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The following articles were originally published in The Shelbyville News in the column “Letters Home:  A Hoosier in Japan.”



Send questions and comments to me at toddjayleonard@yahoo.com.

Book Description

Letters Home

What types of holidays do Japanese people celebrate? What is the educational system like in Japan? What are Japanese festivals like? What are some of the customs and traditions of the Japanese people? Professor Todd Jay Leonard, writing from the perspective of living and working in Japan, provides in this fascinating book the answers to these and many other questions.
Letters Home: Musings of an American Expatriate Living in Japan delivers a firsthand account of daily Japanese life through the eyes and personal experiences of Professor Leonard who has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with Japan and the Japanese people for nearly twenty-five years. 

This anecdotal book of essays, written in the style of personal letters, offers commentary on a wide range of topics and issues including culture, history, education, language, society, and religion of modern Japan from the point-of-view of an American expatriate who has made Japan his home. 

The author’s friendly, down-to-earth, yet authoritative, style of writing will transport you to modern Japan, where you will learn about the customs and traditions of this most fascinating country. This book can be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in learning about Japan and its people.http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Home-Musings-American-Expatriate/dp/0595283098/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299907225&sr=1-2

Per request, Leonard’s column about Japan returns


Well, I’m back!

During my hiatus from writing this column to work on a variety of other publishing projects, I was pleasantly inundated with requests from many of you to restart the column. I have heard you, loud and clear, and am pleased to announce that the column is now returning.

There are a couple of changes, however, that I am implementing with this inaugural column. First, the column will appear twice a month, rather than weekly; and second, I would like to invite all of you to send me specific questions you may have about Japan, its people, culture, history, societal norms — any aspect of Japan — that I can comment upon in a future column.

After my final article appeared two years ago, I gathered all of the articles I had written during the tenure of the original column and published them in one tome: “Letters Home: Musings of an American Expatriate Living in Japan” (iUniverse, 2003). The warm response to this book by all of you in Shelbyville has been exciting, a bit overwhelming and certainly flattering.

At a book-signing engagement at Three Sisters Books & Gifts in September 2003, I was finally able to meet many of you in person.

I wish to thank all of you for the wonderful support and enthusiasm extended to me during this event. It is my pleasure to be writing for The Shelbyville News once again as a columnist.

After my column ended, I received a most heartwarming letter from the then fifth-grade class of Mary Endris at St. Joseph Elementary School (all the students have since graduated to middle school). It seems that the children had “adopted” me as their friend in a faraway land and eagerly looked forward to having my column read to them in class every week.

Well, as a teacher myself, you can’t imagine how touched this made me feel to know that my words were expanding their knowledge of the world — specifically of Japan — and were motivating them to read the newspaper. I have Nick Cooper to thank for instigating this letter-writing campaign.

In their letter, they requested one last article for old times’ sake, and I was most happy to oblige. I decided to tell them about two typical elementary-school customs in Japan — the focus of this week’s column.

This might surprise you, but in Japan, there are generally no janitors in the schools to keep them clean. Each day, before the school day ends, the entire student body descends upon the school like a small army of ants to clean it from top to bottom. Each student is assigned a specific duty — sweeping the hallway, cleaning the toilets, emptying the trash cans — every conceivable chore that needs to be done to keep the school orderly, clean and neat.

Japanese students cheerfully go about doing their assigned chores, as it is just a part of their normal, daily school life. No one complains, at least outwardly, because everyone is expected to participate and to help out. The smaller children are given tasks that they can do more easily, leaving the harder jobs to the older students.

When I first came to Japan 15 years ago, I taught English in a junior high school. I sometimes visited elementary schools as part of my teaching schedule. In those days, many schools didn’t have a formal cafeteria where students would eat their lunches.

Each day, at about 11 o’clock in the morning, a truck would deliver big pots of food; each class had a rotating schedule of students who would go down to retrieve their class’ food and dishes to bring back to the classroom. The students would then arrange their desks into small groups, and several other students would don white coats and hats to serve each student in an assembly line. The other students would line up with trays, chopsticks and bowls to receive their lunch that was served by their classmates.

When everyone had their food, the class leader for the day would stand up and say “itadakimasu” (there is no good English translation for this phrase, but it’s like saying “bon appétit”). This signaled that it was time to begin eating. When everyone had finished, the leader would stand and say “gochisosamadeshita,” a phrase which is said after a meal. It basically means “thank you for the meal.”

Each student then placed his/her tray, bowls, and chopsticks on a cart; the students who were assigned to work the lunch for that day gathered all of the pots and pans and wheeled all of it back down to the door, where it was picked up by the food company. The dishes, pots and utensils would be professionally washed and then made ready for the next day’s lunch.

Every week, each set of duties changed, allowing all students to participate equally with the lunch service. This system saved the school from having to create an expensive cafeteria, taught students the importance of working as a group and saved the considerable cost of employing an on-site staff to prepare and clean up after each lunch service.

Today, as schools have begun to modernize, they are beginning to adopt the big cafeteria, but many of the same duties and obligations involving the retrieval and serving of the food, as well as the after-lunch cleaning duties, are still performed by the students.

Perhaps by cleaning the school and serving the food to their peers at lunch, Japanese students become more appreciative of the effort it takes to keep a school clean and to serve lunch to an entire school every day. Certainly, Japanese students are much less likely to throw trash or garbage on the floor or to damage property. After all, they will be the ones who will have to clean up the mess.



Monday, July 18, 2005

Japanese junior high school student workers prepare the classroom for lunch. Each week different students are assigned specific tasks to serve lunch to their classmates.

Submitted photos