the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Friday, June 30, 2006

Day at the lake

My lifegroup from SF went out to a nearby lake. I'm not the most experienced at watersports, but I had a good time. It's been a long time since I've been out on the water, and I forgot how much I miss it.

I'm grateful for the support this group has been during my relatively short time in SF. It seems that just now I am starting to build roots in SF, and now I have to leave again. I have received a lot more generosity here than I have had a chance to give. But I have also learned to give more than I thought about before.

As I sat on the beach in the evening, some interesting thoughts came to me. I've never really been boating before. And I kept thinking "this is an upper middle class passtime". Most of my time at a lake has been spent eating, swimming, and fishing - from shore, not on the water. And it made me uncomfortable.

But I kept thinking things like "go and make disciples of all nations" and "I have become all things to all peoples so that I might preach Christ crucified". And the conclusion I reached was that I must learn how to operate in all situations.

I cannot let my personal feelings distract me from the current task. And today the task was relaxing, having fun and showing love. I didn't do a great job of that today. But I've had good examples here, and I'll continue to seek perfection.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Striking differences

One great thing about the book The Sword and the Chrysanthemum was that it verbalized some of the differences between Japanese and American culture that are usually only implied.

1) According to the author, Ruth Benedict, the Japanese place just as much faith in hierarchy as Americans put in freedom. An interesting reversal! In Japan there were never any revolutions. No French Revolution, no American Revolution, no Industrial Revolution. There were rebellions, but never any vast and sweeping over throw of the government.

How is this possible? Unlike the European feudal system, in the Japanese feudal system each member is responsible for looking after and bettering the other members from their station in the hierarchy. In fact Japanese businesses, schools, and even families are setup in a careful hierarchy. The average Japanese person can believe in hierarchy because they have been intimately involved in the working hierarchies of family and school since they were very young.

2) In America we pride ourselves on owing nothing to anyone - pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. The Japanese recognize the mutual indebtedness life incurs. A Japanese person owes loyalty to the Emperor and to their parents simply because they exist. This sense of owing loyalty is not as strong as any loyalty in the American sense, and the nearest American concept we can compare it to is that serious idea of repaying debt. And like American debt, this loyalty increases overtime.

A Japanese person also owes a smaller loyalty to any business, social, or extended family relationship. And they also owe respect to themselves - to keep their name clean, and to act in a proper manner. It has been said that an American hero is one who breaks rules, but a Japanese hero is one who keeps up in repaying his loyalties.

3) Japan is a shame culture, and America is a guilt culture. The difference seems small, but makes drastic changes in culture. In America we act on moral absolutes - there are actions that are right at all times, and some that are wrong at all times. We rely on a man's internal guilt to keep him acting correctly. In Japan a person actions rightly according to the relationship and situation. A certain act maybe correct in some situations, but not others. And if a Japanese man does not act correctly, his looked down upon by his peers. He has not kept his name clean, and he must work doubly hard to reclaim his honor.

4) We usually consider physical desires evil. However in Japan physical desires are good, and worthy of cultivation, as long as they remain in their proper place. The most common physical pleasures are: a hot bath, sleeping, eating, romance, sex, and intoxication. These are all good things when enjoyed in their minor place in life.

5) In America we generally believe a person is created evil, but the Japanese believe a person is created good. It is only the stresses and challenges of daily life that "dirty" the person. This is why keeping ones name clean is such an important task.

The major task of Japanese life is fulfilling obligations. And from their point of view "the pursuit of happiness" is an immoral and rude goal. Happiness is a recreation that should be enjoyed when it can. However, the pursuit of personal happiness has a very small place in life.

If you keep these differences in mind, many of the oddities about Japan don't seem so odd. I can't wait to go to Japan.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

World leaders and Elvis

President Bush and Japanese Prime Minisiter Junichiro Koizumi will tour Graceland. The tour will follow a talk about Human Rights and the Japan-US relations.

Human rights is a complicated issue in Asia - in fact this is one of the reasons Japan does not serve in a larger role with the United Nations (but for some reason China does). I would hate to force our cultural views onto the Japanese. However, I am aware that some blatent discrimination happens in Japan.

I also found this sign on the internet this week. It says "no foreigners". I know Japan is a very homogenous country, and as a future foreigner I am especially afraid of this kind of discrimination.

I don't agree with Koizumi's musical tastes, but I hope this serves to better the relations between our two countries.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


My parents planned a reunion for our extended family this weekend. Nearly everyone attended one part or another. Our family is very good at sitting around and talking, and eating, and singing on the side.

And it's a good thing too. There was a lot to catch up on. I meet some relatives I didn't even know I had from western Iowa.

And of course there were plenty of pictures being taken.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Best Japanese language learning website

I just stumbled on the best Japanese language website ever. They have easy to use tools for learning verb conjigation - which I've been needing to learn - vocab words, and sample conversation clips.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The train in America

One of the things I am looking forward to in Japan is the trains. Accessable and useful public transit. It's amazing. If we had a useful public transit system in the USA, individuals would save on car insurance and maintence costs, and we could of course decrease our indpendence on foreign oil.

However, here in South Dakota there is a freight train that goes through my neighboorhood every Wednesday around 3pm. And it just happens to line up exactly with the window above the front door.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Culture shock

I've been reading the book "Principles of Language Learning and Teaching" to give myself some background in ESL. Yes, I've been reading a lot. The current section is on culture shock and acculturation. The section is designed to help you better prepare your students from future experiences. But it also sums up most of my fears about working abroad.

Culture shock is a phenomena ranging from mild irritability to deep panic and crisis. ...This comes from lack of commonly perceived and understood signs and symbols of social interaction. Defense mechanisms of repression, regression, isolation and rejection.
There are four stages of acculturation:

  1. excitement and euphoria
  2. culture shock
  3. recovery
  4. adaptation

During culture shock a person may seek out and rely on people of their own nationality seeking escape from the daily trauma of social interactions. Because virtually every interaction is an intense experience.

During recovery a person begins to accept the changes in thinking and feeling that surround them. They become empathetic with people of their second culture. This may also be linked with a feeling of anomie - homelessness, feeling not firmly bound to either culture. This may lead the learner to revert to situations more familiar to the native culture.

During adaptation the learner becomes confident and "at home" with their ability and their "second self".

I am both eager for and afraid of the formation of this "second self". I think the new identity is one of the fun things about learning a new language. However, I am reasonably afraid of the isolation and frustration this process will produce. But who better to teach how to deal with culture shock than someone who has dealt with it?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Doggie Daycare and Deli

This SF bussiness is near my current home. Don't leave your dog here!

Monday, June 05, 2006

The four virtues

I've been reading CS Lewis's Mere Christianity and I've come across a chapter that all Christians would do well to remember.

Here is my abridged summary of 'the Cardinal Virtues':

There are four virtues that all civilised people agree on.

Prudence means common sense... Because Christ said that we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have got the idea that provided you are 'good', it does not matter being a fool...on the contrary He told us to be 'as harmless as doves and as wise as serpents.

Temperance means not abstaining, but going to the right length and no further... Abstaining for a good reason from something which he does not condemn...he may see it fit to give up marriage, meat, beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or starts looking down his nose at other people who use them, he has taken a wrong turn.

Justice includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life.

Fortitude is both kinds of courage. The kind that faces danger, as well as the kind that 'sticks it' under pain. 'Guts' is perhaps the nearest modern English.

We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it... but the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reasons do not help to build up virtue, and it is this quality or character that really matters.

Especially the first two virtues have been overlooked in modern Christianity. These are ideals that are generally shared by everyone on the planet - something we have in common! I think most people outside the Church would be surprised that we are even interested in prudence and temperance - it certainly doesn't look that way sometimes. Or maybe CS Lewis was too much of an idealist. He was probably unaware that the majority of Christians don't care about real prudence and temperance.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Meeting Up

Yesterday I met up with the infamous LF (who is undoubtedly reading this post right now). She had some great advice about surviving in Japan as well as sharing your faith. She asked me one (major) question that I didn't have an answer for: "So, what do you hope to accomplish in two years?"

I haven't really given it much thought. 1) Worst case scenario, I hope to survive. I hope to do my job, and I hope to serve my students. I hope my class is useful. 2) Best case scenario, I hope to live abundently. I hope to make good friends with my co-workers and members of the community. I hope my class is enjoyable for my students. I hope to share the Gospel with whom ever I can in a way that is sincere and understandable - if there is one thing I promised myself, it is that I will NEVER bash someone over the head with the Bible, or try to pitch the Gospel where it isn't welcome. But even these are pretty vague dreams.

If you were going to teach abroad for two years, and you would have more specific goals than these, or if you'd like to shoot some of my goals down, PLEASE comment. I'd love it.

LF also encouraged me to see the rest of the country (Japan), not just Aomori - like any good young jetsetter would.:) I've already told some people, two years is only 102 weekends. I've already told IR (furture JET employee from SF) that I'm coming to visit Peace Park in Hiroshima. And I've heard rumors of an RCA get together in Tokyo (can you confirm or deny that JH? :) ). And of course I'll make it to Mt. Fuji, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto sometime in two years. And that's more than just perks. It's also part of getting to know the culture, and it gives me one more thing to talk about - besides the fact that I can eat natto).

LF was also interested in hearing about the Progressive Book Club from the Grassroots Democrats on June 8th in Sioux Falls. The book this week is "Nickeled and Dimed". They mostly talk about poverty, social justice and politics. And they are by far the most informed people I have met in Sioux Falls.

This morning I talked to AY's friend MT from Japan. She has been very helpful, even instrumental, in the second wave of my learning the Japanese language. We just talked about regular stuff like family, movies, music, etc. But that's all most conversations are about anyway, right?

Man, now I have to go back to work and focus on coffee. With all these thoughts and plans!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


I just finished The Sword and the chrysanthemum by Ruth Benedict, an anthropology book on Japanese culture. You know a book is good when you add books from the Works Cited to your reading list.

This book was given to me by BN. So if you appreciate my thirst for knowledge and would like to contribute, I've added all of the interesting books from the Works Cited to my Japan Wishlist on Amazon.