Tag Archives: Japan

Japanese and American Schools: School Schedules – The School year

  
This week I’ll be continuing the topic I started last week. Yay! It was only a week ago. My goal for this summer is definitely posting things more often. No that doesn’t mean Adette. It just means that I’d like to start posting some more things about Japan and other things. It’s my blog, so I guess I do what I want.

Today I’m going to talk about school schedules. I’ll talk a bit about both the daily and yearly schedule. Again, I’m really only able to speak specifically about the Japanese school I’ve worked with and my experiences in the States. Obviously that means I can’t cover everything, so if you’ve had a different experience, I’d love to hear about it.

To start, there is one misconception that I’d like to talk about first. Generally people assume that all schools, nationwide, have a six day school week. This is pretty much not the case. There are some schools where students do still go to school on Saturday, but those are generally private schools or schools outside of the public school system. The school I work with only has classes five days a week. Many students are on campus seven days a week for a variety of reasons, but that’s something I’ll talk about when I do a post on clubs.

Schools in Japan, just like schools in America have three main breaks. There is a spring, summer and winter holiday. Naturally these holidays differ in length and when they actually happen. Summer holiday in Japan is a month not the two and a half month behemoth we enjoy in the states. Japanese summer holiday, 夏休み, begins at the end of July and ends sometime around the end of August depending on the school. Just like in the States there is summer school, though it’s important to note, summer school is run by the school’s teachers. Japanese teachers do not enjoy the same summer holiday that their American counterparts enjoy. I’ve been told that this was not always so, but that sometime ten years ago or longer it was changed. I have no idea what. That’s just what I was told.

In fact, it’s important to note that unless a Japanese teacher takes one of their 15 paid vacation days they are only actually given three days off at the New Year and during Golden Week. The rest of their breaks must come from National holidays, usually on Mondays, or their own time off. I’m getting a little ahead of myself though.

The next big holiday is the New Year. Japanese New Year centers around the actual New Year which means that students generally still have classes or that school is still in session in some form for the Christmas holiday. Please hold your shock and horror in check. Japanese people don’t celebrate Christmas as more than a commercial holiday that same way that we would celebrate Valentine ’s Day. It’s not a good enough reason for a holiday. Unlike our week and a half to two week long break, the New Year is only three days. For students, it is a bit longer, but for the regular working population it’s only three days, and EVERYONE travels on those days.

Golden Week is the major spring holiday which happens in the beginning of May. It’s actually a holiday that consists of four separate national holidays Showa Day (April 29th), Constitution remembrance day (May 3rd), Greenery Day (May 4th), and Children’s Day (May 5th). The way that it is spread out does actually mean that your holiday may be split into several places. If Showa Day is a Friday, then you may end up with five or six days off. If not, then you’re going to end up working or having school in between. Schools are generally back in session by then.

Back you say? But in American May is at the end of the school year. Not so in Japan. In Japan graduation, just like almost everything else, changes over in April. School Graduation generally happens in March with just two weeks in between the end of the school year and the start of the next. That means, you guessed it, that the summer holiday is actually in the middle of the school year in Japan not the end as it is in America. This is actually one of the main reasons that transitioning between the two cultures can be so difficult.

One thing that I really would like to take home with me is the idea of daikyuu (代休). Daikyuu is this magical things that says that if your some reason you have school on a Saturday then you must have another day off to compensate for the missed weekend day. You might be wondering when something like that would be needed, but it happens, a lot. Every time a school has one of those sports festivals, culture festivals, or pretty much any other festival it’s usually on a Saturday. That means everyone, even teachers unless they take a day off, needs to be at school for that Saturday. Because of daikyuu though, everyone will get the next Monday off. The same is true for teachers who have to do something school related on the weekend. If they have to go to a conference for something on a Saturday, then the school with reimburse them for that day off with daikyuu. It’s actually a pretty nifty system.

As a last note, I would like to point out that, even though Japanese students do have weekends and a fair amount of holidays throughout the year, they still generally are busy for the majority of those breaks. Most of my students will enroll in summer study programs or will be doing something related to their clubs for almost the whole spring or summer break. The New Year’s break is really the only one where student’s truly won’t come to school, and then it’s only because families usually visit family at that time as a matter of tradition.

I had intended on talking about the daily school schedule, but that looks like it may have to wait for a different post. The school year itself is an interesting enough topic on its own.

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Japanese and American Schools: Differences and Similarities

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I have lately been woefully neglecting what I set out to do in the first place and that is to talk about Japan. I’ve had some great experiences here, and one thing that I thought might be of interest was my experience working both in Japanese schools and my experience working in American schools. I’ve worked in both and would like to shed some light on some of the major differences and similarities I’ve encountered.

This will start of a series of posts that I hope to share with you. I think that maybe there are some things that lots of people know, but maybe I’ll be able to shed some light on some things that people don’t already know.

There seems to be a real mystique surrounding Japanese schools. This of course has a lot to do with anime and in fact Japanese culture itself. For many in Japan, just like for many in the States, high school is considered to be one of those special times in ones life. Practically everyone in the country gets misty eyed around graduation season. You can’t even count how many pop stars create graduation themed songs.

I think in this respect Japan has the U.S. beat on graduation mania. For most high school students high school graduation is that time that sends you off into the wonderful world that is college. For me it was the time that I said good bye and good riddance to any number of people I didn’t like. I was a couldn’t wait for college girl. This is generally not the case in Japan. Most people tend to look back on high school as their last care free time. It’s very common to stay in touch with your class and to have yearly meet ups when possible. That’s generally why there are so many anime created with school at its center. It’s a very strong and powerful connector for the audience be they young or old.

Many people said to me before I left that my job would be significantly easier as a teacher simply because I would be in Japan. Sure, my students are extremely well behaved. Nearly all of them, but that’s because I am at a very competitive school. It’s the kind of school that I can mention in passing only to receive an awed look of respect. I don’t get to take credit for this since I lucked into the position, but I’m often afforded some of that respect simply by being connected with the school.

Of course there are schools in Japan with the same types of problems as schools anywhere else on the planet. Japan has students with absent or no parents, bad home lives, low motivation, and any number of other problems shared with thousands of “troubled” children around the planet. The reason you don’t know is that, well, talking about the nasty things isn’t exactly what Japanese people tend to do. Bottom line children are children no matter the culture or country.

Teachers still work very hard. They certainly work longer hours here, but it doesn’t have the same high pressure feeling that it did in the states. Teachers generally have time during the day to do all of their grading and other paper work. Of course even with that extra time during the day they still stay late. It’s expected or they want to. It’s never exactly clear which it is.

Of course the teachers are only there because the students are. They actually have to kick students out of the building. Hopefully this has a been an interesting introduction to what I expect may be a longer topic than I first anticipated. Here’s to trying to post more often.

Teaching in Japan – Teacher Transfers

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I’ve been asked by a few people what the differences are between the education system and teaching in Japan versus the United States. This will be the first post of a possible few to talk about those differences. Clearly I am not an expert on either system, but I have worked in both and feel that I can at the very least comment.

Today’s topic is the Japanese system of transferring teachers. Since coming here, I’ve been shocked to discover that once teachers pass certification tests and become full-fledged teachers that they belong to the board of education they tested with. This means that they are guaranteed a job within the prefecture that they certify with. It’s kind of similar to the way some school districts in the States handle alternative teacher certification programs. Once you are accepted, it sort of guarantees a job. Again it depends on the district and the teachers themselves plus of course openings.

After a teacher passes, they are sent out to a school for what you could call a probationary period of a few years. Then the younger teachers will be transferred at some point. No one has exactly told me how many years this might be. I think it depends on your own personal accomplishments and the preference of the school, but you will be transferred at some point.

Here is where things get a little tricky. This process of transferring doesn’t end at some designated point of years or experience, or at least I’ve yet to discover one. For example, six of the twelve teachers in the English department at my current school have been transferred to other schools or programs for the coming school year. Some of these teachers are a good ten to fifteen years older than me and have been teaching for a long time.

To my knowledge, the teachers have no control over where they might be sent. A teacher may spend a few years at a school like mine, internationally minded with fantastic students, only to be sent to a reform or an industrial school or even a school with severe behavioral problems. The teachers go where the board of education wants them or in some cases where they think they will be the most useful. The teachers don’t really have a choice.

I can already hear you wondering about the problem of a teacher’s current living situation. Yeah, they don’t really take that into account either. They might send you anywhere within the prefecture (state for those of you who don’t know). This leads some teachers to only see their families on the weekends, or to need two apartments.

I will say that, while my own personal experiences lead me to dislike this system, I can definitely see the benefits. It does cut out the idea that a better teacher deserves better behaved students. It also spreads the talent around. The best teachers aren’t just reserved for the top schools. They are spread out through every type of school in the area. Students of all ability levels get to benefit from teachers who are passionate and motivated. In the States, we tend to have a problem with good teachers only going to good schools.

Students of all ability and motivation levels deserve good teachers. We often tend to forget that students are a result of their situations and not always of conscious choice. Giving them teachers who are able to perhaps pull them out of a slump is a great idea. It also strengthens the teachers by putting them into situations they might not consciously have chosen to face. Being in a difficult classroom can be just as much of a learning experience as being in a good one. Being in a difficult classroom can make you grateful when you do have the opportunity to be in a better classroom with more motivated students. Believe it or not, there are some teachers out there who take for granted how willing and motivated their students are because they’ve never struggled with difficult children. I kind of feel sorry for them for that because they don’t always appreciate what’s in front of them. Those are just my thoughts though.

Hopefully I’ve managed to focus on both sides of this. I’m afraid this came off a bit on the negative side. The system is what it is. I’m honestly just trying to report what I know or have heard because this is something I’d never heard of before coming here and working here. If you have questions, feel free to ask, and I will do my best to answer. Comments and more thorough perspectives are also always welcome.

Poking wool with needles is fun!

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Japan is a very crafty place to be. People love to make all kinds of things from jewelry to food shaped like other kinds of food. Yes I will do a post about this.

Unfortunately, this means that I have discovered a new possible obsession. Felting. No not the fabric felt. I’m not sewing felt together, or even gluing it together. I’m actually taking pieces of raw wool, stabbing them with a needle, and turning them into shapes. Adorable shapes!

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On a whim Saturday, I purchased this kit. Yes, that’s corgi. I know, it’s cute right? I’d seen it before, but wasn’t really sure what you did with it.

Adam and I had a few minutes to kill inside the train station on Saturday. We wandered up and stumbled onto a great little sewing shop. Inside was a row of these kits, which I’d seen before. Thankfully I have a husband that understands that sometimes you just need to spent five whole dollars on something silly.

Since I still wasn’t sure what to do with the thing I decided to do some research on what these felting projects were. Below is a video of my next project. I say next because I watched the video and then discovered that the store I normally go to has it in stock. Yay! If you’re still curious, and who wouldn’t be these are fascinating to watch, just hop over to youtube and do a quick search for needle felting.

It sounds bizarre, but all needle felting is, is taking raw wool, pinching it into something close to the desired shape, and then stabbing it a couple hundred times. The specially designed needle pulls the fibers together and pulls them tight. You’d be surprised how well the shapes hold up.

This is a picture of the needles you can use. You can use either one needle at a time,

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or you can use one of these guys. It lets you use multiple needles at once so the fibers will felt faster.

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This is my first project. It’s a corgi! Yes, it’s a bit oblong and strange, but come on it’s my first project.

Here’s to a new crafting obsession!

Nine random things I miss

 

It’s been a lovely holiday break, but it’s time to get down to writing in this New Year. Last year was all about getting to Japan. I’ve done that, so it only makes sense that this year should be about writing.

I think I’d like to start off this year’s blog posts by talking about some things I’ve learned to miss in the short time I’ve been in a foreign country. Before you all get mad at me, I’m not going to include things like my family and my dog. Obviously, I miss both of those things. This is a list for the things you don’t realize that you’ll miss. Obviously my list is different from other peoples. I did plenty of research before coming here, but you can never find everything. So, without anymore explaining, here we go. In ranking order…..

 

  1. Soup Stock

This is one I didn’t expect to miss. Actually I didn’t ever think I’d be in a place that I couldn’t find this, but here I am.

You know whole section of the soup aisle dedicated to all manner of broths and stocks. It has beef broth, chicken broth, chicken broth with half the salt, organic broths, stocks with vegetables added, stocks made just from vegetables, and many other varieties I don’t care to bore you with. That doesn’t exist here, and I didn’t realize how many recipes I regularly made required that most essential item until I get it any more.

Thankfully you can get a chicken bouillon substitute, so I can still make pot pies and the like. Beef broth, on the other hand, is still something I simply cannot get. I’ve looked in several specialty stores. Not a single bouillon cube has presented itself to me.

God I’d kill for some poutine right now, but you know what you need to make poutine gravy? Do you? Beef broth!

  1. Buffalo Wings

I blame my husband for missing this food at all, but I do. You can get chicken wings here. They’re delicious. They’re equally as delicious as many things I’ve ever eaten, but most places make the same sort of wings.

Maybe it’s not fair to say I miss wings so much as I miss the sauce. I miss walking into a Buffalo Wild Wings (yes, lame, I know) and choosing from a list of twenty or more different sauces. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

  1. Un-throttled phone service

Yeah this is totally a first world problem. I’m aware of that. I’m aware of the fact that I was spoiled with my fancy unlimited un-throttled data, but I miss it. Here you get to choose how long your high speed data lasts. I have 5g, which doesn’t last long. For those first glorious gigs the speed is blazing and amazing. After you get through that, it’s not so bad. As you use it, and the gigs start piling it gets slower and slower and slower until you’re lucky to load a webpage at all let alone in a timely fashion. Yes, I’m lame for complaining about this.

  1. The Library

I am a professed book worm. Everyone who knows me even a little knows that. One of my greatest simple pleasures is wandering aimlessly among the stacks. I love the smell and even the look of all those books waiting for me to read them. This isn’t quite so awesome when you can’t read all of the books your wandering through.

  1. Food Variety

I love Japanese food of just about every kind, but there is a certain amount of sameness that’s unfortunately prevalent. All of the food is very good, but it’s unfortunately varied. One nice thing about being in the States is that if you want Irish-Mexican fusion in a gastro-pub you can find it. That is in some ways one of its downfalls but whatever. Growing up being able to just go find anything has definitely spoiled me.

  1. Christmas…

Well ok, technically Christmas still happens here. After some thought though, I’ve decided that Christmas in Japan is a bit like St. Patrick’s day in America. It’s an excuse to play around with a culture that you like, but which ultimately is borrowed and have some fun.

I think it’s great that Christmas cheer and spirit is being spread around, but being here and seeing how it’s celebrated has lead me to reexamine exactly what the Christmas holiday is. In short, it’s our equivalent of the Japanese New Year which is a time to go home and spend time with family. That unfortunately means that Christmas has become our New Year for the Japanese people. You know, that holiday where you go out and party?

This sort of Christmas celebration rings very hollow especially since Christmas Eve is the focus of all the craziness and not Christmas day. On Christmas morning, when Adam and I ventured out, nearly every single Christmas decoration had been replaced by those for the New Year. The only remaining decorations were those still in the process of being taken down. That was weird.

  1. Cheap Beer (That won’t give you a headache that can slay a walrus)

For some reason I cannot begin to understand most likely having to do with food standards laws and the price of importing resources, beer is not cheap. What’s more amazing is that everyone seems to drink a lot of it.

A cheap beer here is generally around 350 yen ($3.50). The places that sell beer for those prices aren’t plentiful and they usually only exist for people just wanting to drink a lot of cheap beer. Not my kind of thing really. Generally most other places start their beer prices somewhere around 550 yen and go from there. That means that a cheap beer is usually around five bucks if not more. Better quality beer generally starts somewhere around the 1000 yen ($10) range and goes from there. If you’re going into an import bar, the prices can really get prohibitive.

The strange twist ending in all of this is that alcohol is strangely cheap. Good whiskies and scotch sell here for nearly half the price I’m used to seeing in the States. People drink that here, sure, but overwhelmingly people drink beer high prices and all.

  1. Well insulated spaces

This thin directly contributes to number one. Most buildings in Japan are built of concrete. It’s cheap and easy to replace or rebuild. In a culture that has as many earthquakes as it does, it makes sense. It is not, however, a good way to make warm buildings. Add single paned windows, sliding doors, and wooden floors into the mix and what you have, my friends, is an ice box.

My apartment has a great heater. Unfortunately, running it can be a bit of a drain on the electricity bill, and, due to the lack of insulation, it only takes about forty five minutes for the temperature to drop ten or more degrees.

The cold cave effect is wonderful in the hot months though so there’s that at least.

  1. Being Warm

Yes, living in Texas for the last five years has ruined me a bit for cold weather, but I grew up a hardy northern girl. We don’t get cold like other girls. At least, that’s I though until I moved to Japan.

Normally winter is a mad dash, in warm clothing, between one nicely warmed space to another. The only real time that you have to really deal with the cold is getting in or out of your car or if you have to do something outside for longer than five minutes.

In Japan, there is very much a heat it only if you are using it mentality. You know what, that makes perfect sense. Save energy only heat the spaces you use. That’s a great mentality except that every conceivable space in between is the same temperature as, or sometimes actually is, the outdoors.

Most days you will see me, every student, and every teacher shuffling very quickly to their destination in search of heat. I often feel like a bug hunkered down, running for the warmth to survive. It’s not pleasant.