School Life in Japan Begins

by Stephany Barnes, Greenheart Travel High School Abroad Participant in Japan

The girls I sat near all giggled and looked back at me whispering, “Kawaii! Kawaii!” The Japanese word for cute. Several teachers got up and spoke, I understood nothing. We stood up and sang what I can only guess was the school song, I understood nothing. I might have been starting to drift off when Ibuzuki-sensei tapped me on the shoulder-finally, the time to give my speech had come.

Stephany in her school uniform.

I was first.

In front of the entire school, I told everyone my name, how long I’d loved Japan, and that I looked forward to learning their culture and teaching my own. In my lightheadedness, I think I sat back down as more teachers got up to speak. I can’t remember who spoke or what they talked about. By the time my fright had worn off, though, an event that I definitely do remember was beginning: The uniform check.

The girls, row by row, went through a number of stages. First was the skirt length check. Everyone dropped down onto their knees, checking to make sure their skirts touched the floor before the teachers did. Any one whose skirt did not meet said length requirement was sent to a corner of the gym to sit and wait. This, I as expecting, and I knew already that my skirt was fine. We would finish, and all go to the classroom. After that, though, we were not finished. Once again, row by row, students held out their hands, turned their heads side to side, and pulled their bangs back. The teachers inspected each student with terrifying thoroughness. They checked fingernails for length and nail polish, both of which are not allowed. They checked ears for piercings and necks for jewelry, also not allowed. They spent nearly a minute leaning close and away from each student’s face, pulling their bangs back, then pulling them down. This was the check for eyebrows, which are not allowed to be waxed, plucked, or cut, and for bang length, which cannot be too long. The final check was for the colour of our camis (Which we are required to wear), which must be white.

My class was one of the last to be inspected, so I watched with growing anticipation as the teachers got closer and closer. Finally, it was our turn. As I held up my trembling hands the teachers took one look at me and my hair colour and waved me on, saying, “Okay. You’re okay.” My heart’s erratic beating slowed and my knocking knees steadies. Diplomatic immunity, perhaps? Whatever it was, I had at least survived my first school assembly.

When I arrived at my class, everyone was moving from desk to desk laughing and socializing, in a language I hardly understood. How would we communicate? Would they even try to communicate? Again, I was gripped with terror. I took a seat next to the door, and a few of the girls around me smiled and waved. Everyone quieted and a boy, the class leader, got up and read an introduction to our “Welcome Party” in English. I was then called up to the front of the class where I gave a short, awkward, embarrassed introduction once in English and once in Japanese.

After that, all forty (yes, forty) students stood up and introduced themselves in English. Each one said their name so fast that it might have been a hiccup. I still only know the names of eight people in my class. I’m learning though! Meeting new people always starts out awkward, because everyone already knows my name so I’m not sure what to say after they tell me theirs. They said their name, and one thing about them-usually the club they were in. The English they used was almost unrecognizable, “I berongu tsu za bareboru curabu. (I belong to the volleyball club.)” I’m going to have a lot of work to do with everyone when it comes to pronunciation. They learn impressively fast, though, and are always eager to learn new things, so I’m always excited to teach them. I was presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and then classes begun.

Read more of Stephany’s first day of high school in Japan…

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