the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Jesus Christ's Grave

I don't know why James Cameron thinks he has found Christ's Grave.

Everyone here knows Jesus Christ's grave is in Tohoku, just north of Lake Towada.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

My Situation in Japan

In my most recent report to my supervisor he mentioned he wanted to know
more about my situation in Japan. So this is an excerpt from what I
wrote. I think I'll call it "how the history of Japan effects my life".
It jumps from history, to economics, language, Christianity, pop
culture, etc. Hopefully it helps you understand a little about my life.
Enjoy!

***

A long time ago, Europeans came and demanded, "open your ports to
trade!" The major port that was opened was Yokohama. However, a port on
Hokkaido (the big northern island) called Hakodate was also opened. At
the time Hokkaido was so frontier like, even the Japanese government
didn't care about it. Hakodate is just across the straight from H. Thus
there tends to be an influx of Christians from Yokohama and Hakodate,
even today. Both of our chaplains were originally from Hokkaido. And
Christianity has spread across the islands from the open ports.

Sometime in the 1800's a Methodist Women's group started a church and
school in H. I believe they first gained entrance through the open port
of Hakodate as well. This church became the church where I now go and
spawned a Christian college, a girls' high school where I now teach, and
a boys' high school where M. teaches. All in all there are now eight
churches in H, a town of 180,000 people, but that is an unusually dense
amount of churches for Japan.

During the recent economic moves and blunders in Asia (remember when the
Asia economy bubble burst back in the 90's?), the major cities moved
forward, leaving many "smaller rural cities" like H. (and the entire
region of Tohoku, it's like the upper midwest with more people,
mountains and sushi) behind with little or no profitable business. Since
I have been here, the trains have started running every hour instead of
every half hour to "conserve funds". Every young person I have talked to
wants to leave Tohoku because "there are no good paying jobs here". But
moving away from family is a fairly new idea for the Japanese.

This effects the school as it is private and there by expensive. When
everything is expensive, and there is no money coming in, only the very
rich send their children to private school. Thus enrollment and funds
are down. To stay out of the red, SHS has become a mixed gender school
instead of a girls' school. They have also opened a junior high for the
same reason.

The slow economy is effecting the private schools in Tokyo for the same
reason, but with a smaller effect. That's why A. works Saturdays. The
school started a largely promotional program (it looks great to parents,
thus increasing enrollment) to teach English to elementary school
students on Saturdays. Teaching English to elementary school students is
seen as very "progressive" in Japan right now. Although for the most
part it's just trendy. Even my co-worker who sits next to me send her
six-year-old son to a special English after school program. It's trendy
here like little league soccer or baseball.

In Japan it is possible to flunk out of public school. Thus, the private
schools have one other source of income. Taking in problem students from
the public schools. This is why SHS has a college track and vocational
track program. Rich parents send their children here for the good
education, and other parents send their children here because they have
no other choice. And since these students are put in different classes,
I have some classes of absolute angels who study too much, and other
classes of punks who sleep or talk all the time.

Teachers who can still remember the 90's are understandably frustrated
about the vast changes to quality SHS has had to make in order to make
ends meet. Indeed in this area of Japan there is a feeling that the
government in Tokyo doesn't care about them at all. Back in the "good
old days" there were eight homerooms of 40 students each. This was
nearly the capacity of the building. Now there are five homerooms of 35
students each. Each wing has at least two empty classrooms.

The most recent principal is not a Christian (for the first time ever in
school history). However, his wife is a Christian. He was brought in by
the board of the greater institution for his success with managing a
local high school. I occasionally hear some of the teachers complain -
in English so that no else understands - "Yes, SHS USED TO BE a
Christian school."

Another fun relationship is that of Christianity to English.
Christianity also comes from the opening of ports, western colonialism
and Commodore Perry. Thus it is assumed to be inherently against
traditional Japanese culture - aka, your family and friends will leave
you if you become a Christian.

However, English is inherently cool - that's why you see all the funny
bad English in advertising and t-shirts. And anyone who speaks English
well is inherently cool. Thus western foreigners are always cool, even
if they are Christian. And Japanese Christians generally speak English
well. So people generally think they are really cool when they see they
are good at English. But then they are generally ostracized when they
tell people they are Christians. So most Japanese Christians are really
cool but lonely.

One of the unrelenting obsessions of the Japanese mind - and the
humanity in general - is to be the same as everyone else. While we
Americans take pride in being different from each other. It is
incredibly painful for a Japanese person to be different from other
Japanese people.

People point out differences all the time, it is not rude to say, "Oh,
nikku sensei anata ga zenzen chigau. (Oh, Mr. NB you ARE very much
different). The word for different and wrong are the same in Japanese
(depending on context), so different also infers wrong in this sentence.
So Japanese Christians have developed the defense mechanism of only
talking about Christianity in morality, ethics or service. Only pastors
talk openly about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

And I think that is one of the reasons the "missionary teacher" position
exists. "Let the foreigner talk about knowing Jesus personally, he is
already different. And people will accept him no matter what he does."
Because English is inherently cool.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Windows Language Bar

For those of you who use the Language Bar in Japanese. (AKA, "I use that
funny blue thing that says EN or JP to type Japanese on my
English-speaking computer".) I just learned a few great short cuts:

Alt + Shift = toggle English / Japanese
(when in Japanese)
Ctrl + Caps Lock = Hiragana
Alt + Caps Lock = Katakana

I know, probably no one cares but me. Later!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Wal-Mart is in Japan

Wal-Mart is in Japan. It just has a different name.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6367819.stm

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Power for Living

This week one of my co-workers asked me about the book "Power for
Living" by Campus Crusade. He got it for free in Japanese from Campus
Crusade, and he says he's just curious.

He also says, "No one ever talks directly about following Christ at
school, because few teachers at school are Christian." I don't really
speak that much Japanese yet, so I didn't know that. I suspected as
much, but I didn't know for sure. Now I know.

Snow Festival

This weekend was the Snow Festival. The character on the left is Ultraman, very famous in Japan.


This weekend my girlfriend K, also came to visit. Besides the snow festival, we also went skiing, and went out with some friends. Why did I forget my camera when we went skiing?

Moving again


If you've heard, it's true. I have to leave. I've signed a contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy. I'm sorry. This doesn't mean I don't love Japan, or the people here. The experiences I've had thus far have been very dear to me.

But now I have to go and try and revive the popularity of soccer in America. It's a big job, and it'll be a hassle, but for £128,000,000, I think it's worth it.

***

If you haven't caught it by now, this is a joke about my likeness to David Beckham.

No Daylight Savings in Japan

Daylight Savings time, also shown to be related to the frequency of fatal car crashes and the beginnings of insomniac tendencies, is now starting another Y2k like scare I'm glad we don't have Daylight Savings Time in Japan. Maybe I should
move back to Indiana instead... It's still in the Midwest...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How Does the Dollar Fly?

You might not hear this about the situation of the dollar globally if you only read US news.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

STEP, School Budget and Politics

Remember how I just said enrollment was up and things were some what
stable? Well, I was wrong.

I just sat through a meeting about continuing budget cuts - which will
probably include selling the soccer field. The high school is related to
a private college and another private high school, and the organization
as a whole still isn't doing well. So there's still a long way to go.

***

In other news, I'm helping two of my students study for the STEP test
(an English proficiency Test) for the next two weeks. I guess this is
pretty common in Japan. All the teachers are taking a few students from
their classes and helping them study. The students I'm assigned to are
great students, but I hate standardized tests. Here's why:

I looked at the results of all my students, their STEP test scores,
their grade in my class, and their overall grade from last term. The
STEP test scores were the exact opposite of their grades here at the
high school. My good students did poorly, and my slacker students did well.

***

Oh, and I went snowboarding with my new friend M-san. It was my first
time! And man am I sore! And I forgot to take pictures! Oh well, there's
always next time.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Valentines Day in other cultures

Check out Valentines's Day in Other Cultures. I ran across it in Wikipedia while researching a Valentine's Day lesson.

I especially like the idea of Black Day in Korea. On this holiday single men who received no Valentines go out together to eat ramen noodles in black sauce.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

School News

After all the entrance tests, our school actually gained a little in
enrollment! That's a big accomplishment here in the failing rural
economy of northern Japan. It means more money for the school and stable
pay and work for teachers - at least for next year.

In other news, next week will be my sixth month living and working in
Japan. Yay! I feel like I know what I am doing now, but I'm still so far
behind. Behind in teaching well, behind in knowing my students and
co-workers, behind in learning the language. Oh well, ganbario!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Thank you Mr Abe

Well, I survived the first academic year here without a textbook. And
although I often casually mentioned that it was harder to have to plan
every lesson from scratch, this complaint was usually replied to with,
"Well, the other teachers before you made their own lessons." And
although it was a hassle, I did enjoy the freedom this allowed me.

But for next year, Prime Minister Abe and the Ministry of Education are
requiring schools to teach Oral English I at least twice a week, and
Oral English II at least three times a week. They also require that the
classes be taught out of a list of textbooks recommended by the Ministry
of Education.

Mr. Abe's education reforms are controversial, and I can't say I agree
with or understand all of them, but at least for this reason I am glad
for the reforms. Because I GET A TEXTBOOK to teach from.

Thank you Mr. Abe.