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In need of some firsthand information about work conditions in Japan

Gally

先輩
9 Jan 2004
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Hi there, I'm a newbie :). I've introduced myself in the forum about new members.


I'm currently working on a project I have to hand in two weeks about work conditions in Japan. Basically, the goal of this work is comparing a particular point in my culture (I'm a French-speaking Belgian) and in another. I chose work conditions in Japan, well... because I'm a LOT interested in the Japanese culture 😄 . In order to write this kind of essay, I need information from various firsthand sources, thus from people who've lived or currently live in Japan -I am to avoid cultural stereotypes and I'd like to be able to distinguish what is true and what isn't in them since I'll dedicate a section of my work to the analysis of stereotypes. I've prepared a list of questions about various aspects of work conditions in Japan, may I post them here?
 
If you have time....

It might be worth going back and reading some of the old posts. There is a ton of subjects that have been talked about in the past . Watch who gives good answers and info and you can send them a private message with your questions as well as post them. Good Luck, there are a lot of smart & helpful people on this forum.

Frank

🙂
 
Post away Gally! Myself or one of the others will do our best to answer them for you based on our own experiences.
:)
 
My, thank you :D. Here is my list of questions. A lot of stereotypes are included in this list, because I would like to know if there is a basis of truth in some of them. I think that most of them are at least exaggerate and that some of them may be completely invented (well, media, overgeneralizations and urban legends are stupid, aren't they?), but I also think some of them may be partly true. I also want to show my classmates that Japan isn't the austere country some of them think it is (wehn I say that I'm fascinated by the Japanese culture and that I love anime, some of my friends loof at me as if I were just mad ^_~). Well, the only way for me to really know is obtaining firsthand accounts from people who live or have lived in Japan. I know my list is long, but some questions are redondant because I'm not sure I expressed them clearly in the first place (English isn't my mother tongue -_-). If you don't want to answer all of them, I'll understand, but if I could at least get short answers to all of them, these pieces of information would be very precious for my work indeed ^^.


-In Japan, is equality promoted or is it important to succeed better than the others in order to "be someone"?

-How is it reflected in the education of children? Is it important for them to obtain the best marks as it is possible? Are they encouraged to be very conformistic, or to develop a strong critical spirit and an ability to take personal decisions? For example, if a teenager or a university student thinks a teacher or professor is wrong, are they allowed to say it? How is a child that doesn't do well at school treated by its parents, the teachers and the other children? About stereotypes, I've heard that, for example, only the best students were allowed to go to prestigious universities like Toudai or the Kyouto imperial university, that there were pretty difficult university entrance examinations and that there existed a strong hierarchy between the holders of a diploma from Toukyou Daigaku etc and people from less good universities. And also that because of social pressure, some teenagers will commit suicide if they fail in an exam. Obvisouly, these are stereotypes, but I wonder what exactly is true or false about them? In other words, what does actually happen in Japanese schools and universities?

-Do colleagues get along well, or do they feel they are in competition with one another? Do they strive to be the first one to get a prestigious position in the hierarchy?

-What about the condition of women? Are they felt to be equal to men? Do they have to work more than men in order to get the same positions? Proportionally to men, do a lot of women occupy leading positions?

-Is the Japanese society very hierarchical? Do the heads of companies generally treat their employees as equal or inferior to them? Do they happen to humiliate their employees? Do they earn a lot more money than them? Do employees take part in the decision processes of their companies, or do the "higher grades of the pyramid" decide for them?

-I've also heard that in Japanese, there are a lot of levels of formality and that the hierarchical relationships between people will always be strongly marked in the vocabulary and formality level used, for example in the way of saying "I" (boku VS ore VS watashi VS watakushi etc) or "you" (kimi VS anata etc etc) and in the use of suffixes like -chan, -san, -kun, -sama and -sensei. What is true and false about what I've just said? Can you give me some examples other than these, and are my examples relevant?

-In Japan, what is the most important between work and leisure? Is work one of the most important values of Japan? Do people have a lot of spare time? Do people "live in order to work" or "work in order to live"? Is work only for earning money, or do people identify with their job? Is it important to have a good job to be respected by other people?

-How are unemployment, sick leaves, part-time work and retirement regarded? Are their seen as normal and matter-of-fact, or are unemployed etc people looked down upon because they are "non-productive"?

-What about strikes and demonstrations? Are they seen as normal or condemned as "disturbing public order"? Do they often happen? What do they look like? What about trade unions? Are there trade unions from various political parties, and if there are, what are the names and "political colours" of the parties and of their corresponding trade unions? Are employees well defended by those trade unions?

-I've heard stereotypes about e.g. salarymen, karoshi and people that withdraw into themselves and refuse to work because of the pressure of heavy work conditions. What is true or false about them? Up to how many hours a week (including overtime hours) do average Japanese employees work? If they have health problem because of karoshi, what are the conditions for them to obtain indemnity? In other words, how is karoshi integrated in the Japanese law? Are Japanese employees badly considered by their employers, the employees and society if they refuse to do overtime hours? Do some employees sometime happen to spend the night at their work place or to work during the week-ends in order to get more work done?


And of course, if any of you wants to know what I think of the work conditions of my own country, I'll do my best to provide precise answers, that's fair enough ^^! Same thing if you want to know more about my piece of work about Japan.
 
(Sorry for writing a second message, but the first one is already long enough o_O)

Also, if some of you know Japanese movies, books etc that deal with one or several of the aspects I've mentioned (school system, karoshi, condition of women etc), any information would be welcome :).
 
Those are some excellent questions! I am anxiously awaiting the answers to them... ;)

I have one question to add that might even help you...

- How is unemployment dealt with? Here in the United States they have welfare w/ food stamps etc. Is there a similar system? And are there many homeless people that beg for money on the streets? No matter where you go in the US, there are always beggars who have no where to live and no jobs...what is it like in Japan?

Thanks for the great questions Gally!

🙂
 
My, thank you too! Yes, your question IS helpful :).


Also, I forgot to ask about holidays. Do Japanese people have a lot of them? What do they usually use them for?
 
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Good questions Gally, all of them. I am by no means an authority on the subject, and I can only speak for myself and my own experiences, but I hope my responses may be of use to you with your project. I don't think I answered all of your questions, but hopefully, some of the other members will chime in.

-In Japan, is equality promoted or is it important to succeed better than the others to "be someone"?
-What about the condition of women? Are they felt to be equal to men? Do they have to work more than men to get the same positions? Proportionally to men, do a lot of women occupy leading positions?

I decided to lump my response to both of the above questions as they are similar in nature. Re: equality in general, this has been a topic brought up before. Check out the following link at your leisure (it is the most recent thread on the topic):


Generally speaking (and from my own personal experiences interacting with Japanese daily), women tend to be less assertive in the workplace to seize opportunities for advancement. That's not to say that all employed women in Japan tend to be demure and timid, but rather for many women, work is only a precursor to marriage. I'm sure that such a mindset has slowly started to change within the last decade, but career-minded women outside of those employed in traditional capacities are few and far between.

At the public school where I worked while living in Sapporo for my first time in Japan, we had 33 teachers, with only four females. During my stay there, two of those teachers left their profession entirely to become homemakers after getting married. Another took an extended leave of absence (about a year) after getting pregnant and having her baby, but she did eventually return to teaching. Not sure if that example illustrates my point accurately, but you get the picture. Interestingly enough, many of the more ambitious career-minded women I had met (college-educated, some level of fluency in English, etc.) were more interested in employment opportunities abroad.

-Do colleagues get along well, or do they feel they compete with one another? Do they strive to be the first ones to get a prestigious position in the hierarchy?

Again, from my experiences, I never really encountered much in the way of inter-departmental friction, so to speak. Most likely, as a result of the inherent cultural differences the Japanese share (group harmony=top priority, etc.), such issues don't really ever rise to the forefront enough to become a problem (although I am sure they do exist, it's human nature after all).

Fraternization seems to be generally encouraged as well outside of the workplace after hours, and this also lends towards building camaraderie between colleagues, I think. I have seen on occasion several of my Japanese peers get particularly nasty with each other after they had a bit too much to drink. Still, I think that has more to do with their individual character than anything else.

-How are unemployment, sick leaves, part-time work and retirement regarded? Are they seen as normal and matter-of-fact, or are unemployed etc., people looked down upon because they are "non-productive"?

Punctuality and showing up to work consistently are pretty much givens among the Japanese. Anything less is usually frowned upon. The same goes for being unemployed, although that's not to say it's a social stigma. Such individuals usually live at home with the rest of the family while doing part-time jobs here and there until they can secure more solid long-term employment (kind of like some of my friends here in the U.S. actually 8-p).

-Is Japanese society very hierarchical? Do the heads of companies generally treat their employees as equal or inferior to them? Do they happen to humiliate their employees? Do they earn a lot more money than them? Do employees take part in the decision processes of their companies, or do the "higher grades of the pyramid" decide for them?

Generally speaking, yes. Most companies or organizations (public, private, and non-profit sectors) still adhere to the traditional top-down hierarchy system with very little decentralization (for the most part). Ideas like participatory management are pretty obscure concepts in Japan. Instead, the Japanese seem to be more in tune with Frederick Taylor's one single best way to make anyone thing approach (if you are familiar with that line of thinking) with most of the major decision-making coming from the top down. Company heads tend to be very paternalistic in nature and, from my experience, have always been approachable. They do not show (at least I never witnessed any) condescension in how they treat their subordinates or how responsibilities were delegated.

-In Japan, what is the most important between work and leisure? Is work one of the most important values of Japan? Do people have a lot of spare time? Do people "live to work" or "work to live"? Is work only for earning money, or do people identify with their job? Is it important to have a good job to be respected by other people?

Work is definitely considered to be an important aspect of Japanese life. That being said, of course, the Japanese can and do have an appreciation for the merits of leisure and personal recreation. For families with younger children, much of this revolves around spending as much time together on days off when all members can be together (visiting relatives, shopping, etc.)

Your typical salaryman will put in long hours during the regular workweek. At the same time, the kids (if in school) will be busy with extracurricular activities like studying English, school clubs, etc., which does not leave them much free time for anything else later in the evening after they have finished their homework. And, of course, the homemaker is constantly on the go trying to get all the necessary errands/duties done (shopping, doing laundry, preparing meals, etc.) while the husband is off at work and the kids in school. Needless to say, those precious few moments when the entire family can be together and relax in unison are far and few between.
 
Originally posted by Iron Chef
Good questions Gally, all of them. I am by no means an authority on the subject, and I can only speak for myself and my own experiences, but I hope my responses may be of use to you with your project.


Wow, thank you so much, your answers are precious, and it looks like you spent a lot of time writing them, too :D!


I have some questions about what you have said:

-Are there so many female homemakers in Japan? I imagined there were more women making careers in companies and such.

-"Such individuals usually live at home with the rest of the family while doing part-time jobs here and there until they can secure more solid long-term employment (kind of like some of my friends here in the U.S. actually 8-p)": can they actually find long-term full-time employment after doing part-time jobs? A female Japanese student of my mother's (my mother teaches French to non-French-speaking people, and I talked to this Japanese student for about two minutes) told me that young mothers who did part-time work weren't allowed to do full-time work afterwards.

-"Instead, the Japanese seem to be more in tune with Frederick Taylor's one single best way to make any one thing approach (if you are familiar with that line of thinking)": I'm not ^^. Do you mean it is generally believed that it's better if one person or only the top of the pyramid takes the decisions?


Also, what about holidays? Do Japanese people have a lot of them? When are they? How do they spend them?
 
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-Are there so many female homemakers in Japan? I imagined there were more women making careers in companies and such.

Yes, many women still resign themselves to being the homemaker full-time after they get married. Some women do both (hold a career while being the homemaker), but by and large, there are very few career-minded women who focus solely on their work.

Re: Frederick Taylor and "Taylorism", Frederick Taylor wrote the principles of scientific management in 1911, which later became known as Taylorism. His own words re: scientific management can be found here btw:


Basically, Taylorism is the idea that there is one single best way to go about accomplishing that action for any single action. One should develop a "science" for every job, including rules, motion, standardized work implements, and proper working conditions. Next, carefully select workers with the right abilities for the job. Subsequently, carefully train these workers to do the job, and give them proper incentives to cooperate with the job science. And finally, support these workers by planning their work and smoothing the way they go about their jobs. In essence, that's Taylorism, and from my own experiences, many Japanese buy into this model to various degrees.

-"Such individuals usually live at home with the rest of the family while doing part-time jobs here and there until they can secure more solid long-term employment (kind of like some of my friends here in the U.S. actually 8-p)": can they actually find long-term full-time employment after doing part-time jobs? A female Japanese student of my mother's (my mother teaches French to non-French-speaking people, and I talked to this Japanese student for about two minutes) told me that young mothers who did part-time work weren't allowed to do full-time work afterwards.

From my understanding, this is perfectly normal, and there aren't any restrictions against doing so, although I could be mistaken. Many young women, for instance, hold part-time jobs while living at home and simultaneously attending a university for instance. Once they have the proper academic credentials and or qualifications, it is not uncommon for them to move on to bigger and better things. Part-time jobs are necessary for most young people to supply their lifestyles with the needed cash for clothing, accessories, cars, etc. I am not familiar with any concrete mandates re: young mothers not being allowed to return to work full-time after holding a part-time job, but as I have already stated, many women, after having children, tend to resign themselves to being the homemaker and focus on raising their children.

-Also, what about holidays? Do Japanese people have a lot of them? When are they? How do they spend them?

Yes, the Japanese have many holidays. Nearly all businesses (except necessary or emergency services) close during the New Year's celebration, for instance, from January 1-3. Also important to note is that if a national holiday should fall on a Sunday, the following Monday also becomes a holiday. Throughout the year, there are many celebratory festivals called "o-matsuri". They celebrate everything from the changing of the seasons, to farming (planting and harvesting), to prayers for family health, good fortune, prosperity, and so on. Some of the holidays the Japanese celebrate are as follows, although I am sure I probably missed a few:

O-shots (New Year's
Seijin no Hi (Adult's Day)
Kenkoku Kinenbi (National Foundation Day)
Shunbun no Hi (Vernal Equinox)
Midori no Hi (Arbor Day): This also starts Goruden Uiiku or "Golden Week", which includes three national holidays
Kenpo Kinenbi (Constitution Day)
Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day)
Keiro no Hi ("Respect for the Elderly Day" I guess you would call it...)
Shubun no Hi (Autumnal Equinox): This is usually when families make their annual visits to gravesites of relatives or friends.
Taiiku no Hi (Sports Day)
Bunka no Hi (Culture Day)
Kinro Kansha no Hi (Labor Appreciation Day)
Tenno Tanjo no Hi (Emperor's Birthday): Which happens to be Dec. 23rd btw.
Setsubun (Bean-throwing ritual?)
Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival): This was called Momo no Sekku or the "Festival of Peach Blossoms" on March 3rd.
Hana Matsuri (Buddha's Birthday)
Mei Day (Worker's Day)
Tanabata (Festival of Stars)
O-bon (All Soul's Festival)
Shichi-go-san (Children's Shrine Visiting Day or something like that, I think lol)
Omisoka (traditionally New Year's Eve)
 
Wow, thanks, Iron Chef, precise, patient and detailed as usual ^_____^.


I still have a few questions (well, I've just thought about them):

-Are there long holidays, I mean, for example, two weeks in a row? I've heard some stereotype about completely exhausted people having two weeks of holidays and spending them on the coast in China. Obvisouly, this is only partly true or maybe even completely false.

-Are there a lot of girls in universities, proportionally to boys? Is it still considered (by the average populations, professors etc) strange for girls to go to uni, or has it become the normal way things are?
 
Golden Week runs the longest (about five consecutive days off I think) and consists of:

April 29
Green Day (Midori no Hi)
May 3
Constitution Day (Kenpo Kinenbi)
May 4
"Between Day" (Kokumin no Kyujitsu)
May 5
Children's Day (Kodomo no Hi)

The Obon week in mid-August and the New year's period are also extended holidays.

Re: the demographic breakdown of gender in universities, I have no real clue as to what those numbers look like although I suspect that women have a slightly higher percentage than men in terms of enrollment.
 
Wow, thanks again :D! Now I've got a lot to tell in my 15-pages essay :)!

For how much time have you lived in japan, Iron Chef?
 
Two years, although I am actually moving back next month now that i've finished grad school.
:)
 
I didn't read Iron Chef's reply yet to give you my own opinions without parroting his.

I worked in Japan for almost 6 years, but it was at a Japanese branch of an American company, so I was never in a "typical" Japanese company.

In Japan, is equality promoted or is it important to succeed better than the others to "be someone"?

In general, promoting the individual is discouraged. Excellence is encouraged, but it should be the excellence of the group. Promotion by individual merit is rare and an idea that is only now starting to take hold.

Read Nakamura's story -- he is the man who performed ground-breaking research into the blue LED and got a bonus of $200 for his trouble.



What about the condition of women? Are they felt to be equal to men? Do they have to work more than men in order to get the same positions? Proportionally to men, do a lot of women occupy leading positions?

My first exposure to a woman "engineer" -- who was supposedly equal to the men we were dealing with -- was that she was making copies and getting us coffee. Women are very limited in what they can achieve except in the most progressive companies (such as Sony). And even in those companies are still barriers.

-I've also heard that in Japanese, there are a lot of levels of formality and that the hierarchical relationships between people will always be strongly marked in the vocabulary and formality level used, for example in the way of saying "I" (Boku VS ore VS watashi VS watakushi etc) or "you" (kimi VS anata etc etc) and in the use of suffixes like -chan, -san, -kun, -sama and -sensei. What is true and false about what I've just said? Can you give me some examples other than these, and are my examples relevant?

This is basically true. However, it's more a level of familiarity than some hard-to-fathom hierarchical thing. For example, I might speak to somebody very politely, but as we become friends and get to know each other better, the forms would become more familiar.

More than pronouns or title-suffixes, though, the level of politeness is determined by the grammar and form of the verb used. There are self-deprecating forms for oneself and forms for elevating the stature of others.

-In Japan, what is the most important between work and leisure? Is work one of the most important values of Japan? Do people have a lot of spare time? Do people "live to work" or "work to live"? Is work only for earning money, or do people identify with their job? Is it important to have a good job to be respected by other people?

In general, people have traditionally put work first, but that is gradually changing. For working people, spare time is at a premium. Vacations longer than 7-10 days are rare. And even these "long" vacations are normally taken by young, single people with disposable income and few responsibilities.

-What about strikes and demonstrations? Are they seen as normal or condemned as "disturbing public order"? Do they often happen? What do they look like? What about trade unions? Are there trade unions from various political parties, and if there are, what are the names and "political colours" of the parties and their corresponding trade unions? Are employees well defended by those trade unions?

Strikes are rare, but demonstrations are not uncommon. I think they are largely seen as normal but ineffective. Typically a demonstration will consist of a group of people holding signs and walking through the city, and shouting through loudspeakers about their grievances. Political rallies look similar.

If they have a health problem because of karoshi, what are the conditions for them to obtain indemnity? In other words, how is karoshi integrated into Japanese law?

My understanding is that it is quite difficult to get recognition and compensation for karoshi. Only in the most severe cases does the family get compensation.

Are Japanese employees badly considered by their employers, the employees and society if they refuse to do overtime hours? Do some employees sometimes spend the night at their workplace or work during the weekends to get more work done?

Refusing the demands of the workplace is likely to cause the employee grief. Working into the night and on weekends is not uncommon at all. Also common in Japan is that employees are expected to transfer to different locations per the company's wishes. Refusing these transfers are difficult and can result in career suicide. Therefore it is not uncommon for the father/husband to leave his family to work in other towns for a couple of years.

I hope this helps.
 
Originally posted by mdchachi
I didn't read Iron Chef's reply yet in order to give you my own opinions without parroting his.

I worked in Japan for almost 6 years but it was at a Japanese branch of an American company so I was never in a "typical" Japanese company.



In general, promoting the individual is discouraged. Excellence is encouraged but it should be excellence of the group. Promotion by individual merit is rare and an idea that is only now starting to take hold.

Read Nakamura's story -- he is the man who performed ground-breaking research into the blue LED and got a bonus of $200 for his trouble.
http://www.japaninc.net/print.php?articleID=53
http://www.fpcj.jp/e/shiryo/jb/0236.html



My first exposure to a woman "engineer" -- who was supposedly equal to the men we were dealing with -- was that she was the making copies and getting us coffee. Women are very limited in what they can achieve except in the most progressive companies (such as Sony). And even in those companies are still barriers.



This is basically true. Though it's more a level of familiarity than some hard-to-fathom hierarchical thing. For example, I might speak to somebody very politely but as we become friends and get to know each other better, the forms would become more familiar.

More than pronouns or title-suffixes, though, the level of politeness is determined by the grammar and form of the verb used. There is self-deprecating forms for oneself and forms for elevating the stature of others.



In general people have traditionally put work first but that is gradually changing. For working people, spare time is at a premium. Vacations longer than 7-10 days are rare. And even these "long" of vacations are normally taken by young, single people with disposable income and few responsibilities.



Strikes are rare but demonstrations are not uncommon. I think they are largely seen as normal but ineffective. Typically a demonstration will consist of a group of people holding signs and walking through the city and shouting through loudspeakers about their grievances. Political rallies look similar.



My understanding is that it is quite difficult to get recognition and compensation for karoshi. Only in the most severe cases does the family get compensation.



Refusing the demands of the workplace is likely to cause the employee grief. Working into the night and on weekends is not uncommon at all. Also common in Japan is that employees are expected to transfer to different locations per the company's wishes. Refusing these transfers are difficult and can result in career suicide. Therefore it is not uncommon for the father/husband to leave his family to work in other towns for a couple years at a time.

I hope this helps.


Yes, it does help, it is very helpful indeed and it completes and corroborates Iron Chef's account quite smoothly! Thank you! 😄

I still have a few little questions:

-about the forms of the verb: like "desu" VS archaic forms like "de gozaru" for "to be" and "-kure" VS "-kudasai" etc for the imperative?

-"There is self-deprecating forms for oneself and forms for elevating the stature of others.": have you got any example?



George L: Sorry, what does "Burakumin" mean ^^?
 
I didn't mention Burakumin, Mad Pierott did...but Burakumin are a social group which has long been discriminated against. The word burakumin means 'people of the hamlet', a 19th century word used instead of words such as eta ("outcaste") and hinin ("nonhuman"). Discrimination is not legal, but these people are often refused jobs and accommodation. The group's origins are not clear, but in the Edo period they took work nobody else wanted; executions, leather work, and day labor, for example. Today, burakumin struggle to escape from their plight, but experience a familiar cycle: they are hampered because poor living conditions and education prevent them from obtaining good employment and low income leads to the next generation repeating the cycle. The number of burakumin probably ranges between two and three million or about 2% of the population. Although sometimes referred to as outcastes in English, the term is inappropriate because Japanese society was never organized in a manner similar to the caste system in South Asia.

:)
 
Originally posted by George L.
I didn't mention Burakumin, Mad Pierott did...but Burakumin are a social group which has long been discriminated against. The word burakumin means 'people of the hamlet', a 19th century word used instead of words such as eta ("outcaste") and hinin ("nonhuman"). Discrimination is not legal, but these people are often refused jobs and accommodation. The group's origins are not clear, but in the Edo period they took work nobody else wanted; executions, leather work, and day labor, for example. Today, burakumin struggle to escape from their plight, but experience a familiar cycle: they are hampered because poor living conditions and education prevent them from obtaining good employment and low income leads to the next generation repeating the cycle. The number of burakumin probably ranges between two and three million or about 2% of the population. Although sometimes referred to as outcastes in English, the term is inappropriate because Japanese society was never organized in a manner similar to the caste system in South Asia.

:)


Oops, sorry for confusing, and thankks for the explanation!

About unemployment and beggars, I found on the Internet the (firsthand ^^!) account of an American who had worked in Japan for several years and taken interesting pictures. He said the Japanese government always claimed there was no poverty in Japan, but some of his pictures proved that in e.g. train stations, beggars could be found sleeping at night.
 
For Gally: My Experience In Japanese Primary School

I wrote this as per Gally's request but it's for everyone esle to read as well.

My Experience in a Japanese Primary School

The last school I attended was Takeshiro-Dai Public Primary School in Senboku Newtown in Sakai-city, Osaka-prefecture (about an hour south of the center of the city of Osaka by train). I spent slightly over 3 months as a 6th grader there--from April (when the new school year begins in Japan) to July of 1972. Here's a short summary of that experience, and compared to the public primary school I attended in the U.S. from September of '72 to June of '73 (P.S. 173 in Flushing, Queens, NY).

We went to school 6 days a week. Monday through Friday were full days; Saturday was half a day. Each day was divided up into class periods about 45 minutes long with a short break between classes. Each day we had one period each of mathematics, Japanese, science, social studies, music, art, and physical education (i.e., gym). Civics and home economics were taught once a week each. At the American school, students were at the teacher's mercy as to what subject matters were learned and how much time spent on each.

In science in Japan, kids do hands-on experiments as well as going on field trips to collect plants or insects. In the U.S., science was not taught everyday, and even when it was, it was exclusively from textbooks. Yet, each year kids were expected to produce something for a "science project".

Social studies in Japan also involved field research as well as textbooks. In one project, kids were divided into groups of 6 and assigned to make a street map of the neighborhood. In fact, many other activities are done in these groups called "han" and each gives itself a name like sports teams. In the U.S., social studies meant reading a chapter in a textbook and answering some questions at the end of that chapter.

Music education did not exist in the American public school I attended. In all Japanese schools music is taught from the 1st grade on and consists of more than just singing kiddie songs. Kids are taught how to read musical notes and every kid is given an opportunity to play an instrument, albeit a cheap plastic flute. Musical notes are taught as "do, re, mi, fa, so, etc.", which is immensely easier and more fun for little kids to learn than teaching notes as "C, D, E, F, G, etc." At the higher grades, kids compose and perform their own short musical pieces.

When we had an art class in the U.S. we were basically told to draw, using crayons. In Japan, crayons are used only at the kindergarten level. In primary schools, water color is used to familiarize students in using a brush for painting. Calligraphy of Kanji is also practiced with a brush and black ink. Different painting and drawing techniques are taught. We often went outdoors to paint landscapes.

In the U.S. physical education was non-existent. Gym meant being handed a ball and being told to play dodge ball once a week, or line up and shoot foul shots. In Japan, basic gymnastics and track & field are taught, and all kids are tested extensively in strength, flexibility, agility, and speed, among other qualities. If no appreciable improvements are seen from year to year in strength or speed, a kid might be told to shape up a bit. For class, kids change into standard white training top and shorts. Each spring, a sports day is held on a Sunday (to allow dads to come and watch) and kids are divided into a Red team and a White team and compete in various competitive events, culminating in the tug-of-war.

What am I leaving out? . . . oh yes, lunch! In Japanese schools, lunch is provided for every student (for a monthly fee) and all kids eat the same thing. Eating is done in the classroom instead of in a cafeteria. Each day, a different "han" or group is assigned to go to the kitchen area; carry the food, bowls, plates, and utensils back to the class; and set up a serving line and they serve the other kids. The leader of a han is called the "hanchou" (and this is the origin of the American slang "the head honcho," which was picked up by American GIs from Japanese POWs). Generally, a meal consisted of milk, bread, butter, some type of stew or soup, one vegetable and one fruit. A traditional Japanese fare of rice, miso soup, pickles and fish is never served in a school. No one is allowed to bring their own food from home.

After lunch, the kids get about 30 minutes of free time to do as they please. Many go outside to play on the various jungle gyms or other gymnastics equipment or play tag or dodge ball. However, kids are discouraged from taking naps unless they're feeling ill.

After the recess, the kids don't go right to the next lesson. First, they clean their classroom!!!!!! Yes, they put the seats on the desks and move all the desks back, sweep and mop the floor, and clean the windows. Try making kids do that in the U.S. and the school board gets slapped with a lawsuit from a parent for illegal child labor!

On Saturdays, which ends before lunch, in addition to the major academic subjects taught, the kids hold a class meeting or discussion. The duly-elected class president leads the discussion and the kids talk about any problems within the class, ways to resolve them, or any other appropriate subject matter.

About once a month we had a field trip. The lower grades go to parks or amusement parks, but the higher grades usually went on hikes to the nearest mountains. And for 6th graders only, in May there is an over-night trip to a distant destination. Most schools in the Osaka area send the kids to Ise, a port city in the Mie-prefecture that is famous for a Shinto Shrine and also for the cultured pearls produced there. We got to stay in a Ryokan with an indoor onsen. We saw many Gaijin tourists there and my classmates all yelled out "Haro" to them, whereas I freaked out the Americans with my New York-accented English (for grades 3 and 4 I had lived in New York as well).

Well, that's all I can remember. It was more than 30 years ago. I welcome any questions or comments as always.
 
Answering Gally's questions from her thread

Answering Gally's questions from her thread

1. Is it important for them to obtain the best marks as it is possible?

Yes, but effort is more important than good grades. Not everyone is a scientist in Japan and there are many people who are manual laborers, and these people do not unduly put pressure on their kids to get good grades but to just do their best.

2. Are they encouraged to be very conformistic, or to develop a strong critical spirit and an ability to take personal decisions?

Depends on the individual student and his /her family. You cannot generalize.

3. For example, if a teenager or a university student thinks a teacher or professor is wrong, are they allowed to say it?

Yes, as long as it's done politely. I have done it. Politeness to a teacher is more important than pointing out his mistakes.

4. How is a child that doesn't do well at school treated by its parents, the teachers and the other children?

Again, depends on the individual. Some parents might get tutoring for a failing child. Others might tell him to plan to get a job after middle school. Some teachers are supportive while others do not care how a student is performing. Kids don't care about other kids (at least at the primary school level because they don't share report card grades)

5. About stereotypes, I've heard that, for example, only the best students were allowed to go to prestigious universities like Toudai or the Kyouto imperial university, that there were pretty difficult university entrance examinations and that there existed a strong hierarchy between the holders of a diploma from Toukyou Daigaku etc and people from less good universities.

This is NOT a stereotype. It's a fact. Everything else you have here is stereotype. All high schools in Japan have entrance exams, and the elite academies have very difficult tests. It's no different from any other country. My law firm only recruits from Harvard, Columbia, USC and other top law schools. An Oxford University graduate has a better shot at getting a job than someone who graduated from a city college in Brooklyn, NY.

6. And also that because of social pressure, some teenagers will commit suicide if they fail in an exam.

Some might, but not very many. If a student doesn't get into the school of his/her choice, then he/she will settle for the school next level down.

Teen suicide exists in the U.S. as well, but for reasons other than academic achievement.
 
Your article is informative but also EXTREMELY bias. I actually find it somewhat offense towards the American education system.
 
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