Monday, October 31, 2011

The Look

As, I'm sure I've mentioned before... maybe once or twice... in almost every post... gaijin are stared at. I'm sitting in a large hospital now (just getting a checkup, thank you for your concern), and getting my fair share of looks.

Walk down the street, people look out their car windows as they go by. Sit on your front stoop and watch old fellas run into cyclists as they stare unblinkingly until they are 20 feet beyond you. Go to the store, and there will be a kid running down the aisle, yelling, "Mama, fo-o-reigne-e-er!" (although there was that one time when a boy yelled "Fat man!" - - little shit!).

But you get used to it. Nowadays I only notice it when they don't stare. I've become an attention-addicted narcissist. Guess I'll just have to control myself...

Hope you won't see any paparazzi shots of me climbing mini-skirted and no pants into an SUV any time soon.*

*How's that for a gross image - hope you weren't eating when you read that

Saturday, October 15, 2011

College Entrance Exams

It's 9:30, and I'm waiting outside my elder daughter's cram school (she's coming home early today, she usually finishes at 11:00). She has university entrance exams coming up in a few months, and has been cramming for several months, 6 days/week, 5-6 hours/day after school.

In the States, many students take prep courses to do better on the ACT or SAT, hoping to increase their chance of getting into a university, but it's not the same thing. The SAT or ACT, while undeniably important, are not the only criteria for admission. Your high school grades, extra-curricular activities, references and even volunteer work are taken into consideration. And if you bomb either of those tests, you have the opportunity to take them again, and again, and again if needed.

Not here in Japan. Your entrance test is the only thing that will get you into college. The only thing. Bomb this puppy, and you'll be "Ronin", a masterless samurai in search of a school, and spend the next year in prep school before trying again. Your high school grades don't count for jack-shitt, other than your homeroom teacher's determination of which school you should test for. Several of my students spent junior high asleep in the back of the class, then played with themselves in a lower high school for the first (Sophomore) year, before finally buckling down, studying and becoming the #1 student in their graduating class.

Oh, and each college has its own entrance exam. College A has this exam, College B made that one; hopefully they aren't on the same day, or your options just got cut in half. Just pay your $250-500 per test and go. A standardized "Center Test" came out a few years ago which is supposed to serve the purpose of the ACT and allow students to take one test for multiple schools, but it hasn't worked out that way. The schools need that test fee, what with Japan's declining birth rate and resulting declines in attendance rates, so they look at your Center Test, say "How nice!", then make you take their test anyways.

Meanwhile high school seniors like my daughter continue to spend as many as 8 hours after school, and 14 hours each on Saturday and Sunday, hoping to cram in as much information as possible that may appear on the test. They aren't really required to make grades at school any more, and during the last 2-3 months, many don't listen in class; they just openly do their cram school homework or sleep, soaking up energy for tonight's lesson.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Now's the time!

So, you've always wanted to go to Japan, but couldn't dig up the moola? Have you wanted to start a blog, but couldn't think of anything to say (brainfart, anyone)?

Well, now might be the time to do both. The Japan Tourism Agency has announced plans to give away free round-trip airfare in an advertising campaign to draw back tourists who are, what with the East Japan quake & tsunami, nuclear meltdown and generally crappy economy, staying away in droves. The only catch, and it's an easy one, is that you have to be willing to write a review of your trip and post it online. Precedence will be given to bloggers who have more than 12 followers (damn, I can't get tickets... oh, yeah... I already live here...). And if you head to west Japan, you have no worries about glow-in-the-dark foods, either.

You'll still have to pay your in-country expenses, but cutting out that nasty international fare (doesn't look so bad, until they add in the $500 fuel surcharge!) certainly makes it easier. If you stay at cheaper ryokan (inns) or minshuku (like a samurai B&B), you could probably get by for $100+/night hotel for a couple; it's about half that if you look for hostels. Food can be cheap or expensive, but a general rule of thumb is that if you can't read the price on the menu (ie, it isn't in Arabic numerals), you can't afford to eat there.

And if you are the sister or brother, niece or nephew of someone who lives convenient to Himeji, Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto (hmm, hmm, hmmm!), you don't need to shell out for the hotel, either.

So if you have a yen to visit Japan ;-) , read this ABC News blog, and keep your ears open.