No doubt about it, life in Japan is busy — and even small children have a “schedule.” All of my son’s first-grade friends at Japanese elementary school have at least one after-school activity, if not two or three. An informal survey revealed that piano and ballet are tops with the girls, that the boys prefer soccer and karate, while English and swimming are popular with everyone. Then there are academic classes in mathematics or Japanese, extra practice for those who need a little help — or who want to get ahead.
My son began swimming lessons when he was 4, and I’ve been driving him to the sports club across town every Tuesday for the last two years. We found he needed some help with his Japanese when he started first grade, so on Monday and Thursday he goes to a teacher up the street. Then there is the tutor who comes every Wednesday evening to work with him on his English reading and writing.
He also participates in Boy Scouts one or two Saturdays a month at a nearby international school. And now he says he wants to start karate . . .
As I work part time, my son attends the local gakudo (afterschool care program) three days a week, so every morning we check on the day’s schedule and confirm whether he should go to gakudo or come straight home.
Despite all this preparation, there is often confusion. When a swimming bag is needed for school, my son has often picked up his sports-club trunks — lime-green ones in a florescent orange bag — instead of taking his regular navy-blue school swimtrunks.
Things only get busier from here. They offer wadaiko (Japanese drumming) classes at the gakudo, which my son can join when he enters second grade. He has already instructed me to arrange my next year’s work schedule so that he can attend the drumming class.
Matters are complicated further by two little sisters. They go to public daycare, but stay home on Tuesday to participate in a playgroup. My older daughter has been content to have the playgroup as her “thing,” but now, at nearly 4, she is developing other interests.
I had vague plans to enroll her in swimming, but she can’t join her brother’s class until she turns 5. The session for younger children begins at 2:30 p.m., so I would have to drop her off, zoom across town in time to meet my son from school 30 minutes later, then ferry him back for his class at 3:30 p.m. — all with the baby in tow!
At playgroup today, another mother mentioned that her daughter is starting ballet class. “The class is on Tuesdays at 4 p.m. In fact, it’s just around the corner from the sports club.” My mind raced as I did some swift calculation — I would have time after playgroup to pick up my son, drop him at swimming, and then take my daughter to the ballet class. Perfect! Already I’m picturing my little girl in a tutu.
But I’m still thinking about the karate . . .