My first trip to Japan was to spend a year in the Rotary Youth Exchange program at a high school in Osaka. The school hosting me was Ogimachi Senior High, which closed its old campus earlier this year in order to prepare for a 2010 merger with Konohana Sogo Senior High. (The two schools will share a new campus near Nishi-Kujo for the next two years.)
Ogimachi was founded in 1921 as a girls’ high school in the Ogimachi district of northern Osaka, just east of Umeda. After the school was destroyed by American bombers in 1945, it wandered around nomad-like to temporary facilities in Temma and Horikawa before getting a new dedicated facility in Dojima, west of Umeda, in 1948. It became co-educational at that time by swapping students with Osaka Senior High School.
The school moved to a new campus on Nakanoshima (between the Rihga Royal Hotel and the science museum) in 1957, and was still located there when I was a student. By that time, the place was basically falling apart: we could peel the tiles from the floor. It was miserably hot in the summer, when only the computer room and language learning lab had air conditioning, and miserably cold in the winter, when we had to hurriedly warm our hands over a gas heater between classes just to keep holding our pencils for the next hour.
As the state of repair might indicate, Ogimachi was not a very high-grade school. I was in the “humanities course,” which sort of resembled what Americans would call a magnet program, but even the kids in that course were lower-middle-class at best and didn’t have particularly high academic or career aspirations. This shattered many of my preconceptions about Japanese education, since I had always assumed (in my teenaged intellectual shell) that they had high levels of ambition in order to put up with the rigmarole of crazy exams.
I try to keep in touch with classmates when I can, and had a chance to meet many of them again at a reunion a couple of years ago. (This was the trip during which I photographed Mount Fuji from the plane.) They were all basically shocked to hear that I was working in Japan, and even moreso to hear that I was working at a law firm in Tokyo. Nearly a decade since we went to school together, here’s where they are:
- Two, who I always considered to be “goofy,” are working as salesmen at a pharmaceutical company in Osaka (I went out drinking with them when they visited Tokyo for a trade show). They were into fishing when we went to school together, but have since switched hobbies to motorcycles.
- One is a JR conductor. At our reunion people were egging him to recite announcements for various trains (e.g. “Do the Yamatoji Rapid Service!”)
- One, who I always considered to be the most intelligent (a Chinese kid from Shanghai who spoke perfect English in addition to Japanese and Chinese dialects), sells AU phones in Shinsaibashi.
- One very otaku-ish girl, who was in the art club and kendo club, is now apparently in the Self-Defense Forces. (I had a crush on her back then and I think the SDF bit has made it stronger.)
- The Judo Nazi, who I wrote about in my very first post at Mutantfrog, has disappeared and nobody seems to know what happened to him.
- My two best friends from the school are working as a social worker and a truck driver.
Anyway, it saddens me to know that one of the key institutions which introduced me to Japan will soon be no more. It saddens me even more to know that the post-merger school will have one of the most obnoxious names ever conceived for a school: “Saku Ya Kono Hana Senior High” (咲くやこの花高等学校).
Oh well, there goes what little alumni pride I had. At least I can still say I went to Carnage Middle School (albeit for about six months).