Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Remains of the School Day

A brief discussion of extra-curricular activities shall complete my description of a typical day at Kido JHS. As was remarked in a previous post, club activities constitute a central part of the middle school experience in Japan. In fact, club participation at the 12 Niigata City junior high schools at which I have so far taught has averaged close to 90% of total student enrollment. Kido JHS is no exception. There is a club for nearly every interest and temperament, as the following enumeration demonstrates. For boys as well as girls, there are the art, band, track and field, kendo, basketball, science, and computer clubs. Clubs exclusively for boys include soccer, baseball, table tennis, and soft tennis. For girls, there is volleyball, softball, badminton, or rhythmic gymnastics. Students who participate in extra-curricular activities choose a single club and remain there- or, to paraphrase Mark Twain, put their eggs in a single basket, and proceed to watch it. In Japan, there are no school sports seasons, properly speaking. Therefore, students practice with their club year-round. At Kido JHS, clubs meet until 5:00 PM in winter, but from late spring to late fall, practice ends at 6:00. One result of the emphasis on a single club is that the art and band clubs are, on average, far superior to their American counterparts. Alternatively, I often meet athletically talented students who are highly accomplished in their club sport but who, owing to the limitations of the Japanese system , are remarkably inept at other athletic activities. Kido's gym is shown above. Note the absence of bleachers, which is typical of Japanese school gyms. Spectators use the narrow, second story gallery. One of Kido's two soft tennis courts is also pictured. Soft tennis is a form of tennis that originated in Japan. It is played on a sanded court, with racquets that are slightly smaller than the ordinary. Moreover, the racquets are strung at a tension of about 30 lbs., somewhat less than that for standard racquets. The ball used in soft tennis is approximately the size of a regular ball, minus the felt. Lastly, the net is raised a few inches higher than for the hard-court game. Soft tennis is a rather forgiving form of the sport, a direct result of the string tension, as well as the cushiony quality of the ball. Simply put, a mis-hit will often land in play. While soft tennis is easier to learn than the hard court style, one wonders whether the lack of opportunities for young Japanese to play hard court tennis doesn't partly account for the dearth of Japanese on the pro circuit.

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