the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My new favorite J-Pop song

Angela Aki is my new hero. Why can't English speakers write pop songs like this? Maybe they're too busy with bling.

See the song with English subs here:

The real video here:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Right now the high school chaplain is in our office using our coffee and
taking a coffee break. She's chatting about how she ONLY has 20 years
left until retirement.

If we weren't counting down the days until she leaves already, we are
now. This defintaly goes on the list of things NOT to do in the office.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Necessity is the root of learning

When I first started learning Japanese, one of my first lessons was
about occupations. When I first learned the words for doctor and nurse,
I thought to myself, "When will I ever use these words? Who cares?"

However, when I met some med students and was having a conversation
about their daily clinical jobs, I was dumbfounded from the start.

Then when I actually went to the hospital myself, I learned the words
for doctor and nurse - among others - REALLY fast.

As they say, necessity is the root of invention - or in this case, learning.

Now, how can I bring this motivation for learning into my classroom?
Just a thought.

What's your problem?

Our college prep course students had a great writing activity the other
day. Students answered the question "What is your problem?" anonymously
on half a piece of paper, then the papers were shuffled and given out to
the students again. The receiving students wrote advice to the anonymous
students and signed their name. All this was done completely in English.

The English teacher showed the papers to the homeroom teacher - a
science teacher. She read all the students problems (in English) and
just by their problems she could easily guess who they were.

The biggest problem in college prep course (where they usually have
school until 5:30 or 6) is that students fell they have no free time.
Imagine that (translation = "well, that was a no-brainer").

end of the year religion dept meeting

Today's religion meeting was about making bulletins for the "graduation
chapel service" this Friday. Never mind what the service is about, how
and when we make the bulletins was most important matter.

I asked when exactly we were going to make the bulletins. And the high
school chaplain told me, "NB, you know, those special pieces of paper
with the order of service and the nice ribbon. We make them every year,
right?" I KNOW. I asked WHEN are we making them. The other dept members
quickly told me.

She has problems listening. I heard a rumor she has depression too, but
I think that's just an excuse to be lazy.

Another teacher has been on the dept board with us ever since I came
here. Today after school there will be a meeting for new members of the
depts. There's a yearly rotation. Evidently he'll be leaving the
department this year. He said, "Well, it's been three years, and I've
had a lot of experiences here. I'd like to thank everyone for
everything." And the high school chaplain, religion dept head, she
laughed at him! Unbelievable.

The high school chaplain quickly dismissed the meeting and left. We
thanked the other teacher for his three years of service. He knew what
we meant.

I used to think that maybe these were isolated incidents, or maybe I
just wasn't understanding the Japanese well. But now I KNOW this is just
the status quo for the chaplain. I'm trying to put down my angst, pray
for her, and speak the truth in love. But she is SO dense. I'd
appreciate your prayers too.

On a side note, praying for my pastor at church (or perhaps his upcoming
retirement in March) has helped his preaching. He had energy, and
delivered an understandable and applicable message on Sunday about
having joy in all circumstances. That is not the status quo there.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

valentines day

in japan, women give men chocolate on this day.

i usually dont get any from students because we have entrance tests on that day. (so that our students can go on dates?)

but this year some students remembered me. 二年ぶりに学校でバレンタインのチョコ!

next year's outlook

Judging by entrance exams, next year's students will be even less able
than this year's students. Department heads make comments on the tests
of students who don't do well on the entrance test. I didn't know that
before yesterday.

Last year the meeting was from 3pm to 5pm. This year the meeting went
from 3pm until 7pm. The department heads are all tired today.

As you can imagine, this is not very good for morale.

I sent the JH chaplain a mail about starting a Bible study group last
night. It shouldn't, but this news makes me doubt even what I can do,
but as M-kun reminded two or three times last night: It's not about you.
It's what God can do.

Prayers are always appreciated.

Monday, February 16, 2009

pizza time

for maybe the first time in my life here. i talked openly about christianity with some young jp christians.

even though we didnt have much positive to say, it was great to know we have the same Lord and purpose

why havent i met people like this at my own church?

anyway, we'll meet again and redouble our efforts

thanks for inviting me Mrs E. ;)

The numbers are (most) important

Today we checked the entrance test. The multiple choice was read by a computer, but of course we had to check the written part by hand. With eight teachers this took about an hour and a half.

We spent the first ten minutes debating how many points we would take off for misspellings, misordered sentences, and wrong verb conjugations, etc. Our choices seemed a little strict to me this year.

I said we should form a policy about what we will and won't accept on the entrance test so that we don't have to debate every year.

As it turns out, the averages from the multiple choice section were "too high". So we were especially strict on the short answer section to drive the scores down. This looks unethical to me. Shouldn't students get a fair chance?

Especially at a school where we accept all students - except for maybe the bottom five - especially at a school where students already feel like they are at the bottom of the bucket, we should at least give them a chance to get a decent score and feel good about themselves.

(Entrance tests are one of the many parts of life in Japan that lead people to a feeling of hopelessness. I don't know why we do it at all.)

I say, the students are most important. More than their grades, or their uniforms, they should at least feel encouraged and enabled instead of shot down and nagged all the time.

EDIT: after 2 hour meeting to double check the pass/fail results with EVERYONE. I learned that 60% is an ideal average for each section (English, math, etc.) of the test. This separates the outstanding students from the ok and just average ones.

We used to have a standard of 150 points (out of 500) or more to get into Seiai. However, our standards are a little lower these days.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Some days

Some days I wonder why I even bother to go to Japanese church, and today is one of those days. What follows is a rant.

Today many students from Gijuku visited our church (as they are required to once a month). There was a decent sermon about how the church is one. After there was a giant "have everyone who attended today say your name" time (called jikoshokai 自己紹介) and then students were given a stamp on the bulletin to prove they had attended. 本当に教会の意味は何だろう?みんたいな。

What was the point of this giant self-introduction time? To learn names? why? So that hopefully those students can develop relationships and continue coming to church so they can someday have a relationship with Christ. I think that's what they're trying to do.

But what happens? Church members stand around awkwardly (komatteru 困ってる) and students run out the door. I've been trying to stand by the door and talk to these students, but I feel like I can do very little. I've been hoping someone would see me and come and help me, but I'll have to find a way to be more blunt next time.

And to top it off today, what did church members do instead of welcoming students and trying to build relationships with them? They had a giant meeting to wash all the slippers in the church. In a denomination that is STARVING for young people, I find this unbelievable. マジでありえない。

I feel SO useless.

I guess the same thing happens at home. But here, outside my own culture, it's like "Duh!" I've spent too much time here being angry at the local church, but I just can't seem to help it at times like this. If you can, please pray for us. Thanks.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

busy day

today i went skiing in the morning with a lady from church. from here i go bowling for the private schools assoc, then the snow festival at the park, then an office party.

why does everything have to happen on the same Sat?

this is the owani station alligator. in japanese wani means alligator - however none live here :)

Friday, February 06, 2009

this is NOT eco style

How's School?

Another excerpt from an email to an interested friend:

Like I said, currently at my school they are really running low on
funds. Enrollment is steadily going down, and they've started all kinds
of new programs to try and get people in the door, but nothing has
really worked and basically everyone is working harder and getting paid
less. This is great for moral.

The high school has always had a college prep course (tokushin) and a
basic course (ippan). It also has a related college that was birthed
from the high school in the 70's, but now we're pretty separate.

Five years ago we started English and Nursing prep tracks in high school
as well. At the time enrollment had gone down from 10 homerooms per
grade to 7 homerooms per grade. The college had started English and
Nursing specialty programs to try and up enrollment, and encouraged the
high school to do the same. The theory was that students from our school
would go to the college (this partly worked for the nursing program).

When I came (three years ago) we had also started a junior high program
to try and keep the doors open. The junior high also has basic and
college prep tracks (college prep junior high is just too serious). As
you may or may not know, college prep in Japan means you have lessons
until about 5pm.

Also, to try and up enrollment, we have started separating students by
ability - even within the basic track. Apparently if our average test
scores are higher, we might get more students. So for example, this
year's first grade homeroom 1E had an average score of 100-85 on the
entrance exam test, 1D 85-65, 1C 65-0, 1B 65-0, and 1A 65-0. In this
way, students could achieve have the chance to, and students can't won't.

Since the school needs enrollment, we generally accept students who got
any double digit score on the entrance test. We might even accept a
single digit score if they will be good for a sports team.

As the sole native teacher at my school, they like to spread me around,
and advertise me on the front page of the junior high and high school
programs. This basically means that I see classes from almost every
section of the school once or twice a week. I'm everywhere at once every
week. This gets to be kind of stressful during grading times, as most
teachers grade about four homerooms, and I grade about 14 homerooms.

Speaking of grading, I do the paperwork in Japanese (I have translations
of the paperwork that various members of the English department have
done for me). And I also go to all the meeting, but I don't work
Saturdays unless there's a special event. I also don't do clubs.

The principal came about five or six years ago. He has made a lot of
these program changes unilaterally without asking the faculty for advice
- just telling them what to do. But that's typical Japanese bureaucrat

The former principal usually asked the faculty for advice, and he was a
Christian. The current principal is not a Christian and was chosen
because "he was a good volleyball coach and a respected community
member". However, most of the faculty dislike him.

He usually fights with the high school chaplain. He would like to get
rid of chapel in the morning, prayers, special Christmas and service
events, etc. Since he is not a Christian he see these as a waste of time
and a chance for students to be "undisciplined in their studies".

However, the high school chaplain herself seems to be preoccupied with
up holding the rituals of church - even the rituals of our school -
rather than actual faith in Christ. If there are no events coming up,
she usually cancels religion department meetings. However, her general
comment about meetings, events, and the school in general are "mendou"
and "taihen". She is usually short and blunt with both students and staff.

Since she is chaplain she only teaches 12 lessons a week. However, she
seems most interested in going from one staff office to the next taking
coffee breaks and gossiping. She attends an area church, but refuses to
do "pastor-like" work at local churches like preaching when a pastor is
absent, teaching a Bible study, etc.

With the addition of the junior high we also hired a junior high
chaplain. He actually helps in the local churches, and is usually polite
and encouraging.

Finding a Christian teacher who is willing to talk openly about their
faith other than the junior high chaplain has been difficult. There are
a few, but most of them are older (one will retire in about three
years), and I wonder what will happen here when they are gone. As I've
stayed here, they've become helpful, but they still keep their distance
a little - only about half of them attend church regularly themselves.

Most of the other teachers here will say Christianity is a great
teaching and they respect it, but after that they don't really care. And
that's ok. That's what generally happens when you need to staff a
Christian school in Japan.

I've thought of trying to start a student or faculty Bible study. But
I'm worried that between classes I won't even have the time myself.

There are many great teachers here, but most of them don't speak
English. The junior high English teacher is a great guy, very open, and
he will be the chairman of the English department next year.

There are many great students, and it's usually nice to see them around
town. As I've stayed here and attended PTA meetings, it's even been nice
to get to know their parents and see the families around town. It's a
small town here, only 180,000 people. :)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Obama Quotes

I was talking to a friend the other day about how empowered I felt after
hearing Obama's Inauguration Speech. He said, "Yeah, it's like you can
feel proud to be an American again."

That said, I'm gonna use some Obama quotes in my upper level elective
high school classes. He uses some great parallelism and contrasts. I'm
gonna weed out the longer more vague ones, but here the rough list.

My top 20 Obama quotes (+8):


Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each
day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen
our adversaries and threaten our planet.


Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are
serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a
short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.


On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear,
unity of purpose over conflict and discord.


We understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.
Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.


It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who
prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and


It has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things --
some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their
labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards
prosperity and freedom.


They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual
ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or


Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and
begin again the work of remaking America.


And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new
foundation for growth.


We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our
cars and run our factories.


All this we can do. All this we will do.


The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big
or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find
jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is


Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the
answer is no, programs will end.


To spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the
light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust
between a people and their government.


Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for
good or ill.


The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.


As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between
our safety and our ideals.


Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman
and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are
ready to lead once more.


Earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with
missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring
convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect
us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew
that our power grows through its prudent use.


With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen
the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.


For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.


Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not
what you destroy.


We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to
make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish
starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like
ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford
indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we
consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the
world has changed, and we must change with it.


For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the
faith and determination of the American people upon which this
nation relies.


Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them
may be new, but those values upon which our success depends,
honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and
curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.


What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a
recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to
ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not
grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge
that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of
our character than giving our all to a difficult task.


This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls
on us to shape an uncertain destiny.