Ki #5 by Jeff King
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I went to Kaneku JHS today and chatted with Mr. Kurazono about school
life. "For students, school is everything, " he said. For Japanese
students, school is their entire world. Family life practically does not
exist. The child's world is the school, just as the adult's world is the
office. Familial ties are not really considered as important as school relationships
and work relationships. On the plane last night, I saw a very nervous-looking
young woman who appeared to be a high school student sitting a few rows
up from me. I learned later that she is the daughter of one of the men who
works in my office and she was returning from a speech contest in which
she had failed to win first place. She was so upset that she called a Japanese
friend of mine, distraught and weeping. Students here seem to put tremendous,
almost super-human pressure on themselves to succeed.
The other day, I was asked to help judge a couple of speeches by two female
students. We were supposed to choose who would compete at the English recitation
contest the following week. The girls delivered their speeches in turn.
One had nearly flawless pronunciation, but her delivery was somewhat dry.
The other girl had horrendous pronunciation, but she was somewhat more "genki"
(cheerful). The teachers chose the genki girl, called them back into the
room and announced the results to them in an extremely detached, official
manner even though the there were only five of us in the room. Upon hearing
the result, the loser began to weep uncontrollably. She stood there, though,
tears streaming down her cheeks, until the teacher finished his speech,
after which she collapsed into the winner's arms, her body racked with sobs.
The teachers didn't react to this at all. I said, "Kawaiso," ("Poor
thing") and they responded with, "Oh, that's the way Japanese
Most teachers get an average of 6 hours sleep a night. Everyone is working
themselves ragged. There is an idea that if you work hard enough for something,
you cannot fail to attain it. Failure is not dealt with well.
Oct (Random Acts
as I was walking home, I passed an old woman in the street. She smiled
and greeted me. Then she began to approach me while reaching into her
bag. She took three pieces of wrapped candy and put them in my hand, closing
my fingers around them. She looked at me and smiled, her eyes shining
with kindness. Then she turned away to continue on her way up the street.
21 Oct (Disillusioned)
Today, taught with a teacher who has no idea how to "use" me
in class. He simply handed English word puzzles out to the kids and told
them to ask me for help, in English. I nearly rolled my eyes. As if they
would ever do that. But again I felt helpless. What can I do? I'm only
at that school three times a month. The kids were rowdy, bored, and rude,
but also friendly. So I just talked to them as they worked on their puzzles.
They were asking me what "unko" (shit) was in English.
28 Oct (Sakibaru Paradise)
Was at the Sakibaru school today, an incredibly beautiful place located
in the mountains and overlooking the vast blue sea. Some elementary students
took me outside and showed me some insects. There is one boy
at the school who
is not like the others. He's bursting with energy. He cannot easily be
controlled. He is like a little exclamation point among a sea of periods.
He's an amazing artist. He draws incredibly accurate pictures of beetles
and fire trucks. He's a budding naturalist. He took me by the arm at playtime
and led me to the place where he had seen a frog the day before. We didn't
see any frogs, but instead found a dead centipede. When I touched it,
he scolded me, saying it was dirty. Some little girls joined us and we
went over to the pond. We looked at some huge, green caterpillars resting
on the leaves of a bush. When provoked, the caterpillars projected two
red prong-like antennas from their mouths and emitted a strange odor.
Really strange creatures.