The second term of the Japanese school year started at many elementary and junior high schools in late August. The reason I don't say at all schools is because second term begins in mid-August in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido where I used to live as a child. My niece who currently lives there confirmed this.
When I was a kid, I would always get jealous when seeing news at the end of August covering events, such as resorts bustling with families on the last Sunday of summer break. I remember saying things like, "There are people still enjoying summer vacation. They're so lucky."
In response to those remarks, my mother often responded, "If you don't want to go to school that much, then you don't have to." For a moment I'd believe her and get excited. But when I asked her if she actually meant what she said, she would always reply something like, there are children in the world who can't attend school even though they want to. And in the end I had no choice but to say I'll keep going to school.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if my mother had told me I could take a break if I really didn't want to go.
There were times I felt like taking a day off, though I didn't particularly hate school and I wasn't being bullied. When walking in line with classmates heading to school in the morning, I would suddenly come up with ideas, such as heading in the opposite direction.
If my mother had told me, "You don't have to go today," and I was given a chance to actually walk in the opposite direction from school where would I have gone?
Maybe I would have walked for about an hour to the beach, or visited my favorite museum at a time when it wasn't crowded and looked at fossils and other exhibits as long as I desired.
I might have fallen behind with my studies, but I'm sure that such a day would have become a precious memory for me.
Although having said that, I'm not going to recommend everyone to take a break from school. I still think that you should go if you can. But at the same time, if a child says they want to spend time on their own for a day, I hope their parents would allow them to do so, even if it's just once in a while.
There are lots of things that schools teach you, but that's not all there is to learn. I hope children as well as adults do not forget that there are actually a lot of things you can't learn just by going to school.
(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)