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  • Friend requests advice on how to approach JHS PTA, regarding repainting rundown school

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on April 8th, 2009

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    Hi Blog. Turning the keyboard over to my friend in the Hokkaido outback, who is asking us for feedback about how to approach his local junior high school and help create a more positive learning environment for his child. Those with experience or advice, please let us know? Arudou Debito in Sapporo, less outback


    I’m looking for advice here. I went to my child’s JHS today for about the 4th time in the last year. Again I was struck and depressed by how dingy it looked. It got me to thinking that the kids don’t take pride in the place and this leads to and has led to a lot of serious problems.

    I came home and wrote the following and am wondering if it or I can do any good. Can I translate this and say this, to the School and Principal? to the School Board?, to the Mayor?, publicly to the PTA at their general meeting in 2 weeks? Is it too rude? Could you say it more diplomatically? How? Would you? Could you? Does it have a chance of succeeding?


    Please feel free to comment on any one of the paragraphs numbered below.

    1. I am sorry to have to mention this and possibly I am sorry to use this sort of strong and possibly rude language. In English it is okay in Japanese I don’t know and most people prefer to keep quiet because they don’t want the reputation of being “noisy”

    2. Last year when I heard that some students here did not respect this building and were damaging things my initial reaction was “why is anybody surprised?” In my opinion any damage here will not make this building look any worse than it does.

    3. I don’t think you could find a school in the entire country of Canada whose walls and ceilings looked as bad as this school. This place is dingy. The sarcastic comment that most Canadian parents would make in this case would be:

    4. Does anybody here in authority know what paint is?…It comes in tins and 20 liter pails…It costs about 500,000yen per ton…It is quickly put on by brush, roller, or spray…It is great for making buildings look fresh and bright and clean. 2 of the buildings I went to school in were over 60 years old. They didn’t look this bad because they were repainted at least every 10 years.

    5. In my opinion the walls and ceilings in this school need cleaning, patching and a new paint job! If this happened a great number of students would take more pride in this building. Most of them would treat it with much greater respect. There would be massive group disapproval of any one deliberately or accidentally causing damage. It would pay off in much higher student morale and thus effort towards listening to teachers, paying attention in class, and caring about what is taught and trying to learn.

    6. I don’t think this was a problem for any of the parents or teachers in this room when you went to school. You were much closer in time to when coming to school meant sacrifices. Maybe your parents or grandparents couldn’t go to school. Maybe someone in their family skipped meals so they or someone else in their family could go to school.

    7. Another thing is that maybe when you went to school the buildings were much newer and looked much better.

    I am also quite sure that almost all of your homes look better than this school and that none of you would be happy living in a house that looked like this school without trying very hard to make it look better.

    8. It would also pay off in much higher teacher morale. Teachers would find their days less stressful and if student morale improved they would of course be much happier.

    9. I think that the PTA should make the effort to start the ball rolling to paint this school. We should try to do this for the teachers who teach here, our children who spend so much time in class and clubs and for the children that come after them when they graduate. We should try even if we have to raise the money for paint, and volunteer a lot to help out in preparing the walls for paint and doing the cleanup. IMO it would show our children and their teachers how much we care about the value of education.


    10. Towards this goal here is 20,000 yen.


    17 Responses to “Friend requests advice on how to approach JHS PTA, regarding repainting rundown school”

    1. john M. Andresen Says:

      “The protruding nail will be hammered back in” (loosely translated as related to me by my wife). If you intend to proceed with this initiative, I would recommend not taking a confrontative approach. Pursue it indirectly by gradually convincing individuals to support you and obtain a consensus (“nemawashi”).

    2. James Says:

      I think that if you translated it accross, it is too strong of words. It is of my opinion that while the Japanese people wouldn’t normally do something like this, it is good for it to be brought up in a direct manner by a nj. You should probably soften the words slightly, changing from a position that you know exactly how things are going to workout to more how you think they will turn out. but thats just my opinion.

      Lastly, I would drop the 2man statement, and change it to be something along the lines of I would be happy to advise and help as I can…. nantoka… yeah, i think you get the drift.

    3. friendwhoaskedadvice Says:

      I tried the indirect way once about 6 years ago. Over several years I pointed out to PTA people and my child’s teacher at the ‘home visit’ that the radiators had not been cleaned since the elementary school was built. They were jammed full of 40+ years of crud. Such a situation would get a “health order to clean up or the place can’t open” where I come from. They still haven’t been cleaned.

      — Perhaps because you’re asking them to do it like a good guest, as opposed to demanding it as a parent in the name of hygiene (eisei) and safety (anzen). Sure, might get you construed as a “monster parent”, but as you say, you’ve tried to do it the nice way before, ineffectually. But that’s me talking again. Sorry. Continue.

    4. Jcek Says:

      I agree with the above comments about your letter being too strong. It would definitely come across negatively, especially when using cross-country comparisons( “from my experience” opinions usually go down negatively in Japan). The “broken-window” theory is non-existent in Japan. No one is going to fix anything that isn’t their own especially when they expect the government to do it. Possibly the reasons why no one has taken an interest in this area of improvement may also be the nature of the area you live in.

      Many run-down areas of Japan don’t have people with any initiative or possibly funds to do anything about it. Your area may be such a place. If you go ahead ALL the children at the school in writing. Then I would send the same letter to the government and the board of education. Some people may take your concern as Mr. Debito pointed out as a complaints.

      You may get some people interested and you could accomplish what you set out to do. Don’t people cynical in your letter be scientific show the merits and some possible outcomes (add real life examples if you can find them, Japanese love to be shown proof from newspapers).

      If none of the above work, ask some members of the BOE to come to the school and show them your concern in person. People in charge generally don’t glance past their desk, and they just can’t imagine the situation from just words.

      I am sure you can succeed and wish you the best of luck in your cause.

    5. Schoolwatcher Says:

      Find out more about what you are trying to do. Who is responsible for the upkeep? What is the maintenance schedule? How much does it actually cost? Has anyone else made a similar suggestion? The Ministry of Education has a national subsidy system for schools to make them more earthquake-resistant. Is yours up to standard or is it due for an upgrade? People might not want to to paint walls if there’s major structural work ahead.

      You believe this is a priority and, if you want to get it done, you have to get everyone else (or a significant majority) to make it their priority too. Other parents may have other pet projects so you need to find out what these might be. That Ministry subsidy isn’t 100%, so some might want to make sure they have enough on hand to get the earthquake fit-out before anything else gets done. You might even discover some local councilman wants to knock the whole thing down and merge two schools.

      Have you had any involvement with the PTA to date? There are usually a few active members and they may not take kindly to someone making demands if they have never shown their face in meetings before. You are suggesting quite a big project so you might even want to consider getting someone well-regarded to take the lead rather than putting yourself in the firing line.

      All of the above means that I don’t think it’s a good idea to nail your 95 theses to the door but instead you should find out the lie of the land which will help you work out who to approach and how to approach them.

      However you proceed, I would definitely drop the “here’s 20,000 yen”. It may be that donations are needed but offering something up front just looks like grandstanding and may be inappropriate. I would also drop the Canadian comparisons. What do other schools look like in your area? Pop over and take some pictures. If they look better, then you’ve got a great starting point and a comparison which will actually mean something to people you are trying to convince. If they look just as bad, then you’ll realize that you might have more of a fight on your hands.

    6. HO Says:

      If you know a parent of your child’s classmate, ask her/him why it is “dingy”. Chances are that s/he knows better than you do and may tell you the inside story.

    7. Doug Norman Says:

      I also agree the letter is too strong and would not be a good idea, although there are obviously problems that need to be addressed and the objective is excellent. I am not sure if you have done the required “nemawashi” to bring this up publicly in this way…so forgive me if you ave.

      I believe in these types of situations the proper “nemawashi” must be done before addressing this subject. Those of us in the west like to approach things with what we see as a straight forward and direct approach, however in Japan this almost always seems to backfire.

      This does not mean that the Japanese way is wrong and ours is right. I think some consensus building among parents and teachers/administrators prior to a public airing of the issue would be the best way to go.

      I think the letter above would cause some folks to lose face and the barriers would start to go up.

      However you choose to approach it good luck with this obviously good cause!!!

    8. km Says:

      I agree 100% that you want to tone this down. But I would also recommend a shift in direction, as the underlying problem starts from your first paragraph: “I am sorry to have to mention this and possibly I am sorry to use this sort of strong and possibly rude language. In English it is okay in Japanese I don’t know and most people prefer to keep quiet because they don’t want the reputation of being “noisy”(end quote). You’ve said that something is OK in English (what the hell do they care), you don’t know about Japanese (but you’re going to recommend that they change it up?) and then you make what could be considered as a backhanded remark about Japanese people in general.

      Not to say that your concerns aren’t valid, but feeling out the tone of your judgements, I think there may be a good chance that you’re not actively involved with the PTA at your school, which is the most effective lobbying organization for getting things done when the parents want them, as far as I can gather (I teach JHS). IMHO, the means of execution need to be given at least as much, if not more, consideration as the ends here. As mentioned in other comments, that likely means adopting a “this is in the interest of everyone” attitude instead of the sarcasm that blankets other issues of resentment and is essentially a verbal weapon. If you yourself want to be an effective catalyst for change at your school, take on the kinds of responsibilities that the other effective parents do and do things through a well-established channel that was designed just for this kind of issue. Otherwise I don’t believe you have even a slight chance of succeeding with this.

      Not seeing the condition of your school, maybe I can relate to what you’re expressing here. I thought the same thing when I worked at my first JHS in a rougher area of town – really shocked at how the walls are dirty, ceilings cracked, the floor crusted with dust and dirt, paint from years upon years ago scratched to oblivion… but most of the kids managed to learn and succeed to some degree. Just the amount of dirt on the floor in that school would be a “health hazard” in America. But there’s a different consensus, so get used to it, I told myself. To that end, it has been truly humbling to see JP schools do so much with so little. Again, you didn’t ask for a critique of your concern, so I’m really sorry if your school actually is awful even by JP standards – so it’s a good idea to heed the advice of checking out neighboring schools. But it reminded me so much of my own reactions that I wanted to mention it.

      I know I’ve been harsh here, but I do wish you good luck!

    9. Asterisk Says:

      What normally works in the Northeast of America is a comparison of your neighborhood school to OTHER schools in the immediate area. If they all look like Sato Eisaku was prime minister when the last primer was put on, then you are out of luck.

      But if you can make the kind of invidious comparisons that get people feeling a little inferior, that usually sets off the spark here.

      Just be careful once the school improvement genie is out of the bottle you might set off a paint race that will lead to pushed for more school construction.

    10. Mark Says:

      Rewrite. Just state your concerns. Don’t compare to “back home” or to their personal dwellings. No sarcasm. Offer suggestions on how to accomplish your ideas. Volunteer to get involved. Pro translation or use free online translation (refine by copying/pasting back and forth until it states what you want to say.) Include the English version. Print it out and mail it or hand deliver to the appropriate person. No email. Not delivered by your kid. Wait.

    11. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      I agree with Mark. Comparisons to “back home” just reduce your arguments to being a whining foreigner. State your concerns AS A PARENT. Anything you say must be from the angle of a concerned community member. Sarcasm will not work.
      Also, as Schoolwatcher mentioned, try to find out if any rebuilding, maintenance work or relocation is in the pipeline.
      Questions about the buildings are generally fielded by vice principals. Also, ask the board of education (usually located in your local council office) about the status of school buildings.
      Don’t expect anything to happen immediately or even soon. But don’t let that put you off asking if change is possible.

    12. friendwhoaskedadvice Says:

      I really appreciate the input and time people have taken to give advice. There is a difference between venting and the groundwork for a positive campaign.

      What do people think of going at it from the angle of
      Citing the test averages from the tests this Friday, asking people if they want them to go up?…saying while I can’t promise if they will…or how much they will go up…I can’t find a single on-line reference… where test scores did not improve.

      I could also say if we did it and proved by our efforts it worked to raise academic performance. That it would help make the gov’t always set money aside to do this. Help make our city famous…

      Again thanks to all.

    13. Schoolwatcher Says:

      That’s not a bad angle to have to support your idea but it shouldn’t be your starting point not least because you could be seen as suggesting that exam results are bad. That gets you into a different argument and implies criticism of the headmaster and teaching staff.

      I don’t know whether you were actually planning to kick off by asking “Do you want test averages to go up?” but, like “Do you know what paint is?”, it’s a question only an idiot can say no to. If you are trying to win support, you don’t want your audience’s first reaction to be “Why is he treating us like idiots?” It may make you feel better but it won’t help you achieve your goals.

      There are a lot of questions to which you don’t know the answers and they should be your starting point. There’s nothing “Japanese” about finding out the lie of the land first.

    14. Chris B Says:

      A few points (IMHO of course!)

      1. Don’t make comparisons with Canada, you will immediately cause all Japanese around you to close ranks on the side of the school, as it will sound like you are insulting all Japanese.

      2. First write to the most senior member of the school’s management, pointing out the problem (in brief, no need to patronise, presumably the problem is obvious, even if people have become accustomed to it). Ask what the schools plans are for tackling it.

      In my experience about half of Japanese will be so embarrassed by a parent, let alone a foreigner drawing their attention to it that they will immediately do something about it. Don’t aussume anyone has made such a complaint previously.

      3. If they come back to you saying the problem is money, offer you donation and offer to help fund raise and organise to sort it out.

      Importantly, be aware that sometimes there will be a political motive behind allowing such dilapidation to occur, that being the management are trying to convince the higher authorities to carry out more substantial renovation, perhaps even replacing the school buildings completely.

      In other cases management may be being bribed or pushed into not spending any money on maintenance, in this case you will need to campaign and perhaps start asking questions to discover the truth about what’s going on in the system.

      4. When it comes to your children you can’t worry that you might be upsetting the apple cart. If you talk to other Japanese parents and raise the issue with them (one by one at first – they are unlikely to support you if you address a group as they won’t want to stand out), you will almost certainly find they are unhappy about the situation too, they are likely to be happy to support from the sidelines and will be only too happy to have a foreigner spearhead the campaign, some may well be happy to be vocal alongside you, just don’t do anything that will turn them against you, like be rude or aggressive or embarrass the school publically.

    15. Jcek Says:

      Sorry for my previous post my cut and paste went all crazy.

      I definitely agree with the citation of test scores angle. The only thing I can press here is that it should be from Japanese newspapers, or research. Again, cross-country analysis is a very slippery slope here. Don’t call it dirty call it a hazard or dangerous, honestly most schools don’t care if their school looks like a subway station. If you are going to cite anything photo copy it and present it like it is scripture. Organize it in a binder and use good labeling.

      Not sure if you thought about this or not but starting a petition is also a good way to get things done in Japan. Most everything community driven from my experience here has started from petitions. People will put their name down especially for “the children”.

      Again good luck.

    16. KK Says:

      At my current school I got tired of the room I used looking like a pig sty. In actuality, the entire school looks like this but no way could I convince the school to repaint everything. So one Friday after I finished classes I went over to the local DIY store, bought some bright, cheery paint, and repainted the room.

      I don’t recommend doing this yourself, since I’m sure most schools would react in horror at you doing something so “abnormal” but luckily all my school had to say on the topic was, “Wow, this room looks different!” I’m not even sure they realized I painted the room, even though there was residual paint fumes hanging around on Monday.

      And you’re right, the students have been treating my room with a lot more respect since the change!

    17. Chris Says:

      I’d have to say just about every educational facility I’ve seen in Japan, looks like a dump, be it elementary, jhs, hs or university. But have you considered starting small? If you’re a gaijin, then maybe work through your wife if she’s Japanese. Have her approach other parents in your kids class and strike up a conversation about how the kids might like it if their classroom looked a little nicer… perhaps if it got painted. Most of the Japanese classrooms I’ve seen, are dominated by large windows on one side and often on both sides (hallway side) and there’s also a large chalkboard… so you might mention that it would cost very little for the parents of that class to repaint the room themselves. Once your wife (or you) finds enough other parents who agree, as a group, approach the teacher and the vice principal with a completed plan to paint that one classroom. If you get approval, buy the paint (at a hardware store (shouldn’t take much)) and brushes and masking tape(100 yen shop) and paint the room. Get the kids involved, take pictures. Have it published in the school newspaper. Once the other parents and teachers see how nice that one classroom has become, it’s likely that other classes will follow. Pretty soon everyone will realize how nice the school looks on the inside…pity it doesn’t look the same on the outside…

      The important thing is to work with people who agree and not waste time debating those who disagree. Once you find a few followers, create a plan that details projected costs, who will be involved in the purchasing and painting, benefits to the school, benefits to the students, color swatches (conservative colors nothing crazy), date to do the painting/cleaning etc… the idea is that you want to make it easy for the school (teacher, vice principal, principal) to say yes.

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