Elementary School Lagniappe!

Okay guys, settle it down! Samurai-sensei here again about to give you guys some Lagniappe regarding Japanese Elementary Schools! Originally, I was going to type this whole thing out essay style, but I figured “Where’s the fun in that?”. So I decided to do it lagniappe style and give you guys some of my more interesting discoveries with regards to Primary Education in Japan by including some real world anime examples!

Elementary Education Lagniappe:

  • Kindergarten is, surprisingly enough, not a mandatory part of the education system in Japan. Instead, it’s treated more like a daycare than a formal education environment. In kindergarten, young kids aren’t subject to any kind of courses or formal education, but are more or less encouraged to play with others and practice many social and language skills.
    • [For example, in the anime “Hanamaru Kindergarden”, you never see Tsuchi or any other teacher give a formal lesson in anything, but more or less encouraged playing with others…though Anzu-chan mostly preferred playing with Tsuchi…]
  • In Japan, Elementary school typically runs from the 1st grade all the way to the 6th. The school year starts in April and ends in March with a five-week summer vacation. The school year is divided into three semesters:
    • First Semester – April 1st – Late July
    • Second Semester – (After Summer Break) September – Late December
    • Third Semester – December to March.
  • The day a young child starts the first grade is looked upon as a very auspicious day for that child; gifts are often provided to the new chibi-scholar and their room gets converted with new items including a chair and desk set. One such special gift is a new, hard-sided backpack.
  • On the first day of school, both parents and kids are dressed in their Sunday best for the Entrance Ceremony.
    • [This is seen in “Usagi Drop” when Rin and Koyuki start Elementary School.]
  • At the Entrance Ceremony, different school officials and representatives such as the principal and head teacher speak to the incoming class on the importance of taking the first step in their education and encouraging the new class, and even the existing class, to always give their all and try their best. [Get used to the Entrance Ceremony, as it comes back in Middle, High and even University levels.]
  • A Typical day in the life of an Elementary school student pretty much follows the same routine every day. Class normally takes in at about 8:30AM. Upon arriving at school, the student in question removes their regular shoes and replaces them with indoor slippers known as uwabaki. The student’s street shoes are placed in individually assigned lockers. [A shot of this being done can be seen in episode 3 of “FLCL” when Ninamori is chewing out Naota regarding a play while he takes off his shoes. The shoe lockers can also be seen in that same shot.]
  • Unlike in junior/high school, Elementary school students typically get one instructor per year teaching all the different required subjects for their grade. Each lesson lasts for about 45 minutes, with a 25 minute break every two classes.
  • Acting as a sort of “class representative”, the classroom monitor is given the task of calling the class to order during the day, leading the class “Rise-Bow” process, and assisting the teacher with some menial administrative tasks. [In “FLCL”, Ninamori acts as the class representative…]
    • Wait…you don’t know about the “Rise-Bow” procedure? Well, whenever a teacher enters the room at the beginning of a lesson or leaves at the end of a lesson, the class rep gives the command for the entire class to stand at attention. Another command and the entire class bows deeply to show respect to their sensei. This is done everyday, all day, throughout a child’s school career. [When I was in the 5th grade, I had a teacher who, whenever an adult entered a room, we would all have to stop whatever we were doing, stand up, and say “Good afternoon Mr/Mrs/Miss ____________”. Woe to us if that was a particularly busy day when adults were coming in and out…]
  • A little after Noon, lunch is served in classroom by their classmates.
    • [Yes, you heard me…the kids get the food from the cafeteria as prepared by lunch ladies, lug it to the classroom, and then serve their classmates. You can see an example of this in the anime “Ghost Stories” and “FLCL”. In those cases, a boy and a girl bring the lunch to the classroom wearing hair-nets and aprons. These shows also show the kids eating lunch with the teacher in the room.]
  • After lunch, the kids get a chance to have recess and then for twenty minutes afterwards, they spend time cleaning up the entire school including their assigned classrooms, the school yard, and any other areas.
    • This unusual practice [At least by western standards…heh…] serves two purposes: it helps keep the campus clean and it helps build pride in the school and teamwork.
  • After the cleanup, there are two more classes and then an end-of-day class meeting which lasts about ten minutes. Around 3:50PM, school is dismissed and students are free to either go home, or go to any number of clubs around the school. This process continues day after day from Monday through Friday. Saturday is slightly different. [Yes, I said Saturday…]
    • On Saturdays, school is in session until about noon; the students only attend three classes and are then dismissed for the remainder of the day. There are no classes on Sundays.
  • Many of the classes taken in Elementary school are your typical classes found in American schools including, but not limited to:
    • Social Studies
      • This is done incrementally starting with the childs own school and family in the first grade, the community in the 2nd grade, and so on until they hit the foreign countries [Where they learn about us silly Americans…]. Japanese Politics and history is covered in the 6th grade.
    • Arithmetic
    • Science
    • Sciences
    • Music
      • Kids learn how to play simple tunes on piano or other wind instruments.
    • Arts and Handicrafts
    • Homemaking
    • Physical Education
      • It is during this time, around the 5th grade, when kids begin studying the changes that is about to or has already happened to their bodies as a result of puberty. [Episode 2 of “Nashio no Tsumobi” focuses on this particular lesson.]
  • During Elementary school, students begin learning the Japanese Hiragana and Katakana characters as well as some Chinese style characters. Traditional calligraphy using brushes and inks is learned during this time as well.
    • [Rin and Kouki can be seen learning and practicing calligraphy in Episode 9 of  “Usagi Drop”.]
  • There are various school-wide events that occur during the school year; many of which are recurring events that happen throughout a student’s education regardless of school or grade. For the most part, these events are open to the community.
    • Sports Day – Typically occurs in the Autumn. Designed to reinforce pride in school and teamwork among classmates. Students are divided into red and blue teams based on class and compete against each other in various events like obstical courses, relay races, cheering competitions, etc…points and awards are given depending on how successful each team is. [Though it’s seen in many different anime, a prime example of this in Elementary school is seen in the anime “Ghost Stories”.]
    • Culture Festival – This occurs usually late in the fall or early in the spring. This is a chance where different classes and clubs get together to showcase their area of expertise. For example, a Judo club might have an exhibition match or a Cooking club might have a cafe. [No real elementary school examples, but the Culture Festival can be seen in “Azumanga Daioh”]
    • Field Trips – In the early summer or late spring, a school-wide field trip of all students of a particular grade is normally taken to some culturally significant area of Japan. In some cases, these trips can be overnight trips where the school stays in an in or other establishment and bunk with other classmates and a chaperone. [A prime example of this is in “Kodocha”, when all of Sana’s class go on an overnight trip.]
    • Graduation – Occurring in March, this is the culmination of six years of hard work and education. There are a number of speeches and songs performed during this time. The ceremony itself is not given the significance of the earlier opening ceremony, however, this is a time when the young students are encouraged to continue doing their best throughout their remaining school years.

And so that’s it! All the facts I thought were particularly interesting regarding a Japanese Child’s Elementary school years. If you’re interested in learning more, check out this website. It’s packed full of information, and it’s where I got the majority of the above facts from. Coming up next, we move on to Middle School with my review of “I My Me! Strawberry Eggs”, then onto High School with…hehe…a big surprise…and then finally onto College with…heh…yet another surprise! You guys know me better than that.


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