Thursday, 8 January 2009

Back to School

Speak to most people about Japan and they usually tell you about the same things. "The toilets are amazing there," is a common one, and even more importantly, "It's so nice and clean, everything's so pristine". There's evidence to back this up. Some toilets do have heated seats, incorporated bidet functions and cute pictures of water squirting at your bum. Most places are very clean, the floors swept regularly and antibacterial handwash and wipes readily available.

Like most of the impressions I've brought to new countries, these ideas are easily dispelled. Whilst many of the toilets do have space-age functions, just as many are converted squat toilets, with a plastic seat just thrown over the more traditional trench design. When I visited Suzaka Higashi today, a midlevel highschool where Katie teaches English, any notion of absolute Japanese perfection was dispelled when I saw the dirty crumbling concrete and worn down air of the building.

Which isn't to say it wasn't a nice school. Both staff and students were exceptionally friendly, and the school seemed well organised, from the way desks sit on different levels in the classroom, like seats in a cinema, so students at the back of the room can have an unobstructed view (and can be spotted emailing on their mobiles by the teacher) to the idiosyncratically Japanese musical intercom that announced the start and end of classes.

What struck me most was the differences from Western children. Each day begins with the students cleaning the entire school, entering each room, including the teachers' offices, in teams and taking different jobs. Despite this, during lessons the students seemed to sometimes ignore the teachers entirely, turning their backs to continue a conversation whilst Katie was presenting her lesson. Japanese teachers have no means of punishing their students, and some of the older heads just let the kids get on with it.

I was there making a presentation about the UK, and to answer some questions. Katie assured me that I had to mention David Beckham and Harry Potter or they'd ignore me, so I shoehorned them in to my slideshow about London ("This is Leicester Square, famous for movie premieres. David Beckham goes to watch movie premieres here. The author of Harry Potter is also from London, and many of the scenes in the books take place here.") They were left cold by Asia's favourite footballer, but at the mention of Harry Potter a whisper of excitement spread through the room like I'd told them he was here to visit.

After the classes I took in written questions from the students and wrote answers for them. Most asked me if I had a girlfriend, or if Katie was my girlfriend, much to her's irritation ("No you cannot write 'Katie wishes'"). Some asked what I thought of Japanese food, or what my favourite music was. My favourite question by far though was this one: "Do you prefer summer or winter?" Right now, in sub-zero temperatures, unable to feel my toes, but with three months on warm beaches and in glorious tropical climates to come, the answer seems pretty simple.

1 comment:

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