I am writing a story and in a short part of it I will have to describe a Japanese classroom. The teacher in it will be rather old and very traditional, from a much earlier generation. I need to know how the students and teacher would interact and what kind of formal etiquette the teacher would expect from her students.
The children are 11-15 years old and the teacher will be in the classroom before they arrive.
I am looking for things like how they would enter the room or what they would do upon entering. Would they great the teacher in some way? Would the teacher acknowledge them? Would they raise their hand to answer a question? Would they stand when answering? would she assign seats to them according to their progress in class, rewarding the top students with the front seats or something? Those are the kinds of things I am looking for so that I don't write something too far off base.
The teacher is very old, strict, and lacks a sense of humor. She is hard but fair, not cruel.
I have googled all over the place, but I'm not finding what I need, so I appreciate any help you can give me.
When is this story set? Is the setting rural, urban or suburban? Is the school large or small? The answers to these questions will kind of determine the answers to your other questions. Time period is especially important.
And why 11-15 year olds? You're not going to see students more than a year apart in the same classroom. And 11 year olds will still be in elementary school, while 13-15 year olds will be in junior high. Twelve is the age that bridges the two schools.
Speaking for rural Japan 2005=2008, yes they will greet the teachers when class starts. After the bell rings, one student "Kiritsu" and then all the students will stand. A single student, possibly the same as the first though not necessarily, will then say "Rei." Then all of the students will bow and say "onegaishimasu." The ceremony is repeated at the end of class with "onegaishimasu" being replaced with silence. I always followed the opening greeting with a "good morning" or the like, but I can't tell you if it was normal for the Japanese teachers to do the same or not.
We rarely asked the students to stand when answering questions, but I did see that happen sometimes in the social studies and kokugo (Japanese) classes that I sat in on.
Seats were assigned at the beginning of the year based on their student number which is based on alphabetical (hiraganical?) order. Every couple weeks the seating arrangement was shuffled, but I'm sure this is one of those things done differently at every school. And in case you didn't know, teacher's don't have their own rooms. Each grade (or section of the grade if the school is big enough to be divided into sections (and most are)) has its own room and the teachers rotate in and out of the rooms.
Feel free to ask follow ups. There's a lot I'm leaving out.
This part of the story takes place in a fictional small town on a fictional island or valley (still in the rough stages). 11-15 was an estimated range, so, for the sake of argument, let's say 13 (or 12) -15. The teacher is a specialist in some art form (work in progress) and so would have classes of different ages at different times.
Rural Japan sounds about right. Though the scenes take place now, this woman would have probably begun teaching in the 1950s and could be seen as overly traditional by some of her students today.
The note about the teachers moving and the students not moving is very interesting. I will have to reconsider some things.
As for calling on students, would an old-fashioned teacher ask for volunteers or would she just call on any student she felt like putting on the spot?
Ok. In my district, Art teachers and Music teachers moved from school to school (including elementary schools). So did the lunch lady. (Lunch ladies in Japan are a little more important than their American counterparts. They usually teach nutrition and cooking classes as well.) TThis brings up another point: students in Japan eat lunch in their classrooms. The kokugo teacher would also sometimes go to the elementary school to teach them shodo. Shodo is usually a part of kokugo rather than art classes. Other junior high teachers would also move between grades, though they wouldn't go to the elementary schools. Also, every year a number of teachers are transferred to different schools within the school district so that no teacher ever teaches at the same school more than a few years. The limit in ours was six years. Of course, if you stick around long enough you'll wind up at a school you used to teach at.
And since Japanese students rarely volunteer, calling on students is the norm for any teacher.
Also, if it's gonna be set in 2009, might wanna change the dates a bit. Japan has a mandatory retirement age. Use to be 60, but some places have changed to as high as 65. Either way, there's not gonna be any teachers who started in the 1950s still around.
I don't mean to be entirely discouraging here, but should you really be writing about something you have no personal or even second-hand experience with? Additionally, why would you even want to? There's likely not much you could have to say about it. "Write what you know," is the old maxim.
QuackingShoe wrote:I don't mean to be entirely discouraging here, but should you really be writing about something you have no personal or even second-hand experience with? Additionally, why would you even want to? There's likely not much you could have to say about it. "Write what you know," is the old maxim.
That was my first impression, but then I doubt John Grisham has much experience with the CIA, FBI, Ku Klux Klan, offshore banking, federal prisons, and a host of other topics he writes about believably and compellingly.
I'd be looking further than Google for this kind of information, though. This particular topic couldn't be more foreign, so I'd give it special attention if this is a serious writing project. Even a lot of young Japanese would be out of touch with the kind of traditional values this character would hold.
Javizy wrote:That was my first impression, but then I doubt John Grisham has much experience with the CIA, FBI, Ku Klux Klan, offshore banking, federal prisons, and a host of other topics he writes about believably and compellingly.
John Grisham was a politician and lawyer who writes almost exclusively about the law and politics.
But, you can write things you don't have personal experience with. I mean, otherwise all fantasy and science fiction would be rubbish. But you still need to know about the subjects, preferably on a pretty intimate level. And it helps if there's a purpose in your setting. For example, the (traditional) point of science fiction was to ask a question and try to give an answer. More usually, the point is to explore things like the intense loneliness of space (as a mirror for the intense loneliness of earth - and it helps if you've actually experience loneliness yourself), or to explore humanity through the lense of other species, or etc. High fantasy is usually an excuse to explore the bounds of comraderie and heroism, and what that might mean for us here and now. Well, when it's not outright escapism. At any rate, the concept you're exploring should be something you've experienced personally, and the setting should be something you know and know well.
The problem here, though, is that Japan is a real place, and that when you set something there, there's an expectation that, beyond the expectation of you being accurate, that there be a purpose behind the choice. What about living on an island in Japan lets you share something worthwhile that you couldn't share by setting your story in your own surroundings? There are plenty things that could best, or only, be explored through such a setting. But are any of those things yours?
These are, I think, important questions that writers have to ask themselves. But I'm not really trying to say you can't set your story in Japan, and genuinely not trying to discourage you. I think too few people write, so I'd hate for you to be one less. They're just things to think about.
Rather than "write what you know" I'd say "write what interests you and you can be passionate about".
I see no compelling reason why someone needs to live in and experience Japan first hand to write about it. You research. You use primary sources. There are themes to be explored that may not be possible setting it in America or Europe.
Arthur Golden wasn't a Geisha. James Clavell wasn't a 17th century pilot. Ok the books might not be accurate but they're a pretty good read and have a reasonable feel about them.
However stories told by the Japanese themselves might be more insightful into their society. Botchan for instance when discussing teachers. They are also much more accurate than books written by outsiders. :) (But inaccuracies are only really picked up by the few that might know)
Some things that surprised me about Japan's teachers is the amount of pastoral care they do. Visiting students homes for instance. Also being a teacher is a 24/7 thing in a rural community. A friend of mine didn't want to be seen smoking by her students or their parents. (Nor did she want to be seen with me!)
I think the Japanese tradition of students cleaning their school is brilliant. That most if not all students also have to fit in cram school was another surprising difference. As is school on Saturday and during the summer.
I was trying to think of movies with a school theme.
24 Eyes is a brilliant film. made in 1954, it covers mostly the war years.
http://www.shiawase.co.uk/2007/08/27/24-eyes/ Madadayo is Kurosawa's last film, it shows the relationship a teacher can have with students far beyond the school years. Set shortly after the war.
Japan had a pretty serious art scene/counter culture in the 60's and 70's (Yoko Ono springs to mind, and some pretty wild exploitation and art house movies) which this teacher character could have been a part of (at university circa 1970). Unless it is a traditional art I'd wonder how traditional/old fashioned an artist of that era might be. Also even in the 70's I think women gave up jobs and career on getting married and marriage in your twenties was an expectation. I wonder what the norm was for teachers.
QuackingShoe wrote:...But you still need to know about the subjects, preferably on a pretty intimate level. And it helps if there's a purpose in your setting.
...At any rate, the concept you're exploring should be something you've experienced personally, and the setting should be something you know and know well.
This is all quite true. What I was suggesting is that with enough research, and as Belton said passion and interest, you can achieve the second-hand experience and the intimate knowledge to write a convincing piece, fiction or otherwise, about almost any subject.
Grisham's field is law and politics, yet he spends half of The Testament so deep in the Amazon that only the indigenous tribes and a handful of missionaries have experienced it first-hand. He was able to learn enough about it to put you there, and I think that BantyMom could tame a Japanese classroom in the same way. As for the purpose, and the bigger picture, well, I was giving Banty credit for that, since we've been given scarce details.