The 梅雨(つゆう/rainy season) began a few weeks ago. Usually, this time of year it rains every morning. The heavy downpour brings relief from the heat, but after it gives way to the oppressive mid-afternoon sunshine, the fallen rain rises from the ground and the air becomes stagnant and sticky. The rainy season this year, however, has been relatively dry. It has rained far less frequently and when it has rained it has done so heavily only once. The worst part about the weather at present is the static humidity in the air. I open the doors and windows in my classroom and turn on the wall-mounted oscillating fans, but without any sort of breeze coming through, my poor students sit, sweat and suffer.
On a related note, I learned today that the 国際交流室 (こくさいこうりゅうしつ/international room) just got a pair of クーラー (coolers; air conditioners). I was a little confused and upset since my classroom, in which I teach 16 classes per week, lacks air conditioning, while the international room is barely used at all. In fact, it is used only by the PTA during their meetings around the time of the culture festival and graduation, and as a type of teachers’ lounge by the student teachers during their three week stint in late May and early June. When I asked the vice-principle why the international room had been given priority over my classroom, he told me that the PTA had paid for it.
On the same day that the rainy season began this year, my school held its 体育祭 (たいいくさい/sports festival). The sports festival is a series of competitions in which three teams compete. Each team is represented by a color and consists of students from all three years. Thus, the sports festival is a colorful event since the students wear their PE uniforms, which are a different color depending on their year, plus a 鉢巻き (はちまき/headband) which is the team color. This year the first-years are red, the second-years are blue and the third-years are green, and the three different teams were orange, pink and yellow. The events are mostly different types of relay races. The most amusing/tragic of these is the club relay. In this race, a representative from each of the various clubs races wearing the uniform or clutching the main object used by the club. Naturally, the 陸上 (りくじょう/track and field), soccer and baseball club racers have a huge advantage over the 剣道 (けんどう/kendo) and 吹奏楽 (すいそうがく/brass band) club representatives, since the Kendo members wear extremely heavy and restrictive uniforms and the band member has to run with his or her chosen musical instrument! The highlight for the students, though, is the dance competition. While it may seem odd to those of us from the West to include dancing in a sports competition, it is the single biggest event for students here and they practice for weeks choreographing, designing costumes and putting together signs and props they will use during the performance. At the end of the day, the outcomes of the various events are tallied together and awards are announced. Inevitably, the winners – especially the third-years – cry the most.
We’ve had a very special treat the last few weeks at school: an exchange student. My predecessor’s predecessor was from Texas and apparently helped set up a relationship between the two schools. Last year, a group of students from this high school near Houston, Texas came for a visit and stayed with student host families for one night before continuing on their trip around Japan. During Spring break this year, a few of our students went to San Francisco and Houston and visited their school. And now, one of their students has come to our school. She’s been assigned a home room and given a school uniform just like the rest of the students, though she occasionally visits classes, like mine, outside of her homeroom class’s schedule or studies Japanese one-on-one with one of the Japanese English teachers. It’s been interesting to compare and contrast her with her new cohorts and to hear perspective on the differences between the American and Japanese high school experience. Mostly, her reaction mirrors my own when I first arrived: how much the students talk and sleep in class – something that shatters our image of studious Asian students and something we would never have come close to getting away with at our own high schools. This is her final week and I’ll definitely miss her when she’s gone. This short exchange is being seen has a trial run for having additional, possibly longer-term exchanges, something I think would enormously benefit the American and Japanese students alike. I’ve been very happy to see how eager my kids are to try to talk to her in English, and when they see she and I talk, they seem to realize for the first time that English is a living language and not merely a school subject.
This is the last week of regular classes at my school before final exams begin next week. After exams conclude, there will be a couple of weeks of only morning classes during which the tests will be returned and discussed, and then the first semester will come to an end with the 終業式(しゅうぎょうしき/closing ceremony).