This month's presentation was about Brazil. The woman presenting taught some simple greetings in Portuguese, demonstrating with another Brazilian woman in attendance. The Japanese attendees (and possibly the Chinese ones as well) were shocked at the sudden kissy kissy motions that went along with the greeting. Next we all played a round of Fruit Basket using Portuguese numbers as an ice breaker.
She gave a talk about what school and family life is like in Brazil. I wanted to translate for the three exchange students who had come, but she literally talked nonstop, so I didn't have a chance. The aspect of the Brazilian school system that aroused the most interest (and horror) from the Japanese people was that students can flunk.
In Japan, it is practically impossible to flunk...that is, to be held back a grade. No matter how poorly a student does in school, the student is passed on to the next grade with everyone else. (At least, that's how it goes for mandatory education, which is through 9th grade. I've never seen a student actually flunk a grade in high school, either, though some students wind up ineligible to graduate.) When the Japanese people heard that Brazilian students have to take a test at the end of every school year starting in first grade and have to achieve at minimum a certain number of points in the 60-80 range (depending on the school) or else repeat the grade, they were aghast. ...Considering how many Japanese students squeak by with scores considerably less than 50%, sometimes as low as 25%, I can see why this could be a chilling concept.
At the end of the meeting, I was invited to attend a kyougen performance at a shrine in town. Kyougen is a traditional style of comedic play that was used between serious Nou (Noh) performances to lighten the mood.
Before the kyougen started, there were some other entertainers, such as traditional dancers and stand-up comedians. The three exchange students also came to watch, and the four of us sat together (in the front row) so that I could translate. The comedians couldn't help but notice the group of foreigners right in front of them, so they talked to us a little as part of their act. At one point, they asked, "Have you ever done karaoke?" I translated, and the students shook their heads. The comedians then continued, "Oh, that's right, only Japanese people do karaoke." ... @_@ The funniest part of the act was when one of the pair pretended to know sign language. He started with reasonable gestures, but then partway through would switch to something ridiculous, such as sticking his fingers up his nose. (The Kansai style of comedy, for anyone unfamiliar with it, is for one partner to do and say outrageous things while the other "straight man" partner stands there and calls him an idiot, sometimes bopping him for his antics.)
Anyway, it eventually got to the kyougen part of the entertainment. I did my best to translate, but the archaic language is equivalent to Shakespearean English and is thus quite hard to follow. I managed to get the general idea, at least. The picture is from the first of the two plays. The boy actor, we were told later, is a second grader. We were all quite impressed by his performance.