Thursday, April 29, 2010

6:00 curfew?!

I have been living in Japan for almost 12 years and I still learn things that surprise me. It isn't that I think I know everything about Japan but rather what I learn just seems so surprising!

The other day my high school student (she is 16) was telling me that she had gone to Canal City (beautiful shopping mall with movie theaters) to see the movie "Alice" and all the shows from the morning until about 3:30 pm were sold out so she couldn't watch it. I asked her what about the 4 pm movie and she said she couldn't because she had to go home. I thought perhaps she had something important to do at home but no...she has to be home at 6pm! Turns out this isn't exactly strange. I asked the other students in the class (all girls). One other student said 6 was also her curfew. The other girl said on Friday or Saturday nights she had to be home around 10-the other 2 looked jealous. I asked my boss about his daughter and he said when she was in high school she had to be home at 8. What kind of cracks me up about this is that most cram schools are open until 10 or 11 and before tests I have had students tell me they stayed at cram school until 1 am!!! So....studying and going staying at school for various reasons is fine until 10 or later but don't stay out "late" if you are having fun!! I should point out that high school kids don't have jobs in most cases as it can be against school rules, there are no school dances or proms and dating styles seem to be different (mind you, I live in the "countryside" so things are probably very different here than in Tokyo) so that perhaps changes things a bit but...seriously?! 6pm?! (Please note that I am NOT saying that all Japanese kids have such an early curfew...but it also doesn't seem as rare as you might think-I've been asking around.)

Another thing I learned this week was that elementary school teachers have to do a home visit. The school year starts in April and in April is also the home visit. So, for one week the students go to school in the morning only and then in the afternoon, the teacher goes to 5-8 students' homes and talks to the mother (most of the time). Now, since school has just started, this is not really to talk about how the child is doing but more to see the home life but as my friend puts it, you don't really see or learn that much. She has been a teacher for 16 years and says it is the most stressful part of her job as the home visits are very formal. And, unpleasant things do happen like being yelled at. Now, I'm pretty sure that my teachers never came to my house but I am other countries do teachers do home visits?

Monday, April 19, 2010

A great video to show you Fukuoka!

This is a great video that shows many spots in Fukuoka city (the big city about 30 minutes from me and where I used to live). It is about 10 minutes long and starts in the morning and goes into the night so you can see how things change.

As you are watching you will sometimes here a kind of music or a mechanical kind of bird sound-those are the cross walk signals for the blind (which are only there because people donate money to keep it going). Also, you will notice along "Naka river" people are setting up little stalls with doors or plastic-those are "yatai" or night time food stands which Fukuoka is famous for. Every time my friend comes from Tokyo she goes to one. You will see "Canal city" which is a famous shopping mall. There is also "ohori park" which is a big beautiful park in the city and the "Nakasu" area which is famous for night time entertainment.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

April in Japan is not just about spring...or ...More things I don't understand about Japan

When you think of April (and live in the northern hemisphere) you probably think of spring.... "April showers bring May flowers" and so on. But here, April is the beginning of the fiscal year, the new school year, the new working year and the bizarre (in my opinion) tradition of just transferring people willy-nilly.

I guess I have to explain a little bit about the work culture first . When you apply for a job in Japan, you aren't really applying for a job per se but rather you are applying to a company who will tell you what job you will do. So, they will also decide to change your job from say a scientist to a manger (this actually happened to a friend of mine who worked for the prefectural government). This explains why when you ask someone "what do you do?" they often tell you what company they work for rather than a job title. Ok...back to transfers....let's say you work at a post office and you are happy but you have worked there for 3 years so chances are you will be transferred to another post office. Why are you transferred? Because. Because it is the Japanese way. Because they don't want you to get too comfortable. Apparently, transferring salesmen will prevent corruption and stealing from the company! In some cases, people are transferred to another local branch or store but it also happens that people can be transferred to another prefecture altogether! I remember when my hubby and I discussed what we would do if his company (an electronics store) wanted to move him to another prefecture-our idea was for him to quit since we didn't want to live apart and I have a great job here (thankfully we never have to worry about that again!). Even teachers are transferred about every 5 years.....perhaps so they can learn how other people teach at another school?

Talking about teachers...I have a friend who is a teacher. She has taught 6th grade for about 15 years. Last year, out of the blue, she was told that she was (starting within a month or so) going to be teaching English to her class. She couldn't speak English never mind teach it. So, she started learning English so she could teach her kids. She studied hard and learned enough to teach her kids. Her confidence grew and she enjoyed it so much she decided to really study English and she was looking forward to teaching her new class this year. The school year ended in mid March and she was preparing for her new 6th grade class (which would have started this week) when she was informed on March 26th, that she is now a 2nd grade teacher so she doesn't need to teach English. Not only is her new skill wasted, there is now a new 6th grade teacher that is going to have to teach English that can't even speak English at this point. I just don't get this way of thinking!! How does this help anyone?

April is also the season of "Shin nyu shain" or "enter the new employees". In Japan, 3rd year university students start looking for jobs that would start the April after graduating from university (most do a 4 year program) . Hundreds at a time sit for company tests (this country loves tests!!!), and if they pass that test, they then might get a first interview, then a 2nd interview and hopefully, they will have a job lined up long before they actually graduate. See "freshmen" meaning just graduated students, are most sought after by employers. If you graduate without a job lined up, your chances for a "real" job (IE working for a big company) are slim as the next job hunting season will be filled with these "freshmen" and they will be chosen first in most cases. You will then be left working at an "albaito" or part time job (even if you work 40 or more hours a week, if you are not salaried then it is considered part time work). I know one woman who, after not being able to line up a job, has decided to stay at university for one more year so she can be a part of the next job hunting season while technically still a student. This will cost her parents at least $8000 and that is just for tuition. it is the season of people being transferred it was no surprise to me that when I walked into the local 100yen shop ($1 shop) there was huge area filled with packing tape, bubble wrap, boxes etc. So while moving companies are making a killing this time of year, I can't help but wonder if they are the only ones that benefit from this.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cherry Blossoms, Sushi Cake, Tomato Sweets And More

Yesterday I went to Hakata (the big city near mine)and while I was on the train, I took this picture of the train doors. In Japan, many kids in their school uniform sit on the floor so they had to put these "don't sit on the floor" stickers on all the doors. I think this might be another "only in Japan" thing.

I also took some pictures of cherry blossoms at a train station.

Today I went to a shop famous for traditional Japanese sweets. It is really beautiful!

They had a display of tomato daifuku...tomato sweets! These are cherry tomatoes covered in mochi (sticky rice cake) and sweetened with mirin (sweet Japanese sake used for cooking).

Then we went to a sushi shop and we saw this for sale. Sushi cake for kids!

Then we went to the supermarket. There are spring decorations and food everywhere.

Here are some pictures of sweets.

Here are some pictures of the Kimchee section. I love kimchee!

This next picture is of pickled potatoes. The are pink thanks to plums.

The next 2 pics are things most of us in North America don't/won't eat-Raw chicken and raw horse meat.

And the last picture is of some fried food available at the supermarket.


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