CIAO guys, Enrico here!
In Italy, we have a proverb… “exams never end”. Each of us face countless tests throughout our lives. From deciding on a restaurant for a first date to taking a driving exam, tests are a part of everyday life. Though they may seem insurmountable at times, with enough study and experience, any challenge can be overcome. But even the most studious of us will struggle at some point, which makes the support of others paramount to our success!
This week’s Cram School article will look at how we face examinations, especially in Japan with the help and support of those around us.
We have already learned how examinations are important in Japanese society, and the methods of help on offer for those going though these life changing moments. Examples include a caring Mother preparing a fortifying meal for her child, or more superstitiously, good luck gifts such as gifting a “Kit Kat” to represent the Japanese phrase “KITTO KATSU” (surely win).
But this tasty lucky charm isn’t the only way to show your support to Japanese students during the exam period, let’s take a look at some examples:
moggo, “Daruma” (flickr)
A Daruma doll (達磨, daruma) is a wide eyed, fierce looking character used to ward off evil sprits and demons, while at the same time bring good luck. Though considered a toy by some, the Daruma doll is a good luck charm rich in Zen and Buddhist symbolism. A talisman of good luck, these ancient dolls are gifted with blank eyes – when a goal or exam is established, the gift receiver will paint in one eye and when the goal is accomplished, the second eye will be painted in.
A popular gift for students about to embark on those life changing events!
One of the most classic additions to a student’s exam desk is a plush octopus. But why?
The Japanese word for octopus is “Tako”, but when you literally translate the word “octopus” into katakana, we get “okutopasu” （オクとパス).
By separating the syllables into three, i.e. “oku to pasu”, we have a Japanese phrase meaning “if you place it, you pass”. It is thanks to this “auspicious phrase” that the octopus became a very popular lucky charm for students, along with the perfect gift for people about to take examinations.
KIT KAT… SAKURA!
As previously mentioned in Chris’s tasty Cram School article, the Japanese “Kit Kat” comes in many flavors, with one particular variety that is closely linked to passing exams… the Cherry!
The Japanese school year begins in April, just as the cherry blossoms briefly open up to the world. With the phrase “Sakura Saku” (The cherry trees will bloom), students up and down the country find out if all the hard work they applied to the entrance exam will pay off by finding out if they were accepted into their preferred school. Indeed, this very phrase is emblazoned on the envelope of this portentous memorandum that is both feared and eagerly awaited!
As a result, Nestlé created this special flavor of “Kit Kat” to symbolize this life changing moment. With an added postcard with each pack, with the words “KITTO, SAKURA SAKU” (surely the cherry trees will bloom), those crispy treats have become synonymous with passing exams.
Yuya Tamai – 2014-02-02 15.50.52 (Flickr)
A sumptuous bowl of rice topped with a deep-fried pork cutlet, egg and vegetables. Japanese people believe that if you eat katsudon the night before your important day, it you will definitely “win” (katsu, 勝 つ) the day!
The tradition of eating katsudon before your important day exists to this day, with many Japanese fast food restaurants offering a limited edition Katsudon menu around exam season. For example, the famous Japanese curry chain “Coco Ichi” creates a limited-edition Katsu curry rice menu during the admission exams season, from the end of January to the end of March.
…and in the rest of the world?
We at SMAC! Team have many discussions about lucky items used in our respective countries, with the most common being lucky hare or rabbit “foot”… obviously fake! With this in mind, I’ve been pondering the great folk traditions of Italy and I remembered this:
Cornicello (the Neapolitan Horn)!
According to tradition this particular amulet, in the form of a “peperoncino” or hot chili pepper is used to keep away the evil eye, while also helping fertility and virility. I’m not sure that this lucky charm is necessarily tied to exams, but I have no doubt that the students of Naples use this charm to help each other through daily school tests!
Do you have any good luck traditions in your country? What forms of “good luck” do you receive on the eve of exams or trials? Let us know by telling your story in a silent manga!
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