For elementary school children in Japan, their weeks-long summer vacation isn’t entirely a time for leisure. Instead, it’s overshadowed by a stack of homework that features, among other things, an assignment known as jiyū kenkyū (independent project).
As the name suggests, jiyū kenkyū is an opportunity for pupils to pursue a project they’re interested in. At the same time, however, it has become something of an ever-present headache for students, many of whom would typically spend a large chunk of their already homework-ridden vacation trying to figure out just what project they should undertake.
This past summer, a 12-year-old student in Iwate Prefecture used this quandary to his advantage, coming up with an audacious plan that conveniently required him not to do any homework at all: to document the reaction of his family as they discover he has failed to keep up with his homework duties throughout the vacation.
A hashtag that translates as “unbelievable independent project” recently went viral after the student’s father shared a few entries of his son’s journal, titled “How my family and myself reacted when all homework was ignored until the very last day,” on Instagram.
In penning the journal, images of which were provided by the father to The Japan Times, the student recalled how he spent the first week of his vacation without a care in the world. He went swimming, tried to catch bees and attended a local festival. All this time, he wrote, “homework was nowhere on my mind.”
His happy-go-lucky mood persisted for another few weeks and, in fact, it wasn’t until the final few days of his vacation that the reality of what he had done began to sink in and he started to harbor a sense of anxiety.
By the time the penultimate day of the student’s vacation arrived, this anxiety had escalated into outright panic, with him “waking up in the morning from a nightmare in which I was scolded by my teacher for not doing any homework.”
“I can’t continue this experiment anymore,” he wrote. “I can’t stop sweating.”
He decided to tell his parents that he hadn’t started his assignment.
While his father merely laughed it off — and even seemed somewhat impressed by his son’s resourcefulness — his mother nearly lost it.
“She went ballistic upon discovering that, despite my assurances about staying on top of my homework whenever she nagged me about it, I had been lying the entire time,” he wrote. “She was so furious she smashed a plate. But mom, I can’t complete my homework because of my investigation. I hope you can understand.”
On the last day of his vacation, the student found himself feeling strangely relaxed and even described having a momentary epiphany of sorts.
“Why does homework exist in the first place?” he asked.
This philosophical mood, however, didn’t last long and he reluctantly made a start on the mountain of homework he had in the afternoon, berating himself for being so stupid.
“I’m so angry at myself for embarking on such a project even though it was the underlying idea of my independent project in the first place,” he wrote. “If only I could go back in time.”
As the student was working on his various assignments, he overheard his father recalling that he, too, had often neglected to start his summer homework until the last day. His mother, meanwhile, pointedly refused to make eye contact with her son as a form of silent punishment.
However, the tale was to undergo a new twist and the student later discovered that one of his younger brothers had also not touched his homework during summer. His brother had now joined him in a last-ditch effort to complete it on the final day, sobbing as he did so.
“Could I have just documented my brother?” the student wrote. “Maybe I didn’t have to do all this myself?”
The student’s journal entries attracted much discussion on social media, with many marveling at his inventiveness.
“I’ve never seen such a funny and independent project,” Twitter user @satoko_tea wrote. “His imaginativeness, boldness and insightfulness are incredible. I’m so excited for his future.”
“It’s kids like this who can create iPhones,” suggested Twitter user @srnitijougeki5.
However, a number of netizens couldn’t help but sympathize with the student’s mother.
“I laughed out loud reading this, and I totally understand how his mother must’ve felt when she broke a plate,” Twitter user @miyuki1492 wrote. “If I were her, I would’ve probably smashed a window.”