( dpa )- The Japanese archipelago is plunged into a state of nail-biting tension at this time of year when the exam hell starts in earnest for school-age youths.
" Juku " cram school pupils scream with their fists in the air in a bid to muster up the determination required by modern samurais to win the battle of the entrance examinations.
Sashes worn on the head with the rising-sun motifs attest to their desire to pass the admission tests.
Christmas or New Year's holidays with their families were most likely replaced by continuous cramming at private, after-school programmes for school entrants. Their New Year dawned with the roar of their fighting spirits.
The best gifts they received for Christmas were probably lucky charms with blessings from a famous shrine worshipping a Shinto god of education to bestow good results in the exams on them.
The New Year's holidays were probably spent touring numerous Shinto shrines known to help worshippers pass the tests.
Families must watch their tongues around the test-taking candidates and try not to utter the words "to slide, to slip or to fall" which could also mean to fail the tests in Japanese.
Parents across Japan will soon be making deep-fried pork cutlets because the Japanese word Ton- katsu rhymes with victory ( Katsu in Japanese).
To send their best wishes, food manufacturers are marketing special victory packages of snacks and instant noodles geared towards Japanese youth from elementary-school age to university teenagers who spend many a sleepless night before the exams start in mid-January, reports said.
This year, many school applicants flocked to an orangutang cage at a Tokyo zoo to learn from the apes who never fall from a tree, according to a local newspaper.
While examinees are scrounging for every bit of luck they can possibly find to pass their tests, schools are faced with a severe battle themselves.
As Japan has been suffering from a declining population of 18 years and younger, educational institutions, particularly universities, are forced to fight for pupils.
Japan has entered the era of university entrance for all, where all high school graduates can find a university that accepts them.
Prestigious schools may be relieved, but less popular universities must entice applicants to their institutions in a bid to keep their businesses going.
University principals also attend cram schools to become powerful educational leaders where they learn to promote their schools and how to establish attractive curricula to win the hearts of Japan's ambitious youngsters.