Life in a Japanese School

By Maiko Covington

Introduction
Date: Wed, 6 Mar 1991 01:17:15 GMT

Hello, everybody. I have decided to write a little bit about what life in Japanese school (well, junior and senior high school) is like, from the inside. For people reading on rec.arts.anime, I realize that this subject really has nothing to do with anime, but since many of the anime have high school kids as characters and show scenes of school life, I thought you might like to see it. Please be warned that I have no training in sociology or anything like that - I am just writing about my own experience.

Perhaps the major difference between Japanese and American high school (and middle school as well) is that whereas in USA schools the students change classes, in Japan you stay in one class all day long (or at least most of the day) and instead the teachers move around from class to class. So, you are with the same people all day long. People in your class form a sort of group, and you can get really close to them. Of course, if you happen not to like your classmates, you are stuck, for often your class will be more or less the same people for all 3 years.

Just about everyone in my class had a certain nickname, to be used only by your classmates. I was Mai-chan (kinda ordinary). Some of the ones we had were "Mossan" (Kuramoti Keiko) "Yuasa-si" (Yuasa Reiko), and perhaps the strangest, "Demo-sa". See, this one kid Miyuki would always butt in on people's conversations with "demosa, demosaaa..." so she came to be called "Demo-sa". Apparently there were no hard feeling, though.

Anyway... because you don't change classes, you keep your books right inside your desk. The desks are usually a separate desk and a chair, and the desk is hollow to put your books inside. There are lockers in the back of the room, but they don't have locks on them. It's mostly for you to keep your P.E. stuff in.

Seating chart was always a big deal, because of course everybody wants to sit next to their closest friend, right? In my experience we would change the seating chart every couple of months, and this was usually done by picking numbers out of a box or some such method so no one could complain that it was unfair. It really was a big thing, though - the class president would take charge of it and everything.

I suppose I should explain to you how the classes are divided and such. There are 3 grades of middle school and 3 grades of high school. Each grade is divided into classes of about 45 to 50 people each, on the basis of ability and also depending on what classes you are taking. Most of the classes you don't get to choose for yourself, but there are a few choices like whether to take Japanese or World history, and they try to keep the people who made the same choice in the same room, to facilitate the system I described earlier.

Each grade has officers on the student council, and then each class has officers too. It was the latter I meant when talking about the seating chart thing. Some of the offices change every year, others change every quarter (most schools are on the "sangakkisei"). Each class has a number, always it's the grade number followed either by a number or a letter to distinguish the classes.

At my middle school we used letters (like 3-A) and at my high school we used numbers (I was in 2-1). These are read "san nen A kumi" and "ni nen ni kumi" respectively. Each person in a class also has a "syusseki bangou" or "attendance number" based on where your name comes in alphabetical order. I was usually near the end, because my last name is written in katakana and they would say that must come after all of the kanji. I thought was kinda rude, myself. I was 3145 (san nen iti kumi 45 ban). Oops, I just noticed the example I gave before should be "iti kumi" too. Sorry.

Uniforms... all public schools in Japan wear uniforms, I think. These come in several basic varieties: for boys, it is usually the black pants and jacket with gold button down the front (oops) and a white shirt inside, or sometimes it is a sort of suit like thing. For girls, it is a "kon" (a kind of dark blue) or gray skirt, with either a sailor top or a white shirt and matching vest. These vary in detail from school to school, and so you can tell what school people you meet on the street go to.

Of course, people try to alter their uniforms a lot. Depending on who you hang around with, it was cool to either make your skirt really long or really short. For tough guys (or those who thought they were) the in thing was to make the black uniform pants really big, and the jacket long with a super high collar (at least in my area, anyway). Also people do stuff like wearing cute socks with pictures on it instead of white ones, wearing white shirts of a pattern different from the school one, wearing cool sneakers, etc. etc.

Also people put their hair up in ways you aren't supposed to; they wear bright hair ribbons, and put all sorts of keychains on their school bags. The more daring girls might dye their hair, or perm it. I must say that I got away with perming my hair, because people just assumed it was natural, ha ha. One girl in my high school class was forced to go to the barber and have her hair dyed back black after dying it reddish-brown. Some people also experiment with cosmetics. There is no way Ranma could get away with wearing that martial arts suit if he went to a normal school! They would most likely shave his head in the principal's office (they do in #12, don't they?).

Well, I must go now. I will write more later if anyone really wants to hear some more. Sorry to ramble on and waste so much space.

Maiko Covington (maiko@ucsd.edu)

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Additional Info:
Life in A Japanese School By Maiko Covington.
Her text has remained true to her original posting. The overall title of this section was chosen to best represent her articles rather than "My High School Days" as originally titled by Maiko-san. Her articles were originally posted and may be found here: My High School Days. You may reach her at the this email: mcovingt@staff.uiuc.edu as email in article is old and defunct.

She has been asked if she will write some more of these and her answer is, "The answer to that question is, not likely in the near future. The events in those posts occurred more than 10 years ago now, and I honestly don't think I could get myself into the same frame of mind."



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