School Visit


Once every two weeks I travel to one of two different high schools in the area.  Yesterday was my first visit to one of these schools.  I traveled by train and foot, listening to music and reading a book of short stories along the way.  On the train I met several students.  Some lived in other towns and were traveling to Noheji.  Others lived in Noheji but were traveling to other schools.  None of them were going to the school I planned on visiting.

I arrived early, perhaps too early, and spent some time in the teachers’ office studying Japanese and continuing to read my book of short stories.  I then gave my introduction lesson to two classes:  a group of 35 first graders and a group of 8 third graders (both at the high school level).  As you might expect, the lesson went more smoothly in the class with eight students.  However in both classes I experienced the normal highs and lows and bumps in the road that any teacher would experience for any given lesson in any given classroom.

While I was there I noticed that the high school appeared to be larger than the one in Noheji.  How could this be?  Then I realized it was because at least half of the rooms were vacant.  I asked my teacher about this and she said there used to be four classes in each grade.  Now there are only two, with the exception of the first grade where there is only one class.

When I returned to my town I told one of my teachers about the diminishing number of students at the high school.  Apparently Noheji used to have 6 or 7 classes in each grade but now there are only 4.  I pressed further and asked her why the student population is dropping so dramatically in the region.  She said it began about ten years ago and there are many factors at play that are all connected.  First, people are having less children.  Second, many of the children that are born eventually leave rural Aomori for educational, financial, and social opportunities in the cities of Japan.  Most do not return and begin raising their own families elsewhere.  Another factor at play is the fact that students choose their high school based on their test scores.  Many maximize their potential by attending high academic schools in Hachinohe and Aomori City, the two largest cities in the prefecture.

I have to admit that I think it is a sad situation.  However I should probably also point out that as someone who grew up in rural Alaska, went to college in Oregon, and stayed in the Portland area, I can relate to the students who venture out of the prefecture.

I have heard but can’t completely verify that it is not too uncommon for a child who finds success in the city to buy a large house for the family he or she left behind in the rural prefecture.  As you drive along the countryside in Aomori you can see such houses beautifully decorated and landscaped, often featuring a large driveway and garden amidst the meadows and rolling hills.  I have seen these houses.  They are surprisingly large and silent.


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One Response to “School Visit”

  1. Population « Pacificloons Says:

    […] mentioned in earlier posts about the declining school population.  This week our staff received some data on the issue in […]

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