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9 Ways Japanese Schools Are Different From American Schools

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They say education is the foundation of society—and since Japanese and American societies are different in many ways, it may not surprise you that aspects of the two countries’ educational systems are like chalk and cheese. To find out just how different learning your ABCs (or あいうs) can be in the U.S. and Japan, study up on these nine things that are commonplace in Japanese public schools, but probably wouldn’t fly in America. 

1. Dress Code

While only about 20 percent of public schools in the U.S. require uniforms, nearly all Japanese public school students suit up from junior high school on. The traditional uniform is a high-collared, black, military-style suit for boys and a beribboned sailor blouse and pleated skirt for girls (sorry ladies, there’s no pants option). These as-seen-in-anime styles are still the norm for middle school students, but the high school uniform is gradually being replaced by the tartan skirts and trousers with ties typical of Western parochial schools. Besides regulating clothing, shoes, and backpacks, many Japanese secondary schools impose strict bans on makeup, nail polish, hairstyles, and even eyebrow grooming that would make the average American teen wince. Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of Japanese school dress codes, though, is that until the 1990s, these mortifying buruma (bloomers) were the standard girls’ PE uniform.

2. No Janitors

You won’t find a janitor in any Japanese school. Instead, industrious students and teachers roll up their sleeves and spend a few minutes every day mopping the floors, clapping erasers, and even scrubbing the toilets. Which means that students wouldn’t dream of putting gum under their chair or doodling on the desks—‘cause they know they’ll just have to clean it up themselves.

3. No Substitutes

Leaving 30 teenagers unsupervised in a classroom would be the stuff of nightmares in an American high school, but that’s exactly what happens when a teacher calls in sick in Japan. Japanese secondary schools rarely use substitutes; instead, students are trusted to study quietly and independently. 

4. The Sasumata

Even in a country as safe as Japan, schools have to prepare themselves for the possibility of a violent intruder. Enter the sasumata: an aluminum pole with two curved prongs at one end which is adapted from an ancient samurai weapon—and found today hanging in schools all across Japan. The idea is to use the tool to immobilize the trespasser (who is hopefully not carrying a gun, which would be highly unlikely in Japan anyway).

5. Kancho-ing the Teacher

If the sasumata doesn’t work, there’s always the kancho. A favorite prank among elementary and kindergarten students, all foreigners coming to Japan to teach English are duly warned about getting kancho’d. How it works: kids clasp their cute little hands together, extend the pointer fingers, then aim them right at the unsuspecting teacher’s butthole.

6. Lunches

Forget PB&J, it’s hot lunch every day at Japanese elementary and junior high schools. Students and teachers forgo cafeterias, instead eating all together at their desks in the classroom. Everyone eats the exact same meal, which is prepared by lunch ladies and served by students who take turns dishing out the rice, fish, and soup to their classmates. And because waste is a big no-no in Japanese culture, schools are known for enforcing 100 percent membership in the Clean Plate Club, requiring even the pickiest of eaters to finish every last bite.

7. Greetings

Greetings are an integral part of Japanese culture, and school is no exception. At the beginning and end of each class, students stand and greet the teacher, then bow in unison. Many high schools also bring a little of the dojo into the classroom with a brief mokuso, (closed-eyes meditation) to allow students to center themselves before class. 

8. Saturday School

One-day weekends were the norm for Japanese schools until 1992, when the government began phasing out Saturday lessons as part of a national push for a more relaxed educational system. Despite this, many school boards ignored the change and continue to hold extra lessons on Saturdays—and almost half of all Tokyo elementary and junior high students still spend at least one Saturday morning a month doing math instead of watching cartoons. 

9. Summer Bummer

Japanese students do get a five-week summer vacation (about half as long as America’s), but calling it a “break” might be a stretch—unlike in America, the Japanese summer break is right in the middle of the school year, and though school is technically out, students and teachers will still typically come to school almost daily for club activities. Even elementary school students are assigned a legendarily hefty summer homework packet.

Japanese-style education seems to work for them; the latest OECD global math and science rankings place Japanese high schoolers at fourth in the world, while students in the U.S. have slipped to 28th place. So though we probably won’t find American students scouring the bathroom floor while wearing a pair of bloomers anytime soon, Saturday school may be worth considering.

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10 Fascinating Practices on UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage List
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You've probably heard of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites—places like Machu Picchu, Auschwitz, and the Tower of London that UNESCO has deemed architecturally or historically important. But UNESCO doesn’t just choose important places to protect—it also maintains an Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which includes traditions and ways of life passed down from generation to generation and now in danger of being lost.

The list is rooted in a 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which created the list to raise visibility for the practices and encourage dialogue around cultural diversity. The list protects five types of cultural heritage: oral expression and traditions (including language); performing arts; social practices, rituals, and festivities; knowledge and practices about nature and the universe; and traditional craftsmanship.

In some ways, cultural heritage is even more fragile than buildings and archaeological sites because it lies in people’s memories, and so can be easily lost or changed with no real record to preserve it. And the results of a loss of cultural heritage can be dire: Culture helps define a minority group, and the loss of that culture can mean a disconnection from the past.

UNESCO now maintains two lists: the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding (the latter only includes items identified as needing immediate protection).

To be added to a list, an item must be nominated by one of the countries that is a party to the convention. A committee then meets annually to determine which practices should be added to the lists, based on whether they meet the convention's definitions of cultural heritage, whether inscribing the practice will encourage dialogue and awareness, and whether there's been wide involvement by the culture concerned, among other criteria.

1. CULTURE OF JEJU HAENYEO // KOREA

Female divers (some as old as 80) from Jeju Island in the Republic of Korea have been collecting shellfish for hundreds of years. The divers, known as Haenyeo, submerge as much as 30 feet without scuba gear to harvest sea urchins and abalone, working up to seven hours a day. They hold their breath for a minute during each dive, and each makes a distinctive whistling noise when surfacing. Prayers are said to the goddess of the sea before the dives begin. The culture has played an important part in elevating women’s status on the island—women are the primary breadwinners in these families, and the haenyeo have become a symbol of the place.

2. HIKAYE // PALESTINE

Palestinian women over the age of 70 are part of this narrative tradition. During the winter, at gatherings of women and children (it's considered inappropriate for men to attend), the older women in the community tell fictional stories that critique society from the female point of view and, UNESCO notes, often reveal a conflict between "duty and desire." The storytelling involves rhythm, inflection, and other vocal arts, but is now on the decline due to the availability of mass media.

3. CAMEL COAXING // MONGOLIA

Mongol camel herders perform a special ritual when they want a mother camel to accept a newborn calf or adopt an orphan. The mother and calf are tied together and the camel coaxer sings a special song that includes gestures and chants designed to encourage the mother to accept the baby. A horse-head fiddle or flute is also played. The ritual reinforces social ties in the nomadic society, and is passed down from parent to child. But as motorcycles are replacing camels as transportation, the practice is in danger.

4. SUMMER SOLSTICE FIRES // PYRENEES MOUNTAINS

In the Pyrenees Mountains of Andorra, Spain, and France, residents from local villages carry flaming torches down the hills to light large beacons on the night of the summer solstice. Carrying the torches is a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, and setting the first fire is a special role given to priests, politicians, or the newly married. Unmarried girls greet the torch carriers with pastries and wine, and ashes are collected the next morning to put in gardens.

5. KNUCKLE-BONE SHOOTING // MONGOLIA

In Mongolia, residents play a game in which small teams of six to eight people flick pieces of marble across a table to push sheep knuckle bones into a target. The shooters wear personalized costumes denoting their rank in the game, and use individually created shooting tools. They also sing traditional tunes throughout the game.

6. VÍ AND GIẶM FOLK SONGS // VIETNAM

In northern Vietnam, folk songs in the Nghệ Tĩnh dialect are sung while people harvest rice, row boats, make conical hats, or put children to sleep. The songs focus on the values important in that culture, including respect for parents, honesty, and goodness. The songs also provide a way for unmarried young men and women to share their feelings with each other.

7. YURT-MAKING // KAZAKHSTAN AND KYRGYZSTAN

Nomads in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan make round yurts for use as temporary, portable homes, as well as for ceremonies like weddings and funerals. A round wooden frame forms the basis for the structure, and is then covered in felt and braided ropes. Men create the wooden frame, while women create the outside covering and inside decorations, working in groups to create the intricate patterns and reinforce social values.

8. WEAVING OF THE Q’ESWACHAKA BRIDGE // PERU

Quechua-speaking peasant communities in Peru come together each year to replace the suspension bridge over the Apurimac River in the Andes Mountains. The bridge is made of an unusual material—straw that's twisted and tied into ropes. The ropes are attached on each side of the river, and the bridge builders work until they meet in the middle. When the bridge is complete, a festival is held.

9. BARKCLOTH MAKING // UGANDA

Buganda craftsmen from southern Uganda harvest bark from the Mutuba tree and beat the bark with wooden mallets until it is soft, cloth-like, and a terracotta color. The barkcloth is worn as togas by men and women (who add a sash to their outfit) during ceremonial events. The availability of cotton has resulted in a reduction in the production of this specialized cloth.

10. SHRIMP FISHING ON HORSEBACK // BELGIUM

In Oostduinkerke, Belgium, 12 families harvest shrimp using horses. The Brabant horses walk breast-deep in the water parallel to the shore, pulling funnel-shaped nets. They also pull a chain along the bottom, which causes vibrations that make the shrimp jump into the nets. The caught shrimp are then carried in baskets attached to the horses’ sides. Each family specializes in a particular part of the practice, such as caring for the horses or weaving nets. The community celebrates this heritage with a yearly Shrimp Festival.

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This Just In
How to Tell if You're a 'Xennial'
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Generational labels began to take off with the Baby Boomers—those born in postwar America in a prospering, increasingly suburban environment. Then there was Generation X, the brooding, alt-rock-consuming cluster of babies. They were followed by the Millennials, those coming of age around 2000 and who easily adapted to the digital revolution.

Those broad strokes may now include the Xennials, a specific "micro-generation" of babies born between 1977 and 1983 who grew up with some of the basic tenets of pre-digital technology—landline phones, broadcast television, and handwritten letters—who then adapted to social media in their 20s.

The segment of the population has been identified by Dan Woodman, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Woodman believes Xennials deserve their own banner because of their hybrid youth that straddled the line between the last gasp of quaint communications and the rise of the internet.

"It was a particularly unique experience," Woodman told Mamamia.com. "You have a childhood, youth, and adolescence free of having to worry about social media posts and mobile phones. It was a time when we had to organize to catch up with our friends on the weekends using the landline, and actually pick a time and a place and turn up there. Then we hit this technology revolution before we were maybe in that frazzled period of our life with kids and no time to learn anything new. We hit it where we could still adopt, in a selective way, the new technologies."

Xennials' attitudes, Woodman says, are distinct from Gen X's pessimism and Millennial optimism because they've had a toe in two very different cultural landscapes. Time will tell if Woodman's Xennial label will catch on, but odds are if you grew up with a Trapper Keeper and are now reading this on a mobile device, you probably qualify as one.

[h/t Daily Mail]

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