school tour

Its funny that I spend most of my time teaching but I haven’t talked about it much. I thought that I would give a quick rundown of the Japanese elementary school basics. Japanese elementary schools or Shogakko are very standardized from the buildings to curriculum and uniforms, so it its fairly easy to make  generalizations.

Its safe to say that 98% of Japanese public schools look just like this. They may differ in size or have a slanted roof instead of flat but that’s pretty much it. And yes that’s a dirt school yard, no grass. There are advantages to this way of gardening, its super low maintenance, and saves lots of water. Not exactly welcoming however and  I do see quite a few kids with bandages on their knees and elbows from spills at recess. I bet you’re also wondering how you keep an area that large weed free? Well remember the whole students clean the school thing? Well there’s a group that weeds the yard during cleaning time. And just before the sports festival in the fall students go through the ground and pick out all the rock that are too big. Sounds like a good time eh?

In addition to the school yard, every school has a pool. PE turns into swimming during the summer. The pool gets cleaned by (you guessed it) the students. It is pretty much abandoned the rest of the year. When I came in the fall I found it hard to believe kids actually swam in the weed infested water, but they get cleaned up nicely.

Japanese schools aren’t just identical on the outside, their interiors are almost the same as well. I could be in almost any classroom and feel like I’ve been there before. This is a junior high classroom though, Elementary schoolrooms have more artwork on the walls.

Although homeroom teachers have their own classroom, that’s not their “head quarters.” All the teachers do their school preparations and down time in the “teacher’s room.” Each teacher has a desk in this huge room even me. The desks are arranged by grade and subject. At the head of the room are the desks for the head teacher, Kyoto sensei or Vice Principal, and Koucho Sensei or Principal. This is by far the busiest and messiest room in the school. Students are allowed in the teachers room, but they must state their purpose and ask for permission  at the doorway before entering.

1) these aren’t my students. (i’m not allowed to post photos of my students online) . But these are the same uniforms that my students wear. Not all schools wear uniforms, but all of mine do. Once again there are little changes such as skirt color, jacket collars, but lets not get too fancy.

And no Japanese school uniform would be complete without these backpacks. I think every student has once. They are made to last all 6 years of elementary school, and made by hand out of leather. However you pay the price for high quality these bags cost around $380 each. Yes your read that correctly 3 hundred and eighty dollars. I just about passed out when I saw the price for the first time.

Although there are many similarities between the schools each one has some quirks that make each school unique. For example one of my schools has a pet goat, they use it to eat the leftovers from lunch. He gets to go outside on a leash during cleaning time. Another one of my schools grows onions as a school project. I’m not talking a few rows, they have a full farm and sell them every spring. I was lucky enough to teach on onion harvest day, and was recruited to help carry onion bins. Another one of my schools has a beautiful garden that is carefully tended by the…… bus driver. Each of my schools play little jingles throughout the day. My personal favorite is the marching band Beatles melody, songs include: Yesterday and Hey Jude. Another school plays “I just called to say I love you…” during lunch followed by a track of birds singing. Classy right?

School may not be the most exciting, and sometimes close to mundane, but I wouldn’t trade this unique insight into Japanese culture.


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