Daily Journal of an Assistant Language Teacher / Automatic Language Tape Recorder (ALT) in the JET Programme living  and learning in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. More information on the JET Programme here and here. A real life Fukushima JET.


Thursday July 1st, 2004

Yesterday I went to the hospital school again. As usual it was a blast. This time I taught the elementary class again and they were so happy to see me. I made little name cards that had a drawing of me and Bert (most widely know for his work with Ernie on Sesame Street, but also an accomplished Broadway actor). Then I gave them a penny. We talked about what's on the penny and I showed them the small etching of Lincoln on the back. They were amazed and really excited about the penny and the attention really. After that we learned about Fruits and played a game called Fruit Basket.

Then I had a class with the middle school kids. I should really just say kid, because the second girl was paralyzed and couldn't move or speak. I felt really bad for her. It's one thing to be paralyzed all your life, you don't know anything different. But she was perfectly normal until two years ago. She had some small problem with a bone in her back and her mother wanted surgery. The doctor's said no it wasn't necessary, but the mother insisted. The operation obviously didn't go well and now she can't move at all. Well she can move a little, but it seems more random than intentional. She's a nice girl and smiles when I say hello. I gave her a name card and a penny as well. I also gave one to her mom, who is cute, but I'm not going there.

Lastly, and probably the most rewarding, I went to do some bedside visits. I saw about 5 or 7 kids, and just chatted for a few minutes. But this one kid was all excited to see me. The teacher said he was a magician and I asked him to show me something. The first thing he did was a simple trick where he put a coin into a box and then slid a key through the coin somehow. I'm sure it was a simple explanation, but I couldn't figure it out. Later we chatted about various things and then as I was leaving I said how about another trick. He pulled out a deck of cards and spread them out and told me to pick one. A few were out in a way that I thought were implying he wanted me to pick so I chose one that was out of the way. It was the 10 of diamonds. He shuffled the deck and flipped it over and told me something I barely understood. Then he had me look at the deck and flipped through the cards like a cartoonist would to make a simple animation. On the cards was a drawing of Tinkerbell. As he flipped through the cards Tinkerbell flew around and waved (or wove) her magic wand. Then ON THE CARD a drawing of my card the 10 of Diamonds appeared. IT WAS PRINTED ON THE CARD.

At the time I was flabbergasted and he loved it. I was truly blown away. After a bit of thinking I think I have an idea of how it was done, but it was still amazing. I am planning on taking a group of ALTs out to the hospital for a visit or a class or something in August. Hopefully the schools will let the people go and not require them to take vacation time. Japanese people are really strange about vacation time. To them it's perfectly normal for me to sit in the teacher's room doing nothing all day all summer, or to work 12 hours a day. But if I ask off 2 hours early, after working 12 hour days all week, they insist I use vacation time since my contract says I work until 4. They cannot understand the balance of overtime to time off. It's actually funny how rigid they are and unable to see the scale is tipped so far one one. Only in Japan. Do as you're told and don't talk back.


I was on the patio at school watching the sports groups do their thing. The soccer team was practicing and the baseball team was as well. The school yard is about as big as four football fields and all the teams practice at the same time in different areas. Right near me there were four boys practicing long baseball throws. I would assume they are outfielders practicing throwing the ball all the way in. Most of the time it was nothing special, but then I noticed something that seemed really amazing. 3 of the kids would throw and when their ball was near the other person he would have to adjust. But one kid would hit the other player dead in the same spot every time. He would lift his glove to shoulder height and it would be there. He wouldn't move forwards or backwards to adjust. Maybe that's normal it just seemed amazing that he could pinpoint the exact position from that far away.

Tomorrow I have a meeting at Kenchou about the Fukushima Orientation from 1-3 and then I go to the night school again. After that I will probably come back and work on the AJET website more. I moved it to a new host and there are tons of new features. Oh while I am bored at school I will go explore some of the new abilities. Groovy. Then Saturday is the big beer garden trip. I will post tons of pictures since I didn't take my dang camera last year.

Saturday July 3rd 2004

Another actual conversation that took place this week:

Me: I would like to volunteer for the team teaching demonstration at the local orientation, but I want to make it more of a discussion than a demonstration since I didn't find the demonstration effective.
BoE Official: Ok, I see. Last year you did the TT demonstration and it was very good.
Me: Actually Last year I started the TTD, but I had to stop because you can't team teach English to native English speakers.
BoE Official: Yes it was very good last year.
Me: Good, well I want to talk about TT, but not do the demonstration. It will be a discussion. People complained about the TTD last eyar because it doesn't really help anything. Every situation is different.
BoE Official: I see. So you are volunteering for the team teaching demonstration?
Me: Well I wrote a letter to XX-san, you will get it tomorrow. It explains my idea. But I want to do a TT discussion.
BoE Official: Ah great idea. The new people really enjoyed the TT demonstration.
Me: Actually last year they complained about it a lot, I want to tell them much more about team teaching.
BoE Official: Yes I agree. they really loved the TT demonstration.
Me: OK, well tomorrow you will get my letter about TT and maybe understand what I mean by "discussion".
BoE Official: I will read this letter. I am glad you are volunteering for team teaching demonstration.
Me: Well it is a little different than last year. It will be more of a discussion.
BoE Official: Ah great idea. The new people really enjoyed the TT demonstration.
Me: Ok, well just wait for the letter. It will explain this better than I am apparently.
BoE Official: Simon also wants to do the JHS TT demonstration, so now we have two people, that's good.
Me: OK, well just wait for the letter then.
BoE Official: I'm glad you volunteered for the Team Teaching Demonstration.
Me: Yea, well, ok, just a, well........


Tonight we have the big beer garden party. I'll post pictures and stories shortly after.

[Forgot my damn camera] ARGH.

Monday July 5th, 2004

I truly sincerely think there is a magic bar in Fukushima city. This place I go to occasionally called "As Soon As" must have something in the water because I always get one wish there. It's always about meeting someone I've been wanting to meet. The first time was when I always went to this home furnishing store and saw this cute girl. I always wanted to meet her, but didn't speak enough Japanese and didn't know to approach her. After mentally wishing and wondering how to meet her she suddenly appears at As Soon As one night and speaks great English. Unfortunately I turned around to get a drink and someone started talking to her and didn't leave her side all night. Now they live together in Tokyo.

Then I was at this restaurant giving an English lesson and I mentioned it in passing to the waitress and she said she really want a lesson. She was cute too. So of course at some point later she appears at As Soon As and we chat. This has happened at least two other times and it happened again recently. I used to meet with a lady and give her English lessons. Then we didn't meet for a while and I lost my phone and didn't have any way of contacting her. So I forgot about her for the most part. Then recently for some reason I have been thinking about her a lot and boom, there she is at As Soon As.

I need to start going there more often, but I'm trying not to drink as much. When I go I need to wish for money or something better since the girl angle is not quite coming to fruition. Either way, I seriously think there is something magical about this bar.

Thursday July 8th

There are some Japanese things that are REALLY getting on my nerves. To the point that I am about to snap and start being sarcastic. One is people just not listening when I talk. They have their own little idea of what they want to accomplish and anything I say just goes in one ear and out the other. Here is a conversation I had today. I had to video tape a class to show the new JETs an example of Team Teaching. It really needs no explanation since it's Teaching with a Team. Not hard to figure out you share the duties in class, but anyway I either had to try to team teach NATIVE English speakers how to speak English, or video tape a class. I was telling the teacher I needed to video the class for the demonstration.

Me: For 7th period I will bring a video camera to class to record the class for the Board of Education.
Him: OK, let's talk about it 5th period.
Me: Don't you have class 5th period? Maybe I should come by 6th period?
Him: No I have no class 5th period, but I am busy 6th period.

5th period. I go to his office. Surprise, he is in class like the schedule says. I return 6th period.

Me: I came by 5th period, but you were in class.
Him:  Where were you 5th period, I was waiting for you the whole period.
Me: No, I came by and waited for 20 minutes, but you were in class.
Him:  No I was sitting here at the desk waiting.
Me: Ask Nemoto sensei, I talked to him for 20 minutes while I waited.
Him: Nemoto sensei is on vacation this week.
Me: He is sitting right there. I am pointing at him. "Nemoto Sensei, how are you?"
Nemoto Sensei: "I'm fine thanks".

Me: I need to bring a video camera to record our class for the BoE.
Him: I need to see the video before you show it in class.
Me: I'm not showing a video, I am recording a video of us teaching in class.
Him:  Oh I see. How long is the video.
Me: It will be about 20 minutes long.
Him: Will the students be able to understand it, is it in English?
Me: I will be RECORDING a video with a CAMERA. VIDEO CAMERA.
Him:  Oh ok. What is the video about?
Me: It will be a recording of our class. You and I teaching. I will record us teaching the class on the camera.
Him:   When did you record this video?
Me: I WILL RECORD it 7th period. I will be recording a video of the class.
Him: Can I see the video before you show it in class.
Me: OK, Fine. I will go get the video camera and show you.

I walk all the way back to the teacher's room, get the camera, and bring it back. Then I walk over to the TV/VCR and try to push the video camera into the 1 inch video tape slot. It won't go, obviously, so I keep trying. When it won't go I look at it and give an inquisitive grunt and then try again. I do this for about 3 solid minutes. Just pushing the camera to the tape slot and then grunting as if I don't understand why the CAMERA won't fit in the VCR. At this point I am completely fed up and in full sarcasm mode.

Him: Maybe that won't work. You need a cable to show the video.
Me: What video?
Him: The video you are going to show me.
Me: But this is a video camera.
Him: But you want to show a video in class.
Me: No not me. Maybe the other ALT. (There is no other ALT).
Him: But I thought you were going to show a video in class.
Me: No, no. I am going to video the class. I told you earlier when you were ignoring me.
Him:  When was that?
Me: During 6th period.
Him: This is 6th period.
Me: No this is 7th period. You had a class 6th period. I went fishing with Nemoto sensei.
Him: I am confused.
Me: OK, see you 8th period in room 1-8. I will bring the video camera for you. (There is no 8th period)
Him: I am confused.

7th period in class 1-8, I put the video camera on the back shelf and pressed record. I walk to the front of the room to start class.

Me: Let's begin.
Him: What is that? Is it a video camera.
Me: No. I don't know what that is. How did it get there?
Him: OK, let's begin class.

Man if you want to try crazy on me, you picked the wrong guy. I can out crazy you anytime. We talked in circles for 15 minutes. This guy is an English teacher who doesn't actually speak English. Can you imagine taking a class in high school from  a teacher who didn't actually speak German, Russian, or Spanish? All my HS foreign language teachers were fluent in their respective language. Then in college I had actual foreigners teaching the class. The Japanese Education system is so whacked. I can say that because I have worked in it for 2 years now and I made the mistake of renewing a third year. No one at my school can answer simple English questions. We are teaching "past participle", when students can't even respond to "How are you" in an individual way. The stock answer is "I'm fine thanks and you". They are taught to answer that way, and no other. If you tell them to answer how they feel they will get confused. They are never taught to think or to feel differently.


At one point I debated teaching a 4th year, but I am officially sick of teaching English in Japan. I want to stay a 4th year and go to a Japanese Language school where I speak nothing but Japanese all day and my language ability shoots way up. That way I won't feel bad about being here for so long. It will be like I went to college for another 4 years and got a degree in Japanese. There is a lot I can do if I were fluent in Japanese.

Anyway, the other thing that is REALLY ticking me off is this vacation time and having to sit in the teacher's room all the time. I'm growing more and more tired of it and eventually won't put up with it. Here's a chart of my usage at my base school since April of 2004, which is the start of a new year:


So as you can see since April I have done nothing, which includes sitting in the teacher's room, studying Japanese, walking around the school or the area around the school, sleeping/reading in the library. I have done this %76 of the time. Seventy six percent of the time I am at school I am doing absolutely nothing.

So the thing that is ticking me off is how ANAL they are about me having time off. During the summer vacation, when there are no classes or students, I am expected to be at the school from 8-4 just sitting there doing nothing. The thought of coming in late or leaving early is a big deal. Last year my cooler supervisor let me slide a bit, but this summer my new supervisor is being an ass about it. I'm just going to come in late and leave early. If they start getting more anal about it, I'm going to have someone write something in Japanese about my job being a professional Teacher's Room Sitter. I can sit in any room for a small fee. I can consult other ALTs about proper ways to waste time in teacher's rooms. I'll pass the sheet around for all to see. I have never worked for a job where they said "there is nothing to do so just sit around study, but we will pay you". I would love to tell them there is a meeting at 8am and then show up at 10am and say "oh the meeting doesn't start until 3pm, but I want you to just sit here doing nothing". Then they will realize how STUPID it is.

Thursday, July 15th 2004

I called in late today since I have no classes. I just can't take sitting there again for a whole day. Today is some sports day so I will have things to do, but still no classes. This month they have used me %13 of the time. The other %87 was completely wasted. Today I woke up and didn't feel super great and the thought of just sitting there was too much.

I've got tons of things to do at home and on the computer for Tokyo Orientation next week, so I don't mind it. I just cleaned the apartment and now I plan to work on another website. So maybe I will write more soon.

Saturday July 17th, 2004

It really sucks when someone you are interested finally makes it clear there is someone else. I've never let this person know I was interested, but I had been laying the ground work for some time. Apparently not well enough.

I can't be mad at either party because obviously they are happy together, but I am just disappointed that it didn't work out for me. Perhaps that it never works out. I have no problem meeting single girls, or attractive girls, but a big problem meeting attractive single girls. Maybe it's just not the right time or place. Though I am getting old and would like to find the right time or place at some point soon.

Tuesday July 20th, 2004

The non-confrontational way of the Japanese is really getting on my nerves. I went to the night school tonight after going to Higashi all day. I went by there to drop off a CD for a kid who is into American music and also to see the closing ceremony. The funny thing that happened was we were singing the school song and the lady in the control booth turned up the volume. Except it wasn't the volume, it was the pitch. It was an old radio tape player since they only had the music on tape. She couldn't hear the music being played in the room so she kept turning it up. Eventually the students started giggling so much they had to stop and start over. It was really funny and I was laughing.

The aggravating thing was the students were talking to each other at full volume. All my students at all my schools do this. They just don't get it. They don't even attempt to whisper, I don't even think Japanese people can whisper. They just turn and say anything to people around them regardless of who is talking at the front. In this case it was the principal of the school. The part that really irritated me was none of the teachers would say anything until it was really loud and annoying. One teacher was standing right in the middle of loud girls and either ignored them or looked at them occasionally.

The students at all my schools seem to run the school. They are rarely disciplined and get away with things that would get you kicked out at an American school. But the teacher's, at least %99 of them, have been brought up to avoid confrontation at all costs and they do that quite well. Honestly at my high school, you could talk in class, and I mean whisper in a really quiet way, about twice and then you are kicked out of the room or given detention or anything, but you eventually shut the %#$* up. Not here. There is no such thing as detention.

IF teachers say anything it's usually after some students have been talking for like 20 minutes non-stop. Most teachers hint at it and only a small few of all my teachers will actually say anything. I would not fit in well as a teacher since I wouldn't tolerate students constantly chattering in class. But the sad thing is there's nothing they can do.

I've never heard of a student getting kicked out of a class or the school nor have I heard of a student ever failing. There is one girl at the night school who rarely comes to class and when she does she doesn't do anything. She sits in the back and does her nails or talks on her phone (full volume of course). No one says anything. She didn't even do her final exam, along with any of her other tests during her first year and she is magically in the 2nd year class now. She knows how the system works and manipulates it well. Once a teacher told her to do her work and she flat out told him why bother, no one fails.

Some of the papers I grade at any of my schools get schools of %50, %30, even %7 and they all pass. They all move on. We never once stop and review the material. Japanese exchange students would be in for a massive shock if they did a study abroad year in any other country. I can't imagine any English speaking country having such silly rules (or lack thereof) regarding failing. The students excel at anything that requires rote memorization, but don't do well with variables. English has too many exceptions and only a few students do well at it.

Luckily I don't care if the students don't care. The ones at the night school just want to play games and talk about crap, sure I'll do it and I won't lose any sleep over it. You can't make students care so why bother. My Higashi students only care about passing the college entrance exams so they can get a good degree and work for the same company for the rest of their lives. That's what they are told to do and that's what most people do. They don't think about anything else. I can barely tolerate it and yet I want to learn more Japanese so I can get a job in Japan or in the US relating to Japan. I want to have my cake and eat it too.

Thursday July 22, 2004

I'm a criminal. Well at least perceived as one. I was jogging the other night and passed a car pulled over (and yet still taking up half the lane) with two people in it. It was a calm and quiet night. As I approached the car I heard the doors lock. I couldn't help but start laughing. It just wasn't even subtle.

On a lighter note, I have that fish aquarium screensaver and I leave it on at night sometimes. It really looks like an aquarium. My dream in life is to be so rich I can afford to have a wide screen plasma TV hanging on the wall that shows nothing but an aquarium scene. You know the one I am talking about:

I mean tell me that doesn't look real? I can adjust all the fish types and lightness / darkness. THEN, I used my S-Video to RCA cable to export it to the VCR for a few hours. So now in the background I have the TV acting as a soothing aquarium. It's really pleasant I must say. It has a sound feature, but that's not as important and just the video running. Next time I need to disconnect from the internet because some dork sent me an instant message and it popped up on the video. ARGH.

I'm finally in Summer Vacation which means I can go in late and leave early. I went in at 11 yesterday and left around 3 and today I will do the same, but maybe less since I have less to do. I had to copy and fold several hundred handouts for a workshop in Tokyo next week. Today I only have to copy the membership application 500 times, but no folding. Then I will study some Japanese or try to match names with faces of the new people. Tonight I have to have the boxes of things shipped to Tokyo if I want them to make it by Saturday.