Monday 28 April 2014

Master of Ceremonies

The kids started nursery school a few weeks back, and so hopefully you’ll understand why things have been a little slow on the blogging front of late. You’d have thought that getting someone else to knacker them out look after them all day would have provided us with a bit more free time of an evening, but apparently not. Ah well, we always knew it was going to be an awkward period of adjustment, just not quite like this.

Let’s rewind. The kids start nursery school at the beginning of the month, and on the first Saturday there’s an opening ceremony, so we all troop down there with lots of other parents and siblings all dressed up in suits and party frocks to hear the great and the good (well, a priest and the head of the PTA) welcome us and set out the stall for the year.

To reiterate the key points: that’s an OPENING CEREMONY.

At which people wore SUITS.


Our eldest is three years old. His little brother is yet to turn two. What kind of shitting fuckery decrees that kids who aren’t even old enough to fucking walk or speak coherent sentences or not shit themselves are going to benefit from sitting in a stuffy hall for an hour (ONE FUCKING HOUR) listening to people drone on about, well, frankly, anything at all? I’m in my fourth decade on this planet and have full control of my anal sphincter and even I had trouble paying attention to things. What chance did these poor fucking kids have? Sure, some of the teachers/carers tried to put on a little play with puppets and the like, but by that point the kids had been trying and failing to sit still for more than thirty minutes while the PTA avatar droned on about gaman or day trips or rice or whatever the fuck it was, and they were just lost. Fidgeting, whining, screaming and complaining all over the shop [hilarious kids/parents pull back and reveal gag goes here].

And guess what happens when you cram a lot of snotty-nosed kids and their families together in a hermetically sealed chamber for more than an hour during that climatically awkward boundary between winter and spring? People get sick, is what. Infection fucking central right there, and for the past three weeks we’ve basically been taking it in turns to hack up mucous of varying shades, all of which could none-the-less be described as ‘alarming’. I’ve never lost my voice before, not truly, and it’s something of a shock when a sizable chunk of my professional standing (and thus my ability to earn money and eat and live and stuff) is based on my ability to speak clearly and confidently in public. My wife and I have both managed to use up half our annual leave within the first month of the new financial year and the boys have probably spent less than ten days combined at this fucking nursery with its fucking ceremony and its fucking germs throughout the entirety of the first fucking month they were meant to fucking be there.

An opening ceremony. For a nursery school. Jesus fucking wept.

Holy facepalm is best facepalm

Still, at least our attendance or otherwise didn’t make the national news, unlike this poor teacher in Saitama, who declined to attend the opening ceremony of the school where she was employed (as Homeroom teacher for in incoming first-year class) in favour of attending her son’s opening ceremony at a different school. This obviously displeased various rentagob politicians and career bureaucrats who, having attended the ceremony (which for them involved nothing more than sitting on the stage with half-a-dozen other middle-aged men, mutely glowering at everyone there like a massed rank of stone heads – silent icons to the gods of conformity and inertia) mistakenly got it into their heads that people wanted to hear their opinions on “the responsibilities of educators”, or indeed anything whatsoever.

Rigidly immobile representatives of a crushing and
deadening social order, enforcing outmoded norms
merely through their silent and unmoving presence

I too have ‘opinions’, and fair’s fair, so here are some of points which Assemblyman Goto and Chairman Sekine may wish to consider the next time they feel moved to open their obviously mindless and ignorant traps –

1.    Japan is currently ranked 105th in the world for gender equality
2.    Japan’s population is now decreasing at the greatest rate since records began
3.    Abenomics isn’t working and the Japanese economy continues to suck
4.    Japanese female participationin the labour force in one of the lowest in the OECD
5.    Japan needs more women in work and more children in general or else it’s fucked
(Bonus point -  6. Japan is probably fucked anyway)

All that being so, maybe you might want to offer working mothers a bit of support instead of laying into them for making completely understandable and laudable decisions that will benefit not only themselves and their families but ultimately that nation you’re supposed to be so bloody proud of? I know, I know, it’s not “the Japanese Way”, but how’s that been working out for ya for the last, I dunno, quarter of a century?

You know why the Easter Islanders died out, don’t you? You know Easter Island – the one in the middle of the Pacific with all the massive stone heads staring out to sea. Basically, making those heads became the thing to do, and to do it you needed to cut down a fuckton of trees for scaffolding and rollers and whatnot. So they kept at it until they’d cut down all the trees. All of them. Turns out that trees are quite important for other stuff as well as moving massive stone heads – they provide shelter and fuel, and mitigate soil erosion and surface water runoff allowing for cultivation and agriculture. These things (heat, housing, food) were ultimately considered less important by the islanders than making their stone heads because that was what they did; that was “the Easter Island Way”. They overvalued the importance of empty ritual and display to the point where they totally overlooked the more fundamental necessities for a successfully functioning society. And now they’re all dead.

Just a thought.

Rigidly immobile representatives of etc etc...


  1. Good stuff.

    The only way to not let this kind of stuff get into my head and start eating away like a termite in wood is to believe that this is a kind of global karmic Newton's-third-law thing where conservation principles are upheld. For example, for every lazy, undisciplined society of slobs on the planet, there are ones like the Japanese have which provide balance to it all through by engaging in sisyphusian endeavors for life.

    1. “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

      ― Albert Camus

    2. I have nothing as high-falutin' to offer as Camus, sadly. I'll merely note that 'lazy' usually correlates with taking the past of least resistance, and that path takes all sorts of forms.

  2. And there it is! Bang!
    Truely back on form with this post Me. Kamo sir! This is what I love about you; straight to the bitter truth.
    P.S. more cake please.

    1. Thank you. Not too bitter, I hope, but that it's always easier to vent about the bad stuff than exult about the good.

  3. It is always a good day to quote Camus. Welcome back to posting Japanese sociology as endured by Anglophones. Worth the wait.

    I endured my own, about half as much to endure as what you describe, so I'm not entitled to add to what stands well on its own, except... (there always is) to note that all one has to do to describe Japanese teaching methodology is to change a single preposition: they teach AT students. As much the 'erai-hito' speeches as the classroom teachers. My boy's classroom teacher seems nice enough, but spoke at us parents for north of a half hour while the toddlers screamed and cried over her. How in this witless archipelago could she have thought of another method?

    1. Thank you. Good to be back and hopefully something like normal service will be resuming in the near future.

      My wife thinks our eldest's homeroom teacher (are they called that at his level?) is a bit of a yankee, and I have to say I find this incredibly reassuring. Many of the other staff do, as you say, seem a little preoccupied in doing the acceptable thing, but this one is a little brasher and less concerned by propriety, and this can only be a good thing, I feel.

      You take the little reassurances where you can get them, eh?

  4. The purpose of these kind of ceremonies is to cause people to bond socially by demonstration of "gaman" and subordination to the group.

    1. Yeah, I think that's all too clear. Little much to expect it of toddlers though, no?

  5. Im nearing the end of my stint as a kindy teacher here and can relate to this. I was invited to a graduation ceremony and thought it would be a nice respite from my normal weekend brat class. Turned up in my Sunday best, bit hungover and ready for round two after an early dart...six hours later i was standing at the gate saying goodbye to each parent. I spent an hour a week at that one. One of the darkest stories I have about Japan so far would be the day care I taught at which one of the brightest students was a girl. There were 25 of them in there and I had an hour a week, all if them under 6. She had had enough of the noise and was screaming kirai at all of them and went beyond what the half hearted JT could ever do and got them to shut up (its the JTs job to discipline them, not mine beore you ask :) ). She was taken for a word and was notably subdued therein after. It might be my imagination running away with me but Im sure her little outburst was ahead if her station and she kinda got stomped down. I hope you can take the school systems here with a pinch of salt, cos this is just the start and you will need a sense of humour kiddo.

    1. Thanks for the warning, but if you have a look under the 'work' tab to the left there hopefully you'll see that I've got a little familiarity with he system myself. That said, there's a difference between experiencing it as an employee and as a parent, so a bit of a drawing of breath is probably appropriate.

      Thanks for the comment, and I hope the end of your stint here passes with as little frustration as possible.

    2. you know the knidergarten stuff? sorry i thoght you were strictly high school etc? im quitting my job cos u gotta be ambitious. i have been wondering about my own potential kiid and been wondering abot if they get born here . so will be interesting to read this

  6. I'm finally getting back into the blogging world after an almost two month long bout of Real Life. (Job changes, relatives, kid related projects, on and on...) I have missed reading your reminders of why life is probably better here in another alarmingly dysfunctional republic.
    I won't add anything to your story except to say that every phone conference involving conservative Japanese businessmen and Pacific NW hippies takes about five minutes to degenerate into hilarity.

    1. Been a little slack with the blogging myself (for hopefully obvious reasons), so welcome back to us all. Hope you've all been healthier than we have.

      I would love to see some of those discussions. A bit of cross-cultural miscommunication on home turf would be very pleasant, I feel *)