Year of Requirement Part 3
The public high school I’d attended in the US was a good-sized school with about 800 students per year. The building was fairly large and we had two gymnasiums (not including a gymnastics room, indoor track and weight training area) a heated indoor pool and a big auditorium. If you had Biology first period and P.E second period, and the gym was on the other side of the building, you had 4 minutes to get to the other side of the building. Of course, the gym and pool had gender-separate locker rooms with showers.
In my new school, there were about 5 classes of about 42 students for each year. The classes were identified by a number (I was in Class 5, or “Go-kumi,” or 3-5). The students stayed in the same (numbered) classroom while the teachers came to you. And when I say the students stayed in the same classroom, I mean it. Every single one of the students, from the kid who had very recently been mainstreamed from the Special Ed program in a neighboring school, to the kid who’d later go to Kyoto University and major in physics (and also get a master’s in nuclear physics from the same school), would take the exact same classes in the exact same group.
We went to the music room for music, we went to the science lab when we had science, and we went to the gym for P.E. P.E. was interesting because we had to change for it, but there were no locker rooms, so you changed in the classroom. Classes 1 and 2 had P.E. together, and Classes 3 and 4 had P.E. together, and the class was divided into Girls’ P.E. and Boys’ P.E. So for those classes, the boys changed in an odd number classroom and the girls changed in an even number classroom, so no one saw each other.
But I was in Class 5.
To change, each gender more or less shifted to either side of the classroom. I learned quickly that I should wear my P.E. shorts under my skirt every day. The P.E. shorts, called buruma or “bloomers,” were awful. They were basically navy blue panties in a thick synthetic knit. It was like wearing just the bottom half of a leotard. They didn’t have legs, so if you weren’t careful (or sometimes even if you were), you would be showing butt cheek and cellulite (and in my case, stretch marks). They were also very hot, especially in the humid Japanese summers.
To change into your shirt, you pulled the shirt over your head and around your torso, then undid the blouse buttons and pulled it off, without pulling the P.E. shirt up. It took skill to change without flashing bra line, and even more skill to do it without flashing navel. The P.E. shirts themselves were o.k., but they were made of a thick cotton-poly jersey that was hot in summer, especially if you were wearing it under your cotton-poly uniform blouse.
During the cold months, we could wear our long track suits over the whole thing, but when it was warm, we were required to take them off, resulting in 15 year-old girls giving their teachers and classmates (which would, of course, include 15 year-old boys) a full view of cellulite and butt cheek. You really have to wonder about the teachers who made those rules. Most public elementary and junior high schools switched to knee-length shorts and synthetic fiber shirts shortly after I graduated from university. I am happy for today’s kids, but also a bit jealous.