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Differences between Japan and Oklahoma

Although there are many similarities with Japanese and American children, there are major differences in the schools we saw in Japan and the schools in Norman.
by Michelle Sutherlin Modified: July 15, 2014 at 3:09 pm •  Published: July 15, 2014
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It has taken me awhile to post another blog about my trip to Japan. Not because I didn’t have anything to say. In fact, it’s the opposite. I have so many things I want to talk about it has been hard to know where to start.

Thanks to the Hitachi Teacher Exchange program, I went on a 10-day trip to visit Japanese schools in Odawara, Japan. Along with fellow Norman Public Schools educators Calypso Gilstrap and Ellen Kraft, and our Hitachi host Jeannie Green-LaCroix, we visited four schools, met with the Odawara Mayor, Odawara Superintendent and the Odawara Board of Education, toured Hitachi and met with officials there; we went to shrines, temples, volcanoes and mountains; we ate amazing Japanese cuisine; and we shopped to our hearts content. I arrived back in Norman Sunday.

We ended our trip by spending two days in Tokyo, the world’s biggest city. We took a car tour and saw the must-sees and then spent a day navigating the subways, trains and streets on our own. Calypso and I even ventured to Tokyo Disneyland and spent several hours with Mickey Mouse and company.

I have written previously about the similarities about Japanese students and American students. Kids are kids wherever you go. They speak universally with their smiles and kindness.

Although there are many similarities with Japanese and American children, there are major differences in the schools we saw in Japan and the schools in Norman.

Technology

I made a wrong assumption going into this trip that Japanese schools would have all the latest and greatest technology in their classrooms. Japanese teachers not only do not have Intelligent Classrooms, smart and interactive boards that project on a large screen, they do not have computers in the classrooms at all.

Japanese teachers use a chalkboard the old-fashioned way. Chalk and erasers are used and teachers write everything on the board by hand, as opposed to being able to project images from your computer onto a screen.

Students do not have phones. Students were fascinated by my smart phone when I used it to take pictures in the classrooms. I handed my phone to a student and asked him to take a photo and he had no idea how to use it.

The Japanese did not have their heads buried in their phones constantly as we do. It was a striking contrast to see human interaction and conversation in Japan as opposed to walking with our eyes on our touch screens.

The only advanced technology I saw in Japan at all was in the Hitachi plant where several types of robots were working. That was truly impressive.

Weather & Nature

The Japanese schools only had air conditioning in the principal’s offices and maybe a conference room. Classrooms were not air conditioned. Instead, oscillating fans were bolted upside down on ceilings to cool the rooms. Japanese students go to school through July and start again in September, which makes summer months in classrooms sweltering.

Japan is very, very humid. Oklahoma only gets that humid right before a storm. While Oklahoma’s heat certainly is not dry, it can’t hold a candle to the humidity we experienced every day in Japan.

Students never complained about the heat. They drank water from thermoses and had towels to wipe the sweat that would run down their faces. Teachers also never complained. They were up teaching, many times in pants and long shirts, sweating right along with the children.

I’ve experienced lots of types of Oklahoma nature and weather; wheat fields, red dirt, hills, small mountains, down bursts, tornadoes, thunderstorms, ice storms, blizzards, heat waves, wild fires and more. I have even felt a couple of small earthquakes in Oklahoma.

But while in Japan, I experienced three major natural events for the first time: a typhoon, a volcano, and a large earthquake. In fact, I experienced a typhoon ON TOP of the volcano we were touring! I know, it sounds like I made that up, but I didn’t. I have video to prove it.

Early Saturday, July 12, I was first awakened by a loud alarm alert coming from my phone. “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” Then there was yelling in Japanese that I didn’t understand. I was very startled and trying to figure out what was happening and then I realized my bed was shaking and the high-rise hotel we were staying in was swaying back and forth and creaking. Tokyo had just experienced a 6.8 magnitude earthquake, the fourth largest quake Japan has had since 1900.

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by Michelle Sutherlin
NewsOK Contributor
Michelle Sutherlin is a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. She loves middle school students so...
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