JAPAN: To Cram Or Not To Cram

JAPAN: To Cram Or Not To Cram

To Cram Or Not To Cram

To Cram Or Not To Cram

As my son begins sixth grade, the final year of elementary school here in Japan, I feel a sense of panic.

Have I taught him all he needs to know to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence?

(Mental note: enroll him in swimming lessons while I am still master of his schedule.)

Is his English up to par for his age?

(Reading: yes, writing: no. Another mental note: make more time for him to practice his English writing! He’ll need incentives…. Sticker charts won’t work anymore, what will we do?)

Does he have the ability to identify the difference between a true friend and a jerk? Somehow I don’t think so.

And then there are the looming educational choices. We never really considered that he would need to take the entrance exam for a private junior high, but recently I’ve heard unpleasant rumors about the neighborhood public junior high school. We never sent our son to cram school, so it would seem a private junior high isn’t an option. Are the local schools good enough? Should we start cramming now, sit the test, and hope for the best? Maybe put him into international school? But those are all expensive options that we couldn’t realistically afford for two children.

I have gradually come to the realization that most children in Japan at some point will have to attend cram school. This is something I have wanted to avoid. In my heart I believe that kids learn best through play, and that forcing them into cram schools and extra study stunts their growth in other areas. I had hoped that studying English at home would give them a big enough advantage to get into whatever school they aspire to, but I have to admit that I no longer believe it is enough. My anti-cram school, pro-childhood stance has limited my children’s options for junior high. I need to stop and reassess, then make some choices about a high school entrance exam system that I don’t really understand.

We are a family that could make that happen, financially, with some sacrifices.

To Cram Or Not To Cram

To Cram Or Not To Cram

But what about all of those families for whom it isn’t possible?

The cold, hard truth is that seemingly egalitarian Japan is quietly becoming a country of have and have nots.

It feels unfair and somehow immoral that children are not able to make the best of the gifts they were born with because of an entrance exam system that requires attendance at expensive cram schools to have a shot at the best schools, public or private.

Childhood poverty is a growing problem in this country. I hope the education system evolves to give every child a chance to follow their dreams.

Do all children in your country continue into secondary education? What process is used to place students?

Photo Credit to the author.

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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JAPAN: For the Love of Girls

JAPAN: For the Love of Girls


Here in Japan, as the cold winter wind continues to blow, the school year is coming to a close. Even the smallest children are busy preparing for graduation from their various places of learning. It is a time of reflection for the mothers of Japan: look how much they have grown! It is also a time of of worry, of anxiety about what awaits our children in their next portion of their journey.

It hasn’t been a particularly good year for the rights of Japanese women. The Supreme Court recently ruled against a group of women petitioning for the right to continue use of their maiden names after marriage. Around the same time, the same court struck down a law that enforces a waiting period for women desiring to remarry after divorce, citing a lack of similar restrictions for men. Then in the same ruling, it suggested 100 days as a reasonable waiting period. (Huh?) A male parliamentarian applied for paternity leave, to the cheers of many younger women, only to be embroiled in an infidelity scandal and forced to resign shortly thereafter. “Maternity Harrassment” was listed as a trending term on TV programs celebrating the end of 2015.

Saying that I am full of anxiety and worry for what this country holds in store for my daughter would be an understatement.

But even in this midst of this still-winter, from the warm enclave of the kotatsu (a low table equipped with a heating unit and enveloped by a duvet,) I can see that outside plum blossoms are starting to bloom. Cherry blossoms will follow. There is warmth and life and hope awaiting us, if only we persevere a little longer.

Perhaps it is just coincidence that plum blossoms are a symbol of Girls Day as well.

Families across Japan will spend March 3 celebrating their love for their daughters. Gorgeous collections of delicate dolls representing the members of the ancient imperial court are being displayed as I write, the superstition being that should any disaster like fire or earthquake occur at your house, these dolls will take your daughter’s place. She will be spared.

Mothers and grandmothers will toil over chirashi zushi, a kind of sushi where the fish are “scattered” on top as opposed to rolled within. There will be crunchy, lightly sweetened snacks, traditional pounded rice cakes, and (especially for families with young daughters) perhaps even cake and pizza.

That this is an old tradition gives me hope. Even in the darkest days of a powerful patriarchy, parents have loved their daughters. Families have gathered, special dishes have been prepared, efforts have been made all for the love of girls.

In the midst of other more negative messages, this is a powerful one. I hope it gets through.

What kind of messages do you feel the traditions of your country send to young women? How would you like to change them, if you could?

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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JAPAN: Work of the Heart

JAPAN: Work of the Heart

Japanese Woman

I read an article recently about “emotional labor.” You know what that is even if you don’t know what that is: the constant conversation going on in your head when someone asks, “What’s for dinner?”

You peek into your mental refrigerator, pit Johnny’s constipation against the fact that Sally will come home starved from basketball practice, your husband has high blood pressure and needs to reduce his salt intake, your mother-in-law has a birthday party at three and after all that cake no one will be hungry, and you only have $50 left in your checking account.

All that, not to mention keeping track of who needs picking up when and who needs what medicine and who has which project and oh- there’s a doll shoe, someone will be looking for that later, all of that thatness, is emotional labor.

I bet most women know exactly what I’m talking about, and are started to get exhausted from this post reminding you of the gazillion little things you need to be doing. (Our bath tile needs a good scrub.)

We are all doing way too much of it, with no remuneration (wouldn’t that be nice?) or so much as a thank you.

It may be more obvious, here, in Japan, where the gender divide is still a chasm and fathers spend all of their waking hours at work. The imbalance between the sexes is so off that you don’t need a scale (which I alone know the location of.)

For anyone who is reading this and thinking, what’s the big deal? I can say with some confidence that you are not pulling your weight in this area, or you would certainly know exactly what the deal is, and that is is enormous.

It’s easy enough to see how this happens: when you are a couple, keeping track of the minutiae of life for two is doable. If you’re like me and have a husband who doesn’t quite grasp which food items go in the fridge, and that the aloe gel is a) not a food item and b) not fridge space worthy, then you take these things on by default. (Yes, the aloe incident actually happened.)

But when you become a three person family, or more, with multiple schools and activities and interests and needs, then this becomes a massive task. And Mom is still doing it all.

What’s the solution? I wish I had a clue. Even when this kind of micromanagement is a career, it’s still female dominated and therefore underpaid if not outright disparaged. I’m thinking of all my secretaries, assistants, and teachers out there, but please feel free to add to this list.

I read this online, and I thought, “There is a term for this. There is a reason I am so constantly exhausted emotionally. I’m not alone. And other people realize that this work has value.” It’s too bad none of those people currently live in my house, but baby steps are better than nothing.

So, to all the other moms out there holding up the sky: what you are feeling is real. It isn’t fair, no, but you aren’t imagining it. I don’t have any answers, but sometimes acknowledging there is a problem is the biggest step.

How do you divide emotional or mental take in your family? And more importantly, how can I get the other three people I live with to start doing more of this for themselves?

This is an original post by World Mom, Melanie Oda in Japan. 

Photo credit to cpo57 . This photo has a creative commons attribution license. 

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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JAPAN: The Preschool Mom

JAPAN: The Preschool Mom

I see you on your black skirt suit, with the waist that doesn’t quite fit the same anymore and the blouse that doesn’t quite work when one is out with a toddler. It’s been awhile since you wore it. Your heels are just slightly dusty, and you are unconsciously rubbing your feet together in a way that betrays you are no longer used to wearing them.

I have been where you are, at the preschool interview (most preschools in Japan seem to require this,) with an uncooperative two-year-old. No one else’s kid seems to have a permanent cow-lick or is crying like mine is, you think. I can tell, because I have thought that, too.

Preschool Class

Preschool Class

But now I am on the teaching staff, on the other side of the table, so to speak, and I can tell you that we have seen multiple cowlicks today, and that the kids who don’t cry at the interview are no less likely to cry on the first day of school.

I wish I could give you a hug and tell you to relax. Of course we can’t love your child as much as you do, but we will come close! And since we send the kids home at two o’clock, all of those aggravating things that drive you bonkers will not be such a problem here.

I also want to tell you that it is okay to consider your own needs when choosing a preschool for your child. If you can’t handle making a bento every morning, by all means find a place that serves lunch. If you can’t deal with homework, then go for someplace that is play based. There are years and years of homework ahead of you both!

You don’t have to go where Daddy went, or where grandma thinks is best, or where the clique of neighborhood moms go. Look and listen, see the child that you have. Know who you are, and what your limits are. Then choose a place that best meets the needs of you both.

Of course I can tell you none of this, as you wrestle your feet out of your heels and into your indoor shoes, tugging your son along, the both of you getting increasingly frustrated. I try to give you a sympathetic smile, but you may not notice.

Best of luck to you, dear. Best of luck to you both.

What advice would you give to moms of younger children of you could?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in Japan and mother of two, Melanie Oda.

Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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JAPAN: The Big Girl

JAPAN: The Big Girl

child nappingMy daughter was sick last night. All over the futon, all over herself. It was certainly not something that I wanted to deal with in the middle of the night–especially knowing that there was no spare futon, and that I would end up sleeping on the hard floor.

I started off by giving her a shower, washing her hair, changing her pajamas. I’m at expert at this, after all.  Due to a bout of RSV when she was three months old, my daughter has asthma.  Her airways over react to any stimuli.

Coughing to the point of being sick used to happen daily, but it’s been over a year since the last episode.  My daughter had forgotten about it, forgotten the routine.  I had not. As I washed her up, she complained about how hard I was scrubbing, how these pajamas were too big, how the pillow was too hard.

When she was smaller, she used to only cry when I washed her.

It struck me how grown up she has become.

Recently, she was named group leader for her four-person group at school. (In Japan, it is very common for teachers to assign groups. They work together to distribute lunch and to clean up, as well as  class work.) She takes this responsibility very seriously. Actually, a bit too seriously!  She is stressed out about it. I can see how she is maturing and learning about what it means to be in change of others.

There are some things you can control, other things you cannot.

Later, after she was cleaned and changed, we both cuddled onto a futon meant for one. She rested her head in the crook of my arm and went to sleep, snoring softly. Such a big girl. Still such a little girl. So unaware of the joys and the trials that are awaiting her.

I rested my head on hers, encircling her in my longer, stronger, more experienced arms. While I still can, while she’ll still let me.

Please share moments when you feel how much your children have grown.

 

This is an original post by the author to World Moms Blog. 

Photo credit: John Finn under a Flickr Creative Commons license.

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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