Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Summer in Japan

The final season in my review of the seasons of Japan! This what I have to say:

Summer in Japan is not fun. The End. 

..Ok ok, so maybe I’ll get into more detail..

Summer is from mid-June to mid-September and while I can only speak from personal experience about the Kansai Region, friends in other parts of Japan agree that summer is unbearably hot at times. I've also had conversations about how the sun just feels hotter in Japan (and wondering if this is our imagination), but whether it is or not is compounded by Japan’s energy conservation practices. Incidentally, it's also the easiest way to prove that they are a masochistic people (just kidding…sort of). The most common practice is although air conditioning is available in many places (even if in the form of wall units), they refrain from using it to conserve energy and keep energy costs low. If they do use it, it's to maintain the temperature at a "cool" 25 - 28 degrees Celsius (about 77 - 82 degrees Fahrenheit). Consider that, and now consider that I arrived in Japan during an energy crisis, 5 months after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Now if at this point you’re remembering that I’m from Miami, that warm beach paradise in South Florida, I’ll just stop you and say that this is NOT like living in Miami. Where I live in Japan is a constant sauna whereas Miami is like a warm hug when you’re walking from one frozen tundra of an establishment to another. Yes, in Miami, if you’re indoors for a period of time, you’re most likely going to get cold because like in most Developed Nations, A/C is not a burden but a gift to be used in excess.
-sob, sob- Oh, how I miss it.

I could on and on and on about why this aspect of Japanese culture baffles and frustrates me, but I’ll digress. The perks of summer in Japan include the return of kakigori (like snow cones but better), more seasonal flowers (fields of hydrangea and sunflowers this time), summer festivals (a good time to see Japanese people relaxing and having fun), and best of all, summer vacation for schools!

The longest of the school breaks, summer vacation is six weeks of no formal classes and although most JETs in Japan still have to report to school for “work” (staring out in space for 8 hours), some will have kind overlords who will let them leave mid-day or other special allowances. I say formal classes, because many students get stuck in their version of summer school and have to go everyday (sucks!) Others still go everyday for extracurricular club activities while others in my particular school have to come to attend to the livestock since mine is an agricultural school (double suck!) Because of this, some ALTs may be asked to help tutor students or various other things during the summer. Besides that, this is also the most acceptable time for JETs to travel! Something I encourage enthusiastically whether it is in Japan, the surrounding area, or even back to your home country.

Regardless of what your co-workers are doing or commenting as you take your time off, know this: Your time here is limited so part of your experience should be cultural exchange outside of the classroom. I take this to mean that you should learn more about the culture you’re living in or one nearby. But if you feel like you need to go home to recharge your batteries instead,  that’s fine too. You are not your school’s slave nor should you feel subject to any guilt just because you have a contract and take advantage of your nenkyuu days! That's what they are there for, not for possible emergencies! 


ah…ok… That last part was a bit of a rant but I’ll stop now, hehe.
So if it wasn’t obvious, I chose the last option and went home, because as I recalled from last year, August was the worst month of summer in terms of heat and humidity, so I did not a repeat of that. As a result I don’t have any new festival or sunflower pictures, but enjoy the rest! 

Did I mention I went paragliding?! It was such a rush to jump off a mountain and swing in the sky!!

Hikami High School's Sports Day

[Published date does not reflect any proximity to the event date as I was being uber lazy about finishing this post but was finally motivated since my fellow ALTs had their Sports Day recently. This happened back in early June.]
I finally had Sports Day! [henceforth SD] , aka Sports Festival to some Japanese schools and called undōkai (運動会) in Japanese. I attended my base school’s SD since, conveniently, it was during the school week which meant I could watch my students battle it out in the schoolyard instead watching them fall asleep in class. When and what events are in it vary, but elementary and junior high schools in town like to coordinate and make them all one weekend while high school just does their own thing. The students and teachers really take this day to heart and even go as far as to cancel classes the week prior in order to seriously practice the events beforehand. Kind of extreme when I think back to Field Day (same thing) at my high school which was merely a half-day with no practice beforehand, just fun competitions and silly ribbons for prizes.

I had high expectations for this day since I had attended a JHS SD and saw some really creative competitions, pep rally type stuff, and just lots of excitement from the students. I let myself down. I don’t know who comes up with the schedule for these things, but the events weren’t all that exciting or original. We had a five-legged race (five instead of three because it adds to the hilarity when they fall?), jump rope competitions, relay races, and lots of tug-of-wars. Yawn.
I did find some things interesting though. For example, before they started, they all spread out and did a series of stretches that everyone in Japan seems to know as a standard set. Even some of the parents that came to watch were doing them in sync with the students from the sidelines. Also, the opening ceremony had the students walk out and around the field Hunger Games style grouped in their homeroom classes with a leader carrying their homemade class flags. Some flags were pretty creative while others were like, um, sure good job.

ALTs have varying levels of involvement or even assigned duties associated with SD. My school doesn’t ask much of me even when I make myself available, so I just sat under the teacher tent or walked around taking pictures. As a side note, I was the only one wearing sunglasses despite it being a bright, sunny day. This led to some parents coming up to me to say I looked like a movie star, hehe. But, I’ve actually noticed this in other settings and wondered if there’s a cultural reason behind this. For now I’ll guess that it’s probably considered rude to not know where someone is looking when speaking to them. Let me know in the comments what you guys think it is or if you know the answer.

So at the end of the day, the class with the most points (from individuals, groups, or classes winning events) gets the big trophy that they then keep in their homeroom class for the rest of the year. This year, my all-girls 3-3 class snagged the prize and I was quite proud of them for showing some awesome girl power (especially as they owned the boys in the tug-of-war contests, haha!).

Let the Games begin!