Taking Care of Business, and…

Japan’s schooling is fascinating.

In Japan, working overtime is the cool thing to do. You don’t actually have to be doing anything important. But you have to stay at work 1) as long as your boss does, and 2) long enough to tell people that you have ridiculously long hours. (Now, this isn’t always true. In some jobs, you actually have that much work to do – is it necessary work? I’m not sure. But the “overtime is cool” rule applies to almost everyone I’ve met.) The long hours have gotten so bad that many companies have to go through lawsuits based on claims of overworking their employees.

This transfers over to students in school. Being busy, ALL DAY, is the key to being (or looking) successful. I have junior high school students who come to my class at 9:00 pm, after a day of going to school around 8:00 am, going to some sort of sports club after school, and then usually going to cram school after that. They’re exhausted, physically and mentally, before my class even starts. They have a solid 14-hour day, every day. An exception here – at least in that particular class – was one boy who told me he also woke up at 5:30 every morning to study before school. Clocking in that overtime.

But with heavy competition to get into the right university, there started to be be intense competition to get into the right high school, and eventually more competition just to get into the right junior high school. So huge numbers of hours studying in order to get the right job are necessary before most students have even decided what their favorite class is.

If you pass the test to make it into one of the highly-selective private schools, you’re on the right track to a *bright future. But if not, you’re stuck in public school – which isn’t really where you learn things. Sleeping during class is okay. There are levels of respect to your teacher that must be paid, but the daily procedure is “listen and repeat.” Critical thinking isn’t required. And if you have any real questions, ask your cram school teacher. You just have to pay them a lot of money first.

Footnote: living in a country doesn’t make me an expert on it, and I can’t assume knowledge of the entire country based on the one prefecture I teach in. But these overtime, high-pressure tendencies are hardly out of the norm.

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