Welcome, class! For today’s lesson, we will be taking a close look at something Anime Academy students should be somewhat acquainted with: the Japanese school system. Very often the chosen setting for anime and an integral part of Japanese culture, we will see how Japanese schools operate, what the students experience and the activities the students enjoy.
A Japanese classroom
After World War II, the Japanese school system was changed to resemble the American school system. Students are in six years of elementary school, three years of junior high school, three years of senior high school, and four years of college. However, in Japan’s case, only elementary and junior high school are mandatory. High school and college, both requiring rigorous entrance exams, are optional (however, approximately 95% of junior high students choose to go to high school).
Entrance exams are often called shiken jigoku, or “exam hell”. Often students take classes in cram school, called juku, to study for the entrance exams. If a student fails to be accepted into a school, he or she is known as a ronin until the examinations are successfully passed the following year. The life of a ronin is the focus of anime such as Maison Ikkoku and Love Hina.
The Japanese school year starts in April and consists of three terms, with short holidays in spring and winter and a one month summer break in August. They have lessons in the morning and afternoon with a lunch break; typically, high schools do not provide meals so the students often bring box lunches (bento) from home. As shown in Only Yesterday, elementary and junior high students clean the rooms, halls, and yards of their own school every day.
Conformity is the rule
Students must wear specific school uniforms (seifuku) and adhere to strict dress code rules, including the length and color of hair. Conformity and obedience are heavily emphasized with little discussion or interaction during lessons. However, students do get the chance to choose their own clubs and extracurricular activities, ranging from sports to science or art clubs. Students also have the opportunity to take class field trips, usually during the last year of junior and senior high school.
Another highlight of the school year is the annual cultural festival (bunkasai) in which each class creates food stands, plays, games and so on to celebrate their culture and show off what they have worked on (two great examples in anime of the bunkasai can be seen in His and Her Circumstances and Otaku no Video). For students, this is often a chance to have some fun at school, free from the pressures of exams and uniforms. Often a two-day festival, the public is invited to see what the students have created and partake in the festivities.
As the Japanese school system is different than most others, it often provides a bit of difficulty in completely understanding what students go through. Most American students, for example, may have problems comprehending such a strict and demanding school environment. But with an idea of what the student characters you see in anime are often going through in school, you can relate to aspects of the anime you may not have understood otherwise.