling the independence of academia with their absurd criminal investigation and charges.
Even more strangely, the media and police have been completely silent on the issue of how exam invigilators overlooked a student smuggling a phone into the hall and then extensively using it during the exam itself.
The arrest is now Japan’s top story, proving far more interesting to the mass media than Libyan civil war, New Zealand earthquakes, the ongoing disintegration of the government and Chinese jets buzzing Okinawan airspace – despite the general difficulty in finding any normal person who actually cares about an isolated case of exam cheating.