the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Misson Style

I was sitting in church last Sunday, during a particularly boring sermon, and I recognized the style of the pews. They`re mission style! But not trendy, cute mission style. Real utilitarian, 150 year old mission style pews. Because this church was part of the mission era (during the tail end of colonialism). Same thing with the chapel at school, and even some of the "Western historical buildings" in town.

I am sitting in history! I`m still not sure how I feel about this. The nearest feeling is uneasy.

* * *

Also, in the USA, when people say their families have lived in town forever, they actually mean around 200 years. But when Japanese say their family has lived in town forever, they mean it.

My student's father

Today I was at the post office mailing my mother's birthday present (by the way, it only takes the Japanese postal service one week to mail a package to the USA, and that's the slow cheap way), which I was dreading because of the customs form.

But one of my students was at the post office. She was mailing something with her father. As it turns out, her father works with Microsoft, he speaks excellent English, and he is going back to the USA for business next week. Their family is friends with a family in Seattle, and my student has stayed with that family in Seattle before.

I was hoping to let my student practice some simple English, "How long will it take this package to get to the USA?" But her father stole all the answers. He was a show off. But he was very nice and made my day much easier. He also told me to lower the estimated value of the package to almost nothing, that way it would be cheaper to ship.

Secret English Speakers of the world unite!

The Mountain

Last Sunday I biked to the major mountain here. It was really hard on the way up, but easy on the way down. I only hiked up to the 300m station (the top is 1800m) because day light was fading. But it was great. Next time I hope I can bring some friends. People on the trail were really nice. I guess hikers are friendly in every nation.

The post next to the lamp says "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in Japanese and English.

This a GIANT stump of a tree at the shrine at the base of the mountain. While I feel odd about visiting the top of the shrine. The fountain is a great place to refill your water. Lots of Japanese hikers do it! That's where I learned.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Japanese is easier (and other random facts)

In Japan, babies generally learn how to talk at the same time or before they walk. This is not because they are smarter. It is because the language is easier to pronounce. There are very few sounds that involve touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth or the back of your teeth etc.

The Where`s Waldo books are called Where`s Wally in Japan.

Japanese teachers (or at least the ones at my school) change the grade they teach every year, and they also stay with their homeroom students throughout their entire high school career.

The winter weather in Japan is generally mild on the Pacfic side of the island and cold on the Sea of Japan side. The interior mountains form a sort of natural weather barrier. But it`s hot and VERY humid on both sides during the summer. Apparently this is good for rice growing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Scenes in Japan

Here Tommy Lee Jones cameos on a vending machine for BOSS brand coffee. He actually looks like the mascot for BOSS coffee. And when I`m tired of being a foreigner, I find it very comforting to know that Tommy Lee Jones is just around the corner. And in the cafeteria, and the department store lobby, and the train station. This was also the first photo I uploaded from my cell phone.

This is a display at the library. Apple in Japanese is "ringo". So the joke here is that these are all books about ringos: apples, apples, and Ringo Starr.

There many cartoon mascots here in Japan. I think chronicaling the cartoon mascots of Japan will be my next photography exercise.

The School Festival

There`s actually like the school festival in the USA. The best I can describe it is, mix homecoming week, a talent show and carnival together, and you get school festival. Every high school has one some time in September. Ours was actually last week.

Here are some scenes from the festival:

These are my junior high students performing a dance to a Japanese song. I don`t know the name, but the chorus went "hoi! Hoi! Hoi!". The lanky student in front is one of my favorites. He`s a goof-off, but he has a lot of energy.

This the middle of a stage change. The chaplian is on the right taking photos on a tripod.

This is a freshman dance set to a mix of Micheal Jackson hits.

There was also an entire day where each class and club setup a booth somewhere in the school. But I was to busy being persuaded to buy things to take a picture.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Cuban summit

Did this story air on American news? I saw it on the Japanese News but I couldn't understand what they were saying. But it took up a large portion of the news time slot.

And this was all the more I could Google about it:
CBC News

Governments speak out about US domination of the world. I'm curious!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

More people

Last night got together with M from the bookstore and his girlfriend D. They are both JETs and they`re pretty good people. The one thing about native English speakers is that they`re always changing. Both M and D had just arrived here when JE was about to leave. So they hung out with him a few times but didn`t really know him.

A thought she knew M, but she wasn`t sure. As it turns out D knows A so A knows M through D. If A is traveling at a rate of 100 m/sec, and M is traveling at a rate of 120 m/sec, how long will it take for A to meet M? I hope you`ve enjoyed this trip back to algebra class. :)

All the JETs live in the same apartment building, and the NOVA workers live in another building together. So really I`m the most lonely foreigner at home. :) The JETs are more like assistant language teachers, and when they found out I plan my own lessons and teach by myself half the time, they congradulated me on being a real teacher. That`s a good way to look at it. :)

It was really great to meet M and D. They`re the first nice foreigners I`ve met since A. And she`s gone this week.

At church today I met Y-san. Y-san was the president of the state university in town before he retired. Before that he was a doctor. In fact he studied pre-med at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa! And then he went on to study medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN! It`s small world after all. When I mentioned I was from Iowa he said, `Ah, Iowa, nostalgic!`. Back when my school was an all girls school, he went to the male counter part of our school. At the time both schools were Methodist. Now the schools are just part of the Japanese Council of Churches.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

My story about Empire

This blog is just my story about my life in Japan. This is just my story, it`s just what happened. It isn`t left or right, democrate or republican, butcher, baker or candlestick maker. It just is.

Every day I go to work. I go to work at a Christian school which means the school was founded by missionaries who came there with the rise of imperial nations. Our school has been teaching English since 1832 because that is the language the missionaries taught in. This was long before the Occupation. Long before English skills became a neccesity for business skills and securing a "good job".

We open each teachers` meeting with a verse from 1 Samuel, a succesive verse each day. Premusably after enough time passes we will open with a verse from 2 Samuel. The English department is the largest department in the school - nine teachers, ten including me. Once a month I make a chapel speech. Students are required to attend chapel regularly although few believe in Christianity.

So here I will stand and talk. I am in a country where I can hardly speak the language, but somehow nearly everyone speaks some semblence of English. My speech will be translated into Japanese, but a little less than half of the students can get the just of it without the translation.

I speak. I am the son of Germans, Irishmen, Englishmen, and Scandinavians (among others). I am an American. And I came from a Dutch college. Name the three peoples who colonized Africa. All I need is Spanish and Portugesse heritage and I`ll have the complete set. It`S true, if we hadn`t colonized the world, someone else would have. But it was us. There`s nothing I can do to change my heritage, and I`m proud of who my family and culture have taught me to be. But you have to notice the trend here.

Now our empire is business McDonalds and Coke are most notable. But there is also Kentucky Fried Chicken, Seven Eleven, Microsoft, Macintosh, and Pepsi. Just yesterday I saw a man on a TV commercial singing, "Oh the sun shines bright in my old Kentucky Fried Chicken home." in English. And no one in Japan knows the song this melody was paroding!

These multinational companies push products that no one uses. Products that did not exist previously in these cultures. Namely pop and fast food, but also disposble lifestyles and instant gratification. I heard once that every country wants to modernize, but no country wants to westernize.

So I`m here teaching English. I speak English five days a week, and outside of school my command of the Japanese language bites. But as dysfunctional as I am, everyone respects me. In fact by some odd twist of fate I`ve been given one of the highest titles - sensei. Because I am in fact a teacher.

More happy thoughts later. :)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Qoo! (pronounced kew)

Today I found Qoo. Qoo is a yogurt flavored juice drink. Oddly enough it's made by Coca-Cola, but distributed in Japan. They have other flavors like Orange and Strawberry, but I (and my friend JV) think the plain yogurt flavor is the best.

The other great thing about Japan is that there are a million little shops everywhere (thanks to the lack of Wal-Marts here). Bob, I know you love farmer's markets but check this out, it's a vegetable store. They sell only vegetables. There is also a fruit store, and a fish store all within walking distance of my apartment. Hooray for local businesses!

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Today I had a humbling experience. One of my students in the front row of my elective class said, "N-sensei! N-sensei! Let's talk about something interesting today! Let's talk about after graduation!" And there was a murmer in back, "I just want to SPEAK English."

I'm not that uptight so I said sure. My students broke up into groups all by themselves, and they discussed their hopes and fears for the future and school, work, etc. And they all spoke in English (except for one group I had to pseudo-join to get them to speak in English, but one out of six ain't bad). It was probably the most enjoyable learning experience in that class since I've taught it.

Last week I tried to have a discussion about Yasukuni Shrine and it did not do well. High school students do not care about the news. But apparently all of my students went and asked K-sensei - our resident expert on Chinese history and culture - about it.

So I learned, you gotta give the people what they want. Let the high schoolers talk about what interests them. That (talking) is the point of the class anyway.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The view

My balcony beloved balcony is currently being cleaned (so I can't use it), but look at the view!

I love mountains.

And whose army?

Last week I met a girl who said she was from Brazil, but she really wasn't from there her father worked on a base there. She worked for an aerospace company there before getting a scholar ship to study here in Japan. A few weeks ago I was talking with my co-workers, and we were talking about Okinawa as a vacation spot. Then they said, "Did you know there is a base in Aomori too?" No, I didn't.

No nationality or government was ever mentioned in these conversations. But some how I knew exactly whose army they where talking about. It's an interesting comment on our times isn't it?