Buying Beetles in Tokyo

Hiroki walks to school, but Hitomi - like many other Japanese children - travels alone by train and subway. Because streets and mass transportation in Japan are very safe, even small children frequently commute by themselves.

Japanese children spend most of their time studying - in school or elsewhere. Children spend seven hours a day in regular classes, and those attending the juku, ``cram schools,'' sometimes spend another three hours in evening classes.

Eight to 12-year-olds study the basics: mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, and Japanese literature. They also take art and music classes. They have one class a week in Japanese brush-painting, moral education (in which they are taught to value hard work, self-control, and respect for the elderly), and the Roman alphabet (the one we use) in preparation for English-language study.

In school, Japanese boys usually get some basic training in such martial arts as judo, which involves hand-to-hand combat, or kendo, in which two opponents fight with long sticks. Japanese girls learn dancing and some gymnastics.

The best part of the school day for Hiroki is the science class. He is very proud of the black beetles his father bought for him at a local department store. ``In the city,'' his father says, ``children cannot catch their own insects. So we have to buy them.'' Hitomi likes making small dolls and seasonal decorations in art class best.

Most Japanese children love spaghetti, hamburgers, or rice with a spicy curry sauce for dinner. But they don't put cheese on their spaghetti. Instead, they garnish it with dried nori, seaweed.

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