Sunday, February 06, 2011

High School

I've been fighting this post for over a year. Here's the non-emotional, stunningly short version -- more of a set up -- so I can talk about snacks and erasers.

You don't just go to high school in Japan. You must test into high school. Very, very good students go into very, very high-leveled schools (with very, very difficult entrance exams). This works all the way down to the "special" schools they have now for the thousands of children who refuse to even go to school for some reason or another. (They're called futoukyou, and an entire blog post can be written on this.)

Kids start going to cram schools and tutors from as early as kindergarten to prepare for these tests. It's rough business.

The kicker is that you're only allowed to test for two schools. No more. One private and one public. If you screw up the tests or interview or naishin (an almost secret number that teachers assign to each student judging their attitude, conduct, and whether or not they have all the buttons on their blazer or not, to name a few of the things under scrutiny) then you don't get into high school.

When you tell people in Japan your child is juken (the last year of jr. high/studying for high school tests) you can get by with almost anything. It's a huge thing here. And it's very stressful.

I won't bore you with my bout of hives or any of the other varied and colorful meltdowns. Instead I'm going to talk about the quirky superstitions that have sprung up around this testing season. Because as all professional athletes know, mind set is a big chunk of the game. And if you can psyche yourself up for something, you're sure to do better.

I'm still in awe of the luck of the Kit Kat. A chocolate snack that had a cute name that didn't really mean anything. Except in Japan where Kit Kat sounds a whole like Kitto Katsu (きっと勝つ) which means "you're so~ going to win". You can bet these babies are selling well.

Another snack food that gets bought up in the spring is the Kaaru (Curl). They are cheesy, puffy treats that resemble Cheetos somewhat. If you put and "u" on the front of "kaaru" you get the word "ukaru" which means "to pass". There you go.

[If you want to read more, over here is a really neat blog that goes into much more detail.]

Moving away from food for just a moment, let's talk about pencils and erasers, tools every exam-taking student needs. Another word for passing an exam is "gokaku". "Gokaku" written with different characters also means five-sided. Here I give you five-sided erasers and pencils.

In gold!

Well, I bought him a pencil and eraser or two. Didn't really bother with the snacks because before I knew it, it was last Thursday and that was the day he had his first round of tests.

The day started at 7AM with a taxi ride (with three friends) to the high school. There's no parking and parents aren't allowed to drop their kids off. Why? Because over a thousand kids are testing all at the same time. And they all have to be there at 8 sharp. Also, all these moms are running on more that a few frazzled nerves. Last time I dropped him off there for an open campus event I saw one of the mothers had driven her car of a mildly steep road and into a rice field. Much chaos ensued.

I guess it's best to leave the driving to the professionals.

The tests finished around 3PM. That means the kids have to eat lunch in the classrooms. Obento time.

Here's the one I made for J.

Pretty self explanatory except for that brown stuff. That's pork cutlet or tonkatsu in Japanese. Again "katsu" or "win". This is kind of a tradition in Japan before tests or the day of, to eat "katsu". I added my own little quirk though. The sauce is a sweet miso sauce. And "miso" is a homophone for "brain". My theory was a kind of "winning of the brains".

Okay. It was early when I made the thing.

We won't know whether he passed or not until sometime next week. So we'll just have to wait and see whether my obento worked it's magic. Or maybe it was all the studying he did. Or if he doesn't pass then I'll probably blame the fact that we should have bought some more Kit Kats for him to eat along the way. (Or that I screwed up the interview. More on THAT later.) <--*Cue dramatic music*

ETA: J's best friend came over to spend the night. He just told me that before his tests his mom and dad called him over to the dining room table where there was a line of octopus-shaped key chains. They said, "Okay, now take these over to the kamidana (god shelf) and place them on it." The meaning being: Oku to pass (If you place *something* you'll pass.) Oku to pass=octopus. Cute!


Tigermama said...

Fingers crossed!

Pat said...

Good grief - why do we do such things to our children? My granddaughter is so disappointed because she is on a waiting list after auditioning for an arts school. Guess we should've given her some Kit Kats.

Best of luck to J!! Can't wait to see the post about his getting the school of his choice!

Hilary said...

That sounds incredibly stressful for the kids to endure. Amusing play with words/snack/items though. I hope he passes with flying colours.

NormalToEatPB said...

Sweet! Thanks for taking me on a mini tour of Japan; your lunch looked delicious! I never knew getting into high school was so tough over there : As I said to my brother, life happens whether you are prepared or not - pls try not to stress too much, and. . .

visit me

Maybe my misery will make you feel better :)

Toshiaki た~ちゃん said...

I suppose an entrance examination system for high school don't very change since I was junior high school student, about 30 years ago lol.

I hope J pass the entrance exam(^^)

Kappa no He said...

Tiger, thanks! I'm officially at the shikata ga nai stage.

Pat, I know. I do hope your grand daughter gets in. It's like if it isn't one thing it's another. *sigh*

Hilary, there are so many more too. Japanese are very clever with word play. My mother-in-law actually reworded his New Year's gift money (something all kids get). It's called "otoshi dama" but "Otoshi" also means to drop something, or not get into something. So she changed the characters. Very cute.

Normal, I'll stop by. We can be in misery together. ^^V

Toshiaki, thank you~! My husband was saying the same thing. Except he said he didn't have "naishin" back then. Then again, he has forgotten a lot. ^^;

Mari said...

You will be relieved of his entrance exam is over.
You've made miso katsu bento. Indeed!
I think he'll pass the entrance exam♪

Anonymous said...

If he doesn't make it into either school, he's welcome to come stay with us as an exchange student. Hell, I pay enough property taxes that he should be able to get into H. high school for free!

He's got to help with remodeling the office and doing some major landscaping, but that kind of thing builds character, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...


Kappa no He said...

Mari, it's the power of the "katsu!" omamori!

B, that most definitely builds character. And once you have him trained I can set him to work on my house. You're a sweety to offer. I'll keep you updated.

KaBooM said...

Now sit back and take a few days off with J! Hey after this j finishes we should go recuperate on a dessert island, resort that is!! Let's!!