September 18, 1998
We had another typhoon yesterday. We had one about two weeks ago, and I was told that this is more frequent than normal. In the US they give names to these storms (the two in question were Rex and then Stella according to CNN), but in Japan they are simply given numbers. In this case, typhoons number four and five. The thing with Japan is that no place is very far inland (90 miles at the most), so the whole place gets rocked during a typhoon. I had to ride my bike twenty minutes to school yesterday, and my raincoat is still in a box somewhere between Indiana and here, so I zipped up my fleece jacket, found a strong umbrella, and braved the elements. Riding a bike through driving rain while holding an umbrella on the busiest street in Kiryu should be an olympic sport. My shirt came through OK, but my pants stuck to me for a good two hours into the day. Typhoon 5 is gone now, though, so at least the only thing I get drenched with when I ride now is sweat. Come to think of it, I am not sure which is better.
Now for some comments on the Japanese Educational System. In Japan, it is considered acceptable if a student does not come to school because he or she doesn't feel like it. It is the schools' responsibility, not the parents', to educate the child, so the onus is on the schools to get the kids to attend. This is not helped by the fact that through junior high school students must move up with their class. That is, there is no such thing as failing a grade and being held back. So, there are people who come to school maybe half the time, do no work, sleep in class, etc., and yet they are shovelled along to the next grade. This, in my opinion, is bad for the student, the teachers, and the rest of the class.
There is an alternative, though. There is a special school where the more extreme example of this case are sent. This is basically a day care center, and the students don't really have to go there, either. When they do go, they just sort of hang out with teachers whose sole job is to make them feel comfortable. Put another way, they are baby-sitters, not teachers. The students who come to this school include those who just don't care and don't want to learn, as well as people with real social disorders who simply can't get along without a lot of individual support. Basically, a school for kids with Attention Deficit Disorder, which is not in itself a bad thing. Now comes the part about priorities.
This is not a school for the handicapped. There is a school for the more seriously handicapped, but the middle of the road kids just sort of fall through the cracks. Itís simply a difference in priorities. For instance, at one of my schools, there is a really sweet little boy who is about half the size of his classmates, partially physically deformed (he has trouble walking, and his hands are nearly useless for anything other than holding something like a pencil), and he is also a bit slow, although I don't think he is mentally handicapped. He breaks my heart every time he smiles. In the US, he would be in a special school, with special facilities, and specially trained personnel. Here, he is treated like any of the students, but that is no good when everyone goes to play a club sport. I saw him the other day just sort of wandering around the playground, sometimes helping to recover stray tennis balls, and occasionally picking up a racket and attempting to swing. He just had no way to participate, and no effort was made to try to include him, which is not the students' responsibility, anyway. The other kids basically ignored him (which is better than he would be treated in the US, Iím sure). I almost started to cry. I wanted to go and play with him, at whatever he could do, but the language barrier is too great still, and I just wouldn't know what to do, to be honest. The point here is that a student who doesn't feel like going to school gets a special place to go with teachers hired specifically to help him or her, while a student with obvious physical handicaps is sent to a normal school with no provisions made for his condition. His class, by the way, is on the third floor. Next year, he will be on the fourth floor. There is no elevator.
Now I must change the subject before I start crying from thinking about it.
Last Tuesday was a national holiday in Japan. And when there is a national holiday in Japan, it is actually celebrated on the correct day, rather than making it convenient for everyone by putting it a Monday every year. I mean, doesn't that tactic sort of insult whatever the holiday is that we are celebrating? Itís like, OK, we liked you Dr. King, but if your birthday doesn't fall on a Monday, we're going to have to change it. I wish I could do that with any day I wanted. ěSorry, January 1 falls on an inconvenient day this year. Let's celebrate the new year on January 3.î Anyway, the particular national holiday this week was Respect For The Aged Day. Seriously. September 23 is Autumnal Equinox Day, and October 10 is Health and Sports Day, both national holidays. They also have Culture Day, Emperor's Birthday Day, Coming-of-Age Day, Vernal Equinox Day, Children's Day, and Green Day.
For those of you up on your pop culture, you will assume that ěGreen Dayî was a joke, a reference to a certain popular rock group. You would be wrong. In Japan, Green Day is a real national holiday, celebrated on April 29 each year. Even if itís not a Monday. My favorite holiday, however, is May 4. Itís called, I'm not kidding, ěNational Holiday.î Its not independence day or anything like that, but there are two other holidays on May 3 and 5, so the government just sort of decided that May 4 is a holiday too. So, it doesn't celebrate, commemorate, or in any way relate to anything. My kind of holiday.
Well, I must go now. Last night in my apartment I found a complete, unabridged translation of the Kama Sutra, the world's most famous book about sex. Itís about 700 pages, and itís written in verse, but hey, I have lots of free time. Besides, this is one book from which I'll learn something useful. I found the Kama Sutra right next to a copy of the Book of Mormon, which was next to a book called Sex Tips For Girls. Whoever lived here before me had a sick sense of humor. Either that or they were practicing to be a polygamist.