Seven Months In


Well we’ve been living in Japan for a little over seven and a half months now.  Everything about those first few weeks — the newness and novelty of just about everything we ate, the heat and humidity, learning to cope for a month without having the Internet at home — feels distant.  I remember one day towards the end of September when Julie and I were driving through the countryside looking at symmetric, amber cones of straw leftover from rice harvests against rolling green hills and a bright blue sky.  I remember remarking on that day how strange it was that it all looked normal now.  Not just the landscape but driving on the other side of the road, the relatively low speed limits, and the tremendous service and hospitality we encountered everywhere stopped along the way to our destination.

Shortly thereafter, once we had finished giving dozens of introduction lessons to our students, we established a comfortable work routine.  Since then life here has been one big blur.  Whereas those first few weeks feel distant, the rest of our time here feels like it all happened over the course of a few weeks rather than a few months.

At school I no longer dwell on the differences between the education systems of Japan and the United States.  I know what is expected of me, how the students prefer to learn, and make adjustments accordingly.  The differences are still there of course, I just focus too much on getting the content across to pay much attention to them.

That is until we have an assembly.  I know I’ve blogged about a few other assemblies before, but the one we had this week was different.  This week the student government held a thirty minute meeting in the gymnasium.  All the members of the student body carried their chairs from their homeroom classes to the gym and sat in silence as their student officers read the budget line by line.  After twenty minutes or so, the students asked for any input.  Nobody had anything to say so they brought a P.E. teacher up to the stage to recite a ten minute speech on behaving and trying one’s best.

So what was so different?  Let’s start with the behavior.  I’ve already documented how calm and silent the students are at assembles compared to the rambunctious pep rallies in the U.S.  I won’t dwell on this further.  I realized this week that the assembly also brought other differences to the surface.  For instance, at this week’s assembly I saw nurturing homeroom teachers carefully watching over their classes.  You also had the bulldog disciplinarians wearing stern faces looking to disrupt students trying to sneak in a morning nap.  On the sidelines were the teachers who also act as administrators.  They are the ones who planned the event and watched from a distance to make sure things ran smoothly.  In the United States, these people would be vice principals.  At my school they serve as both teacher and administrator.

These are just a few of the differences on display.  I don’t think the system here is better or worse than the U.S.  It’s just different.  Although we have immersed ourselves in this system, we haven’t lost track of where we come from.


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