Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Running Teacher :師走

Dusting off of the traditional bathhouse, preparing for the new year
Teachers are busy throughout a year.   During the month of December, it seems unbelievably busy for anyone in many ways.  In Japanese, the traditional way of December is called 師走 (she-wa-su).  The Chinese character 師 (she) means teacher and 走 (wa-su) means run.  I learned that even calm teachers run around everywhere to orchestrate and make sure everything is under control in December.  In the regular academic work, students and school staff clean up all around the school property in order to welcome the new year. 

In addition to the daily clean up time, they have a special "All School Cleaning Day" in Japanese public schools.  The tradition すす払い (soo- soo- harai), the end of the year dusting, has been in temples, shrines, and ordinary residences.  People wants to dust off and polish everywhere before the new year.  Dust also means one year's full of complaints, pains, and negatives.  Dusting off all of the negatives means to get ready to make a room for the fresh and happiness in the coming year.  No wonder teachers are running around to get brooms, dust pans, mops, buckets, and rags for their students. 

Another hustle before the winter break is the report cards.  Many Japanese teachers still use stamps and handwriting for their report cards.  In addition to the report cards, their cumulative folders requires different reports individually. 

Then, there are some party times after school hours.  Young teachers must call up restaurants or catering businesses to reserve and organize the staff party which is called, 忘年会(bow-nen-kai).  It is common in a lot of organizations and circles of friends to hold parties in December.  People try to forget about what have happened during the year, especially the negative experiences, by having fun at a party.  Another party is held as 新年会(shin-nen-kai), a new year's party.   Although there is a massive amount and excitement in the end of the year party, they must have another one in January.  The level of energy is similar, but a new year's party is a significant part of families, friends, and coworkers in the country, because its meaning is to welcome happiness.  At each party, young teachers are extremely busy to pay bills that they collected from teachers.  They also visit to pour Sake (rice liquor) to elder teachers to show respect.  Young teachers cannot refuse to drink when elders offer a glass of beer.  If you are drinking woolong tea by yourself, you are considered to be rude.  Can you believe that there is a second party and a third party after each major party? 

Yes, Japanese teachers are running everywhere between classrooms and the staff lounge and between school and party destinations.  Shopping and wrapping Christmas gifts are busy but nothing like Japanese teachers' stress, especially young teachers' traditional and social demand and pressure.  When I think of my memories in Japan, I take a deep breath, and remind myself, "Don't run.  Walk.  You will be fine without running."  That's how I survived in December 2012.