Well, that's always true. Peter Payne, the owner of J-List, keeps a neat blog on the company's site. In it, he talks a bit about his family here in Japan and various things he's encountered, always with humor and insight. Personal stuff, high cultural stuff, pop culture stuff, things in the middle. The three most recent entries are particularly telling and worth your time.
First off, a day or so ago a large pile driver fell over in Tokyo, injuring the driver and some passersby. Payne uses this as a starting point for a rumination on Japan's obsession with safety, observing that whenever there's a construction project going on, the workers tend to wrap the entire building in a "cloth covering."
Currently, a building near my office is being renovated. When the project began, the workers (wearing the traditional baggy construction worker's uniform with the funky split-toed boots) erected steel scaffolding around the entire building, then covered it with a gray mesh cloth. The cloth, just as Payne reports, keeps us from being "hurt by a falling hammer," but unfortunately, prevents interested parties like myself from watching all the action. And it does nothing to muffle the noise, which is quite a problem when you're trying to teach English and both you and your students already have enough difficulty deciphering each other's language.
The cloth covering is gone, revealing some of the exterior work, but most of the scaffolding remains. Through my classroom window, I got to watch some of it coming down up-close. It was like watching one of those Discovery Channel programs on engineering marvels minus the overwrought narration.
Then, Payne writes a little bit about the carp flags. You've probably seen images of these colorful flags flapping away outside Japanese homes. May 5th is Children's Day and that's what these carp flags are all about. I think it's specifically a day for celebrating the birth of a boy into a family during the previous year. Here in Hamamatsu, this is one of the reasons for our famous Hamamatsu Matsuri, the annual kite festival. One of the reasons, because there seem to be a few others, not the least of which is getting completely shitfaced with friends and parading around for three consecutive nights making as much noise as possible with drums, bugles and whistles.
And finally, Payne discusses his daughter's entry into junior high. The school year starts in April here in Japan, so it's brand new and probably a little overwhelming right now for this year's crop of students. But the spring start time is just one difference between a Japanese kid's school career and an American's. Thanks to my hometown's school districting system, I knew what junior high and high school I'd be attending from my first day of elementary school, the same one as my older brothers. Here, you have to take a test to get into junior high and another to get into high school and yet another to get into a university. A few of our kid students recently made the transition from elementary school to junior high and they were really sweating out those test results. Now they have to learn all the rules and mores, choose the right club and make those grades... and probably do a lot of their actual learning in a juku, or cram school. Plus occasional tests on Saturdays! We're talking days that run from 6am to about 6pm, sometimes later, six days a week. With homework on top of that. I can't imagine that kind of pressure at 12 or 13!
They tell me it's all worth it because even though they work harder than American high school students now, they'll be able to loaf and take it easy once they finally get accepted into university while American coeds really have it tough. I'd hate to disillusion them by telling them not only are American high schools easier than Japanese, but also American colleges require practically no effort at all to get a degree... while providing the laziest, drunkest five or six years you'll ever spend.
Or was that just me?