Will it? Won’t it? School revisited.

On the 20th. of December I went, along with 3 other people, to visit  a school in the neighboring municipality which is an alternative if our school is merged with another school in our district. It is difficult to convey the worry in the faces of the other people. There were originally 6 families that were interested in going on a visit. 2 of the families almost immediately opted out. They didn’t want to make waves, were told that by going to see the school it would become difficult to live in the village, etc. One of the families opted out at the last moment because they suddenly got sick, although not sick enough to stop them from coming to tell us they were sick.  Of the 3 families that opted out 2 families actually live in the district of the school we were going to visit. They both have rented houses in that area because they have had problems with their in laws, with whom they had lived. Although they  have moved out of this village their children have continued to attend this village school, in order to not disturb the “wa”, the peace. What will happen if the school merger goes through is those children will have close to an hour commute in order to preserve the wa, where otherwise they could go to the school 15 minutes away in the district they live.

The reluctance  is somewhat understandable considering the level of vitriol with in the village and the inter-village…hostility is probably the best word. Simply by going to see, visit, the school in the neighboring area is seen as an act of betrayal. Technically it is no longer the “village” next door since last year it merged with Nara city. It is now a part of Nara. I was talking with an older woman from a portion of the former village of Tsuge, now Nara city, Tsuge “cho”, or municipality. I was asking why Shimofukawa and Kamifukawa, two adjacent areas, “shimo” means lower and “kami” means upper, don’t get along with the area called Oogi. If you drive from my house to Kamifukawa it takes 3 minutes, to Shimofukawa 4 minutes and to Oogi 5 minutes. They are portions of the same “cho”, literally next to each other. The story on why Oogi and the “fukawas” don’t get along is that some hundreds of years ago Oogi asked Shimofukawa  to safe guard a relic from a local shrine since a flood was expected. It seems Shimofukawa didn’t return the relic after the flood and since then there has been bad blood; we are talking at the level that the people who introduce folks for possible marriages won’t introduce people from the other village to the opposing village. Still waters run deep.

So, enter the school merger. It is within this backdrop people are reacting/acting.

Our visit to the school went strange. The school building itself is really nice. The library has one glass wall, 3 stories tall. There is a planetarium in the dedicated science room. All in all a clean, airy, bright school. We got there, went into the Principal’s office and that is where the strangeness started. She immediately said we probably weren’t eligible to go to her school. We are allowed, we stated. She settled into uncomfortable banter, occasionally throwing out that she is uncomfortable talking about “complicated” things, as if her contorted posture didn’t already convey that.

The state of the merger.

The local prefectural representative has made himself available to the group that is opposing the merger. A convenient thing for him since the local newspaper is also sending out a reporter to cover the story, free publicity perhaps. The latest slant is that the National Ministry of Education has changed their thinking on small village school mergers. They have discovered that when the mergers proceed the parts of the village where the schools disappear atrophy. It isn’t simply a discussion of schools closing. In the case of our area the local post office and farmers cooperative are also slated to close along with the school.

During the last of the innumerable meetings the village mayor was asked if there was any chance to reverse the merger. Absolutely not. The head of the education department for the village was asked what the benefits of merging would be.  His reply was that dodge ball would be more fun since there could be more children on each team. I am not joking. I think it is this kind of dismissive answer that has most fueled the opposition to the merger. That and a festering 40 year old resentment over the last merger, in that case the one that made the current village out of 3 smaller villages.  Of course this isn’t the first time the benefits question has come up.  The original reason was of course cost. After a cost analysis it turned out it is actually going to cost more to merge. The village can’t fire teachers it has hired, and can’t assign them to another area outside of the village. The teachers hired by the prefectural board can be sent to other schools but there are enough teachers within the village that in effect there won’t be actual savings. I am very interested in seeing how the new push, really a belated Plan B, unfolds.

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