I'm off to Thailand until January 6th. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year's!
Their parents grow increasingly anxious. These parents understand that there’s bound to be a transition phase between student life and adult life. But when they look at their own grown children, they see the transition stretching five years, seven and beyond. The parents don’t even detect a clear sense of direction in their children’s lives. They look at them and see the things that are being delayed.
They see that people in this age bracket are delaying marriage. They’re delaying having children. They’re delaying permanent employment. People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments — moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family.
In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.
Yet with a little imagination it’s possible even for baby boomers to understand what it’s like to be in the middle of the odyssey years. It’s possible to see that this period of improvisation is a sensible response to modern conditions.
Two of the country’s best social scientists have been trying to understand this new life phase. William Galston of the Brookings Institution has recently completed a research project for the Hewlett Foundation. Robert Wuthnow of Princeton has just published a tremendously valuable book, “After the Baby Boomers” that looks at young adulthood through the prism of religious practice.
Through their work, you can see the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage. Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods, Wuthnow observes, but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering. Old success recipes don’t apply, new norms have not been established and everything seems to give way to a less permanent version of itself.
Dating gives way to Facebook and hooking up. Marriage gives way to cohabitation. Church attendance gives way to spiritual longing. Newspaper reading gives way to blogging. (In 1970, 49 percent of adults in their 20s read a daily paper; now it’s at 21 percent.)
The job market is fluid. Graduating seniors don’t find corporations offering them jobs that will guide them all the way to retirement. Instead they find a vast menu of information economy options, few of which they have heard of or prepared for.
Social life is fluid. There’s been a shift in the balance of power between the genders. Thirty-six percent of female workers in their 20s now have a college degree, compared with 23 percent of male workers. Male wages have stagnated over the past decades, while female wages have risen.
This has fundamentally scrambled the courtship rituals and decreased the pressure to get married. Educated women can get many of the things they want (income, status, identity) without marriage, while they find it harder (or, if they’re working-class, next to impossible) to find a suitably accomplished mate.
The odyssey years are not about slacking off. There are intense competitive pressures as a result of the vast numbers of people chasing relatively few opportunities. Moreover, surveys show that people living through these years have highly traditional aspirations (they rate parenthood more highly than their own parents did) even as they lead improvising lives.
Rather, what we’re seeing is the creation of a new life phase, just as adolescence came into being a century ago. It’s a phase in which some social institutions flourish — knitting circles, Teach for America — while others — churches, political parties — have trouble establishing ties.
But there is every reason to think this phase will grow more pronounced in the coming years. European nations are traveling this route ahead of us, Galston notes. Europeans delay marriage even longer than we do and spend even more years shifting between the job market and higher education.
And as the new generational structure solidifies, social and economic entrepreneurs will create new rites and institutions. Someday people will look back and wonder at the vast social changes wrought by the emerging social group that saw their situations first captured by “Friends” and later by “Knocked Up.”
Midori Matsuzawa Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Now a professor at Fukuyama Heisei University in Hiroshima Prefecture, Toshiaki Ozasa once served as the principal of Hiroshima University's affiliated high school. In that role, he says, he might have been questioned by the then Education Ministry if his school's entrance exam had included an English sentence like the following:
"The athlete has been studying English since 8 o'clock."
Why would it cause a problem? "The sentence is beyond the official curriculum guidelines for middle school as it uses a present perfect progressive form," Ozasa said. "We're 'supposed to teach' no more than present perfect by that point."
Ozasa was speaking during a convention of the Japan Association of College English Teachers (JACET), held Sept. 6-8 in Hiroshima under the theme "English Education at the Tertiary Level: in Search of a Consistent Curriculum from Elementary School through University."
In his lecture titled "English Language Teaching in Japan: A Diachronic and Synchronic Perspective," Ozasa described the nation's English education at the secondary level as something "totally tied up" in rules, and stressed that teachers simply went along with this situation.
However, "These 'absolute rules' taken for granted were not actually a matter of course when considered from either a historical or international perspective," he said. "I have no intention of criticizing or placing blame, but just stress that there has been a historical necessity behind it."
Serving as president of the Society for Historical Studies of English Teaching in Japan, Ozasa has collaborated with other experts in examining English textbooks used at the secondary school level since the Meiji era (1868-1912). He focused on the first five grades of secondary education under the previous system implemented until the end of World War II, and the corresponding levels under today's system, namely from the first year of middle school to the second year of high school.
In the beginning of the Meiji era, U.S. primary school textbooks were imported for use in foreign-language classes for Japanese secondary school students. English Readers: The High School Series, written by a British educator, was the first original series issued by the Education Ministry in 1887.
Ozasa did not find major attempts to control grammar in these early textbooks. For example, even the first volumes of these series weaved "be-verbs" and other verbs throughout the passages.
Ozasa believes Masakazu Toyama (1848-1900) was the first educator in Japan to implement grammar control. Writer of the Seisoku series published in 1889, he later became the president of Tokyo Imperial University, the predecessor of present-day Tokyo University, and an education minister.
Unlike its predecessors, Seisoku's first volume did not weave be- and general verbs together from the beginning. When looking into how frequently three grammar indexes--past tense, verbals and present perfect--were used in each lesson, Ozasa found that the book enforced control over use of past tense and present perfect.
Textbooks made since Seisoku also employed grammar control, which was gradually strengthened. Eventually, out of the first 11 volumes published from 1916 to 1951 surveyed by Ozasa, six took control over use of all the three grammar indexes.
"As you can see, the nation's grammar control was established bit by bit over a long period," Ozasa said. "It can be described as a kind of culture in our English education."
The speaker also touched on studies by his fellow researchers that compared a Japanese textbook series for middle and high school published from 1986-87 with textbooks published from 1999-2003 in four other Asian countries.
When it comes to control over the three grammar indexes, only Japan set regulations over all three, while Thailand and China did so regarding past tense and present perfect. However, a closer look revealed that their controls were not so strict and allowed some "exceptions"--although past tense and present perfect were basically not used over certain lengths of lessons, a few would still slip through.
"This is the biggest difference between Japan and other Asian countries," Ozasa said. "Japan has established strict grammar control, but other Asian countries are rather flexible, sometimes using the target grammar ahead of the time when they [officially] think it's necessary."
Ozasa also has looked into vocabulary control--counting how many words secondary school students have been exposed to since the Meiji era, and also enumerating how many words their Chinese and South Korean counterparts today are exposed to.
Textbooks were generally thick tomes in the Meiji era. The first volume of one imported series consisted of just 5,600 words, but that number skyrocketed to 106,000 by the fifth. The English Readers series had nearly 40,000 words in its first volume, growing to nearly 70,000 in the fifth.
As time went by, however, Japanese textbooks tended to contain fewer words. Seisoku started with about 14,000 in the first volume and ended with nearly 34,000 in its fifth, while the recent 1986-87 series offered only about 1,500 words to students in the first year of middle school and about 8,500 to those in the second year of high school.
When looking into neighboring countries' textbook series, the word counts were much higher than those of the Japanese series. Ozasa described the Chinese and South Korean figures as "roughly corresponding to our Meiji and Taisho (1912-26) era levels, respectively."
The studies also examined the number of new vocabulary in each volume as well as the ratio of new words to total words, through which Ozasa came across an irony of Japanese textbooks.
Because Japan has cut the number of new vocabulary items students must learn, the recent Japanese series had new vocabulary appearing more frequently, making it difficult for students to read passages because they could not guess the meaning of new words from the context, Ozasa said.
"We've taken control over grammar and word lists to make our textbooks easier for students to use," Ozasa said. "But such efforts have produced textbooks that are unnatural and difficult to read. It's quite ironic."
Education system review needed
Ozasa said his studies suggest that before the end of World War II, the textbook screening system did not check for control over grammar and vocabulary. "It didn't matter, probably, because only a limited number of students could attend secondary school in those days," he said.
After the war, secondary education became common--compulsory education has been extended to middle school, and almost every student goes to high school today. "In this sense, it's inevitable that the authorities would intensify their control over what is studied and make textbooks easier, so as to prevent students from dropping out," Ozasa said.
As a result, "Japanese textbooks today are the easiest, from both a historical and international perspective," he concluded. "Nonetheless, there's the harsh reality that many of our students find it difficult to catch up with even these textbooks."
Since World War II, Japan has had a "single-track" English education system in which students are supposed to learn the same content in the same class hours. "I believe the time has come to discuss this system," Ozasa stressed. "It wouldn't involve English education alone, but the basics of our education system as whole."
The expert also suggested that now is the time to examine introducing a "multiple-track" education system that would accommodate various learning styles--motivated students should enjoy high-level learning, both in quality and quantity, while slow learners should be guaranteed to receive fundamental learning.
"Anyone who mentions this has always been rapped as it's regarded as a taboo in our educational system," Ozasa said. "But someone has to talk about the elephant in the room."
Japanese Junior High Schools and American Junior High Schools are a little different.
In Japan, everyday, there are 5 or 6 classes.
In America, everyday there are 8 or 9 classes.
In Japan, class is 45 or 50 minutes.
In America, class is 39 or 40 minutes.
In Japan, students must learn English.
In America, students can choose what language they want to study. Many students want to study Spanish. Secondly, many students study French. Other popular languages are German, Japanese, Chinese and Russian.
In Japan, students eat lunch in their classroom. Everyone must eat Kyushoku.
In America, students eat lunch in a cafeteria. I will tell you about this now. A cafeteria is a very big room. There are many, many tables. During lunch time, all the students go into the cafeteria. Some students bring lunch. Some students buy lunch. Teachers eat in another room. Teachers and students do not eat lunch together.
In Japan, students have cleaning time. Students clean the school.
In America, people have jobs to clean the school. These people get money.
In Japan, students must do club activities.
In America, not many students do club activities after school. Many students do club activities in High School, but not Junior High School.
In Japan, students come to school by bike.
In America, most students come to school by bus. But, some must walk or come by bike.
In Japan, students stay in the same classroom all day.
In America, students change classrooms. They have 3 minutes to go to their next class. Teachers stay in the same classroom all day.
In Japan, students keep their books, notebooks, bag, jacket, clothes in their classroom.
In America, in the school hallway, students have lockers. Students must leave their books, notebooks, jacket, and clothes in their locker. Between classes, students must go to their locker to get their next class's book.
In Japan, students must wear uniforms.
In America, students can wear what they want.
In Japan, students change grades in April.
In America, students change grades in August or September.
In Japan, Junior High School students are from 12 years old until 15 years old.
In America, Junior High School students are from 11 years old until 14 years old. If you lived in America, you would be in High School right now.
In Japan, summer vacation is for 5 weeks.
In America, summer vacation is for almost 3 months.
Winter vacation and Spring vacation are the same in Japan and America.
We rose bright and early to catch an early train to get to Nara from Kyoto. Around the year 646, Japan decided that they needed a capital to govern the country. They tried out two previous areas before deciding that Nara was the best spot. Therefore, Nara became Japan's first real capital in the year 710. It was only the capital for 75 years before it was changed to Kyoto. It was during this brief stint of 75 years that Japan imported many Chinese customs and ways and began integrating these things into Japanese society, such as declaring Buddhism the National Religion. Since the capital was moved to Kyoto, many of the temples & shrines in Kyoto had been destroyed with attacks on Japan. However, with Nara on the back burner of these attacks, several of the shrines and temples were never destroyed and are in tact from the way they were originally developed. It is the number two tourist attraction in this part of Japan following Kyoto. In 1998, there were eight sights deemed worthy to be UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As we exited out of Nara Station, I stopped and asked for a map of the area from an Information center. We were asked if we would be interested in having a free tour guide for the day. After having the day before be a bit ruined by my lack of understanding of the area, we decided it would probably be for the best to have one. We only had one day in Nara and we wanted to be able to see the sights hassle free. It also relieved a lot of the stress on my shoulders by not having to try to read the maps and figuring out where we were. Our hotel wouldn't allow us to check in until 3 or some late hour so we stored our luggage in lockers at the station for the day. A friendly stranger helped us lift our bags and carry our bags for us. We thought he worked at the locker area, but so it turns out, he didn't and was just a friendly stranger trying to help us.
Our tour guides' name was Yoriko and we met her at another Tourist Information Center. She was this absolutely adorable woman, about 60 years old who just wants to practice her English so she gives free tours. Immediately, I really liked her, she was so helpful and just so absolutely cute! The majority of the temples and shrines were in an area called Nara koen area or Nara Park. One trademark of Nara that is well-known throughout Japan is the large number of tame deer that walk around trying to get food from the tourists. There are about 1200 deer in this area that were considered sacred before Buddhism was introduced into Japan. At that time, they were considered messengers from God and thus have been declared as National Treasures for Japan.
We didn't really see many of these deer until Yoriko led us towards the various temples and shrines. She stopped us at a pond along the way to tell us of a Japanese folklore story about the pond. I already forget it now, a month and a half later but it was a love story for sure. From there, she took us to Kofuku-ji temple. This temple is quite interesting as it was transferred to Nara from Kyoto in 710. It originally had 175 buildings, but destruction has left only a dozen standing. There are two pagodas in this area, and I think the more impressive one dates back to 1426. It is actually the second tallest in Japan. Yoriko taught us that each layer of a pagoda represents the earth's elements. For example, one represents water, another level earth, and so on.
The next few places we visited were all part of a place called "Todai-ji". We first stopped at sangatsu do hall. It is the oldest building in the Todai-ji temple complex. It houses a small collection of statues from the Nara capital period. There were 16 statues inside and 12 are designated as National Treasures and the remaining 4 are considered to be Important Culture Properties. 14 were made between the twenty years of 729-749. Most of them are deities to the Buddhist beliefs. They all had very fierce looking faces and generally made of Gold and painted over. They were so old, that you could barely distinguish what color they were supposed to be painted. Others that weren't looking fierce had their hands put together and were in prayer. They were very impressive.
Afterwards, we moved onto the nigatsu do building. We needed to make a small climb uphill to view it, but it was well worth it for the views that we got from up top. The outer part of the building had all sorts of paintings around it. There were two people that were sitting inside practicing mantras, it was really cool to listen to. We rested here for a bit intaking the views.
The last place we went to, which is considered to be the most impressive building in all of the Todai-ji complex is called the Daibutsu-den hall. The building is the largest wooden structure in the entire world. The current building was built in 1709, and it's actually only 2/3 the size of the original building. The old, wooden building is actually home to an gigantic bronze Buddha
And, I mean gigantic! Th name of budda is Daibutsu which literally translates to Big Buddha. It is one of the largest Bronze figures in the world. It was originally cast in 746, however, the current Buddha had been recast. It stands over 16m high and consists of 437 tonnes of bronze and 130 kg of gold. It is believed by Historians, that this Buddha was cast to as a charm against smallpox within Japan. The reason it had been recast was because it had lost it's head a few times due to natural disasters such as earthquakes or fires. You can see a color difference between the head and it's body for sure.
I had seen another Daibutsu in Kamakura, that was impressive, but this guy in Nara, was definitely even more awe-inspiring. It is rumored that the Daibutsu in Nara can hold the Daibutsu in Kamakura in the palm of his hand! In addition, to this one large Bronze Buddha, there were other protectors that were just as impressively large that were alongside Daibutsu.
Towards the back of the Daibutsu den hall is a pole with a hole at the bottom of it. The hole is rumored to be exactly the same size as the Big Buddha's nostril. According to our tour guide Yoriko, there is a belief that if a person can fit through that hole, they will go to paradise. We first watched a group of Junior High School boys wiggling their way through the hole. Then, Julie went and was successful and then it was my turn. I was a bit nervous I wouldn't make it but, I did, with the help of some of those boys helping pull me through. It turns out, we are going to paradiese!! See you there?
The last part of this temple complex that Yoriko took us to see was to the gateway entrance to the temple. It turns out we must have gone through a back entrance or something. On the side of this gate, called nandai-mon, are two intimidating "nio guardians." These wooden figures were originally carved in the 13th century. It is claimed that they are some of the finest wooden structures in all Japan, if not the world. They have been recently restored. To me, the most impressive thing about these guardians were how tall they were.
At this point, we had seen all the temples and shrines in the Nara Koen park and it was nearly noon. The last spot that Yoriko took us to was a gorgeous Japanese style garden named yoshikien. There are three different styles of gardens here, a pond garden, a moss garden, and a tea ceremonial flower garden. There is a tea house in the moss garden that we were allowed to look at. Most of the gardens were carpeted with cedar moss, other parts had seasonal flowers and others had rock paths to follow. I am so in love with Japanese gardens.
Finally it was lunch time. Yoriko recognized my vegetarian eating habits and took me to one of my favorite food restaurants in Japan. Any restaurant that makes okonomiyaki is awesome in my eyes. Okonomiyaki is kind of like a pancake, with all sorts of things tossed inside such as vegetables, meat, mochi, anything really and then a sauce to put on top or mayonnaise, seaweed, all types of toppings as well. After lunch, we said goodbye to Yoriko and walked around the city a little more to do some shopping or whatnot. The city is rather small and we were really tired. We finally checked into our hotel, a hotel called the "Super Hotel" - sounds really ghetto but was actually a cute little room perfect for us. We had been staying in hostels up until this point so we were really happy to finally have a room to ourselves.
We took a short nap, watched some Full House in Japanese and then headed out to dinner at a cute little French cafe' to have a taste of Western style food again. We ended our night at a bar that was around the corner of our hotel. We definitely found some hole in the wall bar where we were the only foreigners and we had a blast that night. The bartender could speak some English, so Julie was able to talk with him a bit and then the rest of the night ended with us playing darts, Julie demanding which song be played next to the DJ, and then singing at the top of our lungs as the rest of the bar stared at us like we're nuts. We took some shots and then I woke up the next morning ... it felt like college again with Julie =) I love it.