Hand reared: Saya High School students feed grain to some of their friendly flock of paddy-management fowl. | C.W. NICOL

Quack team: Saya High School students with some of the school’s paddy ducks | PHOTO COURTESY OF SAYA HIGH SCHOOL

Hand reared: Saya High School students feed grain to some of their friendly flock of paddy-management fowl. | C.W. NICOL

Hand-reared: Saya High School students feed grain to some of their friendly flock of paddy-management fowl| C.W. NICOL

Hello readers, how’s summer treating you?

Here’s our usual buzz on the latest happenings on the educational scene in Japan and in my opinion, this is the coolest story this summer …

School wins prize for paddle power in its paddies (Japan Times) See extract below:

“The school’s curriculum emphasizes agriculture, and last year its students won the Prime Minister’s Award, which is sponsored through the One Percent Club, a scheme that takes 1 percent of the selling price of various Aeon products and goods and deposits the money into a fund to support and encourage environmental programs. I am a committee member.

Saya High School was the first to win this Prime Minister’s Prize — for its 11-year-old program of raising ducks for its rice paddies.

This traditional way of keeping paddies free of pests takes time and care but produces excellent rice, in good yields, without the use of any pesticides.

The ducks eat all kinds of insects and aquatic insect larvae and, because they have serrated ridges along the edges of their bills that enable them to filter out water, they can eat even tiny mosquito larvae. Also, as they paddle around, the ducks stir up mud, preventing light from reaching the bottom. This curbs the growth of aquatic weeds between the rows of green growing rice stems — and what small weeds do manage to sprout soon get eaten.

Most domesticated ducks, with the exception of the Muskovy and a few other breeds, descend from wild mallards, and the small aigamo ducks in fairly widespread use on rice paddies in Japan are crossbred from mallards and domestic varieties. However, Saya High School’s large white fowl with yellow bills and feet are, although very common in China and other Asian countries, unusual in Japan. Reaching up to 5 kg when fully grown, they too derive from mallards, though they flock more readily than aigamo and easily imprint with humans. In other words, they are very friendly and would eat from the students’ hands

At Saya High School, though, when I asked the teacher in charge, Hiroyuki Kamejima, what kind of duck theirs were, he didn’t say Aylesbury — but “Pekin.”

“I thought that was the name for a kind of Chinese food,” I said — but I was wrong. Peking duck is the delicious plucked, gutted and roasted delicacy eaten with pancakes, but Pekin is the name of another mallard-derived breed of poultry that reached Britain and America from China in the late 19th century and which is now the most common domestic duck there is …

The ducks are bred at the school, though the eggs are put in incubators to hatch because this type of duck is not a very good brooder. They reach about 2½ kg in four months, and when they come to maturity and the females start laying they will produce an egg most days if they are not brooding. These school ducks each lay about 70 eggs in four months and the surplus ones are sold to specialty outlets.

Because no pesticides are used in the school’s paddies, various aquatic creatures have returned. These include rare or endangered species such as the tiny killifish, which used to be common all over Japan but is now rarely seen, as well as the giant predatory tagame water beetle — which is easily able to catch and kill a frog — and the water mantis, which has the curious habit of breathing through a snorkel tube protruding from its bum. (I don’t think that will ever be included in PADI diving programs!)

Various other water beetles, dragonfly larvae, loaches and edible pond snails are also found, not to mention the stately white egrets and the ducks’ wild mallard relatives who come to visit and feed.

When we visited, the ducks were penned as the water had been temporarily drained from the paddies. This practice, called nakabōshi in Japanese, is to strengthen the roots of the rice plants. After a while without surface water, the paddies are flooded again and the eager ducks are reintroduced to their watery play and feeding grounds.

Later, when the rice grains begin to swell and ripen, the ducks will leave them alone as long as the stems are upright, but as soon as the seed heads start to bow, the ducks have to be penned again. Otherwise they would fatten themselves on rice.

The students and teachers don’t have the heart to slaughter their ducks, and they don’t keep that many, so they either give them away to nursery and primary schools, or keep them at the school to breed the next flock of paddy ducks … Read more 

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More mundane policy news up next:

Govt to help the world enter top 100 universities (Yomiuri Shimbun, August 3, 2013)

The Yomiuri ShimbunTo help 10 Japanese universities move into the world’s top 100 universities over the next 10 years, the education ministry will provide each of them with 10 billion yen a year.The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to include this outlay in its fiscal 2014 budget requests.Designating 10 public or private universities as “super global universities,” the ministry will encourage them to carry out joint research with foreign universities and invite famous scholars from abroad.By improving the global rankings of the nation’s universities, the government hopes to enhance Japan’s industrial competitiveness. Its growth strategy, compiled in June, refers to the launch of the super global university system.Universities are ranked after evaluating such factors as the teaching environment and how many times papers written by researchers are cited.One of the most popular rankings is the World University Rankings by Times Higher Education, a specialized British education journal, in which only two Japanese universities ranked in the top 100 in 2012: the University of Tokyo in 27th place and Kyoto University at 54th.

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Many new colleges degrees have unusual, ambiguous names (August 2, 2013 Yomiuri Shimbun) The variety of bachelor’s degrees has dramatically widened to about 700 in the last two decades, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey on the nation’s universities.

An Education Ministry ordinance regulated the names of degrees after World War II, limiting their number to 25 to 29. Since the regulation was relaxed in 1991, however, the number has surged to more than 20 times that level.Many of the newly created names for bachelor’s degrees are unusual, such as career design at Hosei University and hospitality and tourism at Kyorin University. Education experts believe universities are trying to bring in students by using such names to emphasize their uniqueness.The Yomiuri survey was conducted on 740 universities nationwide in June, of which 648 responded.In 1956, 25 bachelor’s degrees, such as bachelor of law and bachelor of economics, were set by the ministry ordinance on establishing universities. The kinds and names of bachelor’s degrees were limited until 1991, and in that period the number rose only by four. Since 1991, however, the number has increased year by year as universities were allowed to freely name their degrees.The Yomiuri Shimbun survey found 696 degrees. Of this number, 426, or about 60 percent, exist only at their respective universities.Many of the new names use such words as joho (information), bunka (culture), fukushi (welfare) and kokusai (international), reflecting trends at the time of their creation. These include Keio University’s Faculty of Environment and Information Studies and Meiji University’s School of Global Japanese Studies.Even among universities with a long history, some have created new bachelor’s degrees this fiscal year. Doshisha University, for example, created a bachelor’s degree for “global and regional studies.”The wider variety of names indicates that universities are hard-pressed to lure students.However, some of the new names make it hard to guess what students in the undergraduate courses study. They include Rikkyo University’s Body Expression and Cinematic Arts, Kinki University’s Department of Career Management, and Fukuoka University of Education’s Intercultural Studies Course.

 A professor of a private university said, “One of our students lamented that ‘I couldn’t immediately answer’ when asked during a job interview for details about what they study.”An official at a private university said, “We can’t sufficiently explain to universities overseas [in which its students want to enroll] about the nature of their studies.”As a result, some education experts have voiced concern that such unique names of bachelor’s degrees may work against the universities’ globalization.“Officials at foreign universities in which Japanese students want to enroll may be concerned about what the students have majored in, if it’s hard to tell from the names of their bachelor’s degrees,” said Yoshitaka Hamanaka, senior researcher of the National Institute for Educational Policy Research. “It goes against the trend of globalization.”Prof. Manabu Sato of Gakushuin University said: “Universities have competed so hard to demonstrate uniqueness, the names may have become too diversified. We should consider making rules in this area.”:::This article sums up the recent spate of school crimes …

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Local govts tackle daycare waiting lists (Jul 30, 2013)

Earlier announcements:

Govt to pay half tuition for 2nd child in kindergarten (Jun 2, Yomiuri Shimbun via Japan News)The education ministry plans to launch a subsidy program that would cover half of the kindergarten tuition for a second child and make preschool free for subsequent children, with no income restrictions.

About 300,000 children will receive free preschool education or have their fees partly covered under the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry program, which will require a budget of about 30 billion yen, it was learned Friday.However, the ministry is expected to face difficulties in negotiating with the Finance Ministry to secure the necessary funds.The Liberal Democratic Party pledged to make kindergarten education free during its campaign for the House of Representatives election in December as part of a child-rearing support program.Although a related measure was implemented this fiscal year, free preschool education is available for a third child and beyond only when three or more children are enrolled in a kindergarten at the same time.

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One must wonder what preparations, protocols and protection details are entailed for a princess’ homestay:

Princess Kako to have homestay in Massachusetts (Japan Today, via JapanNewsJapan, Jul 24, 2013)

Princess Kako, 18, the daughter of Prince Akishino, the emperor’s second son, and Princess Kiko, will have a homestay for a month in Massachusetts next month, the government said Tuesday.

The Aug 3-Sept 4 homestay will be part of the princess’ summer vacation and she will stay at the home of a Harvard professor who is acquainted with her parents, NTV reported. She will also visit Colorado during her trip

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Next up, the news on health, crime and safety:

Study: 8.1% of Japan secondary school students may be ‘Internet addicts’ (KYODO, Aug 1, 2013)

A government panel said Thursday that 8.1 percent of around 100,000 junior high and high school students polled nationwide are suspected of being “Internet addicts.”

Based on the finding, the panel under the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates that some 518,000 students in schools nationwide suffer from the addiction, which can trigger health-related problems, including sleep disruptions.

The first-ever national study on Internet addiction among junior high and high school students was conducted between last October and March.

The research team, led by Nihon University professor Takashi Oida, sent questionnaires to around 140,000 students nationwide through their schools to ask how they use the Internet. The team received about 98,000 responses.

Generally, junior high school students range in age from 13 to 15, while high school students are aged between 16 to 18.

Team member Susumu Higuchi, an authority on addictions and director of the state-run Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, warned that Internet addiction can cause health problems, including sleep disruptions, and can also have negative mental effects.

Based on international criteria to measure Internet addiction, the team asked eight questions, including whether the respondents have ever felt they need to extend the number of hours to use the Internet to gain satisfaction, whether they have ever failed to stop using the Internet, and whether they have faced difficulties maintaining good relations with family or friends because of their Internet use.

Of the respondents, the 8.1 percent who were judged “addicted users” numbered 7,952.

Among them, 23.2 percent said they had difficulties falling asleep, while 15.6 percent said they wake up during the night.

To a multiple choice question regarding what kind of Internet services they use, about 69.2 percent of the entire respondents said they look for random information and news, while 64.4 percent said they check YouTube and other video sites. Some 62.5 percent said they send and receive emails, while 33.4 percent said they check Facebook pages and Twitter. A total of 28.2 percent said they read and write blogs or message boards, while another 20.2 percent said they use online games.

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Children deserve to have safe and crime-free summer vacation (July 25, 2013 The Yomiuri Shimbun)

School is out for summer, and children are free to play outdoors. Yet even at this happy time, measures must be taken to ensure no children fall victim to crimes during their summer vacation.

In late June, a man with a knife injured three first-grade primary school students in front of the gate to a ward primary school in Nerima Ward, Tokyo. The incident took place while the boys were on their way home from school. In mid-July, a fifth-grade primary school student suffered serious injuries when she was beaten by a man on the street in Ryugasaki, Ibaraki Prefecture.

National Police Agency statistics remind us of the disturbing reality that not even children under 13 are safe from criminals. Crimes against them include a significant number of serious offenses, such as sexual assaults and attacks resulting in grave injuries. Parents should immediately call the police if their children have been spoken to or followed by suspicious persons.

Adults must stay on guard

It is essential for the police to thoroughly investigate such cases, while also providing information about suspicious individuals to local organizations likely to be affected by such incidents, including school authorities and neighborhood associations.

School administrators have taken measures to better protect the safety of their students in recent years. The move was prompted by a stabbing incident that took place in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, in 2001 at a primary school affiliated with Osaka Kyoiku University. Eight students at Ikeda Primary School were killed by a knife-wielding man, and many others were injured.

Ikeda Primary School has set up a class called “anzen-ka” (safety course) in which students are encouraged to discuss what they should do if they face such situations as total strangers talking to them on the street. An increasing number of schools are adopting similar safety education programs.

A large number of primary and middle schools have installed security cameras and other protective devices around their buildings and grounds, hoping to detect any suspicious person attempting to intrude.

In other cases, parents accompany their children to and from school, while crime-prevention volunteers from neighborhood associations patrol school-commuting roads. Local communities are making progress in implementing various steps to prevent children from becoming crime victims.

However, defense of children tends to become lax during the summer vacation. Particular attention should be given to the safety of children during certain hours of the day–for instance, when they are playing outdoors, and while they are on their way to and from cram schools and or swimming courses. At such times, it is difficult for grown-ups to keep an eye on children. Given this, it is advisable to make sure children carry crime prevention buzzers with them when they go out, so they can sound an alarm if necessary.

Teach kids to be alert

Most importantly, children should be taught how to escape from crimes targeting them. They need to develop such awareness on a routine basis, when it comes to averting potential danger.

For instance, it is a good idea for both parents and children to confirm whether any hazards exist in their neighborhood, such as a vacant house into which children could be taken or an unlit street. Parents would be well advised to tell their children to stay away from such high-risk places.

In many areas around the nation, shops, private homes and other buildings have been designated as emergency shelters for children. Those in charge of such shelters agree to provide temporary protection for children who encountered danger, and report it to the police. If they have been taught where such facilities are located, children will be able to run to the shelter when they recognize danger.

Other facilities that can play a role in crime prevention include convenience stores that stay open round the clock or till late at night.

It is essential for families and local communities to join hands in making sure children can spend the summer vacation in safety.

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See also Earlier news: School security high after attack on kids (Jul 2); Knife-wielding intruder arrested at Shiga school (Jul 17); Man wanted for attacks on school boys in Saitama (Jun 26)

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News on bullying:

Anti-bullying bill enacted (Yomiuri Shimbun, Jun 21);  3 school bullies sent to child consultation center following suicide of victim (Jul 11, NewsonJapan); See also: Earlier news:   4 junior high students arrested for hitting their classmate with mop (Jun 26, Japan Today)

HYOGO — Four junior high school students have been arrested for bullying a classmate by hitting him with a mop and kicking him, police said Tuesday.

The incident took place on June 4 at the school in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture, NTV reported Tuesday. One of the teachers at the school found the 14-year-old boy crying and the school reported the bullying to police. Three of the four boys have admitted bullying the boy since last year, while fourth denies the charge, police said. One of the bullies said the victim never complained about it before.

Meanwhile, the school said that in May, it had warned one of the bullies after a teacher saw him kick the boy in the stomach, NTV reported.

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A look at the bloggable things being blogged about education in Japan (apart from what we are blogging about):

10 surprising things about parenting in Japan

A Cup of Jo features photographer Yoko Inoue, who moved from Brooklyn to the Japanese countryside with her husband and son… and the 10 things that have surprised her about being a mom in Japan..

Other cool stuff during a hot summer:

Out of ideas for summer jiyukenkyu projects? Yesterday’s local terrestrial channels had offerings suggesting free jiyukenkyu projects for kids, from having kids go out with a digital camera and using their observation skills to cover a specific theme, such as transportation vehicles, eg fire-engines or ambulances, and taking to the planetariums or free zoos (did you know there are 160 of these free zoos around the nation?)

Ask your child to try the Bennesse help page:.http://benesse.jp/jiyukenkyu/; Jiyukenkyu and Kid’s Door jiyukenkyu page (in Japanese) and see our previous page: About Jiyu kenkyu – the school summer project 

Firms propose summer projects for kids (Aug 2, 2013 The Yomiuri Shimbun) 

Massive summer assignments often put a burden on children during their summer vacation. Among the work given out, independent research is one of the most challenging, yet fun, required projects.

To promote their brands, several food makers have launched webpages encouraging children to conduct their research with familiar items. The sites include instructions on a number of experiments and arts and crafts projects, which are easier for primary school students, using food items and empty containers. It is hoped such sites will be useful in helping children choose a research theme.

Mizkan Group has launched “Mr. Smith’s summer vacation independent research” using their vinegar products. By carrying out the experiments posted on the website, such as dissolving an eggshell by soaking it in vinegar, children learn about chemistry. (www. mizkan.co.jp/k-plus/summerkids/index. html?lid-01)

Suntory Holdings Ltd. set up a page on its website dedicated to experiments on the “water education” to teach children the importance of environmental protection. The page outlines several experiments based on water’s properties and attributes. It also shows facts such as the amount of water an average household uses in a day. (http://suntory.jp/mizu-iku/kids/research/?fromid=top_r)

Megmilk Snow Brand Co.’s educational site “Tanoshii Kosaku” (Fun crafts) includes instructions on making 84 kinds of crafts such as pen cases and fans using its packaging. Each project is assigned a level of difficulty through a star rating system so children can choose an appropriate challenge. (www.meg-snow.com/fun/make/craft/)

The Salt Industry Center of Japan has a page detailing 16 experiments related to salt. It shows how to hoist an ice block with salt and extract salt from sea water, among other novel activities. (www.shiojigyo.com/a050study/)

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Finally, not so cool news … but do Watch out for the poisonous rove beetle, called Yakedomushi … that could give you nasty boils and blisters… as they flourish and propagate during heavy rains and humid weather…

Yakedomushi / Paedarus fuscipes

Yakedomushi / Paedarus fuscipes

And that’s all folks for now…till the next blog post!

Digitally yours.

Aileen Kawagoe