Monday, February 26, 2007

To stay or to go?

That is the question that all of us here had to answer less than a month ago. I was on the fence about my decision, but ultimately I decided to stick around here for an additional year.

Now, there is the question, to stay in my town or move into the sort of city nearby? I often question my decision to stay in Japan since somedays it's so awesome here, and other days I fall into a coma of loneliness, aggravation or just feel entirely burnt out from the constant language barrier.

I think today is the epitome' of how hard it is to make these decisions. You are all aware of the horrible classes I put up with at one of my schools. Well, I worked hard on trying some rewards for good behavior since I can't punish students that behave badly. For a little while, 2/4 of my classes improved. It seems they've gone back to their horrible behavior. What makes it worse, is my schedule has been changed. Before, I was teaching two bad classes between two days. Now, I teach all of them on one day - Monday. I try to think positively that I get it all over with by Monday.

Today I snapped. My first two classes were horrible - as usual. But, I try to remain as patient as I can. I try to keep a smile on my face. Here I am with Mitsue, trying to teach English - we're about 20 pages behind from my other Junior High School. That's how bad these kids are. I try doing my warming up game - which went better than last time I tried. But this game - really should take no more than seven to ten minutes. With these kids - it takes like twenty. It's ridiculous. I get so tired and frustrated over constantly telling kids to stop talking, please listen to me, please look at me, please repeat after me. I get tired of talking over kids. I get tired of explaining something and then since no one was listening - when it comes time to do it -they all scream "I don't understand". It's like well, if you listened like I had asked you to, you wouldn't be confused. So, then I have to spend another 5 minutes explaining the same thing over again. It's such a waste. I get sick of being completely disregarded as a human being.

On top of their rude behavior, they also like to make fun of me. They like to make fun of my clothes, my hair, the fact I now have a scar over my eye, my shoes, my voice, everything about me. I had a stressful morning because I had spent last week translating a recipe into Japanese for an Elementary School on Thursday. They called to tell me that I can't use it because they only have one oven. I don't know what to do - I never baked or really cooked in my life. I always lived on campus, I've never had an oven and I still don't have an oven. I needed this recipe by this afternoon. It took me two days to translate everything last week and now they need a new recipe. I don't want to do this lesson but it was their idea and really wanted it.

All this stress built up. So, last class of the day. I did my game, which was okay. Then it was "repeat after Sara" time. It was my third time reading the story - and the students had yet to repeat after me, and were only getting louder. Without even thinking - I started screaming the story at the top of my lungs, as my face grew the color of a fire truck and my face probably looking serial killer mode. I released all my kept in anger through these words. I was screaming. I am sure the kids in the classes heard me. At once, the students all turned to face me for once, jaws dropped, their incessant chattering turned quiet and they actually repeated after me.

When I finished the story- I could not wipe the look of kill off my face - no matter how hard I wanted to. The Japanese teacher in the classroom started talking to them in Japanese. I listened and understood most of what she was saying. She said that I go to many different schools all the time and that this school is the worst. And they need to behave for me and something about my warming up games. I don't really know. After that, I stood over to the side of the class for the rest of the time, trying not to break down into tears. I've never ever snapped, without thinking first. I've yelled loudly at the kids - but I've never screamed like that without even thinking. It was a bad feeling.

There's the shitty part of my job.

Then, there's the other part that makes me want to stay. After that class, it was lunch time. I go to the teacher's room. Immediately two boys come in and give me a card from their class - my ninth grade students. They graduate in two weeks. It was inviting me to eat lunch in their class. It said "Welcome to 3-3" We love you very much. We had a very good time with you. Thank you very much." Then, I ate with them. At lunch, we chatted. After lunch, I stayed in and chatted with some of the girls. After lunch, I had a few of the kids come in to talk to me about going to Australia, boyfriends, and my hair color, eye color, etc. It's like they knew I had a horrible day with the jerks earlier and were trying to make my day better. I know that's not the case for real - but it's wierd how horrible my day was and how quickly those kids made me feel a bit better.

So, to stay or to leave? I don't know. Those ninth graders that I love so much leave in two weeks. I might go into the city. I am not an angry person and I don't like it when situations make me an angry person.

Off to dinner now.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Japanese Culture

I finally feel my life has returned to somewhat of a routine since returning from America a month ago. I suffered from a really bad case of jetlag when i got back to Japan. It was much worse coming back to Japan than it was while being in America. In the madness of trying to get my life back to normal, I fell pathetically behind on my blog. I am trying to catch it all up but a lot of things have started to slip my mind, unfortunately. I am trying to hilite things that I don't want to forget 5 years down the road, while at the same time keeping it interesting for my readers.

This entry is dedicated to Japanese culture, of things that I have not talked about but I think are interesting to those who don't know much about Japan. Remember, I'm trying to educate everyone about Japan, too. Grassroots internationalization within inaka or rural Japan and via the internet for people who are interested in my life here.


Nengajo in Japan is similiar to the Western culture of sending out holiday cards. Sure, a while ago, it may have originally been only for Christmas, but as times have changes, acceptance more widely spread, we have changed many of our Christmas greetings to the all encompassing phrase of "Happy Holidays". Nengajo is basically a "Happy New Year's" greeting. All nengajo are held at the post office until New Year's day where you will receive an influx of nengajo all on that day.

Nengajo is the size of a post card and well, basically that is what it resembles - a postcard. Japanese people send Nengajo to those people who have been kind to you over the last 12 months. It is believed to have existed since the 11th century; but with the introduction of postcards in 1873 - the custom of using them to send nengajo spread quickly. You buy the specific nengajo postcard at the post office. Many people hand make theirs, but with the introduction of computers, many of the ones that I received were made via a computer. Additionally, I received a few that had pictures of their kids on them as well, reminding me of holiday cards from home. I saw many from my co-workers - who had piles of 100's - and leafing through them - I saw many pictures were also of major events in the past year. For example, wedding photos, new houses, new cars. etc.

Japanese people follow the zodiac sign from the Chinese zodiac. Therefore, as the new year changes, the animal of that year does as well. This year - is the year of the pig or wild boar as the direct translation from Japanese into English. This means - that almost all the nengajo had some form of the pig on the picture side of it. It's also very common
to include the new year - so this year was 2007. Other popular things to include are:

kotobuki - a general phrase that wishes a person well
shinshun - New Year
gasho - celebration of the New Year
geishun - greeting of the New Year
kingashinnen - Wishing you a very happy New Year
kyogashinnen - Hoping that you have a very happy New Year
akemashita omedeto gozaimasu - Happy New Year!

You can buy many stickers, stamps, and decorations to make your nengajo with all over Japan, usually beginning in November. I made mine with Katie and Akira and sent them out before going to Korea. It is a fun tradition and cool to look at. There are also some rules that if someone in your immediate family dies, you send out a card to inform that you will not be sending nengajo this year. If someone in your immediate family dies, it is like passing on the bad luck of your household to send nengajo to other familie's households. I think it is also customary not to send nengajo to that household as well - but I do not remember.

Then there is the otoshidama lottery. On the address side of the postcards is a pre-printed lottery number. If you receive a nengajo with a matching lottery number,. you can receive prizes from the post office. Some top prizes one can receive include a Hawaiian holiday, a holiday in Japan, a laptop computer, a DVD recorder and home theater system, and a digital SLR camera and printer. I don't know if I had matching numbers because I can't read the newspaper nor understand the news.

This year, 2007, around 3.79 billion special postcards for nengajo were printed. That's around 30 for every man, woman and child in Japan.


Setsubun literally means division of seasons. It is the day that marks the end of winter. This year in 2007 - it was celebrated on February 3rd, which was a Saturday. On the evening on this day, people throw roasted soybeans inside and outside their houses with a scream of oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi! meaning Devil's out! Good luck in! As the beans are thrown, it is believed good luck is invited in and bad luck is driven out. It is also customary to eat as many beans as one's age. It is a superstition that it is a charm again bad luck.

During Setsubun, children throw roasted beans around their house to ward off evil spirits and other misfortune. In many families, an adult might put on a devil's mask and approach the children. The devil is hit with beans until he leaves.

I was able to learn about setsubun in a fun setting - at an Elementary School visit on the Friday before. I got to see exactly how it is celebrated. It seems that almost all schools do this - as my other Western teachers viewed this in their schools as well, and I saw evidence that it was done at my Junior High School's as well.

I was teaching 4th, 5th and 6th grade at this school. My first time seeing it was with the 5th grade class. The students all write out the things about them they want to change on a piece of paper. It seems that - they write things like "last year I was selfish, this year I want to share more" or "I want to be more kind" or "I fight with my brother too much". From what I gathered through the weak translation is that the student's wrote out the "devil's" inside of them that they want to "drive out". Then, the teacher's at the school made this HUGE cardboard devil thing and attached by tape, all the student's "devil papers" to it. So, at first, all the 5th graders taped their devil paper onto the cardboard cut out of the devil. Afterwards, the teacher leaves the classroom as each student receives heaps of peanuts from me.

Into the classroom jumps a devil! (the teacher dressed up as one). He was wearing some outfit, a mask of a devil and a helmet. As soon as the "devil" entered their classroom, the kids were literally pelting the devil with their peanuts. When I say pelting, I mean PELTING! I can see why he wore a helmet! I couldn't stop laughing. If they were just throwing peanuts at him, it would have been funny, but the fact that they were literally pelting him as hard as they could was too much for me to handle, I was laughing hysterically. The teacher then hid behind the cardboard cut out until the kids ran out and started picking the nuts up off the floor to pelt him. At this point, he left the room and returned as a teacher. The students then pick up all the peanuts off the ground and we ate as many peanuts as our age.

This pattern repeated for sixth grade, in the exact same way as it had for 5th. Fourth grade was a little bit different. The teacher didn't have the cardboard cut out and his outfit was slightly more different. The kids hung their devil paper's on the blackboard. The teacher dressed up like a ninja. He was in an all black, tight outfit with a black skirt going over his black leotard. He wore a curly, blonde wig, with large sunglasses (to protect his eyes) and came running in like this with a sword for one hand and a hook for the other. Same story - the kids pelted the crap out of him until they returned to their seats to eat their peanuts. At this point, he suggested "why don't we go scare other grades together?" Of course! Anything to disrupt the normalcy of a regular school day full of flying peanuts!

I put on his wig, sunglasses and took his sword and hook. He remained in his ninja outfit. The first place we went to was third grade - on the count of three, we opened up the door and ran through the classroom screaming. The kids went CRAZY! Then as abruptly as we interrupted, we ran out. Next stop, second grade. The kids had actually just finished doing their bean throwing - with their classroom. We ran in - where we were actually pelted by peanuts in this visit. Second grade took this visit by the most surprise. Last, was first grade - where we ran in unannounced and unexpectedly. We also then went into the teacher's room - where we ran around and I actually threw the peanut's at the head teacher and Vice Principal. I ran into the Principal's office and showed him the havoc I was creating in his school, before the 4th grade teacher and I ran out of the teacher's room.

It was a success. So good, that I was invited to be the devil for first grade's real bean throwing ceremony. Thus, myself and the special ed teacher ran in and we were pelted really hard by the peanuts. They really hurt!

Setsubun is fun. I really wish it did mark the end of winter. Alas, my house is still cold.

Valentine's Day...

As with most Western holidays, I receive a lot of questions from home about how Japanese people celebrate it; if they do at all. Twice today I was asked about how V-day is spent in Japan. It is celebrated, but a little bit differently than at home. In Japan, on V- day - only women give presents to the men. It doesnt' work both ways. There is a day - exactly one month after V-day - March 14th, where it is expected for men to give gifts to women - this day is called White Day.

I did see some remnants that V-day is celebrated here. If you went to stores, you could find candy making things, valentine's cards, decorations, etc. However, whereas in America, in Elementary School, all students make bags or boxes and write out Valentine's to everyone in the class - that isn't done here. At home, I remember selling and buying flowers for friends and "crushes" in middle and high school. However, here, I didn't see much of any thing going on.

I even asked my student's on Valentine's day if they knew that it WAS Valentine's Day. It seemed that they had forgotten - but once I told them, they were kind of like "oh yea!" So, yea, Valentine's Day is celebrated here - but it's not such a huge thing like in America. Which is good, because I wish I had a certain Valentine this year, too.

What's your Blood Type?

One week ago, I went shopping with Yumie' and her two sisters in Sendai, the big city nearby. It was my first time meeting her sisters! How cute they were! They remind me a lot of my sisters - and it was very natsukashii for me to be with them. We went to dinner at an "all - Asia" restaurant. This restaurant offered foods from all over Asia. Yumie is the oldest. Then there is her middle sister - Marie' and the youngest Hiroe. Hiroe speaks some English and Marie' speaks none.

I'm speaking with Marie' in Japanese when I am positive what she asked me was "What's your blood type?" However, trying to figure out the meaning behind this question, I look at her quizzically and said nani? or what? Like, why in the world would she be asking me my blood type? She said it again! I looked at Yumie' at this point and confirmed in English what I was sure was just being asked of me in Japanese.

I responded wakaranai or I don't know. Then, I looked at her and Yumie' in a very confused manner. It was here, that for the first time, I learned that it is very common for Japanese people to ask this. It is kind of like how we put personality types and lover matches in the hands of our Zodiac sign. It is Japanese custom to categorize personalities and the such to the type of blood a person has. It is apparently a popular question, but that was the first time I had been asked that here, over 6 months into living in Japan.

According to my favorite information receiving site, wikipedia. com,
According to Nomi's theory, those with type A blood tend to be reserved, punctual, and law-abiding, while type Os tend to be more outgoing, passionate, and driven; it is for this reason they are often considered "warrior" spirits[1]. Type Bs are said to be loners and self-sufficient, as "hunters," while ABs are said to be serious and solitary by nature.

The whole article here

Mom, if you read this, do you know my blood type? I don't.

That is the culture bit for you.

the latest news with me? I bought tickets to Cambodia! I'm going for 10 days from April 26th to May 6th. Yaayy! I am excited.

People along the way

I love hiliting about people I meet along the way. In the summer, before coming to Japan - I had this idea to document about people I do meet and their stories. I don't know why - but I always find it really intriguing to learn the background about people.

I met three people on my way back to America that have stuck in my mind for the past month. The first man was a guy that only commented on how big my bag was. I was in Tokyo and waiting for a train to get to my hostel. Mr. friendly talked my ear off the entire way to the hostel. It was a fun conversation - but what I remember most about him is his smile and willingness to talk to me. Traveling - even in a short time can become lonesome and I take all the conversation I can get. He offered me his business card (which isn't so unpopular in Japan) and told me if I'm ever looking for a job in Tokyo to contact him. The card says he's in the "food research" business. Whatever that is.

At my hostel, I got directions on how to get to the airport. I knew a bit of a a roundabout way - but I wanted to try the new way that would save me some time and money if I got it correct. Not too surprising, I did not. I ended up on a train that I felt was not the right one, so I asked the woman next to me if this train was headed to the airport. She told me no - but then informed me of exactly what I needed to do to get to the airport. I think I followed. She exited off the train and then a man came over and asked me if I was trying to get to the airport. I told him yes, and then he tried explaining to me a more efficient way of getting there. I was pretty sure I was following his directions - but for his own piece of mind - he decided to go really out of his way for me. When it was my stop - he got off with me and then made sure I got on the right train. He waited with me and got me on - and then waited for the next train to get him to his destination.

The last people I want to tell you about were the Korean woman and her son that I sat with on the plane headed back for Lisa's wedding. Now – I didn't really bother learning any Korean when I went to Korea...but I did sort of remember three phrases. In my opinion, maybe the three most important ones in any language. The first one being hello, the second one excuse me, and the third one thank you. I had the window seat, which is good and bad. It's good when you can see scenery of a country in a way you would never be able to otherwise. It's good when you are trying to sleep and you can rest your head on something. It's good when you don't have people bothering you to get out to walk. It's good as stated in The Wedding Singer that you don't have the aisle seat, where the beverage cart hits your elbow when it comes past you. However, it's not ALL good. It's bad when you need to use the toilet. It's especially bad when the person that is sitting in the way of the toilet doesn't speak the same language as you. It was maybe 4 or 5 into my long flight back to America and nature called. I had a Korean woman next to me sewing. I was trying hard to recall the three phrases I knew in Korean. I knew all three, right? But, in my stage fright to speak, I wasn't positive which phrase meant what. What the heck, they'll either be pissed I killed their language or happy I at least tried.

sillye hamnida” is what I meekly muttered from underneath my breathe. The woman looked at me strangely. I think to myself shit, I said the wrong thing. In my panic, I just decide to go for the language that usually never fails – body language. I point in the way of the bathroom and she understands. When I return, I say gamsa hamnida which I was almost positive was thank you. It was. The woman was smiling ear to ear and then started speaking rapidly to her son who was on the other side of her.

The son who's family name is Kim, leaned over his mother and said to me “my mother says you speak good Korean.” I laughed and said “not at all.” I then explained that I only know those two words and anyeoung haseyo (hello). This display of trying to speak their language sparked into a nice conversation for the next few hours. Kim was 27 (realllly cute) and studying to become a dentist. They were headed to Washington DC to visit his aunt who was having a baby. We talked about why I was going back to America, my life in Japan and many things Korean. They were very pleased that I had visited their country. I was amazed by his mother – the entire trip back to America she was sewing this baby blanket and a baby outfit. She explained to me about a Korean tradition. In this little white outfit, she had hand sewn stitches that go from up to down on it. She had hand sewn 100 of them in hopes that the baby will live to be 100 years old. This extremely amazing time consuming task is a Korean tradition that many Korean women do for friends and families babies. This woman was very fond of me, making her son translate as much as he could to me. It was really funny because a lot of it was very uncomfortable for him to translate. Things like I'm beautiful, I'm kind, if I come back to Korea her son will take me around, etc. It was really touching, and for the rest of the trip, she made sure to get my food for me if I was napping or offering things for me to have. I won't forget that family, it was a lot of fun getting past the initial awkwardness of sitting next to people I didn't think I could communicate with.

I have a student here that I really like. I always thought he was a bright student of mine because he always tried speaking to me in English; something that none of my students do. We had an essay question to practice the phrase “I think.” The question was “Do you think learning English is important?” He wrote on his paper, “some English.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “important words are “hello, how are you? Thank you, excuse me, good morning, etc”. From there he went on to say we should know these words for many languages, not just English. It turns out, as I've gotten to know him better, his English is actually really poor. But, he still remains to be one of my only students to greet me in English. He tries sooo hard to speak to me in English, but he is just not good at it. This boy is one of my favorite students and he is graduating from Junior High School in just about two weeks now. Thinking about it, I have grown attached to my ninth grade students that will be leaving me soon. A point was made that day and it has stuck in my head since. His logic and explanation really is true. It makes such a difference to me to see him try to say basic things to me, and it made such a difference to the Korean woman when I used her language, as well.

Our flight landed really late and I really hope that they made it okay to their next flight to DC. I nearly missed my flight and theirs was twenty minutes earlier than mine was. We waved goodbye as I entered the custom's line for US residents and they went to the foreign passport holders line.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Monday, February 19, 2007

January Activities Part 2

A Speech

Do you remember when I did English Haiku's way back in October? I met an English Professor from a nearby University who I have been keeping in contact with. He invited me to be a guest speaker at the International Organization I have mentioned in the past. We would be discussing together the confusion a newcomer to Japan has with words the Japanese language has integrated into Japan. He would be the main presenter – and I the evidence and proof of his theory. I accepted and made my speech on Sunday the 28th.

The material of the speech was something called katakana-go. Katakana is one of the three syllabaries that Japan uses for reading and writing. This syllabary is strictly for the use of foreign used words that have weaseled their way into the Japanese language. There is an actual board of people that decide which words will make it into the language and how they will be pronounced/spelled. So, for example, since I am a foreigner - my name is written in Katakana. America, ramen, computer, banana, etc are all also examples that would be written in Katakana.

I just spend the last 30 minutes trying to figure out a way to type in the different Japanese characters on my computer. I failed so I can't show you examples. Instead, I will teach you about Katakana-go and how it can be confusing.

Some of my favorites:
Japanese Word
English word it sounds like

What it means in Japanese - apartment building
What it means in English - a very, large, expensive home

With this word - I told a story about when I first heard the word. I was with a Japanese man and he pointed out his apartment building and said to me "This is my mansion." I started laughing at him because I thought he was making a joke. When he didn't laugh back - I didn't understand how someone could mix up apartment with mansion and wondered who his horrible English teacher was. Little did I know - that he was actually using the Japanese word of Manshyon - and he meant apartment building.

Japanese word - Atakku
English word - Attack
Japanese meaning - to attempt
English meaning - to set upon in a forceful, violent, hostile, or aggressive way, with or without a weapon; begin fighting with

The story (which is true!) that I told that goes with this one involves another ALT. He was interested in a girl and some of his Japanese students told him to atakku her. Not knowing the meaning - it sure sounds like a rather violent request over having a crush on a person!

Other examples for you -

Japanese word - faito
English word - Fight
J - meaning - give it your all
E - meaning - a battle or combat

J - Word Yankii
E- Word Yankee
J - Meaning - a delinquent youth
E- meaning - a person from the North in the USA

J - word sunakku
E -word - Snack bar
J - meaning - a Japanese bar where a person pays a lot to have women pours you drinks
E- meaning - Where a person goes to get a hotdog or milkshake

J- Word tureina
E- word Trainer
J meaning - sweatshirt
E - meaning Shoes

J - Word sumat-to*
E - word Smart
J meaning thin/hot/nice/body
E - meaning intelligient

*This is one case where you would not want to call your students smart!

You can see how confusing it could be to understand only a few Japanese words - then hear one of these katakana words and how it could mislead you. This was basically how the speech went. My professor friend, whom goes by Happy one (I love that!) - talked to our audience in Japanese as I tried to follow along as best as my abilities would allow me. From there - he would ask my input and I would try to respond as best as I could in Japanese. If I couldn't respond in Japanese - he, along with another British native, now a co-English professor would help translate for me.

Meghann came to support me and she was also brought up for discussion. After speaking, we turned the audience into an open discussion. The audience was free to ask Meghann & I questions they had involving foreigners or English discussion. Afterwards, we had tea and I made some new contacts which is always nice.

Katakana is a huge problem in teaching English. Since all the sounds in the Japanese language end in a vowel - aside from the one sound that represents the N in English - you often end up with words like PINKU instead of pink or SAKKA instead of soccer. It doesn't seem like a huge deal now, because the students are in Japan; however, if they are to travel and encounter people with little foreigner experience - their katakanized English will not be understood. I often want to settle with allowing Katakanized English be "okay" in my classroom - but the more I understand teaching, the lesser I am allowing it to fly in my classes. Likewise, it's very confusing for me to learn Katakana words because I just want to say the English word. I can never seem to get cappucino correct. I know I sound like an idiot when I just throw a word out there hoping it's the proper way of pronouncing it.

Of course, It can be a blessing, as my friend Dave says,
"foreigners wonder why their words are borrowed in a way that retains their separateness from real japanese via the katakana character set. i have to say, though, having been to hong kong i'm thankful for it: it's like having a cheat code for understanding menus and things - and in japan i'm willing to take all the understanding i can get."

And that is - Katakana-go.
Another professor of the college was there - and he showed us the University that is nearby. It was very enjoyable for me since I long so badly to be back in the fun setting of college. This particular professor teaches business - so it was really nostalgic for me to be back. He's spent quite some time in the USA - so he understands the challenges a foreigner faces in Japan. I quote him as saying "I'm a foreigner here myself." - meaning Japan.

The next evening we joined the International Association for a party. We had dinner and made ourselves more social within this group. It was a fun evening of conversation, people singing, and happiness all around. Certainly one of the nights where I am happy to be in Japan!

Oh, this speech was yet another way for me to be in the newspaper. Newspaper appearance #3.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Anti - ALT

I thought it would be interesting to provide a negative view on my job here. I found this on another ALT's blog (thanks Dave) and find it very intriguing. It's taken from an English written newspaper in Japan.

Speak Up / Time to end the use of ALTs

The Jan. 25 "JET Connections" article profiling former JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program participant Michael Auslin typifies the uncritical paeans to the use of ALTs (assistant language teachers) in English classes, through its principal agency, the JET program, which have appeared in "The Language Connection." In fact, the remarks of Mr. Auslin on his work as an ALT in 1991-92 reveal the actual nature of the performance of ALTs, which has changed little from that time.

He had few responsibilities in his work, but simply enjoyed himself, all the while realizing that he was essentially useless with regard to adding to the English-language abilities of the students in his classes. Furthermore, the kind of fun and games he engaged in with the students in order at least to have a good time are, in fact, detrimental, as they merely reinforce the impression that learning English is not an important and serious endeavor and, in the end, unproductive.

Now a total of about 9,000 ALTs supplied by the JET Program (about 5,500) and private ALT dispatch firms (more than 3,000) continue to demonstrate the same lack of educational value as did Mr. Auslin--at an annual cost of about 50 billion yen to Japan's taxpayers.

Detailed data on the academic and professional background of ALTs seem to be entirely lacking. However, it seems fair to say that the vast majority of them are recent college graduates with little or no experience as teachers of anything, let alone English as a foreign language (EFL). Most are in Japan for the first time. A majority stay just one year, while some renew for a second or third year.

As most of their counterpart Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) at middle and high schools receive almost no formal teacher training and inadequate in-service training and rely almost exclusively on yakudoku (grammar-translation) as the only known instructional methodology, the classroom work of paired teams of JTEs and ALTs is often much like the blind leading the blind insofar as implementing effective communicative English-language instruction.

In the very limited number of schools, such as some SELHis (Super English Language High Schools), where JTEs have advanced their teaching expertise, the ALTs are little more than an encumbrance whom they must try to train and put to some use during their brief stay. The circumstances at primary schools, where a terribly misguided venture of introducing English-language instruction or activities is now widespread and an increasing number of ALTs are being placed, are even more fruitless and fraught with failure.

There seem to be no comprehensive studies with valid empirical evidence to show that the presence of ALTs in middle and high schools over the past 20 years has effected any notable advance in students' English language proficiency levels or the quality of communicative language teaching (CLT) on a widespread scale. Anecdotally, my observations of about 20 ALTs in high school classrooms and discussions with scores of JTEs over the past two decades lend support to these characterizations.

I have taught at college level in Japan since before the arrival of ALTs and have seen no evidence of any impact by ALTs on the overall level of students' English language proficiency or their attitudes, strategies, and expectations toward English-language learning.

Given the staggering annual cost of all the ALTs in Japan, a cost/benefits analysis would certainly conclude that their employment involves a wasteful expenditure of massive funds for, at best, very limited and unproven gains. The use of ALTs in English classes should be terminated and the money used for long-term, intensive training of JTEs in workshops, seminars, and courses throughout the year, including the long-term presence of master teachers, both Japanese and native speakers, as mentors in the schools. At the same time, it is imperative that the Education, Science and Technology Ministry mandate the practice of CLT and terminate yakudoku instruction. Other measures, such as reduction of class sizes and an increase in the number of trained teachers, should be funded in place of the current expenditure on ALTs.

The presence of ALTs in English-language classrooms often marginalizes and diminishes the role of JTEs in front of their own students at a time when more than ever they need to assert themselves as models of English-language use in order to motivate and support their students in productive efforts. The presence of ALTs retards the necessary professional growth and development of JTEs, who need and deserve massive assistance and support if they are to deliver effective English-language instruction across this country.

The existence of ALTs in English classes has been a severe distraction from working toward the goal of "cultivating Japanese with English abilities" as set by the ministry. It is time to terminate the use of ALTs while recognizing and addressing the essential role and acute needs of JTEs.

Porcaro is a professor of English as a foreign language at Toyama University of International Studies. His full paper, "Abolish the ALT Program," is in "Explorations in Teacher Education," 14 (2) and available online at files/PDF files/Summer2006.pdf.

(Feb. 9, 2007)

Article Here

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Notable January Activities (Part 1)

It seems that working 40 hours a week cuts into my pleasurable activities. Since, everything is so far from my house, I have to account in all that wasted driving time to do anything. This leaves me with much lesser free time than I'm accustomed to. I never thought that I could be more busy than I was my last 1.5 years at college. I still don't understand how I crammed more into my schedule at college, but seem more tired in Japan. My logical explanation is that at college, the furthest thing away from me was my mall – at maybe 3 miles one way. The gym was literally the building next to mine, all my classes, jobs, dining choices, friends were no more than a 10 -15 minute walk away. This made it readily available for me to go to class, work, go to the gym, see friends, study and time for the bar all in one day.

Now, I work my 40 hours and have to make choices on what I will do afterwards – study, see friends, or work out. After deciding on one of those three, I usually arrive back to my home around between 7 -9pm – whereby, I try to take care of personal matters or stuff that needs to get done around my house, on my free time. I don't like it. I need a more convenient lifestyle so I can cram in all my past times. I am not excelling in anything because I have to make so many decisions on what I will focus on this week.

Thus, my blog is a month outdated. I've decided to take some of the best stories and write about them now. You see, even if you're uninterested – I want this blog to be a reminder of my life here 10 years from now, for myself. I'm taking events from this past month and telling small stories of them, if for nothing more to jog my memory when my brain gets older. I can't believe how I recognize how forgetful I have become and how my brain really does seem to be getting “older.”

A Party at my Pad

I had so much fun at the bonenkai that Yumie' took me to; I decided to have a dinner party with all the people I had met that night. Prior to flying out to Korea, Yumie helped me invite all my favorite farmers in the area. It was arranged that the party would be at my place on January 6th. I told them I would cook for them. I'm really a crappy cook, I really am. I try to cook well, but my food always ends up bland or just not done right. I have never really had much experience cooking; however, I wish I was better because I'd invite people to dinner more.

Katie showed me a really delicious homemade spaghetti sauce recipe a few months ago.
I decided that I would make that again. It's hard to think of strictly American recipes; I always receive those types of questions and it's always hard to answer. What is America? It's a country made up of diversity. Thus, we have no one way of doing anything. In Japan, it's quite the opposite – there are many strictly Japanese customs, foods, clothes, ways of doing things. In turn, they ask well how do Americans do “this” or “that”? Whereby, I always answer “There is no one way to do anything. My family does it this way, but that's just my family, and that does not speak for all of America.”

I told them I'd cook them American food. Spaghetti it was. You can get spaghetti in Japan – but I just hoped (and still do hope) that it is not as popular as it is in America. All of my guests but two showed up. When you go to a Japanese person's home or they come to yours – it is customary to bring gifts to show appreciation. Thus, my house was filled with all sorts of different foods. My friends being farmers – meant I received all sorts of homegrown foods. Yoshinori helped me make the spaghetti sauce while Yumie entertained in my living room. Yumie is wonderful at that – she is a little social butterfly. As a host, sometimes I get overwhelmed that everyone may not be enjoying themselves – but I was lucky in that Yumie' is so social. The night was wonderful, my house was filled with laughter, food and Japanese language. One of the guys, Katsu brought some homemade sake'. This concoction literally still had rice floating in it. It was so hard to get down; but I did. This is one of those memorable
moments for me. I came to Japan because where else in the world can I get homemade sake'? To me, that's a cool thing.

My favorite story of this night was about a pooping reindeer. Do you know those toys where you put jelly beans in them- and you can make the toy poop out the jelly bean? My cousin's Dianna & Brian sent me one for Christmas. I had it chilling in the living room that we were drinking in – one of the guys found it and discovered just what a “pooping reindeer” is. I would never have thought two men – aged 27 and 32 would ever be so entertained by a toy animal that poops. I was just as entertained; but more or less amused how this toy became a ridiculously universal success. We were all quite drunk at this point, and were placing all sorts of candies in it – finding out which ones make it constipated and which ones give it diarrhea - we were all laughing hysterically. Of course, I didn't know the Japanese words for those terms and they didn't know the English terms. However, we were screaming our respective language, following up with an electronic dictionary to confirm we were thinking the same things.

The next morning – I learned what homemade sake' can do to a person. It can make you feel like you drank poison the night before. I had half prepared a soup to serve for breakfast – but it still needed some more preparation. Unfortunately, I could not make it off my futon – without risking serving vomit for breakfast. Yoshinori came to the rescue – and prepared most of it for me – allowing me to finish it up and serve it. My dinner party was a success. I can't wait until my Japanese improves more so I can hold more parties.

A Naked Man Festival

Prior to moving to Japan to become an English teacher, Katie had spent a few experiences here during High School and College. One of her host families invited us to come down to their area for a festival. According to Katie, it would be a naked man festival. How can anyone pass up an opportunity like that? We took my car and drove about 2 hours South to get to this beautiful area located near Zao Quasi-National Park.

Her host family consisted of a semi-crazy mother, 3 daughters and a father who does

some Shinto priest stuff on the side. The family is more well off than most Japanese families and has their own shrine in their backyard. The festival was to commemorate the New Year and a lot of the festivities were built around that.

This story is going down in the books because for about 5 minutes of my life here; it was one of

the most intriguing 5 minutes I've had. At first, a huge bonfire was built near the shrine.
Japanese people write down on little wooden cards – their prayers (mostly wishes) for the New Year. A very common wish for nearly all Japanese people – is that they will pass their entrance examinations into High School and College. Or that their son/daughter will pass their examinations. All of the prayers from 2006 would be burned in this bonfire and new ones would be written this night.

It was a really cold night and people began arriving and ate this food, that I wasn't overly fond of, gathered around the bonfire and socialized. There is a ritual that the shrine will throw out little packets of money and candy. Katie and I had been chosen by her host family to be two of the folks standing up on the shrine throwing money to the wanting eyes below. This was my most memorable 5 minutes. About $5.00 is enclosed into little pieces of wrapped paper. Katie and I were ushered up about 4 steps – bringing our feet to about eye level of the onlookers below us. There was also an adorable little kid with his father there to help throw candy, along with Katie's host father. We were all given a wooden thing to hold onto that held the money pieces we would be throwing. It basically looked like a tray with little sides and a long pole attached to hold onto.

And then, the naked men. They weren't entirely naked – but just about. They basically were wearing white loin around their groin. The older men covered their genitals and had a thong-like concoction covering their butt crack – but with their cheeks hanging out for all to see. The boys – probably high school students – wore what basically represented a diaper to me. Reminder: it was a really cold night. My first thoughts were how cold I was standing there with no shoes on – but fully clothed – and just how cold they must be. They come running in under a torii - with white pieces of paper folded into a triangle that were in their mouths. The white triangles represented the purity of these men.

Imagine this if you can. Here I am, already feeling celebrity status since I get to throw the money. I have town citizens surrounding the temple hoping I'll throw the $5.00 their way and a bunch of naked men running with things in their mouth towards me. They stop before the shrine and bow while Katie's host father said something or other in Japanese. Then, they take off and we start throwing the money to the people.

I have always been on the receiving end of these things. It's so hard to choose who you will throw your money to! I feel bad for everyone that didn't catch it and everyone looked so needy! And BAM! It was over. I had such a rush – I can't tell you how enthralling those 5 minutes were to me. I got off the shrine – all smiles and telling Katie that was possibly the most interesting 5 minutes I had experienced in Japan. I wish I had someone take pictures for me. I also wish – I knew more of the meaning behind this event (it's an annual thing).

Afterwards, everyone writes their new prayers for the year on a new wooden card. On the other side of the card – is the animal which represents this year. Japanese use the Chinese calendar of astrology. Thus, this is the year of the inoshishi or a wild boar. It's my year actually! Anyone that was born in 1983 – this is your year. If you are a female this is your LUCKY year! Your lucky year only comes along once every 24 years – so go play the lotto or something. However, if you are a male born in 1983 – this is your UNLUCKY year – so I don't suggest playing the lotto to you. =)

My prayer for this year is that my Japanese will continue to improve. Afterwards, we socialized with Katie's host family before headed back home.

I enjoy Naked Men Festivals.

to be continued...


running off traveling this weekend to Sapporo, Hokkaido for a snow festival. I hear my pictures will "wow my friends for years" Can't wait!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Videos of Seoul

Here are the 4 videos I took while sitting on the bus back to the airport. Watch from the top to the bottom - enjoy. I also posted a new blog underneath this one. At the bottom of all the videos I posted a link to all my Korea pictures. Thus, ending the Korea series.

Watch first

Watch second

Watch third

Watch fourth - this was getting closer to the airport and we started going over really wierd island, dirt things. I found it intriguing since I had no idea what it was.

I know they aren't THAT exciting but it gives you an idea and I was bored on the bus. And whenever it gets onto the internet the quality turns to crap. Oh well!

All the pictures of my Korea trip


One time, Meghann sent Katie & I an email with the subject of C.O.P. - where I was informed it meant Change of Plans. That's exactly what happened since I decided to visit Seodaemun Prison. My intentions were to visit the War Memorial Museum before meeting Corey. I would not have time to see the War Memorial Museum at this rate. Due to my, C.O.P. - I decided to go back to the Palace that I visited with Corey on my second night in Korea. I could now view it by daylight, especially since it was only one train stop away.

I got off and viewed Gyeonbokgung Palace. The history of this palace is as follows stolen straight from my Lonely Planet (which is, by the way, a big no-no in my travel writing guide, but I'm not published, yet)

Originally built by King Taejo, this palace served as the principal palace until 1592 when it was burnt down during the Japanese invasions. The grandest palace in Seoul, it laid in ruins for almost 300 years until Heungseon Daewongun, regent and father of King Gojong moved in during 1868. Nearly 30 years later, the Japanese invaded the palace...

....During Japanese colonial rule, nearly all 330 buildings in the palace were either destroyed or moved. The palace is currently being restored to some of its former glory.

I don't know if it was the time of the year – but I couldn't enter the grounds. Therefore, I only got to see the outlaying area of the palace; which was beautiful nonetheless. I walked around the area for about 40 minutes – taking pictures. I practiced my Japanese, asking a Japanese couple to take my picture in front of the palace. You should have seen their faces, shocked! That a white person was speaking Japanese to them in another country!

After exploring, I hopped back onto the trains to meet Corey for dinner in Itaewon. Itaewon was a new country in itself; this is where the US Army base is located; thus, it was a train ride back to America for me. I walked off the train, up the exit number to where I would meet Corey. I walked into the daylight and see more diversity than I have in the past 5 months abroad. I saw more signs in English than Korean, hear more English than Korean, and for once, don't feel like I stand out amongst the crowd. Corey said this is a very popular tourist spot to come to – it truly felt like a little America to me and I suddenly felt unsafe (kidding, kidding).

I ordered some Dunkin Donuts coffee while waiting for Corey to arrive. We had dinner together, catching up on our day and deciding on our evening. After dinner, we walked around Itaewon so I could get more of a feel before starting a long hike to Namsan & Seoul Tower.

Seoul Tower is located on the top of a small hill named Namsan. There were a few ways to get there but we decided to walk. You can see the picture of how far we were about to walk. We walked through the streets of Itaewon, and ascended higher and higher on a very steep, uphill walk through narrow, curvy roads. We finally reached the foot of the hill that Seoul Tower lives on.

Corey wasn't exactly sure on how to get to the top from where we were. It was about 30 minutes of failed ascents. First, we headed towards the right – leading us up to a “false summit.” What we discovered was a small park area with no more advances towards the tower.

Heading back the same way we came, there were a few other false leads until we finally came upon a lot of stairs. It only seemed that this many stairs would lead us up to the tower. There were no signs indicating that it led anywhere, but I guess the exercise couldn't hurt us. We started ascending, discussing between heavy breathes that if we are climbing this much, Namsan better be at the top. It wasn't until we passed a few people on their way back down that it seemed safe to assume these were the right stairs. Another promising sign was that it appeared that the tower was getting closer to us and not further away. The stairway to heaven ended and we reached a curvy road still uphill, which required more strenuous work to reach the the lit up tower. It took us at least an hour, maybe almost two (it's been a while) and we finally reached our goal. Looming before us was – Seoul Tower.

The reward for such an arduous task was an impressive night view on the lights of Seoul.
Corey pointed out a few things and I took in the view.

After climbing so much, we decided to take the cable car back down – and because we were running low on time to meet his friends. The line for the cable car was short – we were the 4th people standing there. However, the operator must have decided to go on a cigarette, dinner and beer break since we had to wait ten minutes or more to board. I hate heights. Have you seen the new Willy Wonka & the Chocolate factory? Do you remember at the end, when Wonka, Charlie & co. go into the glass elevator and go crashing into Charlie's house? That is kind of what I thought might happen in this cable car; except we'd go crashing into earth.

The cable car was basically like a glass elevator – all the riders were crammed in – too many bodies for the space it provided. I was lucky in that being the 4th person in line – it gave me a top notch window view. The entire way down – I was able to indulge my eyes on the other side of Seoul that I could not see from the tower. For the most part, I was able to push thoughts of the cable car becoming a falling car while I was inside of it.

After making it out alive (yes, I'm being quite over dramatic) – we literally ran through Seoul to catch up with Corey's friends. Again, another night out on the city. This night – they taught me the Korean culture of “3 stops”. According to them, most Korean people go to three different spots per night – calling it “first stop, second stop and third stop.” After having enough drinks – we headed back home for the night.

This brings me to my last day in Korea. I woke up early to make sure I went to the War Memorial Museum. I did not want to leave Korea without going – almost as a tribute to my Grandpa who fought in the Korean war over 50 years ago.

I am usually against war – but at the same time very fascinated by the history of wars.

The outside of the museum was profound with heart rending statues, memorials, and explanations – commemorating those who lost their lives in battle.

I made my way inside where I walked around the floor that has the most history with the United States and Japan. I think the best part of traveling solo is when visiting museums. There is so much information that can be like the most exciting sports game to one person; but it can seem like watching paint dry to another.Feeding your brain and soul with information that a museum provides, I think is best done solo.

When finished with the museum, I walked my way back to the train station so I could meet Corey for one last lunch. No problem, except I fell asleep on the train. Thankfully, I woke up just as we were pulling away from where I needed to depart – so I was only one train stop away from where I needed to be. Taking the next train back – I ran to meet Corey. One last lunch – which was a delicious veggie sub and he took me back to Coex mall to catch the bus back to the airport. Along the way, I took videos of driving through Seoul. I will try to post them as soon as I can.

In reflection; well over a month later – I really enjoyed Seoul. I enjoyed Korea so much that I am seriously considering making it my next location to teach at. I was relieved to arrive back to Japan, whereby, I don't struggle with getting around. The sounds, smells, and customs are all familiar to me and people are less pushy. However, Korea provided me with an experience that reminded me a lot of college; which I miss more than words can express. The excitement of traveling and being with people all the time – are two of my favorite ways of being.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

a quote

Being in a foreign country means walking a tightrope high above the ground without the net afforded a person by the country where (s)he has his(her) family, colleagues, and friends, and where he can easily say what he has to say in a language he has known from childhood. -
exerpted from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (currently reading)