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My Web Site -- Japan


Sakura Ki #5 by Jeff King

Back to the Beginning · About Me · Resume
2001 Aug - Dec
2002 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
2003 Feb Mar Apr

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7 Oct
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 girls are."

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.

10 Oct (Random Acts of Generosity)
Today, 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.