Wednesday, December 11, 2013


   Waking up in a building without central heating can be really rough. And it's only going to get worse.

   For some reason, Japan doesn't think insulation is very important. Most houses and apartment buildings have paper thin walls, and people tend to heat one room at a time to save on money.

   On the plus side, Japanese toilets have heated seats, and no expense is spared in this department.  The bathroom may be icy cold, but your toilet seat will be toasty warm.

   Recently, I went to the Culture Festival at one of my schools. It's a fancy name, but it was really just a Chorus Festival, with each class performing a song. Music is a required subject in Japan. Starting in kindergarten, kids learn to play little melodicas: two octave keyboards that are actually wind instruments; you blow into them as you press the keys. 

   All kids, in theory at least, learn how to read music and decipher the musical terms for volume and tempo. They're also all required to sing. The teachers tell me it's good for class unity. If you listen to 8 year olds sing, it sounds more like semi-coordinated shouting. But by the time they hit puberty, they're pretty decent. 

   Japanese schools take Art seriously, too. Students are taught specific techniques, and I've seen actual worksheets on how to shade 3D objects: they'll be given cubes, for example, and expected to shade each face varying levels of darkness. They're also taught perspective. At kindergarten, I've seen teachers sit with kids and tell them, "Draw an eye here. Bigger. Like a circle." In America, I think that would be considered crushing the child's self-expression, but here, they just think of it as teaching the kids how to produce a respectable piece of art.

   Coming from America, where most people will tell you they don't know how to draw and plenty of people have no idea how to read music, I think there's something to be said for how they do things here. 

   Students also take "Home Economics." From what I've gleaned, they seem to learn about health and nutrition, and maybe a few other things. But the really cool part is that they learn to cook. There's a lab-like kitchen at school, and sometimes I'll walk past and find myself assaulted by delicious cooking smells. When I peer inside, the kids will be wearing aprons and flipping burgers. If you ask any small child if they know how to cook, they'll happily answer, "Yes!" because they do. They learned it at school. 

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