the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Saturday, August 26, 2006

in the schools

my first week of teaching english has been a learning experience

the shift key here is broken

first a few notes on japanese high school. the students have a homeroom which they stay in all day. the teachers share one large office for each year, each teacher - except for me - teaches only one grade. grade and year are synonymous in this story.

the students are put in their homeroom according to their performance / ability the previous year. thus the homeroom name also reflects your ability. for example 3e are third year students who are exceptional, but 1a is a class of freshman who are below average.

another note, there are only three years in japanese high school, so third year students are seniors

there are various fees a teacher pays each month - none more than ten dollars. for example, i pay the english teachers fund which funds food at english meetings, trips, materials, training, etc. these funds also provide gifts if someone gets married, has a death in the family, etc. and the secretary of the dept keeps track of the books and does the purchasing - this is how my welcome party was planned and paid for.

my biggest problem in class is talking over my students heads. i thought i was speaking slow and simple english, but i have found that i need to slow down and simplify again. my senior students are very talented, and my junior high classes have a lot of energy. i like these classes because they are smaller - about 20 a piece - so i can learn all the names and have better activities.

but the freshman are harder. i teach all the freshman english classes, and they have neither skill or energy, and there are over 30 students in each class, so the room is already full before i get there. i am still trying to figure out how to test these students orally - or even have a fun activity.

there is a group of three older ladies who have been very nice to me. they are good friends. one is still a first year english teacher at my school. she has a daughter in paris, who has been studying abroad for 5 years now. her daughter wants to be a fashion designer. the other two are retired,縲�goes to the high schools church downtown, and the other lives in my building. they help me with a lot of everyday stuff. i gues its international, old ladies are nice everywhere.

well, my times up here. later

Monday, August 21, 2006

Office welcome party

Friday night the office had a welcome party for me. I teach about an even number of jr. high and high school courses, but my desk is in the office for teachers who teach juniors in high school so only teachers in my office came. The party was at a Japanese chicken BBQ restaurant.

As we walked in the door O-sensei told me, 窶廬t is illegal to ride your bike drunk.窶� But we didn't ride bikes to get to the restaurant. The party started with beer and salad. The math teachers and a Japanese teacher were already there. O-sensei was the only English teacher at first, but the other teachers trickled in soon after.

The most prominent lesson I was told was this: if you want to speak good Japanese, 1) get a Japanese girlfriend 2) if you can't do that, come to the bar with the math teachers 3) and always feel free to ask any of the teachers, especially the Japanese teacher. The math teachers told me that had learned all the English they know from Justin. The Japanese teacher is also willing to teach skiing (there is a ski resort less than 30 min away, it's place on the mountain is visible from the school).

Lesson #2: Godzilla. The Japanese word for whale is 窶很uzilla窶�. So Godzilla is not a dinosaur, he is a whale. He is a radioactive whale who is the product of the Hiroshima bombings. Actually Godzilla is a symbol of the Japanese spirit after the bombs, and each monster he fights is a symbol of other Japanese crisis after the war. Some teachers admitted they had never heard of this before but said it could be true.

Of course they asked about where I was from, what I liked to do, what my family was like, etc. They were also curious about which Japanese foods I could eat. I found out I don't like to eat chicken joints, but they do prepare them in a tasty marinade. It was a good time of building friendships within the office.

At the end of the night the math teacher and 窶徘arty planner窶� asked me if I wanted to go to a second bar. He had been very nice, but I was full in more than one way so I declined. He said, 窶廾h, you are not Justin! Oh baby! Oh baby!窶�

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The foreigners

Yesterday at the bank I was getting cash. In Japan, you go into a little room with a few ATMs. It`s very private. It took me about three times to get it right and get my cash out. When I finished this stressful ordeal, I turned to go out the door. A caucasian man was finished getting cash as well. He just stared at me. So I said hello. He said the same. More odd silence. "I`m suprised to see another native English speaker." I said. "Yeah," he said, "It`s another one! Another one!" he said as he walked out the door. Weird.

This weekend I also saw what I believe to be a family of eight American tourists - I didn`t talk to them because I don`t know anything about H yet.

At church this morning I met two foreign English speakers - A and C. C is finished with his study abroad and leaves Friday! But A is staying for another year or so. A and I were elected to teach an English Bible class Tuesday nights. (These people move fast) But I am glad for the extra relationships and experience this will get me. And the church actually has planned curiculum for me, unlike the high school.

Today I learned that the cyber cafe I have been looking for is actually right across the street from my apartment! A man at the library (half way across town) told me. He actually used my building as a landmark! Embarassing!

On the way here, I saw a rather tall Caucasian man with a hiking backpack entering a house. I noticed I was staring. I hate people staring at me. I`m such a hypocrite!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The update to end all updates

Sorry, I didn't have internet for about a week. But I kept writing:


It just hit me as I was waiting to board the flight to Tokyo; I'm leaving. I'm going to be a foreigner for two years. I'm going to be a permanent stranger for two years.

The trip has been rather uneventful (aside from a few personal problems getting to the airport). I came three hours early just like the TSA recommended, but there weren't many people in MSP at 7 am. But the check in lady there said they had been swamped around 5 am, and they were expecting to be backed up again by 8 am. So I guess I came at a good time. I wasn't randomly searched, or personally searched, and my carry-on was never searched 窶� just the regular security line shuffle. And aside from the lack of personal beverages on the plane it's going pretty well.

I went to an ecumenical church service at MSP, mostly to kill time. It was pretty liturgical in a homey sort of way.

I sat next to a woman from Syracuse on the plane to Detroit (and I didn't have to walk a marathon across the DWT airport!!). She had a neighbor whose daughter went to Coe, and she was genuinely interested in Japan in a New England sort of way. She and her husband were working on a crossword from The New York Times, and she nibbled at a bran muffin with her left hand while she chatted with her right hand. She said maybe I would get lucky and the flight to Tokyo would be empty so I could stretch out across the seats. I told her I doubted it 窶� every other time I've flown to Tokyo it's been a full. Yet here I sit in the middle section of row 43 in a Boeing 747, all by myself. There's a first time for everything.

I bought 窶彜laughterhouse Five窶� and 窶弋he Old Man and the Sea窶� for airport books. I also picked up a copy of 窶廾utside Magazine窶� because they had an article on the best outdoor getaways in Japan (Jay, I'll mail you a copy, whether you want it or not :) ) I already slept once but the turbulence over the Canadian Rockies woke me up. I might try stretching across the seats once we get out over the Pacific.

On the domestic flight everyone was very nice to me. My stewardess paid extra attention to me and gave me an English magazine. My neighbor (who either spoke no English or was shy) showed me how to use my stethoscope shaped headphones, and directed me to the English pop station. By bobbing his head he showed me he was also listening to that station.

Where everybody knows your language

My friend KS-chan once asked me, 窶廬sn't it weird to come to a foreign country where everyone speaks your language?窶� I wasn't so odd then, but here in the countryside, it's weirder. I watched everyone at the gate, and I know that I was the only Caucasian foreigner on the flight. I suppose there could have been other English speaking Asian foreigners on the plane. All announcements on the plane were followed by the translation in English. I wondered if they did that when there were no foreigners on the plane too.


Mr. U and Mr. O picked me up at the airport. I was looking for an older man, but both men were in their early thirties at their latest. Mr. O came to summer institute at NWC with Justin so he knows a little about the NW and Iowa.

O-san has been very good too me. I suppose there could have been other English speaking Asian foreigners on the plane. He has been the person who has taken me to the bank, foreign registration, etc. He also took me out to the mountains. H is on a sort of plateau and is surrounded on nearly three sides by mountains. And it's beautiful up here. H also has some shopping, some parks, karaoke, and a castle. There is a village, O, that is closer to the mountains. The village mascot is an alligator. O-san took me to a tea shop on the top of the mountain where you can watch the parasailers fly. He asked me inquiring questions about my family, why I came to Japan, etc. I believe he is a very intelligent and caring person. He just isn't rushed. God bless Mr. O.

The main industries in H are rice cultivation and apple orchards. I believe this is why I have been told that H is a rural town 窶� despite its population of 180k. The price of apples is recently in decline, and the town has not quite healed from the Asian market crash in the not too distant past. This is why only fifty percent of high school grads in H seek higher education. Most need to enter the work force to support their families.

Although H is larger in population than SF, it is smaller in area. My apartment building is at least eight stories tall. The school is four stories tall, and the local department stores are all at least four stories tall. Departments are separated by floor 窶� groceries on the first floor, women's clothes on the second, men's third, arcade/electronics on the fourth, housewares on the fifth, etc. Apparently schools are the same way. The student's year in school determines which floor they will frequent.

The mansion

My apartment is very linear. It goes from entryway (lose your shoes) to kitchen, living room, bedroom, and then balcony. The bathroom and laundry room are just off the kitchen. This is pretty typical.

The kitchen is raised slightly from the entryway, and has a two-burner stove, a sink/counter all in one, a refrigerator that is about twice as big as a dorm frig, a microwave, toaster, and of course ricecooker.

The laundry room is the gateway between the kitchen and the bathroom. It has a top loading washer, and some shelving above it for laundering products.

My bathroom is slightly raised from the kitchen, and has a shower, sink and toilet all in the same room. This is not typical. Most residences have a separate room for the toilet. The light switch is outside the bathroom (that is typical), and I am still getting used to turning it on before entering. The sink comes up to my thigh, and the water for the sink and the shower both come from the same source. There is a switch at the base of the sink that let's you choose between sink or shower. The shower has a removable spigot with a flexihose (that is also typical) and when I place it in it's holder on the shower wall it is at the right height 窶� actually better than the shower in the basement in CL. The toilethandle swings both ways. One flushes a large amount of water, and the other a small amount. This allows you to decide who much water you want to consume based on your excrement. The entire room is actually one large plastic box, and the baseboard of the door is nearly three inches tall (to keep spilled water in).

The living room is just that. It has a TV, couch, dinette set, and a wall full of shelves. The books range from language learning to history, pop fiction, religion, historical fiction, Japanese tourism, Japanese culture, etc. There is also a large collection of National Geographic magazines. I've started calling it the library. Thank you Justin.

The bedroom was originally a tatami room. But someone has covered it with a large area rug and inserted a bed and dresser.

Through the paper doors (and then some patio doors) is the balcony. It is about three feet wide with two chairs, a clothes line of sorts, and a wonderful view of the south side of H and the mountains. The balcony is hands down the best part of the apartment.

Where the streets have no names

I woke up with a start this morning. Every morning I wake up to tile roofs, building up to taller buildings, then mountains. All this is covered in the sound of moped and bike traffic. It's quite a change for someone from the flatlands of the Midwest. I live about two blocks away from a main intersection, and from the height of my apartment, it sounds like I'm right there at the intersection.

Theres no daylight savings time here, so the sun actually rises at about 5 am here 窶� I've watched it twice in my jet lag, but I'm getting better, today I missed the sun rise by nearly two hours) and it sets by 8 pm. I keep looking out my apartment window, trying to make the streets line up with the rising sun in the east, but I can't. I tell myself that it's a mountain town, and there are too many hazards to build a straight road. But I know this is not true. :) I am glad my building is nine stories tall (I counted them on the directory yesterday) that way I can find it by walking in the direction I think it is, and then finding it on the horizon.

I asked O-san what the street signs here look like, and he told me that the streets here have no names (and you thought U2 lyrics were creative :) ) so you pretty much have to just know where you are going. Or in my case, get lost on purpose and then find your way back home. I make fun of the streets here 窶� probably because I am still afraid of getting lost 窶� but there is some reason to them. On the map it looks like all the main roads either head downtown (where I live) or they make circles around it in a sort of polar grid configuration.

Oh, one last thing. I can't seem to stay hydrated. I don't understand; I drink even more water here, plus tea. I hope it is just the elevation.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Airport terror

Thanks to the most recent attempt at terrorism that was caught today in London the terror defcon system in airports is now back up to red. Domestic travelers are now advised to arrive three hours before departure, up to five hours prior for international travelers! Among other things passengers can no longer take lip balm, gels, or water with them on the plane.

Water of all things! Ask any healthcare professional and they will tell you that passengers on planes need to stay hydrated. This is unreasonable. Just because someone in London tried to use water and gel to make a bomb, now no one is allowed these everyday things. We (the USA and other leading nations) cannot continue to simply react to problems. We must start preventing their source.

The government has never stopped to ask, "Why do terrorists do this?" And I think asking questions and then listening is where they should start. I do not believe that terrorists are inherently evil. I believe they are driven to acts of violence and by the unending injustice that surrounds them.

In Chicago I met a Muslim who said that when he moved to the USA he was suprised that this country really was the home of the free. He was suprised he could say whatever he wanted, do what he wanted, work where he wanted, and worship how he wanted. But he also said,

"I wish that this country sought justice internationally as well as it does domestically."

Why does the USA try to barter unfair cease fires between Lebanon and Isreal? Why are we the only country that failed to sign the Kyoto Protocol? Why do we have trade agreements with Central and South America that unfairly favor American big bussiness? Why did we start a war in Iraq without a majority of consent from other leading nations? I think all these actions are not right - they are injust - and to our embarassment they show that our country cares only about itself.

In today's world, one country cannot afford to look out only for itself. The USA must start to make friends with other nations. More importantly American govermental organizations, bussinesses, and individuals need to start making friends with their forgein counterparts. That is how terrorism will be stopped.

Terrorists are people. They are people who are the victims of injustice. People who have needs. People who should have been listened to before they turned to violence. The USA should be the role model in doing this.

But sadly, we are the opposite. We are the bully and the glutton who uses the cooperation the rest of the world has already started and bends it to his own gain. And this is our shame.

And so we sit dehydrated in our airports afraid of what terror will strike us next. When really we should be going out to our neighbors and business partners. Not to give them our money or to help them be like us but to listen. They know how to better themselves, and in time they will ask their friends for help - if they need it. And hopefully we will be open, and our new friends will teach us what we had forgotten - how to be decent human beings.

We cannot stop terrorism with programs or bombs or money. We stop terroism by being just and genuine people. I know it is unrealistic, but maybe someday we will even be friends.

Friday, August 04, 2006

My status

Well, I've been so busy, it seems I forgot to mention:

  • I got my visa finished last week!

  • I bought a plane ticket at

  • I'm arriving in Japan on August 15th!

And other than having my travel plans fall precariously in the middle of my family vacation (again) everything is looking great.