COLUMN: Settling down for a winter break

As I write this, the winter school term is coming to a close in Hokkaido.

As I write this, the winter school term is coming to a close in Hokkaido.

School vacations vary within Japan, with a longer winter break and shorter summer break on Hokkaido than on the southern islands.

The difference seems to have been determined by climate, and therefore the cost and comfort of heating and cooling schools.

Classroom windows in Toyokoro are universally south-facing which helps the warmth in winter.

The hallways and gymnasiums can be positively chilly.

On the final day before winter vacation, wet snow is falling heavily and flights have been cancelled. I am hoping for improvement before my scheduled departure tomorrow.

This last week before the break is a week of special events.

Toyokoro Elementary with the help of Otsu Elementary hosted a school fair, where each class planned and operated different stations including a Zombie House, a bowling contest, a film theatre, and my favourite: a wellness room, where you selected the desired length of nap time and the children woke you when your time was up.

The Junior High School’s winter festival consisted of an intra-mural volleyball tournament.

Every student participated and, although it was easy to spot those who regularly play club volleyball, the teams were balanced and supportive of all players.

Competition was fierce but friendly. And loud.

Out at Otsu Elementary today, there was a Christmas Party for all of the

children from the nursery school, kindergarten and elementary school, a total of 11.

We decorated slices of sponge cake with strawberry and whipped cream Santas, played bingo, and had a visit from Santa and his friend “Toyopi”, a pink seal who is a local mascot of sorts.

Two of my evenings feature “bonenkai(s)”, year end parties. I will understand the attributes of these parties better later, as I will be posting this article before the experiences are complete.

I have been in Japan long enough to be sure, however, of the inclusion of much food, drink, laughter, speeches and toasting.

Although the stores in Hokkaido exhibit evidence of the approach of Christmas, with decorations displayed and carols playing, I understand that Dec. 25 itself is most often acknowledged secularly and quietly among friends and couples, as one might expect in a country where the most visible religion is Buddhism.

The big family celebrations will occur on New Year’s Day.

I won’t have any first hand knowledge, as my Jan. 1 will have been spent travelling from Victoria to Summerland, hopefully with more pleasant weather than I see through my office window at this moment.

Happy New Year! Akemashite omedetõgozaimasu!

Janet Jory is in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro, Japan as the assistant English teacher.