home daily journal comments original site


Zero Self Control
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

     I have no self commitment and it’s annoying. I should make a commitment to change that, but…I have been thinking about, and then promising myself, to run with the kids before school. For some reason some of the elementary kids run around this oval area in the school yard every morning. I promised myself I’d do it three times a week in November and December, outside with the kids and then inside when it snows. Today I got to school, in my outdoor running shoes, and watched the kids running outside. I made several good excuses as to why I wasn’t out there with them. Most had to do with the fact I would have had to change clothes and go out there. Well I’ll really make a better effort tomorrow or at least some better excuses.

     I was supposed to have one class today, then two tomorrow, but they changed the one tomorrow to something else. I’ve already planned both classes so I really have nothing to do, but I will research something on the web I guess. Maybe I will read about writing fiction or travel writing or photography.

     Well some good news is the standardized English test scores came in and most students passed. There is a 65% pass rate for the school, but that’s really good in Japan, especially when students can make 20% on a school tests and move up the next year. I mean 65% of the students who took it passed. Most of the students passed that I really cared about. There are a few who are annoying in class and don’t write journals and I knew they wouldn’t pass, but a few who didn’t pass do try. I feel bad for them. There were a few girls who didn’t pass last year and that caused them to get behind a bit a I knew they were sad about it. Well they passed and are now at a respectable level.

     Japanese school kids spend a lot of time alone at school. Alone as in no teacher, not merely by themselves. I can’t remember the teacher leaving the room very much when I was in school, but I definitely can’t compare the US and Japan in this area. When we had recess there were several teachers watching us, but here the teachers come back to the teacher’s room and prepare for other things. When students get here in the morning they are alone for a while, then between classes and after school for a while. The education systems are completely different in most areas. I would like to document them more if I could and maybe even another country like Thailand or somewhere.

     I’ve been having these ‘premonitions’ recently and I don’t know why I keep ignoring them. They are always about bringing my camera. Occasionally I will start to leave the house and think “I should take my camera today” then I dismiss it as usual. But when I get to school, sure enough there is some reason why I should have brought my camera. Today the reasons are 1) the 8th graders are learning about the Japanese koto (like a harp) and there are about 20 kotos all around the special use room, and 2) the kindergarten students are coming for a welcome and health check. Last year I met the current first year students at this thing, so today I will spend more time with them. I’ve already met many of them at the sports day in the spring, but I will spend more time with them today. I know a few of them through their older siblings who are already students. One kid named Shota (show tah) seems fun. His brother is a 4th grader and his father owns a local mechanic shop. The family seems nice and well mannered, at least the kids. The father was nice and honest and a friend of my principal. I think there are around 25-30 kids coming in. I should make a name tag for myself. Maybe I will make little name cards for them.

     I just did a semi-humorous thing by accident sorda. A student came into the TR and I wanted to give him his journal back. He was talking to a teacher so I waited and then I stood up to leave and give it to him on the way out. When I passed him, moments before I gave it to him, he backed into me and I accidentally ‘dropped’ it into his hands, but he didn’t notice. He was holding his coat by his leg and when I dropped it, it managed to wedge itself between his hand and his coat. As he was walking out he noticed something in his hand and then became utterly confused as to why he was holding his journal. He clearly didn’t remember picking it up and he wasn’t even near it. I didn’t say anything.

Early Friday
Thursday, November 2, 2006

     Tomorrow is a holiday so today is my Friday. I have no class until 3rd period. We had a long meeting this morning and I didn’t care. I just quietly translated some memo and then started typing this. Apparently there is something going on with all the teachers and students because I just noticed I am alone in the teacher’s room. First there is some shuffling around with teachers coming and going and then there is suddenly nothing. No sounds, just me typing. I look up and see no one. Hmmm, how do they do this? It’s a magical secret.

     Well I found everyone. There was a Japanese speech thing in the special use room. I sneaked in and took a few photos. I really want to type “snuk” since that’s the slang past tense. Anyway, there was another incident of illogic during the speeches. I really want to understand this since it is the basis of my frustration. I come from a culture where everything is based on some logic. I may not agree with it, but I can almost always see why it’s done like it is. But here things are done in a way that not only doesn’t make sense to me, but it seems is the absolute worst possible way of doing something. I can’t understand these things and I am trying to deal with it. That’s really where my “whining” comes from.

     Anyway, there are speeches and I am listening. The special use room is across the hallway from the 1st-4th grade classes. The 4th – 9th graders are all in the room. The 1st – 3rd are having class. What type of things would be good for the 1st – 3rd grade students to be doing during the speeches, and more importantly, what would be bad? To start off the 2nd grade kids were singing some song. That was a little annoying since the room is directly across the hall and the sound came through easily. Then they stopped. Then the 3rd grade class started singing a song. The song was some loud happy song and they were singling loud. By loud I mean they were yelling. I could not hear the girl speaking into a microphone. Yet this was acceptable, no one stood up to go tell the 3rd graders (and their teacher) “hey, you know, we are having speeches as the schedule shows, so I was wondering if maybe….if at all possible…if you could perhaps not sing now? I mean will the world end if you sang next period or later?” Nope, we just kept sitting there. Then, as if it were a movie reaching a tense moment, a quiet girl got up and started speaking. The 3rd graders sequel song was even louder, but now it included clapping on cue and, best of all, hitting a book on a desk at some parts.

     I’m not exaggerating at all on this and I even got a little on video, it was the worst possible timing for the worst possible part of the kids to be singing while the worst possible speaker was speaking. Honestly it couldn’t have been a more absurd combination of events. Since I had nothing to do with anything I didn’t care although the ignoring of common sense was painful. What bugged me the most was that none of the following logical events took place:

  • * Pass a memo around to the 1st – 3rd teachers explaining we are having speeches and they should

  •   plan some quiet activities for first period.

  • * Pass a memo around simply explaining there are going to be speeches and assume the teachers

  •   will put two and two together.

  • * For the 1st – 3rd grade teachers to see the students walking into the room and then assume there 

  •   will be something that loud singing and banging would disturb.

  • * For someone to tell the teachers at the last minute about the speeches.

     I know you think I am exaggerating on this, but I got some on video. I couldn't get a lot since my battery was blinking red and video drains it like there's no tomorrow. So here is an 8 second clip (you might need to right click and download it). About 4 seconds in you'll hear the 3rd graders singing across the hall. This wasn't the loudest part either and it was after the desk beating and clapping. It's the best of the three videos I took.

     Look what one of my students wrote in her journal. Even if she copied it, she used it perfectly in context, but I don’t think she copied it. She always writes pseudo-poetic things like this, but this time it was grammatically correct as well as prophetic. She always tells me stories in her journal and I look forward to them, I could almost publish them since they are part of one big “Music Room Drama” series. Today’s excerpt is about how one student always acts like a child and runs away from music club after school. Then the other members run to catch him. This particular part was about an argument they had when they caught him hiding.

                    He had his revolution, he made his statement. He is special and gentle. But now he is a     
                    hippie. His face retains some features of his infant days. His is a child, but his mind shows a
                    hint of courage.

     That wasn’t the corrected version, that was it verbatim. The rest of the entry had some small mistakes like missing an “an” or a “the”, but overall it was easy to read.

     I need to start working on some interview cards for the practice next week. There are about 19 students taking the interview part and most are new to it.


     I’m going to Koriyama for dinner and some mild shopping. That didn’t really sound right, mild shopping. Just a few small things that could wait, but I want to get out of town. Last night I was planning on going into town for sushi and said mild shopping, but I backed out at the last minute. I just bought some stuff from 7-11 and ate at home. As I type this I realize I don’t want to drive all that way just for a 30 minute dinner. Argh, I’ll go home again and eat while watching something on TV. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow. There is a Halloween party tomorrow in town, but I doubt I am going. I would either have to go and not drink, which would make it unfun or go and drink and find somewhere to stay, which would make it too expensive.

     Here are some links I have referenced recently regarding rigorous rights...ok I can't think of another R word. Seriously though here are some links I have listed recently. The images are links.

My article called "Tokyo on a Budget". I have others planned, but this was the first one they accepted. I suggest reading the whole site since they have several great articles.

My list of photos and photo pages (HA I didn't say picture pages...oh never mind) that I've taken over the years. Feel free to use any photos on my site for any reason. It would be great if I got a byline, but whatever.




www.BaanDada.org which is the orphanage I volunteer at occasionally. This is a small sample of the postcards we will be selling as a fundraiser in a few weeks.




The Sukagawa Fire Festival, one of the top three in Japan, will be next weekend. I guess that would be the 11th. I plan to take some better photos and use a tripod since it's a night festival.




3 Day Weekend
Monday, November 6, 2006

     I remember when I loved 3 day weekends. My friends and I would take a weekend trip or I would chill with Liz in Sendai or any number of things. But now I dread them, especially when they fall between the beginning to middle of the month. This is due to two reasons that I will discuss herein and hereto, vis a vis the following:

          1) I don’t have the tight network of close friends that I had before, therefore I don’t have that many
              people to hang out with.

          2) I don’t have any money to spend on traveling, especially between the start of the month
              through the late teens.

     The friend thing is slightly overcome-able. There are some people who I can hang out with, but most are ALTs and are interested in different things. The few Native Teachers are all married or engaged or in a relationship which means they never do anything on their own, it’s always with their significant other. I have hung out with Paula and her boyfriend some, but they are also a couple and I feel like the 3rd wheel with them. It would be better if there was another person, or even a badger. I could be the guy who is in charge of the badger. That would be better than being the 3rd wheel.

     The money thing is mainly my fault and I acknowledge that, but it’s still annoying. I won’t go into another diatribe on money, but that should be squared away to some extent by the first of the year. Although I still plan to pay down bills hardcore through the first of the year, it will be a voluntary overpayment and I could send the minimal when needed.

     So with all that being said, I had a boring 3 day weekend. I surfed the web way too much. Watched way too many videos, slept way too much, ate way too much, and wasted so much time. Today I have one class and then I will prepare for the mock interviews all this week.

     There was a Halloween party on Friday and two last weekend, but I didn’t go to any of them. Partially due to money, partially because I don’t know anyone anymore, and partially because I am unwillingly becoming an introvert. Every attempt I make at being more social ends up driving me back to being alone. I wonder why. Am I destined to be the single friend everyone has? Is there some reason for me to be alone with nothing to do but babble on my computer? I am very much wondering yes.

     I scared an old lady this morning. Not on purpose or anything like that. I was walking to school and passed her on the street. We said hello, then she turned away and I remembered I left something at home. I ran back and then started walking to school again. I passed her again and again said good morning and she stared at me with wide eyes and open mouth. I realized what happened and explained it and we all shared a good laugh. I was fake laughing though, just to amuse myself. It felt slightly Jim Carrey-ish.

Well I should go and do something that is not this.


     One reason, of many, that I hate not having classes is that I get caught up in whatever I am doing to fill the time. Then when I have a class I don’t want to stop doing what I was doing. Only when I get to class do I realize how stupid that was. I am here to teach English, I want to be in the classroom not doing other things to waste time. It’s just that I’ve had so much free time here in Japan, I get too interested about the things I do to fill time.

     Today I have mock interviews for the Eiken standardized English test next weekend. I told the kids who passed the pre-level 2 part that they must speak only English to me from now on. I just had one 2nd year (8th grader) come and tell me something about the interviews today. He skipped level three and passed P2. I think he will pass level 2 next year this time. I forgot the students have no 5th and 6th periods today since there are parent teacher conferences or something. That means I had better stop lollygagging around and prepare the sheet for the interview prep.

Last Minute
Tuesday, November 07, 2006

      I truly spent hours worrying about what to do for my two classes with the seniors today. I thought about it for a while and was really worried. I even got to school early to plan something, but got caught up running around the track with the kids (which is better in the long run). Then I came in, sat down, and just decided on an activity. ARGH. I really need to plan some activities out for the whole year so I can pull from them whenever.


World Record Ink Usage
Wednesday, November 08, 2006

     I planned some things for the two elementary classes I have, but I need to use the color printer for them. When I got to school and tried to use it someone was printing a PowerPoint presentation. Then I realized that had been printing since Monday sometime. It was out of ink so I changed the ink and happened to notice the details on the screen. It was printing, and I’m not exaggerating, this was as of Wednesday morning, it was printing:

500 copies of a

20 page packet each with

8 PowerPoint screen captures.

      Oh the humanity, I can’t even comprehend the wastefulness…..oh crap it just stopped. See, whining is the key to getting what you want.

     I just had a class with the ES fourth grade. It went fine though it started a bit late and ran over a bit, but overall it was good. I don’t have enough classes for me to have developed confidence in teaching, but I do ok, mainly because I am about as mature as 4th graders. Now I am heading out for a class with the 1st graders and I haven’t been there since April or May when I had an intro class. [later] Well the class ran smoothly more or less. As usual I overestimated some activities and they ran short, but also as usual I planned for a 2 hour class in case that happened. I ended up repeating a few things in a way that looked like I was reviewing them. Also we played a game where the kids had a fruit card and had to search for someone else with the same card. It took about 5 minutes and when it was over the kids all begged to play it again. I pretty much finished up right on time.

     That’s about it for today I think. [checking schedule] Yes, but I have to plan for the English interviews after school. Today they include level 3 and pre-level 2 which is nearly natural speed. Each time I give the mock interviews I get better. This time has been much better than last time since I have prepared more for me. I made 4 specific cards and numbered them. I made a score sheet (that I am redoing today), I made score cards to give each person afterwards with tips, advice, problems, and good points. As I type this I just thought of another idea that I will begin implementing. First I must pass it through the strategic implementation consortium. Not really, that was just fun to say. Consortium. Hmmm, I wonder how the US elections are going. I don’t really care because either we stop the nonsense or we don’t. I’ll check CNN just for kicks.

      Oh it seems we don’t have a 6th period today. I guess the interviews will start early maybe around 3pm and go for an hour or more. Looks like I will be leaving earlier than I had planned. I could go into town and get some sushi though I don’t have any shopping to do unless I can figure out what speed slide film I should use for photographing night fire shots. It can’t be a long slow exposure because the fire will be moving and blur the shot, which could be a nice artsy look, but I need a few clean shots. I’ll try googling that again.

     I had a nice emotional moment yesterday and a slightly sad moment today. Yesterday after lunch I was playing with the 4th graders in their room since it was nasty rain-wind outside. Some were playing chase around a table and others were goofing off on the computer. When I came in my favorite little 4th grader Mami-chan came over and chatted. Then I went to the bag shelf with her and her friend Yukiho. We played a jump game where they jump and I pull them up on the shelf. Then when I help them down I act like I am going to drop them. We did that over and over and then I got tired of lifting them so we paused. Mami was sitting on the shelf and Yukiho ran off to find something else to do. She turned to me and asked “how long will you be at this school?” I said I didn’t know, but maybe two or three more years. She said “I hope you stay forever”. It was nice though I’m sure she meant as long as she is in the school, which I do plan to stay until her class is in the JHS.

      Then today during the 1st grade class or rather at the beginning, just before I started all the kids pulled out their sticker books. They had smiles and were talking about what kind of sticker they would get after English class. I told them I didn’t have any stickers today, but would give them some later. A few had sad faces as they put their sticker books away. Not really too depressing, but for me it was a bit sad.

       I really like the few weeks around the Eiken English test. It gives me extra things to do and I end up staying late and actually being busy. It’s so strange that I want to stay late at school. I left promptly at 4:15 as a Fukushima JET, but then again they didn’t use me, as they aren’t using Brent nor the girl before him. Here I feel like I am making a difference, even if it is small. I see students stop making mistakes or correcting themselves. My plan is falling into place. Soon I will say the magic words and my legions of henchmen (politically correct would be henchpeople?) will join me in taking over the world.

Please Stop Talking
Thursday, November 09, 2006

     Wow. I nearly blew a gasket this morning in the morning meeting. I ate some fried food last night and as always it tore up my stomach. I don’t know why I did since I knew it would cause me pain, as it always does. So skip to 12 hours after eating it, this morning around 6am. I wake up with severe pain as I have before. Then I buy some coffee on the way to school which was really stupid since it too usually causes some pain, but going into an already aggravated digestive system was a huge mistake, and yet I knew that in advance.

     So I am in the morning meeting and suddenly I have that urge to go to the bathroom, but the meeting isn’t over. I wait. Then the urge gains followers and starts protesting that I am not in the bathroom, but the meeting is still going. I wait more. Then I really have to go, but there are teachers just reading memos to us and the VP keeps saying “well that’s about it…..is there anything else…..anything at all……we can wait…it’s no problem…..anything……..something….you there, did you have a question or were you scratching your head…….oh….no…..ok…..well…..anything else…….something……no?........nothing?.......anything……well I guess if there is nothing then……oh yes blahblah sensei….please go ahead”. Then that teacher says something stupid and the VP starts over. I wanted to scream


     It was mainly because I urgently needed to go to the bathroom and that would been rude and they would have made a big deal about it. Not intentionally so much, but they would stop and say “where are you going? Are you ok? Is there a problem?” I knew I couldn’t just slip out. Granted it was all my fault, I know that, but that didn’t stop me from being uber-annoyed by the long meeting. Last week it was no problem since I had no colonic war going on and nothing to plan for the first class.

     Anyway, I’m finished with my three classes for the day. It felt good to have three classes back to back. I would much rather be in the classroom, even if I were doing nothing, than sitting here. In my second year class (8th graders) I had them make cards for the kids and I will send them soon. I wasn’t sure if the kids would get into it or not, but they loved it. They were reading the bios and looking up words and shocked when it said things like “his father abandoned him when he was young and his mother died last year” and things like “birthday unknown”. They simply couldn’t imagine those situations. That’s partially what I wanted them to see. Things are different in other parts of the world. I doubt that would have been ok if I had to approve it through some committee as we are supposed to only teach happy wonderful things about how beautiful life is. Well some people don’t have a wonderful life.

     I wonder why people think euthanasia is so horrible. Though I disagree, I can see the arguments against abortion. But euthanasia is taking my own life or someone’s own life. Apart from family members, who have a right to an opinion on this? I mean if someone has terminal cancer and definitely will die a painful death, what is so wrong with ending it early? It seems far more sane than sitting back and having a latte while someone painful dies. To me it seems much better on everyone. The dying person no longer suffers, the family and friends no longer have to watch the dying person suffer, and no one else is hurt by it. I truly can’t see why people find that to be so horrible. People dying painful deaths rarely say “oh life is so precious”. Plus the higher power theory doesn’t work since clearly the higher power wants the person dead, euthanasia speeds up the process.

I don’t even know what got me on that topic.

The Big Day
Friday, November 10, 2006

     We have some Japanese musician performing at the school today. She came by last night to prepare and brought some friends. She lives in Sweden with her Swedish husband, who came and will perform, but she also brought some of her neighbors from Sweden. A nice older Swedish couple who were in Japan for the first time. It was their second day. I showed them around the school and we chatted since they speak English. She also brought two other foreigners who live in Japan. The man was Greek and his wife is German. He teaches karate near Tokyo and she does something. They all spoke English. There were 5 foreigners plus me and 4 different cultures. Well five if you count Japanese.

     Today I got here early and made sure I was dressed nicely. Yesterday I was in this sweater that is too long so I had to awkwardly tuck it in and pull it out so it was hanging. Then I realized I hadn’t shaved so I was getting the ugly 5 O’clock shadow. I didn’t think anyone was going to show up yesterday, but boom here are 6 people and 5 don’t speak Japanese so the principal rushed me in to semi-translate. That was awful because he was excited and speaking hyper fast. I just took the words I understood and constructed a similar sentence that I thought he might be asking. He speaks some English so I kept suggesting he try English, which he did quite a lot.

     So anyway, today I am all set. I look nice, I am clean shaven, I have my cameras, and I have even told the seniors they get points if they get signatures from the 5 foreigners. The 6th person is the star and she is Japanese though she speaks great English.

     The room is all set up from last night. There’s a decent sound system and big mixing board since they are making a recording of it. That’s a great idea because the room is not too large and the kids will definitely squeal and sound super excited. I mean they will be excited, but in that room it will record well and sound like hundreds of millions of people screaming. There have been situations where recordings were made in rooms that were too big and the crowd sounded smaller than it was.

     I set up an English Teaching blog last night for me to post things specifically about my lessons. I’d rather whine in this one and post just lessons in that one. I’ll put up the address soon. I am at school and forgot the address. Hopefully people will read it and set up their own and comment on ideas and send me money. There’s no real reason they would send me money, that was just a stream of consciousness thing.

     I read a funny thing on a blog I read sometimes that I found because the writer reads my blog, which isn’t a blog but an online journal. Anyway, the other site is myrighteye.blogspot.com I think, again I need to verify that at home since it is bookmarked there. The entry in particular is about how it takes so long for his computer to boot up, because it has low memory, he ends up forgetting what he was going to post about. He can’t make the update ironically because of bad memory. I liked the irony. I also like it when they call me big poppa, but that’s a whole different ball of wax.


     I’ll write about the concert later, but for now I have one cultural difference that was great. There was a karate performance by one of the guests today. He was a triple quadruple mega-black belt and he showed the young kids some moves. Then he gave a speech about respecting power. I was translating (into Japanese) for a while, and then he was showing trust by punching and kicking one millimeter from my face while I wasn’t moving (allegedly). So while he was talking to the young kids about respecting elderly and power, as usual some Japanese adults were talking full volume in the background. It was rude and very Japanese, but culturally ok here. Well the karate guy is Greek and, like many Europeans, he is blunt. He turned and said “please stop talking while I am talking it is disrespectful.” The best part was it was to the principal and some other high ranking official. It’s something I would never do, but I loved it. I hate that so much and I can’t understand why people don’t realize it is rude.

Burn Baby Burn
Saturday, November 11, 2006

     The Sukagawa City Fire Festival, the third largest in Japan, was held today. It was good as usual even with all the usual milling around for several hours. On the way there I took a direct road that looked regular on a map, but ended up being not so regular and nothing more than a mountain pass. I drove toward Koriyama and then took a road that should go diagonally to Sukagawa. Everything seemed normal until it turned into one small road, as in a one lane road.  If I were to meet an oncoming car at certain places, one of us would have had to drive in reverse for several hundred meters. I managed to take a few decent shots, but not of the narrowest part because there was a car behind me. Most of the road was tree lined like the picture and even this road section is only one lane, but it did get far narrower than that.

     For the actual Sukagawa Fire Festival I will create a page for it. Here is a link to the Sukagawa Fire Festival from previous years. [later] Ok, that's done aSukagawa Fukushima Taimatsu Akashind now I'm pooped. Here is the link to the Sukagawa Fire Festival 2006. I participated in it in 2004 and then just watched and took pictures in 2005 and this year 2006. First we/they carried huge torches through the city and then propped them up on the site of the old castle that was burnt to the ground 400 years ago. Then they are all lit on fire and we celebrate them burning. Of course there is sake involved.



Why Did I Expect Different?
Monday, November 13, 2006

      When I got to school I found the students who took the interview part of the big English test on Sunday. As soon as I asked 5 students I started realizing it was a pointless quest. The Japanese way to answer is not to bring praise to yourself or to say you conquered something. So all the answers were “well it was difficult”. Only one student who was advanced and semi-blunt said “it was so-so”, which I took to mean he thinks he did well. So I guess I will have to wait and see.

     The Japanese do things either extremely inefficiently or extremely efficiently and creatively. One example is the heated toilet seats. You simply don’t understand this until you sit on one in the dead of winter. Today is only cold, not the dead of winter, but even today the seat is just magical. At home I sit and it’s freezing for a moment, but at school….well you should try it. Even though they are about $400, I was going to get one at my apartment, but there is no plug in the enclosed bathroom. That actually makes sense to a degree since it’s a water tight room, but I guess there should be something for shaving or a blow dryer (if I used one).

     I am currently trying to plan my 3rd volunteer trip to www.BaanDada.org, to the actual home not just the website. This year there will be around 9 people going, which is really the best number. Once I took 12 which was a bit heavy. Last year there were about 8-9 and it was better. We can stuff into one minivan with 9, but require two for more than 9. Anyway, I am still organizing a lot and I think I am going to change something regarding getting there. Usually we take a tour to Kanchanaburi (bridge over the river Kwai) then ride a train and then catch a bus. This time I think we are going to skip the train and go somewhere really cool instead. I don’t want to say where quite yet, but it should be really cool.

     I was told I had to make my lesson plan by today (actually by last Friday) for the observed class on November 28th. For the first one by the Board of Education, it had to be all in Japanese. This one has to be all in English, which makes it easier for me, but I am afraid some of the teachers won’t be able to read it. So anyway, I was told to make a lesson plan in any style, which I did. I still fall for that line for some reason. The actual goal of the statement was “please make a lesson plan in any style you want, as long as it looks exactly like this”. Eventually I will remember to just ignore what is being said and get right to the point. Here’s how the day long conversation went:

Me: Ok, I have made a rough draft of the lesson plan. Can you review it for me? (the Japanese way).
Teacher: It looks great. But maybe you should move this header over to the center. The teachers may not understand what it means if the word is to the left.
Me: Ah, ok. I will change the headings to the center position. Should I make it look like that? (pointing to a lesson plan in a book on his desk with centered headings).
Teacher: No no, any style is ok.


Me: Ok here is my finished lesson plan.
Teacher: Oh that looks great. But maybe you could start with a greeting. Japanese English teachers are taught to always start with a greeting.
Me: Ok, I was going to greet the kids, but just not list it, but yea ok I can change it.
Teacher: Also, rather than the header “Closing” maybe you should use the word “Consolidation”.
Me: Hmmm, ok. I never really use that word unless I am merging two corporations (in my spare time), but ok I can use it here. I see the word “consolidation” on that lesson plan, should I make this look like that?
Teacher: No no, any style is ok.


Me: OK, here is my finished-finished lesson plan, can you review it for me (tell me what else is wrong with it in a subtle way).
Teacher: Oh it looks great. But maybe you could have two lines here that show check points for the students to make sure they are on track.
Me: Ok, should I use the special circle and diamond character to show these check points?
Teacher: Yes, that would be a good idea.
Me: Just like that lesson plan there.
Teacher: No no, any style is ok.

Then he leaves for class and I copy the ‘irrelevant’ lesson plan on his desk. I structure my “any style is ok” lesson plan exactly like the other one and turn it in later.

Me: Here is my latest version of the lesson plan, please give me your advice on it.
Teacher: Oh this looks great. This is a nice style and easy to read.

     There have been so many times when that happened. Someone wanted a specific goal, but the Japanese way is to be indirect. One must also not tell someone how something should be, but make the other person feel like they were in on the decision. I have told this teacher 100 times he doesn't have to do that with me, just tell me how it should be, but that is the Japanese way and it's hard for him to do it differently.

     I had the students who took the interview test write their thoughts as soon as they took the test and then give them to me. I said they could write in Japanese since I am just going to show the pages to other people who take the test in the future. All the people wrote, as I asked, that the interviewer was a Japanese person. A Japanese person interviewing Japanese students for an English test. That makes perfect sense in Japan. If you think with your Japanese hats on you’ll get: “Well I speak perfect English and I have a license to teach English, so why would we need a foreigner to do the interview?”

     Actually, I prefer the interviewers to be Japanese. Why you ask? Because I have found (through my extensive research) that foreigner interviewers actually listen for proper English grammar, whereas Japanese teachers do listen for the grammar, but also give points for structure. The interview is highly structured and I quiz the students on that rigidly. I tell them about the structure on the first day and then for the next four days I run mock interviews as I did last week. They are more or less exactly like the real things. I say “please have a seat” and then various other things. I had one student pass the level 3 test last time and he said he couldn’t even answer two of the questions. Well if you can’t answer them at all, I’m sorry you fail. But he did say that he felt good about the interview because he followed the structured format perfectly. That’s why he passed. The structure was more important than the English. Hey I don’t care, it’s working in my favor. I get points for the kids passing and they have a chance of getting into better high schools. In a perfect world things would be different, but…..

     I am actually excited about paying off one debt this month. I will have to be broke for one more month, but I can do it. Then in December I won’t send back extra since I will take that money to Thailand. I mean I will send back money to pay the bills, but not double up on the payments. I think I have to pay the $1,500 car inspection tax again this April, although somehow I didn’t pay that until July and August. Either way I’ll start saving for that a little in January. I’ll also start paying my second loan down hard core. Hmmm, I wonder if I could get a forbearance on the big federal loan and use that money to pay down the secondary loan…I will check into this. If that were the case I could pay the loan down in 2 or 3 months. WOWZERS. Hey spell check didn’t mind that word. Then I could pound that big loan down. I don’t think I could do it in 1 year like I planned, that would be something like $1,500 a month, which is doable, but I don’t want to be broke for another year. I can’t even imagine not having to send back $1,000 a month. Though I plan to send that much back for a while to build up some savings. I need several thousand in the bank before I move to Thailand for a while. Although I do have that mandatory savings plan through the Board of Education where they keep $100 per paycheck and will give it back when I leave at the end of my contract. They keep $500 for some deposit, but that’s fine. If I were to stay 4 years total, that would be $4,300. WOWZERS again. Plus I get about $7,000 back from the pension fund after 6 months of being out of the country. I need to put some in my IRA and some in savings and maybe some in some CDs or savings bonds or something.

     Don’t really know what got me on that subject. Oh I remember, I was thinking about how next Tuesday is payday, but I have to send $350 back for the one bill, on top of the usual amount. I was sad and then happy about it.

It’s Spreading…
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

     I got to school, dropped off my bags, greeted the appropriate people in the appropriate order then went to the bathroom. As soon as I sat down the phantom flusher came in, BUT he has been spreading the good word and picked up a follower. I was ‘unable’ to see who it was, but as he came in he started flushing away. Then someone else came in and also flushed away. They probably flushed about 10 times during their 30 second adventure. Two phantom flushers, oh how can I bear it. Plus we are still on the same bathroom cycle.

     Tonight I am going back to the English camp. This time with a new girl since November is the first meeting of the camp, though I think this time they are taking different people each time. It was such a good thing and now it’s been Japananized. They took out the one great thing about the whole program, the fact that these kids get to make friends with kids from other schools that last a lifetime. All the other participants from previous years said the best part about it was meeting people and then staying in touch with them, but that’s gone. Oh well, what can you do…

     Today I have two classes. Well one class and then some markings on the schedule that meant a class at one time, but now it means the teacher will say “today just me”. Today I’m not even going to ask him, I’m just not going nor am I going to do or say anything about it.

     I talked to an ex-Fukushima JET who is now in Laos. I really want to visit there and possible teach as well. Laos is supposed to be a really laid back country, like Thailand, but without the greedy tourist traps. I can see why she loves it. I still like Thailand, but maybe that will change when I visit Laos. She is way North in the countryside. I’d like to be in a remote part of the country in Thailand, Laos, or even Japan and be about an hour or so from a decent city. I’d really prefer that my town had a train station I could walk to, but I have to drive everywhere. I think I wouldn’t have a car if there was a train station nearby. The grocery store is physically close enough for me to ride a bike, or the bus in the winter, and there are other stores that are close. But since I have to have a car anyway, I’m not going to ride a bike to the store especially in the winter.

     Here's something funny. I don't think I've posted this before. The 4th grade teacher took some photos of me pronouncing various letters in his class once. I think at the time I was saying R over and overMe screaming at the kids - I DEMAND PERFECTION while pointing at the R on the board. He is going to use this photo in a lesson plan for our big lesson on the 28th. He showed me the photo and I laughed, it looks like I am screaming at the kids. It looks like I am yelling "SIT THE #$%& DOWN AND DO NOT SPEAK. LOOK AT THE BOARD NOW".



English Camp
Friday, November 17, 2006

     Well English camp is over. Overall it went well, but I always feel like we aren’t doing enough. These kids are the brightest of the bright and we just don’t push them as much as we could. There was far too much milling around waiting for something. That’s not including all the ceremonies we must have before and event like this. I really wish we could do more, and I have suggested things in the past. The usual response is “let’s wait until next time to discuss that”. Then next time comes and things get too busy and I hear “well this one is already planned, but how about….” It’s so frustrating when things are “almost” great.

     I had two wasteful classes today. One was wasteful because I had them make this fancy Japanese style card that they all sign. First they were supposed make notes and then write on this fancy card. It’s a great custom and I have them make these cards whenever they can, especially if the person reads English. But it was wasteful, because after they made notes, they had to wait a long time for the actual card to get passed around. So it was just wasteful waiting and then they started goofing off. Then in the next class they were supposed to be making their scripts for their short movies. They started writing them then got side tracked. I had them get back at it a few times, but they kept getting off track. And one kinda whiny kid started crying.

     There were two kids left out since the class is all 8th and 9th graders. The two 8th grade boys were left without a group and just sat there. I suggested they film a “hacking” movie about hacking into movies. The politically correct term is cracking, but that just sounds stupid. Plus someone who breaks into things would then be a cracker, which is a derogatory term for white people. Plus it just sounds dumb. Hacker is the ‘incorrect’ term that people use and that’s what sounds right. So I suggested this and one kid thought it was great, but the crying kid just didn’t want to do anything. I really wish there was some way to choose which kids could join my elective classes. I’d like to have one class as a test prep class and the other as a speaking based class. Perhaps the kids could make a 3-6 part series or trilogy movie all in English. I’d have to do something else as well, but that would be fun and all in English.

     It’s only 2:15 and I am so tired and bored. I didn’t have to plan for anything this week so I didn’t have much to do. That means I’ve already surfed all the websites I have been thinking about, at least the ones I am able to. Most are blocked. Actually anything remotely useful is blocked. I’ve been walking around the school chatting with kids or just goofing off, but I really want to be home. I think this weekend will be another “wish I had a fast forward button” weekend. Times like this I wish I lived in the city so I could have people over to watch a movie or do something.

     Oh here’s some big news. Next Saturday, not tomorrow even though that is the next Saturday we come to, is my birthday. I’ll turn 35. woo hoo. I have big plans for my birthday. First I’ll sit at home alone for a while. Then I might sit at home alone a bit more. Finally, well you get the drift. Maybe I’ll treat myself to a movie since it’s after payday. Oh I could plan a trip to the beer garden, that would be a nice birthday present. Though even as I type that I am thinking it will most likely just be me sitting at home by myself.

King Nothing
Monday, November 20, 2006

     I did nothing on Saturday. Well I blew my nose all day. I thought I was doing the right thing since I would always snort as a kid and get sick. So when my nose started running I blew it. When it was clogged I used this saline spray to make it run, then I blew it, and felt great. Until Sunday when it erupted into some strange fever with dry throat and violent coughing and nose running and coughing so much I vomited a few times. So I didn't sleep much Sunday night and called in sick today. Which was fine since I had no classes today or tomorrow.

     All I did today was lie in bed and watch sumo. I would hate to be one of the lower ranked sumo guys who go on at 9am when there is no one in the audience. Plus they have to serve the older upper ranked people. There are a few foreigners in sumo and there was this tall skinny white guy who went on in the afternoon. He looked really stupid and non-sumo like. So that's all I did today. Tuesday I am going into Koriyama for a meeting and then get some things done. I have to have my tires changed, get a humidifier since my old one broke, get a new alien card, send some money to the US, and get money to pay for the fundraiser postcards for www.BaanDada.org.

       The only thing I like about being sick is the feeling you have when you start to get better. It's like you are floating or weightless and have no cares. It's especially good when you know you have more than 12 more hours to get better. As much as I hate headaches, I do enjoy the tingling of when they go away. I think the two forms of pain I despise the most are headaches and clogged nose. Well the latter is not so much a form of pain so much, but it causes me to breathe through my mouth at night and that's annoying.

        It's 3am now and I am wide awake. This is most likely due to the fact that I have been sleeping on and off for two days. I'll sleep for a few hours then wake up then sleep a few more hours later and so on. I feel fine and only have a few things to do tomorrow so I am not too worried about it.

The Right to Remain…
Wednesday, November 22, 2006

     No I wasn’t arrested, but I can’t speak. I came to school anyway since that’s the Japanese thing to do. You don’t miss classes unless you are on your deathbed. When I got to school I realized I couldn’t speak and I have a class with the 6th grade today. I asked the teacher if it was alright if I could miss the class and she grunted and then reverted to “sure no problem”. I will write her a note later in Japanese where I bathe in apologies and toss them around like candy. That too is the Japanese way.

     I’m spending the morning translating various memos and tossing others. Some are important, but most are just useless. I guess it looks good to make and distribute a memo every so often. Maybe it’s even in their contract. “You must make and distribute at least 10 memos per year”. That would explain why I get some really pointless ones. The one I am translating is about the “Public Presentation of a Research Investigation”. That’s how the observed class translates. One nice thing about Japanese, though annoying at the level I am at, is they can combine two kanji characters to mean something that is no actually a word. I end up having to translate each character and then assume what the meaning is. But linguistically, it’s smart. I’ll appreciate that more when I know more characters.

     Yesterday I got so much done. I really didn’t break the bank either. I only spent about $30 on things I didn’t really need and most of that was from the $1 store. I renewed my Alien Card, I transferred the money back to the US (and later submitted my last payment on one bill), had my tires changed to the winter snow tires and then balanced and the car filled up, I bought a new humidifier (that takes a soda bottle and glows blue) and a cheap camera memory card, I bought some blank DVDs to back up more stuff, I attended the monthly meeting with the other Koriyama ALTs, I bought some better medicine, and much more (that I can’t seem to recall now).

     The biggest thing was paying off that bill. Granted it was the one with the lowest interest, but still it’s good to get it off the charts. Now I will move that $50 towards my other small loan, but I think I will send like $500-800 a month back for a few months from the first of the year. I’ve been through this too much and I bet you skipped this paragraph when you saw I started talking about it. I’m just hyped that my excitement has turned from spending money to paying down bills.

     I should go ahead and list my new year’s goals since I know I can do them. Here they are, vis-à-vis the following:

1) Pay off the second bill
2) Have $5,000 available cash in the bank
3) Pass level 2 of the Japanese language test
4) Lose and maintain the lost weight of 10 kg

I might add a fifth one, but those are all doable. They have a high do-ability rating.

     I’ve been taking this medicine where you dissolve it in warm water and drink it. Man it tastes like feet wrapped in leathery burnt bacon. It is awful even when I hold my nose. That might make it worse. I might stop taking it or mix it with food or something.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

     The highlight of my Thanksgiving was going into Koriyama to get some cough medicine. I also ate at McDonald's since I really needed those salty fries. They helped and I felt better after eating. Then I found a pharmacy type store and asked for seki-tan medicine. Seki is cough and tan is phlegm. It has some precise amount to consume every so often, but I just chug a little now and then. I can already start talking a bit more.

     Speaking of talking, I had a typical mom conversation with my mom yesterday. Here is how it went:

Me: Hello. (sounding like a frog who had been a smoker for 30 years)
Her: Did I wake you?
Me: No, but it hurts to talk.
Oh are you sick?
Me: No, I was Monday, but I live alone and never speak so now it hurts to talk.
Oh, I was sick last week, but I went to the doctor and he said I was getting sick. By the way did you know those people who live behind us, the blahblahs?
Me: No, not really.
Well he died. He had throat cancer or some cough that never went away.
Me: I bet it also hurt for him to talk.
Well I heard it from the so-and-sos.
Me: So I'm just going to hang up now since it really hurts to talk.
Ok, I'll let you go. Oh, there was some package in your box and we will mail it to you.
Me: Ok.
Did you get that last package with the medicine?
Me: Yes. Thank you. I got it last week.
Well I feel bad you are sick. We are going to the lake for Thanksgiving. What will you do?
Me: If it stops hurting to talk, I'll just stay at home and do nothing.
Well you should get out and meet some friends.
Me: But they would want to talk, and it hurts to talk.
Well you shouldn't be at home all the time, it's healthy to get out.

     It went on a bit longer. I actually sat down and just started grunting in place if the usual "yea". She was in a talky  mood and I felt bad, but it really hurt to talk. I think I said it about 20 times during the whole conversation.

     Remember how happy I was/am about paying off that bill. I checked the account and noticed some interest accrued between the time I sent the payment and when they received it. To be exact I owe $1.93. One lousy dollar and 93 cents. I decided to play it safe and send them $5, so it will be their problem getting the balance to me.

Japanese superstitions, no #4 on my electric blanket     I think the greatest thing in the history of all humanity is the heated blanket. It is a great feeling, I mean really cozy and secure feeling, to get in a bed that has been heated for more than an hour. I set it to 4 which is nice and warm. Oddly, on my blanket control there is no 4 since that can be read as death and I suppose having that reading on a bed product would be the worst. There are often no 4th floors or rooms with 4s in them in hospitals and hotels, but I'm sure they have heated bed blankets. Oh I love it. Though one bad thing about it is when I jump in bed for a short nap during the day, I end up sleeping for a few hours since I am so toasty. If you click the pic you can see there is no number four.

Great News (for me)
Friday, November 24, 2006

All but one of the students passed the interview part of the standardized English test. All 4 passed the pre-Level 2 part, which is hard, and all but one passed the Level 3 part. Technically the girl did pass, but she had minus one point for attitude. I disagree with that since she is just shy and passive, but I could see how it came across as a bad attitude during the interview. She gets even more quiet when she is concentrating. This really just reconfirms my theory that when there are Japanese interviewers they care more about the structure being rigidly followed than the quality of the English. That’s A-ok with me since I can easily drill the kids on how the interview works, rather than teach them all the possible English they might encounter.

     I just had a class with the 6th graders. We played a game where I give them a piece of clip art and they come up with three hints. Then they present the hints to the whole class and everyone tries to guess what it is. The first hint gets 3 points since it is vague, the second 2 and the last one since it is easy. If no one guesses it the presenting team gets all three points. It went great, but this one annoying cultural point kept getting in the way.

As I’ve mentioned before, Japanese culture can be reduce to 4 or 5 points. I haven’t come across anything yet that didn’t fit into one or more of these categories. They are, vis-à-vis the following:


     The part that was annoying during the class was the group factor. The students would prepare the three hints. I would walk around and check them. They were all fine. I would ask who is going to present them, they would tell me. Then when it came time to present them, first they would act like they had no idea who would present. Someone would suggest a person, they would refuse, others would say “yea yea you can do it”, they would think about it then start. Then that person would ask others in their group how to pronounce the first clue, which they just said to me perfectly five minutes ago, then they would present. Then some group would start to answer and someone would halfway raise their hand. Then lower then ask around the group, then raise, then lower. Every single time we went through this whole cycle. I had 5 different topics chosen for the time, but we only made it through 1.5 and I rushed through the last one. ARGH.

     Then I had a class with the 3rd year students, the JHS seniors. We are having a major observed class next week so I went over a few things about structure. Basically I showed them the presentation and the order and how things will work. That way it will run smoothly next week. We are doing a Jeopardy style game that focuses on common errors in their journals. Before that we are doing some warm ups and greetings since there is only one acceptable way to do a lesson plan in Japan. Anyway, the point of that was to say we finished early and I told them to work on their special card to send to the people who played. They started working on that and then others, who had already written on it, started mingling around the heater. Here is where the fun part came in.

     One boy said he heard my birthday was soon. I said yes. He said he heard it was tomorrow. I said yes. He told some girls by the heater and they started to sing happy birthday. Then one asked how old I would be and I said 35, and then she asked if I was married. I said no. I was standing beside her so I smiled and stuck my arm around her like we were married. Another girl said her first name and my last name. They all laughed. I walked back to the desk to do something, but I could still hear them. One girl said “you married a foreigner, ha ha”. Another girl said “there is no way my parents would let me marry a foreigner”. Another added “yea no kidding, there is no way. I couldn’t even date a foreigner”.

     And yet, somehow, in Japan that is not considered racism. It’s merely “we Japanese, being supreme to all, don’t want to contaminate our genes with outsider impure filth”. Let’s try part of that conversation with other words and see how it sounds:

There is no way my parents would let me marry an African American”.
“There is no way my parents would let me marry a Jew”.
“There is no way my parents would let me marry a Mexican”.
“There is no way my parents would let me marry an Italian”.

     Well those sound pretty racist to me, but in this advanced culture it’s not. It didn’t bother me that they said it, they were just being honest. It doesn’t even bother me that the people think that way. I can understand a race wanting to maintain itself and I even understand how all Japanese think a certain way and foreigners can’t understand it. It’s just the fact that they believe they are superior and that this way of thinking is not racist in this case. That’s really what gets me. Just say “yea I know it’s not right, I just don’t want my son or daughter marrying someone who isn’t Japanese. It would be easier to marry one of our own”. That would be fine, or less annoying at least.

     As expected, I have no plans for my birthday. I really want to do something other than sit at home and watch movies. Maybe I will go to Fukushima for some gyoza or Indian food. Sunday I am going to a birthday party for a Koriyama ALT named Karena. If she were a mother she could be Ma-Karena. Oh that was awful. Anyway, she is having a small gathering on Sunday at a cake shop. I think it is all you can eat cake for $13. I don’t eat a lot of cake, but I will try. I will secretly think of it as my own little party as well.

Happy Birthday to me
Saturday, November 25, 2006

For my 35th birthday I went into Koriyama and had sushi and some donuts. To kill time I walked around and went into some shops. I even allowed myself to buy something I didn't need since it was my birthday, but there was nothing. I couldn't make myself buy anything. There was nothing I wanted. Then I drove around a bit, but again there was nothing to do and no where to go. So I drove back to my lonely apartment. The two highlights of my birthday were 1) an ex student from 3 years ago at a traveling school sent me a birthday message 2) a nice 4th grader wrote me a happy birthday note and stuck it in my shoe box where I found it on Friday. I re-read the note as I sat in my car, alone, in the parking lot eating my birthday donuts. It made me smile.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind being alone, but I would rather not be alone. I have tried to reach out on several occasions, but it never seems to work. If I meet some new people they are either always busy or have some annoying quirk that drives me crazy. If I meet some girl and email her occasionally then word gets to me that I am bothering her and should leave her alone. I was just chatting and making small talk. When that happens a few times then I start to become introverted and a recluse. I don't want to be like that, I want to live in a Friends neighborhood with a Central Perks coffee shop nearby, but that is a fantasy. Reality is no matter how hard I try, I seem to be destined to be alone.

Small Party
Sunday, November 26, 2006

Japanese remote control toiletI went to a pastry party for Karena, as mentioned above. It was good and a nice deal, moreso if you eat a lot of pastries, which I don't, but overall it was nice. I wish we as a group could do things like that more often. It brings all the Koriyama JETs closer as a group. One highlight of the day was when I went to the bathroom. They had a remote control toilet. I have seen them before, but none as technical as this. I could flush, control the bidet, control something that seemed to wash the posterior, and a plethora of other buttons I chose not to press. I did snap a photo though, which must have sounded strange if someone was waiting.




I’m going slightly mad.
Monday, November 27, 2006

     I really think I am going insane. Since before the observed class on Oct 13th, I have been talking to the 4th grade teacher about our observed class on November 28th. We had two prep classes last week and the week before and today I asked him about our plan for tomorrow. He said he knew nothing of a plan that involved me. He checked the schedule and it too showed nothing. But several teachers told me about it and I have talked to him about it a few times. I vividly recall asking him around Oct 13th, “what do you want to do for our observed class on November 28th?” Plus it was all in Japanese so I know he understood me. I can’t explain it.

     Today I have no classes, but I need to get several things done. The big one is to prepare for my observed class tomorrow, if I even have that. Well that one I am sure of I suppose. I am almost fully prepared and the lesson is going to look great. It’s not my normal style, but that would be boring to watch. Plus, whether they admit it or not, Japanese people like lessons to be done in a certain way. Even though my job’s core purpose is to do something different, they won’t accept it if it doesn’t follow the acceptable pattern. Resistance is futile. That’s fine, I will do this lesson the way they want it and I will speak a lot of English and everything will be just peachy.

     Well I am actually glad I have no class with the 4th graders tomorrow. I mean I love that class and wish I went there more often (next year I will go there more often), but I would rather prepare for my lesson and make sure the room looks exactly how I want it to look. Most of all I need to make sure all the A/V equipment works since there is always some little glitch.

     Oops I do have a class 2nd period and I have prepared nothing. Luckily I can whip something up in a short time. I really need to finish mapping out the yearly curriculum and then making activities to match, but for now I will make something fast.

     I sit right next to the color printer and I haven’t been able to use it all day. People are constantly printing stupid crap. Someone is printing some photos now. Earlier someone printed this info book with random, totally unneeded spot color. Had it all been black and white, it could have been printed once and then copied on the lithograph machine, but no, two headers had to be in dark blue (THAT YOU CAN BARELY SEE). Once I stopped someone’s print job since no one was in the room, sadly there were three lined up behind it. Now I can’t use it because someone is printing big sheets with 4 photos on each page and the machine ran out of paper. I can’t print because it is waiting on more paper and I don’t want to stop it since there are various teachers in the room and I don’t know who printed this. There is another color printer, but there is a sign that says “don’t send color pages to this machine”. And yet it always seems to be printing color pages. I hate not being able to get things done because of someone else. I have to keep this page open in case there is a window of opportunity. I have three other screens open as well that are waiting on other things. #%$& this, I am stopping it.


     OF COURSE someone comes over the SECOND I stop the other print job. It wasn’t even printing, just waiting for more paper, but the second I press the cancel button someone comes over. I LOVE IT. YES. MORE PLEASE. ARGH.

     It was the principal’s photos I stopped. We had a meeting at 4 and he commented that he was printing photos for the meeting, but the printer seemed to have stopped. Lovely.


     I think I am going insane. I was sure I had mentioned the supposed class I thought I had tomorrow, but I find no record of it. I vividly remember talking to the English teacher and him telling me I had a class with the elementary school on November 28th. I then said I hope it is the 4th grade since I work so well with that class. Then I talked to the teacher about it several times. I remember him saying we have two prep classes before the class. Then I go insane. Seriously, I think I am living in the twilight zone.

Za Bigu Dayu
November 28, 2006

That’s the Japanese version of English for “The Big Day”. What a big day it is. There are supposed to be around 100 teachers from all over Koriyama and some TV station showed up and is filming everything. Hmmm, you think they are going to film the foreigner’s class? Especially when he is not just a Koriyama JET, but an actual Native Teacher? Oh yea, but that’s fine. I have a good lesson that falls within the established parameters of what is a good lesson plan.

I don’t have a lesson until 3rd period, which is great because I have two periods to check and recheck the presentation and then time to set up. I also have time to test the sound system and projector in the English room. It always randomly has problems so I want to know that in advance. I’m not terribly worried about the whole thing since I practiced with the students in advance, just so they know the structure of what will happen. Otherwise they would fall into their natural state of being silent when they don’t understand something. I don’t think I have ever heard of a student asking a teacher to clarify something.

Today is the first day of the Fukushima JET mid year conference. My second year of not having to go to it, oh what a relief. It was such a waste of time, but could have easily been worthwhile. It was a waste because the featured speakers were just other Fukushima JETs. They may or may not have any experience or even any decent ideas, but they are told they must do a presentation. Furthermore, they can’t even choose the topic. Fukushima Prefectural Monkey Baboon Clown Circus decides that. The topics are always like “Empirical Methods of Restructuring English Education”. Since no one understands that, they presenters change the topic to “My Lesson Plan from Last Week”. Then to make things even easier they do the standard Fukushima JET Presentation Method. That is simply talking about something for 10 minutes, then telling the audience to get in groups and discuss their own thoughts for all but 10 minutes, then review what everyone talked about. Everyone always did that because it’s about all we can do. Who can talk for AN HOUR about some 45 minute lesson they did or some vague topic they know nothing about.

I’ve always thought we should be allowed to volunteer for presentations, but since no one would, there could be a reward. Like an extra week of vacation time. That would actually get people to compete for the chance to present and the presentations would be good. But that goes against grain. No matter how much logic there was backing it, that would never happen. Not in Fukushima, not in Japan.

Although…in one sense I would rather have the observed class second period so I wouldn’t have to sit here and wait. I’m not nervous at all, it’s just there is so much pressure on everyone and everything. The regular teachers are just doing what they normally do, but having a foreigner as a Native Teacher in the flagship school of Koriyama, if not Fukushima is a big deal. This school, which is both an elementary and junior high school in the same building, is either the only one in Japan or one of 2 or 3. We have people constantly visiting to see how it all works. People from as far as the southern island of Japan, which leads me to believe we are the only school like this in Japan. I mean these people fly up here for 2 hours, drive an hour to the school, spend 2 hours touring (and an hour having ceremonies), and then fly back. They spend more time on a plane than in the school. It’s a prestigious role and I have to be at my best all the time.


Well my class went fine more or less. I finished about 5 minutes early since, for some reason, I removed part of the Jeopardy style game I used. I figured we would go over the time limit so I removed the 400 points level. Sadly that would have made it perfect timing. But I foresaw ending early so I thought about what to do in my head. I played the word chain game where I say a word and kids say a word starting with the last letter of that word. I acted like I had planned to play it so it seemed to go over well, but I wish I hadn’t taken out the 4th level.

One humorous thing happened during the game. The question was “what’s the past tense of choose” and the answer was “cheese”. She even spelled it. During the class I saw some good nods from the onlookers and laughs and overall enjoyment I think. I followed the required structure and had variety and did some new styled activities so I think it was ok. Now I have learned I have another observed class on Sunday, but then we get Monday off.

We just had lunch. It wasn’t the usual school lunch, it was some special noodle dish. I don’t know if this is a Japan thing, but meals are either tasty, but not enough or average and plentiful. I usually vote for average and plentiful, but we never really vote. Every time we have a school party, and this applies to my first three years as a Fukushima JET as well, the higher the price for the party meant not much, but terribly tasty food. I always preferred the $20-40 parties since we would have tons of food. I eventually learned to eat before I ate so I wouldn’t be ravishingly hungry and devour everything. Today’s lunch was really tasty, but about as much as I would expect from an appetizer. I am still hungry and there is nothing to eat. ARGH. Hulk no like.

Oh. I just finished 4 and a half hours of meetings. The first was just English teachers, though no one spoke English during it. They talked about my class as well as another teacher’s English class (the 4th grade one that I thought I was in). The bigwig from the board of education kept going on and on about how incredible my PowerPoint presentation was. Objectively, it was pretty cool, but the tendency is to over exaggerate, which he did. Some teachers asked for my Jeopardy style quiz in PowerPoint, so I will send that to them soon. Then we had another meeting in the big hall. I followed about 1/50th of it and then made notes in my notebook for making notes about noteworthy matters. Both chairs were too small and I couldn’t fidget or move so it was rough. I fidget and like to adjust and move around a bit, but I was unable.

Apparently Friday we have a party in Koriyama to celebrate our hard work. I do like the group thing sometimes. I think companies and schools are much closer as a group than those in the US. I don’t think the teachers ever hung out at any of my schools except for the mandatory meetings / parties. I wish the party was tonight since I am in a beer drinking mood. I busted my thingy today and up until today. Whew, I can relax. Tomorrow and Thursday I have no classes so I will work on my yearly curriculum or something else. I will make that happen.

The Cough
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I still have this residual cough. It’s not bad, just an occasional clearing of the throat, but I am clearing something. But, there’s this teacher, who smokes like a chimney, and sits across from me (he secretly smokes near the back of the gym). He sounds like he is coughing up a lung. He will start this cough and it will end with the sound of something nasty. It truly sounds like he is vomiting over there or about to die from some coughing fit. It makes me feel less bad about my little cough at school.

About 5 teachers are missing for some reason. I heard from a phone call something about an accident, but the overall demeanor of the call was too casual for anything serious to have happened. The elementary 1st grade teacher isn’t here, which is a bit strange since that class most of all needs someone there. [update] The music teacher is filling in.

The principal called me into his office and praised me over and over about how great my class was yesterday (technically it was very great and very perfect). He said several teachers commented about how even this high level elective class seemed higher than normal. He told them it wasn’t an elective class, just the regular class. They were shocked. He said all the teachers were really impressed. If they weren’t impressed the Japanese way would have been to just say nothing, so I assume they were impressed. I really need to stop typing this and work on cleaning my quiz program so I can give it to the teachers who requested it. I will make this happen. It shall become that of which that has become something that has happened.


Look at how Japanese translates. This is the English meaning of the Japanese sentences, notice how it seems to change. First what I wrote in English, then the English meaning of the Japanese translation:

In my conversation classes, I try to have a variety of activities. I prefer fast games that

don’t give the students time to think. Sometimes we watch movies and they must listen

for certain phrases. Other times they might have a scavenger hunt around the school.

The Translation:

As for my own classes, various activities are done. There is a preference for

games of the fast paced variety. There are occasions when an English movie is

viewed. During the viewing of this movie, particular phrases are searched for

by students. There are occasions when students circulate through the school in a

search for English matters.

I somewhat made that happen, about the quiz program. Then I got sidetracked and stopped. I will work on it at a time that is equal to tomorrow. I was just working on the PowerPoint thing I am making for the kids to practice listening. The Japanese English teacher puts up a daily phrase in the lobby. I save them and type them into this presentation and I am now recording my voice so when they click on a phrase they can hear it and repeat. But I don’t have a voice sample now, I am just making the links and pages. So I was working on it and found some sound in some folder on my hard drive. It was in a folder called sound effects. I found one called cat. I clicked OK, hoping it would just load it and not play it. But that would fall into the mistaken category. It played it and my speakers were turned up on my computer. It shouldn’t have been called “CAT”. It should be called “a cat and a cheetah fighting to the death”. It scared the living $#&% out of me and I jumped up from my seat. As I stood my foot hit my daily journal basket and I couldn’t get a firm footing. I was jumping around a bit to try to get my foot untangled and back to the computer to stop this hideous loud, and of course looping, cat fight sound. The other teachers in the room, luckily only 5-7, jumped up and nearly panicked. I imagine it looked and sounded like two cats were fighting under my desk and I was kicking them or trying to get them off my legs. The teachers had a look of terror as I jumped around. Finally I hit cancel and explained the deal. They all laughed in relief and I plugged in some headphones. Wow what a rush.


The accident this morning was because some moron tried to pass in the long tunnel on the way here. I can’t remember such stupid driving tactics before I came to Japan. I have never heard of someone:

A) passing in a narrow tunnel
        B) passing on a curve
        C) passing a school bus while it is unloading, and my favorite
        D) passing in a tunnel around a curve.

But here in the land of the rising sun (possibly in their eyes while they are driving), it’s a common occurrence. So anyway, some doofus passed in the tunnel around a curve and some car came head on. The oncoming car swerved to avoid the moron and something ensued. That caused all the cars behind the mess to be stuck and there is no way around the tunnel, without backtracking to Koriyama which would add 2hours.

The Wish
Thursday, November 30, 2006

I just made a wish and it instantly came true. It wasn’t anything like the Swedish bikini team came to Japan and gave me a million dollars and then told me I won a lifetime supply of massages. But I was sitting at my desk wondering how I could get out of my class with the 6th graders tomorrow. I semi-enjoy going there, but I just don’t have anything decent planned for tomorrow. I really wanted the weekend to plan something better. I was just sitting here intently thinking about it and then a teacher came over and asked if it would be alright to postpone my class tomorrow until next week. I looked at her and just said “really? Seriously?”. She started apologizing thinking I was upset and offended at her for asking, but I was shocked that she said exactly what I was thinking. Sadly this power hasn’t panned out for other such thoughts. I’ll keep trying.

I took off an hour early since I had no classes and went to the doctor. I am just sick of this cough and most of all I am getting tired of the way the Japanese think I am rude for not wearing a mask. I hate those surgical masks and they don't actually block anything. I would wear one if I were sick, but this cough is just from the air being so dry and my nasal drip.  Anyway,  one good thing about living in this small town is there is a small clinic about 200 yards from my house. There's also a dentist office nearby. In Atlanta, the closest doctor is a good 5 minute drive. That's not terrible, but a 5 minute walk is much closer. They gave me some nice medicine and I have already felt the benefits of it.


Oh, I should make the December page. [moments later] It has become so. December.





© Ryan McDonald 2005, for information about using images or text please click here.