Friday, January 30, 2009

Under Pressure

Japan is a beautiful country. Home of the cherry blossoms and Mt. Fuji and some beautiful traditions. Japan is full of beautiful things and people. However, there is one custom that arrives every year around this time that I really dislike for these people. School entrance exams.

The pressure for these entrance exams is HIGH. Who takes these exams? Young children who want to get into elementary school. Eleven to twelve year olds who want to get into junior high school. 14-16 year olds who want to get into high school. 17-19 year old who want to get into college and on and on. At almost every mile stone of education these children are placed under serious pressure to pass and do well on these exams. Families prepare and study months in advance. They go to the school they want their son or daughter to get into and register for the exam. Here at Tamasei one prospective student arrived to register on the schools doorsteps around 4:30 in the morning.

Here is an excerpt from my friend, Cheryl's blog about this same subject.....

Monday and Tuesday, February 2 and 3, Tamagawa Seigakuin will conduct entrance examinations for approximately 750 current sixth grade girls who will begin their junior high school careers in April. (80 percent of those registered for Monday are also registered for the second day.) About 50 percent of them will pass the exam. Of these, Tama Sei expects to welcome 168 new first year junior high girls. (Many students take exams at several schools and, if they succeed in more than one, will enter their first choice.)

This weekend will be a time of great pressure in many homes as Monday and Tuesday approach. Actually, the stress has been building for some time. Some of these girls have been studying intensely for months in preparation (we hope)—if not by their own choice, then by the will of their parents. One father of a sixth grader who will take Monday’s exam told me late last fall that he and his wife had lowered the boom: no more special events and outings on weekends from then until exam time. “Weekends have become your study time,” they announced to their daughter who apparently hadn’t been taking her studying very seriously. They also were threatening to take her cell phone away, if necessary, in order to keep her on track. This would be, according to the daughter, the worst possible thing they could do--a fate nearly worse than death.

For the graduating seniors here at Tamasei the school releases the seniors for January through March to study for the entrance exams that they will be taking to get into university. I remember when I had heard my friend in the U.S. say that he had been studying for the BAR exam for two months and I thought that was intense! However, studying two months for a test is a normal thing to do every 3-5 years here. Phew! These students are unlike what I would picture I would be like if I was given two months to study for an exam. I would take a month or two off and then study for the last week. But not in Japan. Not these students. Especially not the women. Women make up only 38% of the student body population of universities in Japan. (according to The pressure is high. It's part of this culture, I guess. Everyone has to go through it. However, that doesn't make it easy or less stressful.

Pressure to perform and do well in Japan is part of everyday life. Around 90 suicides are committed a DAY in this country. People are constantly depressed but rarely discuss their problems as there aren't enough mental health and counseling services available to meet the need. Plus, it's not yet as socially acceptable as in the U.S. to just discuss emotional issues with a counselor. The stigma seems to be that you only go to a counselor if you have serious mental issues. Teachers, businessmen, and other workers work non-stop. Students study constantly as standardized testing is plentiful.

I hate pressure. I rebel against it. For some Japanese people it may be no big deal but I see many times that it is. People here are tired, stressed, and overwhelmed with expectations. Of course, like anything, there are exceptions to this. My heart hurts for the Japanese. They are beautiful people and I wish for them to know the peace of the Lord when the world around them allows them to feel anything but. I pray for those who know Jesus that during this time they would experience His love and grace in abundance. That they would know He loves them even if they fail an entrance exam or make a mistake at work. May His grace cover their hearts and quiet their souls and minds.