Junior High School in Japan - A Primer for Parents Part II 中学校
Joanne G. Yoshida
1. Choosing a Junior High
There are a variety of options for where to go to junior high school chu-gako, 中学) in Japan, including international schools, public schools, and private schools.
This article is based on my experience of having a daughter who is going to junior high in the public school system, having also attended kindergarten (private kindergarten) and all her elementary school years (public school) in Japan.
For us the decision was easy.Our daughter wanted to continue on to the local public junior high where many of her friends from elementary school would be going in our neighborhood district.
Three of the local elementary schools feed into one junior high school so there would be a chance to meet new students and still be able to walk a short distance to school. This made the transition easy, and even before school started there are assemblies and visits to the new junior high to begin to get to know the new school environment.
If you weigh the considerations and values that you and your family feel to be most important and listen to what your child needs, I believe the right choice willfall naturally into place.The private junior highs require an application procedure whereas the public schools do not.You will need to pay for the tests to apply for private schools and the tuition fees might be an issue if you choose to pursue private schools.
2. 部活 Bukatsu After-School Club Activity
Bukatsu, or after-school club activities, are a big part of junior high school life.
At the beginning of junior high school your child/adolescent will have to decide whether and what club to join. Whether she joins club or not will make a big difference in your family rhythms, as the schedule is rigorous (from the standpoint of this American-schooled parent!).
Depending on the school the bukatsu to choose from will vary.Many are sports: tennis, basketball, baseball, judo, etc. - and in some cases music such as brass band, or other cultural activities are offered.
There is also the option of going right home, or ki-taku-bu (帰宅部) - "the going home club".Some students who choose this option go to juku, or "cram school",pursue private lessons, orgo to other activities offered outside the school that they have an interest in.
If a student joins bukatsu, their school hours will be greatly increased. My daughter, for example, joined basketball club. After school finishes at 4pm she changes directly into her gym clothes, tai-so fuku 体操服) and heads to the tai-iku-kan (体育館) school gymnasium.
She finishes club at 6.30pm and by the time she cleans up and gets home it is 7pm.On the weekends, there is bukatsu on both days, and on summer vacation bukatsu continues for morning or afternoon practice, with the exception of a few days off on the O-bon holiday and occasional single days off.
For weekends, the schedule varies, but mostly so far this term it has been from 8am. to about 12pm or 12.30pm on Saturday and Sundays.During the year there are games and meetings as well so be prepared to see your child infrequently if they join club.
Figure ondinner together, but don't expect to hear too much about her day. After that, she will need to do homework, shower, get to bed, and be rested for the next school and club day.
Bukatsu continues into the second year of junior high. Third year students who are still in bukatsu will complete their club experience in the first term of that year, around June or early summer, in order to begin the period of concentrated study for high school exams.
At first I didn't encourage my daughter to join club because it seemed to be way too much time to be spending at school activities. She sensed my attitude and expressed that she wished I could be like all the other mothers. I wasn't ready to see this diligent aspect of the society which was so different from my upbringing, and projected my own experience rather than seeing the positive experience it could be for her to be in the club. At last I am seeing. This is giving her an important chance to grow and develop into herself through relationships with friends and in the school society.
She is once again helping me to listen and go beyond the image I have formed of her, and to understand that she has and will have her own way of being in the world and responding to the world around her.
3. 制服 Sei-fuku The Uniform
You may lose a child in that she/he is pretty much happy to be on her own and most probably won't need you as much in this period. However, you gain a uniform to care for. The uniform requires all the attention your child once needed. He/she will need your attention daily, will need a place to hang out, to be handled lovingly, by you and only you.
There is a winter uniform and a summer uniform and very little closet space in between, so you might want to think of displaying them in a prominent place in the house.When washing, follow the carefully detailed instructions on the uniform. I hand wash the skirt and put the shirt in the machine on delicate. Allow a certain amount of time in your daily care to iron the pleats.
As in elementary school, the uwa-gutsu 上靴), also called uwa-baki 上履き), or "indoor shoes" are brought home weekly and need to be washed and sun-dried in time to bring them back on Monday morning.
Each school has their specific uniform. Uniforms can be ordered at the end of the sixth grade elementary year in department stores or in specialty stores strictly for school uniforms. Check prices to see how they compare.
In our case, mothers from the elementary school gathered to order together from a local specialty uniform shop. It was all handled very efficiently and the items needed were organized, the tailors were present to measure for size, and it took place at a local community center.
If you have the opportunity to organize in a group it might make it easier, and cost-efficient. However even if you go individually the shops are extremely professional and in business to provide this service to a tee. Each child's name is embroidered onto both the uniform and gym clothes.
We ordered one of each of the required items including winter skirt, winter blouse, summer skirt, summer blouse, gym clothes (tai-so-fuku: jersey top, bottom, winter, summer). One pair each of indoor sports shoes, outdoor shoes, and classroom shoes.A few pairs of white socks were given to all those who attended that day as a thank you for ordering gift.
The price came to about 60,000 yen for the basic order.If you would like to go for any extras, I would recommend an additional tai-so-fuku shirt if your child is in bukatsu, as it needs to be washed daily and on winter or wet days may not dry sufficiently.
Best Practical Tip:for brushing up a dark-colored skirt (or pants for boys' uniform) I recommend a roller that you can purchase at the 100 yen shop, it has a sticky tape that you can roll to pick up lint and freshen the skirt (or pants) daily between washings.Additional refill rolls can be purchased for another 100 yen.
4.期末テスト Ki-matsu Test
In one semester, there are mainly three kinds of tests: jitsu-ryoku 実力テスト, chu-kan 中間テスト, kimatsu, 期末テスト. Kimatsu test means the final test of one semester. Each test is important to be evaluated for the total grade. High school is selected based on the total grades.
These require a lot of studying and the days before students must follow the rules and guidelines for studying which dictate that they can't go out to play, they must be inside studying. The subjects include Math San-su, 算数), English Ei-go, 英語), Japanese Koku-go, 国語), Science Ri-ka, 理科), and Social Studies (Sha-kai, 社会).
5. 宿題 Shukudai Homework
Homework. Everyday there will be homework in the subjects above. A lot.
What else is there to stay except - ben-kyou (study!)
One topic my daughter and I both agree on is that there is too much homework, and that summer vacation should be without homework. As of this writing, there is still a mountain of homework given during summer vacation.
As with all choices in life there are some pros and cons to each. Jr. High in Japan has both. Homework might just be one of the places that your child will need to use gamman (endurance) and stick it out, hopefully the pro's of the experience will balance out this part of the equation.
6. 学費 Gakuhi Costs
Costs of attending a public school* (*based on our experience) include the monthly payments for school lunch, kyu-shoku-hi 給食費 (about 4,600 yen per month), PTA (about 3,000 yen per month), and extras if your child joins bu-katsu (about 7,000 yen for yearly dues and about 12,000 for team uniform). As the school year goes on there may be additional payments for school trips or additional supplies.
This sums up some aspects of the junior high school experience I have encountered thus far.
I don't know if it can prepare you for the "paradigm" as my friend Steve calls it, the total shift from your child being an involved member of the family to the complete shift to her being with her friends and the school community, and the way it can happen seemingly overnight. It doesn't necessarily happen to all junior high school students, but my sense is that it is a healthy part of growing up.
Keep showering your love on your child, as even though she may seem not to need it, the more it flows the more she will be nurtured by your heart even from the respectful distance that you will be keeping. She may even surprise you one day and ask you to share a kaki-gori with her (shaved ice summer dessert) on an afternoon during summer vacation (this just happened to me today!). Cherish the moments when that happens, but don't expect it to happen too much.
Now is your chance to shift your own paradigm from being defined as a parent to perhaps making a difference in some way to make connections or improvements in your community or to simply get to know yourself better and take a look around and discover, you're in Japan!
Joanne G. Yoshida