Friday, 27 March 2015

Ryo Makes Me Hungry - Spring Holidays pt. 1

At first I thought I was just getting used to the cold, but there is now no doubt that we have crossed over from the hibernation of winter to the groggy hangover of spring. The birds are chirping, the snow is melting, and the rice fields - well they aren't green yet but they are a very promising shade of brown. Japanese schools run from April to March, so we are currently in the transition period between academic years. I say transition period rather than holiday because Japan is allergic to free time.

Spring Transition Period

In the UK, I used to wander about with my friends, play video games, and watch way too much day-time TV. In Japan, holidays are not days off. They are an opportunity to train. To contribute to society. To develop oneself. The students come in everyday at 8am for 4 hours of club activities. It's basically government run daycare.

On rainy days, they cant go out onto the field, so the Baseball and Athletics clubs run laps around the corridors, chanting over the sound of the Brass band practicing scales.  I imagine an army barracks has a similar feel to it, except soldiers occasionally have some down time. And they aren't children. Everyone loves it because at least they aren't studying, which is what the large majority will be doing when they get home.

The teachers of course have no holiday at all and are expected to work regular hours. So when I leave at 4pm after a day of studying Japanese* and browsing text-heavy websites, everyone is still in the office toiling away, and will continue to toil until gone 7pm. Thank god I'm not a real teacher. One has to wonder what they are doing with all that time. I'm thinking of writing a post about it and calling it either "The Ancient Japanese Art of Pretending to Do Work", or "Boredom: A treatise on Japanese Work Culture."

Watch this space.

Homage to the 3rd Grade

Spring is also the season for change in the Japanese education system. I have mentioned before the unavoidable heartbreak of letting students go. Earlier this month the 3rd grade left to make room for the swarm of brand new seito that will descend on the school in April.  After a painful 2 hour ceremony, the students walked out the front door for the last time. The gathered crowd cheered. Tears were cried, photos were taken, and heartfelt words were exchanged. Not with me of course. I stood awkwardly in the corner trying to look like I fit in.

To top it all off, a flock of white cranes flew by in formation. The symbolism was not lost on the Japanese, who love a vague unexplained metaphor.** Something to do with moving on to new rice fields.

In all the hustle and bustle, the strange foreigner that played badly planned out English games with them once a week was not particularly the first thought on the graduates minds. I left the crowds to watch on from a distance and grieve in private.

Most of the students will be forgotten, melding together into the Japanese stereo types. The baseball boys. The class clown. The noisy obnoxious girl that is too cool to do the worksheet. The moral saint that gets visibly annoyed when other students are talking over the teacher. The quiet girl with two pigtails and glasses that is hardly paying attention because she's halfway through her book and cant wait to get back to it as soon and the bell rings.

However, two boys have done enough to separate themselves from the crowd. Writing about them here will hopefully give me the kind of closure the closing ceremony could not.

Japanese names are superbly difficult to remember, but I know Daiki's name - mainly because he was constantly being told off for talking at the back. Some classrooms in Japan are quiet because everyone is afraid to speak and look like an idiot. Daiki made a career of it, and as a result gave the class a relaxed atmosphere I am yet to recreate elsewhere. In one exercise he shouted out "Ryo makes me hungry" (Ryo being the coolest boy in class). When I tried to explain his mistake, he said "nonono", got up, walked across to Ryo, and mimed eating his arm. I taught Daiki the word "Cannibal" and he taught me that although Japanese 15 year olds seem very serious, they are in fact still children. And occasionally hilarious.

The second is a boy from up in the mountains, which was fitting because Riku towered over the other boys. I saw him at the elementary school one day helping the youngsters dig up yams from the school field  (you know you live in the inaka when there is an actual field full of crops attached to the school.) He had the rare habit of trying to genuinely communicate with me, rather than do the bare minimum to finish the exercise. Quick to smile, he always greeted me in the hallways, and knew how to say "We call it <Insert Japanese Word Here>", which effectively turned him into a walking dictionary. All the students wrote fair-well advice for the remaining students. Most copied directly from the model they were given, but he wrote
.
Which is so funny I don't need to write any more jokes. 

March 25th also happens to be when I was born. I told my teachers last week and no one remembered, so it meant a lot to get happy birthday messages throughout the day. Thank you to the center.

I didn't have room to talk about the teachers that are leaving or the end of term drinking parties, so stay tuned for part 2.  If the amount of actual work keeps up at this rate, I might just beat my usual post output of once in a blue moon. Remember to eat.

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* In other Japanese Language news - I was translating an Elementary school lesson plan into English when I stumbled upon an extremely dangerous Kanji mix up. Turns out "sex maniac" (shikiki) and colour tag (a Japanese children's game iro oni) are written with exactly the same kanji -色鬼. The Japanese are truly a fearless breed.

**For instance, the Japanese adage
"見ぬが花" (minu ga hana) - Not seeing is a flower
I much prefer the straightforward
"猿も木から落ちる" (saru mo ki kara ochiru) - Even monkeys fall from trees.




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