Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Real Japan is

at my station, Kajigaya! I thought this place was pretty boring and not much to see or do. Then I read this article and discovered that it is the real Japan as opposed to Tokyo which I guess is the fake Japan. The writer compared Disneyland in the US to Shibuya and Shinjuku in Tokyo and implied that believing that Disneyland was the real USA was the same as believing Shibuya or Shinjuku is the real Japan. I don't know, but I sorta think Disneyland is an amusement park and Shinjuku and Shibuya are real parts of Tokyo where average people work and live. Both are in real Japan. You needn't come to Kajigaya to see housewives shop in Tokyu store, you can see that in Shibuya. You can see people chatting and women with children. So I wonder why Kajigaya is real and the other two aren't? It seems to be an endless search for a myth. Anyway, here's a pic of a mysterious real Japanese photo shop.

Oh, by the way, contrary to the author, Kawasaki motorcycles are neither made in Kawasaki City nor named for it. Actually he has written some interesting stuff, but I was a bit surprised by this article.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

How do you teach people who won't try?

Perhaps it is always a question, but it is especially one in Japan. Adults who basically have to be treated as children. I would say 70% make no effort---or at the very least, no consistent effort to study or practice anything they "learn" in "class." Many seem to want nothing but entertainment (this is especially true at the eikaiwa chain schools it seems). Now most teachers know that their class should be interesting and useful, and hopefully fun. However, few other than 5-15 year olds place "fun" as one of the most important parts of a class. It isn't unusual here though. Forget studying and preparation. Just go to a "class" an hour or two a week and maybe try to say something if it is not too troublesome and never,ever have anything to do with English until the next class and then claim you can't learn English because you have some genetic Japanese inability to speak English. Of course it could be because you are a horrible student if you were anywhere else but Japan.

Last week I was at a Starbucks listening to a "teacher" do a private lesson with 2 Japanese girls. He came in and ran his mouth for 45 minutes. The 2 girlies giggled (in English?) and one actually muttered 2-3 responses in English. They paid him 3000 yen---about $27---and were very satisfied. I guess he was their entertainment and fulfilled the stereotype of Western foreigners as entertaining, but ignorant buffoons. However, they paid him. He did no work and did not teach a damned thing. Who were the ignorant buffoons?

No wonder companies like NOVA, Berlitz, et al get away with what they do. No wonder the Japanese spend millions on English and are barely above North Korea in English ability in Asia.

March 6, 2006 update: I have heard that at some of the private language schools in the U.S., things aren't all that different. I have spoken to a few guys who taught at company-owned private schools---and have heard similar horror stories. When I student taught---or observed--- in the US, it was always at government schools. Of course teachers there can tell you horror stories of some of the students too.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Danger along the Tama River

One of the most dangerous things one can do in Japan is to ride a bicycle. In an earlier post I mentioned some of the dangers as examples of why. To be blunt, people simply do not watch where they are going. They focus on the front wheel of their bike or will ride while looking to the side or behind themselves while utter disregard for their own safety or that of others. If they do see a danger, they are very reluctant to take any action to avoid it or to even use their brakes. Generally, they will continue on their way and it is up to you to avoid it. (I quit riding on Sundays because of the number of unbelievable accidents I saw, most of which were due to pure negligence.)

In May I was hit by some old guy who came flying down a hill out of control. He looked right at me---stared in fact---and headed out of his lane directly toward me. He made absolutely no effort to slow down or stop, but had a look of total panic (and profound idiocy) on his face. I was barely able to avoid a head on, but he still hit me hard enough to badly bruise my shoulder. He kept on going, until---very un-Japanese like---I started cussing him in both English and what I could think of in Japanese. He stopped, came back and gave me the standard phony apology. There was nothing I could do so I dropped it.

Yesterday, I was coming around a blind curve, and knowing the special dangers in Japan, I slowed way down. Sure enough as soon as I turned the corner there was a poser in his full cycling gear and a nice road bike on the wrong side of the road directly in front of me. He did slow down and utter a "gomen" and move out of the way after I had stopped to avoid a collision. This marked him as different than the average cyclist or pedestrian.

I think a lot of this, especially the habit of pedestrians to blindly walk around and carelessly block entire roads or walk directly into the path of others after they have seen and are aware of them, to be an example of the passive-aggressive characteristics which one observes here. "I may be slow, lazy and weak, but you are gonna have to act that way too. I will control what you do."

Sunday, August 14, 2005

An unusually "green" area in Kawasaki

This looks much nicer than it is, but at least is is "quiet" and even has a hill. Well, quiet, except for the train lines. A rather expensive area to live in compared to mine. About 20 minutes away on foot.

Beautiful Tama River on an August Saturday afternoon

The Real Japan

People have been looking for this since Isabella Byrd in the late 1870s. It is more of a Western fantasy (or fetish) than it ever was a reality. The top two are near Shinjuku JR station, the 3rd is near Highway 246 about 500 meters from my home. Notice the love and respect for nature and the environment. I don't know, but for some reason this seems much more real than zen Buddhism, anything from The Last Samurai or Lost in Translation.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

If you are a student

Why would you pay the huge price at Berlitz when you get little or nothing more than at NOVA or GABA? You certainly will not get nearly as good teaching or course or material as you would at some small schools. You are basically a number there. At a big LC, the "teacher" probably don't even know your name. They have no time to prepare for your class. They can do almost nothing extra to help you. Berlitz training is very light and quick. Teachers cannot use it when teaching. Why pay for that? I admit, I can't understand it. I would never take a lesson there.

If you are a company, why would you pay for this? Is it because Berlitz is a famous brand name? Guess what; Berlitz Japan is not the same as Berlitz in the US. Even in the US, people who are serious about learning a foreign language choose other means, such as community colleges or universities. Berlitz is famous yes, but more often for their bad travel guides than for language teaching.

Interviewing at an eikaiwa

A lot of people seem to want to know tips for interviewing at Berlitz, NOVA, GABA, ECC, GEOS and the other chain "conversation schools." I can't give you any except that as we all know, no special ability, education, or skills are needed. Just "enthusiasm" and appear dumb and passive enough to follow their nonsensical "methods" and whatever other garbage they will give you. My only experience was with Berlitz. The interview was advertised as "very competitive" but it was the least competitive I have ever seen. Basically, they scheduled a group of us for an interview on the same day, time, and place and we sat and chatted about Berlitz after we introduced ourselves. The HR rep ran it, and gave us a quick, semi-accurate overview of a polished, ideal, Berlitz (Naturally he left out the parts which would cause concern such as supervisors switching "teacher's" contract hours around and in effect, defrauding them of salary .) Everyone at that interview showed up at the "training" week and passed the "training" too. You would have to be an complete and utter moron to fail, and even that would give you only a 30% chance of doing so.

Remember, at these places you are not teaching, and in fact, neither the management nor most of the students really want you to teach. It's all fake, you know....

So the question is, why would you want one of these garbage jobs if you are at all interested in teaching. (Or even real employment?) These things are not in the least challenging, you will learn nothing at any of them except for bad habits which could get you fired in any other job.

My advice is, unless you need it to get a visa, avoid the Berlitz/NOVA/GABA chain schools like the plague. If you have any real teaching experience or training, you will be extremely dissatisfied. Of course you will be more so if like some may do occasionally, you are cheated out of earned pay. Contrary to myth, not all schools nor English teaching jobs in Japan are like these. Avoid them.

I can't stand unions, and this one is especially weak and ineffective (normal in Japan) but check out this site for info on what Berlitz does.