It’s your friendly neighbourhood Gaijin here, coming to you with a reflective piece about the perks that come with being an ALT and working on the JET Programme. Now some of these things are universal joys that anyone can get by working with kids, however Japanese children do have some very unique quirks that I enjoy seeing day by day. Don’t tell them that though, or I would lose what semblance of power that I have as a serious teacher in their class. I’m not the most serious guy to be honest :).
1. じゃん券 (Rock, Paper, Scissors!)
No matter what problem your students have, everything can easily be solved with Rock, Paper, Scissors. If there’s extra milk or meat at lunch, then you can bet there will be a round of rock, paper, scissors. Who serves first for Volleyball – what is this coin toss, obviously rock, paper, scissors. Who has to supervise the students cleaning the toilets (and subsequently clean the toilets yourself) – rock – paper – scissors. A simple and fair way to decide things and it leaves you with a good feeling once it’s done, no matter if you win or lose. Even I have adapted this custom with other foreigners (as they say – when in Rome, do as the Romans do). So, in Japan we practice this custom a lot too, but I don’t know if this is something I would carry back to Canada. Can you imagine me working at Scotiabank and then deciding who has to work the late shift with Rock, Paper, Sciss- wait… that doesn’t sound too bad.
My students are extremely well mannered, they self-regulate themselves and each other’s behaviour. They’re very cautious about being prideful. I once asked a class if they thought their class would win the school Culture Festival singing competition – no one responded. They were all too shy, or maybe they respected their competition so much that saying they would win could be an act of disrespect. This quality is something I respect in my students, but I am slightly reserved about at the same time.
Now I’m not saying that I was completely innocent in grades 7-9, but I know what I was not doing was grabbing my fellow male classmate’s crotches or sitting on their laps. To these children, I guess because a lot of the same gendered students just see each other naked in the Onsens as well as their parents (Good Lord I have never seen my parents naked) – it makes them less sensitive to touchy behaviour and nudity. This is a huge cultural difference to North America where if we even touch ANYONE, we are considered having affection or are just plain weird. Except hugging, you can hug one another as much as you want – in fact, there was so much hugging at my elementary school they made announcements to tell us to stop hugging. It is at this age in Junior High School that they start learning all of the more adult-natured things such as love hotels, body parts and one of my students new favourite words – Calpis. Thank you International students…………..
After observing the International Students who came to my school and comparing them with Japanese students, I have learned that you can train children to be disciplined as long as you are firm and start at an extremely young age. One of the differences with Western and Japanese students is that the school enforces proper manners and behaviour. You MUST thank everyone or greet all the teachers that you meet. Or when waiting for an assembly to begin you should wait quietly, sitting with your back upright and hands in your lap. Not only kids use these behaviours, the principles of being quiet and having perfected manners is an admirable trait that many Japanese continue until adulthood. Following instructions and never complaining with your own objections is a sign that you are extremely well-mannered in Japan. There are pros and cons to everything, but these are lessons even I can learn by watching my students.
Luckily for me, my students seem to be angels. The Japanese are very kind individuals and they help one another without any sign of reciprocation at times. Sometimes if their schoolmates drop everything out of their pencil case, the students will rush to help their friend tidy up like their life depended on it. The students clean their school every day, with the only payment they receive being that they get to learn in it. While this is a simple cultural difference, ignoring the fact that they are forced to clean, it still is a very important trait that Japanese individuals possess. Sometimes you just do things because you must and it is a good thing to do.