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cram school [11 Apr 2005|12:49pm]

An article about juku (cram schools) from Business Week Online. The feel seems pretty in-line with what I noticed as a public jr. high school teacher. Maybe this'll be interesting to you?

Crazy for CrammingCollapse )

I find it interesting to note that the main reasons people are so dismayed about the test scores falling is because it means that other countries have shown them up... Also, I would be that the majority of the other countries that have beaten out Japan are other Asian countries with an intense emphasis on test scores and memorization of facts, much like Japan... However, that could just be my American cultural imperialist talking. Discuss?
2 thoughts| how about?

Golden Week [02 Jan 2005|07:38pm]


So, while I know it's a little early to think about such things (being as it's in May) Erin nagged me to get something up here. This entry is basically a copy/edit/past job from an entry of mine last year. This is also a hold-over post until I get my post up about being a miko-san at a shrine for New Years... ^^;;

Though to be honest, it's never too early to make Golden Week travel plans...since hotels tend to fill up (even in China, as I hear they have Golden Week the same week too...but for different reasons) @@;;

Golden Week (ゴールデンウイーク - gooruden uiiku) is named so because it's a giant string of holidays. Unfortunately, it's on specific dates, so if one of those dates falls on a Saturday, you're kinda screwed (Saturday is not a day off. Sunday is the only actual rest day according to the government. Some people work on Saturdays, and kids used to have to go to school on Saturdays. Actually, even now, some kids still go to school on Saturday mornings for classes, not clubs!! ). If one of the holidays fall on a Sunday, though, you get a compensation day the next Monday, so you hope it's one of those years... The actual holidays are as follows:

April 29th - みどりの日 (Midori no Hi) - "Green Day" <---not related to the band >:P

May 3rd - 憲法記念日(Kenpou Kinenbi) - "Constitution Day"

May 4th - 国民の祝日(Kokumin no Shukujitsu) - "National People's Day"

May 5th - 子供の日(Kodomo no Hi) - "Children's Day"

So, if it's a good year, like this year, you can see that if you take 2 days off, you get about a week and a half! That's pretty Golden to me!! ^_^ And it's pretty Golden to the airplane people and the train people, since they charge higher fares during this Golden Week... (I'll stop with the Golden references ^^;; )

As for the days that people actually do anything on, it's pretty much just Kodomo no Hi. Tradition is that people fly these windsocks of colorful fish (carp to be more specific -- carp are symbolic of strength) off of flag poles and display miniature sets of armor, if they have boys. Why do only boys get something special? Because this day actually used to be 端午の節句(Tango no Sekku - "Boys' Day"). In 1948, the government "combined" this day with the traditional ひな祭り(Hina Matsuri - "Doll Festival" or "Girls' Day") and just made this day Kodomo no Hi for all children. But as with all Japanese traditions, they die slowly, so people still celebrate Hina Matsuri on March 3rd (3/3), which sadly, is no longer a real holiday that you get a day off from, with O-Hina dolls and they still put out miniatures of suits of armor and fly fish on flagpoles on Kodomo no Hi (5/5). <--- 3, 5, and 7 are important numbers for children... there's a holiday called 七五三 (Shichi go san - "Seven, Five, Three", although most people say "Three, Five, Seven" in English) which celebrates children of those ages on November 15th.  You can read more about each of these kids" holidays here and here.

Other than that, the only other one that needs explaining is perhaps Midori no Hi. As far as anyone can tell me, it's like Japan's version of Earth Day. Though I'm not sure people actually do anything... They did have an Earth Day celebration in Toyama-shi last year, and I heard it was good.

I think Kokumin no Shukujitsu was probably just an extra day stuck in there since it would be strange to have a gap between Kenpou Kinenbi and Kodomo no Hi. I mean, what other reason could you come up with to have a random free day off for the people?? According to my Japanese language dictionary, they say that in 1948, the actual Kokumin no Shukujitsu day was moved to the day after Kenpou Kinenbi. 'Course, it fails to explain what it really is or why it was moved there.

Speaking of Kenpou Kinenbi, I wonder if people will have a march or something on that day someday... I mean, there are people who really want to change the Constitution and feel that they should not salute the 日の丸 (Hi no Maru - "Circle of the Sun" -- the name of the Japanese flag). There have been court cases involving some Tokyo school districts about this. Some Japanese people feel that they don't have a real Japanese identity. I mean, I wouldn't either if everything that I have was forced upon me by foreigners, or in the case of the flag, a horrible reminder of pre-WWII Japan. The Constitution was forced on to the Japanese by the Americans, and even Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem, was strongly suggested by a British man after he heard that the Japanese had no national anthem (*gasp!* the unspeakable horror of not having a national anthem! *shock!*). The harmony isn't based in a real Japanese mode of music, but is based off of an old Greek musical scale (the Gregorian mode) that sounds vaguely "Japanese" (more here) The lyrics are from an old Japanese poem, but still... There's also resentment against the anthem because the lyrics talk about the imperial reign of the Emperor and how they want it to be eternal, which conjures up thoughts of pre-WWII Japan again. Even the national religion, Shinto, is under fire, due to its belief that the Emperor is the direct descendant of the Sun, and is blamed as one of the causes of people's undying loyalty to the Emperor during WWII (who knows how founded this blame actually is, but that's what some people believe). Maybe that explains why most people aren't very into religion -- Shinto or Buddhism, why 1% of Japanese people say they are Christian, why Toyama Prefecture seems to be erecting churches left and right, and why there have been more and more signs hung around my town quoting the bible... That's why I think there should probably be a consensus somewhere as to what the new Japanese national identity should be. In Asahi Shimbun (a Japanese newspaper) there was an editorial that suggested that in the case of the anthem, perhaps a second verse should be added that would reflect post-war Japan...

Ok, before I go on to a rant... too late, I suppose...

And there you have it. Golden Week in a nutshell (and then some ^^;; ).
how about?

A 道 for everyone! [05 Apr 2004|11:11am]
[ mood | amused ]

Take your pick. Japan has a lot of different traditional arts (道, read: DŌ)—different studies and disciplines left over from the past. Back in the day, an educated person would be something like an expert in all of the subjects; that’s what made one well-rounded. Now, being that we don’t have time to dedicate ourselves exclusively, Japanese will choose one and become really good at it (or just try it and quit after their parents stop forcing them to go). Here is a list of some of the 道’s I have come across.

剣道 - kendō - This is what could best be described at "Japanese Fencing." It uses thick and heavy armor, and the attackers wield bamboo swords (竹刀 shinai).
柔道 - jūdō - Japanese wrestling. The name means, "way of softness." I was told it was used to disarm an opponent, not to attack them.
弓道 - kyūdō - Japanese archery. It uses an enormous bow. One of the more spectacular applications of it is horse-mounted archery (流鏑馬 yabusame).
馬道 - badō - The art of riding a horse.
杖道 - jōdō - This fighting style was for the poor public who could not carry swords. They used long poles.
居合道 - iaidō - This is a relatively new sport, coming to life in the Meiji Era. Put simply, it is about learning how to draw a sword and attack imaginary opponents. There is another art, called 抜刀 (batō), which uses a real sword to slice wet tatami mats. In that sport, one must focus on their cutting style.
空手道 - karatedō - This is not originally from Japan, but from Okinawa. So, I guess the dō suffix is something recent.

茶道 - sadō - Otherwise known as 茶の湯 (cha-no-yu). It is the famous Japanese tea ceremony. A guy named 千利休 (Sen-no-Rikyū) started this ceremony, and it has branched off into three main schools, and many subschools.
書道 - shodō - AKA 習字 (shūji). This is calligraphy. One studies a lot: Japanese characters, both sets, and Chinese characters in all their different writing styles.
華道 - kadō - AKA 生け花 (ikebana). There are many traditions.
香道 - kōdō - The art of incense. If you don't know about Japanese incense, go to a temple on a allergy free day.
仏道 - butsudō - The study of Buddhism.

I am sure there is more, and I know I am lacking in explanations... but I figure I would open the subject for discussion.

how about?

High School Graduation [09 Mar 2004|10:01am]
[ mood | pensive ]

Okay, it's been a bit since my last post so here goes nothing. ;)

It's the end of the school year. For those of you who don't know, the Japanese school year ends in March and begins in April. This is why in anime like Hikaru no Go you can see the cherry blossoms at graduation. Unfortunately, my school, like most in my prefecture, has graduation in early March. *sigh* No beautiful cherry blossoms for us, although we did get snow this year. (-_-;)

In America, the graduation ceremony is long and all the students file to the front to shake the principal's hand and receive their diploma. At my school there were 3 representatives. The first student represents the entire general level classes, classrooms 301-305 respectively. These classes cover everything a high school student would cover in America (math, science, foreign language, art, etc). The second student represents the nursing course students (classroom 306). The nursing course is a special case because it is a five year certification course, so their part in the ceremony marks the end of their 3 year general education/beginner nursing classes. They will spend 2 more years focusing on high level nursing classes before having a special ceremony apart from the actual graduation ceremony. The third student represents the home economics course. The graduates from this class will pursue careers is design, catering, and the like. Only the reps are called to the front, one at a time. They stand before the principal and receive the diplomas for all the students in their section. There is much bowing and the rep steps off stage and formally sets the diplomas on a separate table. This part of the graduation is surprisingly short.

In most American schools there are speeches, music, and pictures during the ceremony. While this also happened at my school, the main part of the ceremony revolved around speeches from the principal, a rep from the graduating class, and a rep from the upcoming 3rd years or "seniors". The principal's speech is formal and congradulatory. The next speech from the upcoming senior class is solomn wishing the graduates the best for the future, while vowing to uphold the standards of the school and provide an example for the lower classmen. The final speech is from the graduating rep thanking the prefecture, the principal, the teachers, and their fellow students. It is very emotional as the rep promises to do their best for the future and be a proud graduate of the school.

After the speeches graduation is finished. It takes roughly an hour from start to finish. The students leave and go to their respective homerooms one last time to receive their diploma from their homeroom teacher. Then they gather in the parking lot in front of the school where all the teachers and fellow students cheer for them. The band plays and there are many pictures and farewells. The clubs gather together as the students say good-bye to their senpai. The graduates take gifts to their favorite teachers and grab them for pictures. Then they depart with their families leaving school behind them.

As a side note, this years graduation was very bittersweet. My school became an intergrated school last year. Before my school had been an all girls school with a long and prestigious history. This year the last of the girls high school students graduated. The home economics specialization course will no longer be offered. Of course there will still be home ec classes, but the fashion show and food extravaganza will not continue, being a part of the old school's curricula. Starting this school year there will only be one uniform at our school. I love teaching all my students, but part of me will miss the sass I got from the girls' school class.

5 thoughts| how about?

How many pairs of school shoes have you had? [26 Feb 2004|09:00am]

[ mood | bored ]

So, how 'bout?

When I first started working at school, I had no idea we were supposed to change our shoes before coming in the building. While everyone was sporting their sneakers/flipflops/toilet sandals, I was stuck shuffling around in those awful "visitor's slippers" while trying to make a good impression.

I eventually started bringing two pairs of shoes (of course matching with whatever I was wearing), but the problem was that when I was going home, I'd put them on top of my car while putting my bags inside and then I'd forget they were up there and drive away. Usually I'd get half-way home before I'd notice kids on the street pointing, oncoming drivers with big grins, or the car behind me flashing it's lights, and then I'd realize my nice matching shoes were still on top, or scattered all over the road.

My worst experience with school shoes was the day they rode along on the top of the car until I drove over the bumpy train track crossing, causing them to fall off right in the middle of the tracks! I heard two thumps, realized I forgot my shoes again, and pulled over to the side of the road just as the bell signaling oncoming train started ringing. Fortunately, the train was stopped at the station, giving me time to retrieve the poor shoes.

Overall, I've lost (cuz I didn't hear them fall off) 1 pair of black dress shoes, 2 pairs of Adidas (arrghh!!), and 1 pair of flipflops. Now I just come to school a little late in the mornings and wear the same shoes inside as I do outside. It's easier that way.

2 thoughts| how about?

School Chimes [17 Feb 2004|09:03am]
[ mood | curious ]

Okay this is a short but sweet FYI about Japanese schools. Between periods and at the beginning and end of school, there is always a chime. At my high school and the junior high behind my school, they always play the Westminster chimes. I was talking about it with my school music teacher and said it was interesting because the chimes were used in clocks back home. I wondered why ALL schools had this as a chime. To my surprise, my teacher informed me that not all schools use the Westminster Quarter. O.O! Talk about making cultural assumptions. (=^_^=) To say the least I was embarrassed, especially because I've live here for a year and a half! -_-; Some schools use a simple variation between two tones, and others... well...? I don't know, but I'd like to find out.

So, that's it for my brief rant. What chimes do they play at your school?

3 thoughts| how about?

「鬼は外!福は内!」 [03 Feb 2004|11:02pm]

[ mood | lucky ]

For weeks, grocery stores and conbinis around Japan have been stocked with dried beans and red paperboard masks of comical-looking demons with short pointy horns. Travel around Japan today, and you'll see folks eating fish and tossing the aforementioned beans around. What's up? It's setsubun!

...um, setsu-what? soybeans and demons? WTF are these crazy Japanese people thinking? Well, according to traditional belief, throwing dried soybeans will bring you luck for the next year. Let's check out this excerpt from the packet of beans I got today at school lunch...

Plus bean pictures, how can you -not- click?Collapse )
2 thoughts| how about?

School uniforms, for teachers [30 Jan 2004|10:37am]
[ mood | working ]

I can never get over the shit they wear in Japanese schools.  Okay, so for starters, you have the teachers.  In my school, they men should wear suits.  I mean, come on!  A middle school teacher wearing a suit?!  It seems to me like there is an idea that all working men should wear a suit (part of the "everyone in Japan has to have a uniform that reflects their place in society" aspect of the culture) in order to feel like they are important.  Anywhoo, with that suit, will be either gym sneakers or sandals--a total clash of fashion.  Now, you may be asking WHY?  Because in Japanese schools, the shoe ruleTM states that we must keep inside and outside shoes separate.  That is why housewives that come to visit the school (of course they come wearing an apron, their uniform or symbol of their domestication they bring "my slippers" from their house.  So, the indoor shoes do not change at all.  They are the same throughout the year, but (sometimes) the suits will change, and it is a big buu-buu, but in Japan, it is a-okay. 

Another acceptible outfit is work out clothes.  Many teachers also teach sports after school (it is not like in the US where only the PE teachers or a special coach is assigned), and so they get lazy and like to wear shwish-shwish pants or Nike/Adidas/etc stuff to school.  It is a big contrast seeing a room full of men, half of them in suits and ties (and their silly non-matching shoes) and they other half wearing work-out gear.  No one stops to question it, and all think it is perfectly acceptable.

Now the ladies have a less strict dress code.  Most come in nice dresses, pants or whatever, but don't need to be dolled up.

5 thoughts| how about?

Welcome to J-Kaiwa! [29 Jan 2004|07:15pm]

[ mood | productive ]

Welcome to J-Kaiwa! This is a community for folks who live in Japan to tell it like it is, to explain some things about the Land of the Rising Sun in a bit more depth than Sailor Moon or The Last Samurai. New articles should pop up every two weeks at the absolute latest. Check out the userinfo for more.. uh.. info.

We're always looking for new things to look into, so if there're any specific questions anyone has, reply to this thread and we'll try to hook you up with an answer.

よろしくお願いします! Yoroshiku onegai shimasu!

1 thought| how about?

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