TOKYO, JAPAN — Ryoko Ishida, 15, reached school a few seconds late and, as a result, lost her life.

On the morning early this month that Ishida was tardy for the first time in her high school career, three teachers were waiting in the schoolyard, determined to discourage latecomers.

As the bells chimed at 8:30 a.m., one teacher sent the school's 500-pound iron gate hurtling closed on its tracks. At that moment, the freshman girl had reached the gate and was crushed against a concrete wall. She died two hours later.

A teacher sent the 500 lb. iron gate hurtling closed. The freshman girl was crushed against the concrete wall. Police are now investigating Ishida's death, which rekindled debate here about the rigid, intrusive and sometimes humiliating discipline and rules of many Japanese schools, which have longer terms than their American counterparts.

"This is a story that freezes our heart," said the Asahi newspaper.

Atsuo Nomura, principle of Ishida's high school in the city of Kobe, called an assembly to express regret at Ishida's death. While addressing the 1,500 boys and girls, who were sitting on the floor in neat rows and clad in uniforms of white shirts and dark trousers or skirts, Nomura also suggested the students were to blame.

"If more of you would come 10 minutes earlier, teachers wouldn't have to shout, 'Don't be late!'" Nomura said. "I have no intention of denying my responsibility, but I would like all of you to think again about your basic lifestyle."

An angry response came from Hiroshi Kume, one of Japan's more popular television newscasters. He has focused on the case nightly during his 10 p.m. news show since Ishida died last Friday.

"I think he doesn't really understand what it means that a 15-year-old girl lost her life," Kume said, referring to the principal. "This is really a murder case."

In fact, police said they were investigating teacher Toshihiko Hosoi, 39, on a lesser charge of professional negligence resulting in death. A police spokesman in Kobe ... said Hosoi told them that he was looking downward when he pushed the gate closed and could not see anyone coming.

Many commentators said Ishida's death was not just a local crime, but a reflection of an obsession with rules and discipline in Japan's schools.

... Japanese education is often praised abroad for turning out universally literate graduates who score near the top of world scales in math, science and most other subjects.

However, it is sometimes criticized for discouraging creativity and independent thought, and for regulating the most minute details of student's dress and behavior.

Besides requiring uniforms, many schools regulate the color of underwear, demand that girls' white socks be folded in a certain way and mandated shaved heads for boys. Other schools tell students that they may not date, go to movies, leave home after sunset or play video games without permission from the school. Seven teachers buried two students neck-deep in sand and left them at the ocean's edge for 20 minutes.

Infractions are often met with beatings or other corporal punishment or, less often, with measures aimed at public humiliation, such as being forced to lick a teacher's foot.

Last week, the school board in the town of Fukuoka announced that it was investigating seven teachers for burying two students in sand up to their necks and leaving them, at ocean's edge, for 20 minutes. The two eight-graders had angered the teachers by refusing to admit that they had extorted money from classmates, as the teachers suspected.

The lead columnist of the Asahi, Japan's most liberal mass-circulation newspaper, described the teachers' behavior as "a case of collective violence."

But the local school parents' association, meeting Friday, voted to support the teachers' actions. Many experts here say that is a typical response from parents fearful of juvenile delinquency and anxious for their children to fit into this highly ordered, group-oriented society.

"We should not tone down the spirit of our teachers," the chairman of the parents' group said, according to the Japanese press. "We need this discipline."

At Kobe Takatsuka High School, where Ishida died, teachers regularly patrol the schoolyard each morning, performing "gate guidance," inspecting uniforms and bookbags and hurrying students along.

Other students said that, if they arrive late or fail to leave school promptly at day's end, they must run laps. If they take too long running, they have to run again until they satisfy the teachers.

On Friday, principal Nomura held a news conference to announce that the iron gate would not be shut until 9 a.m.

"I gave guidance to not be late, because that is a way for students to regulate their lives," he had said earlier. "But the way the door was shut could be too rough. I think it can't be helped but to rethink our guidance to latecomers."

TOKYO, JAPAN — Two autistic students at a rural Japanese school for children with learning disabilities died of heat prostration this week after their principal locked them in a windowless storage shed for two days for violating the school's ban on smoking.

During 45 hours the principal gave each one cup of tea. The heat in the windowless metal shed reached 110 degrees. Police investigating the tragedy on the small island of Kosakijima, in Japan's Inland Sea near Hiroshima, said a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy were found unconscious after 45 hours of confinement in temperatures up to 110 degrees. Taken by boat to a hospital, both were dead on arrival.

Prosecutors said they were contemplating manslaughter charges against Yukio Sakai, principal of Child of the Wind school.

The deaths recalled an incident a year ago in Kobe, Japan, in which a 15-year-old student was killed when she came to school late. She tried to rush into school a few seconds after the bell, but a teacher slammed a heavy iron gate and crushed her.

That tragedy led to a national debate here about the primacy given to school rules in Japanese education. Japan is a much more regimented society than the United States, and all institutions — schools, offices, clubs, apartment buildings — have detailed rules of conduct that must be obeyed.

A central goal of Japanese education is to convey the importance of adhering to rules and fitting in with the group. From first grade on, every student here is taught the core lesson that, in the words of a familiar slogan, "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down."

Violations of school rules governing discipline, homework, social life, and often personal appearance are often punished harshly. Almost all junior high and high school students must wear uniforms, and schools generally have detailed rules banning makeup and permanents for girls or long hair for boys.

This spring the Tokyo courts considered the case of a high school senior who was expelled two months before graduation for having a home permanent. The student apologized and cut off the hair that had been treated. But the school — citing the permanent and other breaches of discipline — denied her a diploma. The courts upheld the school, saying rules must be obeyed.

This week's tragedy occurred at a small private school set up two years ago specifically for children with autism and other developmental or learning disabilities who could not function in regular schools.

According to media reports and prosecutors' accounts as seen in television news conferences, the two teenagers, both autistic, were boarding students at the school. They were caught smoking, and about 1:30 a.m. Sunday they were locked in a metal storage shed measuring about 8 by 14 feet. The shed was sometimes used to confine students as punishment for violating school rules.

Prosecutors said the principal checked on the students three times over the next 45 hours and once gave each a cup of tea. The temperate on the island reached about 94 on Monday, and police estimated that the temperature inside the windowless metal shed reached 110 degrees.

Late Monday night, when the principal went to check again, he found the students comatose and foaming at the mouth. The students were put aboard an ambulance boat, heading for a hospital at Mihara, on the main island of Honshu, but they were dead when the boat arrived. Their deaths were attributed to heat prostration, authorities said.