Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Karin, or Chinese Quince

Karin (花梨) may be available at a grocery near you- or on the ground, as were the two I collected on my way to work a few days ago. Called Chinese quince in English, the fruit is used to make jams, syrups, and flavored spirits and is included as an ingredient in some throat lozenges as well.  

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Weekend Cycling

Pics from June 3.

                                    Destination: Mt Sumon, Niigata,

                                               Roadside Shrine
                                         Rice paddy recently planted 
                                    Tough climb to reach the lake (700 m)

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Photos of Shirakawa Village, Gifu

Photos taken at World Heritage Site Shirakawa-go, Gifu.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Religion in Politics

The Komeito Party in Japan is the political wing of Sokkagakkai, the Buddhist lay organization. It is the junior partner in Prime Minister Abe's administration and is expected to moderate the nationalist extremes to which some in Abe's party are tempted. Here's wishing Komeito luck.

Speaking of religion, Christians in America have a stark and simple choice: either take up the cross and follow Christ, or lay the cross down and follow Trump.

Here endeth.   

Monday, May 28, 2018

Photos from a Recent Outing on the Bike

     Jokoji, Kamo City, the family temple of Steve Jobs' Zen master,                             Kobun Otogawa

dilapidated farmhouse and kura- the original thatch roof of the former has been covered with tin

the only remaining rolling stock of the defunct Kambara Railway, Japan's first all-electric line- taken in Kamo City, Niigata; the foremost carriage is the oldest wooden car in the prefecture


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Japan by Bike and Glimpses of Japan

Japan by bike now posts on Glimpses of Japan.

From a post entitled "On the Road Again."

Japan by Bike is back, albeit without Don, who a couple of years ago returned to his native New Zealand. So for the time being it's a solo effort, dear reader. The colorful commentary of my erstwhile cycling partner will be missed, but I trust Japan by Bike will continue to convey the pleasures of discovering the country on two wheels.

Afternoon Ride: a Post from Japan by Bike

A few photos taken during a recent afternoon ride. Severe winter weather in the area felled trees, which block a spur of a local rindo, or forest roadThese roads, usually gravel but sometimes sealed, offer excellent cycling but are often sketchy come springtime until crews can get out and clear or repair them.

Houses like this are a common sight in rural Japan.

skunk cabbage

A paved section of forest road.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The HS Entrance Exam: Today is the first day of the rest of your life

It comes down to today and tomorrow, March 7-8 this year in Niigata, the culmination of 9 yrs. of compulsory education, the last 3 of which were primarily a preparation for the high school entrance exam and additional years of "elective" schooling. I'd venture to say every jr high 3rd-year who sat the exam has an insurance policy, a Plan B, or what is referred to as a suberiko (滑り校), or suberitomeko  (滑り止め校), the private school (In Niigata City there are 8 from which to select) chosen by students that will arrest their fall should they fail to gain admission to a public school. Otherwise... Official exam results to be announced next week. Students will nevertheless have an accurate sense of their performance, as local newspapers publish the test questions and answers the following day, but whether a student's overall score is good enough will remain unknown, resulting in several days of anxiety, for many.. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tax Season

For third-year students this time of year means entrance exams, for their parents, taxes.  The artwork shown includes some of the winning entries in a local "tax awareness" poster contest for primary school 6th graders.

Gold: "Taxes are for everyone's happiness."

Silver: "Taxes are one of the pieces in the jigsaw of the future."

                               Bronze: "Taxes are the source of smiling faces."

The favorite of the head of the local tax authority: "Taxes make the town peaceful."

These artists (11-12 years old) understand that 1), taxes pay for things such as public schools, parks, infrastructure, police, health care, etc., and 2), the business of government is to provide such things for the common good. This is, simply, civics education at work.   Provides a telling contrast with the US, where voters demand that their representatives order the government keep its hands off Medicare while cheering the defunding of federal programs. 

Monday, February 05, 2018

The Entrance Exam- the Gift That Keeps on Giving

It's almost as though the current entrance exam regime was devised by the for-profit education industry. Does your child aim to enroll in one of the better (in terms of hensachi)public high schools? If so, it's off to the ATM you go, for entrance exam prep offered by the neighborhood middle school is insufficient. You want the cram school professionals for this job.  The good folks at Nokai, a national juku chain, charge between 11,000 and 42,000 yen monthly for jr. high 3rd graders. With many middle school seniors attending cram school from August, some 8 months prior to the public high school entrance exam, families can be set back as much as 10% of a typical salaried worker's annual salary.  Or more than two month's take- home for a parent among the growing ranks of Japan's working poor.

Monday, January 15, 2018

More Dispatches From Exam Hell

A digression:

So why the massive difference in admissions standards at prefectural high schools?

In Japan, attendance zones determine the primary or middle school to which a child is sent, but when compulsory education ends with junior high school graduation, admission to upper-secondary school becomes competitive, or "meritocratic".

(While it is true that attendance zones no longer apply after middle school, a student's home address is nevertheless a fair predictor of who will not enter an elite high school- see a recent piece in the Japan Times by Philip Brasor about how this plays out in the Tokyo real-estate market.) 

Back to "meritocratic", because if you are not, dear student, blessed with a photographic memory but instead are merely one of the sharper pencils in the box and come from a family that lacks the means to send you to cram school (juku), your chances of entering one of the better college-prep prefectural high schools diminish accordingly- as does your shot at enrolling at a public or more selective private tertiary institution- as do your chances of enjoying financial security later in life.

Entrance Exam Hell, It's More Hellacious Than You Thought: High School Edition

It's entrance exam season in Japan. Last weekend (January 13-14) students hoping to enter one of the country's public or private (the more prestigious variety) institutions of higher learning sat the National Center Test for University Admissions, known colloquially as the center shiken or center nyushi.

But let us consider for the nonce the high school analogue (held in March) to the center test, the koko nyushi, or high school entrance exam. (In this and following posts I shall refer to the situation as it exists for public schools in Niigata prefecture.)

First, a couple of key terms (applicable nationwide):

1) hensachi (偏差値): the figure that corresponds to the percentage of correct answers on the entrance exam needed to gain admission to a particular public high school; the range in Niigata is from 35 to 75, roughly, with selective high schools (and academic programs within schools) at the top of the scale

Niigata High School, the public high school in the prefecture with the highest admissions standards, has a hensachi of 73 for its Science and Math Course and 71 for its General Academic Course; the two are ranked 1 and 2, respectively, out of 142 schools and programs in the prefecture

Matsudai High School: at the other end of the scale with a hensachi of 35 

2) bairitsu (倍率): the (over-) subscription rate; the more popular schools and programs have the highest bairitsu; currently, Bandai High School's English/ Science-Math Course has a bairitsu of 2.4 (In other words, there are 2.4 times as many applicants as there are available slots for this popular program, so there will be many unhappy students and parents when exam results are announced.)

At the bottom of the ladder is Shiozawa Commercial and Technical High School with a bairitsu of 0.4. 

... more to come