Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Day Of Rest...Sort Of

After I got home from work yesterday, I went right to bed. I slept for about five and a half hours. I must have needed the rest...
I woke up, went to my local yakitori restaurant for some grub and brew, hung out for a while, came back home, and hit the sack again.

The big plan for today was to go swing over to Cape Chikyu and pick up some presents for some friends and then drive out to Lake Toya for some R&R in the hot springs there. There's a place that advertises a hot spring in a cave! My kinda deal. That was the PLAN, anyway.

Here's what ended up happening:

I woke up and lounged around the house for a couple of hours, and as I was about to get ready to head out, I got a call from Jack, my fellow English teacher at Starfish High. "I'm over at Muroran University of Technology. Today's their school festival, and there's some rock bands playing. Come on over!"

Well, I can check that out for a bit, and then go and do that other stuff..."Okay! See you soon!" With that, I cruise on over to the university and check out what's going on.

The university was a pretty happening place today. Lots of stands where different clubs were selling all sorts of snacks. Different events all over campus. I headed on over to the stage area and found Jack.

We hung out, chatted, and watched some pretty talented bands. There were a jazz/funk band (see photo), a three-piece rockabilly band, a hip-hop dance group, and some other acts.

It was cool to see how good these acts were. After all, they're just college students, for crying out loud! You might think that...Aaah, but therein lies the deceptive nature of the Japanese education system! And here you thought I was just going to blab about my day.

Japanese students enter education hell when they start junior high school. How so? Because from Day One of junior high school all the way through the end of high school, the be-all and end-all of their studies is what is called "nyuushi": the high school and university entrance exams.

For six years, students are told to focus on these exams, and well they should, because it's a one-shot deal over here. In the States, we have the SATs and ACTs, but we can take those up to four times a year (if I remember correctly). The Center Test, which is the Japanese equivalent of the SATs, is offered only once a year. If you mess up on the Center Test, you're done for the year. Not only do they have the Center Test, but they also have to take an entrance exam at every high school/university they apply to. So kids here are under incredible pressure to succeed. Getting into the right high school means you can get into the right university. Getting into the right university means you can get into the right job. And all of this hinges on a few exams that every student in the nation takes.

Sounds nasty, yes? Yes, indeed, it is...

...that is, until they get into a university. Once you get into a university over here, it's smoooooooooooth sailing until graduation. Getting in is the hard part. Once you're in, life is good. This means students can focus their time and energy on club activities, because the concept of actually studying at university over here is pretty much a joke. This is why you have so many incredibly talented musicians in universities. They can focus completely on their music.

Of course, you also have students who focus on cross-dressing and pushing motorcycles across campus. (Pink outfits, front and center.) This kind of thing doesn't even faze me anymore.

Back to the topic: So Japanese students go through six years of sheer hell to get their four years of goofing off. This does not strike me as an effective way to run an education system. Not that I'm an expert or anything. Four years of goofing off, and then you join the work force? And they say that the U.S.'s three month summer vacation causes students to forget most of the stuff they learned over the previous year. What happens after a four-year long summer vacation? The companies that do any hiring have special employee training sessions for the first couple of months after hiring. Yep, real effective.

I'm not going to say that the American system is perfect, because it's not. I will say this: I am glad that I had it a little easier on the way up through junior high and high school, and a lot harder on my way through university. It feels like I got more out of my education that way.

Watching these bands perform, I was struck by a thought: they didn't look like they were having any fun. Music is supposed to be fun, right? They were flawless performers, but they lacked an element of "Hey, we're having a great time!" Jack and I talked about this a bit, and it seems that its that way with a lot of things. Lots of talent/skill, no sense that what is being done is being enjoyed. Kinda sad, really.

It was around 2 in the afternoon, and I decided that I needed to hit the road if I was going to get to all the places I needed to get to. So, I said some goodbyes and headed off...

...I made it to the street. Getting ready to cross, when...

...What the heck? That music? Is that? No, it couldn't be. Yes, it is! That's...


I run back to the stage in time to catch "non-stop the transistor" (see photo). Hey, that's the name of the band. I didn't make it up. Anyway, these guys are a Number Girl cover band. Number Girl was one of the coolest indie rock bands here in Japan, until they broke up in November of 2002. I saw them play a show in Seattle, and I caught them a couple of times here in Japan before they broke up. Cool stuff. Anyway, these guys played an awesome set of Number Girl songs: Sappukei, Invisible Girl, Num-Ami-Dabutz, Tattoo Ari, and Omoide In My Head. They even did some of the little things that Number Girl used to do at their shows. The lead singer picked up a beer, saluted the crowd, and said "Cheers!" I laughed at that one.

I chatted with a couple of the members after their set, and they're going to go see Zazen Boys in Sapporo in December. Zazen Boys is the new band that the vocalist formed after Number Girl broke up. We might end up cruising up together. Sweeeeeeeeeeeet.

So finally, I left. I drove out to Cape Chikyu to pick up some gag gifts for friends back in Shimane, and then, instead of going out to Lake Toya, I decided to hit a hot spring that was a little closer.

On my way there, I spotted this guy.

So I had my bath and came back home, feeling a bit more relaxed, but overall still pretty wiped from my week. Here's hoping that this next week will be a bit more relaxing.


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