Sunday, 26 November 2006

Exams and the like

Well I know it has been a while, but things have been just a tad busy recently so posting has been a bit of luxury I haven’t been able to afford. But now, Sunday afternoon, rest of the family napping, the scoreboard from Brisbane ticking over on Cricinfo (and what depressing reading it is, seems that plan A has been adopted for the first test. This worked at Lord’s in 2005, but I’m not convinced it will work here.), and a spare 5 minutes after reading briefly perusing thr reports from England v South Africa from last night, I find a bit of time on the old hands so thought ‘how better to use the time than waffle on and post something on the blog?’. So here you go. You can tel that having less time to post hasn’t done anything to stop the verbal diarrhoea, more’s the pity.

So many things have come up in the past few weeks that it is wonder where to start. About three weeks ago I saw an article in the paper mentioning that the 2006 Kimono exam had taken place and not a few people had taken it. This was to the basis of a post all about Japanese and exam taking, to which they are addicted, but this has now passed (the post, not the addition), but in a nutshell, risking repeating myself as I go, the Japanese love taking exams. But then again, on reflection, I don’t think they do, but they love having benchmarks on which to judge themselves and exams are a good way of doing this. They are also a good way of making money, according Alex Kerr and his book Demons and Dogs, which I talked about a couple of years ago. It’s all to do with Amukudari (which I think is how you spell it) apparently. This essentially means something like ‘descent from heaven’ or something, and is a practice where govt. bureaucrats, on retiring, take exceptionally well paid jobs in the private sector, for not a lot of work, in the hope that there presence will confer benefits on the company or organization they join. The best example of this is the construction industry, especially bridge builders who are currently going through a massive bid-rigging scandal. The premise is that local govt. chap retires and joins Bridge Builder A, he then calls his old office where he was a bigwig and asks what’s in the pipeline. He gets the info, along with info, illegally, on what other firms are bidding. He then calls up more firms and together the collude to ensure that one of them gets the contract at an inflated price. Then a couple of months later the same process happens but this time Bridge Builder B gets the contract. Throughout this the local govt. johnnies claim big salaries and even bigger bonuses for making a phone call or to and defrauding the local taxpayers. This has been going on for time immemorial, but now the locals are getting restive and those responsible are being called to account, which can only be a good thing (thought I feel sure that if they stopped all the corruption in Japan the entire country would grind to a halt).

Those canny amongst you will have notice a couple of things here. One, this has nothing to do with exams, and you’d be right but we’ll get there, and two, I said I wasn’t going to write about it, but I’m on a roll now so here we go.

The exam thing happens, apparently, when one of these Amukudari chaps joins an organization, like the Kimono promoters or whatever they are. Now with the construction industry it is easy to see where the money might be made, as above, but with kimono, or aerobics, things are a little trickier. So some bright spark, a while ago, came up with a cunning plan, that of exam and preparation courses. The idea evolves into a system where you can’t be a teacher of a subject unless you have taken and passed an exam in it. Now I’m all for this for things like schooling, as teachers have know what they are doing, but for Kimono it seems a bit much. The example Alex Kerr uses is aerobics – here there are apparently two certificates you need, they are not legal requirements, but their influence is such that sports centres won’t take on instructors without one, but the rub is that as neither is a legal requirement it is not clear which one you should havem so instructors in the end have to take both, but to take each exam, which ask essentially the same thing, you must take an expensive preparation course. All this cash, of course, goes to the organization in question – essentially a license to print money.

Another example is, oddly hairdressing. A colleague’s Japanese husband in a hairdresser and in the fullness of time he wants to open his own salon. Now the fact that he has to pass a test in hairdressing is fair enough, I wouldn’t particularly want someone with no basic skills attacking my head with a pair of scissors, however for this chap to open his own shop he not only has to prove that he has worked in another shop for 3 years (sort of like indentured service, or something) but he also has to take a long and expansive course in ‘how to open your own hairdressing salon’ before he will be granted a license to open his shop. If he doesn’t get the license he won’t get planning/opening permission from the local town authorities. Now seems to me that if you want to open your own place then fair enough off you go. If you can’t cut hair properly you’ll go out of business, so better make sure you can do it properly, but to have to pay for all these courses and tests and things just seems, well, like someone else wants a bit of cash and is taking the piss.

The upshot of this, of course, is that there are exams for absolutely everything you could ever want to do in Japan. As I said for some things I can understand this, like schooling, or martial arts, where you might hurt someone if you muck up a move. But I really don’t get it for things like putting Kimono on, or performing tea ceremonies, hence the article mentioned at the top caught my eye. To make life more difficult, of course, most of these exams are only once a year and so if you miss the date due to illness or some unforeseen circumstance, then you are b*ggered for another year. To rate your Japanese for example, everyone takes the govt. organized Japanese Language Proficiency Test, I did it once when I first came to Japan, and this is only held on the first Sunday in December, no retakes, no extenuating circumstances. Imagine if you had to get a grade to get a job but had a cold that day, as people often do in December, you’d be, well b*ggered. Now I know that this argument can be applied to the UK for things like school exams, which are always in June, and fair enough, but a direct comparison to the JPLT would be something like the TOEIC exam, a very popular English language exam in Japan. This is not run by any Japanese agency, so no Amukudari (though I bet there’s one or two in there from the Ministry of Education), no mandatory expensive preparation course, (you can study at home), and best of all the exams are held something like every two months.

Other stuff that has gone on include the retirement of Kyokushuzan from the ranks of Sumo. Kyok was my guy, mainly as when he joined the top division he was the first Mongolian to do so, at about the same time as my first arrival in Japan. This meant that as we were both outsiders, my support was sent his way. He often remarked on this in post-bout interviews, stating that he would never have been able to progress so far without the knowledge I was rooting for him. Although as he always said this is Mongolian the translation often became a bit garbled and in the press was reported something like ‘I was very happy to win’. But that’s ok, I knew what he was really saying.

Also, you may be wondering quite why I have time, on a Sunday afternoon, to post. ‘Shouldn’t you be studying?’ is, I suspect, your first thought. Well the good news on that score is that the dissertation is finished, as of yesterday (though I might go and give once more once over whilst the house is quiet). All printed, proof read and inserted into a folder and ready to be sent off, all 120 pages or 21,000 words of it. Thank goodness for that, is about the best I can come up with. I won’t know what to do with my Sundays from now on, but blogging is a possibility as this blog has been going about as long as I have been studying. Anyway that’s enough for now.

Next time I will regale you with stories, and photos, of Japanese professional football, but I’m not sure when that will be as I am off back to Blighty next Saturday for visits and weddings, so see some of you then, I feel sure.

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