This Saturday and Sunday are the days for the “Senta Shiken” or “Center Shiken” or “Center Test”, Japan’s national university entrance exams. Many people talk about exam hell in Japan, but personally I don’t think it’s any different. When I was a wee lad back in the U.S. I put my heart and soul and a lot of free time into the S.A.T.s, achievement tests, and A.P. Tests. Then whatever was left of my heart and soul into essays for college applications.
Well, it’s no different in Japan. Kids are studying hard, but from my perspective, there doesn’t seem to be much different from myself, my English speaking friends from across the pond, my friends from Egypt, or South Korea, or other places. In fact, while “exam hell” may exist for some students who have their hearts and parents’ bank accounts set on attending the less expensive and purportedly “better” public universities, exam time is just a vacation for students who have “escalator agari” or automatic acceptance due to attending a private high school affiliated with a university.
If you are a tourist in the country, it’s a great time to watch the news for shots of prospective students crying in disappointment, or being heaved into the air by the school’s rugby team when accepted… or both. Also look for the annual “kid was late for exam and (fill in the blank) helped him/her get there in time”. There are often trains that skip stops or make extra stops for kids in dire straits.
I just wanted to throw a light-hearted post up here to prepare visitors to Japan for the inevitable comment they will here about how “american universities are easy to get into and hard to graduate from”, or stories of exam hell (which may be more true than not depending on the age of the storyteller).
Once the students are accepted to university, life is a fun swirl of a part-time job at a yakitori place, changing your hair color, and enjoying extra-curricular activities with one of your college’s fifty tennis circles… oh yeah, and class too… sometimes… and the university cafeteria where many cell phone photos of food and wackiness will be taken.
One last thing to look for is the publication of the test questions in next week’s Japanese newspapers! It’s always fun to peruse the English portion of the test.