By Candela Guo, Greenheart Travel High School exchange student in Japan
Before realizing it, I have actually been in Japan for nearly 4 months. My stay in Japan so far has been wonderful, exciting, busy, tiring, yet amazing. I should have finished this post earlier, however, I was too busy to edit it and I sincerely apologize for the delay! I used to be one of the potential exchange students looking desperately for useful information about life experiences in Japan, and I didn’t find much before going on this high school exchange. Therefore, I hope that what I’m going to share below could be a little help to the readers, since I personally believe that it would be more comfortable to have some ideas in mind as a preparation. I feel that Japanese high school life is most intriguing, so this post is mainly commenting on my classes and club activities. I’m planning on writing about daily life in the next post.
I suppose that now I’m living a life just like that of average Japanese high school students. It is very different from what I was familiar with in the U.S. Here, getting up by 6am, taking the public transportation for 2 hours to commute to school (yes VERY FAR but not uncommon for kids here, I run into students in uniform at the platform 6:30am every morning), attending school for 6 periods, participating in the after school club activities for 3 hours or so, spending another 2 hours on the way home, finally going to sleep at 11 or 12pm if lucky.
This is the typical schedule of my day, and when “interviewing” friends out of curiosity, I found out that about 1/3 of my classmates do share a similar routine life. Yet they seem fine with it, although the popularity and quality of each class could be indicated by numbers of students who haven’t fallen asleep. People try hard to avoid naps in class though! Most of the time the entire class participates as long as the lecture itself is not too boring (more taking notes and lecturing here). Still, my school friends admit that the public schools are usually less stressful, as I’m exchanged to a competitive private high school.
I’m currently taking English (3 different courses emphasizing respective aspects), Physics, Japanese (both Contemporary and Classics), P.E., Computer Labs, World History, Health, and Japanese tutoring lessons. But I’m dropping Japanese and Physics due to the need to study for my SAT’s. Having studied in the regular Japanese class enabled me to learn about Japanese culture in details, but it is true that for me the lecture was hard to comprehend. So I’m going to continue my study in literature during the tutoring hours.
Speaking of school style, instead of switching classrooms, the student body is divided into homerooms and therefore expected to wait for teachers to come to teach. At the beginning of each year, the name list of new homeroom placements would be posted on the first day of school. It is quite rare for two people to be placed in the same homeroom class throughout the three years of high school. Oh yea, the high school here ranges from 10th to 12th grade, and the school year starts in April instead of September, with a longer spring break and a shorter summer. By the way, it is so hot now!
At school, the club activity is really important to the students. Although at others schools, many choose to work part time outside of school to make money, my school requires everyone to join a club. I chose to be the manager of the football team, since I did cheerleading back home but there is no cheer squad at my school, which is kind of sad. All sports team train really hard. Practice is usually 6 or 7 days per week, 3 hours on school days, and 4 to 6 hours on weekends. When it rains, people often practice in the rain. Some sports involve gymnastics or dance practice for 8 hours everyday during summer with occasional breaks and camps. Also, unlike American schools, the sports season here usually last for one year. One often sticks to the same club and never switches.
The first years are obligated to bow and greet/aisatsu (挨拶) the Senpai(先輩), students who are in second and third years, and the new members are always responsible for cleaning the room and carrying heavy equipment. To be honest, I never really got used to it when the first years greet me with really sincere looks, but I could feel this kind of social convention existing everywhere in this country and playing a role in people’s lives. Japanese don’t do it to please the elders, but rather out of the respect for those who have put more efforts into the group activities. Here one’s ability is definitely valued, but one’s behaviors and manners tend to draw more attention and matter more. Moreover, did you know that you needed to bow to the field before entering to play? At first I always wondered to whom were they bowing…
My school is affiliated with Ritsumeikan University, one of the best colleges in Kansai area. Therefore the two affiliated high schools’ (same name different location) football teams share the same mascot, and many players continue to play in the college team. Some started in middle school section and have played for the same team for 10 years when they graduated from the university. I suppose that this kind of “tradition” creates a sense of community. As the champion of the prefecture, our high school’s team aims at nationals although there is a long way to go. The football games are normally held on weekends, so that family and friends who are busy till Friday night can all come to support the players.
To study at Japanese high school can be really challenging and busy, but the exchange students usually have the choice to make adjustments in order to make time for exploring Japan and experiencing Japanese lifestyle. My Japanese got so much better over the past 4 months, and my host family is also extremely nice. I wish that there would be more people choosing to study abroad in Japan in the following year. Looking forward to seeing you all!!!