Fun and Games in Junior High

As you may or may not know, I work at a combined junior high/senior high school here in Tokyo. Even though I’ve been in Japan for a few years now, it’s still fascinating for me to learn about school life here! It seems so different to what I was used to in Australia. The subjects offered are more or less the same, though the classes here are more lecture style and the students live a life of ‘study study study’. But it’s what goes on outside of class that is really where you see the kids enjoying themselves!

As soon as the end-of-homeroom bell sounds at 3:30pm, the atmosphere completely changes; the school becomes a hive of activity. Everyone is out the door quicker than you can say “see you tomorrow!”, and headed straight for their school club activities – baseball, volleyball, kendo, table tennis, cheerleading, horse riding, biology, calligraphy, flower arranging… basically anything you can think of, there’s a club for.

Aside from the regular clubs, every year there are several ‘highlight’ events. No doubt for most students, the school festival, where all year levels are involved, is the most memorable event. Some other year book-worthy occasions are the year-level school trips, the choir contest, the ski trip…

and, the sports festival!

I don’t know about other countries, but in Australia, sports day is kind of a big deal. I remember at my high school, we had events like the 100m sprint, relay race, long jump, javelin, discus… basically a mini olympics. Track and field was my forte so I loved getting into it.

School sports day in Japan is more about fun and games than serious competition. It’s a day they can let loose and forget about the books, that homework they haven’t finished, or that test they need to study for! There are some very interesting and humorous events like these below…


Classes compete to capture the other team’s hats. Each team has 4 hats, one of which is the ‘leader’. The first team to grab the opposing team leader’s hat is the winner. It’s all about tactics!

As a class, the students have to keep a giant ball afloat all the way around the circuit. Anytime the ball is dropped, they have to restart from that spot. Each class is timed and the fastest class is the winner.

The school clubs have their own special relay race. It’s judged not only on who’s the quickest, but the performance they give as they run each lap! The brass band played a tune while they walked, the soccer club kicked a ball as they ran, the kendo club stopped to have a demonstration every 10 metres, the computer club carried a laptop as their batton, the biology club took real animals around the track! The crowd of onlookers – students, teachers, parents – were cheering and laughing!

Our school is an agricultural one and the official symbol is a radish. So, we have a radish relay race! There’s only one rule: the entire radish has to cross the finish line, no matter how many parts it ends up in!


We were lucky to have great weather, although it was a little hot. Summer has arrived and soon the rainy season will start, so many schools have their outdoor events around this time. There’s one more month til the end of term 1, then it’s summer break. The next major event on the school calendar will be the school festival in September. Looking forward to it!

Happy Graduation, Kids!

It’s been a hectic past couple of weeks! I’ve had visitors in town, went on a long-weekend snowboarding trip, moved apartments, gone to dinners and parties… and somehow between all that, I also fit in going to work :-P With spring break coming up, I’m definitely looking forward to some down time!

We’ve come to the end of the school year in Japan. All regular classes are finished, and the students are now doing their final exams – which means lots of marking to look forward to! I always feel that third (final) term has a different mood than the other two terms. It’s only 7 weeks long, and is therefore a bit rushed as we try to cram as much knowledge into our students as we can! So much to learn, so little time! The school also becomes a bit quieter because the seniors no longer have classes. They are off studying in preparation for university, or getting ready to make the big move away from the care of teachers and the safety of high school. I distinctly remember that feeling of eagerness when I finished high school, and am so excited for them and their future! Some of them have told me their dreams are to become engineers, doctors, singers, pilots, and baseball players! While others still don’t really know what they want to do. That’s the beauty of life – you can never really plan the future anyway! I’ve changed my mind about what job I want to do many times, and there is still lots I want to try before settling into one career. The important thing is to make good choices for you and have fun along the way, right!?

On Sunday, the seniors had their graduation ceremony. The auditorium was packed with parents of the 250-odd students. The fathers wore suits while some mothers wore beautiful kimonos. The students don’t get a graduation cap or anything, but each receive a certificate from the principal on stage. It took over an hour to get through all of them! They decided to put a live video camera on the big screen to show the students’ faces to the audience. It made for some cheeky ‘camera loving’ which had their classmates cheering and the audience in tears! Luckily the principal, who’s usually pretty stern, didn’t seem to mind. After all the certificates were given out, there was a long procession of speeches and A LOT of synchronised bowing! Their graduation song, which had all the parents pulling out their video cameras, was a popular Japanese graduation and choir song called “Tabidachi no hi ni”. It’s a beautiful song about going off into the future and reaching for your dreams. Finally, the ceremony was wrapped up with a cute and fun video presentation of the highlights from the students’ school trips and events over the past few years. It’s crazy to think how young and innocent they were not that long ago!!

Congratulations and good luck, kids! May your future be a great adventure!

HS graduation

Bunkasai!

Over the last weekend of September – 27th & 28th – the combined junior high/high school I work at had their annual 文化祭 (bunkasai). This is the annual cultural festival held at all schools in Japan. Every festival is a little (or a lot!) different. Our students put a huge amount of effort into our event. For them, it’s the most exciting time of the year! It’s great to see the school and community come together to celebrate the students – all 1,600 of them! School festivals are open to the public, and prospective parents as well as current parents are encouraged to visit the school to see what the kids have been up to. This year, over 10,000 people visited our school over the 2 days!

Homerooms

Every homeroom works together to put together something special in their classrooms or in the school grounds. Right after the summer vacation, the students get in full swing designing, planning and making decorations. And especially in the week leading up to the festival, the school hallways are a minefield of paint, cardboard, paper, scissors, and pens! Spirits are high as the students buzz around trying to finish everything on time!

Clubs

Clubs are a huge part of school life in Japan. At our school, there are over 30 clubs for lots of different sports, cultural activities, music, sciences, etc. Almost all students participate in 1 or more club until they are in their final year of high school. There are so many talented kids at our school and the pictures below are just a snapshot of a few I enjoyed watching on the weekend.

Art displays

I was SO impressed with the art put on show at this year’s festival!! In their regular art class, the 2nd-year junior high school students (14y.o.) had a project where they had to design a Google logo. I believe these were actually submitted to Google for a competition or something like that. It’s so awesome to see the different talents my students have in other areas (i.e. outside of English communication class) which I would otherwise not know about! I was also extremely impressive with the Art Club’s display – they had a special exhibition showcasing pictures using unusual techniques. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a picture made out of uncooked, flat pasta! I was blown away!

Closing party

The final event on the final day is a massive after-party on the sports field! All the students look forward to relaxing on the grass, chatting with their friends, while different bands and dance groups give their last performances. This year, we were treated with a hilarious dance performance by three staff members. The whole school got behind them, cheering them on! It was a great way to end a fun but busy weekend!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

This post is in response to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is “room“.

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Come with me to my workplace. I spend about 15~20 hours per week standing at the front of a classroom. Teaching is a tough but fun job. One of the things I love most about it is that everyday is different; you can never get bored!

In Japan, a typical class has 40 students. Six columns and 6-7 rows of desks. It’s tight! The teacher has about one metre at the front of the room, between the blackboard and the first row of students. At the back of the room, are the students’ lockers as well as cleaning cupboards with brooms, dustpans, garbage bins, etc.

I work in a private high school, so we’re lucky we get air-conditioning/heating all year round. Public schools have to tough it out in the bitter cold of winter and the scorching temperatures of summer. There’s nothing like trying to teach while dripping in sweat, to a class full of hot and tired students. I know all about that. They do alright though, the kids; they don’t complain much!

 

Japanese Classroom

And So It Begins Again…

Back to school, back to school! It’s the first week of the new school year here in Japan. Every year, schools start with a 始業式 (opening ceremony) and 入学式 (entrance ceremony). Even though the school I teach at is a combined Junior High School and High School, they are considered two separate ‘schools’. The students physically stay in the same school, but things like their uniform changes – the girls wear a different coloured skirt, and the boys change the buttons on their jackets. The Opening Ceremony is for continuing students, which in my school’s case is JHS 2nd and 3rd grades, and HS 2nd and 3rd grades. At this ceremony, the new teachers are introduced and homeroom teachers are announced as well. While the Entrance Ceremony, held on the next day, is for students entering the new ‘schools’ – JHS 1st grade and HS 1st grade. All the parents are invited to attend and it’s much more formal and official. In the gym, which is decked out in red and white celebratory banners, the Principal says a (long!) speech, everyone sings the national anthem, the students sing the school song, the PTA says a few words, the homeroom teachers are announced, and the brass band performs while the students exit the gym at the end. It lasts about an hour, then everyone goes outside to take photos under the sakura trees! Last year the cherry blossoms peaked in March, so by the time the Entrance Ceremony came around, there were no flowers left on the trees – very unfortunate! Luckily this year, they bloomed a bit later, and there were plenty of flowers for all those photo hungry parents!

入学式 ' Entrance Ceremony'
入学式 ‘ Entrance Ceremony’
Red and white banner wraps around the gym
Red and white banner wraps around the gym
Students bow to the principal
Students bow to the principal
On stage: Principals on the left, PTA on the right
On stage: Principals on the left, PTA on the right. It’s more common to use traditional dates in Japan – so instead of 2014, it’s year Heisei 26.
Sakura-lined entrance
Sakura-lined entrance
View from above. You can just see some students having their photos taken.
View from above. You can just see some students having their photos taken.

Celebration Time!

Wow, it’s March tomorrow! It is crazy how fast time flies! This month signifies the end of many things in Japan, such as the fiscal year and school year. In March, the weather starts to get warmer, and people become more relaxed as the year winds down and they can start to look forward to the new working year.

Tomorrow, the graduation ceremony for the high school seniors will be held. 2014 also marks 10 years since I graduated high school. Pretty insane! I can still remember the feeling of excitement of finishing school and moving out of home! Although it’s not common for Japanese teenagers to move out of home after high school or even university, unless they get married, I know the students must be feeling such a sense of relief and accomplishment right now. Kids in Japan do an incredible amount of study so that they can pass the arduous university entrance tests. Their future paths have been decided for now, but the world truly is their oyster!  I wish them all the best of luck!! If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past 10 years, it’s that you should never give up on your dreams – ‘hope’ drives us and pushes us to do our best. You might have hope that you’ll get a certain opportunity, find a better job, meet a special someone; whatever it is, so long as you keep the dream alive, it will come to fruition, albeit not always when you want it to happen! 

As is tradition in Japan, parents often show their appreciation for teachers through gifts. These pictures are of some special ‘thank you’ presents that the graduates’ parents organized for all the teachers. Rosé wine and manju (red bean paste sweets) with the school emblem. So lovely! The manju are red (pink) and white for a reason… These are the colours of celebration in Japan. Both at the graduation and opening ceremony, big red and white banners are put up in the school. Other places you can see red and white are at weddings, the New Year’s Eve TV music show called Kohaku (lit. red and white), and of course the Japanese flag!