Life in a Japanese School

By Maiko Covington

P.E. Class
Date: Fri, 8 Mar 1991 01:09:35 GMT

Hello again. Thank you for reading all these long articles every time. Once again I offer my standard disclaimer: I have had no training whatsoever in sociology or related fields, and thus all the comments here are merely of my own experience. For all the readers on rec.arts.anime, I realize that this subject doesn't have much to do with anime itself, but I have posted this article here in the hopes that it may lead to greater understanding of the characters and backgrounds of many of the anime stories. Please bear with me.

P.E Class - What I Forgot to Say
Oops, it appears that I left out a very important piece of information in article #2. At Japanese school, boys and girls do not generally take P.E. together - the class is split up. Most often the two classes will take place simultaneously, even using 2 halves of the same gym. (Note: some scenes in Ranma 1/2 show this.)

The sports we do the most in P.E. are volleyball and basketball, hands down. Some other sports include aerobic-type dancing and running. Before every class, we have to do "rajio taisoo". This is doing exercises to this certain theme song. Why is it called rajio taisoo? Because the theme is broadcast on NHK radio every morning at 6:00 (or at least it used to be) so that early risers can join in at home. The rajio taisoo are often shown on American media broadcasts whenever they show Japanese companies. Practically everyone has to do radio taisoo - companies do it, construction workers do it on the site, you name it.

In the summer when you're in elementary school, you are supposed to wake up and go to the neighborhood rendition of it every morning at either 7 or 8 AM. You get a card marked off by the leader, and that is part of your summer homework (note: this was shown in one of the "Chibi Maruko" episodes). Anyway.. One girl (or guy, depending on what half you are in) is chosen to lead the exercise every day. After you are done with the exercises, the teacher comes over and yells "syuugo!" (come together!). Then, you line up by number in front of the teacher, and you do the whole bowing thing (I will explain this later), and then the teacher will
(1) yell at anyone who has something wrong with their uniform (this includes not having your hatimaki on, or having the wrong kind of shoes) and
(2) explain just what it is we will be doing that day.

After all of this, you go to get the equipment out of the equipment shed. Sometimes the teacher will make you run laps around the gym. Once each quarter (gakki) we have fitness tests. They include running, jumping, flexibility, and endurance, etc. You have to get the teacher to write your scores in a little book. On another note, we get school physicals every quarter too.

The teacher for P.E. can be man or woman, no matter whether you are boys class or girls class. Remember I told you about those bloomer? Well, some people would keep their gym pants on in the summer until the very minute the teacher would come, and then they would yank them off at the last second. Also, we have to put all of the equipment away at the end of the class. When it rains and you were supposed to be doing something outside, we would get to play ping pong. Worst days though were the skills tests, where they check if you can spike the ball right, etc. I never can serve overhand volleyball well...

Events
Now I will tell you about some more events. First are some events that happen everyday. Actually, they aren't really "events" per se, but just fixed routine that happens every day. First - I will now explain about the bowing thing.

See, I told you about how the teachers change classes, right? Well, whenever the teacher comes into your class to begin class, you are supposed to bow to him. This is a fixed thing. See, there is one person who always is supposed to lead the bowing (often this is the class president). He or she will first say, "Kiritu!" (stand up!) and everyone stands. Then he/she says, "Ki wo tuke!" which is the signal for you to be standing at attention with nothing in your hand and you can't be talking. Finally, the leader will say, "Rei!" (bow!) and we must all bow. You are supposed to do it all together and neatly - you know what I mean, with straight back and everything - and quietly. If the teacher doesn't like the way you do it, he will (or she will) make the class do it over again. Then you either sit back down, or in some schools the leader will say, "Tyakuseki!" (sit down!) and only then do you sit.

Anyway, if the teacher is someone who is well liked, the class will bow nicely, but if they don't like, they will just do it really sloppy, just sort of nodding their heads. So, it is mostly the teacher who nobody likes and who is really insecure who has you do it over. One more thing - we had to practice bowing as a unit (the whole third grade) in the gym before our graduation. I remember that I hated it. The kyoutou (head teacher) kept going on and on about how you are supposed to go down for "1,2,3,4" and then come up on "5,6,7,8" and I was just thinking how this can get really ridiculous... You have to bow at the end of class too, but the leader doesn't usually lead us at the end, we just all do it.

Second thing - in between classes. There is ten minutes in between classes, and since for most classes we don't change room, that means ten minutes of people rooting around in their desks for the books they need for the next class, and hanging around their friends seats, and talking, fixing their hair, and whipping out magazines, playing games, reading manga, hanging out the window to yell at people in the other classes, going to other classes to visit people or pass notes, erasing the board (we have to do that) and in general just messing around. This is the scene most often seen in the anime and manga when they show classroom scene.

If the next class is P.E. we have to go and change, though. About fixing hair - girls generally have to wear their hair in either ponytails or osage (braids) unless they have short hair (most people in 88 had long hair). The hair is put up with Japanese hair rubber bands. If you have seen these you know it, if not, well, it's like thread covered rubber band, and you cut your own and tie it to get the size you want. At school you are supposed to wear black one.

Anyway, people with nothing to do (girls) would just spend endless time fixing their hair in all these wierd hairstyles, or else just redoing theri (oops) hair back in the same style, over and over again. Japanese hair doesn't take on bumps and stuff from being put up so easily, so this was possible. Most girls I know would carry lots of extra hair things wound around their brush so that they could do this. People would also carry ribbon etc to put on on their way home.

Hmm.. I guess the next thing is lunch. You eat your lunch in the classroom. Some schools have a school lunch you can buy, others don't. At my school everyone brought "obentoo" which is packed rice lunch in little cute plastic boxes. You also have little cute plastic chopsticks with pictures on it (all this is called 'character syouhin') and it is all put in a cute bag or wrapped in a cute hurosiki of some sort. Oh how cute. A note on Japanese cuisine - the appearance of the food is almost as important as the food itself. With bentoo, this means you want lots of foods of different color. Just about everyone had rice with a umebosi (pickled red plum) for part of their lunch. People would go around commenting on other people's bentoo. Some girls would make bentou for the boys they like.

You can also at my school order bread and cake at the beginning of the day. You would put money in a bag which had an order form printed on it, and someone would deliver the bag to the bread people. At lunch the same person would go and pick up all the stuff, and what you ordered would be in the bag. Let's see.. we had 'yakisoba pan' (bread with yakisoba in it), 'kare- pan'(bread with curry in it), 'meron pan' (bread with melon in it) and a few others. There was also sponge cake and strangely enough, spaghetti, which you had to eat with chopsticks. All you Ranma fans will remember Ranma telling about the fight with Ryouga over this breads at his old school. See, all the ones not ordered up would go on sale at lunch for first come first serve. Our school also had a tiny room with vending machines which sold "juice", which in Japan means not only juice as America thinks of it but also all sorts of carbonated beverages. One more machine in there sold tea in cans, and another milk and soup in cans. Just about everyone wanted to drink "juice" for lunch, so as soon as the bell rang there would be a mad dash for the little room, and it would get positively PACKED with people.

Back in the room, everyone would move the desks in the room around into little tables. You would sit at a table like this with your group of friends. Every day the same tables would be set up at the same positions, and the same people would sit at the same groups. At this time people would spread out their cute lunch and eat, but also it was a bigger version of what happens in between classes. People would visit other rooms (but you always ate with your class, others are sorta "outsiders"), read magazines and manga, talk about what was on TV and listen to walkmans, fix their hair, play board games and other games, draw on the board, and make plans for after school or the weekend. Some people when they were done eating would go to the gym to cram in a game of volleyball. We had 45 minutes for lunch. I think lunch is shown in anime too, I know it comes up a lot in manga. As soon as the ending lunch bell rings, everyone hurriedly pushes the desks back to the way before, and washes up and puts their stuff away, and it is back to class. There is no recess or breaks; the in between class 10 minutes and the lunch is enough. Right after lunch is always hard to stay awake, though.

When classes are over, another routine takes place - souzi touban. Classes are split into several han, or groups, and always one group has to stay behind to do the souzi, or cleaning. The groups rotate - each week is a different group's turn to do the cleaning. What you do is move all the desks around and mop the floor, wash the blackboards, empty the trash and wipe the windows and lockers. Every quarter or so we have a "o-souzi" or "big cleaning". Then we really have to wash everything - desks and chairs, lockers, etc. Worst one is every couple of months or so we have to do (oh no!!) "toire souzi" (toilet cleaning). This one rotates between different classes, even. It is icky - you have to wash the actual toilets, which are set into the ground (traditional kine) and some people aren't too accurate when they use it if you know what I mean. You also have to empty the trash and clean the mirrors, sinks and floor too. One thing about souzi - people try to skip it. They sneak out before anyone notices they've gone.

One other thing that happens after classes are over - the person whose turn it was to do it has to fill out the "gakkyuu nissi" or "school diary". This says what you did that day in all of your classes. Then they turn it in to the "syokuinsitu" (faculty room). Then everyone leaves the school to go home eventually. Most people go out shopping with their friends on the way home, in the train station or whatever. Well, I must go home now myself, so I will write more tomorrow if you would still like to hear the rest. Sorry to use up so much space with this, but there is just so much to tell you. Thank you for reading this whole long thing.

Maiko Covington maiko@ucsd.edu

Comments welcome. If you would like to hear more on a specific topic, please send me e-mail. Sayonara! (for now)

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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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