Musings / Feb. 27, 2019

The Yomiuri Shimbun The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Feb. 27 issue.

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There was no concept of “zero” in Japanese mathematics in the past. The concept is said to have been introduced from the West in the Edo period (1603-1867). A specific kanji character — the upper part meaning “rain” and the lower part meaning “regulation” — was chosen to mean zero, but my limited knowledge does not extend to the reason why.

Looking up the character in a dictionary of kanji, I came across the meaning of “to spill.” It seems to represent a feeling of emptiness, since even if zero is multiplied by any integral number, the answer is always zero. So the kanji character must have a sense of something empty.

Immediately after reading a news story, the math formula “a x 0 = 0” came into my head. This was a story about a second-year male student at a private high school in Nagasaki who committed suicide when he was 16 years old. According to the story, the school set up a third-party panel to investigate the cause of his death, but the school itself expressed its intention not to accept the finding of the panel that “bullying was a factor in him killing himself.”

The panel, comprising lawyers and others, compiled a report in November last year that recognized a causal relationship between the bullying and his suicide, based on notes written by the student and interviews with other students in the same year at the school. However, in January, the school informed [his parents] of its intention not to accept the report, the story said. As the school’s attitude brought the process of the investigation all the way back to square one, the bereaved family must have been stunned.

As of yesterday, Feb. 26, the school has not met a request from the Nagasaki prefectural government to present a report on its investigation into the case, a request made on the basis of the law on promoting measures to prevent bullying. Just like the form of the character zero, the school’s stance in this case rains on laws and regulations, even on the feelings of his parents.Speech

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