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Harbingers of Fall

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As summer ends and the new school year approaches, I recall my own school days. How I would get pumped up for the first day of school. There were always new back-to-school clothes, and the anticipation of seeing that girl I'd been daydreaming about all summer, and catching up all the news.

I did not see that excitement in Japan. For Tomomi and Yoshihiro Nishimura and their classmates, for instance, summer vacation is a short five weeks. Their faces are long as the first day of school approaches. And no wonder.

Tomomi and Yoshihiro have gone to school many days during their vacation--Tomomi to help plan the school's cultural festival and attend classes, Yoshihiro to practice judo and meet with his teachers. Moreover, they and their friends have attended juku, taught at home by their parents.

New clothes? These students wear uniforms. And to meet the standard dress code for junior-high-school boys, Yoshihiro has his head shaved by a neighbor.

It's a bit painful for me to see his head get clipped. For Americans, hair length and style are such important symbols of individualism. But being shorn doesn't seem to bother Yoshihiro.

He and his sister are bothered more by the knowledge of what lies ahead and the speech they will hear from the principals at their schools. They say they are subject to the same harangue every year that sets the agenda for the term: "Study first, study second, free time third, and study fourth."

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