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My experience in a Japanese school, or what parts of the Japanese education system are worth copying

As a child I had the good luck to participate in the Japanese school system as well as the Hungarian one. I attended a real Japanese school for part of the first grade and from the 4th to 6th grades. I’d now like to summarize that experience and raise a few thoughts since reforming the Hungarian school system is currently under discussion.

First, let me briefly introduce you the Japanese school system. Kids in Japan attend primary school (shougakkou) from age 6 to 12, and then go on to 3 years of junior high school (chuugakkou) followed by 3 years of senior high school (koutougakkou). College or university comes after that. The Japanese believe that a person who graduates from a good university has excellent chances of getting a good job, which means being a success in life. So, naturally, every parent does their utmost to see that the children get the best possible preparation for college admission exams. The way to do that is to enroll the child in the best possible junior and senior high schools, which means that the schools with better reputations need to hold admission examinations, and that in turn means having the best level of preparation in the primary schools. There are already some primary schools that take only the most talented children. In addition to attending good schools, children take private classes and study ahead in schools called yukus, which they attend after regular school lets out in the afternoon, to obtain the extra information needed to do well in the exams. This system leads to the so called examination hell, in other words, to a childhood of immersion in studying with no time left to be a child. So let me make it clear in advance that I would not like to see this version of hell as the future of Hungarian education. Continue reading…

Meri Kurisumasu – Christmas in Tokyo

Only once in my life was I away from my family at Christmas, and that one time I was far away indeed, in Tokyo.

I noticed that Christmas was coming from the unbelievable quantity of poinsettias, Christmas trees in the stores, and the customary Christmas songs that filled the air, starting on the day after Halloween. However, the mood of the holiday was very different to what I was used to have at home, or Christmas mood in any Christian country. In Japan, Christmas is a fun-filled, joyful holiday, kind of similar day to Valentine’s Day.

happy christmas

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Hinamatsuri – the happiness of little girls

あかりをつけましょ ぼんぼりに                                            
おはなをあげましょ もものはな
5にんばやしの ふえだいこ
きょうは たのしいひなまつ

Let’s light the oil lamps
Let’s add the flowers, the peach blossoms
Five court musicians, with drums and flutes
Today is joyful Hinamatsuri!

This song is heard everywhere on March 3, the Day of Girls and Dolls, called Hinamatsuri (ひなまつり) in Japanese. The festival is similar to Tanabata, celebrated on July 7, in that it was borrowed from China. By today it has become a part of Japanese tradition and is deeply imbedded in Japanese culture. Continue reading…

Aokigahara – A sea of trees

Japan is generally well-known for its colorful and interesting culture, advanced technology, and beautiful natural endowments.

However, this world also has an enchanted and very dark side. The vast forest of Aokigahara, covering over 7,500 acres, lies at the foot of Mount Fuji and the trees grow so densely that locals refer to it as the Sea of Trees (Jukai).

Photo 1

The place itself dates back to 1200 years ago; following a huge volcanic eruption, the created volcanic soil, being rich in minerals, provided lush vegetation in the area. At the same time, the gases erupting from the magma created a number of caves that are surrounding the mountain and according to researchers their number is estimated around 80. Continue reading…

A glimpse into the world of Japanese robots

Humanoid robots are totally fascinating. In the fall of 2014, I saw a performance by the Japanese Oriza Hirata robot theater at Trafo, here in Budapest. The company took its inspiration from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and, unlike in the original work, Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself transformed into a humanoid robot rather than an insect. Although the robot stayed in bed until the end, as demanded by the role, I was fascinated by the way it gesticulated and blinked. I thought the 21st century technology, able to reproduce the human body, its movement, its mimicry, and the details of facial expression, was stunning. So I was thrilled when last summer I got the chance to visit a robotics exhibition and get a closer look at humanoid robots and other unimaginable inventions.

INNOROBO

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Meetings with Enku

The meetings are, of course, figurative since Enku lived in 18th century Japan, primarily in the Gifu prefecture.

enku-standing-11-headed-kannon-edo-era-TN

The first time we met was in Moscow, when I was in college. One of my Japanese language teachers, whose name was Komarovsky, mentioned Enku as a favorite of his and showed us a few pictures. In those days I was just taking my first steps in learning about Japanese culture and I was surprised, even shocked, at the modernness. This was particularly true given the environment I was in. It was Moscow in around 1971, when perhaps the worst variation of socialist realism dominated the cultural scene (or at least, the portion the public saw), and modernist leanings as represented by this Japanese artist (deemed “imperialist” or even “clerical”) had no place there. So I was really lucky that the fates had brought me together with an independent-minded teacher.

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“Bento”, or Japanese style lunch in a box

Similar to the traditional Hungarian packaged lunch of old times (raw onions, raw bacon, and bread, or, if we believe the fairy tales, “pogacsa” (a type of puff pastry) baked in ashes), there is the Japanese counterpart of real boxed lunches, called “bento”, and rice balls called “onigiri” (rice balls), to be taken with us when eating out of home.

I chose to discuss bento, not only because it`s a typical way to transport lunch but it also demonstrates packaging technique, the aesthetics of the meal, and the importance of the package to all aspects of Japanese life, things foreigners find unusual. The issue can be disputed, but I believe that the way a meal looks and how many attractive components fit elegantly into the surprisingly little box are more important than how it tastes.

Making a bento lunch helps people to develop their artistic abilities. How? Here’s a taste of a few bento masterpieces:

2009_08_28haihiru_2565 Continue reading…

Tobi workers

Anyone visiting Japan has had to encounter construction projects, since new buildings and city projects are going up all around us. We have to have noticed that some workers on these construction projects dress in the kind of clothes we’d really find unusual.

workers

They kind of resemble the actors in a sci-fi film, said a well-known movie director while commenting on them. Their pants, from the knees downward, are exceptionally wide, but get pulled together at the ankle by a flexible but hard-soled “zori” or mitten-like textile shoe. Continue reading…

Studying day and night …

How do we behave, communicate, think, relate to work, care for our families, and manage our day-to-day living and conflict situations? Obviously, every individual is different but still, some features tend to be typical of a given culture. And we learn the vast majority of the attitudes that become our norms during our years at school, within the walls of the place where we study. I don’t think it makes much difference whether we come together with a Japanese exchange student, a business associate, or a colleague, because in all cases figuring out the meaning of the words and actions of the other party is a lot easier if we know something about the Japanese educational system that molds and shapes a young Japanese person. That’s why I thought I’d offer some nuggets from my memories as an exchange student at a Japanese secondary school. I figured that I’d focus on the aspects of the stay that had the deepest impact on me in the positive sense, and the ones that really shocked me. However, at the outset, let me underline that there is no way I can present the Japanese education system in all its detail. One reason is that I was always on one side only, that of a student. Continue reading…

Do the Japanese have a sense of humor?

At the level of day-to-day communications, humor does not typically help to bring the Hungarians and Japanese closer together. For us, humor is a nearly surefire way of establishing a connection and keeping it going. In Japan, being a “serious person” and not joking around is considered much more appropriate. Presenting yourself in an ironic way is rare indeed. Taking oneself seriously is typical, although, interestingly enough, the Japanese are not self-satisfied or conceited.

On matters of humor there tends to be a gap between day-to-day life and the arts in Japan. Up until the 18th century, humor was very much a part of Japanese literature, painting and, in particular, its theatrical productions. Continue reading…