Just a few days ago we unveiled the new theme for SMA-EX4. We at SILENT MANGA AUDITION® have teamed up with Nestlé Japan to host a very special round, with the themes “EXAM” and “TRIAL”! As cool as that may sound, no doubt many of you will be scratching your heads and asking yourselves, “Why EXAM?” or “What does Nestlé have to do with taking exams?”… In order to aid you in facing this “TRIAL”, we the SMAC! editorial team have decided to start this new series of articles to help you gain a better understanding of what we’re looking for. With this goal in mind, we invite you to join us here at the… “EX4 Cram School” We sincerely hope this article series will help you create your amazing manga! Manga that will warm our hearts with stories of people facing the various trials that life throws at them! With that in mind, I’d like to start this series by explaining the significance of ‘Taking exams’ for people of Japan.
“Juken”In Japanese the word ‘Juken’ is a verb that basically means ‘to take an examination’. However, when Japanese people use the word ‘Juken’ as a noun, it’s generally to indicate the act of ‘taking an entrance examination for school or university’. For Japanese people, the word ‘juken’ is a very highly regarded one. Students aspiring to enter a prestigious school or university will enroll in special courses to improve their chances and, should they pass their entrance examination, will then go on to find themselves entering a whole new field of higher education. Students with particularly high grades will also take part in volunteer work or extracurricular activities in order to a procure a specific ‘recommendation’ from the placements they participated in. (What’s surprising is that these students don’t undertake such activities because they want to, but because having such recommendations will help them in their ‘juken’ or entrance examination…!) The influence of ‘juken’ isn’t just prevalent in school. Many students enroll in extra classes after school and study hard at cram schools just so they can gain an edge over the competition (like this series!) Among such institutions are special ‘Prep schools’ which exist solely for the purpose of getting students through the entrance examination process successfully. (Of interesting note, students who fail the entrance examination and return to these schools are likened to samurai who have no master to serve and are called “Ronin”!) Furthermore, at the end of the fiscal year in Japan (January – March), the entire nation becomes embroiled in what is also ‘Entrance Exam season’. During this period, T.V. commercials showing support for exam candidates are heavily broadcasted, with many news programs showing special reports focusing on entrance examinations. A walk outside will quickly yield discoveries of stores selling ‘Exam candidate support goods’ in the way of cleverly named food products or other useful items. In short, the whole nation goes into ‘Exam’ festival mode! But why do Japanese people place so much importance on entrance examinations? Well, if we dig deep, the reasons are rather complex. To summarize it simply, ‘entering a prestigious school or university is a life changing event’. Japanese companies still hold to the principle of ‘life-time employment’ and actively hire fresh graduates on the premise of them never needing to look for another job again. Whereas switching companies for the sake of furthering one’s career is a common practice in places like Europe and the Americas, Japanese people who follow that example are very much in the minority with most people still opting for a lifelong partnership with their employers. When searching for new recruits, the first thing that many companies look out for, is people who are young, yet mature and show promise… In other words, graduates fresh out of university. Since Japan is a society built on the foundations of seniority, just being able to say you’ve graduated from university is proof that you’ve reached adulthood and have acquired a fundamental level of economic understanding and intellect. As such, companies clamor to recruit such talent, giving them a place to spend the remainder of their professional lives. …At least, that’s how things worked in the Japan of old. Of course, such feudal, inflexible ways of hiring are a things of the past but, with the employment climate being what it is, the majority of young Japanese students who eagerly to display their abilities, still lay it all on the line when preparing for an entrance examination. Consequently, those people who are around such candidates also feel a deep urge to earnestly support, and encourage them any way they can. In Japanese manga and anime, where there is a school, there will always be ‘juken’. Now that you have a deeper understanding of Japan’s educational culture, you may find yourself noticing new and interesting things upon revisiting such works! Alternatively, if you find yourself wanting to learn more about Japanese ‘juken’, why not check out such works as Norifusa Mita’s ‘Dragon Zakura’, Shiho Takase’s ‘Nigatsu no Shōsha’, or Ken Akamatsu’s ‘Love Hina’? All these titles revolve around entrance examinations, so I definitely recommend checking them out! At first glance, ‘Entrance Exam season’ may appear to be a joyous festival of sorts but, beneath the surface, there are a great many young students who are hidden away studying with every ounce of strength they can muster, just for a chance at attaining career glory. It’s a time of year where the whole community does their bit to encourage those young students overcome this difficult trial… And with that, a bell rings loudly throughout the campus, bringing the first installment of EX4 Cram School to a close! We really hope this first chapter has given you all a deeper understanding of ‘Juken’ and what it means to the people of Japan! As promised, this will be a regular series, where we put the theme under our ‘editorial scalpel’ every fortnight. We really hope each installment proves helpful in enabling YOU the creator to grasp the essence of this special round! See you all again in two weeks, but more importantly, be sure to click on the banner below to join this special round and show us what you’ve got! Remember, “Together, we’ll get there!”
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