Sunday, October 31, 2010

English Festival

I gave up one of my Saturdays to help out an English festival last weekend.

Morning: I arrived at the high school near Yaginishiguchi (say that 5 times fast) station a little late for the festival. Luckily, one of the judges was also late, so everyone overlooked my indiscretion. The morning was reserved for the 61st Nara Inter-High School Speech Competition (a real mouthful). This time, I got to lay back and just listen to the speeches. Other Nara ALTs were judges along with the same guy from the Nara Board of Education. A student from my school was competing, so I felt somewhat obligated to attend and cheer her on.

In high school speech contests, the students write their own speeches (probably with some major help from their teachers). Some of the topics were deep. One student talked about how she became suicidal during her junior high years because of bullying. This was actually a popular theme. Three other speeches were about overcoming bullying, finding meaning in the experience, and maturing as a result. Junior High School must be really brutal in this country.

Other speech topics included: the importance of breakfast, the importance of not wasting food, the Irish harp, and the message of "High School Musical." The student from my school did her speech on why Japanese woman are not having children. The birthrate in Japan has been declining for 10 years. My student blames financial problems, safety, and career driven females for this disturbing trend. I do not know enough about the topic, but I will do some research and write another cultural blog post soon.

My student came in 5th out of 17 contestants. I thought this would make her happy, but she told me she got fifth the previous year as well. I bought her some candy on the conbini to cheer her up. At least she ranked and received a GIANT certificate.

Afternoon: Upon return from lunch, all the students attending the festival received a pink paper with a description of someone. Each description corresponded with one of the ALTs in attendance. The students had to use their English to find the correct foreigner. They asked questions like: "where are you from," "where do you live," and "what are your hobbies." The students found me easily.

We played some English games in our groups for about 15 minutes. Then we combined our groups together to make bigger ones. We played more English games for another 40 minutes. It was fun. The kids were just excited to interact with foreigners, I think.

The closing ceremony was as stereotypical as ever. Lots of applause, lots of "thank you's" and lots of bowing.

As the festival came to a close, one of teachers alerted me that I had earned daikyu for helping on a Saturday. Daikyu refers to vacation days I earn because I work more than I am contractually obligated to. I've earned 2 extra vacation days because I worked the JETNET event and the English Festival. The only restriction is that I must use the daikyu within 8 weeks or it disappears. Whoop!


  1. What I find interesting about your posts similar issues in Japan and America.

    Bullying has become a hot topic in America because there have been recent suicides associated with bullying. While bullying does not just happen in Junior High, I am not surprised that is does happen with the age group. Kids say and do things without thinking of consequences. And of course, school is the kid's whole world, no matter how trivial adults think it is. Try convincing a kid that!

    Also, I am not surprised about the birth rate in Japan. It is not just a problem there. It probably doesn't help that more women have control over their own lives compared to before. More women than men are going to college and going to grad school. Generally, the more education you have, the more likely you hold off getting married and children.

    I know from my own experience, I have no desire to be married or have children. I would rather have a career and be able to do things without planting roots.

  2. Though I have not noticed it in my school, Japanese students have an incredibly evil method of bullying, or iijime.

    Basically they, as a class, will single out one kid, and completely ignore him/her. While they ignore him/her, they will still talk ABOUT them. For example, some kids can be talking about how much they hate "trash." In this example, the "trash" is the bullied student. Using this method, the bullying goes unnoticed.

    It is clearly more obvious in elementary and junior high, but high school bullies can be very strategic. The bullied kid doesn't want to speak up for fear of violence so he sits and listens as others around him, insult him. It really is a cruel world.

    I also want to point out a Japan-specific psychological problem called Hikikomori, or Social Withdrawal Syndrome. Read up on it. Super fascinating.