Teaching In Socks

October 29, 2008, 5:10 pm
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This Friday, it has been mandated by the powers that be (management) that I teach a complimentary, thirty minute, children’s Halloween class. Despite my initial resistance to the thought of doing extra work, I’m looking forward to this. Kids plus costumes is generally an equation for spirited fun, and when “gross-out tactics” are not only permissible but encouraged, the degree of difficulty goes down and the quotient for awesomeness increases exponentially.

That said, I’m trying to keep my expectations low. The aim of the class is to attract new students to the school (hence the “complimentary”) but my personal goal is to avoid a situation that lands my name or picture on the news, attached to the headline ” Massive Japan Halloween Folly!”.

This may sound a bit pessimistic, but when children are involved it’s imperative to consider every possible scenario and to think on your feet. In some corners of the planet kids have been known to eat a light bulbs with absolutely no warning or provocation.

This risk will no dissuade me form taking pleasure in being the the harbinger of Halloween awesomeness to Ako (I know, I used awesome twice already). Japan is still an emerging market in the Halloween economy. My older students say it gained popularity withing the last ten to fifteen years, but they still haven’t entirely embraced the holiday. Presumably, and by presumably I mean what the crooked scenario I created in my mind with no factual basis to it, it appears a portion of the country was looking for another  reason to wear costumes and arrange decorations. They looked around, much like the Pilgrims looked for America, and immediately started grabbing orange marigolds, black origami paper and silly bodysuits.

my other costume

my other costume

Surprisingly though, it appears the confectionery industry–really the pay off of the whole holiday–still hasn’t gotten their act together. Their delegation must be shivering in a deep sugar fix somewhere because they haveailed to seize this obvious opportunity. In America, Halloween in like candy’s Christmas. In Japan, while many stores are equipped with small displays totting Disney, Halloween themed treats, the selection is vastly underwhelming; especially when viewed proportionally to the costume and decorating options offered.

I believe this a result of the absence of trick or treating. For reasons unknown to me, and possibly having to do with a variety of Japanese social moires, the tradition of  going from house to house to collect free candy in exchange for a barrage of fabulously lame jokes hasn’t spread like wildfire. This saddens me. A world devoid of trick or treating robs these children of a valuable learning opportunity.

These children will never learn about MUNG or razorblades in apples. Proper retribution for people who give out dimes instead of candy. How do you expect a child to develop any appreciation for humor when they don’t know what a vampires favorite fruit is? (nectarine) What do you expect them to understand the deep metaphysical mechanisms of society when they don’t know what a ghost’s favorite fruit is? (boo berries!) or why mummies have trouble making friends? (They’re soooo wrapped up in themselves).

Thus, it is left to me to deliever this vital knowledge to the young and impressionable minds of Japan. Which ultimately, fufills the vision and dream that I had when I took this job–that one day, in ruraly Japan, I would change the world while dressed in a makeshift Harry Potter costume.

“dorkus facimus!”

Constructive Creativity

During teacher training, someone will undoubtedly bring up a situation highlighting how it’s difficult for our students to be creative. The trainer will say, “great question!” then we’ll delve our way into a spontaneous brainstorming session on how to create appropriate creativity channels, provide guidelines, and encouragement so that during a role-play, or in response to a general question the class isn’t stuck with three minutes of dead air while a student tries conjure up what he could possibly buy at a supermarket.

This training exercise can be quite helpful. There are few things more awkward than waiting three minutes for someone to say,”bananas” or “cereal” (really in any situation, not just the classroom). However, sometimes the tone of how this issues is approached and handled assumes there is a national “creativity deficit” in Japan.

I understand that Japanese culture is often more concerned about the group versus the individual, and conformity has it’s place social interactions, but I think in this case the “cultural sensitivity” perspective is taken too far. Japan may have slightly different customs, but Japanese people are still self-aware individuals, who watch television and live in the information age.

To verify my point, I fail to see how a country that can produce a movie like “Tokyo Gore Police”, is lacking in creative spark. Here, is a movie about mutants who can manifest lethal weapons from their own flesh wounds–and the Special Police force that hunts them down. Have we seen this movie in America before? France, you cinematic weirdos, you have anything like this?

dont worry mom, I havent seen this movie.

don't worry mom, I haven't seen this movie.

Let’s not forget this is also the country that brought us Voltron, Transformers, electronic pets, and every other shocking game show tidbit you can imagine.

While I would agree that there are individual cases where students lack a bit of imagination, I think the primary reason thsse long pauses arise,  is that when asking a student to be creative in English, I am asking them to use both sides of their brain simultaneously. Lnagauge and fantasy don’t originate from the same hemispheres. By asking a student to put a language pattern into their own spontaneous hypothetical situation I might as well be asking them to do interpetive math.

“Here are some numbers and functions. Scatter them wildly according to how this Coltrane Solo makes you feel, but make sure it follows a percievable, object-based function.”

Go ahead, be crazy and sane at the same time, try it.

I concede using both sides of the brain when learning a language is clearly an essential part of attaining fluency. Let’s not confuse it for some national cultural abnormaility, doing so would be a bit crass. Complications with total brain usage are not limited to a specific nationality, we’re all human

The other day at my Japanese lesson I was asked to pratice and langauge pattern and come up with some questions to find out what kinds of an object my teacher likes. Basic stuff, “what kind of music do you like?”, “What kind of food do you like?”

Under pressure, and with a limited vocabulary, on the fourth go-around I asked, “What kind of tigers do you like?”

Shocked, she fired back in english, “what kinds of tigers are there?”

“Shiroi (meaning white) and….” I paused, “How do you say ‘regular’ in Japanese?”

Sometimes I’m surprised more heads don’t explode in my classroom.

Severe Delays
October 20, 2008, 1:19 pm
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Last week, I attempted to take advantage of the holiday weekend and a JR West ticket discount by day-tripping to Nara. For those of you unfamiliar with Japanography, Nara is an ancient capital city of Japan (710 A.D.), neighboring Kyoto, and just beyond Osaka. Nara is mostly famous for it’s wealth of beautiful temples and the wild, yet tame deer that populate the city’s central park. I really wanted to feed some cheerios to deer, i feel this is an essential element to my Japan photo-album.

Nara is about three hours from Ako by train, so this was a bit of a stretch for a one-day trip. Also, since it was a holiday, the trains were a bit crowded. However, I was willing to put up with the semi-rigorous travel involved because my expectations for badass deer hijinxs were building to a crescendo. I partially blame “Tommy Boy” for this.

The train got as far as Kobe, before we started to slow down, and eventually stopping. After a few minutes,the conductor announced over the intercom that not one, but two people had thrown themselves in front of trains in separate incidents ahead of us on the line. He continued that we would be waiting at a standstill until the scene had been cleaned up.

We waited for an hour before resuming on to Osaka. By the time the train reached Osaka, where I had to transfer, my motivation for riding another train had vanished and I decided to spend the day in Osaka instead, which wasn’t a terrible consolation by any means.

I did spend a good portion of the rest of the day wondering about what had occurred earlier in the train. Following the announcement, there wasn’t a somber mood the train or even the hint of an air of compassion. I admit, this response peaked my interested in how the Japanese process these incidents.

I think it’s widely understood amongst foreigners, that Japan–like many other civilized cultures–has a history of acceptance towards “honorable suicides”. I suppose it was my initial perception, and the perception of many other foreigners, that the current trend of train/gas suicides is an extension of this. Upon further examination, while I think there may be a thread between the two, the correlation is nowhere near as strong as many of us think.

These train incidents are quite different. This is not considered an “honorable” method for executing such a purpose. The families of the victim are charged a substantial fee by the train operator to compensate for lost fares during the delay. In a society obsessed with punctuality, some see train jumpers as hoping to exact some revenge upon the society that has forced them to this decision. Also, They are increasingly common (I couldn’t locate actual specific statistics that I would feel comfortable citing) but it’s safe to say that the average Japanese commuter has encountered several delays of this variety.

Personally, I get the impression the impression that these incidents are seen as a side effect the countries economic success. It’s part of the balance of being an economic superpower and as such is treated much like the weather. If you want to live in a planet with a sky, sometimes that sky will have to rain. You can’t do much to change it, and thus there is no sense in complaining about it too much.

I don’t want to give off the impression that they take a heartless approach to this. Clearly, is is a problem they want to solve and it’s documented that Japanese society is starting to rethink and readjust the amount of pressure and stress it places on it’s constituents. Such a massive transformation is difficult for a country where many social ethics can be traced back to the virtues needed for a rice based agriculture. Growing rice is a grueling process, and requires hard work a dedication for success. This same ethic has been brought into the work place.

However, a balance must be found and Japan is aware of that. In some instances overtime is being reduced and the school week and study practices are being reforming to lighter, more manageable loads. I believe and hope this will help address the problem and reduce the frequency of this type of train delay.

And now, since it’s nearly impossible to bring this back to a high note via writing, I will end this one with some more Japanese television:

Kobe Port
October 16, 2008, 5:37 pm
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Kobe Port

Kobe Port

Authoritarian Beverages
October 16, 2008, 5:19 pm
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Not only will they MAKE you refresh, they are a superior breed of beverage.

that's how you advertise

that's how you advertise

someone get these beverages some uniforms.

Power to the People-san
October 15, 2008, 6:31 pm
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It’s time to give the people what they want.

I realize the past week has been a little light in regards to posts.  Some of you have grown a bit testy as a result and for this I apologize.

Between an absence of embarrassing moments on a cultural front (normal embarrassing stuff is still intact) and devoting a majority of my quality time to character flash cards, I haven’t had much to write about.  However, I will try to make amends this week.

Let’s commence with a game I like to call “What’s on my Japanese Television Right Now”  Idiot Box edition; “Let’s see what’s on my television at 11pm on a Wednesday”.

Channel 3: During normal hours this is NHK news. Actually, I think NHK is the name of the channel. Clearly I’m still getting my media bearings. NHK, from what I can tell is the central channel in Japan. This is where what Republicans would call MSM (main-stream-media) lives in Japan.

Currently, we are in after-hours, slightly beyond prime time. What does the media beacon bless us with at this hour? A very inspiring weight-loss infomercial!

After a few minutes into this program, here are my main observations:

1. The background music so far has consisted of Aretha Franklin (odd choice for a weight-loss program) and Avril Lavigne (kill me).

2. There is home video, spliced with shots of women on beaches in bikinis, which is then then interspersed with footage of thousands of people working out in giant, festival/concert surrounding. The message I’m getting is weight-loss = brainwash = fun. This is a strong marketing message.  Millions of Yen will be made on this alone.

3. Product! there you are, finally. DVDS! It appears they are shilling a Billy Blane “Tai-bo” style fitness program, only they all wear sequined belts, here it is.

Coincidently, the big diet craze in Japan right now is the “banana diet” (I know the name is almost too ripe for parody). This consist of consuming 2 Bananas and water for breakfast, and nothing else.  Then the rest of the day you can eat whatever you want and continue to be lazy. I’d love ot see the science behind this.

So far, I think the  I don’t think Japan is losing weight. but this does explain why my supermarket has been out of bananas for the past month. No joke, I was really confused about the status of banana import market, also, this diet is bananas! (there, I said it)

Channel 4: I’m not sure what’s going on here. There are a several young male comedians lined up as if they are part of a panel…there appears to be some contest amongst scantily clad young women they are currently introducing to the audience.  I think this is called “Midnight Cinderella”….ah it’s the “Wednesday Midnight Variety Show” (on a little early aren’t we?) These women are mild celebrities of some sort (one girl was in a Fanta commercial!) and they are competing against each other in a beauty contest style game.

The host, another comedian, is wearing silver shoes! (that’s bananas!) I could use some silver shoes. They are in the “talk about your background” portion of the pageant. This one girl has 11 siblings! everyone is impressed. Hmmmm, everything seems to be going swimmingly for the moment, but let’s not forget this is a Japanese game show; I predict there will be some humiliation in the near future. We’ll come back to this….

Channel 6: Kellog’s Commercial:  A woman has a sloth attached to her abdomen. The sloth is really dragging her down. from behind a building a giant box of Special K appears. She eats the Special K and the sloth has vanished. Apparently, the only way to fix parasite sloths attached to your abdomen is with Special K. That’s right, Special K is so revolting that it will make a bleeping sloth move.

Actual Programming: News! People are angry about some sort of apartment zoning. A collection of elderly people are sitting across the table from each other.  They are wearing vaious sashes and have various degrees of grumpiness on their faces. The lesson here is that Zoning law changes are never favorable the elderly, not even in Japan.

In other news, a Panda was delivered to Japan today. It got a special plane and giant welcoming party on the tarmac (bleeping bananas!). People are happy, but the panda looks as grumpy as an old person from the apartment zoning meeting. This Panda looks a little heavy, maybe could use some sort of dietary regiment involving bananas.

Channel 8: This program is called Real Venus. Right now, they are following a famous Japanese figure skater around through he daily routine. There is an inordinate of crying involved. This only compounds my previous experience and subsequent assumption that Japanese female athletes are rated on the amount of times television shows can make them cry tears of joy. It might even be in their contract, either way the public seems to enjoy it. tears = television.

Channel 10: The most shocking into yet. There is man in poorly done makeup. Five other guys are sitting around the table making fun of him. I”m sure if I understood what they were saying this would be funnier than Two and a Half Men. Oh dear, now they have brought in a small army of male–>female transvestites (make your own bananas joke here)–apparently this is a laugh-riot for everyone.

It gets worse, the man in makeup and the transvestites are putting on a low-production value Victorian musical (big bleep bananas batman!).  I draw the line at musicals, the channel will be changed….

Channel 12: Japan’s version of PBS. They are following a News Producer through his daily routine. In three minutes of watching this, I have learned PBS is still kind of boring in Japan. Somebody put on Globe Trekker!

and back to Channel 4: It appears the final portion of the contest is “who can hang on to a suspended bar the longest while wearing bikini” The humiliation that I predicted has finally arrived, however I am a little disappointed in the severity. I had high hopes Japan! Where’s the mud, Velcro suits, strange sea creatures you know the stuff that really makes the crowd lose their bananas. Falling four feet on to a soft cushion isn’t that intimidating.

Still, as mild as it may be, I’m not sure why Fox hasn’t tried to adapt this show yet.

This is what I am talking about,please watch until the end.

Candy and Calligraphy
October 8, 2008, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
One small fold for mankind

One small fold for mankind (via Pinktentacle)

First, I just want to say I think it’s cool that I live in a country that look up at the stars and wonders, how can we get origami up there. These ships are going to be thrown towards earth from the ISS.

Now to content:

My experience living in New York with a cleaner than usual roommate has left me damaged (read: civilized). Suddenly, it’s never clean enough any more. I even dusted the other day. In the near future, I promise to share the the details of my “apaato” with you, but in the meantime i haven’t been able to keep it up to Home & Garden photography standards (sorry, Grandma). Sadly, it constantly looks like someone lives here of something.

In the meantime, my mom went retro-summer camp style and sent me a packed stocked with Halloween candy. The amount of candy contained in this package was daunting and surpassed my best candy consuming abilities. Plus, I have a duty to instigate a little cultural exchange with my students from time to time. Apparently this is part of what they pay for.

Thus, I took potion of the stash  into school to share. Specifically, I took the jumbo bag of DOTS–sporting a ghost/”invisible mystery flavor” theme for the season. In retrospect, I see it was a bit cruel and perhaps and error of judgment on my part to try and pass along something with “mystery flavor” theme to my students. In my defense, certain items at the grocery store would convince one that nothing, let alone a :mystery theme” could inspire culinary shyness in a Japanese person.

However, this is exactly what happened. I admit was put off a bit when they approached it with the same reaction I approach Japanese candy. It was like watching Superman encounter Kryptonite for the first time.  They found the packaging a bit intimidating, and most of them cautiously took timid half-bites into the individual DOTS and reacted with a variety of faces. It was a winner with some of the students, but they all had an opinion to share. The stickiness of the candy certainly was a talking point.

I guess it was a bit ethnocentric of me to expect them to worship this as the gold standard of candy. Also, I was thrown because Japan is a gel/food culture. I think this has to do with their fish-centric diet. In this respect, DOTS are perhaps the most Japanese of the canon of classic American candies. Perhaps, the medium is the message, and that medium full of English writing, mystery flavors, and only semi-goofy pictures of cartoon ghosts says “strange” to my students.

I suppose i might end up bearing the weight of making sure this candy does not go to waste. There might be a number of nights during the next month that I end up like good ol’ Hariett . Pray for me to make it until All Saints Day.

This week I have also undertaken the task of learning Hiragana. It’s one of three Japanese systems of writing, and perhaps the easiest of the three. It’s phonetically based, which is nice. I’m enjoying the process. Today, one of my students was giving me some help when she decided she wanted to figure out a couple of ways to write my name in Kanji (a pictograph system of writing). She could only think of one symbol for “Te” which was the symbol for “Hand. The two options she gave me for “Do” (there is no ending “d” sound in Japanese”) were the symbols for “sand” or “door”.  So there you go, I am either “hand sand” or “hand door”. I think those both suit me well.

And now, “sophisticated” Britons let loose in Japan: