Japan is a great country, with beautiful temples and shrines, friendly people and a fascinating culature. Sadly, not everyone can see how wonderful Japan is, and far too many here choose the easy way out by committing suicide. It seems that every day brings bizarre news of people who make this sad choice: a family of four in a strange suicide pact...a woman who lost her fiancee in the terrible train derailment last year and wanted to be with him...one of guards at the Imperial Palace. One terrible source of anguish are students who are the recipients of ijime or bullying, such as one 13-year-old who took his own life as a result of abuse from the other kids on his basketball team. School-related suicides aren't always limited to the students, though. Last week, the principal of a high school in Ibaraki Prefecture, just up the road from us, committed suicide when it was reported that his school was foregoing teaching some required G.E. courses to better prepare students for the specific subjects that they'd need for the upcoming college entrance exams. I'm not sure what's different about Japan and most other countries when it comes to looking out for No. 1. Some odd symptom of post-industrial society? Latent cultural memories from the time when samurai committed seppuku? I personally think the answer lies in the lack of open communication and resistance to adopting a system for counseling people in need.
Now for some good news: my son passed level 2 of the Step Test, the primary test for measuring English ability in Japan. Like the Japanese Language Ability Test (JLPT) that foreigners study for, the Step Test is organized into multiple levels, with levels 4 for elementary school kids, level 3 for junior high, level 2 for high school and level 1 for college-age and professionals. My son hates it when people at his school assume that his English is good because he was born haafu (half), so he went all out to study for the test, despite the fact that he had to cover both English and the kanji for the Japanese parts of the test, as he's only in the 5th grade and hasn't learned high school kanji yet. As is often the case in Japan, the existence of a rival helped motivate him: he wanted more than anything to beat Kimishima-kun, a very smart boy in his class who has been studying at Kumon schools, which have a very good reputation here. Although I have been critical of Japan's reliance on testing and measuring in the past, I've come to see that having a series of goals for self improvement, be it learning a language, mastering typing or learning to use an abacus, is really a good thing. It'd be nice if a universal system of tests like this existed in the U.S. (other than in Boy and Girl Scouts, which is actually somewhat similar, in the way they encourage students to aim for higher ranks).
There's nothing quite as mysterious as kanji, the writing system used in Japan to express ideas, and Westerners are often fascinated with how this aesthetically beautiful pictographic system works. We've posted two new wacky Japanese T-shirt for kanji lovers, a great way to wear something really unique. The first shirt reads "Ganko," which means stubborn and hard-headed and unwilling to sacrifice one's ideals, a cool shirt if this describes you. Then there's "Ore-ryu," a word that literally means "My Style" or "Going My Way" (or alternately, "I'm doing my own thing my own damned way," depending on how deep you want to get with the translation). Two great new Japanese T-shirts for you!
It's here! It's here!
Ahhh, delicious, stewed beef on rice...
Time to show you some of the pictures from the Halloween bash that I've been forgetting to post. This girl was so cute!
The one on the right is Mozart.
Other students show off their costumes.
Here are my own. Anakin and Leia.
Here my son reinacts an exciting scene from Star Wars Episode II.