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!