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Sunday, Dec. 9, 2001
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
Sharing your daze with a studyholic
My wife takes a scalpel to her schedule and carves up blocks of time. First to go are the hours she spends teaching Japanese, the hours she rides the commuter train, and then the additional hours and hours she uses for preparation.
Next comes the daily care for her bedridden mother -- cooking, feeding and so on -- followed by the equal attention she gives us awkward men, her husband and sons, who in the endless regimen of housework support her more with good intentions than actual effort.
Last comes her private time . . . the rushed meals, the hot baths that seldom last as long as she likes, and then the five or six quick hours of sleep per night.
She blears at this butchered schedule and declares . . . "Hey! I've got two free hours on Sunday! I can go study something!"
That's right. Like many Japanese, my wife is a studyholic. Free time makes her as nervous as an egg on a golf tee. If she can't somehow wedge in a learning opportunity, she threatens to fall apart.
"Don't tease me about this," she flutters. "I mean, at least I'm trying to better myself. What do you do?"
I admit that her resume is impressive. Through the years she has braved English classes, Chinese classes, flute lessons, computer courses, teaching courses, nursing courses and an entire curriculum of social anthropology -- all of this on top of run-of-the-mill calligraphy and flower arranging.
And me? Well . . . I've studied my pillow. So hard, in fact, I've worn it clean through -- more than once.
"Why do I have to study?" I say. "Why can't I just lie about and rest my brain?"
"If your brain had any more rest," she tells me, "we could rent it out as an anchor."
Ah, yes. I forgot the class she took on English comebacks.
"You should study Japanese," she needles. "You know you need it."
Is that, I ask, the same way she needs the flute? Or flower arranging? Because I refuse to study something I need. If I must study at all, I would prefer it be something that is fun and useless. Like, maybe, how to hypnotize bears. Or how to do Morse code with my eyelids. Or perhaps how to imitate my own students -- which would mean learning how to sleep while sitting up in a chair.
"I won't wear out pillows that way."
I beg to differ. For I am not the one desperate to jam every free minute with instruction. I am very capable of filling free time with just a bag of chips and idle thoughts such as, "Well, so now my right nostril's clean . . ."
She's the one with the addiction, the one who is always after another fix.
And temptation is everywhere: fliers in our mailbox, ads in the newspapers, billboards at the train station. Everywhere she turns, there is yet some other local school fishing for enrollment and about to set the hook.
German . . . Ballet . . . The abacus . . . Aikido . . . Tennis . . . Karaoke . . . Cooking . . . Drawing . . . Hula . . . The Internet . . . Not to mention English conversation, the ads for which cover most train stops like acne on an adolescent.
"Look at this," I tell her. Chips gone, nose clear, I now read from a magazine.
"It says here Japan is awash with private-detective schools. That thousands of bored housewives and out-of-work young adults are learning to be snoops, shadows and flatfeet. That in Japan you don't even need a license to do such work; all you need are clients -- and clever spy-craft."
When she doesn't answer, I turn to find her peeping my way through two holes scissored in the newspaper. Something tells me she knows all about detective schools. And maybe this explains her trench coat and meerschaum pipe.
Of course, the Japanese bent for continuing education is largely to be commended. Not only does this urge to learn sharpen the national noodle, it also keeps people young at heart. For a country that is aging faster than last week's fashions, this is no small benefit.
Then, too, the abundance of schools creates plentiful jobs. Who knows where the stumbling Japanese economy would be if people here weren't so obsessed with instruction! Banks might start folding like out-of-luck gamblers with bad poker hands.
"Poker!? Is it being taught on Sunday? From 2 to 4?"
Uh-oh. With a studyholic in the house, I have to be more careful with my words. One wonders how Japan got this way. Is it the focus on entrance exams that changes people into maniacal scholars? Or might there be a cram gene attached somewhere on the Japanese genome?
"You're missing out," my wife says. "All these tremendous opportunities to absorb Japanese culture, and you don't study a single thing!"
"That's not true. I study my Japanese wife. It's enough."
"Maybe I'll put out a shingle and start my own little school."
"Teaching what? English?"
"Nope. I will teach people how to diffuse into the beauty of the moment . . . How to become one with their free time . . . How to add extra value to emptiness . . . In other words -- how to goof off."
Now she studies me.
So she trots out, leaving me alone.
I rush to find my pillow. Something tells me I'd better study it while I can.