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February can be the cruelest month

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WASHINGTON – For T. S. Eliot, April may have been the cruelest month, but in Japan, there’s no month that’s crueler for students than February. This is the month when students find out whether months or even years of preparation have finally paid off or not.

Kids as young as five years old are confronted with the doubly whammy of prepping for entrance exams and facing family pressure to do well, all in the name of future success. Or in the case of the youngest of test-takers, it’s more about parental ambition than anything that the child may want.

For high schoolers, though, it’s a different story altogether as they grapple with where their academic abilities place them and what that means for their future. The toughest survivors, though, are undoubtedly those who decide to try their luck the following year and defer entry for the upcoming academic year.

There is no real equivalent of the “ronin” student in the United States or the United Kingdom. Named after the samurai without a master who wandered without affiliation and often without hope, Japan’s ronin student of today is one who has graduated from high school but has not been able to get into the college of his or her choice. As a result, the student spends a year or more attending a crammer school in order to retake the entrance exam.

It’s a gamble, since there’s no guarantee of success in passing competitive tests the second time around. It’s also a test of mental endurance, since it requires the student to spend the next 12 months with an uncertain future in a society that values belonging to a group.


© The Japan Times