By Eve Corbett
I felt like a classic anime character as I left my host family’s house this morning. I was running late for my train and I just barely made it in time for my bus. I rushed into my classroom just as the last bell was ringing, breathing a sigh of relief. Unfortunately it was all too soon. As I sat down in my seat, I realized that I was getting many strange looks from my classmates along with a worried stare from my homeroom teacher. Thankfully my homeroom teacher was also an English teacher. He lifted his hand and motioned towards my ears.
“Eve-san, you have earings?” He asked me. Oh, that explains it. I quickly put down my bags and took out my earrings. I had forgotten to take them out this morning like I usually do. Ear piercings are against Japanese school dress code, along with any other forms of jewelry and even painted nails. In fact, piercings of any kind are very uncommon in Japan, even for older people. Usually the people who get ear piercings in Japan are rule-breakers, or people who are trying to look tough. However clip-on earrings are quite common and acceptable, although of course not at school. The school I attend has a very strict dress code and, like most schools in Japan, school uniform.
Well, technically I have three different school uniforms. One for summer, one for fall/spring, and one for winter. All of which consist of a skirt, knee high socks, and a shirt with a bow. I personally find the winter uniform to be the most attractive. The boys uniform consists of black pants, a white short sleeve dress shirt for summer, a white long sleeve dress shirt for fall/spring, and a black coat with gold buttons for winter. Both genders’ uniforms are nice to look at, but they have their inconveniences. The summer months in Okayama are very hot, and while the girls are wearing skirts, the boys are wearing long black pants. Meanwhile, in the winter (with mild temperatures compared to Maine, but cold nonetheless), the girls go to school bare legged, while the boys wear long pants. All in all, my morning commute is a rather chilly experience. But hey, at least I look kawaii (cute).
On the topic of commuting, it takes me at least fifty minutes to get to school in the morning. I start by walking ten minutes to my local train station. The train comes every ten minutes, so sometimes I have to wait for a few before the next arrives. It is always very crowded. My final stop is at Okayama station in the city. It is a large train station with a mall connected to it. I wait for my bus just outside the station. The bus schedule is uncertain, sometimes I wait for only two minutes, other times ten. My bus ride also varies, with the shortest time being twenty minutes. However, compared to many of my classmates, I have a rather short commute. Some of my friends commute for over an hour every morning and afternoon. Others ride their bicycles to school. It is very rare for parents to drive students to school, and there are very few school buses in Japan.
Once I arrive at school I change my shoes at my shoe locker. We wear school slippers while on school grounds. We also have separate shoes for the gym, some bathrooms, and outdoor sports grounds. To get to my classroom, I climb up four levels of stairs. This is because my homeroom is for first years, and first years are on the top floor. High School in Japan lasts for five years, and a freshman is sixteen years old. Middle school in Japan is three years long.
Once I get to my home room I wait until the bell rings. Once it does, my home room teacher comes in for a few quick morning announcements before we start our first class. A normal Japanese student will spend most of their day in their homeroom, with the exception of P.E. and science classes. This is because it is the teachers that change classrooms when the bell rings, not the students. Teachers here do not have their own classroom, which can be a little difficult for them at times because they must carry all of their teaching materials with them when they change classes. However, every teacher does have their own desk in the teachers’ room. The teachers’ room is a convenient place for students to go during breaks to get help from their teachers. I think it’s really a great idea, America should learn something from Japanese schools.
Speaking of American schools learning something from Japanese ones, P.E. in Japanese schools is really fun. We also learn a lot during P.E. class, which is surprising to me. The class is split into girls and boys. Then, the two groups focus on one type of sport for the semester. This past semester was softball for the girls and hurdles for the boys. We start from the basics and actually learn how to play the sport instead of just being thrown into it. We are not just here to get out our “teenage energy,” we are actually learning how to play a sport. I could not throw a ball at all until I came to Japan. Though I am still far from being skilled, but I am still proud to say that I am the pitcher for my P.E. soft ball team, and I am a pretty good batter. I honestly had fun while playing a sport that I used to have no interest in.
Finally, at the end of the day, there are clubs. Clubs are a very important part of Japanese school life. Club members are normally very dedicated to their club and attended it every week for all five years of their high school experience. If you want to take part in sports, you must join one of the various sports clubs (such as basketball club, tennis club, archery club, etc.) You better REALLY want to join the club though. I say this because once you join you will be attending club meetings every day of the school week and often on weekends and vacations as well. The majority of club meetings start when the school day ends (3:30 pm) and run until six o’clock at night. I am currently part of English Club (upon my peers’ requests,) Art Club, and Japanese Tea-making club.
High School is a very important time in many Japanese people’s’ lives. It is the time they look back on with nostalgic and happy memories. Although I am only going to be part of my classmates high school life for a short time, I hope they can someday look back on the time we spent together and smile. I know I will remember them fondly once I return to The United States, and I will surely remember the experience for the rest of my life.
Eve Corbett is a junior at Lincoln Academy, currently spending the school year in Okayama, Japan with Greenheart Travel. She is the daughter of Jody Corbett and Elizabeth Proffetty of Newcastle.