Japanese universities are basically holding pens for youths out of high school, heads crammed with facts useful for nothing but answering examinations useful only for getting them into university. The plaza of a university campus is typically full of 18 and 19 year-olds absentmindedly preening strands of hair, awkwardly crossing their legs, posily slouching, faking yawns, coughing, looking away from their cluster of companions now and then nervously over their shoulder, shouting without provocation, feigning exaggerated interest in each other's stories, laughing forcedly, and pretending to smoke the lit cigarettes they whip to their lips for milliseconds before expelling a tiny uninhaled puff.
Everyone seems trapped where he or she is, and it is not unusual to come back from lunch and pass a spot 30 minutes later where a group is still woodenly seated around the 'party animal' of the group, dutifully focussed on his or her antics in much the same positions and poses.
The noises are extraordinary. Some of the most alarming (and I mean alarming!) are made by the girls. The guttural screams, full-throated roars and near-hysterical cries audible literally from hundreds of meters away that in any other situation would have you nervously reaching for your phone to dial 110, turn out to be nothing more than greetings or passing expressions of surprise.
At one end of the plaza there is likely to be a group of club members - anything from music to ping pong to karate - holding posters and chanting for new members, but making no effort to actually approach any passers by with a sales pitch.
Oh, and there's the loner, eating his boxed lunch, head bowed, on a bench by the far wall. Thinking?
Japanese Higher Education As Myth
Saturday, July 02, 2005
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