COLUMN: Welcoming the winter season

December marks the beginning of the party season in Japan

December already. Toyokoro has finally caught up to British Columbia, and to the rest of Hokkaido, and “welcomed” winter.

The school hallways are chilly, and the students are amused by my choice of indoor shoes, those being the fuzzy Ugg-style boots recommended by the previous assistant language teacher (thank you, Allyssa.)

But the sun is shining brightly on the snowy fields, and my kerosene heater and electric blankets are fulfilling their duties at home.

December marks the beginning of the party season in Japan.

First, we will have the “bonenkai,” “farewell to the old year parties.”

Then, in January, will be the “shinnenkai,” the “hello to the new year parties.”

Come March and April, we will repeat the process for the end and beginning of the school year, with “soubetsukai” “farewell” and “nomikai” “welcome” parties for departing and incoming staff.

Because my job encompasses five work sites (two elementary schools, one junior high school, the board of education office, and the adult conversation class,) disregarding scheduling conflicts I may be attending eight to 10 work-related dinner parties during the next two months.

Oh well, someone has to do it. It might be a little expensive, but I see it as a bonus to compensate for carting my bags of English books and supplies from one site to another, and having no family with me here I appreciate the additional social life.

The food is always fascinating, and my colleagues’ English skills improve dramatically when the spirits flow. My Japanese continues to be weak; neither wine nor whisky improves it.

It is very clear here that work and work-related events are the top priority.

Family time is somewhere way down the list, especially once children reach school age.

My friends from North America who have chosen to live and work in Japan permanently, raising families with Japanese spouses, struggle with this cultural difference.

Work parties do not include spouses or partners, and work days are long. By middle school age, club activities for students can run until 6 p.m. four days a week and often have practice sessions on Saturdays and during school vacations, which is tough on family holidays.

Although I am told that these clubs aren’t mandatory, every student at this junior high appears to participate in one.

In a recent English exercise describing their dream school, several groups of students expressed a desire for a greater choice of clubs, something that would be difficult to provide in such a small school, but no one suggested that there not be club activities at all.

The students would prefer to have no uniforms, fewer meetings, no cleaning duties, and to be able to bring snacks to school. That all sounds like Canadian middle school to me!

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

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