Local News

Japanese Classroom Spartan by Any Standard

Posted February 18, 1998

— Usuda High School is an hour and a half outside of Nagano by train. It's spartan by any standards. Students do all the maintenance. They don't seem to mind, because after all, it is their school.

Homeroom starts at 8:45 a.m. and students rarely change classes. We had been led to believe that schools here are very rigid. Students are under great pressure to succeed. That's not what one female student said. She admitted to feeling no pressure to do well in school.

"There are good students and bad students," explains American teacher Greg Rathbun. "Students for the most part are very fun and happy."

This school has the feel of any American high school. Course study varies from agriculture to apparel design to nursing to general studies. English is a requirement in the classroom. That's where Rathbun steps in. Rathbun says it took him over two months to feel like he fit in with the Japanese culture.

Rathbun is just one of many U.S. citizens teaching English in Japanese schools. At first he tried to make friends at the school by making jokes, but in Japan, no one understood what he was saying was a joke. In that respect, the jokes just fell flat.

In what seems like a different world, many of the students share the same dream -- to become a better person. The girls share the same interests -- boys.

Students spend a lot of time in school, two more hours a day than in the US. It's a very cold place with no central heat. By our standards, it's a tough place to learn. While young people are basically the same, where and how they learn is not.

"You have to know the rules before you can play the game," says Rathbun, "and I'm still learning a little bit of the rules."

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