I wrote up a post in May 2000 on something which had been bugging me--how a home visit from my daughter's grade-school teacher felt like an invasion of privacy. The original essay can be found at http://www.debito.org/kateihoumon.html. Here is the sequel. Enjoy. Dave Aldwinckle in Sapporo

From: "DH"
To: "Dave Aldwinckle" <davald@do-johodai.ac.jp>
Subject: I'm embarassed
Date: Wed, 3 May 2000 11:34:50 +0900

Dave, really. I was a junior high teacher here for 6 years and Katou Houmon
are very friendly- spirited visits. While I felt that your original efforts
toward contracts for foreigners were valid and have supported your efforts
more than most non-Japanese here, I can't help but think that this kind of
reaction puts more distance between Japanese and non-Japanese, making
Japanese think we are knee-jerkers and general pains-in-the-butt. Sincerely, DH

Date: Tue, 2 May 2000 19:51:59 -0700 (PDT)
From: "XY"
To: Dave Aldwinckle <davald@do-johodai.ac.jp>
cc: fukuzawa@ucsd.edu
Subject: Re: CULTURAL ISSUE: Katei Houmon

Katei houmon was also practiced at the public high schools that I taught
at in Miyagi prefecture, and I always gathered that it was much more for
the convenience of the parents than the teachers. Every teacher that I
knew disliked having to take the time to travel around to each of their
students' houses, cutting into their bukatsu and precious free time.

I suppose if more Japanese parents (and American parents, too, don't get
me wrong) took as great an interest in their childrens' education as
Mr. Aldwinkle and his wife, there would be less need for this practice.

But, unfortunately, the way it stands, Japanese children upon entering
public schools become wards of the state, and their teachers and school
administrators become just as responsible for them as their parents, as
we can see time and time again when a junior high school student commits a
crime and the principal, not the parents, is the first to be flogged for
the incident. Given the level of responsibility that a homeroom teacher
has for her students, it is not suprising that she would be expected to
know as much as possible about each student, even if it means a visit to
the student's home.

I applaud you for fighting this disagreeable policy. But I'm afraid that
until the nature of the Gakko changes, katei houmon is here to stay.

XY, University of Washington

Date: Wed, 03 May 2000 15:19:33 +0900
From: AL
To: Dave Aldwinckle <davald@do-johodai.ac.jp>

Hi Dave - (snip)

> It is my duty as an immigrant and an ethnic to
> tell people how I feel about things,

Er... that's a strong assertion. I've not heard of such a duty - am I
missing something? Are you talking about a duty that is expressed by
the state, like the duty to declare our overseas income?

If not, people might think you're just referring to something you've
built up for yourself into a "personal mission". Referring to it as a
duty is then a form of self-exclusion - like the Jehovah's Witnesses who
presumably claim a duty to engage householders in religious
discussions. Inevitably many victims resist, precisely because of the
self-centred stance of the speaker.

Unless there really is a duty here, wouldn't it be preferable to say
something like "I believe that it is useful for a society if its
immigrants offer to discuss how they feel about things"?

On those terms, I believe it is useful too. And I appreciate that you
feel motivated to do it. Bye for now. AL

Date: Wed, 03 May 2000 16:09:53 +0900
From: MN
To: fukuzawa@ucsd.edu

As a child, for the first 3 years of elementary school, my Windsor, NY
(USA) elementary school teachers came for a "home visit" once a year.
This, and the fact that Windsor NY is the very small town we lived 5
miles away from, probably is why I did not have all the prickly
"invasion of privacy" reactions Dave had.

My husband, being Japanese, was most concerned that I was only cleaning
the house. The fact that I was doing the Homes-and-Gardens bit pleased
him no end. A bit of polishing-up is pleasant now and then. But did I
have new slippers to put out? The proper grade of green tea? The
proper price-range of individually packaged cookies to serve with the
green tea? No detail was too small for him, but he was reacting to the
norms of his home village in Yamanashi prefecture, I suspect, where
people tend to have less to talk about and more time to do the talking..

Gradually, after 2 years of yochien preschool, 6 years of elementary
school, and 3 years of junior high, times two as we have 2 children, he
has settled down and no longer pays much attention. The house is clean,
there is cold mugi-cha tea if the visit is in the summer, that's as far
as things go. And since we have moved twice inside Japan, we have seen
school policy for 3 locations, in Kawasaki, in Toyonaka (Osaka
prefecture) and in Yokohama where we are now. All 3 are suburbs of
major cities, and things may be different in other areas.

In Kawasaki, things went pretty much as Dave described, only I was not
interested in protesting any invasion of privacy, as if we assumed we
had much of any. When we had problems of ijime in school, it helped
that the teacher knew our location, who else lived in the neighborhood,
what our "play space" setup was, and the fact that we "lived regular
lives". Knowing all this, she could take action that was effective. (We
had gone through 2 years of meeting on school property to talk things
out, and gotten basically nowhere. It was the third teacher who
insisted with absolutely no prior warning that the other 3 mothers and
their sons come over to our house "for tea"right then directly, to talk
about what had gone on, and why it needed to stop. And even though the
content was much the same as it had been in the principal's office,
after doing it in our "dining-kitchen", the nonsense stopped completely.
Perhaps with the "proper" Japanese mother/foreign father combination
this would not have been necessary?)

In Toyonaka, we were given the choice of (a) on the doorstep, (b) in the
home, or (c) no visit at all. The first year we were there, we were
still on Kawasaki operating procedures, so I chose (b). It resulted in
a very memorable visit. While the teacher was there, the older brother
came home with a bit of blood (slowly dripping to the floor) in need of
immediate care, and the instant we finally got to sit down, her student
(our younger son) flashed by the window, dragged by on the back of a
bicycle, screeching for all he was worth. (He was on roller skates, the
kid on the bicycle had gone past him close enough to get something of my
son's caught on his rear-end carrier rack, which scared him so that he
tried escaping instead of stopping, thus dragging the son on roller
skates along behind). The teacher wondered if it was like this all the
time, and I told her "only once or twice a month". All subsequent
visits got "pre-ticked" for (a). (She was also very understanding when
forms to be returned to the school got lost and I needed a new copy to
turn in.)

For the junior high schools in Toyonaka and Yokohama, and the elementary
school in Yokohama, they want an in-the-home visit once during the kid's
time in the school, otherwise not unless you have something you want to
discuss (a nudist in the window of the building across from you? your
kid smashing up your interior and you want to talk but not to the
police? senile grandparents? who knows?) . You do it once to prove your
honesty and ordinary-ness, and there is nothing required beyond that.

I have not been pre-conditioned for katei homon by any investigations by
authorities, as Dave was by his naturalization investigation process. I
do not know the procedures, but I did get permanent residency, and was
not conscious of any investigations. Perhaps I am less attuned to that
dimension. Or perhaps the MoJ can inquire into school visit records,
but schools cannot inquire into MoJ records. The changes in policy from
visits every year, to one visit per child (covering all the years that
child is in that school) were made, I heard, based mainly on parental
suggestions that the teachers were getting all worn out just to see
nothing new, that once should be enough. "Itsu demo dozo, irrashite
kudasai. Demo, nanimo henka ga nai node, go-sokuro dake ni owaru

Postscript: PTA Sokai - PTA General Meeting, generally twice a year in
the school library or gym/auditorium; Sankanbi - Parent's Class
Observation Day, generally once per term or 3 times a year in the school
classroom; Sansha-mendan - literally, 3-party interviews, with
parent(s), teacher, and child, also in the school classroom. Plus the
good ol' Katei Homon [Hepburn romanization used in Kenkyusha and other
dictionaries], aka Katei Houmon [kunrei or computer-input romanization],
and Taiiku-sai - Sports Day; Gakko-sai [Bunka-sai, XX-matsuri] - School
Festival, are all for general parental involvement. Parents are
expected to be eager to come, and stories read in Kokugo Japanese class
generally at some point include a sad tale of someone whose parents did
not come to some school event.

If you are on any of the usual 4 PTA committees, an officer in the PTA
itself, or in the junior high Bukatsu Hogosha-kai club activity parents'
group, you're at school a whole lot more. I am currently on the PTA Koho
Newsletter committee, as chairman... which is a continuing shock to us
all. The other 3 regular committees are the Kogai Community (lit.,
outside-the-school) committee, which gets involved in safety on the
routes to and from school, the Hoken Health committee, which tends to
focus on the food served at noontime and toilet cleanliness, and the
Shakai Social Involvement Committee, which runs craft programs,
lectures, or cultural events.

In some new schools, there is only the Gakkyu Homeroom post, taken by
the main "Sei"person plus one "fuku"assistant, which meets in regular
monthly assembly and elects Gakunen Grade Representatives, who sit on
the Un'ei Executive Committee, with the PTA Officials who "run things".
In some of the older schools, there may be other splinter-type
committees, such as the Hotai (Hoken-taiiku) committee, which assists
and coordinates the school parents' sports team activities, and the
school festival committees. Generally, the schools want 1 year PTA
service for each child at that school. If too many people refuse to
serve a year on some PTA duty, only then do a few people get hit with 2
years of basically volunteer community-service work.

And they wonder why people don't want to have more children these days.
This does not include half of the work generated, or extended holidays
made impossible.

Different cultures do things differently, with different priorities, and
different pacing of events, don't they now.

More than you ever wanted to know. Again.

APRIL 18, 2001

Yes that time came round again, one year later, for daughter Amy. Guess what happened? Yeah, I said I didn't want the teacher to come into our house (boy, I'm obstinate). However, on the notice for "legal guardians" (not "parents"--the system has long since wised up) this year (see arrow in document below)

note that it says, "Please let us know if for some reason you don't want to have a home visit, or if you'd rather have it at school." (nao, gokatei no jijou de katei houmon o enryo site ga, sono kawari ni gakkou de kondan o kibou suru to iu kata mo moushidashi kudasai)

Alright! The system is becoming more flexible, offering more options. It may be only this teacher (the same teacher as last year for my daughter) doing this, or only because she knows I'm still connected with this class. But I praise improvements when I see them. And I believe this is definitely an improvement. Three cheers!

Arudou Debito

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