Why do we hear wildly varying accounts of discipline in Japanese schools?

Because the main weapon of Japanese teachers has always been peer pressure, so much so that traditionally classes with no teacher are left for hours or even days to get on with it under the instructions of the class monitor and the pressure of the other kids to behave. However, in some classes – or even whole schools-┬áthat peer pressure is rather one to appear too cool for school, etc. In others it could be to go totally wild.

The same explanation works quite well for explaining the extremes of discipline and lack of discipline in WWII, how the protests of the 1960s turned into virtually no protests today, and why Japanese sci-fi is so fascinated by the idea of a complete breakdown of the social order- because it could happen! Of course, peer pressure exists in every society. I think Japan uses it more as a form of control than almost any other country, though, apart maybe from the ones with reeducation camps…