I haven't posted anything in a couple weeks. I hope everyone is doing ok? I know that this distance learning isn't ideal, but we will get through it. IT is better that we are all safe.
Friday, as I posted in our classroom, there was a Zoom meeting between folks in New Paltz and folks in our sister city of Niimi, Japan. Mayor Tim Rogers of New Paltz, and Professor Kiyoshi Yamauchi from Niimi College set the process in motion. Folks from our village board, folks that have been involved in the New Paltz International Exchange Association, the head of Niimi's International Exchange Association, folks from Niimi who have visited New Paltz, and some Niimi officials joined in the meeting. In the beginning there was time spent with introductions. After that we settled into comparing notes on how things are going in our two towns during the COVID crisis. Niimi is very worried about us; they have amazingly not had one person in Niimi get sick yet. That is surprising with a college town, with students coming from around Japan, but Japan shut their schools down I think a week before we did, and wearing masks is a normal thing. Also, Japan aksed people not to travel between prefectures - their version of states. At this point the folks in Niimi feel relatively safe.
Discussion also continued on to cultural differences. As I said, masks are normal in Japan. They have been for years. If you have a simple cold, it is considered proper manners to wear a mask to prevent sharing your germs with someone else. When I got off the plane in Japan I noticed in the airport that it was expected that soemoen whoh thought they were sick would report it to the folks at the gate. Also, another cultural difference is handshaking. My friend's father got COVID from his buddy because they shook hands! We know that in Japan people do not shake hands, or hug - they bow to one another. I wonder if we will start doing that as well!
Niimi folks commented that Prime Minister Abe had the Japanese government send each person two masks. Another friend had told me this a few weeks ago. Both my friend, and the person who brought it up in the meeting, thought this was rather silly. I was surprised to hear a Japanese person criticize their government.
If you would be interesting in watching our discussion - there was a large group of around 18 - the meeting was saved to You Tube. You can watch it at:
I will say from my own observations, and some of you may agree with me, that Japanese people tend to be much more group orientated while American culture tends to make Americans more "me" orientated. As such Professor Yamauchi has commented to me that the government will issue advice, not a demand, and people will follow the advice. We have all seen people protesting about businesses being closed and making demands on our government. That would not happen in Japan, and it makes it easier to have people follow guidelines. We are definitely not in a normal situation.
The meeting with Niimi was live in the Zoom meeting for those of us involved in the sister city activitities, and on You Tube for the general public to follow and submit questions in Chat. If you take the time to watch the meeting, and have questions about things in Japan, and in particular in Niimi, do let me know. If I can't answer it, I know one of my friends would be happy to.
One interesting thing about school in Japan is the school year.
From Kids Web Japan, https://web-japan.org/kidsweb/explore/calendar/april/schoolyear.html :
The Japanese school year begins in April. The first term runs to around July 20, when summer vacation begins. Kids return to school in early September for the second term, which lasts until about December 25. The final term begins in early January and continues to late March.
Most people think spring - when life begins anew - is the perfect time to start new things. Kids get excited and are full of expectations when the new school year approaches. Early April is also the time when cherry blossoms are in full bloom. So when people think about entrance to new schools and the start of a career, they often conjure up images of these beautiful blossoms. Many schools have cherry trees growing on their grounds, and parents like taking pictures of their kids entering school for the first time under the light-pink blossoms.
There are some, though, who want to change the school year so that it starts in September. They say that this will make it easier for students in other countries to come and study here and for Japanese students to attend schools abroad. But because spring is so closely associated with new beginnings, the school year will probably continue to start in April.
Now I have commented to my friend Professor Yamauchi that I don't know how teachers do it! He commented one time that graduation was on March 17, St. Patrick's Day, so he wore a green tie. Then he was starting the new term in a few weeks! I will tell you that by the time graduation comes, I am ready for a bit of a break. I have put a lot of energy in to making sure all my students pass their classes, testing week is very stressful, and I spend a week or two the beginning of July being quite lazy. If the new school year were starting up a few weeks after the old one ended, I would not be able to do that!
Don't forget, school is taken very seriously by Japanese students - they even may attend 'cram schools' for tutoring, and spend time on school on Saturdays!
Also from Kids Web:
The basic school system in Japan is composed of elementary school (lasting six years), middle school (three years), high school (three years), and university (four years). Education is compulsory only for the nine years of elementary and middle school, but 98.8% of students go on to high school. Students usually have to take exams in order to enter high schools and universities. Recently some middle and high schools have joined together to form single, six-year schools.
In Japanese elementary schools, classes are divided into small teams for many activities. For example, as part of their education, every day the students clean the classrooms, halls, and yards of their school in these teams. In many elementary schools, the students eat lunch together in their classrooms, enjoying meals prepared by the school or by a local "school lunch center." Small teams of students take turns to serve lunch to their classmates. School lunches contain a rich variety of healthy and nutritious foods, and students look forward to lunchtime.
There are many school events during the year, such as sports day when students compete in events like tug-of-war and relay races, excursions to historical sites, and arts and culture festivals featuring dancing and other performances by children. Students in the highest grades of elementary, middle, and high schools also take trips lasting up to several days to culturally important cities like Kyoto and Nara, ski resorts, or other places.
Most middle and high schools require students to wear uniforms. Boys generally wear pants and jackets with stand-up collars, and girls wear two-piece suit with sailor collar or blazers and skirts.
School lunches seemed a bit better in Japan, and students help make and serve it. They also help with keeping the school clean!
You can read more about schools in Japan on this website. There are some activities much like we have here. Baseball of course! Their arts also include traditional Japanese art forms. Learning to write is very different. When we learn our alphabet in elementary school we have no idea how good we have it. In Japan where kanji characters are the "letters", there are thousands. I believe you need to know at least 1500 to manage in daily life. Japanese is distinguished from Chinese is the use of hirigana. Hirigana characters are 42 in number. They represent the 42 sound used to speak Japanese. Little children learn them to begin reading, but they are also used when adults read obscure kanji characters so the reader can at least pronounce the word! On the plus side for kanji, sound alike words like 'bear' and 'bare' are easily distiguished by the kanji. The word for hospital and the word for beauty parlour sound alike. I would not wish to go to the beauty parlour if I need a hospital!
When learning kanji characters, there are certain characters taught each year. I was working my way through the 70 characters taught in first grade. These are the simpler characters that may only have 2 or 3 marks to create them. Kanji is doen with 'strokes' - marks made in a certain order to create the character. Complicated kanji may have stroke counts in the teens!
You may remember learning to write your letters in Kindegarten. Things are similar with kanji. There is a worksheet for a character with an example of how it is drawn, and then spaces for the student to practice.
Be well! Stay safe!