I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Friday, September 21, 2007

体育祭 Field Day/Sports Festival (July)

The Japanese high school equivalent of "Field Day" is more or less a talent showcase of sorts. There are a several categories, such as a banner contest, races, and a dance-off, for all of which the students spend weeks in preparation. They literally spend hours upon hours over a 2-3 week span getting ready to strut their stuff and compete for 1st place in their respective fields. Here are a few photos with brief explanations.

This was by far one of the most amazing things I've seen my students do. It's a traditional geisha, but with a modernized manga toss of the brush (manga is the excessively popular comics that anyone from the age of 5-50 reads).

Here are a few more posters by my first year students. There are supposed to be five, but something mysterious happened to the middle one.

And the dancing. This was by far the most popular event. A committee of students and teachers (myself included) were called on the judge the performances based on a set of criteria––unity, creativity, precision, etc. Tensions were high when the results came in; in fact, fights broke out. There were many tears, friendships wounded by the petty scratching and teething for a trophy, everything one could expect from high school hormones. It was actually quite ugly, probably the lowest points I've seen my students reach, and I don't think the intraclass war was resolved until the next morning. I'm luck I got out with my ears attached.

But the dancing was impressive and well-rehearsed, in some cases scandalous, which I am saying in honesty because it seems strange that the school would allow its students to parade around in such skimpy outfits. Given my liberal background at The Paideia School, my days of frolicking in an environment that encouraged me to tell listen to uncensored music that sponsored drug use, read banned books, and wear shirts that told the institution to go fuck itself when I felt so inclined, I think my surprise at Kusatsu High's dance attire is warranted. Anyway, for the sake of fair reporting, here. Some of these kids look like they are out on their first day of rumschpringen. Deprived of a creative outlet, I can see why so many young people in this country are dying to throw themselves headlong into a fashion scene that wanders the streets of Osaka, Kobe, and Tokyo like Harper Lee's rabid dog.

A few of the better acts, this yellow team and the red one above (which I believe won the dancing division when the smoke cleared), however displayed quite a bit of class and integrity in their choice of costume and routine. They refrained from aiming for the blacked-out mirror of Playboy that others often trip over in search of easy victory, and I support their decision.

My thoughts: As a teacher I want to encourage students to search for better role models than the easy victors, the talentless pool of fashion models and television mannequins who parade glamorized brainlessness. The students have so much more power inside of them.

(10/9) I surprised both myself and one of my students today when I heard piano sounds coming from the music room. I knew no one was in class, that was the reason why I was sneaking off to play a few minutes of guitar before my next hour. I tapped on the door and opened. She was thumping away on an upbeat Beethoven sonata, not a particularly famous one, but one of his tunes that picks up your heart nevertheless and march-waltzes it around the room with gentle playfulness on the left-hand bass chords. The player was a first-year student, one who I had incidentally talked with for quite a bit on the Field Day reported on above. At that time she spoke of being bored with school. She wanted to quit. She wanted to do something useful but didn't feel like that was possible in her present situation. Her complaint was one common to many Japanese High School students: school was too rigid and controlling. She wanted to work a part-time job and learn how to do something practical and hands-on, something the school's curriculum does not offer and in fact disallows as a general rule.
Today I caught this same student in the middle of her secret passion. I don't know how to say passion in Japanese, so I told her I was happy to learn her "秘密=himitsu passion." As expected she became embarrassed and quickly packed her things to go back to the class she was skipping. I had no intention of turning her in; I was also in the middle of running off to play, for that matter.
"また聞かせて、please let me listen again," I asked her as she was leaving.

Next time maybe I will share my favorite Jean Jacques Cousteau quote:
“When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”

We have so much power inside us.


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