Monday, January 15, 2018

More Dispatches From Exam Hell

A digression:

"What's up with the massive difference in admissions standards at prefectural high schools?", you may ask.

In Japan, attendance zones determine the primary or middle school to which a child is sent. Compulsory education ends with junior high school, and thereafter admission to school becomes competitive, or "meritocratic".

"Meritocratic", because howsoever bright you may be, if your family lacks the means to send you to cram school (juku), your chances of entering one of the top  college-prep prefectural high schools diminish accordingly.


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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Folktale for the New Year, or Why Japanese Eat Black Beans at New Year's

Long ago in the mountains of Niigata Prefecture (or Echigo Province, as it was then called) lived a man known far and wide for his honesty. He farmed a meager patch in the mountains, growing black beans in poor soil, and just managed to eke out a living.  One winter's night, on the second of January, the man had his first dream of the New Year, and this is what he dreamt.

In the dream God appeared to him and said, "Hey, you, you're always working in that field of yours, and yet at the end of the year you're no better off than at the start. Listen to what I'm saying to you: There's a chap that lives in the village the other side of the mountain. He's got a garden, and in that garden is a plum tree.  You just take a shovel with you and dig around a bit under that tree and see if you don't find a pot of gold buried there." 

The next day he set out for the village, cautiously excited and more than anything curious.  It was getting dark when he arrived, but he found the house and knocked on the door. It was opened by the homeowner himself. "Excuse me, sir, but God told me in a dream about this house and the plum tree in the garden.  He said that if I dug around under the tree I'd find a pot of gold. If that's true, we'll go halves. What do you say?"

The other replied, "It's late, too dark to be digging up the garden. Why not in the morning?  You can stay the night here."

As soon as his guest was in bed, the man rushed out, grabbed the shovel, and began to dig. He dug and he dug, but for the life of him he could not find the pot of gold the visitor had dreamt was under the plum tree. 

The next morning the man told his guest about his fruitless search. "Honestly, I would have shared any treasure I found," he assured him. "Once I thought we were in luck, for my shovel struck something hard. But it was nothing, though I could have sworn a kind of black mist rose out of the ground."

"Just goes to show that some dreams are only dreams," said the other. "Sorry for putting you out." And thanking his host for the hospitality, the man set out to return home.

On the trail he encountered a strange gentleman dressed in black. "Good day, sir. And where might you be headed?" he inquired. The stranger pointed in the direction of the man's home. "Well, as it will be dark soon and unsafe to continue your journey, please do me the honor of sharing my humble abode this evening." And so the two descended the mountain towards the man's village.

"Were you out for a walk?" the strange man at length inquired.

"No, it wasn't that," the other answered, proceeding to relate the tale of his dream and the pot of gold that wasn't.  "But it's just as well, he concluded, I only know one thing in life, farming my small garden, and to be honest I not sure what I would have done if I'd found all that money."

At which the other smiled to himself.

Before long they reached the man's home. He fired up the hearth, set a pot of rice porridge to simmer, and busied himself making his guest comfortable.

The next morning the man in black was nowhere to be found. When our hero peered under the futon where the man had slept, imagine his surprise to find a gold jar stuffed to overflowing with pieces of gold. "It seems the jar I dreamt about turned into that mysterious man. And now my dream has come true," he mused.

With the money he purchased other plots, hired farmhands, and planted row upon row of black beans, which were highly prized. The honest farmer came to be known as "Black Bean Tycoon".

And this is the reason black beans are a New Year's tradition, expressing as they do the wish to be as healthy, wealthy, and hardworking as the hero of our tale.

Monday, October 09, 2017

大松庵 蕎麦屋 Daishoan Soba-ya, Tsuruoka, Yamagata

Soba-ya Daishoan is located near Mizusawa Station in Tsuruoka, Yamagata. Housed in a trad former farmhouse, 大松庵 offers a selection of hot and cold soba dishes with buckwheat noodles handmade on the premises.The atmosphere is serene in the best soba-ya tradition.

大松庵 鶴岡 に対する画像結果

Friday, March 11, 2016

Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami

The earthquake and tsunami have claimed 21,865 lives, to date. This figure includes 2561 individuals who remain officially missing as well as 3410 persons who died later owing to disaster-related complications. The number of residents of temporary, pre-fab housing is 57,677, while that of evacuees stands at 174,000. As I wrote earlier, this situation is definitely not under control.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

3/11, Five Years On

By 2:48 the continuous shaking had stopped, but we waited outside another ten minutes, just to be sure.  Then the three of us ALTs and our soon-to-retire Japanese advisor headed back into the three-storey governmental building we (and dozens of others) had vacated some fifteen minutes earlier, reversing our evacuation route to a cramped room on the top floor, where we reconvened and shortly ended our interrupted quarterly meeting.  All we knew at the time was that a massive quake in Tohoku, Japan, had generated an unusually prolonged tremor measuring five in Niigata City, hundreds of kilometers away.

 More than two hours would pass before I first learned of the killer tsunami, which by then had already begun devastating coastal communities in northeastern Japan.  In the days to come, horror would follow horror, culminating in catastrophic damage to Fukushima Dai-ichi.

 Five years on, and the reconstruction of Tohoku has been spotty, to say the least.  Thousands remain in temporary housing.  Thousands more who lived within the evacuation zone in Fukushima are unable or unwilling to return.  And the situation at the nuclear plant is decades away from being completely under control.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

View 35 from Utagawa Hiroshige's 53 Tokaido Views Series

東海道五十三次之内 御油 旅人留女

A present-day view (Wikipedia) from Toyokawa, Aichi Prefecture.

I know what it is, but what's it called?

This is a meteorological data collection station, and you may have come across a few in your day in Japan.

Rendered in English, it's the "100 Leaf Box", or 百葉箱 (hyakuyoubako) in Japanese.

Lyrical name for a box containing remote weather monitoring apparatus.


Summer Cycling: Castle to Castle


This summer (August 1-2) several cycling mates and I will be riding from the castle town of Tsuruoka, Yamagata, to Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima, itself a castle town (hence the ride's moniker).

Should you be interested in joining us for this event, Japan's first ever brevet not geared toward road cyclists, please see here.

Deleted Posts, Self-censorship

Criticism of the current administration's position regarding Japan's wartime past has caused more than one outspoken academic considerable grief.

With an application for a university instructorship pending, I thought it wise to remove certain recent posts.

I desperately need the job.