Photograph by Phyo Thiri
With the author’s permission, we have decided to publish this piece unedited. We believe that this represents a large portion of the TUJ student body who do not hold English as their native language and yet, continue to strive and take classes taught in a language that is not their own.
“Japanese do not speak up”, “Japanese people are quiet”. It is true and it would not change unless the educational system gets reviewed dramatically. People told me that I was a “trouble one” when I was in Japanese junior high school but I didn’t know why. Now, I know why. I believe that being a trouble student means being who you really are. The Japanese education system is made to homogenize and delete individual's’ uniqueness. You would not realize how devastating it is because you think it is normal.
Teachers stand in front of the school gate in the morning to check girls’ skirt length. If the skirt is above the knee, you’ll get punished or get detention after school. I remember when a teacher asked me to “take a knee” in order to check my skirt length, so I sat on the concrete ground. It’s clear if the skirt hem touches the ground but I cut my skirt, my hem never touches the ground.
You are not allowed to speak up your opinions against teachers, funny thing is that students were not even allowed to ask questions to teachers in class. Good students follow rules, behave well, dress right, and be quiet. Moreover, participation and discussion were not welcomed in the learning environment because textbooks and teachers’ words are absolute so you just have to listen to their boring lectures.
You must have black hair, even though your natural hair color is different. There was a mix-roots student whose mother is from Philippines and father is Japanese. She had a beautiful curly and dark brown hair. I remember she was surrounded by three teachers telling her to straighten and dye her hair to black. Otherwise, she cannot continue attending classes.
I had to swim even though I was on my period. Every summer, Japanese schools open their private pools and students have to take swimming lessons in order to get grades for Physical Education class. I simply cannot swim if my vagina is bleeding but I was not allowed to miss more than three lessons in order to get good grade. One female PE teacher says “Hydraulic pressure prevent you bleed; period is not an excuse”. And 14 years old me go “oh okay if she says then I have to”.
Now, you are much older and no longer a teenager. Suddenly, the Japanese society tells you to embrace yourself, they emphasize the importance of diversity and differences, and they seek your uniqueness. In work places, you have to be outspoken and people constantly judge your ability. I can’t do this. This is too much. They should’ve taught us earlier that we need to have own personality in order to bloom our adulthoods.
I strongly believe that the education and school system have strong relationship to the social stratification in Japan. The quietness of people advantages the people who hold power and it is easier for them to control and manipulate what people think and control how individuals contribute to the society.
I reflect on my classroom to the current Japanese society. Just like these students who were not able to realize that they were oppressed by invisible strong power of teachers, many Japanese people, including myself, are still not capable enough to stand up and speak up for our voices and opinions. Let’s kick out of these bad teachers, so that we can wear the cutest short skirts to school everyday.