These kids here, the high school ones. They are driven. Pushed. Pressured. Now I know I went to one of the worst high schools in the US, in one of the worst school systems. Not only that, I was a slacker.
So no, I never had to take exams every few weeks on multiple subjects. But these kids do.
"How was your weekend?"
"I was studying."
"For an exam?"
"In what subject?"
"Math, geography, Old Japanese, Japanese... nandake... and science."
"When is your exam?"
Along with club activities, and juku (cram school, after school school). Many high schools have rules against students having part-time jobs, but some do that. One of our students is a short-order cook at Denny's on Saturday mornings, and she loves it.
But pressure. Friday, our Super-English High School Girl came 5 minutes late, which for her is early; she's sometimes as much as 45-minutes late. She came in out of breath.
"Sorry," she said breezily.
"No problem," I told her. It really doesn't matter to me. I can slow the lesson down or speed it up.
"We're having this debate," she said by way of explanation. She actually told me about this earlier in the week, and I understood. It's the way of the Japanese high school student. She's in her school's international program, and on the student council, both of which keep her snowed under with activities and projects after hours, so she's often late or absent to her English lessons at our school.
Then she sniffled and lowered her head.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
Some huge shiny tears ran down her cheeks and her face was red. "I'm... just... too... busy," she said, in a squeaky voice.
"No, you don't have to be sorry..."
And then she straightened up and was back to her usual smiling self. Pressure. It gets to everyone from time to time.
This weekend I didn't do a whole lot in town. I spent a most of my Saturday straightening up my living room for the holidays. One thing I've inherited from my mom is the desire to have a nice, orderly and clean environment for Christmas. The last Christmas I spent in Japan was depressing not only because I was away from my family and working that day, but also because our apartment was cold, drafty, dingy and smelled like combination gorilla cage and dive bar.
Partially because the kitchen pantry had approximately 10,000 empty beer cans and liquor bottles piled all over the shelves, and dead birds rotting away behind them.
Sunday, I tried to see Casino Royale, the first Bond film since the Sean Connery films that features a plausible Bond. The 15:05 showing was sold out, and I didn't feel like waiting around until 18:30 to see the next one.
I'm holding out for Tokyo. Then things will come alive. I know it.