A World of School and Games

Comics and Juku in Japan

When class is dismissed in Japan, where children go depends on what they want to be when they grow up. It also depends on what their parents expect from them.

Hiroki Higashiyama, who is 9, immediately heads home to his vast collection of Godzilla toys. He practices playing the violin, plays soccer with other boys, and spends half an hour watching superhero cartoons on TV before doing homework.

Twelve-year-old Hitomi Furukawa, however, has only a little while to play before she goes to juku, the ``cram school'' where many Japanese children spend an additional two to three hours every evening. Hitomi's parents want her to attend a top-level Japanese university. That is why she started going to juku when she was 8. Japanese parents tend to push their children hard to succeed in school. Going to juku helps children gain admission to the best schools, and going to the best schools and universities practically guarantees a good job later on.

Whether they attend ``cram school'' or not, most Japanese children play a musical instrument. Walk through a residential neighborhood in the afternoon and you are likely to hear violin music from one apartment and the ``plink'' of piano keys from the next. (One Japanese piano manufacturer has started selling ``silent'' pianos to people afraid of annoying their neighbors. Once the sound is switched off, only the person playing can hear the music, through headphones.)

Comic books featuring tough superheros (for boys) and long-legged heroines with magical powers (for girls) are also popular after-school entertainment. In Japan, even adults read the thick comic books known as manga.

Japanese children love to ride bicycles (and unicycles, which are very popular in this country of tiny houses), play soccer, go swimming, and fly kites. The only problem, they say, is that they have to spend more time studying than playing.

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