Dassai (not dasai) ダサイじゃなくて獺祭

As someone evidently from Gaikoku, it’s easy to impress some Japanese people with your sugoiness by professing an appreciation of sake, or 日本酒。’Can you drink Japanese sake!?’ It’s somehow always unexpected. Apparently though, it’s not unexpected to like shochu, which I don’t. I don’t know many Gaikokuers that don’t like日本酒… Those that do dislike it often turn out to have overdone it at some point.

There is some delicious stuff around and it’s much cheaper here than in Australia (like many things). A while ago at a friend’s birthday I tried some Dassai. I didn’t know the name, but it turned out to be famous and made not far away. It’s so famous and renowned that Abe gave some as a present to Obama when he came to Japan a couple of years ago. When I tried some of Dassai’s sake at this birthday, I liked it so much that I made a note of it, and then later telling another friend about it, they recalled my trying a sake by the same maker on a day trip in Yamaguchi nearly a year ago – that time, too, I’d enjoyed it so much that I’d taken a photo of the menu item and been excited that it was being made so close to Hiroshima. So when I found out that they did tours of the brewery, it was just a question of when. There are only two tours a day, for a maximum of 5 people per tour, and it’s booked out quite a while ahead (even more than the 2 weeks for high tea at the Mandarin Oriental in Honkers). We booked our tour a month in advance. There are English interpreter options but we thought we’d be OK in Japanese, which turned out to be more or less true.

View from the train in the area.

Getting there was a process. There were 5 of us going and we all wanted to do a tasting, which meant none of us would drive (have I written before? The blood alcohol limit in Japan is 0.03%, but Japanese attitudes are 0.00, as in, not so much as a sip. In contrast in Australia, the limit is 0.05 and if you are driving around wineries doing tastings, the driver can legally taste the wine, at more than one place if they spit it out).

train

The Gantoku line train. Image: Yamaguchi tourism site

We got the train from Hiroshima to Iwakuni in Yamaguchi, then the single-carriage train on the Gantoku Line to the closest station, Suō-Takamori, from whence it was another 8 km, or 15-minute drive to the place. Having left at 10:15 am, we arrived at 11:56 am for the 2 pm tour – the next train would have arrived at 1:46pm, cutting it a bit fine. So we had lunch at one of the two restaurants in the town that were open on Sunday and then piled into 2 taxis out to the sakagura.

It was pretty cool.

The brewery shop, across the road from the brewery building

It was also, like my outfit (apparently), uncool in some ways. I had decided to wear a comfortable light skirt with a longish, sleeveless shirt, but my friend said it was dasai ( ださい), a.k.a. daggy/unfashionable. Maybe just the shirt was, I’m not sure, but I wore it. Herein lies one of the important differences between English and Japanese: geminates that distinguish between phonemes, i.e. Dassai だっさい、獺祭 the renowned sake brand, and dasai ださい (dowdy/uncool).  The long consonant sound is the difference between saying ‘unity’ (or also ‘at all’) ittai いったい and ‘painful’ itai いたい . I’ve written a bit about this concept before.

English does make sounds like this, consonant sounds with kind of delayed onsets, like the /th/ sound in ‘get the bus’ or the /n/ in ‘in national politics.’ But generally it’s only for ease of pronunciation if you’re talking quickly – if you’re talking slowly in English and separating words to be clearer, there won’t be any long consonant sounds. Double letters don’t make long sounds in English either, as in ‘happy,’ ‘silly,’ ‘running’ or ‘nugget,’ which is why Italians think native English speakers sound silly at best when we say ‘spaghetti’ in English, and why ‘cannon’ and ‘canon’ sound the same. One of the difficulties that the nonstandardised nature of Japanese spelling in romaji leads to is that if the foreign word has a double letter, Japanese assumes it’s supposed to be a long consonant, like in mamma mia. This means ‘hammock’ in Japanese is pronounced like ‘han-mock’ and ‘shopping bag’ is ‘shop[glottal stop]-pingu bagu.’ So as a non-native speaker of Japanese, which if you’ve got this far in this English I assume you are, do not ignore double letters in Romanised Japanese words. It really is kon-nichiwa, not k’nichiwa.

(If you’re interested in getting a bit more used to this in Japanese, Dad, coz I don’t know how much it’s come up in your study yet, this page or this page are good.)

dav

Arguably cool? Once suited up, hands washed and disinfected, we also had to be sanitised or at least blown around by a clean wind in this little compartment.

Uncool things at Dassai included: the appearance of the guests on the tour once we were all wearing our coats and hair nets; and arguably, the extent to which most of the production process is mechanised. The mechanisation leads to a consistently, objectively high quality product that can be made all year round, but for some consumers it takes out the more personal charm of more human traditional methods. I’ve only seen a few sake breweries in Hiroshima, Kyoto, Akita and Gifu, but they were all basically wooden, including much of the equipment. Dassai had quite a different atmosphere, with very little wood in the brewery itself.

dav

…Machinery. This room had a wonderful smell of steaming rice.

Our guide was cool. Though he was working at a prestigious and fancy kind of place, he was down-to-earth and happily answered all our questions honestly and clearly. I later learned that this honesty might be an important part of Dassai’s attitude, despite their high-tech methods. It seems that some merchants and restaurateurs want Dassai, high-quality maker that it is, to make still fancier and more expensive sakes – but the maker believes the main ones they’re making already are already pretty refined, isn’t especially interested in making special exclusive ones for profit and at one point actually went so far as to publish an ad telling consumers not to pay exorbitant prices for sake. Dassai wants people to enjoy the flavour – on their English page they write that they brew sake for ‘sipping and enjoying,’ juxtaposing this to the idea of brewing for drinking or just for sales. There you have it.

dav

Our guide talked us through the process, explaining the various stages and showing us videos for a few of them. I won’t explain them all here, but if you’re interested there’s an explanation with videos on the Japanese Sake page.

dav

The rice used for brewing Dassai’s biggest 3 sakes, all daiginjo, is polished to from 50% to 23% of the original size of the grain.

The rice used for brewing Dassai’s biggest 3 sakes, all daiginjo, is polished to from 50% to 23% of the original size of the grain, as you can see in the photo above. To classify as daiginjo, the grains must legally be polished down to 50% of what they were when they were brown rice.

We read that the when the maker decided to make the 23% one, on the right, it was for the purpose of having the most highly refined grain of any Japanese sake, and while this did make Dassai famous and unique, it didn’t automatically result in a great-tasting sake. So they worked on that and now it’s very polished and also tastes excellent… but some of our group agreed it seems a shame about the other 67% of the grain.

dav

The brewing room is kept between 5-8 degrees Celcius all year round.

dav

Moromi もろみ・醪

 

 

dav

This dasai tour guest was watching the sake bubbling in front of us. Our guide told us that the temperature of each vat is controlled by cold water running through a double wall in the outside of the lower section of the vat. You can see the temperature gauge sitting over the sake; apparently it’s measured twice a day.

dav

The tasting set, from left: a sparkling, Dassai 50, 39, and 23. All great, and the numbered ones were all subtly different. A few of us blind-taste-tested each other and we could more or less tell them apart. Some of us thought the 50 and 39 were similar to each other, whereas one of us thought the 39 and 23 were similar to each other and easy to distinguish from the 50.

It was a good, and interesting, day. If you go, I recommend having a designated driver rather than getting the train, unless you like trains a lot.

The factory tour and tasting cost us a total of 500 yen each, which is about $5 US or $6 in AUD. The shop is open every day and you can just waltz in and do tastings, which a few groups did while we were there. Asahishuzo’s English website is here.

Our taxi driver on the way back to Suōmori Station told us that none of the locals actually drink Dassai but generally choose something called Gangi. Guess that’s where we’re going next.

The futon: a word of warning

I believe in some parts of the world (America?), a futon is a kind of couch that you can fold out flat and sleep on, more comfortably and easily than a sofa bed.

I think this is what some English speakers mean when they say ‘futon.’ This one’s available now (Sunday the 22nd April, 2018) at American Furniture Warehouse

In Japan, the word futon  布団 is used for coil-less bedding on the floor. It refers to both the mattress part and the doona/comforter part of the bedding. The bottom futon, which goes between you and the floor, is called a shikibuton 敷布団 and the one you put on top is a kakebuton布団.  This post is mostly about the shikibuton 敷布団, which bears the weight of the sleeper and generally causes the most grief in its maintenance or lack thereof.

How a folded shikibuton looks. This one’s for sale at Nitori

The shikibuton is basically a firm, overgrown rectangular cushion, so you can fold it into thirds and put it away somewhere during the day and use your floor space for something else. Because it lies directly on the floor, it doesn’t get air circulation, so as well as folding it away every day, you’re supposed to air it out regularly, preferably in the sun. If not, it will get mouldy sooner or later. This is also true for the kakebuton to an extent, but it’s much rarer.

This housewife is so with it, she’s bought herself a plastic sheet to hang over the side of the balcony to prevent the futon from getting dirty. Image from jimoti

You can expect to sleep on a futon if you stay in a ‘Japanese-style room’ in a ryokan or hotel in Japan: this means a tatami room. You can also expect to find a futon in some state of mouldiness in the house apartment of any ALT (assistant language teacher) in Japan, especially if they’re in their first couple of years, because it’s the cheapest form of bedding and your company will arrange for you to get one. I think the growth of bacteria/mould/gross stuff happens more slowly on tatami than on hard surfaces like floorboards.

Futon laid out ready to sleep in a ryokan room

Last year I moved from a place with a tatami room to one without. My futon wasn’t getting quite enough sun in the winter, because I was working long days and it wasn’t sunny enough on the weekends – and what sun there was wasn’t strong enough. The futon wasn’t getting mouldy, but it was getting sweaty and a bit smelly so I decided to try washing it, despite the ‘do not wash’ advice on the tag. Apparently some kinds of futons can safely be washed – well, not that this was unsafe exactly – so we lugged it to the boot of the car and then heaved it out and over to the washing machine at the coin laundry. 

It took a while to wash and dry.

Now it looks like this. Smells great. Not much good for sleeping on anymore.

The other rainy season

screenshot_2016-09-19-15-52-06You may have heard that there are four seasons in Japan. Well, it’s not true. I think I’ve mentioned it before – last time I said 5.5 – but there are 6. A couple of amusing pieces from The Rising Wasabi have drawn attention to the way people love to tell you there are 4 seasons in Japan. However, most of those people can’t count, because there are two times of year when they will not tell you that it’s summer, autumn (or fall), winter or spring.

The first (official) rainy season: June

The first (official) rainy season: June

The rainy season, 梅雨 tsuyu, is one of my less favourite seasons. It comes in June for most of the country (later up north), after spring and before summer. Yes, technically it’s summer, but everyone’s like, ‘nah summer hasn’t started yet, it’s still the rainy season’. It’s beautiful to look at, and nice for hydrangeas and frogs, and mould, if you like mould. Also sweat. When you’re working in it, in classrooms with 40 kids and no air conditioning or fans, it’s kind of gross. Occasionally there are typhoons in June. The good thing about working in it, at least in this part of the country, is that sometimes they decide it’s too wet and there might be a landslide, and they cancel school. Of course, teachers still have to go to school, and school lunch is cancelled too, and they have to make up those classes another time… but they don’t always get to call in the ALT on those occasions, especially if they’re in the middle of the summer ‘vacation.’

We are now in typhoon season, a.k.a. the other rainy season. No, I haven’t heard anyone else call it that. September is the official typhoon season. The supermarkets and 100-yen shops have their autumn/Halloween decorations up, but nobody’s going leaf-viewing yet. Like tsuyu, typhoon season has the appeal of the chance of school being cancelled, but the drawback of dangerous storms where people die. I like it when school is cancelled and then the storm doesn’t show up, or at least doesn’t cause any damage. Look what this rain did to my poor little lettucelets.

Before

Before

After

After

Conversation

It’s midsummer: school holidays. You drive past school at 7pm. How many cars are there in the staff car park? In Australia: 0. In Japan:5+, when I drove yesterday past a middle school where I work.

Japan has 3 school terms: April to July, September to December, and January to March. The summer holiday is the longest, which is similar to most countries I think, but it’s different in that a lot of kids still come to school every day for club activities. Like basketball practice or matches every day for 5 or 6 weeks. Teachers also come to school every day except when it’s a public holiday.

In Hiroshima Prefecture, in the city where I work, school was cancelled on three separate occasions in Term 1 due to rain and flood/landslide warnings. By the way, school being cancelled means students not coming, but all the teachers hanging out in the (air conditioned!) staff room all day, unless they have meetings or stuff to do in their empty home rooms. What follows in this post is, as close as I was able to recall/translate when I got home that night, a conversation that took place on the last of these days between the two Grade 4 teachers and me as most of the staff were tucking into their ordered-at-the-last-minute bentos, and I my Family Mart rice balls (had been at a different school in the morning and missed out on the bento ordering).

seachicken

The very popular onigiri (rice ball) flavour ‘sea chicken,’ a.k.a tuna. Image: Myunti

Note: BJ=BijinJapan, T1 and T2: Grade 4, Class 1 and Class 2 home room teachers

BJ: Oh! Sensei, you brought a bento!?

T1: Yeah, I was making one for my daughter so it was easy to make one for myself too.

T2: Ah, she takes a bento?

BJ: How old is your daughter?

T1: She’s in grade 3. She’ll be at your middle school in three years. My son is in kindergarten, so he only needs to take rice.

T2: He has to take rice?

T1: Yeah. They have the おかず okazu (mains/sides to go alongside rice) there, but the kids have to bring their own rice. With no nori or seasoning – they reckon there’s too much salt in it.

BJ: Huh! I didn’t know they had school lunch at kindergarten.

T1: I’m glad we have school lunch here.

T2: Me too.

BJ: Me too! We don’t have it in Australia.

T1: Really!? Everyone brings a bento?

BJ: Yeah…

T1: Oh wait, they don’t have bentos there do they? Do they just wrap their lunch in a cloth and bring it?

balwynPS uniform

 This was printed out sitting on my desk to show an example of the kinds of uniforms primary school kids wear in Australia. Image: Balwyn Primary School website via Google

BJ: Oh, most kids do have a lunchbox, but it is a different kind (shows picture that is conveniently lying around on nearby desk ready for a poster). Kids often take a sandwich, some fruit, maybe a little packet of chips or biscuits. The one in this picture looks like it has yoghurt and grapes.

T1: Wow. So there’s no food hall or cafeteria?

BJ: Well, most schools have a canteen for if you can’t bring lunch, but usually the food’s not that healthy.

T1: So did you take lunch every day?

BJ: Yeah, I did. Sandwiches every day, pretty boring huh!

T1: No rice balls?

onigiri

Mmm, sea chicken. Image: here 

BJ: No, nobody really eats rice balls in Australia.

T1: But you’ve got them today! Do you like Japanese food?

BJ: Yes, very much.

T1: Do you cook at home?

BJ: Yes, well, of course?

T1: That’s great! What do you make?

BJ: Um… food? I make a lot of pasta and sometimes curries like Indian or Thai curry.

T2: Yum, that sounds nice.

T1: Wow, you can make that? Is it difficult? Do you make it from scratch with the spices and stuff?

BJ: With Indian food sometimes I use spices, but for Thai I just use a curry paste from the shops, so it’s really easy.

T1: Nice, I’ve never tried to make Thai curry. What about Japanese food, do you cook anything?

BJ: Sometimes I make okonomiyaki, Osaka style. I like to make it because it’s simple, but Hiroshima style is tricky to eat, let alone make.

T1 & T2: Yeah, Hiroshima style is not for home, too hard!

T1: So are you going home for summer?

BJ: Yes, looking forward to seeing my family… we’re going skiing 🙂

T1: Oh right, it’s winter there! It snows?

BJ: Only in the mountains usually. But today was supposed to be quite cold, Canberra was forecast to maybe get some snow, I think the maximum temperature was going to be 7 degrees (Centigrade).

T2: Does it get into the minuses?

BJ: Overnight, yes, but not during the day.

T2: Sounds comfortable.

BJ: Yeah, it’s good. So I’m looking forward to feeling cold! But it almost feels like the closer it gets, the more homesick I get, because I can feel that it’s soon, it’s soon, it’s coming…

T1: It’s the same for us with Obon! (a holiday of a few days where everyone goes to their hometown and visits their parents, and their ancestors’ graves)

BJ: Ah, yes! Are you going to visit your parents?

T1: Yeah, but it’s not far for me, how about you, T2?

T2: I’m the same, but my husband’s family lives in Yamaguchi, so he’ll be away.

T1: So when are you going to Australia?

BJ: August.

T2: Oh, only for August?

BJ: I’ll be there for 3 weeks. Isn’t that a long time in Japanese terms?

T2: Yeah, it is.

T1: Yeah! If someone was away from work for 3 weeks, everyone wouldn’t get it, it would be like, “What? What are they doing?”*

T2: Yes, it doesn’t really happen here.

T1: What’s it like in Australia for 社会人 shakaijin (full-time workers/members of society)?

BJ: I think most people get about 3 weeks off a year, and you can decide when you take them.

T1: Wow, that’s nice! We get 5 to maybe 10 days over Obon and New Year.

BJ: There’s also this thing we call ‘long service leave’ where if you stay at one company for 10 years, you get 3 months off.

T1: WHAAAAAAT No way! What do you even do with that time?

BJ: Anything you like.

T1: Travel?

BJ: Sure.

T1: We are workaholics, we work too much. It’s nice during the summer break though; usually we leave school at 7 or 7:30 but in the summer we can go home at 5, so I can go to the pool with my daughter.

BJ: …In Australia that’s normal, the normal working day is 8 or 9 to 5 or 6.

T1: Ah, work-life balance, right? So you can spend time with your family every day!

BJ: It’s important, I think, and good for your health.

T1: Yes, good for mental health.

T2: Is it only Japan that keeps hours like ours?

BJ: I’m not sure, but I think in Europe it’s similar to Australia.

T2: Yeah, I wonder if it’s only Asian countries…

BJ: Korea might be similar?

T2: I think Korea is similar. But you know, it used to be more easygoing around here, 10, 20, maybe 30 years ago. You could come into the teachers’ room in the summer and there would be nobody here.

BJ: What happened?

T2: There’s just all this work to do…

BJ: I wonder how/why it changed from the past?

T2: There are more things we have to write these days, we have to write documents, reports, and submit them to the Board of Education.

T1: It’s been that way since I started teaching, we have to write a lot of stuff. But you have to write reports and things too, don’t you?

BJ: The only thing I usually have to write is lesson plans, unless there’s some special event happening…

*this happens not uncommonly however, when teachers get so stressed/sick that they take a month or year off to recover

And that’s how that conversation went. Here’s to summer holidays.

Education and how it’s done (1)

University: a stressful, busy time for many. A leisurely, carefree or maybe lonely time for some. And a time of learning, that goes without saying. Probably harder than school. Right?

In this post I aim to make a few generalisations about the doing of education in Australia and Japan. Background: I work in the Japanese school system, but I’ve never been a student or teacher in a Japanese university. On the other hand, I’ve completed courses at 3 different Australian university campuses, but school was quite a while ago, so it may have changed, plus my memories are quite vague. And with this kind of asymmetrical balance, on we go.

The point

Education in Japan is largely test-driven. There is often a strong focus on how to pass tests to get to the next stage, into the high school, university etc. you want. Once you get there, wherever it is, you learn the most successful way to behave in that environment: if it’s a company, you get trained for a few years. If it’s a school, you get inducted and mentored (or bullied).

Tests in Japan are often multiple choice with one correct answer. There is usually one way of doing things; opinion, arguing and questioning things doesn’t come into it much until you get to independent research or looking for ways to make a factory system more efficient and profitable. Whether opinion is important in native-language Japanese studies, or in university tutorials, I don’t know. Due to the one-correct-answer mentality and also the value of harmony and agreement in Japan, I have a suspicion that if tutorials are supposed to have discussions, they don’t feature much argument, unlike in Australia.

In Australia, I don’t know how explicit the focus is on this throughout the education system, but there is definitely some focus on critical thinking: questioning, asking why and how and whether you should trust that information. As well as test performance, students are assessed on assignments done at home (e.g. essays) and on class participation, which means asking questions and contributing to discussion (depending on the class) as well as doing the required work. In humanities subjects like English, history and media studies, students are expected and required to present and argue for a particular point of view, and be able to present evidence in a way that supports the opinion they are putting forward, whether it be arguing that a historical dictator actually had a good point or that Gatsby was a sailor (sorry, that’s about all I remember of Year 12 Literature, apart from not understanding Heart of Darkness until the class discussion where I finally started to see what was going on).

So, along with whether you should ask questions and assert yourself or not, I think the main difference between education styles in Australia and Japan is:

Active vs passive learning

received_376166449253676

A university class in Japan in 2015

In Japan, it’s mostly one-way, teacher-to-student: teachers talk and write on the board, and students listen and copy stuff down (or don’t). Students do drills, to practice and presumably gain some understanding through repetition of what they’ve been told.

Who asks questions? Teachers, to see if students got the right answer or not. What do students do when they don’t understand? Either go home or to cram school to study until they get it and/or ask a tutor, or give up on it. If they’re not interested in understanding, maybe they sleep, or engage in some personal grooming like cutting their hair or pulling the little hairs out of their fingers with a pair of tweezers that they have in class for some reason (that was a high school in Iwate, in case you’re wondering). Or of course, maybe they chat with their friends nearby, doodle in their book or write notes to someone. Sometimes I think this relaxed attitude about getting the knowledge they need comes from knowing that the teacher will tell them what’s going to be on the test so they can memorise it the night before. I’ve seen this in schools and a friend of mine has told me about it happening in a class of hers in a well-respected university. Teaching to the test is not uncommon in Japan, which maybe makes sense if the aim of the system is for students to pass tests.

(That being said, usually even if students fail their tests, they don’t repeat a year – they’re not held back except by the distance between them and their peers or where the curriculum says they should be.)

This one-way classroom style could be construed as requiring extremely active learning on the part of the student, and for the aces leading the class, who the others turn to for help, that’s exactly what happens. But for less motivated students, it’s pretty passive – copying from the board, doing questions, correcting them, not knowing why they’re getting them wrong – or in some cases, just copying the answers directly from the answer book into their notebook. It’s possible and common to get away with very little thinking and a lot of going through the motions.

Why don’t students ask questions? It’s not the culture, and here is what I think is why: It shows a lack of comprehension, thereby exposing weakness/inferiority. It draws attention to the asker, which is embarrassing. And it holds up the rest of the class, which can be seen as selfish/inconsiderate behaviour.

In Australia, it’s more two-way: teachers also talk, but students are encouraged to ask relevant questions and offer opinions. There is a requirement for students to learn to offer opinions in front of others. This obviously is truer for some subjects than others – maths and science subjects don’t require opinions and class discussions, nor take-home assignments or essays, generally speaking – at least not at school level. But relevant questions are encouraged in every subject, and students are basically supposed to learn to be able to think for themselves and transfer those skills to whatever situation might need them in the future.

Is it common for students to sleep in class? No, in Australia it’s not OK and it’s uncommon, especially at school. You might get away with it at uni if you’re up the back in a big lecture theatre, but in a tutorial, you wouldn’t see it, and if you fell asleep you might be asked to leave. It’s seen as rude towards the teacher because it suggests you find them uninteresting and/or you’re not paying attention to the class.

 

Intensity: when and where?

As seems true for so many things in Japan, school is intense in the amount of your life you are expected to give to it – hours in the week as well as over years – and time is equated with value and effort, especially once you factor in club activities on the weekend and cram school. University, on the other hand, is seen as kind of a relief. It’s your chance to let loose and do what you want for a few years – while probably also working part-time. Going to classes sometimes. Freedom. (This may be more or less true for some fields of study, e.g. law, medicine, etc.) The downside of this may be if you want to get a graduate job overseas – Japanese students often don’t make strong candidates because there is a view that they didn’t really learn anything at university, don’t know how to think for themselves and can’t do anything unless someone tells them to.

That being said, obviously Japan is way up there in many scientific and technological industries, and the education system has them doing maths in junior high school that I don’t think I ever did in high school. One frustrated English learner told me that in Japan, all subjects are taught the same way as maths is. Maybe this is because it works so well in that subject? Their literacy and numeracy is strong, according to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (PDF), in which Japan came out overall in 7th place, preceded by China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Korea and Macau-China. Australia was 19th: ahead of the UK, but behind Canada and Vietnam, among others.

In Australia, school education is probably externally viewed as quite slack because compared to most of Asia, there’s not much homework, you don’t have to stay until 6 with club activities, most students aren’t that drastically underslept, and nobody goes to cram school. University in Australia, however, is probably similarly intense to other Western countries in that it requires significant effort and hard work. As I seem to remember writing once before, I think effort in Australian culture is appreciated more in how hard you try than in how many hours you do something for, or how many repetitions you do. It would be a lie to claim that all Australian students are concentrating all the time, or that mainstream education works perfectly for everyone, but mental effort is valued and sought after.

Right. So. To generalise this page of generalisations a little bit further, in a possibly painful nutshell, educational style:

Japan: 1-way, drills

Australia: 2-way, questions

And with that, we’ll adjourn for now. There is a lot more to be said about school in particular, and plenty about English language education in Japan, in which I work. So as they say, please look forward to that. See you in July!