4 Seasons At An All-Girls School: Expectation VS Reality
What images come to your mind when you hear the phrase “girls’ school”?
Perhaps the fragrance of shampoo wafting through the classroom, together with the delicate laughter of elegant girls as they take dainty bites out of their bento boxes. Such stereotypical scenes are always in series like “Maria-sama ga Miteru”, “Maria Holic”, “Yuru Yuri” and “K-On!”, typical anime that depict girls and their everyday lives at an all-female school.
They always have a repertoire of female characters from the prime and demure to the airhead to the testy “tsundere”. They blend together into a motley crew as they work hard at their club activities, develop crushes on their schoolmate and occasionally laze around. Their lives and friendship are the sugar-dusted stories of youth.
But this is not reality. Girls’ schools in real life are not the dreamlands they are in anime. I say this with the certainty of someone who went to an all-girls school for 10 years, from middle school to university. Without the presence of boys, there is no pressure to put on airs or fuss over appearances. I’m going to draw on my experiences in middle school and high school to expose the reality of Japanese school girls, according to each of the four seasons.
Spring marks the beginning of a new school term; the breeze gently ruffles skirts and twintails while cherry blossoms gracefully float down from trees. The atmosphere is charged with excitement as students check the class roster and reunite with friends. It’s supposed to be a season of fresh starts that sends hearts aflutter…but unfortunately, that’s not the case in an actual girls’ school.
The girls don’t carry their hopes and dreams to school, but tissue boxes to fight the hay fever. You know school has truly begun when the classroom reverberates with the pig-like snorts of people blowing their noses as they groggily stuff them with tissues. It sounds like a ridiculous scene, but there’s nothing shocking about it at a girls’ school. On the contrary, they dole out tissues and sympathy about their friends’ hay fever. It’s actually a moving show of goodwill among girls.
Another common spring scene is the plucking of finger hair. The warm rays of sunlight filters through the crevices in the curtain, accompanied by the gentle wind that softly caresses the skin. That beautiful, pleasant spring weather sends students straight to sleep. But if you look around the classroom, there are also girls who sit with a serious expression as their fingers move suspiciously. Their gaze is affixed not to the blackboard but their fingertips on the table. Look closer, and you’ll find them daintily plucking out the hair on their fingers one at a time with tweezers. The fleeting pain with each hair removed makes them unexpectedly devoted to this small effort and keeps the sleepiness away. And then the bell rings, and they return to their senses with a fresh and bare notebook.
Summer evokes a sultry image of the pitter-patter in chests under the uniform and hair clinging to the nape of the neck with sweat. There’s a wild sense of abandon in that effortlessly sexy ambience. Except that in a girls’ school, it’s mostly smelly. As soon as it’s time for P.E., the intense anti-tanning ritual begins and every girl walks out sticky with sunscreen from head to toe. Back in the classroom, the air is pungent with the stench of sweat and deodorant. The unlucky teacher can only complain about the smell as he opens the window with a grim expression; it’s the kind ones who don’t say a word.
P.E. lessons also send the students starving, so at lunchtime they open their bento boxes and silently shovel the contents into their mouths with intense concentration. Once that’s over, they resume the dirty jokes they were laughing about and play tag in the corridors until they get caught by angry teachers.
Before summer vacation can begin, the students must first overcome the burden of clearing their lockers. Most of them plan ahead to clean up, but there are always exceptions. The ones with untidy lockers like to wait until the last possible day to cart everything home in one messy haul. It’s as if a tornado tore their lockers apart—it is an excavation of printed scraps, half-eaten snacks crusted with mold, shoes with missing partners, among an assortment of foul-smelling articles.
By the way, the swishing of skirts around the knees isn’t an act of seduction. It’s just how girls at an all-girls school gather wind between their legs to cool down.
With fall comes one of the most important events of the year: the sports festival, a showcase of school girls at their cutest—bouncing up and down at the bread-snatching race, adorably running in earnest at the baton relay. In truth, it’s not the happy and harmonious affair you’re imagining.
At my school, tug-of-war was the most popular event. Separated by the school year, teams line up opposite each other holding a rope by its ends. Bodies glued together, they grab the rope and pulled, each member’s back pressed into the chest of the girl behind. “That’s what I wanted to hear!” is what you might think, but at a girls’ school it doesn’t just stop there. During battle the contenders let their battle cries rip at full roar, growling with gritted teeth as they reel in the rope with the intensity of a pro. The weaker team refuses to give in, stubbornly clinging on in an awkward position as they get dragged into their inevitable loss. We then have students getting taken to the infirmary with bleeding arms and knees—such is the familiar sight of sports day. It’s the girls’ school style to go all out in a fight in both the competition and cheering.
Some say the real joy of winter is “moe-sode”—long sleeves that adorably cover a school girl’s hands. Hands peeping out of thick sweater sleeves to tug on their friends’ blazer, cupping a hot drink to warm their hands—it’s said to triple a girl’s cuteness. But at an all-girls’ school, it’s just the hairiness that triples in volume. It becomes seriously cold in December, so students start wearing tights and stop caring about whatever grows underneath.
Two kinds of girls are revealed during this season: the ones who are still shy enough to shave on days with P.E., and the ones who shamelessly flaunt their winter hair. Touch the top of their tights, and you’ll be met with a prickly surface. Since they have no worry about hair being seen, they change clothes with reckless abandon. It’s exactly this type of girls who loiter the classrooms and corridors in their bra. On top of that, some of them take advantage of the sweat-free winter season to wear the same tights and shoes again the next day. It’s also the season to spot girls who haven’t washed their indoor shoes once since April and plod around with black, worn out shoes. Unexpectedly, winter at a girls’ school is even more unsanitary than than summer.
Winter vacation arrives and so begins the non-stop eating from Christmas to the New Year. While watching comedy shows in a warm room, the students spend three weeks idling around and growing a belly. Vacation ends, and they return to school in uniforms that became tighter, wearing their dirty indoor shoes and skirts hastily fastened with safety pins. The new year has arrived, and it is time for the first laugh of the year.
Translated by Cheryl
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