Its about time!

Sorry that I haven't written a post for almost two weeks. And this one will have to be short. I lost my Internet connection at home. Its a long story but let's just say that now I have to start paying for it instead of picking up wifi waves freefloating in the air! This week is Boonkasai. Culture Festival. It debuts on Thursday but the students have been planning for it for months. There are no classes today. This morning we had a choreographed operation where all the students moved the desks out of their classrooms and into storage rooms to free up space for displays. Now the boys are practicing for the intraschool choir concert which is tomorrow. Each grade is divided into 4 houses of 45 boys. Each house will compete against the other.
On Thursday, the public will be invited to the school to view what each club has prepared for the festival. Our English club did a survey of how people connect emotions to colors. I added a cross-cultural element by translating the survey (with my students' help of course) into English and giving it to the English teachers and maybe some of you readers! One of the interesting differences was that English speakers associate yellow with cowardice while Japanese do not.
Thanks to those of your who have written comments to me about my blog through the link on the right. With this design template, I don't have the link to write a comment through blogger. But if you click on "send me an email" you can email me a comment at my school account.
This weekend I will be going to work on a farm in Toyama which is north of the Kansai region on the Sea of Japan. It will probably be cold and rainy, but from what I can tell through my correspondence with the host family, they are warm and caring. I can't wait to tell you about it! Thanks for reading!


Hiroshima Day Trip

This week's blog is coming to you a little late because I was working very hard on preparing a lesson for my Saturday class. It was based on a Friends episode; I had to break down the dialogue to teach my students something about comparatives and superlatives (-er and -est). So I was working on that from wednesday night through Saturday morning. I think one's first year of teaching is always so labor intensive because the teacher is creating lesson for the first time. After the first year, a teacher can recycle the lessons or revise them a bit more, thereby working a bit less in the evenings. I feel like I'm keeping grad student hours still: classes in the day and homework at night.

Today I went shopping at the big train station shopping center. I wondered what it would be like to run into some of my students. Presto! I walk out of the center to go to the library and three boys walk towards me with surprised faces. I guessed they went to my school because they recognized me, but I didn't recognize them. In Japanese, I told them I was shopping. Then I asked what they were doing. Studying, they said with empty hands and burdenless backs. Really? I said confusedly because Sunday is the only day off they get each week and I figured that they would want to hang out. So I asked where they were going. The library. Oh, yes. The library is this way. So I used another phrase I knew in Japanese, "let's go" ikimashou! We walk together for a bit. One of the boys says, "third year students, right? blah blah blah Murakami-kun (the name of one of my students)." Then the boys start to walk faster as they go up the escalator. I figure they don't want to be seen with their teacher and are wondering why he's really going with them.

They told me the library was on the 6th floor, but it was actually on the 5th floor. So I was a bit embarrassed to go up to the 6th floor only to find a cram school (juku) up there. Oh, so I guess they were studying after all. Then Murakami-kun arrives just as I'm going down the down escalator. I foolishly run back up the escalator to greet my student. He looks different somehow... his eyes are blue! I point to his eyes and say, "they're blue"! "Oh, they're contact lenses." Murakami-kun is a fun student who doesn't seem to work hard. He is always exploding with laughter, is very polite and a leader in his class. But he always seems to fall asleep in class or do anything else in class than pay attention. Definitely an interesting character that will likely pop up in my blog in the future.

Anywhoo, I still haven't gotten to the highlight of my week and the subject of this blog entry: Hiroshima! It seems like weeks ago, but it was just 6 days, that I went to Hiroshima on the bullet train (shinkansen) with a group of students visiting from India on an exchange program. They were 7th, 8th, and 9th graders from Modern School VV in New Dehli: boys and girls. Our school is an all-boys school, so it was a nice change to interact with a co-ed crowd that spoke a variety of English. Indian English is similar to American English with a few differences in stress and vocabulary. Such as "shifted". Indians use this word like Americans mean, "moved". It took me a while to understand one of the boys talking about how their family shifted around the country before their father took a job in Dehli.

The day started out like a borderline racist joke: an Indian, a Japanese, and an American get into a taxi. But the racism ends there. The chaperone from the Indian school, my Japanese supervisor and I took a taxi, 2 trains, and a subway just to get to the Shinkansen station. My English department head who accompanied us to the station said that Japanese public transportation is very comprehensive, but one must transfer many times to arrive at their final destination. En route, we met some of the Indian students. They were all very talkative and excited for their trip. They would be in the country for a little over a week, so they wouldn't be inclined to know all of the cultural norms of daily life in Japan. Like the ticket booths at the train station. They all packed through with one ticket, while the Japanese go through one at a time and take their ticket out every time. There would be sprinklings of this kind of confusion during the rest of the day, but nothing that would interfere with a fun time for everyone.

In retrospect, it was a big effort to make a day trip to Hiroshima, 2 hours away by shinkansen. To do it, we had to keep moving all the time. Few of us were able to find the time to buy a souvenir. The Indian students were used to a slower pace of touring, and I don't blame them. But our Japanese teacher hosts were constantly coralling us to keep up, cross the street during the blinking "don't walk" sign and see the Peace Museum in 25 minutes.

We had reserved seats in the "silence car" of the shinkansen, but 10 Indian junior students are anything but silent! They chatted for an hour and then I began to get antsy that we were disturbing other passengers. I brought along some Origami paper to teach the students the story of Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes. Why not at 200 km/hr? When I showed them the crane and asked if they wanted to learn how to make it, they all quieted down and took their seats. The other Indian chaperone came back from the front of the car to find out what happened. Whew, a relief. Most of the children had heard the story of Sadako and were excited at the opportunity to lay their cranes at the Children's Monument in Hiroshima Peace Park.

We arrived in Hiroshima, on time of course, and walked from the station to Hiroshima Castle. The boys were entralled by the carp. Vashan, the oldest boy, was quite the repository of knowledge and began to tell the others why carp have certain colors. We had lunch there. It was interesting to see the Indian kids eat their obento (honorable boxed lunches) packed by their Japanese host mothers. Are you veg? They'd ask me before pleading that I should eat their ham sandwich. I bought a rice ball and tuna pocket sandwich at the conbini (convenience store) in the train station, but I could have just gleaned off the unwanted food of the students.

We moved on to the Hiroshima Peace Park. Before I knew it, the Atomic Bomb Dome was right in front of me. I was standing almost in the exact spot where the Nuclear Age began. It was a strange feeling. Until recently, I thought the United States was justified in dropping the bomb(s) because it avoided a US invasion and "saved 10s of 1000s of American lives". But then I read an that changed my thought. How can you put a label on one life as good and another bad. American lives or Japanese lives? ALL are precious. Before I left the USA, I saw a documentary about Japan's nuclear program during WWII. I'm not saying this to justify the USA using it first, but just to give a wider perspective about the development of nuclear weapons around the world at that time.

We attended a lecture by one of the survivors of the bomb. She recounted where she was, what life was like immediately and gradually after the bomb hit. Later she told us about the other people she had met around the world who had been affected by the nuclear industry: atoll residents hits by testing radiation, uranium miners who infected their families by bring home a souvenir from the mine. Finally, she took us on a tour of the major monuments of the Peace Park. There are about 60 monuments, so we didn't have time to see them all.

We came back to see the Peace Museum, but only had 25 minutes. In the museum was some of the most impressive evidence I've seen about the impact of the bomb. I learned more about the USA's premeditation to study the effects of the bomb. the USA removed potential A-bomb target cities from the firebombing list so they could study the A-bomb's impact. They set up a research hospital in Hiroshima after the explosion where they took in patients, recorded data, but didn't give them any palliative medicine. I could be wrong about that last detail, but that was my impression.

At our deadline to return to the shinkansen station, we were all very tired and thirsty. I ran ahead with some boys to get some drinks. Then we ran again to catch up with the rest of the group that passed us. We were relieved to take the tram back to the eki (train station) instead of walking. We arrived with plenty of time to line up for the Shinkansen. It waits for no one, so we had to be ready to board immediately when it stops.

One the way back were were seperated because it was the end of a three day weekend (Oct 10, sports day, when the Tokyo Olympics opened in 1964) so everyone was coming home. I sat in the smoking car (yes, they still exist here) with a few other boys. We did Origami on the way home.

But the evening doesn't end there. We went to an Indian restaurant near Kobe. The kids were so excited to have familiar food (which they complimented as very good even in India). It was a bit exotic to me, but I tried to eat everything because that's what's polite in Japan. But not in India. There its polite to leave food on the table/plate because the scraps will feed the animals, less privileged people, etc. Wow, I was stuffed with food, memories, and excitement for one day. It was a great tour, even if a bit rushed. Thanks for reading so far. I'll see you next week!



This week's title comes from some close encounters that I've had with students. Before I came to Japan, I understood that physical contact like hugging and other things intentional were off-limits. So I was very surprised when one of my 9th grade students poked me in the butt during the passing period! I told him never to do that again, but I was afraid of saying anything more because his English and my Japanese were both quite poor. So I asked my cultural confidant, Aki, what the deal-io was here. He said that it was a sign that the boys like me, but not a sexual advance as it might be interpreted in the States. Yes, that kind of touching shouldn't happen between teachers and students. But the best thing I could do is not to react. That would encourage them to keep doing it.

So the next day, I'm more relaxed about it. As I'm passing through the aisle between desks in class before class starts, another student taps me in the groin! Immediately I hold his hands to his side and tell him, "keep your hands to yourself" as he grins and I try to hold back a grin at how strange and absurd this behavior seems to me. To give you some more context to what is going on here, I need to tell you that I teach at a private, Christian, boys junior high school. So I guess that you could call it a bit of a bubble. During the days the boys are pal-ing around with arms around shoulders, horsing around, etc. Now that this happened to me, I'm more aware of how its going on everywhere.

Now I'm not telling you this to embarrass anyone. Its just a story about cross-cultural relations. Even some of the solid stereotypes about a culture don't hold up when you live in a specific sub-culture of it. So I guess that's what I'm in right now. All bets are off and I've got to approach school with an even more open mind!

This past weekend I was a teacher/counselor at an English Camp that we held for the 7th grade boys here. We had about 6 hours of English content and the rest of the program and cultural cues were Japanese. Not exactly an immersion environment, but I definately saw the boys warming up to speaking English outside of the classroom. I'm supposed to write my suggestions and observations for revisions. My duties at school are progressively increasing, so there's a danger of that report getting stuck under the in-box pile.

The camp was held at the retreat property of Kwansei Gakuin in the mountains northwest of Nishinomiya. We slept in traditional Japanese cabins with reed mats, paper windowshades and room dividers. I slept on a futon. It certainly was an experience, but I didn't get a lot of sleep! This may take some getting used to. I was impressed with the open space of the cabin despite its small size. I had the same feeling when I visited Nijo Castle last week. Here is this huge palace inside the forbidding walls, and there is nothing in the rooms! Where do they put all the stuff for running the territory? Tables, files, weapons? All that was in the rooms were the tatami mats, staggered shelves, and wall paper. Perhaps the important thing to see is the architecture and art on the walls, so they present it like a real estate open house. Or maybe I'm missing something cultural here and there really isn't supposed to be anything in these rooms but the art of open space.

This Monday, I will go to Hiroshima with a group of Indian students visiting our school on an exchange program. I'm debating on whether to buy a digital camera this weekend to document it or wait until the next paycheck. I'll see if I can get digital scans of my film pictures. Thanks for reading and look forward to highlights of my daytrip to Hiroshima next Thursday.


Published. Sort of.

This is just a short entry because my weekly blog night is Thursday. A letter to the editor that I wrote to The Christian Science Monitor was published today! Here is my letter. Here is the article I responded to. I wrote about English morphology and variation, which the newspaper reporter thought was bringing the English language downhill.

Things at school are picking up. I'm preparing my first midterm and designing two classes that I'll teach by myself with 25 students after midterms. Wish me luck. I'll be back tomorrow. Mata!



originally uploaded by fuzzyjefe.
Here is a picture of me in front of Nijo Castle in Kyoto. What you see behind me is just a small part of the fortified grounds of the castle. There's an inner moat and an outer moat to keep enemies from getting near the Shogun. If an enemy manages to get inside the palace, all of the flooring is rigged with "Nightengale" wood that has squeaky boards and nails to allow samurais to track the intruder. Neat, eh?

Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA