Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Japanese Junior High, pt 1

So, what's junior high school like in Japan? Well, in a word, it's a bitch!

Nearly every junior high school has a uniform. Traditional uniforms are sailor suits for girls (where did you think Sailor Moon and friends got their names?) and black matrix-like pseudo-military uniforms for the boys.
Modern-styled uniforms have slacks and blazers for the boys and skirt and blazers for the girls. Other than sports uniforms and PE uniforms, this is pretty much the only piece of clothing these kids will wear on weekdays. The only one. And since they are horrendously expensive, most parents only buy the one, with 2 or 3 blouses to wash, drycleaning the uniform 3 or 4 times a year at the holidays.

Now, factor in the following: the Japanese humidity, the fact that most schools do not have locker rooms, students don't shower after PE or club, and schools are not air-conditioned. I'm damned glad most Asians don't have the enzyme that feeds body odor-producing bacteria!

Seriously. Could you imagine how an American school would smell if we had 2-a-day practice and PE in a humid summer with no showers or air-conditioning? Would you want to?

And no accessories allowed. You cannot pierce your ears, cannot wear jewelry, no makeup, no curling your hair (if you have naturally-curly hair, you will have to explain it to every new home-room teacher), and your hair has to be black. One of my students was taking a medicine that turned her hair dark red, and her school tried to force her to dye her hair black (her doctor came to the rescue on that one). Hair length is controlled; girls must wear their hair in ponytails or pigtails if it's over the shoulder, but can't wear it in a bun (apparently showing the nape of the neck is a huge turn-on for Japanese guys, because it's forbidden).

So the girls rebel by putting the ponytails at odd angles; by slowly shortening their skirts, until you wonder how they get on the bus without "flashing pan"; by buying huge "loose" socks that make it look like they have Uggs for legs.

Oh, and choose your club carefully. Because you will not be able to change into another for the entire 3 years you're here. There is no such thing as a 3-sport letterman in Japan, because it's impossible to play more than 1 sport for your school.

This club will become your junior high school life. You will practice 6 days a week for at least 3 hours a day. School vacations will be vacations from class time, but you'll still need to go to club. Nearly all your friends will come from here. Your social life will begin here. And end here, if you quit. Suddenly, your friends will be too busy to meet and you will be a pariah.

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