Today we had a fire drill. I’d known about it for a few weeks, since it was on the month’s events schedule, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect since it was my first one in Japan. Lia had told me what they were like at her school so I was somewhat prepared for how different they are from what I was used to in Canada.
My memory of Canadian high school fire drills is a bit of a blur. I seem to recall announcements in the morning to the effect that there would be a drill that day, or perhaps that week, and to be prepared. The alarm would go off at some unspecified time, and everyone would scramble to get outside as quickly as possible. No time to get coats. No time to turn off the lights. Just exit the building as quickly as possible.
We had an announcement about today’s fire drill at the morning meeting. We were told to be ready at 15:00, and that the drill would commence at 15:10. The class schedule was changed to 45-minute lessons—they’re usually 50 minutes long—to accommodate the time needed for the drill.
At 15:00 all the students were in their classes with their homeroom teachers. I’m not sure exactly what happened after that, but the teachers’ room cleared out except for me, two part-time teachers, and the teacher who was stationed there for the drill. At 15:10 the buzzers went off. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to scramble for the athletic ground, but no one was leaving the teachers’ room in a hurry. The part-timers went to look out the windows, and the other teacher attended to his staffroom duties. I tried to ask him what I was supposed to do but our language skills were only sufficient for me to find out that he was going to stay put.
So I left via the most direct route out of the building, and made my way to the ground. As I passed the main classroom wing, I noticed that all of the rooms were empty, with the windows closed, and the lights off. Emergency exits were closed, which is probably a good thing in case of fire. Even though they were aluminum sliding doors with wire mesh-reinforced frosted glass windows.
When I got to the ground, the entire student body was assembled in formation, in their outside shoes, holding their inside slippers. They were being lectured by the teacher in charge of the fire drill. Then they listened to a speech from the Principal, and then one from the guy from the fire department.
And then, after a bit of bowing, it was over, and cleaning period started.
I took a few pictures: the fire trucks parked in the front entraceway, and the assembled students. But in the staffroom confusion, I missed my chance to watch the students file out neatly by class and row. And unfortunately, tonight I don’t have time to post the few photos I did take.
I can sum up the whole experience by paraphrasing one of the teachers I’d talked to earlier in the day. She figured that fire drills in Japan are like demonstration drills whereas in Canada they’re realistic simulations.
At my school they don’t change their shoes – but the cement outside is thoroughly cleaned the morning of the drill…
At the last fire drill in March the fireman gave all the teachers a lecture about how the fire drill should be made more realistic, not all planned like they are now.
And yes, they do file out by class and row.