Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Apples and skiing and glasses

School has started. Mothers are back to their normal routines. Spring break is over so friends get together and chat over coffee.

An apple. Skiing. Dropping your glasses. What do all these have in common? I heard all these comments just last week. And they all related to the same thing... The answer? Entering school.

One thing I've noticed that is very Japanese, is how wary people are of approaching delicate subjects and how unsure they are of what to say in certain situations. What I'm getting at is that last month was the month of entrance exams for high schools and for college. First the tests. A few days later the graduation ceremonies. A day or so later the results for the tests are posted. A couple of weeks of spring vacation are left. Last week all the kids start going to their respective schools and FINALLY parents are telling their friends what school their son or daughter was accepted to.

I mean we all know that so-and-so's child is a certain age and will be going on to high school (or college.) We all know that results were posted. But does anyone call and say,

"Hey! Did your child get accepted?"

Okay, that's a little direct. How about

"And what school is your child going to from April?"

But this is a touchy subject. If the child passed his exams then the news will quickly go along the grape vine.

"Did you hear that so-and-so was accepted to the high school of his choice?"

and then the next time you run into the mother at the supermarket you can say

"I hear congratulations are in order."

and the mother will smile shyly and say that she is so surprised because her son is not at all that smart and it was all good luck. On the other hand, if the grapevine holds no news of a student and more and more days pass, then probably the student "failed" his exams. I hate that word. No one calls to give condolences (it's not like someone died) but no one really knows what to do until the mother makes the first move. If she is taking a stiff-upperlip approach then she'll get over her disappointment in a few days or week (that's why spring vacation is good. You don't have to meet anyone if you don't want to) and may say

"Well, I knew he wouldn't get accepted. He never studied as much as I knew he should."

and then the rest of us will say things like

"A disappointment early in life is good for building character. He will be very happy for this failure someday in his future. It will make him strong."

For some mothers, the disappointment is a real blow and it may take weeks of avoiding people until the child has started something else that gives hope for his future.

So last week's coffee time conversations revolved around students who had failed their tests. Who had not been accepted. Who had "fallen" and "been dropped" and "slipped". These are all taboo words in this testing season. So the conversation went

"I even bought an apple that hadn't fallen from a tree for good luck." (In Japan, you fall from successful entrance to school.)

"Well, we sealed his fate when we went skiing that weekend. We were slipping (skiing) all over the place." (You slip from the school of your choice to a lesser school.)

"I knew when I dropped my glasses that bad luck was coming." (a drop in grades)

I'm not saying that my friends are superstitious. All this is said in fun, and humor is a good way to relieve disappointments.

Just a side of parenting and education that you don't see in the States.... (pictures from the Internet. Except for my glasses.)


CT said...

Tanya, I love to read about the way things are in Japan... even the way things are in the States are SO different from schooling in Mexico. I really enjoy getting to know more about a different culture.

Callie said...

Are those good luck apples? Is the design cut into the apple or is that applied. Very nice. Just 4 more weeks of classes for my daughter! I can't wait for summer. Gee, you'd think it was me getting out of school. Is it just me or is schooling much more stressful on the family in Japan than in the US? Love your posts.

Amanda said...

I know that the odd setback is good for the character, but I can't help feeling that being branded a failure is not a good thing. Our school system is far from being perfect, but I think getting rid of selection for secondary schools has to have been step forward. I can still remember how some of my friends at age 11 felt when they failed their 11+ exam - and how we stopped being friends once we went to separate schools - and how we looked down on the other school. Not good.

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

A most interesting perspective! Thanks for sharing, Tanya.

Dave said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Dee said...

Hi Tanya,
What an interesting story! Do kids feel pressured for education? In Turkey we have entry exams to university and I remember how depressed I felt for preparing to them (2 levels of the exam). Passing the exams meant I was smart and worthy and if I didn't pass I would be considered not smart enough to make it. I did pass but learned not to judge my friends who couldn't. Reading your blog entry each day surprises me how close Japan and Turkish cultures are.

Karla said...

Love reading your blog. You make my day brighter and just thought I'd take the time to say so. Thanks much, and have a great day!