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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Meet Our #Worldmoms From Asia and Australasia

Meet Our #Worldmoms From Asia and Australasia

Every Wednesday we enjoy an article written by one of our mom bloggers in Asia/Australasia Region. Today we decided to run a series featuring the mom bloggers from that region and learn a little bit about their blogs and why they loved World Moms Blog.

Some of us are native Asian and some of us are from other places in the world and living in Asia right now.

Tina Santiago from Philippines

Tina Santiago from Philippines

Tina Rodriguez lives in The Philippines and blogs at Truly Rich and Blessed.

She is a lifestyle/inspirational/family blogger. She describes her blog as – “Truly Rich and Blessed is your little space on the Web where you will find inspiration and encouragement for discovering — and growing — the “riches” we already have: our faith, self, relationships, resources, discoveries and experiences.”

Tina is a Catholic wife and home educating mom by vocation, and a writer and editor by profession — imperfect and broken but blessed to be loved by a perfect God!

5 Words that can help you have a Better Week Ahead is one of the first publications after re-branding her blog.

This is what Tina has to say about World Moms Blog;

“It is such a blessing to be part of a global community of moms, dedicated to serving other moms in our own simple way, even if it’s just virtually!”

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Maureen Hitipeuw from Indonesia

Maureen Hitipeuw from Indonesia

Maureen Hitipeuw lives in Jakarta, Indonesia and blogs at Scoops of Joy. “Finding joy, one scoop at a time”

She is a lifestyle blogger and writes about what she’s passionate about; inspiring single moms, self-love, finding and living a joyful life and travel.

Maureen is a woman who desires to reach her full potential, to live with abundance and joy, and is passionate about inspiring others and sharing this journey with those she loves. Her favorite post from her own blog is Why Self Love Matters.

Maureen thinks of World Moms Blog as –

“It is uber cool! Not only because I get to know these amazing inspiring ladies from all over the world and become friends – soul sisters even – but I feel like the bond is just incredible. My life is indeed richer because of WMB. Knowing that you are not alone when it comes to motherhood, knowing how women can change the world and supporting causes that are near and dear to our hearts. Precious!”

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Martine Cosio de Luna from Phillipines

Martine Cosio de Luna from Phillipines

Martine Cosio de Luna lives in the Phillipines and blogs at Make it Blissful, an intentional lifestyle blog with a focus on blogging inspiration. Make it Blissful explores the reality that life isn’t perfect or ideal, but that we can make things work, “make it blissful” and find meaning in our homes, work, hobbies, and blogs.

Martine describes herself as an sociable introvert, chatty and friendly online and a little shy around strangers.

Her favorite post from her blog is For those who still believe in blogging — a look into how blogging has evolved into something more meaningful for me.

When asked why she loves World Moms Blog, she said,

“I love the reality that we are a global community of different moms with different views on life, but are all supportive and encouraging of one another, even if we are technically perfect strangers!!!

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Melanie Oda lives in Japan and is a lover of chocolate and books. She blogs at Hamakkomommy about parenting, travel and salty humor; “American mom attempts to navigate life in Japan; hilarity ensues.”

Blogging is one of the things that really helped Melanie work through the grief of losing her dad.

This is what she has to say about World Moms Blog;

“I love seeing how women, no matter where we live or how we live, have so very much in common. Both the good stuff and the struggles. It’s uncanny.”

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Next week, on the blog meet our Asian bloggers, Ruth from Singapore, Patricia from Philippines, Susan from Singapore, Piya from India.

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A special thanks to #WorldMom Orana from Indonesia for the production of this series.

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Is there any #WorldMom you would specifically like to know more about on the blog? Tell us in the comments and we would feature her soon! Meanwhile, say Hello to today’s featured #WorldMoms from Asia!

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World Moms Blog

World Moms Blog is an award winning website which writes from over 30 countries on the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Over 70 international contributors share their stories from around the globe, bonded by the common thread of motherhood and wanting a better world for their children. World Moms Blog was listed by Forbes Woman as one of the "Best 100 Websites for Women 2012 & 2013" and also called a "must read" by the NY Times Motherlode in 2013. Our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan, was awarded the BlogHer International Activist Award in 2013.

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JAPAN:  My Experience with a Japanese Hospital

JAPAN: My Experience with a Japanese Hospital

My 6 year-old daughter had her tonsils and adenoids out over summer vacation. She had been diagnosed with sleep apnea several months earlier and since nothing else was helping, finally I reluctantly agreed to the surgery.

I was reluctant because hospital “culture” in Japan is very different from the US, where I am from, and because I knew I would be up against another cultural wall in regards to care for my older child.

This surgery, that requires a one-night stay in the hospital in either the US or UK (according to some quick research on my part,) here in Japan means seven nights in the hospital.

Since hospital rooms are shared, parents are not allowed to stay over night for any except the youngest of patients. Parents are expected to provide clean laundry and cutlery for the patient every day.

The children’s ward had a strict daily schedule, with times when they we’re confined to their beds (which literally had bars like a prison cell,) and times when, if they were well enough, they were allowed to use the playroom.

But absolutely under no circumstances whatever could they leave the children’s ward. And visitors under the age of 15 were not allowed in the ward.

This was a conundrum for me. I have a 9 year old son, who was on summer vacation at the time, and a husband who works 12 hour days, on a good day.

Hospital culture in Japan is strangely at odds with the wider culture in general. A high percentage of children co-sleep with their parents well into their elementary years. That is the cultural norm.

However, the hospital where my daughter had surgery, would not allow parents to spend the night with children over 2 years old.

This particular hospital allows parents of small children to stay until they fall asleep, but for my daughter, that may actually have been worse. Come lights out at 8pm, there was more crying in the children’s ward than from the nursery down the hall.

I had another child waiting at his friend’s house or at Baba’s (grandmother’s) house for me to come home, after all. My husband tried to get home from work at a decent hour, but I think he made it by 7pm once.

The day after the surgery, when my daughter was still feeling ill from the effects of the anesthesia and started bleeding from her nose, I was very grateful that she was in the hospital where I could have a professional attend to any concerns with the push of a nurse-call button.

Around Day 3, though, I could feel myself beginning to fall apart, fiber by fiber. The stress and plain old-fashioned exhaustion were starting to get to me.

My son at home was starting to feel the effects of being shuffled from place to place numerous times a day. My daughter wasn’t sleeping well and wanted to come home. I begged the doctor to discharge her a bit early, even a few hours would be great. His response was that the other child in the same room who’d had the same surgery on the same day was not recovering as well, and it would be upsetting for her if mine left earlier.

Excuse me, what? I thought, blinking several times, sure I had misheard. But I hadn’t.

On the day she was finally discharged, the nurses and staff presented her with a postcard, complete with a photo of her post-op, “to remember them by.” My first instinct was to burn it. Who would want to remember this? But I kept it, an ironic little reminder of the Japanese tendency to have “entrance” and “exit” ceremonies for everything.

I was reminded of a speech the principal of a junior high gave to the student body to announce that I was leaving: “People enter our lives, and at some point we must be parted. We should cherish each of these events.” Perhaps one day my daughter will value the card.

For now, she gets angry every time she sees it. The poor little girl has been waking up at night just “making sure I’m at home” for the past several weeks.

But now I look at the card and I feel profoundly thankful that my kids are, for the most part, healthy and happy. I don’t know how parents, who have to juggle (and it is a juggling with knives-type event, not harmless bean bags) a child’s hospitalization—along with the mundane tasks of everyday life that just keep coming, even when we are least able to deal with them—do it.

I say a little prayer for you every night, moms I do not know, and wish you strength and patience and space to breathe.

Has your child ever been hospitalized? What was it like for you, as a parent?

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

The image used in this post is credited 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:  Chow Time!

JAPAN: Chow Time!

chow_time

chow_time

I read on the internet a lot about how America is trying to change their school lunch program and make it healthier. And I read a lot about how some people are not happy about this. They complain that kids won’t eat what they don’t like, food gets wasted, etc.

All of that may be true. But I thought I would share what school lunch is like here in Japan.

Children in elementary schools across the country receive a hot lunch every day. The menu is widely varied, with international kid favorites like spaghetti with tomato sauce, the local preference of curry and rice with salad and yogurt, to more traditional foods like fish with miso sauce, vegetable pickles, and wakame seaweed soup. Most days the meals are heavy on vegetables. They include fruit in season occasionally, and maybe once a month or so there is a light desert like jelly (jell-o) or ice cream. Some days they have rice, other days they have bread, still other they have noodles.

And, with a few exceptions, the kids love it!

Why is that?

Part of the reason may be attitude. When my husband was a kid, they didn’t have the facilities to prepare rice and noodles, so he looks at the monthly menu and says “ii na-,” I wish I could have had that! Let’s go back another generation, to my father-in-law. He had bread and milk only every day (ironically enough, he says it was supplied by the occupying US forces,) and he was grateful for it at a time when there may or may not have been dinner waiting for him at home. But- hamburger steak and pickled cabbage with tomatoes? “Ii na!”

In our city, preschoolers, junior high kids, and high school kids have to take their lunch. A bento lunch can be a wonderful thing, but it isn’t hot and doesn’t come with milk.

But perhaps the most important reason is that the kids themselves are involved in food preparation. Each week, half the class is in charge of serving the other half. They carry the pots and trays and multiple little dishes and utensils up to their classrooms, then ladle and scoop and pass the food to each other. When time is up, they clean it up and go have recess.

So if you don’t eat, or you take too long, you make your friends late for recess. That’s quite a motivator there, isn’t it?

Japanese children, in most cases, don’t have the option of taking their lunch if what’s on the menu that day isn’t to their liking. When my son was in first grade, that really bothered me. There were days when he only ate rice, or only ate bread, and I would have been happy to have been able to pack him a sandwich or a banana or something! But after being faced with foods he wouldn’t normally try, day after day, he’s blossomed into quite the adventurous eater. He eats so many different things now. Dinner time is much less of a battle than it used to be, and I think that’s due to the varied and interesting food he gets at school every day.

Do your children have a hot lunch at school? What’s on the menu for chow time?

This is an original post by World Moms Blog contributor, Melanie Oda in Japan, of Hamakko Mommy.

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: Ceremoniously Yours

Japan: Ceremoniously Yours

A Work in Progress

A Work in Progress

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Japan, standing as I did in many a cold gym on a drafty stage being stared at by bored students, is that in Japan even small changes are deemed deserving of a ceremony of some sort. I worked as an assistant language teacher dispatched by the board of education to seven different junior high schools. On my first day at each and every one of those schools, an assembly was held to welcome me. The principal gave a little speech. I gave a little speech. The head English teacher and a student representative gave a little speech, too.

On my last day, a very similar ceremony was held. Except that this time I got flowers. Seven bouquets of flowers and me trying to leave town…. I tried at other jobs, when other coworkers were leaving, to explain that these giant bouquets, while beautiful, were actually not desirable for someone who was (more often than not) preparing to leave the country.

“The flowers,” I was told, “Are not for the person leaving. They are for the people staying behind.”

Now that I’m a mom, I’ve noticed that Japanese school children’s lives are chock-full of ceremonies. It starts with preschool, when they have an entrance ceremony. Then a closing-of-first-term ceremony, an opening-of-second-term ceremony, then closing-of-second-term ceremony. It seems endless. But for the preschooler, it culminates in graduation and the send-off to end all send-offs, the “Wakare-kai,” a kind of Sayonara Party.

Now I don’t know about where you are from, but I have no memory whatsoever of having a preschool graduation, much less an after party. My parents may have privately celebrated my ascension into free (!) public schooling after I’d gone to bed at night, but I don’t think there was much to it.

Here?

(Hold on a second while I get a cold compress for my splitting headache….)

At my daughter’s preschool, it’s a huge deal. And it’s all put on by the moms. I don’t think this experience is rare for a Japanese preschool, but to me it feels totally over the top.

It starts off in October (a full six months before The Day), with each mother being assigned to a committee. And I do mean everyone, including, for example, my friend who has three kids under six and another on the way. There are a host of different committees, the lunch committee, the keeping-children-in-line committee, the video committee, the slide show committee, the teacher’s present committee, etc. I’m on the decoration committee.

It seems like it would be simple enough. Maybe some paper chains and balloons? But no. There will be a balloon archway for the teachers to walk through. We will decorate the back wall with scenes (we have to draw) of the momentous events that have transpired in our 6-year-olds lives at preschool. (I’m in charge of drawing a poster for sports day and the yearly school play.) There will be a podium decorated with paper mâché animals, mobiles hanging from the ceilings (no clue how we are supposed to get those up there,) flowers and tinsel on the walls, etc., etc., etc.

I’ve already spent hours in meetings that I feel we’re pretty pointless, not to mention hours on actual decorations, and I’m sure there will be an hour or two on the day for decorating and cleaning up.

I’m having a hard time thinking of any of this as being more than wasted time. But I have to wonder if,  like the flowers being given to the leaving teacher, the send-off party is not actually for the children at all.

What kind of ceremonies are held at schools in your country? To what extent are parents involved?

This is an original post by World Moms Blog contributor, Melanie Oda in Japan, of Hamakko Mommy

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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