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Adventures in Shiiba - February 1996
Erik Kassebaum

First time without my Gaijin Card

I must confess to having broken the law during the Heike Matsuri. I did not carry my Gaikokujin toroku (Gaijin Card) while I was dressed as a samurai. Such was the first and only time though that I have gone without my Gaijin Card. Most foreigners in Japan understand the need for such identity cards. However most foreigners feel that having to carry a card with one's fingerprint on it at all times is insulting. Most foreigners say that the fingerprint requirement makes them feel like criminal suspects, not foreign residents.


I suppose I'm not the only person who felt a little sad when the old hospital and Hoyu were torn down. Though I knew the changes were coming there was still a bit of shock with respect to the absence of these two landmarks. Every time I return home to America I have to face this type of change. I suppose it is the same for relatives who return to Shiiba during New Year's and Obon.

Polite Fictions

After I returned to Shiiba from America many people asked about my trip. The assumption was that I had a wonderful time. I found it awkward to lie and pretend that I had a great time. To be honest my grandfather is very sick and I will probably never see him again. During conversations about my trip I felt conflict for in English I wanted to be honest but I knew that such would be too shocking in Japanese.


Many people in Japan do not like the entrance exam system. Some people suggest a system which puts more emphasis on grades for courses. In America, for entrance to University, grades are far more important than standardized tests of achievement. American students don't worry about these tests as much as Japanese students because they usually have several chances to improve upon their scores. The catch though is that if a student's grades are bad the student can end up repeating the same class or even an entire school year. At first, most foreign teachers in Japan are a bit shocked by the fact that it is very rare for a Japanese student to repeat a year of school due to poor performance. We are told that in Japan the tests are more important than grades for classes. What do you think about this issue?