Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Final Draft: Japan

My friends call me a Japan-freak; knowing about Japan more than knowing my own country. Some of them tell me that I’m too obsessed with Japan as all the time they see me lingering with Japanese stuffs like drama, songs, and even learning the Japanese language. Telling the truth, I am actually learning the language and not this language only as I am planning to learn other languages in the future. When talking about Japan, most people would probably think of technology especially mobiles especially cars. However, I am not really interested in their technologies. In this essay, I will be talking about manga and anime, Japanese educational system, the people themselves, and the social problems increasing in their society.

Japan gives great influences to the countries all over the world with manga (comics) and anime. The influence is so great that the terminology “anime” is included in the English dictionary. Common people who do not know much about manga and anime would perceive them as merely forms of entertainment. However, the basis of manga and anime does not based on this purpose only. For Japanese, these two sources serve as mediums to inform the public about stories that are depicted from daily life, history that revolves around the shogunate era and so on. Some of the anime even consist of adult/mature contents that can only be watched by viewers above 18 years old. The elements of virtue, creativity and imagination, and knowledge are wrapped up inside anime where it plays important role in educating the community. Such influence can be seen in other countries can be seen where there are cosplays (costume playing) all over the world including our country Malaysia. Some of the fans or so-called die-hard-fans become obsessed with manga and anime that they are given the title otaku. Cartoonists from other countries are also influenced by the strokes and plots that are similar to manga/anime.

I am pretty much attracted to the educational system there when I heard it from my Japanese lecturers. I did some readings on books and from Wikipedia where I found there are some similarities in Japanese school system compared to us. One of them is yochien, (kindergarten or nursery) as the earliest education that each child should receive at the earliest age of 5 years old. The teachers assigned are mostly college graduates. Unlike our country, children are enrolled in shogakko or elementary schools at the age of six which is one year earlier than us. Just like United States School system, there is only one teacher that will teach all subjects. The next level of education is chuugakko or middle school. The students enroll at this school at are mostly of the age of 12 or 13. Just like us, the entrance of the school is determined by examinations. The selection of schools is important as schools play an important role in determining which Universities that they will attend later on. Surprisingly, education is only compulsory to them until the age of 15 as at the age of 16, they are free to choose whether to end their education or proceed to kotogakko/koko (high schools). At this age too, they are given the permission to work. Again, there is an examination before the students are able to enter their target schools. Compared to our examination system, the students there need to take entrance examination that are set by the schools themselves. During the final year, which is when they are 18 years old, they again need to decide whether to end their studies and work or proceed to University. If they want to enter any Universities, they need to take an examination from respective Universities.

Japanese are the people who go for perfectionism in everything they do. I remember in one line in the Last Samurai movie, “from the moment they wake, they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they do”, I find that this statement is true. In everything that they do in their daily life is done in certain procedures or steps with serious considering. If they do not do so, they might be considered as rude or has broken the balance of their life. Each child is brought up with strict disciplines. It can be seen vividly in their own language system. Just like our language, they have formal and informal language. Their language is much influenced by Chinese language and almost most of them are derived from Chinese characters. Most of the pronunciations are similar to the Chinese language. What surprises me when I first learn Japanese language is their writing system. Unlike Malay language and English language, Japanese language consists of characters just like Chinese language. They even have three different writings which are katakana, hiragana, and kanji. I thought that I can just write the character freely on my own. However, when I attended Japanese class I learned that the strokes of each character needs to be written based on fixed steps and with a correct measurement. Writing in the correct order is very important. Japanese take this matter seriously. I remember when I was scolded by my Japanese lecturer for writing them sloppily.

Apart from their language, the perfectionism can be seen in their own education system. If the examination involves memorization of lines especially in Japanese language subject or literature, the students need to memorize them one by one without leaving one word. Leaving one word of the line is intolerable. Such small mistakes can affect their examination marks. Besides their education system, bowing (jigi) and greetings (aisatsu) are very vital in their daily life. If they do not do these in their daily life, they would be considered extremely rude. Saying the phrase itadakimasu before eating and gochisousama after a meal is compulsory as a form to show gratefulness to the person who prepares the food. When eating, they are not allowed to leave any chunks of food left and they do not pour soya sauce on the rice or dishes just like Malay custom. Instead, they will pour it on a plate and dip the dishes on the soya sauce.

However beyond the perfectionism of this country, there are also climbing rates of social problems. The main social problems in Japan are suicide, hikikomori (pulling away), ijime (bullying), makeinu (literally meaning failure but here it means women who refuse to get married), juvenile crimes, parasites (unemployed adults staying with their parents), furita (unemployed people) and lots more (Taylor, M., 2006). According to WHO, Japan is included as one of the countries who have high rate number of suicides. According to TIMES, June 19, 2008, suicide cases in Japan are escalating. The range of age is between 15 to 34 and mainly because of stress and depression. Well, seeing how high expectations certain parents on their children with tough disciplines and workaholics, I do not feel surprise that this social problem is at a rise. The adolescents too are lacking of virtue and respects towards the elder. However, this phenomenon does not only happen in Japan only but also in Malaysia. I still remember my Japanese teacher said that Malaysians are courteous people back on 1995 but the quality is degrading.

So far, these are all the things that I know about Japan. I still admire their endless spirit in getting the best in everything they do and their persistence in preserving their culture and customs as much as I respect my own culture. I am enjoying learning their language at the same time learning about the country itself.

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