Teaching In Socks

essentials, fringe benefits, and the beginnings of an “honor” discourse

I am currently riding the sonic waves of another productive weekend. I returned to my new favorite city, Kobe, made a deal with the devil, and found myself the new owner of a used guitar. It’s been almost two months since I’ve put my fingers to a fret so it was a relief to get back on an ax and find the chords still familiar and remember that the vocals still need work.

There may be consequences though. I fear that the trim thickness of my apartment walls and my irregular working hours might dictate that my neighbors and I a new familiarity with each other soon. I’m trying to keep the guitar fest to a minimum after midnight, but occasionally the musical urge disrupts my biological clock and I find the notes flowing at an unreasonable hour. It appears my only legitimate chance of salvation lies in the possibility that my neighbors enjoy mediocre, acoustic Stones covers and don’t own any large knives. Sadly, this is Japan, sharp knives are aplenty and my chances look slim.

I hope to go out rocking harder than ever (note to self: polish up that mean “Freebird” solo stat).

In the continued tradition of naming my larger Japanese purchases, I will name this guitar “Mr. Katana”. I was going to go with Guitarzilla, but my cell phone has already claimed “Cellzilla”, and a sequential continuation would just seem so unoriginal.

Friends in battle.

Friends in battle.

I also put my newly purchased soccer ball to use this weekend. It was an interesting experience. The field I used was large and empty, but primarily dirt. I had a few spectators in several elderly Japanese athletes who were using the surrounding track.  Between their uniform looking attire and the way the kept glancing at me with stoic faces, I kept thinking one of them was going to come inform me I needed a permit to use the field or that I wasn’t honoring the facility properly, but I kicked around and left without incident.

Games play a large role in my life in Japan and I’ve begun to relish and appreciate their presence.

I think the Japanese agree; Rock, Paper, Scissors (they call it Janken) is the preferred method of dispute resolution in Japan.  I think this is a fantastic policy.

In my classroom, I also get to play a lot of hangman and Jenga. Hangman actually could be one of the five pillars or learning. I’m not sure what the other four are, but if you want to learn a new word and ensure you remember it, fear of fictional, cartoon asphyxiation is a great motivation tool. I wrap up a class with a rousing game of hangman at least five times a week. I’m thinking about going Pro.

It’s hard to determine if my students enjoy the game anywhere near as much as I do, but as long as I have the control of the whiteboard (which is always), the scaffold and stick figure has a place on the board.

I also know what you’re thinking…JENGA? How does he get paid to play Jenga? I can’t actually take credit for this development. My previous teacher had the genius idea to write some English letters on Jenga blocks. If you make the kids pronounce the letters as they remove the corresponding blocks, you have an unstable learning structure of excitement. If given the choice, I would want to learn everything in Jenga format.  My students agree; the popularity of this game with children (and myself) is immense. I also think the fragility of the Jenga structure provides and interesting social insight.

I think it’s fair to say that most of the world looks upon Japan as a culture that champions “honor” above all other virtues.  For a number of reasons that I will address in a future post, so far, i would confirm this assessment as generally accurate.

However, people often misinterpret the attributes and jurisdiction of Japanese “honor”.



I think that several of my friends are the assumption that my child students are incredibly well-behaved due to this invisible honor specter that keeps them in line. This is not the case, or if it ever was the case, the powers of the ghost are eroding with younger generation (very possible this is the case). It appears in the majority of the “developed” world, the days of regimented, militaristic instilling of obedience to authority have ceased. (debate this and the virtues of such practices on your own time).

Honor is very alive in Japanese society, but my younger students are no more well-behaved or disobedient than children I was in charge of at summer camps in America. Even with Jenga–attraction number one for these kids, I still have classes where the average game lasts less than two minutes because there is the kid (or kids) that achieves enjoyment in sabotaging the tower every chance he gets.  Through clenched teeth or anger and disappointment, I appreciate the cultural similarity.

I want to share some other encounters I have had with the Japanese honor system– in didactic enterprise, eating and politics, as they have been extremely relevant as of late, but they will have to wait as the require their own separate and esteemed post….