It's spring. Fact. I have officially seen multiple trees adorned with early cherry blossom in the past few days. Running in the river park yesterday was lovely. If I was a better blogger, I would have included photos of the flowers, but I didn't have my camera on me. I hadn't realised the early blossoms had arrived until I got to the park. I know, what a rubbish excuse, but it's a genuine one, honest.
The park's been, rather inconveniently, closed since the end of last year for reconstruction, so I haven't been anywhere near it, but as it's between my new place and my old one, I ventured down there to see what was occuring. I was thrilled to find swings had been installed. I considered kicking the kids off the swings to try them out, but realised that we frown on that in civilised society, so didn't do it. I think I can congratulate myself for developing as a human being. It truly is "new life season".
As I mentioned in a previous post, everything changes in spring for Japanese people, even the park.
Graduations were held last week at the two universities in town. Yup, I live in a very edumacated kind of a place, there are two universities. I'm hoping some of the edumacation will rub off on me, but let's not hold our communal breath. For one acquaintance of mine, well, OK, I admit, he's the part timer at the sushi shop where, you may have begun to realise, I conduct most of my cultural observation activities, it's been an eventful few weeks. He passed the entrance test for graduate school and completed his undergraduate degree in the past month or so. I'm always struck by how close together these things are in Japan. This guy literally found out he would be able to continue at university weeks before graduation. If he hadn't been able to get into graduate school, he would have missed the graduate employment train by a year or more. Graduate job hunting seems to begin two years in advance, making me wonder if graduate school is seen as the place where the students who weren't able to get jobs years before graduation decide to go to improve their chances, rather than being a cherished opportunity to engage in further study and research. It seems deciding to go to graduate school can be decided at the last minute but jobs need forward planning. Confusing.
The undergraduate students did their entrance tests at the end of February and so have had a little more time to prepare to move to other cities. As I live on the small island, most kids from here head off to the bigger cities on Honshu. In some cases, it's because that's where the famous universities are, but, in most cases, it's because that's where the crazy nightlife is, or so they think. The ones headed off to the bright lights are currently involved in hunting for apartments, as most universities have little, if any, dorm accommodation. Again, this all happens in record time. Seriously, Japanese people don't hang about when it comes to education.
Entrance tests for high schools were also held last week. All over the city, third grade high school students were let loose for two days to populate the arcades, karaoke boxes and pizza restaurants in town while the final grade junior high school students used their classrooms to be tested. In the case of one of my students, she had the day off while her younger sister took the test. Considering that school will start at the beginning of April for these students, there's not much room for manoeuvre. Those who are unsuccessful in the test for their first choice of school have to scramble around to find a place at the next best high school. It seems that, generally, most students can go to the school of their choice, but, much like the British system, there are the unlucky ones, and, for them, it's a stressful time.
Once these students enter high school, they won't have time to smell the cherry blossom as it will be full steam ahead for university entrance in three year's time. Japanese high school students have the most intense schedules I have ever encountered. In many cases, they attend regular school hours, take part in club activities at school seven days a week, as well as attending cram schools until late into the evening. It's usual to see 15 year olds still in school uniform cycling home at 10 or even 11pm, and, unlike in the UK, they're not about to get an ASBO, they've simply been at cram school studying ancient Japanese (I wonder if we could fix "Broken Britain with a few, well-placed ancient English lessons?). The high school near my current apartment is famous for its baseball team. These kids are out practising before school starts at 8.30am and are usually still out there when I come home around 10.30 or 11pm. This is on top of a regular school schedule. I guess the stress of waiting to see which school you can attend is good preparation for the lifestyle you'll encounter once you're in.
In the next few weeks, the department store will be awash with Mothers buying school uniform, telling little Taro that he'll "grow into it" and debating how much of the uniform he will actually end up wearing. Home ware stores will have special offers for new futons and parents will be found wandering around said stores wondering what happened to the child they used to drag around Toys R Us (Yup, we have that in Japan, it's a world wide magnet for kids).
For kids and parents alike, spring is a time of change and adjustment. It's a time to accept that we are not who we used to be and to embrace that change. Unless you're a university freshman, in which case, it's a chance to get horribly drunk and vomit in the local shopping arcade. But that can wait until April.