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Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008

JAPAN LITE

Life — it's all in the books


Sometimes it seems I live holiday to holiday. Having just finished Respect for the Aged Day, and the Autumn Equinox (both national holidays) I am now looking forward to Sports Day in October. The problem with national holidays in Japan, however, is that they are rarely a chance to relax. Instead, they are a chance to do another obligatory something somewhere.

There will be the obligatory sports festivals to attend on Sports Day for example. Not a moment to spare.

In 1868, when the Meiji government took over Japan, it adopted a holiday system called 1-6, meaning that any day ending in a one or a six was a holiday (as opposed to the Western calendar which has weekends off). Additional holidays were based on local festivals and Shinto religious days, all of which would have required preparation and planning.

So I guess it is not surprising that on Sports Day, Culture Day, or Greenery Day, most people are meticulously planning activities for them. Rest? Not a chance!

With so many national holidays in Japan (including Sea Day and Greenery Day), one obvious holiday seems to be missing: National Sleep Day. Wouldn't it be great if there was a national holiday made specifically for people to rest up and have nothing obligatory to do?

In a country where karoshi (death from overwork) and stress-related illnesses abound, you'd think we could put one day aside per year to just rest. One day when we could wake up in the morning, take a hot bath, have a beer, and go back to bed!

But I doubt the Japanese, masters of scheduling and order and infatuated with "set times" and "set dates," could allow for a day of rest on the calendar. This is Japan, where they have already trained and planned for the next big earthquake, typhoon and terrorist attack. How could one possibly plan for a day of rest?

Before I came to Japan, I had never thought more than a year or two ahead. But my short-sightedness changed the first day of teaching when the school presented me with a large A3 size sheet of paper with the entire year on it, planned out in advance.

I could see, for the first time in my life, exactly where I would be on what days, which classes I would be teaching and which day would be the school festival.

This yearly schedule is probably the origin of A3 size paper in Japan.

In addition to the general events on the schedule were activities for weekends and holidays (open school, culture festival, etc.)

The weekends were so jam-packed with activities that there were days when classes were canceled so the students would have time to prepare for the activities.

In addition, on class days, classes would all be shortened by five minutes per class so that there would be an extra hour at the end of each day for the students to prepare for the preparation of the activities. I couldn't help but think: Wouldn't it be easier to just study?

But I soon fell victim to obsessive planning too and even bought my first 5-year planner in Japan. Five years! Heck, that's nothing. Now I want a retirement planner. I will hit kanreki (60 years old) in the year 2023 on a Monday.

By Tuesday, at the latest, I need to get onto a waiting list for an old folks home. And even then, I wonder if I'll get in. I should have planned this a long time ago.

The way to combat this last-minute planning is, of course, to publish the ultimate calendar: the Womb to Tomb Planner. Such a planner would have most of the work done for you based on when you were born. You'd then know exactly when you would be able to get a driver's license, vote in elections, and drink.

You would know which years you would be in university, what day of the week you could finally retire from your job and when you'd start receiving pension payments.

You could mark all the Friday the 13ths beforehand and write in all your family members' birthdays so you would never forget them again. And you'd never have to cancel another appointment as long as you made it far enough in advance with plenty of time to prepare.

Which reminds me. What are you doing three years from now on Thursday, Oct. 27? Want to have dinner together?



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