When cherry trees are in full bloom with their pale pink flowers, the new school year begins. Most Japanese companies’ fiscal year also begin on April 1. In this season, as well as pink flower petals, young students with a brand-new school bag called Randoseru (the word was derived from the Dutch word Ransel, which is a military bag) and bright yellow hats start appearing at every corner in town. For the first graders, owning this leather made, oversized school bag means a lot. It is a sign of growing up and a new stage in their lives. Randoseru has a distinctive smell of leather and is made to last the first six years in the school. The bags look quite oversized at the outset relative to the tiny size of the wearer, but by the time students reach the sixth grade, the bags are relatively proportional to their body, tattered and well-worn. Most kids attend public schools. There are no school buses that pick up each kid in front of their house. Students commute by themself either by walking or riding a bus or train. While the country is not crime free, the crime rate is virtually zero compared to the US and school children are quite safe using public transportation.
There are two things first graders experience in school which may not be the same as the rest of the world. First, they are assigned tasks in addition to schoolwork. Tasks include sweeping floors after class, cleaning toilets, distribution of the lunch provided from the school kitchen, and taking care of the cages of any school-kept animals. Classes are divided into groups to rotate tasks. Notice the colored tags on their yellow hats in the picture below. They likely signify group and task. Some tasks, such as sweeping floors and cleaning toilets, have been criticized by other countries calling it as a type of child labor or abuse, but I don’t believe Japanese parents are troubled by it. Secondly, children start taking morality classes called Doutoku (literally means the way to be a valuable person in society). In class, they learn humanity and compassion towards each other. Doutoku classes are held once or twice a week and continue until the 9th grade. Topics discussed in the class vary, but for the first graders, they could be quite simple; for example, soliciting thoughts about bulling or what the right thing to do when you find a wallet on the street. It is never too early to teach morality. What do you think?
(in this conversation, many plain forms and colloquial expressions are included since it's a mother-daughter exchange.)
B: わーい。嬉(うれ)しいな〜。 ランドセル、ずーっと、欲(ほ)しかったんだ〜。
B: いやだ！ 青(あお)いのがいい。 美希は青が大好(だいす)きだもん。どうして赤じゃなきゃいけないの？
B: いやだ！ 美希は絶対(ぜったい)に青のランドセルを買(か)う！
A: 困(こま)ったわね〜。 でも…そうね。女の子だからって赤じゃなきゃいけないってことはないわよね。 好(す)きな色(いろ)のランドセルを買(か)いなさい。
ランドセル/Randoseru n. a school bag for grammar school children
Doutoku n. moral
来月(らいげつ) n. next month
ね. p. end particle, tag question. (aren't you? isn't it?)
早(はや)く イ-adj. 早い＝early, verb/adv./adj. connection form
行(い)きたい v. want to go. ますform v. + たい
な p. end particle self-recalling of certain image, here, a girl is imagining to go to school.
買(か)いに行(い)こう v. let's go to buy, a compound verb 買う(ます-form + に + いくvolitional form)
嬉(うれ)しい イ-adj. I'm happy, pleased
欲(ほ)しかった イ-adj. wanted. plain past form of 欲しい
だから p. since, noun+だ+から, compare with conjunction だから
じゃなきゃいけない must, casual form of なければならない
の p. end particle - casual question maker. attaches to plain forms of verbs.
んだもん p. reasoning. casual form of ですもの
しょうがない イ-adj. can't be helped
困(こま)った. troubled, past plain form of 困る
なさい. mild-command expression, ます-form + なさい