the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

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.


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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What else have you learned about Japanese culture oh 'different' one?

3/02/2007 2:29 PM  
Blogger NB said...

So maybe I'm focusing too much on being different? Probably.

I do need to talk more about every day life and culture here. Yeah, I'll do that.

3/02/2007 3:24 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

I really liked reading that...It's interesting to read since I'm in Tokyo and I was a little curious what kind of feelings people living in other cities might pick up. In any case...I had a lot of catching up to do on your blog^.^

3/10/2007 9:23 PM  

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