Stuff I Say

Club Activities

Posted in Japan by 51future on July 15, 2008

I was looking around for a story about local governments (here in Japan) pushing for shorter convenience store hours when I came across this story, which I guess is now a dead link to a bunch of comments on a story that has “expired.” (lotwut?) The original story was about the Ministry of Education ushering in longer school hours (again, lolwut– as the comments mention, are they talking about 5AM – 6PM, or 9AM to 10PM?) over the next three years in Japanese elementary and middle schools. The comments, of course, turned to club activities, since club activities are mandatory and often run until 7PM every day after school and usually also run on Saturday and/or Sunday.

I started reading the comments and it made me think about “club activities” here in Japan. I work at a large, Japanese middle school that serves the metropolitan area of a rather large city so we have numerous “clubs” that students are forced to take part in. Yes, unlike American schools, students in Japan are coerced into joining “club activities” and failure to take part in these club activities often carries harsher penalties than say, not attending school itself. At my school, students who skip school or come in at say, 10AM, rather than 8AM, often get a “Good Morning! You’re up early today!” when they do eventually mosey on into the school building and make their way to the nurse’s office; students who skip club activities will find themselves the target of harsh words, significant penalties, parental conferences, and the like. Most students do get some sort of choice as to which club they’re forced into: some choose tennis, others, ‘cleaning club,’ others still, band or track and field. They talk about their club activities in class essays, short sentences, and especially in English class. Their club is often more defining then their name. While we have many 大畑’s, you could more easily determine who is who by their club activity than you could with their names.

The main reason I’m bringing this up is because their are two viewpoints on club activities, usually harshly divided straight down the racial-cultural line. Here’s a typical Western viewpoint:

My daughter’s school had their open house yesterday. From what I saw there was only about 2 kids in every class that showed any interest in what the teacher was doing. About half of the kids were just sitting, eyes down, face hidden, not getting a thing. People always ask us how our daughter does so well at Jr. High. “What juku does she go to?” “How many hours of homework does she do every day?” Besides the obvious, that she has had a more diverse upbringing, all I can say is, she doesn’t go to juku and we tell her she doesn’t need to waste her time on most of the homework if she already knows it. Instead she can do what ever she wants in her free time. Oh, and we didn’t allow our daughter to join a school sports club. The only “down side” is that some of the sluttier girls give her the evil eye because she knows all the answers and the kids that spend all their time studying things they already know are in a panic. Less free time will mean the marks will drop even more.

Contrast that with a typical Japanese view:

a child learns a lot about life through sports (building up a high self-esteem, becoming mentally tough, respect, hard work leads to rewards etc), not to mention bonding with friends, where proxy’s kids’ friends are while his daughter is busy doing god-knows-what with all her free time. I can’t believe how negative some people view things here in Japan. Then again, this is where the pessimists hang out, so there u go. Proxy’s daughter will end up like my a few of my students who cry when they lose a game-based activity.

“Pizzaboy” in this case, sounds like a Japanese teacher, who, by default, invests a lot in club activities. I don’t know the ins-and-outs of a typical Japanese teaching contract, but I do know that most teachers spend an inordinate amount of time at school and I’m relatively sure that they don’t get paid for all (or even most) of it. Teachers here are contract workers, so overtime is a no-go. Most teachers I know, especially new teachers with something to prove will often arrive to work at 6 or 7AM (school officially starts at 8:20AM and contracts usually begin at 8AM– this I’m relatively sure of). Some clubs, in addition to afternoon practice, also practice in the morning. I get to school at 8AM and there are always throngs of kids running laps around the school grounds even at that time. (I arrive 30 minutes early to work every day in order to make the morning meeting. I’m not sure why I do this, since the meeting never ever concerns anything I do, nor am I obligated to go, but that’s another entry entirely.)

School officially ends at around 4:05PM. In the afternoon, most kids I talk to say they stay at school until 7PM, fewer still until 8PM. After that, they often head to night school for even more study and get home just in time to eat a quick dinner and tuck in.

When people ask me about club activities and I tell them that we don’t do that in the States, I usually get a sort of exasperated look, followed by a surprised chirp and a sense of awe. When I tell them that I think students should have a choice in the matter, the conversation usually peters off because well, nobody here feels that way, as far as I can tell. And I think some people have a twisted sense of turnabout and fair play: “I did it when I was a kid, so you have to do it, too.” (After all, what would Japanese families spend time doing together if they ever actually were in the same room at the same time anyway? Madness!)

In any case, I promised myself when I started this blog that I’d keep it topical and that I wouldn’t bitch about my job. I have the job I have because I jumped through a lot of hoops (willingly!) to get it and I even signed up for a second year! I cash my paycheck and I spend the money. Clearly, I’m getting something out of it. However, reading those comments made me realize that I have to ignore quite a bit that goes on around me, namely club activities, in order to continue to perform my job. Club activities don’t affect me. I’m not in a club. I don’t run one. Whether they are there or not has ZERO net effect on my contract or on what I do on a daily basis but that doesn’t change the fact that I think the brainwashing and coercion that takes place in relation to club activities is fucking criminal. And I think that the culture that surrounds them is a disservice to every single Japanese citizen who consciously or unconsciously allows their existence to continue.

Don’t worry, I’ll be back to talking about the App store in a day or two, at most.

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