Going into English teaching I had the mindset of learning about the education system, interaction with teachers and students, and preparing for potentially participating in the JET Program (Japan Exchange Teaching). What I soon discovered was I learned much more about Japanese social interaction by interacting with the 7th graders, whose class I was an assistant in. Every week I would go for almost 2 hours and assist in either 1 or 2 classes, allowing me to build a rapport with the students.
I ran into to two types of experiences with the kids. First, the shy kids were hesitant to even look me in the eye. Second, the outgoing kids had no boundaries when asking me questions. I was fascinated that these two extremes existed within the classroom. I had always assumed the Japanese school system was strict and disciplined, leading me to believe that the children I would encounter would fit that image. I found that the teachers and children actually joked around and in talking with the teacher discovered her genuine affinity for the classes. She would describe one class as the “bad boys,” another as having the “shy girls,” and in one case even joked at one girl being as loud as the boys. The point being, I was sorely mistaken on what the schooling system. That being said I was in a public school and can’t speak for the private school system. Regardless, I enjoyed my time with the kids and got a good laugh when they wanted to know if I had kissed my girlfriend before or not.
My second CIP was a Kyodai soccer circle. When I came to Japan the one thing I new for certain that I wanted to do, was play sports with the Japanese. I knew the language barrier would be an issue when trying to forge friendships with other Japanese students. Team sports offer another language with which to communicate, that is almost universal. Whether or not I was able to communicate well in Japanese, after each game we played there was a general atmosphere of closeness. What I found even more fascinating was attending a practice in which the freshmen were present. These freshmen had yet to even attend a day of school, but there ambition to meet new people, and openness to foreigners was shocking as well. Upon finishing practice the freshmen asked me to go to the hot baths after with them, we proceeded to all grab dinner after, and then walked part way home after the last bus had already gone. I can’t say this is the same for other circles, but the most outgoing and open people I have met in Japan have been in these sports circles, whether it be one of 3 soccer circles or 2 basketball circles I’m in.