Friday, September 11, 2009

Welcome to Hokubu Shogakko!

'Shogakko' is the Japanese word for Elementary, or Primary School. Ours is called 'Hokubu', which means 'Northern'. Like in New Zealand, most schools are named after their area. There are several schools in our small city of Nakatsu*, this one is in the north part of town, so it's called Northern Primary School!

Looking at a Japanese Primary School from the outside, there are two big difference:

1. They are usually two or three storeys high. This is because there is less space in Japan. Japan is about the same size as New Zealand, but 120,000,000 people live here! Japan's islands are volcanic and mountainous, but most people live on the flat land by the sea, making it even more crowded.

2. There's no grass! The climate in Japan is very different from that in New Zealand. The summer here is long and hot, and the soil is dryer. So, it's much harder to grow grass. Almost all schools have no grass, just dirt playgrounds. Kids play all their sports on the dirt, including baseball and soccer.

This is the South Wing. The Library is in here, on the second floor.

The three main wings are in the shape of a 'C'. At a right angle to the South Wing is the Hall. (You can see the South Wing on the right) All Primary Schools in Japan have a great big Hall like this, they use it for indoor sports, concerts, festivals, games and ceremonies.

Another view of the Hall from the north, with a corner of the South Wing.

The North Wing, where all the classrooms are.

A closer view of the North Wing. In the windows, you can see some of the class names. The first number is the Year, the second number is the class number. 2-2 is on the second floor, third from the left. That's Lena's class - Second Year, Class Two. There are two classes in her year. There are between two and four classes for each year. In the First Year, the class size is about 20 kids. From the Third Year, the class size gets bigger, about 30 kids. Altogether there are about 400 kids at this school.

*Nakatsu city is in the prefecture of Oita on the island of Kyushu. Population 70,000

Some Photos of the School Yard

The Swings

The view from a classroom out onto the yard and playground.

A closer view of the playground and jungle gym.

From the same window, pulling back a bit, showing the athletic track for the School Sports Day; the garden to the left; and to the right, a tent for the School Sports Day. By the time the School Sports day happens on October 4, there will be tents like this surrounding the track.

In the centre, sunken tires for balancing, and to the right, bars for doing flips and stuff.

Let's Go Inside

Well, one of them! Since it's such a big building, there are a lot of entrances, about seven. This is the entrance to the gym. On the right is the box for storing your outside shoes. You have to wear gym shoes in the gym.

This is a students' shoes box. The signs say '1 no 3' and '3 no 1'. That means First Year, Class Three and Third Year Class One. You have to remove your outside shoes and put on your inside shoes. Japanese people are NOT fond of bare feet, either inside or outside. Outside, it's too dirty, dangerous, and in summer, much too hot. Inside, you wear inside shoes or slippers on floorboards or lino, and socks on tatami mats. People are concerned about your feet getting cold from the cold floor. People seem to be a little embarrassed about letting people see their bare feet, or worried about sweat/smell so they leave their socks on. Even throughout the heat of summer, all the school children wear shoes and socks, inside and out.

Each compartment has a large area where the outside shoes are kept when you go inside, and the smaller compartment is where the inside shoes are kept when you go outside.

The stairs. The school is three storeys high - typical in Japan.


The Corridors

This is the old block. I can only guess the white line was to separate the traffic! These classrooms are closed now, I think they use this area just for storage.

The new corridor with basin area on the right for hand-washing. On the right you can see the bags hanging on hooks under the window.

A hook! For hanging bags! And a nice suburban Japanese house in the background. It's got more lawn than most houses have.

The class library sits outside the room, I think so the kids don't get distracted while they work. There's a big real library too in another wing, but each classroom has its set of age-appropriate books outside their room. 'Age-appropriate' means a lot more than subject-matter in Japan. In each year of school students learn Kanji (characters). So there are books that have only the characters First Years know, and others with all the characters that all primary school kids should know, but none of the ones you learn in Junior High School. Before they learn them, they learn a kind of alphabet called Hiragana, where each symbol stands for a sound, like the alphabet. (Look at the students' shoes box above, the ’の’ symbol is pronounced 'no'). They can use that to read anything, but books for adults and newspapers and magazines don't use these symbols, they use the characters, so everyone has to learn them.

Cleaning supplies. Another big difference between schools in Japan and New Zealand is that Japanese students have to clean the school. They get into a 'han' or mixed-grade group led by a 6th grade student, and they have to clean parts of the school, like sweeping and washing the corridors. With everyone doing it together, it doesn't take long. They even clean the toilets! That makes everyone be careful not to mess the place up too much. Everyone brings their own washcloth to school to use, but here is a pile of extras.

A Classroom

This is actually the Special Needs classroom. There's some photos of a typical classroom in the lunchtime photos. Only the Special Needs room has a round table like this. The chart on the wall is the phonetic syllabary hiragana I was talking about above. Each one stands for a syllable. It reads up to down, starting on the right side.

The blackboard and teacher's desk, and the brown box in the middle is a keyboard for music lessons in the classroom. Every classroom has a keyboard.

The teacher's desk and chair.

Kanji. This is the character for 'small'. It's the first character of the word for primary school, 小学校、shougakko

This is another syllabary called Katakana. It's used for sounds, animal names and foreign words.

Pond and Garden

Lena outside the very well covered and protected tiny little carp pond.

The little boy statue at the pond. Yes, this statue is right in the middle of a primary school!

The Toilets!

Pretty clean! Can you believe the kids clean them themselves?

Heading Towards the Classroom

Erica sitting on the stairs. The building is three floors high - no elevators!

The corridor outside the classroom on the second floor. You can see swimming bags hanging on the hooks on the left, and the rack with floor rags on the right, just outside the classroom.

This one also shows the apron bags. The white bags contain an apron, a cap and a face mask. Kids use their own face mask all the time, but they share the use of the apron and cap sets. Each week, half the kids in the class use the aprons, and serve the food. The next week, the other half do the job.

Looking into the classroom, you can see a kid with her apron, cap and mask on. And the wash cloths on the rack outside the classroom.

A view of the inside of the classroom, from the back, with random foot in the air, showing that school children everywhere just cannot sit still!

Inside the Classroom

Erica modelling again! Here she is sitting in a standard desk and chair set, coloring, during a school open day in Lena's classroom. You can see screws on the side of the desk and chair that enable you to adjust the height of both for maximum comfort.

Amy sitting at her desk in her classroom. It's pretty standard for the desks to be set up like this in rows of pairs. (She hates the boy she has to sit next to).

Everyone keeps their school bag in a cubby hole at the back of the class. Everyone has a 'randoseru' type backpack, a traditional old-fashioned satchel-type bag. You don't have to have one, but everyone wants one because everyone else has one! They used to come in only two colors - red for girls and navy blue for boys, but they come in a rainbow of colors these days. The extra bags you can see stuffed in there with them are for sports clothes. On top of the shelf are the insulated drink bottles. Most kids have barley tea. A few have water. Nobody has juice or soda.

Inside Amy's desk. Color pencils, pencil case and compass and protractor set. This is all taken home at the end of the day. Kids have a text book for every subject, and they keep them all at home, and have to remember to bring them every day when they have that subject.

Some art work on the walls. Amy's picture is on the bottom right

Getting Ready for Lunch

Amy has just come in from the pool, you can see her pool bag in her hand. In her other hand are her 'uwagustu' or 'inside shoes', which she hasn't put on yet.

Peeking into the First Years' classroom next door - they're already eating! Amy's class is really slow today because they had swimming just before lunch, and it's taken a lot of time for all the children to get back to the classroom. There are no changing sheds at the pool, they have to get changed in classrooms. The girls go to another room to get changed, and the boys change in the classroom, so the girls have to wait until all the boys have finished changing. First and Second years' girls and boys get changed in the same room (ages 6-8)

Amy getting her apron on.

Amy and a friend bringing the milk. Each pair of children takes care of getting one part of lunch from the distribution area downstairs. The food is not cooked at school, but at a company that has a contract to supply school lunches. Then they bring it to the school in a truck, and unload it into the distribution room, where all the kids come to collect the bits and pieces for their class.

Erica modelling the lunch tray, surrounded by some of the other kids from 3-1

Dishing up Lunch

The rice. It comes in metal containers packed into a box. The two kids who brought the box down have to put one on each lunch tray.

A peek inside the rice box. They have rice with nearly every meal, sometimes they have noodles or bread instead. Rice is the staple of the Japanese diet and is considered to be very nutritious and very culturally significant.

The main course, beef stew. However, in the Japanese language, the rice is described as the 'main' and all other food as 'side-dishes'. This particular stew has beef, carrots, onions, peas, potatoes and a kind of clear noodles in it.

The dished-up stew is in the background, and in the front, two more kids are dishing up the fish. Japanese eat a lot of fish. This one has been simmered in a broth flavoured with soy sauce, sugar, and mirin (sweet cooking sake or rice wine). The fish still has the bones in it, and kids are supposed to eat around them and know which ones can be crunched and which ones have to be spit out.

To eat lunch, the children bring their own chopsticks to school. During the day they are kept in a bag like this, hanging off a hook on the side of their desk. The bag contains a lunch mat and a box that holds the chopsticks. To Japanese, sharing chopsticks is a bit like sharing a toothbrush. They prefer to use their own.