Sunday, January 27, 2013

Initial Concerns

I'm writing this in the hope that I can look back in 3 years time and laugh at all my petty concerns about my daughter starting junior high school.  On Friday all the 6th graders and their parents went to the school to have a quick look around and get general information about how the school runs, school uniforms, school buses and most concerning club activities.  
There are 8 different elementary schools who combine at the junior high school and it looks like there will be about 73 first grade students.  They split them into 3 classes for the first year and then 2 classes for the following 2 years.  The school is only about 4 years old so it is a really nice school to be in - lots of wood, very bright and pretty modern facilities.  No complaints so far.  The study seems to be fairly typical of anywhere - they need to be at school by 8:10am, have 6 50 minute classes each day (apart from on Wednesday where they only have 5) and after cleaning and a short class meeting they finish up at 3:55pm (2:55pm on Wednesday).  This all seems okay to me.  It is after this that I start to have problems.... 
From 4pm they start club activities.  There are 9 activities that the school offers - the girls can choose from judo, athletics, volleyball, table tennis, brass band, soccer, soft tennis and kendo.  The boys choose from judo, athletics, brass band, baseball, soccer and kendo.  The clubs are not compulsory, but apparently 98% of students participate.  As you may have noticed by the choices if you are not into sports or music there are no other options.  It was made very clear that the teachers were stretched to their limit by offering these 9 activities and therefore there is no chance at all of adding any extras.  
I have no problem with kids being involved in clubs.  I played sport at school and loved it.  What I do have a problem with is the fact that they make it pretty clear that when you enter a club you should not decide to change half way through and therefore if you make a bad decision in first grade you are stuck with doing the same sport for 3 years. I also have a problem with the length of the practices.  I know that because the school has a school bus system they are controlled by that in terms of what time they have to finish practice and therefore is better than many places.  But.... in the summer the club activities run until 6:30pm - the bus then leaves at 6:45pm.  This is every day of the week, apart from Wednesday when there are no club activities.  It means that my daughter will leave home at 7:20am and get home at 7:20pm.  That's a 12 hour day at school for a 12 year old.  Winter is one hour earlier, but still not exactly a short day!
What was also made very clear at the meeting was that if the children wanted to keep up with the study that was going on in class it was really important that they do revision each night on top of their homework..... so home at 7:20pm (having eaten nothing since lunch at 12:30pm (don't even get me started on that!), tea, shower, then homework..... I can see that we are going to have to change a few of our routines around here!  
There are also practices most Saturdays for a lot of the clubs and almost every day during the school holidays.  I find it interesting that there are many different seminars about how to communicate with your children at the moment.  What I would like to ask is when we are supposed to actually communicate with our children if the club activities take such a huge amount of their time!  And... just while I'm on a complaining run.... considering how long they practice they are not even very good at the sports! 
So, as I said, I'm hoping that I look back at this in 3 years time and laugh... but I'm guessing I won't!


  1. Either laugh or look back in anger and bitterness. Yep, all that practice and how come they're not really all that good? Stupid. I still don't know if club is compulsory at Amy's school, and if we should skip it if it is. On the one hand, I want her to get the exercise, but I don't want her to forget she knows us! I sometimes think the whole point of it is just to brainwash them into the Japanese work ethic: Must.Work.Always! Never.Rest! Sleep is for lazy people! Family is caused by blood and obligation, not spending time together! Selfish people who want do anything but WORK! Sorry, feeling a bit nasty about JHS and bloody club today.

  2. K straight out says that clubs is supposed to break your ties from your family and get you to put your allegiances to your fellow students (future co-workers) and teachers (substitute bosses). Coming from a school system where we tried out for a winter sport and a summer sport each year and could change sports each year I find clubs a bit scary but you know, almost every person I talk to claims clubs was the best part of their school years and their longest lasting friends from school are the ones from teh same club so maybe it's more fun than it seems from the outside?? Gambatte!

  3. Megan5:15 pm

    And they wonder why students fall asleep in class!? Used to drive me nuts!

  4. Clubs are a nightmare designed to break the spirit and rebuild the broken pieces of the person into an exhausted salaryman. Luckily both my kids have/will opt out of them. They are both strong enough to be able to do this.

  5. Family versus school ?

  6. Anonymous9:10 am

    Its bloody insane. I'm sure we only had netball practice twice a week after school for an hour and then an hour game on the weekend. I did so many sports at school - not because I kept dropping out, but because it was offered and encouraged. I really worry about the club system. And the jump between rokunensei in primary school and Junior High seems to be crazy. I will be reading with interest how all this pans out. At my high school in Kawaga there was a tea ceremony club - which I joined, along with brass band - and trampoline. I was the only one allowed to do more than one thing. Aha, but then that was high school, not Junior high. Hmmmm. Good luck. My kids are back at kinder today so hopefully I'll be able to coffee later in the week?

  7. Every evening I see a stream of tired looking junior high students returning home after dark either from cram school or clubs. It seems absolutely insane to me that they are obligated (mostly by peer pressure, parents, and social expectation) to stay at school for that long. I believe that unstructured free time for children is vitally important to shape their imagination and sense of individuality. Children shouldn't rely on an adult to always be there coaching them and directing their every activity. Also, the values, love, and acceptance they learn from a close relationship to their parents and siblings is what gets us though all the crap this world throws at us. I know this my perspective is totally skewed by my western upbringing, but I am not planning of changing it for my children!

  8. Man, we don't even have kids yet and bukatsu are a major topic of contention in our house. My husband argues that when you ask kids, their happiest memories of high school are always related to bukatsu and their closest and most enduring friendships are formed there. I respond that while I don't dispute that, and JHS kids say the same thing, in JHS the hours they are expected to keep prevent them from getting a healthy amount of sleep and in my opinion literally stunt their growth. Additionally, it means that during the most emotionally challenging years of puberty kids are isolated from their families and encouraged to turn to teachers for emotional support and moral guidance. Since they can start a new sport in high school anyway, I don't see why they have to damage themselves in JHS. He counters that unless the kdis get accustomed to sleep deprivation and a punishing physical regime in JHS they wont cope when it comes to SHS. He also (correctly) points out that if they used their class time efficiently they wouldn't need to do so much revision/homework at home. I counter with the claim that the public education system operates at such a low academic standard that they wont get into a good SHS without attending juku, which adds even more hours. At this point we usually give up and sulk at each other.

  9. Anonymous9:07 pm

    are you considering any 'alternative' forms of education? homeschooling, sending your children back to NZ, etc?

  10. I agree whole heartedly Jo. With what you said Jo, Vicky said and also what Laura said, I agree 100%. I have the same exact feelings myself regarding clubs in junior high here. My comment is going to be super long so forgive me in advance, I have to break up my comment in 2 since it's so long. : )

    Our local junior high combines the 2 local elementary schools ours is the bigger of the two at 190 or so kids total all 6 grades the other school has 62 students all 6 grades. : )

    From what I see and hear around here. It’s pretty much optional to join the extra curricular. But it’s almost like a “forced” optional if that makes sense at all. Again I can only speak about where we live. The little girl who lives across the street from us, Ayumi-chan she became a 7th grader last April. And she’s an only child. Before she started junior high, we would see her riding her bike with friends. Or her girlfriends would come over, (she had down time, fun time is what I am saying). However since she has started junior high last year we basically never see her. I see her ride her silver school bike around 6:30am every morning, because that’s when I am typically opening up my blinds. And I think Ayumi comes back around 6pm every single night. Could even be 6:30pm. Also important to mention, from what I could see, she had no/zero winter holiday she left on her bike every day, and she’s also gone at club activities every Saturday. Her Summer break also was non existent. It’s just like an acceptable way of doing things here. To join the clubs and don’t give it a second thought. Because it’s just the way it is.

    Me on the other hand, I come from a very hands on, involved type family growing up. And I feel family spending time together is important. My husband is very much like me in that fact. And so are our kids. The reason I mention the way I was raised because it does at least give an idea why I feel surprised that when kids here in Japan hit junior high they rarely see their family's much anymore. Like you said 12 hours gone from the house. They’d miss family dinner and all that for sure. That to me, is just not something I’m all too crazy about. Right now, our family has dinner together every single night together. Some nights about 3-4 nights a week my husband can’t be here due to his schedule. Because he’s working. But my kids and I are at the dinner table every night together for dinner we all enjoy it, it’s one way, how I connect with my kids and them with me. Also kids do grow in a blink of an eye before you know it, they’re off in college and getting married and I just want to enjoy my kids in every stage as they grow.... while they’re still young if that makes any sense at all. : ) I ask Branden and Noah (and sorry if it sounds lame but it’s true) at the dinner table every single day, what was your best part of the day? What was your least favorite part of the day. What made you happiest today? Any good stories to share? And I share mine too. Even if it’s some ridiculous story of me at the bakery, I still tell them.

  11. 2nd part of my comment...again sorry so long....But, I also was in activities in school in America. However I was still home at a proper time and I still had winter break and summer break. I wasn’t gone from my home 5-6 days a week.

    Also, since our junior high population is so small in the inaka where we live. Our school only has like, 4 or 5 clubs. @_@ Hahaha. The city nearest us has like 10 different activity clubs. Including swimming which Branden would have LOVED to take part in. They’re both swimming kids. So that would have been a great fit for Branden and even Noah. Our particular junior high has band, soccer, track/running and another 1 or 2 activities. Badminton, I think? Something my son wouldn’t be interested in, even remotely! I think Branden *might* be into soccer. far as him having a 6 day commitment for it? Holidays included. I don’t think so. And yes, I hear they get an earful if they quit said activity too. So long story short if they offered swimming, yes he’d probably love it. But the activities offered at our school are not that great. Also the 5-6 day commitment and school breaks included is a bit much. So yeah if they offered swimming we might go for it. If it’s something my kids truly loved doing is what I mean. But I can’t imagine Branden taking badminton for example 6 days a week just doing an activity he wouldn’t really be remotely interested in, just out of peer pressure or student/teacher pressure.

    Branden is only in the 5th grade right now so we still have a little over a year before we start worrying about all this. But it is lightly on our minds here too. It’s something our family has spoken about in great detail already. My husband has already told me. Branden does NOT have to join those clubs if he doesn’t want to. My husband is in the “Father’s club” and it goes on in the junior high too, so, I don’t think they can cause too much trouble with us. My husband eats out with the principal of the junior high and elementary school once a month already so, we’ll see. I will be reading your blog all this year making mental notes for the following year, since Branden is a year younger then your daughter.
    More then likely, Branden and Noah will be attending high school in America, I’ll be renting a condo in Guam or Honolulu and Noboru will visit often. About 95% sure on that already. And university in Honolulu is a given, that we’ll gladly pay for. : ) But we want the informative younger years spent as a family unit, which is why we are waiting until they are in high school.

  12. Sports must be important...not only in Japan, but also for kids and parents in the U.S. They put so much of their energy into sports. They often seem to be pressured rather than having fun. Many kids end up getting injured. The chiropractor George visited said that kids injured in sports were their biggest clients.

    I'm sure so many people have the same opinion as you. Someone needs to speak up. Corporal punishment used to be allowed to use on kids, but now it's a huge issue. Concentrating on sports without considering the individual kid's condition should be questioned. Who is responsible for this? Maybe you simply question them. I'm glad I'm not in your shoes, I would not only bring up concerns, I would open my big mouth and get into trouble. Erika