The fall season begins, synonymous with back to school in Canada. But not in Japan! So how is it going there? We will explore together the differences between school life in Japan and at home. For lovers of School manga, this article will contain references to several interesting manga set in a Japanese school!
First, did you know that school in Japan starts in April? This may seem obvious to regulars at School manga, because April is the season of sakura blossoms and the arrival of spring, symbols of renewal. But more than that, in fact, the choice of the start of the Japanese school year is actually made to coincide with the fiscal year, which is the period during which the government organizes all matters relating to public finances. So it’s not just cultural. In fact, during the Meiji era, the fiscal year was even organized to start in the fall. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that April became the norm, with a law stating that Shôgakkô, Chûgakkô, and Kôkô schools were to start the school year on April 1 and end on March 31. ‘Next year.
Schools in Japan
Shôgakkô 小学校, Chûgakkô 中 学校 and Kôkô 高校 are respectively elementary school, junior high school (our high school) and senior high school (our CEGEP). After 6 years of Shôgakkô, students will do 3 years of Chûgakkô and finally 3 years of Kôkô, after which it will generally be the university or other training schools that will be waiting for them.
Culturally, Shôgakkô and Chûgakkô are much more accessible schools, part of compulsory education, but Kôkô is considered to be made for students able to prepare for higher education, therefore university. This is why the competition in Kôkô is much harsher, such that the students will be separated into different classes based on aptitude. The intense competition and the change of school make a whole new life begin for the students of Kôkô. For the Japanese, to go from Chûgakkô to Kôkô is to go from a young adolescent to a future young adult responsible for society.
If we compare to Quebec, where high school lasts 5 years and then students generally choose 2 years of CEGEP for those aiming for university, we can therefore see that the Japanese enter university one year younger than the Quebecker students.
Holidays and other interesting details
There are generally three school holiday periods: first about 1 month / 1 ½ months between mid-July and the end of August, then towards the end of the year, a small 10 days at the end of December, then finally, the holidays spring, 10 days between late March and April. It is these holidays that will often be highlighted in shôjô manga since they are the perfect opportunity for romantic dates. But while Canadian students will be enjoying all the summer before they go back to school, remember that summer, for Japanese people, is within a school year. This explains the many homework to be handed in at the end of it, which will ruin the summer for students! But also, between the end of a school year and the start of the next school year, there are only 10 days off. A pace that differs considerably from schools in Canada.
This school rhythm is particularly well illustrated in Wolf Girl and Black Prince, where we see that a change of school year is rather banal and that the characters do not really have time to be missed, while the summer holidays , they represent a much longer period where, without contact, it is hard for couples!
Kuroko’s Basketball also shows this school rhythm very well, where the first tournament, Interhigh, is held at the very start of the summer vacation, then giving the students a long vacation to rest. It is during this holiday period that the protagonists will devote all their time to training in order to be even better for the national tournament, the Winter Cup, which takes place around November to mid-December. This same rhythm is required for almost all sports clubs at Chûgakkô or Kôkô school, since once the tournament is over, students will have from January to March to focus only on their studies in order to validate their school year.
So what about student life itself? In manga, we tend to see as much shôjô where club life is totally forgotten as sports or hobby manga where everyone seems to be part of a club.
The reality is that club life provides a lot of opportunities to make friends with whom to share the same passion. It is this primary reason that schools will push young students to enroll, as in the case of the main characters of Chihayafuru, a manga about karuta and the competitions around a traditional Japanese game.
For others, as is the case with the characters in Diamond no Ace or Kuroko’s Basketball, club activities take precedence over classes as it prepares them for their future careers.
Of course, some club activities will have a harder time becoming potential careers later than others, as in the case of Laid-Back Camp, where it is mostly a hobby.
In other manga like GTO, club life is downright neglected because we find ourselves in a preparatory college, the main purpose of which is to train students to pass a kind of national exam, called the Daigaku Nyûshi Sentâ Shiken 大学 入 試セ ン タ ー 試 験, which determines whether students will enter good universities or not. This exam, becoming the source of all ills, extremely competitive and determining the future of young Japanese people, will be the main concern of most students in so-called “elite” CEGEPs.
These two different ways of experiencing school life show the realities for some and other young Japanese people. As for Canada, it is generally accepted that hobby and activities are organized outside the school environment of secondary schools. The vision is here so often that for young Canadians, school is a chore, a bitter medicine to swallow, while for young Japanese, school is above all their main duty and school life is therefore much less often. seen as a bad moment to spend but rather as an important and necessary moment.
This passion for school life can be reflected directly in the manga I have cited so far. If that piques your curiosity, they’re all available to check out at O-Taku.
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