Summer Vacation In Japan Is The Worst

Only a rainy day can keep the students away. And only then because there's a lightning warning.

Only a rainy day can keep the students away.


And by “the worst”, I mean it’s okay, but c’mon, they shouldn’t make kids come to school.

It Just Takes Some Time

I’m right in the middle of the ride summer right now, and it’s tough. I mean, “first world problem” levels of tough. It’s really hot, so I have to fan myself off while I do nothing in the staff room of my elementary school. Rain is about the only reprieve we’re allowed, and even then it just makes everything more damp and humid. I’m sure those sitting in Indonesia and Vietnam have it worse now, but that doesn’t mean my body won’t react to external stimuli differently.

And rain makes things depressing too. Like, not only did I not have any work to do, but now I don’t even have the motivation to do the work I don’t have.

Thanks nature.

Anywho, it’s a huge departure from the teacher lifestyle in America, where lo-and-behold, summer vacation is a time to relax for teachers and students alike. Not so in Japan.

That’s right: Public school teachers in Japan have to come in to work during summer.

Winter vacation too. While we do get our fair share of public holidays (thanks Abe! (not sure who I should be thanking)), we only have two solid weeks off during the entire year, one in the middle of summer and one during winter vacation. In any other job, maybe this seems like a lot. Maybe it is. And though some do, I didn’t get into teaching because of the vacation time. It’s just tough when you need to sit at a desk and make work for yourself.

Were I an elementary school teacher with a class to teach, I might be glad to come in during the summer. Time without kids to just plan. Swell. As an ALT in a tiny town however, there’s not much work to do. Some ALTs complain of being overworked, and the ones who are tasked with creating their own lessons and then teaching 6 classes a day are right to do so. But I can’t complain. I have a max of 4 classes a day, and that’s a rarity. Usually I only have 2-3, so I have a lot of time on my hands. Prep is done before long.

But complaining is kind of silly. Interac English teachers don’t have to come to school, and thinking about that is worse. Because as much as have nothing to do, I’m sitting in a whole room of people in the same boat. We’re taking this together. Bonding.

I’m glad I’m here, given the circumstances. Wouldn’t want to be left out.

Interlude: Warnings

It’s funny the warnings they give kids before summer starts. To the elementary students: Be careful around cars. Reasonable. Let an adult know when you’re going to the river or ocean. Okay. Return home before 5 pm. Can they dictate home rules?

To the middle school students: No karaoke. I didn’t realize that karaoke was such a lewd activity, but I guess it is. This isn’t just my school: everyone I know in Japan has been told the same thing. Teachers even go to karaoke places during work hours to make sure kids aren’t going there. Or at least that’s… Oh, Japan, you’re clever. :p

To the teachers: Be a good role model if you see kids around. Don’t let them see you doing karaoke. Seeing you drinking and walking around in a drunken stupor is fine though.


Think Of The Children!

Which is actually what this post is about.

You see, as teachers maintaining a school, working a job, there’s some reason for us to be coming in.

But the kids. This is their time for a break! This week and last I’ve seen students come in to work on their summer homework. They come in at 8, just like a normal day and plop themselves in the library for four or five hours. These are elementary students for cryin’ out loud. At least it’s only 3rd graders and up. I don’t think the 1st and 2nd graders are asked to come, though they’re still given so much summer homework that in the words of their teacher, “they’ll need to work on it every day if they want to get it done on time”.


It’s not all bad. Sometimes they’re hanging out, which is cool. Come to the school to play in the gym. Ride a unicycle. The teacher gave some students ice pops and played a game on the board in the middle of the independent study.

And truth be told, no students are forced into doing this. It’s just an option. Mind you, it’s an option parents would naturally take if they needed some rest over the summer, but it’s not required.

This “come if you feel like it and there will be ice pops and some games to be had while you study over the summer” isn’t that bad. Lord knows how much “data dumping” happens over extended breaks.

But this all changes at the middle school level.

You see, in middle school, everyone joins a sports club. Our school doesn’t have enough kids to form full teams, so we just have table tennis and tennis, clubs that can run even with small numbers. As long as you have two kids, it’s basically enough.

During weekends and during summer break and winter break and basically all the time, students come to school to play sports. Yes, on Saturday and Sunday morning they come to school to play tennis for four-to-seven hours. Yes, during summer vacation they come in daily. And because of the aforementioned policy of having every kid play club sports, it basically amounts to perpetual school.

So much for vacation.

Coming from Japan, it makes sense though. This isn’t about freedom of choice—it’s about doing what everyone else is doing. It’s preparing them for the adult world of becoming a salaryman with even less time. Even if they had the choice, with all the competition for getting into a good high school, well, I’m sure all of them would choose club sports anyways.

Who’s To Blame?

There’s no way to trace this back to anything reasonable. Teachers are working because they’re upstanding members of society. Working hard is better than working efficiently, and from that: working is better than not working. If you’re a good member of society, you work. And during the summer when there’s nothing to do, you make kids come in so that you have something to do.

That’s culture though. And keeping kids busy means that they don’t get into more dangerous things like drugs and gangs and all manner of violent crime. Freedom has a cost.

Next week, everyone’s off. Many people are going to their homes. Obon-yasumi they call it. The real summer vacation is about to begin.


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