Monday, October 1st, 2007
It is the dreaded October 1st. The antithesis or anti
something to June 1st. Today we revert back to formal
attired. All the men are dressed in formal dark black suits with white
shirts and TIES. I wore my standard issue green winter pullover, with
no tie. I could wear a tie under this even though it’s just stupid,
but I only have two suits that are more formal than casual. I’m just
going to keep on trucking with this set up until someone tells me
Just Ask Me, Please.
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
I had a class 1st period with the JHS 1st years.
We watched part 2 of Monster House, which is some Pixar style movie
that should fit perfectly within two periods. I say should because
when we got in the room it was still set up for the PTA meeting last
night. OK, I can understand that when I think about it with my
Japanese hat on. But what I can’t understand is how they took apart
the projector. We have this desk with the projector and some other A/V
things on it. They are all plugged into this thing at the bottom and
it is set up so all you do is unplug two cables at the bottom and move
the desk out of the way. I have told them this 3.5 billion times. I
actually spent an entire century doing nothing but telling them how to
easily disassemble the projector set up.
But that’s now how they do it and my explanations were variables,
which were ignored. When they move the projector set up, they unplug
every cable. Anything that is a cable connected to another cable or
machine will be disconnected, relevant or not.
So I get in the room and tell the kids to quickly reset the desks and
chairs while I redo all the cables. So that’s done and then there is
that mysterious problem of how the projector won’t show what is on my
computer when it was just set up. When I have no urgent need for it to
work, there’s no problem. When I am in a hurry, nothing works. It’s my
life and I’m used to it.
When I got back to the teacher’s room I mentioned it to the teacher’s
room and told him to have the vice principals just ask me when they
are setting up for PTA and I will help them as well as move things out
of the way, properly. It’s more proper to just scurry around and do
whatever the upper rank people say, but I am foreign and far more
blunt than the Japanese.
Something else I have come across as far as their non-bluntness goes,
is a few grammatical structures. I kept hearing one teacher say “I
think I want to finish now”. I also heard it in some other cases that
just didn’t make any sense. When I asked a teacher he explained that
saying “we are finished now” would be far too direct for Japan. Again,
when I think about this with my Japanese hat on it all makes sense.
You never get to a point and you never say how something should be,
you talk all around the point and hope the other person understands
what you are getting at. For an American, this is quite annoying
sometimes and I would imagine it would be even more annoying for
someone from Germany or France where they are known for being quite
direct. I still remember when the Greek guy came and did a karate
exhibition for some kids and told the principal and some visiting
congressman to be quiet since it was rude to talk during the
performance. I loved it since that is truly annoying.
The Man in my Apartment.
Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007
It sounds odd, but one night last week I woke up and swore a man was
in my apartment holding my TV. I figured it out, but it was a really
freaky image. I have a power strip behind the TV, which is in the
closet. The lights from the switches on the strip shine and reflect on
the side of a box. That looked like a shirt. Then there is a white
bottle of wet wipes on top which looked like a head. Then something in
the bottom of the cabinet looked like pants. I was actually terrified
and when I put on my glasses I still saw him. Why is this guy holding
my TV? Last night I tried to take a picture of it, but it has to be
out of focus slightly to get the full image. I’ll try again later.
Tonight I am going into Koriyama to have dinner with some friends and
look at someone’s grammar book. I have an addiction to buying Japanese
grammar books and I swear I have all that have been written about the
subject. If I would just read them all and learn then I would be a
wicked master of all grammatical things. I keep trying the osmosis
method, but it’s not working so well. I am studying pretty hard at
school though and making progress I think.
Another thing we are going to talk about tonight is a girl he is
trying to set me up with. I think this guy is in the witness
protection program since I am unable to get in touch with him apart
from meeting randomly at a book store with a coffee café. He and some
other people go there nearly every day to study for the stupid JLPT
test in December. When I email or call him he never answers so
hopefully he will be there tonight and we can go eat and talk about
things worth talking about.
I said the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) was stupid,
because it is. It’s a big dumb stupid test for people with dumb heads
and stupid faces. I’m not mad that I failed it by 3 points years ago.
I’m mad because it is the opposite of how English tests are. Let me
The JLPT is
the standard test for Japanese.
The Eiken is the standard English test for students.
The TOEIC is the standard English test for business English.
The JLPT is
once a year in December.
The Eiken is 3 times a year, TOEIC seems to be 4-12 times.
The JLPT has
4 vastly different levels. Starting with #4 (basic), #3
#2 (nearly fluent), #1 (fluent – tough for Japanese people).
The Eiken has 7 levels that gradually get more difficult. 5 main
levels and two mid way check points.
TOEIC has no levels. Your score is based on how much you get right.
the listening parts once with full natural speed speakers.
Eiken plays listening twice with using clear annunciated speakers.
completely in Japanese including directions.
Eiken has mostly Japanese, but all questions and answers are in
English. Directions are in Japanese.
the Eiken tests I have heard is natural and useful.
JLPT grammar is archaic and technical. I am often told it is no longer
to trick test takers and focuses on common problems with learning
Eiken never plays on common English problems and questions are plain
Thursday, October 4th, 2007
I really have a hard time getting my head around the indirectness of
Japan. Another example, though small, happened today when the grades
were passed back from the big test yesterday. Students get circles
around correct answers because, and I quote, “they become confused if
correct answers aren’t circled”. So then when they are wrong they
would get X’s correct? Nope, that would be too direct. They get
triangles with a line in the middle, that doesn’t mean “this is wrong
you idiot”, it simply means “you should take a look at this item
because in the future it might need a bit of attention”. Anything else
would be seen as too direct.
Another thing of interest is how the students scored. Out of 22
students, 5 made around 45 out of a possible 50. The rest made around
10-20 out of 50. After the papers are returned and grades seen and
correct answers are given, I repeat – after the correct answers are
given, students are allow to focus their attention on the problems
that were marked with the triangle symbol. Then they write what they
think the correct answers might be, again after the correct answers
are given, and then they get partial credit for giving attention to
the answers that need attention.
Students that scored poorly don’t get excluded from sports. They don’t
get reprimanded. They don’t get letters sent home. Nothing happens.
When grade time comes around, they get some vague positive statement
about how well they did in some obscure aspect. “He always had a
smiling face in class” (but he never actually did anything). You can’t
write anything negative or direct about them, everything has to round
about and not really say anything.
I had a class with the first years who also got their tests back. They
scored really low to the point that some kids made a 1 or 3 out of 50.
The group leaders plus a few others scored in the high 40s with some
making a 49, but no 50s due to one tough question. The room was
getting stuffy so I wandered to the back and started to open the door.
There is a door to the hallway and one to the inner courtyard. The kid
by the door looked at me and said I couldn’t open the door. I asked
why and he was just quiet. I continued and he again said it. I asked
why again and he was still quiet. Then I said is it broken? I flipped
the latch and opened it a bit. Then he said no it wasn’t, but I can’t
open it. I suggested, sarcastically, is it because today is after Oct
1st? As soon as I said it I knew that was it. We can’t open
windows or doors after Oct 1st regardless of the
temperature inside or out. In the spring at the start of the rainy
season people will take an umbrella with them to work regardless of
the weather. Simply because that is the day the rainy season starts
and therefore one must take an umbrella. Before that day people get
drenched because they don’t carry an umbrella unless it is already
[large amount of
journal lost - more on that below]
Monday, October 8th, 2007
should be illegal to lose important things. That and fish having bones
should both be illegal. I lost something that isn’t life threatening,
but it’s just annoying. It’s my USB flash drive again. There’s nothing
on it I can’t do without, but there are some things on it that I don’t
have a backup. The last time I lost it and then found it, I made a
back up of everything on it, but I think I put some other stuff on it
after that. This time it's just some journal entries and some Japanese
learning notes. If I find it again, I am going to write a little BAT
file that automatically copies everything from it to my computer at
home every time I plug it in. ARGH.
just realized something odd. When a student is sick he/she doesn’t
come to the school nurse alone. There is always another student who
explains the situation to the nurse. I just saw two elementary 3rd
graders come in and one went to the nurse and said “so-and-so is
feeling ill, what should we do?” I wanted to interrupt and say “SHE
should come tell us alone and you should go back to your classroom,
how are you even involved in this?” But everything in Japan is done as
a group, nothing is done alone. It’s something that is really hard to
Use Me !!
Thursday, October 11th, 2007
We had an observed class that I found out about
yesterday. It was with the elementary 5th grade, which is
my favorite class in the whole school. They are just a well balanced
fun class. Anyway, there were about 40 people watching including all
the teachers, two people from the board of education, and some
visiting dignitaries from Tokyo University. Overall it was a typical
ALT class in the sense that I wasn’t used nearly as much as I should
have been. At the very least I should be used for all repeating
activities. I was at first, but then the other teacher started just
saying everything. There was even one time when I leaned over and said
“shouldn’t I be saying more” and he let me say one thing and then he
went back to saying the words. It was supposed to be a 45 minute
class, but he always takes too long to explain the games so this class
ran over. It was actually nearly 2 hours. People were getting anxious
to leave and shuffling around, but we just chugged right along. I
spent much of the time standing off to the side just looking.
was such a waste, but it’s how things are in Japan. There is such
national pride sometimes and it gets in the way. I couldn’t imagine in
a million years teaching Japanese in the US and having a native
Japanese speaker and not using him/her to the fullest extent. I would
have him/her making tests, recording his/her voice, talking in class.
But we are result based, not process based.
After that class there was a meeting in the big hall from 2:30 to 5.
There was no way I was going to that tortuous hell so I walked around
playing with the kids. I get a little detached around this time
because all the kids jump into their groups and they each have some
predetermined duty to perform. When I try to help I am usually blocked
in some polite way. Either they would take too long explaining
something to me or they are proud of having that duty and want to do
it their best. I end up walking around looking stupid and taking
After the meeting I heard that several teachers suggested I be used
more. It seemed wasteful to have a foreign native English speaker in
the class just standing and watching most of the time. I was a little
embarrassed and uncomfortable since there were so many people watching
and they were all important and I was just doing nothing. I even asked
to do more in class one time real subtle like, but I wasn't used more.
He let me talk one time and then he kept talking. I like the teacher,
but he has a tendency to do his own plan and forget about me.
Those Meddling Kids
Friday, October 12th, 2007
Every time I create a board game for the kids to
play, the 1st years tear it apart in some way. They don’t
actually ruin it by ripping it up or something, but they find things I
missed or ask questions about points I never thought of.
Monday, October 15th, 2007
Friday night I went to Stephanie’s and stayed the
night in her spare bedroom. Then Saturday we woke up early and she
made a Texas Breakfast. I feel like I could combine those two words in
some corny way, but I don’t know how. Anyway, then we went to some
kindergarten that she goes to once every two months and teaches
English to the young kids for 30 minutes on a Saturday. I joined her
this weekend and it was a blast. Hopefully I can help her again at
Then she had to rush back for some KALMIA thing. I forget what that
stands for but it has something to do with Koriyama and International
Association. So really it’s just ALM that I don’t know. I’m not sure
what that was that she had to do with them, but they are the ones that
planned the “Rice Harvesting for 3 minutes and watching a local dance
group for 3 hours” day that I went to a few weeks ago. She seems to be
doing a lot with them and I think they are a bit pushy. She has
mentioned she had to make some presentations about something and she
didn’t want to.
While she was doing that I drove around and got some errands done.
Then on Sunday I had to go back in town since I forgot to buy a few
things, one of which being a humidifier. My throat has been hurting
recently since the air has become dry. I bought some other things as
well and then came back. I had dinner at the local restaurant (there
are 2 options in my town). There is another one in the next time that
I should try sometime. After that I cleaned my place a bit, which
kicked up more dust and made my throat hurt worse, but I drank a lot
of water and had some throat candy so it was ok.
weather has officially turned cold. It’s not really that cold, but it
has tipped over to the cold side of the scale. I’m going to have to
pull out my electric blanket and heater soon. ARGH. There are things I
like more about cold weather, but for the most part I prefer warm
weather. I’m no longer impressed by 6 feet of snow and I have heard
this year will be really snowy due to El Nino or something. The summer
sure was cool so I fear the winter will be freezing. Or really wet,
which then means tons of snow. As long as I had some food and the
power stayed on, it might be interesting to get snowed in.
can see that sentence coming back to bite me in the butt later.
Just Pull It!
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I started to use the teacher’s computer and the student teacher came
over and apologized for leaving her USB stick in the slot. She started
gathering her things and then went to right click the icon and click
“remove drive”. There was some error message and she started to panic.
She called a few other teachers over and they all clicked the same
icon and received the same message and also started to panic. Then
they got worried and said “how are we going to get the USB stick out
of the computer, what on earth can we possibly do?” I pulled it out
and handed it to her. They all went bonkers and ran around saying “oh
no that will erase the memory, it’s ruined, oh no”. Then she plugged
it into another teacher’s computer and saw it wasn’t erased. They all
laughed at how carefree and reckless I was.
I have never once clicked the “remove drive” icon. I always just pull
it out and there has never been a problem. Furthermore, it’s not
really possible to have it erased by pulling it out. That would have
to happen within the blink of an eye or less. That reminded me once of
when my cousin’s computer locked up about 15 years ago and my dad
suggested she just turn it off since that’s all you can do when it
locks up. She laughed and said “that would erase the hard drive”. I
always wonder where these rumors get started.
My favorite ones are when my friends, people who I know are smart,
send out these stupid “forward this to 900 people and Microsoft will
give you a billion dollars”. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever
and I always laugh when smart people suddenly turn dumb. They always
add “someone I know said this is real”, and yet no one anyone actually
knows has ever received any money from one of these things.
The USB thing was one of those “do what you are told and don’t think
for yourself” things. It has happened in the US, but it is far more
common here. I have made a few people mad with my attempt to get
people to just thinking rationally for a minute. Just stop and think
about this. How can this USB thing get erased if I yank it out of the
slot? But that is not what people are told so that is not what people
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I had a class about Fruits with the elementary 1st years.
They are exhausting since they are full of energy and it’s more or
less ok to run around and do whatever you want. I was a ball of energy
at that age, but I seem to remember the teachers saying “SIT DOWN and
BE QUIET” a lot more often and with a louder tone. We played a game
called “Cockroach” in Japanese, but it’s really about evolution. You
start as a cockroach and each time you win you move up the scale a
bit. Usually you start with a cockroach and then move up to some other
animal and then end with monkey or something like that. I started with
cockroach and moved up to grasshopper since they have one as a pet.
Rather they have one as a torture victim. Overall it was a good class,
but they wear me out every time.
Sometimes I really wish there was a train that was near my town. In
one sense I like the seclusion of it, but I think I would prefer even
limited access to a train that I could walk to from the school or my
home. Even if there was only 1 train per hour or less, it would be
really convenient, especially around the winter months. It takes an
hour to clean the snow off my car sometimes and I fear this year will
be even worse.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
I went home a bit early last night since I was feeling bad from this
nasal drip I get every year around this time. This year it has been
much better since I drink a lot of green tea and also got some
medicine for it as soon as I felt it coming on. Anyway, I went home
and had dinner and got a little tired so I got on the bed (one of two
pieces of furniture in my apartment) for a minute. I woke up 13 hours
later in the same clothes and my glasses and even in the same
position. Wow, that is such an odd feeling. It’s like falling asleep
on the toilet or even worse on the toilet at some other place. When
you start to wake up you have that feeling of “where am I, oh I must
be in my bed”, but then you wake up and you’re like “WHAT? I’m on a
toilet? Where am I?”
Anyway, today I had a class with my 1st years again. They
are a great class overall since about 7-10 of the kids are pretty high
level English. Some go to a private school after school and others are
just into it. I gave them a short quiz to start the class and one
question said, in Japanese, “if the word is spelled correctly then
circle it”. About half the class kept asking what “spelled” meant. It
was in Japanese. How can you make it to the 7th grade and
not know what the word “spelling” means? They also don’t know the
Japanese word for “adjective” either, nor do my 8th
I had a class after that with my seniors who are all really smart and
with it. Before each class we ask a few questions and they can sit
down if they answer them correctly. For some reason, today I couldn’t
think of any questions. I have a list, but I usually ask a few regular
ones. So today I turned to one kid who is a loudmouth, but usually
gets quiet when the time is right. I told him “I am lazy today so
please ask questions for me.” There was a moment of awkwardness since
this was a variable, but then he asked the usual opener “how’s the
weather?” Someone answered and some kids sat down, then it was the
teacher’s turn and he followed suit and had the kid ask some
questions. It ended up being a really great activity and I just made
it up on the spot.
I have done that a few times and it always turns out ok. It’s strange
and I can’t do it on purpose. I can only do it when I really didn’t
prepare enough or something runs short. In this situation it was just
me being a little sluggish recently due to various reasons. One of
which is due to the fact I have some head cold thing going on. I know
it’s really just my dust allergy kicking mucus down the throat and
causing problems, but it’s making me feel a little sluggish and
overall bad. The other reason is…
I always seem to get a little depressed around this time of the year.
At least while in Japan I should say. The kids are all focused on
their group duties for the school festival tomorrow and Sunday and I
get left out a bit. Sometimes the kids will tell me I can’t enter some
room since they are working on a secret project, which is fine and I
understand it. Other times I try to help and they each have a duty
that they are proud of and there is nothing for me to do. The other
thing which is annoying as well as separating is when I suggest an
idea that would make something so much easier and they reject it
simply because that is not how they do something.
An example of that is the tennis club. They are building this standup
thing that people will throw balls at and try to hit a target. It kept
leaning over and I suggest some supports, but that’s not how they
build things so they were rejected. Then they used some flimsy box
which is going to break in about 10 minutes if people are hurling
tennis balls at it. Then I suggest an easy system where people throw
at the target and if it goes in the hole (target) it will hit a back
board and then fall down a chute and be sent back to the starting
line. I even offered to make it for them, but again, that’s not how
they make it. I think they actually enjoy the fact that the balls will
go all over the place. It gives other members a job of collecting
them. So they politely rejected all my ideas and my help and I just
wandered off to another room.
By itself these things are small and no big deal. I can take rejection
like anyone, but when they keep stacking up then they become
noticeable. There are so many walls of separation in Japan. Once you
tear one down, you see another one. I flip between being apathetic to
the walls and then getting distressed when I see another one. I think
it is impossible for a foreigner to truly fit in as an equal member in
Japan. I think there are inner levels where one could feel like they
were part of the inner circle, but I don’t think we could ever be
One of the biggest annoying things about this whole “we must do the
same thing every year” mentalities, is the volleyball club and their
yearly haunted house in the English room. Last year I helped them with
the preparations. Then when they had the performance where people
lined up down the hall to go in, it was stupid. It was just a zig zag
path bath and forth that consisted of people entering and not wanting
to walk around the corner since they knew someone would scare them. It
was really just awful. So I told them that this year I would help them
and we could do it like an American haunted house. Basically there
would be a central hallway where groups would be led down the hall. We
would stop at various rooms and see something scary. There would be a
place for people to stick their hands in a box and feel a brain or
intestines or something like that.
Since last year the volleyball club agreed over and over. “Yea that
sounds great, let’s do it”. I have prepared some things and mapped out
the room and I was going to buy everything as long as they help me set
up and then with the performance. Then today I found out they were
actually doing the exact same plan as last year. A maze where people
walk through and people reach through the walls and scare them. Then
they exit. I really just don’t even want to help them since it’s just
so boring and not even remotely imaginative. As I typed that I
wondered why I even expected them to do something different.
The school festival is the exact same each year. Last year was the
same as my first year and I can only predict this year will be
identical. I don’t mean similar, I mean they do the same things. There
are some dances, well a lot really, then some people sing. Then a few
teachers perform musically. Then the teachers (minus me) sing a song.
Then the classes each sing a class song. Then they open the ball in
the sky thing and confetti falls out. Then people cry at how beautiful
it was. Then we go buy things at the mock stores the seniors made
which are the same as every year (I saw a photo from a festival about
9 years ago and the shops were identical). Then we go to the class
room projects such as the haunted house, a coffee shop, a maze, a
shooting gallery, a soccer in the goal contest, and some other things.
I think it’s actually an illusion that we are here for
internationalization since things don’t really change in Japan. ARGH.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The school festival is finally over and things are starting to return
to normal. It’s been a long weekend. In summary, Friday we had a big
research presentation where some of the kids present a massive report
they have been working on since April. There are always two reports
about Nagasaki and Hiroshima in some way. Then various teachers look
at me and ask what I think. There is only one response. I cannot even
think of saying anything like “oh it’s tragic like Pearl Harbor or
Nanking.” I can only say “it was tragic”. Since the other things never
actually happened (according to the Japanese) they can’t be tragic.
Then Saturday we had the national English test, which usually isn’t
the same weekend as the festival, but it was this year for some
reason. It was from 8-10. I stayed around until noon and then went
home since my cold medicine was making me feel funky. Then Sunday was
the big festival where parents come and the kids put on dances and
have activities in each room. Then we had Monday off since we had to
work on Sunday. I went into town to wire some money back and get some
shopping done. I ate at Jintei, which seems to be my favorite
restaurant in Koriyama. I also bought some needed stuff, but didn’t
spend too much. I ordered 30 sets of flash cards (40 yen each) for my
7th graders. I am going to try to get them to use
flashcards to study since they simply don’t remember things. Finally
this morning we cleaned the school and got it back to normal. It was
like ants on a piece of honey flavored candy. It took about 45 minutes
to undo 2 weeks worth of work.
I’ll get to a blow by blow update of the festival soon, but there are
other things I want to babble about first. Let’s see, I am planning on
buying a nicer camera soon. I need about a 10-12 MP digital camera to
start taking nicer photos of places in Japan. I have already had about
5 magazines contact ME about using my photos, but in most cases they
weren’t able to use them since the resolution was too low. ARGH. Two
of which were going to pay about $450 per photo, and one of those two
was interested in 4 photos. Quadruple ARGH. I plan to go ahead and
splurge and get one that won’t be obsolete the minute I walk out of
the store with it. [later] I just read some reviews and a few people
were saying the camera I am looking at is good, but there is a newer,
cheaper, slightly less powerful version that is better. So hmmmmm, I
don’t know now. Well poo.
Today I had a class with the 8th graders. It’s the better
of the two classes I think. Anyway, I came up with this great game
idea and I made all the preparations. It’s a fishing game where they
each have a 3 foot small pole with a string attached and a magnet for
a hook. The “fish” have magnets and words. I call out a word and they
have to snag the fish-word before the others. It’s based on a game the
Japanese kids already know called Karuta, or we might call it a slap
game. You call a word and a group tries to slap the card with that
word. Anyway, I played the game and it was a flop. Only because the
magnets on the fish-words were too small. It took me 10 minutes to
figure that out and then replace them with bigger ones and then it
worked, but it killed half the class time. We had the short quiz and
then 10 minutes of redoing the game and then 5 minutes of re-preparing
everything. It was good that I got some of the bugs out on this class
because the elementary school kids would have torn me apart with this.
I need to get it down to an art before I use it on them.
Ok, the school festival. Apart from the fact that it was identical to
last year, there were so many annoying things. I know I say that all
the time, but these were just little things that easily could have
been fixed or prevented. First off the haunted house room was a
disaster as I predicted. The walls were flimsy newspaper and people
naturally grab them when they are scared. We had to stop and rebuild
them about five times. Then there was a part where someone jumped out
and scared people, but the girl would do it when the first person
passed so no one else would walk past that area. Once some kids backed
up too far and knocked over a table and tore down a wall. Then they
kept letting people in too soon and the open door lit up the room and
gave away all the hiding places. I am really going to try to push for
doing an American style haunted house next year. That’s where people
are led through and stop at various “rooms” and see something scary.
This maze thing never works, plus they did the stupid “stick your hand
in the box to see what will happen” just like last year and everyone
said “no, someone will grab it” which was true. There was one room
that started out scary and then went stupid. They entered the last
room to see someone bandaged and sitting in a wheelchair across the
room, then when they went over the bandaged person rolled closer and
then something stupid happened. But for a second it was scary.
The presentations were pretty JHS student like. The dance groups did
the same dances to the same songs. The biggest and most hugest (I know
it’s not a word) annoying thing was the finale. The dance group came
out for an encore and then all the kids rushed the stage. Finally they
passed the flame from one student council to the next. Then they
opened the ball in the sky and let some banner fall and confetti fall
out. Then all the kids rushed the stage and cried (because that’s what
you do) and hugged and threw some people in the air. Then some started
bawling (I don’t know why, there are 5 months of school left). Then it
all died down and they were just standing around. Then they just
casually walked around and finally left. It was the most anti-climatic
There were some parts that I really wanted to join in, but I couldn’t.
I couldn’t because I don’t have that certain thing that impresses
people. I could get on stage and grab a guitar and people would say
“WOW Ryan sensei plays guitar, let’s hear something!!!” Then I would
say, “I can’t really play anything impressive nor anything all the way
through, and I can’t solo, and…well let me just put this back down”.
I’ve never had that thing that impresses people and it has also
brought me down. I’ve heard all the usual “just be happy with what you
can do” and the other nonsense, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t even
hold people’s attention which is really annoying. I’ll be hanging with
some friends and telling a story and they will just fade out and start
talking about something else right in the middle of me talking. I
really hate that and usually just stop talking and get quiet. I’ve
never been really good at anything, at least not to any level of being
Well that was a downer. Anyway, after the festival there was a party
for the teachers, but I didn’t go. I just didn’t feel like driving
into town and not drinking and then driving back then driving right
back Monday morning. So I sat at home watching movies I have seen a
billion times. Tomorrow there is some city wide teacher meeting that I
am actually going to attend. We watch an English lesson and then talk
about it in Japanese. Then I will eat in Koriyama again and buy more
wood poles for my fishing game. Not sure what I am doing this weekend
yet, but probably not much. I want a sofa-bed from a certain store, so
maybe I will buy that within this year. I want that nice camera too,
but I don’t need it until after the first of the year. I still don’t
know if our jobs are being renewed or not. If not, then I will have a
job until July and then I don’t know what I will do. Maybe Thailand or
something, but I would really rather stay here for a bit longer. ARGH
at the thought of leaving.
Oh, I did one possibly bad thing during the festival. Totally
unintentional, but I should have said something about it. I had this
small part with the elementary 6th graders skit. They read
this poem calling a Lion. My name in Japanese sounds like lion so at
the end I ran up to the stage and said “me?” and they said, “no you
are Ryan”. We did it in the elementary school gym and it went over
well. Then we did it in the JHS gym and the teacher suggested I use a
microphone. When we were getting ready I went over to the set up table
and said I needed a mic. There was this, expected, circular talk about
how I didn’t need a mic and then I said yes I did. Finally near the
start of the skit I saw someone pointing at my mic and flipping
switches on the control box. Just to be sure they didn’t turn mine off
I tested it briefly. I flipped on the mic and went “uh uh”.
The problem was my voice was froggy from my dust allergy causing a
nasal substance to drop down my throat, thusly causing a cracking
voice. Before this moment I hadn’t spoken in about 30 minutes so my
voice was really froggy. When I checked the mic by saying “uh uh”, it
sounded, and subsequently broadcast throughout the gym, like
someone…farted into a mic. The room got quiet and there was nervous
laughter. Then one of the cut up kids, who was holding a mic, started
imitating the sound by sticking the mic to his bum region. So the
teachers and other people in the gym naturally assumed it was he who
intentionally made the noise. Needless to say, he got in a little
trouble, but since there is no real discipline in Japan, he didn’t get
in much trouble. I should have admitted it was me, but I didn’t want
to and then it was too late. Oh well, no harm done.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
I had that "gotta get out of the house" feeling for a while and
decided to take my camera around and snap some shots. I went to a few
small temples and some other places. One place was an old temple gate
I found in the woods down this narrow road. Basically you follow a
certain road until it ends and then keep going and you get on this
path used by monks ages ago. At one point you pass through some old
gates. I went to a few other places, but here are the highlights.
The gates to temples
always have a nice little path.
This one also had a
weird pipeline running across the mountain. I think it
supplies fresh mountain hot spring water to the nearby onsen.
It looked cooler than
the photo shows.
Once the road ends,
it turns into a path, and then back into a small
one lane road that goes on for a bit with this scenic view.
Then we come across
the old path, now beside the road. At the end you can see
the temple gate, though they are actually called toori gates.
A shot from the other
end. It's about 25 feet tall.
Then I drove around
and found some really small road and ended up at this massive wall
in the middle of no where. It looked like a dam and I was able to
barely drive around it.
Again, seemed like a
Two nice trees by the
These are the huge
windmill power generators on the distant hill. It was really trippy
them, it was like I was spying on some secret base with a UFO or
something. They are huge
so I know they are far away. They were spinning too, which made it
even more UFO-like.
Finally back in
civilization. The building on the left is a local gymnasium and the
one with the two points on the right is an onsen or public bath.
Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
We had an interesting observation class at one of the other Native
Teacher’s schools on Monday. It’s at my school next month so I plan to
do something interesting I hope. I learned a few things that might
work here. Something else I learned was something I really didn’t want
to hear. IF the place I love so much renews our teaching license they
will most likely force us to change schools. That really bugs me since
I love this school and I have made a huge effort to learn about the
people here. Had I known we would be forced to change I wouldn’t have
gone to as much effort. I would still have learned their names, but
not as many. Who am I kidding, yes I would have.
Some of my friends say I should just get over it since it is the
Japanese way to change schools every three to five years. But that’s
dumb, because I am not Japanese and more importantly, the reason they
change schools doesn’t apply to me. They change often so each teacher
gets a chance to teach at various schools and see how different places
run, even though they all run the same way. They change so teacher’s
don’t stay at one school too long and so each school has to more or
less renew itself every year. In my hometown, different schools have
different feelings or souls or vibes or images. Here, everything
changes each year since there are always some teachers moving around
(and starting over). I can partially understand it in the sense that
teachers get to know a lot of other teachers and see how other schools
work (which is exactly the same as the others). Then when they are
promoted they have a wide base of experience to draw on. Sometimes
they are at small distant country schools, other times they are at
huge downtown bad schools.
The thing I hate about it is teachers can’t really form bonds with
kids. Why bother learning everyone’s name and their history and their
future plans when you are going to be rotated out in a few years. What
happens when the tennis coach gets transferred to the rival school?
How do you have any school loyalty? I hate it because I make a bond
with a teacher and build trust or an understanding, and poof it’s all
gone. It’s never about things running smoothly here, that’s a
byproduct, it’s about things being done a specific way with no
I’m going to write a nice letter to the BoE explaining how I feel even
though it won’t do any good. Whatever is going to happen, is what is
going to happen. I’d prefer to stay at this school in some capacity,
though I wouldn’t mind visiting another one as well. In the end, if
they renew my license and make me move, I’ll have to decide then based
on the school I get. I don’t really want a big one, but I do love
working for the Koriyama Board of Education. They have a great thing
going if this other nameless place would just let them run it.
Some people have expressed interest in my job, but what they don’t
realize is it’s not the easiest place to be at. First off, I am about
45 minutes away from the big city, really from the nearest anything.
The two restaurants in my town close at 6:30-7:00 and the convenience
store closes at 9. There’s a 7-11 down the road, that is 24 hours, but
it’s 5-7 min away. There is an obscene amount of snow in the winter
and that causes some issues. Whoever lives here must have a car and
can’t drive into town every single night, especially in the winter.
There are a lot of lonely nights here and lonely weekends. Plus at
school I teach grades 1-9 so I always have a messy desk and several
things to plan. I can’t plan one lesson and use it 9-12 times like
other schools, I have to plan a new lesson for each class. Soon there
will be only 3 classes per grade which will be convenient and strange.
I had a funny language thing today. I was translating a memo I
received about the Monday observed class just to pick out the kanji I
didn’t know. I came to one and it was confusing since it wasn’t in the
dictionary, but it was two that I had seen a lot though never
together. So I wrote it down, including part of the sentence and
showed it to a teacher. He said he had never seen them together and
thought it was wrong. I tried some readings for him and he said he had
no idea how to read it. Then he asked a passing teacher and she had no
idea. Then I showed them the memo from which it came and they still
had no idea what it meant. It’s so fun learning Japanese some times.
The elementary kids had a marathon today. It was just around the
school, but it was a long way for them I guess. I think it was about
2K which should be just over a mile, maybe 1.25 miles. I could Google
it, but that would require effort. I watched part of it, but it was
just kids running and panting and sweating and then it was over.
Later, after lunch, the 8th and 9th graders sat
through lectures about possible high schools they could attend. No way
I want to sit through that and there’s no problem since it doesn’t
concern me at all.
It’s My Job.
Wednesday, October 31st,
I find it funny how efficiency takes the back seat if someone will
lose a duty. It doesn’t matter if it will save time or money, if
something takes away someone’s job duty in some way, we can’t
implement the new idea. I don’t want to list specific examples, but
there are plenty in Japan. I think it was much worse at one point on a
national scale and has lessened a bit, but in smaller situations such
as schools or small businesses, the tradition is still there. I’ve
suggested a few things that would save paper and time, but they would
have taken away duties from people and I was given the roundabout
replies that I have learned means “no”. Recently I offered to help
someone sort and staple a big packet of papers. My offer was rejected
and I thought he was being modest, but it was because he had allotted
a certain amount of time for this job. If I helped it would be cut in
half (or less really) then he would have to find something else to do
since looking busy is more important than being busy.
We got a memo today (we as in everyone as in teachers, lunch staff,
the maintenance guy, etc). The memo said that the memo sent last week
about the bus times, was a little wrong. The 3:30 bus actually leaves
at 3:35. That was it. This couldn’t be announced or put on a bulletin
board. If we did that we wouldn’t meet our quota of 50 million sheets
a year. I don’t understand why everything is sent out by memo. I want
to understand this culture, but it’s so difficult sometimes.
I have two stacks of memos on my desk. One is for memos I think might
concern me. When I have free time I glance over them looking for key
words such as my name, or English, or other things like that. The
other stack is for things that I can just tell right away have no
concern to me and usually should have been announced rather than put
in memo form. Then at the end of the week I toss them.
I have suggested several times that we either post some of these
things on a bulletin board or, even better, create an internal web
page with the schedule, bulletins, lunch menus, etc. The schedule
often changes which then causes new schedules to be printed and
distributed. Bulletins and the lunch menu would be better served on a
page, but taking away the printing multiple copies aspect of it would
take away someone’s job.