Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mud, lawns, and being RIGHT, dammit!

I heard a wonderful sound floating through the windows on a drowsy hot June morning the other day while I was work - that of a lawnmower.

At first it was just background noise, then after a while I recognized it, and realized that it had also made me feel kind of relaxed and content.

It's a sound I associate with lazy Saturday and Sunday afternoons in summer in New Zealand, hanging out at home, sunbathing on the patio, or reading a book on the sofa; or (later on in life) cracking open the wine for a gentle afternoon slipping into evening.

The scent also reached me, a scent that still transports me instantly back to school days, and grass fights. Whenever the grassy fields that surround NZ schools are mowed, out come the students to throw handfuls of grass at each other (or stuff it down their shirts, when they're a bit older and searching for any excuse to 'accidentally' touch another body).

It's a sound of perfect suburban contentment - and one entirely unfamiliar in Japan.

Apart from small patches in the middle of a Japanese garden, no-one has lawns here, except committed hobbyists and frantic foreigners. And no institutions have them. Schools here are surrounded by dirt, with a huge sandy field for sports.

When it rains, this sand turns quickly to mud. The worst is Erica's daycare. The sand there is thick, like a sandpit, all the way up to the entry way - there's no path, you have to walk through the sand. I've learned now to store my work shoes in my car and wear sneakers or sandals to drop her off, but at first, I made the mistake more than once of dropping her off in my work shoes, and getting coated with sand and mud.

But the small university where I teach is different, more progressive.They teach architecture and technology and computing and engineering and tick the right boxes in many ways, including having actual LAWNS all over the place - in the quadrangle where students hang out at lunch, in the more decorative areas surrounding the main lecture building, and EVEN ON THE SPORTS FIELD. This last example is simply amazing in Japan. Actually having actual lawn to play sports on is almost unheard of.

This is why I heard a lawnmower that day, working there. And it sounded just so right to me!

I've heard all the reasons - the excuses - as to why dirt, and not grass, is necessary at Japanese schools. And I've heard the other side - that grass is actually much easier to maintain that most Japanese think. My friend's husband studied about it. And I think my college's example is a case in point - this is a school that prides itself on modern, environmentally friendly solutions. We only use air conditioning for two months a year. Most of the interiors are lit naturally, and artificial light is kept to a minimum. They even switch off the office lights during the lunch hour! I'm pretty certain that if grass was really so horrifically expensive, environmentally destructive and impossible to maintain, they wouldn't do it.

I think what's really going on is institutional inertia. Generation after generation of people who accept the 'wisdom' of those who have gone before, without ever questioning it. My husband is now the President of the PTA, but even so, we have no power to change anything. He just wants to go on doing what was done before.

The most frustrating thing is KNOWING I am right, and 'they' are wrong. To be sure, many of 'them' also know I am right, but feel more comfortable going along with the status quo, but still!

When you live your life in a foreign country, all of your assumptions are called into question. There is no such thing as 'common sense'. There is no consensus about what is right. Part of learning how to live in a foreign country is accepting that fact. Along the way, your views and opinions change. Sometimes you simply accept that there are two (or more) ways of doing something, and no-one is right. Sometimes you reach the conclusion that 'they' are right, and your own culturally accepted way of doing things was not the best choice after all.

But then there those other times.... the times where no matter how long you've been here, or how many times people have tried to explain something to you, you just know, that you are RIGHT!

And this is one of them.

Come on Japan, you NEED lawns!!!!

1 comment:

Jo Tomooka said...

Our school was offered funding a few years ago to do the field into grass... did they take it up? Of course not - the principal stopped the whole plan before it even got as far as the PTA. And now we spend hours trying to dig the weeds out of the ground...I'm with you on this fight!