The U.S.A. created a few traditions in the name of capitalistic integrity. Santa Claus for Christmas, Halloween costumes for literally all of October, and giving chocolate on Valentines Day. Japan saw this innovative idea, and stepping it up a notch. “There are two days!” Proclaimed the chocolate companies of yesteryear, “Valentines Day and White Day!” Boys get treats from girls on Valentine’s Day, and the boys reciprocate three fold on White Day, March 14th.
Fast forward to the present day when my Shinro Guidance group’s leader pulls us ladies aside and whispers all secretive-like in the copier room, “We need to get the men some chocolates, but we can’t let them know about it.”
The leader (let’s call her Nashi) as well as the other Japanese lady (let’s call her Mikan) both nod their heads in agreement as this proclamation. I pause, considering how to phrase my argument that we, ya know, don’t? It’s a complete waste of effort, in my opinion, because well…
I’m well aware White Day exists, but you know what? In my experience the men never “give back three fold.” They just buy some stuff to give in return, if they even remember in time. It’s always the women who go out of their way to make Valentine’s Day special for the guys, but I rarely ever see it get returned for the women.
As I’m opening my mouth to say what’s on my mind in very Japanese politely phrased manner, Nashi-sensei turned to me and said, “Jessica! I have seen you draw really, really well. I want you to make the cards. I think you will be very good at it, ne?!”
Ok so, listen I’m a simple girl, ok? You praise me in just the right way? I will move heaven and earth to make my work reach your expectations. I was given money and told to make the cards. I went to the Daiso (the Japanese Dollar Store) for the required items. I picked out stickers, fancy ribbon tape, and a chocolate bar memo card pack.
Then, I figured since I was already involved, I ran over to the grocery store. I bought enough Valentine’s Day chocolate for my entire English Department, as in for both men and women. Despite the rules, everyone breaks them on Valentine’s Day. Girls give their friends tomo-choco on both Valentine’s and White Day. I figured I might as well do the same, make everyone happy, not just the guys.
As I stayed up late making those cards, I figured sure, American made Valentine’s Day is a commercialized hellscape of jewelry, flower, and other ads, but it’s still a good day to remind people that you care about them. The group I’d been with this year was great, with Mikan-sensei even helping me study Japanese during meetings. One of the guy teachers in particular was fluent in English, and helped me out with speaking my mind in Japanese. I really enjoyed being with them, might as well be a part of the ritual without bitching, right?
It is basically just that, a ritual or ceremonial thing, not quite traditional. Japan doesn’t see Valentine’s Day as Japanese, just kind of a neat adopted thing to do once a year. Ask a Japanese person their top three to five favorite Japanese traditional holidays, and I will guarantee you Valentine’s Day isn’t going to be on that list. Think like how a lot of people in America aren’t Christian, but they celebrate the idea of gift giving during Christmas.
But there are mixed feelings here about it. Annually, there are protests in Japan citing Valentine’s Day as “anti-single” and bad for people without partners. Some women and men also call the whole thing sexist, demanding that women pay for chocolates and for men to pay even more. And even some restaurants have a “no couples allowed” campaign to keep people from feeling bad on Valentine’s Day.
In that kind of spirit, I like to give away chocolate to everyone.
Everyone in the English department anyway, and I gave snacks to the English Club. I can’t give giri-choco to all the kids, they’re nearly numbered at 1,000. Regardless, I wanted people to feel loved, as many people as I could afford to at least. No one should feel left out because they don’t have a partner, that’s just not fair.
The Shinro Guidance men all received their cards and their chocolates. They all did the, “Aw! You shouldn’t have, what a surprise. We never saw this coming!” nonsense, but it was all good. Even if I get nothing for White Day (as expected) I will be happy that we made them happy for Valentine’s.
…Ok that’s a small lie, I will consider it a betrayal. I spent hours on those cards, jerks! You had better get me something nice!!!
Before we go any further, I feel the need to explain that Christmas isn’t as near and dear to me as Halloween. That being said it’s definitely the second favorite, and for reasons that are quite beyond me, I always get irrational when people who aren’t from America try to tell me how Christmas in America “actually is.”
LISTEN HERE, I am American, I am a Kentuckian, so don’t try to spread these LIES on my watch you KENTUCKY FRIED LUNATICS!
MERRY KENTUCKY FRIED CHRISTMAS LIES!!! AND OTHER CULTURAL CHRISTMAS DIFFERENCES
Once upon a time, I’m innocently gallivanting through the Aeon Mall in Narita with my good friend, Ai. We’re checking out different stores, and I’m squealing like a ten year old at every little cute thing in the huge shopping area. Basically, I was squealing at everything. Japan is full of cuteness, that makes me happy.
Anyway, just as we’re swinging through the last bit of mall, I catch sight of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in a food court. I remembered that I promised someone I would look at the price of their Christmas bundle of grease, so I walked over there with Ai to find it.
You see, in Japan people can’t get turkey. Turkey is hard to find, and if you find the bird it is really expensive. Instead of turkey, Kentucky Fried Chicken is used as a replacement.
Most foreigners find this tradition a little baffling, since Christmas usually also implies all the food is cooked by a grandmother or mother. Why would you want to eat fast food for Christmas? Honestly, it’s just a cultural thing. Why do Americans blow stuff up to celebrate the birth of America? Because we’re Americans and that’s what we do.
Anyway, I found a sign that looks like this:
I picked up a pamphlet and began to walk away.
But then, I discovered an atrocity.
There, sitting on the table with all its disgusting merriness, was a Christmas plate. Did the plate say, “Merry Christmas!” No. No it didn’t. It said:
Ai got to experience one of my rants that day. It’s been a long time since I just let one off out of blue, and I might have scared some poor Japanese people in my near vicinity.
I believe I said something along the lines of, “We don’t eat KFC for Christmas! For the thousandth time, we eat ham and turkey! HAM AND TURKEY! Not fried up grease attached to dead poultry!”
Ai was laughing pretty hard, and she wished she had recorded it all to put up on YouTube. I’m really glad she didn’t. I do not want to be an overnight YouTube star.I do not want to go down in internet history as “The Kentucky Fried Lunatic.”
The thing is I wouldn’t care so much if not for the unfortunate problem that some Japanese people do believe that folks in Kentucky eat KFC all the time and must eat it at Christmas (for the plates tell them so). It makes me want to beat the marketing people senseless.
I’m resigned to the fact that people will forever and always associate my state with a gross fast food chain. However, Christmas is a sacred time of family, presents, and real food. For someone to dare tarnish the reputation of my beloved commercial holiday memories throws me into an irrational fury.
As Christmas draws near, the number of people asking me questions pertaining to my Kentucky heritage and my version of Christmas has increased. There’s the common question of, “Do you eat KFC on Christmas?” I respond, “No. No I don’t. Most of the people I know eat ham and turkey.” With a hundred side items and desserts, but I never get to that part.
People usually then respond, “Oh, really?” (I’ve come to recognize this phrase as something thrown at Japanese in English class, and I know this information because I’ve been wincing every time my students have to use it in class.) I usually respond with a small sigh and say, “Yes, really. And we have fruit cake.”
“What’s a fruit cake?”
A gross concoction that looks like food. I’ve had very few good experiences with fruit cake. However, my mom just gave me a recipe for chocolate rum fruit cake. I’m kind of excited about that one, but I’m not ever excited about the prospect of fruit cake otherwise.
Funny thing, I made two batches of that chocolate rum cake (after, of course, taste testing one batch for science purposes). I gave those to my two main junior high schools, and surprisingly they loved those cakes! I was so terribly pleased with myself.
You’ll be horrified to know that fruit cake is sold in grocery stores over here more and more. Pretty soon, the annual tradition of passing around a fruit cake until it ends up in someone’s garbage will soon be a thing in Japan, too.
Japan has a decidedly better improvement. It’s called a Christmas Cake, and it looks delicious.
I want to get one, but they’re apparently in really high demand. I don’t know if I will, but I’m going to try!
As I recall, I bought one at my local liquor store. Apparently, that’s where all the single people went to celebrate Christmas, so they had mini-Christmas cakes there for the lonely types. It was freaking delicious, too, like super packed with strawberries.
The other questions pertain to what I do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I told my friends and JTEs about how Christmas Eve is usually reserved for getting together with family and friends. I have a family tradition with my Dad’s side of the family that involves invading my grandmother’s house so we can eat good food and open up presents together. Most families reserve the present opening until Christmas Day, and I open my presents from my mother and her side of the family on that day.
A couple of people have asked me if I’m going to spend Christmas with a boyfriend, to which I responded two different ways:
“Where’s this imaginary Japanese man that’s fallen madly in love with me and why haven’t I met him?”
“Why would I celebrate Christmas with a boyfriend?”
Apparently, Christmas time is couples’ time in Japan. Boyfriends apparently do romantic things for their sweethearts, like buy them a present or take them out somewhere nice. If they want to be really beloved by their girl, they will take her to Disney Land or Disney Sea (depending upon the age. Disney Sea has drinking.). I won’t lie, if I had a boyfriend, I would totally beg him to take me there. Do you know how cute that place is? Ridiculous I tell you!
I explained that it’s really a big family time of the year, so I would not celebrate with a boyfriend on Christmas. I would celebrate on Christmas Eve with him before my Dad’s family time, but I don’t think I could’ve done it on Christmas. Dedicating the whole day to a boyfriend would get me disowned.
I’ve also discovered that Japanese parents have it tougher than American parents when it comes to sneaking the presents. American parents just have to sneak into the living room and put the presents under the tree and fill up the stockings. Japanese parents have to put presents beside their children’s beds at night. I couldn’t do it. I would wake up my child instantly due to some klutzy error.
Japanese parents, though, don’t generally buy a lot of presents for their kids. It’s usually only one or two kind of nice toys and that’s it. See, kids generally get these money envelopes on New Years Day, so pretty soon after Christmas they’ll have more presents. So it’s not like they’re going in the room with like a whole Santa bag, mainly just one or two boxes, which does make a bit easier.
Still, ninja skills, man.
Apparently, Santa Claus is pretty much the same jolly man in red. I’ve been asked if Colonel Sanders in Kentucky dresses up for Christmas, and I had to really think about it. I couldn’t remember our KFC even having a Colonel Sanders statue. I said I think so, but I honestly don’t remember. I know for a fact that Colonel Sanders does dress up as Santa Claus in Japan. It actually looks pretty neat.
Right now, I’m trying to avoid KFC, lest I fly off the handle again and cause an international incident. I’m sure I’ll eventually eat there (I do love the biscuits), but until the holidays are over it’s best to just stay clear.
I will say that some cultural things about Christmas are the same. It’s about being with the people you love and showing you care. Regardless of where the presents go or the thrice damned chicken, both Americans and Japanese jump through hoops to get those special gifts for their beloved people. Just as in America, parents have got it tough, and in the name of love for their children they will do anything to get that stupidly popular (insert item here).
Christmas cheer is everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. The Christmas music started earlier than America because there’s no Thanksgiving to hold it back, and oddly enough it’s mostly the same American choices for music. For example, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” plays all the time. I kind of like it, but I’ll be sick of it by the end of December.
There are Christmas trees, too. They’re a little smaller than the average American tree, but that’s to be expected since most Japanese homes are smaller than the average American home. I’m considering getting either a small tree or a poinsettia. I was surprised to find the poinsettias over here, but they’re apparently just as popular here as in America.
Alas, I will not be celebrating Christmas in Japan, however. I will be going back to Kentucky for Christmas, which means no KFC for me! Yay! Instead, I’ll be chowing down on ham and fudge and pie and burritos and tacos (because Mexican food is only found in all of two cities, and I live in neither of them) and more pie and cheeseburgers and…Well, you get the idea.
I’ll be back in Japan for New Years, so until then TTYL and Merry Christmas!
P.S. Here’s a link to Badger Girl and a recipe for fruit cake so you can make it for the unsuspecting person of your choosing:
I understand,I do. In Japan it’s difficult to find cheap English lessons that are convenient for a hectic schedule. Usually, real eikaiwa lessons run at about ¥20,000 per month on average. That’s one month where you might only get about three or four lessons because you need to cancel most of your lessons due to work, kids, hobbies, etc.
You also think perhaps, due to a very common misconception, that all foreigners don’t find random interruptions as rude. You see foreign people in movies and TV shows randomly finding each other and becoming friends, and your teachers may even encourage you to find a foreigner to strike up a conversation.
“Don’t be shy!” Your sensei might say, “Be brave and try it out!”
However, foreigners aren’t all the same. Some Americans are fun loving and extroverted people who love to make new friends, but then there are some Americans who don’t want to interact with new people, they like their own people and don’t really want to extend their social circle any further. Some Australians are adventurous and want to try everything, but then there are some who want to chill at cafes and never go out past city limits.
Basically every person, no matter their nationality, is different. Each person will have an introverted or extroverted personality, a good day or a bad day. I know you want to find people who will sit down with you to talk, because natural English can be hard to find at eikaiwas or school, but don’t expect every foreigner to be willing to talk with you.
I’m more of an introverted person at heart. I like to sit and talk for hours with my friends, but when it comes to meeting people for the first time I’m not very good at chatting. I like to meet new people through friends of friends, through commonalities, not randomly at cafes or on trains. It makes me nervous, anxious, and just all around uncomfortable.
I know many foreigners who aren’t like me, who come to Japan to teach English and feel it’s their obligation to teach English to everyone. Be they friend or stranger, some people take on this mantle of English teacher both inside and outside of the classroom, because they believe it’s so very important for Japanese people to learn English.
I applaud their enthusiasm and their commitment. Personally, I will gladly teach English in my classroom, I will talk with my Japanese English teachers, I will sometimes teach my Japanese friends new English words, but I don’t want to be an English teacher for every single member of Japan’s population.
Although, I wasn’t always in this mindset. I used to be the go-getter, the one who did free, random English lessons. But then I discovered there are people who can’t be trusted, and I shouldn’t be a free eikaiwa.
Usually, it was at cafes, and it was usually a man but sometimes a woman. They would say something like, “HELLO! My name is ______! Can I sit with you? I would like to practice my English.”
At first I just said, “Sure, no problem!” and I would have interesting conversations with new people.
Then many times, after I’ve allowed someone to use me as a free English lesson, I will get harassed again at the same coffee shop. They will come up to me the next time, and the next, and they will ask for my LINE or Facebook, or they might look me up on Facebook without my permission to add me. As a single woman living in Japan, this scared me, and I blocked these sorts of people, and then I would never go to that coffee shop again.
“But they’re Japanese!” You may say, “They can’t be dangerous!”
I disagree. Whether someone is Japanese or foreign, they can become stalkers. Perhaps they only wanted to be my English speaking friend, but I don’t want to be that kind of friend. I don’t want to be used for my friendship, it just feels wrong to me. Also, I don’t want to risk my safety, just for a possible “friend.” I would rather be cautious.
Still, people would ask for English lessons, over and over again. I would get so frustrated, because I felt it was necessary to teach them, so I tried to keep it to simple and short chats. In the five years I’ve lived here, I can’t count how many times I’ve been approached to become, essentially, a free English teacher.
By year four, I was done. I couldn’t let my job become my life, and I couldn’t let strangers take away my coffee shops from me.
Nowadays, when I sit down at a cafe, I want to sit in peace. I want to browse the web on my iPad and sip on my coffee. If I’m approached by someone like you, who wants to practice English, I’m sorry, but my answer will be no. Well, I’m usually very polite in saying no, “I’m sorry, but I just want to have some coffee and relax, so no thank you.”
Sometimes people are kind, they smile and say, “Ok, I understand!” and they leave me alone. Sometimes people are a bit upset and ask, “Why?” and I have to say something like, “Because I’m busy.” and then ignore them. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to be a walking, talking eikaiwa anymore.
Sorry, but it’s just how I am. However, if you want to talk to people in English that’s more natural, here’s some advice:
1) Join an Language Exchange– There are many groups available on MeetUp. Search for one near your area with English and Japanese available. These are usually free or the price of a coffee, and they’re usually at cafes too!
2) Find a Teacher to Fit Your Needs- There are so many sites. My-Sensei or Hello-Sensei are both great resources for finding a personal teacher for cheaper than the eikaiwa. Also, there aren’t any package deals, you just pay per lesson! No contract, just direct message and contact. You can choose between one on one or group, so you and your friends can learn English together.
3) Go to International Events– Unlike at cafes or restaurants, international events will have many foreigners who are talking and mingling, and it’s less rude to strike up a conversation with someone foreign here (it’s actually expected). Find out where your nearest International Association is and sign up for their event newsletters.
If you take my advice, you’ll find that these settings are better for learning English instead of finding random English speaking foreigners anyway. After all, not every foreigner comes to Japan to teach English, and some foreigners don’t even speak English. And as I said before, different personalities means there will be different reactions to asking for an English chat. Besides, women like me who are very cautious simply don’t want to take risks with strangers.
Please don’t give up trying to learn English, but please keep in mind that not all foreigners are free eikiawas.
The Orlando shooting at gay club Pulse is now the largest recorded mass shooting in the United States. It comes right on the heels of another shooting in the same area, where Christina Grimmie was shot and murdered right after a concert. My students know all about both incidents, although the Japanese news has been leaving out that the club was “gay” for some reason and instead just calling it a club (because I suppose viewers wouldn’t sympathize with hate crimes? I don’t know).
When I ask them nowadays where they want to go abroad, most of them respond, “France! Phillipines! Canada!” If anyone says, “America!” There’s an automatic reaction of shock and cries of, “No! No! America kowai! Sugoi abunai!” America is scary, dangerous, especially at the schools.
Ever since the Sandy Elementary School shooting in 2012, my schools in Japan prep students going to America about what to do if a shooting occurs while they’re abroad. I didn’t realize it was standard procedure until I accidentally walked in one a PowerPoint presentation, with pictures of guns and videos of lockdown drills. I remember looking around the room and feeling such shame. I left to go cry in the bathroom.
Some schools in Japan have started dropping exchange programs in America out of these fears, and also because less students want to sign up for America. Australia, Britain, and Canada are becoming the top picks for English speaking countries. The schools are safe there, people with guns aren’t going to come in and shoot them.
People will disagree with me about the idea of gun control. I’ve heard all the arguments, that it never works, look how prohibition turned out, blah blah blah. I’m tired of it. I’m exhausted with listening to people try over and over again to justify keeping assault rifles legal, that we can’t even bother to try saving lives on the off chance that we might fail.
“Bad people are always gonna do bad things!” Right, but I counter with, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Staying stuck in our ways isn’t solving the problem. Allowing the NRA to have such a big hold on our government and its decisions on gun control is outrageous.
In Japan, firearms are illegal. The only legal gun allowed within the country is a shotgun, and it’s an expensive gun to get, have, and continue having. The yakuza don’t even like to use guns because of the immediate imprisonment sentence attached. When caught with a gun and you are foreign, it’s deportation and blocked from the country, end of story. I don’t know if that’s ever possible for my homeland.
That doesn’t excuse America from at least trying. We should make it more difficult to get a firearm, as in heavier background checks and longer waiting periods. Every single person should be required to go through a gun safety course, and if you’ve been arrested for precious violent activities, ban them from entering a gun store. These are all easy and simple steps to take, but America refuses to budge on the Second Amendment, calling it their “God given right to bear arms!”
Meanwhile, in Japan I can go to work every single day knowing that the odds of my students getting gunned down is near nil. I don’t live in fear of having to barricade a door and use my body as a human shield to protect them. It’s a shame America not only allows that fear, but that its politicians profit from it.
My students shouldn’t have to consider getting shot and killed en masse as part of their pros and cons options for first world countries to visit. We keep trying to give people leeway to clench onto deadly weapons instead of trying to think about protecting the lives of the children, teens, minorities, LGBTQ affiliated persons, and so on. There are people praising the attack on the gay club, as in there are people who consider this guy a hero.
It’s only a matter of time until another school, another club, another event is the next “record breaking” massacre. When my students go to the United States, I don’t tell them that I fear for them, that I worry about it just as much as they do. I don’t believe in allowing that fear to control our lives, though. We all need to go out into the world and see other cultures, and many countries have their own sorts of dangers to face. At the same time, mass shootings seem to be a contagious and consistent problem in America, one that could be solved if we’d just try.
Grace Buchele-Mineta continues her adventurous comic book series with “Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo,” the third installment featuring her life as a Texan woman married to a Japanese man, Ryosuke Mineta, while living abroad in Japan.
I reviewed the second book earlier this year, and much of the same themes from the previous book return in the sequel. Grace and Ryosuke go through the trials and tribulations of Tokyo’s great metropolis, some of which involve cultural differences, along with the other everyday struggles of basic adult life in an intercultural marriage. With witty one liners and a great cast of characters, the comics elicits warm laughter in its blatantly honest portrayals of these struggles, but also hurts the heart at times with some harsh truths.
Shopping cheap and sacrificing heat to keep the bill down, Grace and Ryosuke definitely live the life of an average Tokyo couple…
Sometimes people share things with me and ask, “Hey, is this true?” One of the recent questions someone posed also came with a link to the video above. From the short film, one would think that Japanese schools have the healthiest lunches EVER and that American schools are the WORST when it comes to healthy food at school.
But actually, as with most cultural comparisons, the truth is a bit more complicated.
First of all, while it’s true that students in Japan do prepare lunches in elementary and junior high school, they don’t cook the meals themselves. That’s ridiculous. If a child burned their hand while cooking up soup, you can bet that parents would raise hell about it. No, there are usually food prep people who cook the food for the students.
Also, ATTN seems to believe that the food is all made “from scratch.” I saw the people prepping the food at my junior high schools, and scratch is a bit of a stretch. The soups are the add boiling water to dry ingredients type, and the rice is rice. You throw water in a pot and cook it, it’s not hard. The fish is fresh because Japan is an island nation and surrounded by fish. In short, the food isn’t terribly labor intensive, and that’s on purpose. This way the food prep people can get everything done quickly and it’ll be done in bulk.
Second, Japanese students do take mandatory classes for home economics in elementary and junior high school, but most of those classes aren’t labor intensive either. Students learn more along the lines of “How to Peel Potatoes and Apples” and less like “How to Make a Full Course Meal for Yourself.” And keep in mind that budget cuts can happen, and when they do, one of the first classes put on the chopping block (pun intended) is the home ec and music classes, just like in the good ol’ USA.
Next, what the video left out for obvious reasons, I think, is that the students do not get a choice about what they can or can’t eat at lunch. The food they get from the food truck that comes everyday is the food they get to eat: milk to drink, fish or pork, 1/4th a plate of rice, and some kind of soup. Everyone eats in their classrooms, so unlike in America, they’re not choosing this healthy lifestyle. The students eat what they’re given or they go without. If you’ve got allergies? Too bad, go get water from the water fountains. The flexibility you’d find in other countries isn’t here.
The food isn’t as healthy as one would think. The rice is white, which means it gets stripped of all its nutrients. Unlike brown rice, white rice fills up the stomach, but it doesn’t add nutritional value. Basically, it doesn’t hurt but it doesn’t help the body. Since it’s 1/4th of the meal, it gives everyone the illusion of eating a lot, but in fact nutrition wise they didn’t eat enough. The lunch system is set up to just be a hold over until the students go home and eat dinner after school.
However, the positives outweigh the negatives. One good aspect to the lack of choice is the small portions sizes. Because America has cafeterias designed similarly to buffet style restaurants, portion sizes are generally bigger than most other countries in the world. Meanwhile, Japan has one tray plate with appropriate portion sizes. In addition, the fact that children are regularly from an early age eat lighter meals means that they’re less likely to over indulge when they get older. Americans have the idea that children need so many calories to grow, but the Japanese way of thinking is that children should just be given “enough.”
Finally, putting Japanese people up as a paradigm of good health is fine, but the reason so many people are healthy is because they’re active. Japanese schools have recess and P.E. They haven’t budged so far on cutting those kinds of activities, and I don’t think they ever will. In junior high school, nearly all students are in some kind of club, with the majority of students choosing sports. Sports clubs practice both in the morning and in the evening, especially the basketball and baseball clubs. When the students go to high school and the university, most Japanese people remain active and do physical activity. Most people ride bikes in the countryside if they want to go to the convenience store, they don’t hop in their cars. People in Tokyo walk everywhere instead of drive. People in Japan are just on their feet more than the average American person, and they do sports and such for fun.
In my opinion, yes American schools could learn a thing or two from the Japanese school system, but it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul. I would suggest simply looking into cutting down the food options available at school. Less desert or no desert might be a good place to start. American’s love it, and it’s a big part of our culture, but desert isn’t really a big part of Eastern culture, so I’ve learned to stop having it at lunch and dinner. Then if we make it so that students can have only healthy options instead of constantly eating grease, cheese, salt, and sugar products then we’ll definitely have thinner waistlines and better minds.
When students eat better, they also perform better in school, fun fact. I hope that America will still give students options, because learning to make healthy choices is a vital part of education, and taking that away seems a bit too far. Fighting obesity would mean also bringing back recess in elementary schools, and getting all students more active. Until we have a more physically active culture, unfortunately we’re not going to see much change.
It’s an unfortunate fact that child abuse is an issue that every country has to manage. In the United States and Japan teachers are often counseled, trained, and given reading literature about the warning signs of abuse. Does a student smell funny every day at school? Do they steal from other students? Do you see a mysterious bruise? Self-deprecation, communication problems, problems eating, uniforms ill taken care of…The list goes on and on.
It’s well known that child abuse affects how students behave in the classroom. Abused children will be living with far more stress than their sheltered classmates. Friends of mine in the American school system who are teachers keep snacks and fruit inside their desk for students who come in starving because their students can only get the government provided lunches in the cafeteria. Without them providing breakfast (usually out of pocket), these students would behave badly and not pay attention in class. The abuse and neglect of parents causes strain on students.
Where I lived in Kentucky, Child Protective Services (CPS) could be called by school counselors and/or nurses if they suspected child abuse. A friend of mine in elementary school got the CPS called on her uncle because he regularly refused to give her breakfast before school (I believe he was a baby sitter, not a full time guardian, so the case got dropped). My mother actually feared that she’d get called in because my brother regularly played kickball and soccer, so his shins were bruised a lot in his elementary school days. CPS held an air of authority, even if most people sneered at the idea of putting kids in the foster care system, the fact remains that most states have a semi-functioning system in place that keeps track of kids and their parents.
In Japan, children are rarely taken out of their homes. It’s common knowledge that unless the abuse is considered “life threatening,” children are expected to stay with their families until they reach maturity (if they make it). Up until the 1980’s, most parents in Japan were under the impression that child abuse “just didn’t happen.” People like Atsuko Shiina brought the issue to national attention with her research books. Most Japanese people believed that families as a structural unit shouldn’t be meddled with by the government, as family ties are considered strong in this collectivist culture. Unless it’s a marriage or death certificate, the government should mind it’s own business.
But then in 1994, “Japan’s signed in at the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child to help the public understand, Shiina explains, that ‘children are not their parents’ private property.’ Even so, passage of a Child Abuse Prevention Law took until 2000.” And now, Japan’s government made a point in the past few years to start getting better about keeping track of child welfare and taking more kids into protective custody.
Japan Times reported in September of 2015 that child abuse reports were at a “record high,” but that record is shaky at best:
The police referred a record 17,224 suspected child abuse victims under the age of 18 to child consultation centers across the country in the first six months of this year.
That is the highest number since specific statistics started to be compiled in 2011 and a rise of 32 percent from the year before. Clearly, the police are doing a better job of investigating cases of abuse and of taking more action…
…The most disturbing part of these statistics is that child abuse may not be actually increasing; it has just been hidden. In another survey from the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry for fiscal year 2012, the total number of reports about child abuse made to child social welfare services reached 46,468.
As a teacher in the Japanese school system, I must follow the Child Abuse Prevention Law. Teachers, medical practitioners and child welfare officers are obligated to keep an eye out to detect and report abuse. Yet, as someone who doesn’t understand Japanese fluently yet, being able to uncover abuse is a big challenge for me. I have to trust that the Japanese homeroom teachers and the guidance counselors are doing their utmost for the students.
It’s not easy. Students will keep secrets from the teachers about their living situation, often out of shame. They will lie, dodge questions, and even try to get out of coming to school because they don’t want anyone to know. For elementary and junior high, education is mandatory, so that’s where the abuse gets discovered the most often. High school isn’t necessary, high school students drop out all the time, and they can get lost in the system.
Ishikawa Yuki discussed in her recent article “Japan’s Crisis of Missing and Abused Children” that part of the problem comes from municipalities deleting residency information, “Japan’s legal code allows local governments to expunge resident certificates from files if it is determined that a person no longer lives within the municipality. As a result, if a child’s resident information is no longer extant, he or she is left out of official figures.” Essentially, the local governments have a legal way to sweep the problem of child abuse under the rug so they don’t have to deal with it. Although I want to believe that most police would do something if they could, the traditionally lax methods with child abuse and thoughts on child welfare make me nervous.
In addition to that, unlike CPS in the United States, the Japan’s child guidance offices have some systematic failings according to Ishikawa:
Japan’s child guidance offices rely on a shockingly antiquated child abuse information system to share knowledge concerning missing and abused children. Even now information on top-priority cases, such as instances of extreme child abuse and children suffering in abject living conditions, is sent by fax machine. Moreover, there is no information database, nor is the filing system for managing received faxes adequate.
In addition, child guidance offices gravely lack the personnel and mechanisms needed to investigate cases in ways comparable to police departments. Enlisting the help of law enforcement agencies, then, would seem to be essential. However, many staff members told me requesting police to investigate a missing child can be problematic. This is in part because it requires careful attention to protecting personal information and the need to determine whether or not a crime has been committed. In light of these demands, the police in many situations will turn down requests.
Needless to say, if a child is getting abused or neglected at home, their education suffers. Child abuse often results in physical and psychological developmental delays. When the education suffers, unfortunately, the rest of a child’s life in Japan can get derailed. Passing tests, getting into the best high schools/ universities, all that matters when they finally want to have full time careers.
Unlike in the United States, homeroom teachers bear the full responsibility of reporting possible abuse, because they’re the ones in charge of the student’s academic progress. Teachers in Japan have students regularly see the guidance counselors at school, usually to discuss the possibility of bullying but they also cover home life issues. Technically, guidance counselors should report abuse, but most schools tend to make the homeroom teacher file all those reports. Regular teachers should also keep an eye out and report to the homeroom teacher if they suspect something is wrong. I’ve done my fair share of discussing problems with homeroom teachers, but so far none yet covering abuse. I both hope and dread that I never have to, because statistically speaking at some point I’ve taught an abused child and never knew it.
Right now, I worry that odds are someone in my class is getting abused, someone is falling through the cracks, and I’m not noticing it. I want my students to have a bright future. Besides educational issues, there are of course personal ones as well. If unaddressed, abused children can suffer from alcoholism/substance abuse, depression, domestic abuse/violence, suicidal thoughts, and even attempts of suicide when they grow up.
A home should be a place where children feel safe, loved, and nurtured. If not someone should be doing something to change their environment so they can have a better life, or at the very least get a fighting chance at a better future. Even though the Japanese government has put forth more effort lately, I don’t believe it’s quite done enough. More funding should go towards the child welfare sector, as well as changing the law to prevent children from getting their residency records deleted from the system. I want my students and all other children in Japan to live without pain or fear.
If you have a topic about Japan that you’d like me to write about please tell me in the comment section below!