Friday, April 30, 2010

Fake fires, real nurses

Today, we had a Friday drill at my big elementary school. Somehow, Japan makes even the most mundane things ridiculous or amusing, or both.

Now, this wasn't my first drill. Last year, we had an earthquake drill at JHS, and I discovered, much to my dismay, after wandering outside 7 or so minutes into the drill, that I wasn't on anybody's accountability list. On my old schedule (a week at each school), if I'd been buried in an earthquake on Tuesday, noone would notice until Monday. And even then, it would be my foreign colleagues, and not a Japanese person.

Anyhow, back to today.

The Senior Teacher warned me that the bells would ring at different times today, because of a fire drill. Okay, I thought, and went back to lesson planning.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

There is a fire truck reversing outside. I furrow my brows. Are they for real? In answer to that question, an ambulance pulls up. The firemen come in- in my town, the Fire Service mans the ambulances as well- and go into the Principal's room, where they have green tea. Around 9.30 the firemen and the Principal wander back into the staff room. The Senior Teacher comes and stands at the PA system, which happens to be right next to my desk. I'm ignoring everybody and drawing pictures of Doraemon and Naruto for a game.

That is, until the Senior Teacher presses a button, and the most obnoxious alarm I've ever heard goes off. The Senior Teacher then announces that this is a drill and there is a fire. The School Secretary and the caretaker come over to the PA system, which also has the fire alarm monitoring system, and figure out that the fire is in a classroom on the 3rd floor. They grab a fire extinguisher and race upstairs, accompanied by a fireman. At this point, I wonder if they plan to have a fireman at the school before a real fire alarm, but then, there might actually be. The firemen and the police are at my schools so often, I can recognise them. I also realise that the alarm sounding in the hallway is a normal alarm and not the obnoxious sound playing in the staff room.

The Secretary, Caretaker and fireman return. They report to the Senior Teacher that they could not control the fire. She then announces that we're to evacuate. The Principal turns off the lights in the staff room and we head out. Some of the staff go to the genkan (entrance way) first to get their outdoor shoes. I go with them. If I wear my indoor shoes outdoors, then I have to stop and clean them before I come back inside. I wonder if, in the event of a real fire, people would go get their outdoor shoes.

Having grabbed our shoes, we head back the way we came to go out the back of the school. The School Nurse is running across the field with a green cross flag. Class teachers aren't too far behind. They all have flags with the number of their grade on them, and they're being followed by their students. They actually used the pretty staircase on the side of the building. It never occured to me that it's a fire escape. It's really pretty, it has a glass roof, and green floral designs in the metal on the sides. They sit down and make sure the kids are all accounted for (noone checked the teachers- I'm just going to bail out in the event of a real emergency, cuz noone will notice I'm missing til I'm dead).

And then, we did the Japanese thing. A fireman came up and gave a speech. I don't know how Japanese people manage to work a full on speech into everything, but they do. And then it was over, and the kids went to clean their indoor shoes, but not before I wondered what would happen if there was an emergency which required an ambulance while this was going on. The central part of my town has at least 7,000 people, 8 fire trucks and 1 ambulance. I don't know why we need 8 fire trucks either. At home we've got 270,000 people and we have like 11.

As promised, I'm also going to tell you guys about the Nurse Room kids. People who've never lived in Japan think that the society is all orderly, and obedient. They are sooooo wrong!

Here's the thing: in Japan there's no punishment. Yep, NO punishment.

Okay, that's not exactly true. But the only punishment for most things, is social ostracism. Japanese society is very dependent on the idea of being part of the group. You want to be like the members of your group and you don't want to displease them. That's all well and good, but if you're like me, and you don't really give two monkey coronaries what other people think, you can do whatever.

The Nurse Room kids are a prime example of this.

In Western society, if you have a problem with a kid in your class or a teacher, you deal with out. You can't just not come to school. I mean you could, but they'd have the truant officer on you in a minute.

Here, if something in class bugs you, it's perfectly okay if you stay at home. One of my ALT friends had a student who never came to school, except for the days when his wife (not an actual employee of the school) would come to school and draw manga characters with her. That same student never spoke to males.

Apart from not coming to school altogether, you can come to school and just go to the Nurse Room all day every day. There's even a possibility, that they will be an extra teacher to work with you, even though there's a teacher already on the payroll, teaching in your classroom.

By the way, this concept isn't just for kids. Adults can take kokoro no byouki (heartsickness), a seemingly unlimited amount of leave so they can just not come to work for whatever reason.

Another random thing I found out recently, kids are not special ed. if they disagree. Your teachers can say you belong in Special Ed, your parents can say you belong in Special Ed, but if you (the unqualified minor) say you don't, they have to put you in with the regular kids! I have seen this happen. In Special Ed, they would have learned at a slower rate, in the regular classroom they learn nothing. It's really sad.

Sometimes, Japan gets it so right. Other times, well at least they're good at judo!*

* Last year I had a kid who really struggled in all his subjects. I asked a teacher: Mizuki-kun** really struggles with English? And his response was, He's good at judo!

** name has been changed.


Dianne K. Salerni said...

Fascinating! We had a fire drill yesterday, too. It didn't resemble yours very much. It was supposed to be secret, but the office always informs the autistic support room so they can be prepared, and that teacher informs everyone who has autistic students in their homerooms. Once that many people know, the whole school knows.

The drill was scheduled at 8:35, transition time. So, the homeroom teachers scrambled to get their kids off to the first class so they would be somebody else's problem. You should have seen teachers running down the hall with confused children trotting behind them!

When the bell rang, we all went out, no matter where we were. Several teachers couldn't find all their students -- many of whom got caught in the hall when the alarm went off and were ushered out some side door, separated from their class. We could not go back in the building until all those kids were located by use of walkie-talkie, so we stood outside shivering in the wind. Did I mention we have 1700 students?

Anyway, interesting to see how it's handled halfway around the world!

Marsha Sigman said...

This is so cool, Claire. Everytime you write I feel like I am actually there! I wish they had a Nurse Room at my day

That is so wrong that kids have too much say so in whether they go to school or where they are placed. I think part of growing up is learning to confront/accept your problems. I love your blog so much!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Oh, boy, do you have some great cultural insights and specifics you'll be able to use in writing stories. I feel like I've had a door opened to a society I know little about. Thank you.

Postman said...

Oh, boy. You said it, Claire. They make the most mundane things funky, don't they? Firemen giving speeches? Leave-taking for heartsickness? Being good at judo a saving grace?

This post made me laugh. I got the same feeling in Korea sometimes. About some things, they were as pragmatic as could be. At other times, they displayed such bewildering whimsy that I was disoriented beyond belief.


"Hello? Boss? Yes, it's Postman. I can't come to work today, I'm heartsick. Should be in next month sometime. Thanks, 'bye."

Neil Alvin said...

Claire... we have 11 firetrucks? I would of guessed 4 LOLOL

Anonymous said...

Thx ur share........................................

Tahereh said...

haha! wow what a cool story!! it's always amazing to learn how people approach the same situation differently! you are a wealth of information :D :D

also: SO happy it was just a drill!

Claire Dawn said...

Thanks guys! It's amazing how much you don't know about a place until you've lived there.

@ Neil, lol, there are 6 stations, how there gon' only be 4 trucks? lol!

Lola Sharp said...

Very interesting.
Thanks for sharing.