I’ve been pondering.
It was “back to school” in France and in Japan pretty much on the same day this year. It was a bit earlier in the US as it usually is.
And every year, it’s the same big deal in France. If you’ve never lived in France, it’s hard to explain September.
Imagine that pretty much everything in the country has been put to a stop or has seriously slowed down for two months and everything goes back to full speed on the first week of September. Everything. School, work, politics, business, the media. Everything.
I remember it being somewhat a big deal in the US too, but to a much lesser extent than it is in France.
In Japan? It pretty much is business as usual. The main reason is that summer in Japan is no different from the rest of the year, most people do the same thing as the rest of the year. It’s just hotter.
But I want to focus on children here.
In France and the US, going back to school in September (or August in the US) is one of the biggest events of the year in a kid’s life: new class, sometimes new school, new friends, new teachers, new everything.
During the past couple of weeks, all my social media feeds (first American, and then French) have been full of posts about kids going back to school, teachers going back to school, etc. With all the changes that it entails. How it went, and all that. Once again, it’s hard to underline how much of a culturally important shared experience September is in France.
In Japan, nothing special. Kids just got back to school, and that is all. (well, a few things are special due to Covid, but that’s a bit beside the point here – let’s try not to think about it for once this year)
Why is that?
Well, there is one very big difference, between the countries.
August/September is a new school year in Europe and the US. It is not in Japan.
The new school year in Japan is in April.
And I feel that it makes a huge difference for the kids.
I remember as a kid myself. Now, I’m reading various parents’ and teachers’ comments here and there. Going back to school after a two-month break was and is an important, quite stressful, and even sometimes traumatic event.
It’s of course a mix of being away from the school environment for so long, added to all the new things, settings, and people dumped on the kids, all at the same time.
Before moving to Japan, I never considered them as two separate things. After all, they’ve always come together.
However, they really are two separate things. They just happen to take place at the same time in Europe and the US and many more countries.
In Japan, they don’t.
The big long vacation is in Summer, just like in the “West.”
The new school year takes place in April, after a break of only a couple of weeks.
I could be wrong, and I only have my limited experience and the ones around me as a base for this reasoning (I’d be curious to read actual research on the topic), but I feel that the Japanese calendar is actually better for children.
In September, Japanese kids return to school after a long break, but they return to a familiar environment, with familiar faces, familiar places, etc. Things just return to what their life was in early July before the summer break. It’s pretty much a non-event.
In April, lots of new things: new teacher, new friends, sometimes new school, new uniform, etc. But they happen after only a couple of weeks away from school. This smaller break seems to overall help the kids being less impacted by all of these changes. Of course, it will impact kids differently depending on their characters, personalities, age, and more. This is not the point here, as this is true for every kid on the planet.
I’m sure there are a bunch of other factors. For example, the importance put on ceremonies in Japan can play a part. As a Frenchman, I always tend to look at the abundance of ceremonies in Japan with a mix of amusement, bemusement, boredom, and more, depending on the situation. However, it’s because my culture is not big on ceremonies, but ceremonies and rituals do have their importance on people’s psychology and they serve an important social purpose when dealing with important life changes and events.
I really feel that April is much less stressful for kids in Japan than September can be for French kids.
I don’t have an answer, I could be totally wrong. Just a feeling and a few thoughts I had after seeing all the posts and tweets on social media this week coming from France, and comparing them to my kids’ experiences.
What do you think?
Tell me in the comments.
(I’m also curious about the experiences of people living in the Southern hemisphere as things are a little different over there.)