Is it weird to feel so at home in a place that is not your home? I sort of feel that way about leaving the Oe. Dont get me wrong, I love America and I love my parents more then anything in the world. Its just the way the Japanese think and act is so much in line with how I think things should be, and that by incorporating some of these aspects I think America could gain so much.
I had a rather unique experience today; I went to my host brother, Toma’s, entrance ceremony for JuuGaku (Middle school). In America, you go to school depending on where you live, in Japan its the opposite, you go where you get accepted. I have seen kids traveling for 2hrs by train so they can go to a good school. The reason for this is the schools in Japan are very much organized in a caste system, and its very difficult to move between the castes. Thus, what middle school you go to will influence what high school you go to. What high school you go to thereby influences what colleges you will get accepted to (and this is a HUGE deal in Japan). And that college will greatly influence what job you will be able to receive upon graduation. Basically, in Japan, if you really screw up, recovery is nearly impossible. Among these steps perhaps the most important is high school. College in Japan is not very difficult and is viewed more as a reward for students who make it through high school, contrast to America where college is where you really work hard to define your specialty.
The ceremony was really neat and the air was just filled with the respect the students and parents give the teachers. Being an extremely old middle school the school itself has a cultural heritage that most of the students known and understand. There are songs and introductions by the teachers. There is even a part where the principal reminds everyone that the teachers will guide the students in school but the parents are responsible for guiding them at home. Can you imagine hearing that in America? I guarantee at least one parent is one her Blackberry emailing the principal to say how dare he tell me how to raise my son. And the discipline, its like watching an army drill. You could not get American High School students to follow instructions this strictly, and these were Japanese elementary students. And then afterwards, without even being told, every student grabbed their chair and took it with them. Once the parents left they returned to remove those chairs. It was so efficient it was scary. Someone asked me what I thought, and I could only say it was impressed and I can understand why Japan turns out some truly amazing minds.
This is a shot of the shoe lockers that you will always find near the front of a Japanese school. Not wearing shoes inside is one the most hallowed traditions in Japan and has caused me a bit of grief. I recommend if you ever go to Japan bring shoes you can slide on and off easy.
Its hard to mistake the respect the students have for the school and their teachers. Nowhere do you see a teacher doing any work besides teaching. A ceremony had just taken place and all the students were working together to clean up and prepare for the rest of the days classes, the ichinensei (first years) would be starting Tuesday.
Unfortunately, Asahi seemed unable to contain himself for the duration of the ceremony and caused a couple disruptions. I really admire Emiko-Okasama, her level of patience is simply astounding. Even I was beginning to approach my limit with his antics; I think he is worse then I ever was.
Long story short, we ran late getting out of the ceremony and with Mama needing to go to work it was clear she would be unable to take me to Maibara to catch the Shinkansen to Osaka.
Now if that sounded weird, let me explain. I have an affinity for the Shinkansen and I wanted to ride it from Osaka to Tokyo, the main route if you will. Thus my chosen route was Kurasam to Maibara via normal train, Maibara to Osaka via Shinkansen, and finally Osaka to Tokyo via Shinkansen.
As you might guess, it was getting fairly late as we approached Tokyo and I didnt want to take the Yamanote halfway across the city to get to Shinjuku where my hostel was located, and it was raining heavily. I got off at Shinjuku which is, by all accounts, the primary junction point for many of the cities trains and most of the subways. I caught the Yamanote here and took it to Shinjuku. From Shinjuku I was able to, awkwardly, catch the Toei Shinjuku line, and go off at the appropriate exit and made it to my hostel by 1030. I got the chance to meet some of my bunk mates and, funny enough, since they spoke so very little English (being from France and Switzerland) the common language is Japanese.
Tomorrow I begin my excursions of Tokyo and the surrounding area, including a date with Mami-chan.