Well, a new school year has started here in Japan. Elementary school students line up every morning, laughing and shouting (sometimes crying...) for the walk to school.
So, how is elementary school different here in Japan than in the States, you ask? Well, let's see... Classes are all conducted in Japanese, of course. Duh! And English is a furrin' language which has from this year become a required subject from the 5th grade. No grades, mind you, just comments from the homeroom teacher - but many of the teachers hate that they must teach it, since they sometimes speak even less than their students...
Well, let's look at a typical day in my kids' public school. They all walk to school, since public schools don't have buses (unless you live in BFE, like I did, where there may be a bus... One.), wearing their uniforms and with big leather satchels across their backs with all their books and materials. When I was a kid, only girls had them, but here, everyone has a pencil case, whether it be "Hello, Kitty", "Pocket Monsters" or "Puma". Even high school toughs carry them, it's like "To Sir, with Pencil Case". Everyone also has a little bag hanging from their packs, with a pair of plastic chopsticks in them for lunch. Not to eat, you wiener, to eat with!
But they eat lunch in their classrooms. Not in the cafeteria; if their school was even built with a cafeteria, it's probably been converted to a computer lab or storage. Every day, the school cooks leave carts with that class' lunch in the hallway outside the room, and 6 kids have to bring it into the classroom and serve it out. In aprons. That they bring from home.
And no pizza, hamburger or chef salad menu, either. Usually rice with mystery fish or meat in an unidentifiable sauce (some things are the same as at home, you see). Milk several days a week, sometimes barley tea (tastes like the inside of an ashtray to me...). Occasionally a bun of some kind, like sweetened soy flour on sticky buns; in which case, the bun is the main dish. In elementary school. Jr High hot lunches just began this January in my town, and high school students take boxed lunch sets in little plastic boxes which their mothers make fresh every morning.
Study is similar to Stateside, with the obvious substitution of Japanese instead of English, and kanji practice instead of penmanship. Everyone takes Home Ec and Shop in both elementary and junior high school. And all students are required to learn the recorder and the kenba pianica (like a bastard child of a harmonica and a piano - Beethoven's kazoo!), and participate in music day concerts every autumn. The level of their concerts by the time they reach 6th grade is pretty incredible, really.
This is only the first post in a series that will discuss Japanese schools over the next few weeks, so check back often!
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