Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from July 18, 1996.
How Are You Going To Spend Your Summer Vacation?
This weekend most schools in Japan will start their summer vacation. America starts theirs in June. However, although Japan starts theirs all at once, in the US their vacations start on different days depending on the state, the town, or even the school. However, most all schools start back up on the day after the first Monday in September, which is Labor Day.* By the way, the US school year starts in September and so that is our First Semester.
In America there is no summer homework or reporting to school during the break. The only direction is to read a lot of books. However, there are "summer schools" and "summer camps," but they are not mandatory. At summer schools you can pick what subject you want to study and the classes are 90 minutes long. I was never very good at Math, so I took math classes several years. And since I didn't want to just take classes I hated, I also took art classes. When I was in fourth grade I studied zoology at the St. Louis Zoo. I was able to hold baby animals. It was a very exciting experience. Camps are set up out in the middle of Nature, where you can study such things as foreign languages or computers. It is similar to Japan's "Rinkan Gakko."
Sometimes I hear (Japanese) parents say, "Summer vacation is too long. I want school to start again soon." However, please think of it from a different point of view. Summer vacation is when kids can have various adventures and make a lot of memories. This type of summer vacation for kids and students is a "lesson in life."
This article was definitely written for the Japanese audience. Let me explain to my American audience about Japanese schools and summer vacations to try to fill in the gaps.
Japanese schools throughout the entire country start and end basically on the same days. High schools start earliest, then middle schools, then elementary schools. Their graduation/final ceremonies are bascially in that order as well.
Japanese schools start the first week of April and run through mid/late March of the following year.
So summer vacation is actually a short vacation between two semesters in the same school year. For us in the US it would be the equivalent of Christmas/Winter Break or Spring Break.
Japanese summer vacation usually starts the last week of July and runs through the month of August, so is approximately only one month long.
In Japan the students are expected to report to school several times during summer vacation. The US standard of some family summer trip or time together is absolutely not followed in Japan.
I think parents everywhere get tired of their kids under foot, but because Japan's vacation is only one month long, it seemed especially sad for me to hear parents being tired of having their kids around.
*After I came back to the US in 2001 I was surprised to find that this is no longer the case. Schools in the rural town in Indiana where I lived started in mid/late August rather than wait for September. This was partly due to the farming seasons and partly to do with the amount of winter vacation that they anticipated having during the school year.