Published: September 14th 2008September 14th 2008
All the good bits about Japan so far
Yes, really. Contrary to popular belief not all Japanese pupils are passive, obedient angels but they are far far easier to deal with than pupils in the UK. Why is this I wonder? Well, from experience, I can tell you that when I was teaching in British schools, especially as a supply teacher, the first thing that always struck me was the level of pupil hostility. Ian can confirm that this is even more true in British secondary schools. Hostility not only to the teachers but, more worryingly to each other. Fights, bullying and disputes were daily occurrences. Verbal assaults towards staff were common place. Physical assaults were rare but they did happen. This behavior simply does not exist in Japan. Walk in to any school and the pupils greet you with a cheerful ‘Konichiwa!’ (and fits of nervous giggles when they meet me). The only shouting in the corridor results from being over excited. In a good way. The pupils are given the responsibility of cleaning the school at the end of the day and so they know not to mess things up because they will be the ones tidying up at the end of the day. They even clean the board for you. The teaching experience is frankly odd. The ‘worst’ behavior I’ve seen was a pupil persistently chatting to his neighbor. The class teacher was horrified afterwards and asked if I was shocked. I explained that, yes of course, he had poor manners but really this is not so bad. I dealt with this pupil by stopping my talk and staring at him. He stopped talking immediately. In the UK I’d have been told to f______ off and would have possible had something sharp thrust in my direction. I’ve heard of teachers in the UK having their glasses knocked off and broken as students push them. It just doesn’t happen here. It’s incredible. The students are more likely to offer to polish your glasses for you. How I will ever return to teaching in the UK I don’t know.
If you ever had to travel on the 22 in Sheffield (curses ‘First’ under her breath) it’s like arriving in heaven. It’s not especially cheap but that’s my only complaint. The buses, famously, arrive on time. The bus drivers and cheerful and wear soft white cotton gloves. They tell you where you are and where you are going. If you are a confused foreigner they patiently help you out. There are no teenagers playing hip-hop out of mobile phone speakers. There is no litter on the floor. No one speaks on their mobiles. No one eats or drinks at all. No one talks loudly. The air-conditioner blasts at minus fridge temperature and there are little buttons conveniently located on the backs of every seat so you don’t have to stretch to press the bell. If I ever go to heaven one of these little Meitetsu buses will drive me there.
3)Growing your own stuff
Having got off the aforementioned Meitetsu I have a five minute walk along the river to Kasugai-nishi. Now my first impression was not good. The housing looked poor and it was impossible to tell where one man’s land ended and another’s began. But looking more closely I realized that the reason for the ram-shackle look of the place was because every house had it’s own allotment. And whilst not exactly manicured these places were filled to bursting with all manner of vegetables, wild flowers and consequently butterflies. Green spaces are at a premium in Kasugai, concrete seems to cover nearly everything so I suppose the Japanese use the land available to them in the most economical way they know how. And if the housing is poor then I imagine the people living there find it more affordable to grow their own produce. Sometimes they will leave boxes of vegetables outside and you can take what you want and leave a donation in a tin. The Japanese are a very trusting people and it simply would not occur to them that someone might steal anything.
Japanese baths are shorter than western baths but they are deeper which means you can fully submerge yourself. Also you don’t have to worry about the water sloshing over the side since you are in an enclosed unit with the shower bit adjacent to the bath. Lovely.
5)Attitudes to sleeping
It’s normal and acceptable for tired workers to nap at their desks. At one of my schools there is even a tatami room set aside for this reason. In the UK if you fell asleep at work you would probably get fired! I suppose the reality of this situation is that the Japanese do in fact work incredibly long hours and therefore a nap becomes essential. However, when the students are nodding off it's another matter, so possibly I am setting myself up for a double-standard here... see the next blog.
Classical music is far more prevalent in Japan, they even play it in McDonalds as you tuck in to your Big Mac and Fries. Finding a concert is easy amongst the large selection of available events. The music shop in Nagoya had one of the largest collections of sheet music I have ever seen. (In the UK if you don’t want to play ‘Abba’s Greatest Hits made easy for violin’ you have to order online). A word of warning though. I made the mistake of telling my students I played the violin. The students then dashed off to inform the music teacher of my skills. Unfortunately, as he proudly boasted of his daughters immeasurable talent ]
(Tokyo University Music Graduate; played for the empress; now working in Germany) he was less than impressed by my amateurish ability. In short, if you’re even slightly less than brilliant don’t mention it. It’s not worth the embarrassment.
Despite the pains of translating the menu and the usual need to resort to pointing at the pictures eating out in Japan is incredibly cheap. You can get a decent meal (e.g. noodles with meat and vegetables) for approximately Y1000 a person (5 pounds) so you can comfortably eat out 3 or 4 times a week without it impacting your finances at all. Specialist restaurants are more expensive at Y3 - 4000 but this would be an average price in the UK so it7s ok. We have found an outstanding Italian place in Kasugai, who would have thought it.
We have discovered an awful lot about Japanese health care and on the whole it’s fairly impressive. In the UK if you were feeling unwell you would visit your GP at your local doctor surgery, you may then be referred to a large hospital. And then you wait for an appointment. And wait. And wait. In Japan they have many and numerous small local hospitals, these are your first port of call and often many procedures can be carried out there so there is no need to send you elsewhere. The result is a dramatic reduction in waiting times. They do have rather gung-ho views on pain-relief though. Ian’s doctor loves nothing more than to stick sharp things inside him without a moment’s hesitation, explanation or by your leave. The only thing do to is grit your teeth, grab on to the bed frame and try not to wriggle around too much.
Not to be confused with being a pedestrian, and therefore getting run over by cyclists since all cyclists 'use' the pavement in Japan. If you are the cyclist then all power to you. Admittedly you can only find 'shoppers' with 3 gears and a basket attached to the front so if you're living up a mountain forget it. Fortunately Kasugai is flat and therefore bombing around on two wheels is a reasonably pleasant experience so long as you watch where you're going because there's no quarente at all that anyone else is watching where they are going. Japanese students in particular will come hurtling towards you at 30mph and then at the last possible second swerve in to an impressive but highly dangerous 90 degree turn to avoid you and your basket full of precariously loaded groceries. But you are on the pavement, not the road. Believe me, you would not want to cycle on the road.