Sunday, September 18, 2005

Autumn---or what passes for it in Tokyo

seems to be about here. Normally, were I back home I wouldn't be calling days of 80-83 degrees autumn-like, but it has cooled some, especially at night.

With fall comes an increase in colds which seem to spread quickly and easily here. One of the big reasons is that people don't regularly use handkerchiefs to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. It actually seems rare. Sneezes are done full volume and full blast. If you are close to an sneezer, you are likely to have your eardrums burst as well as getting a full load of spit all over you. This is great fun in trains.

Today, I was only coughed on a few times by some young guy in his 20s---seemingly the weakest when it comes to cold immunity---who was shopping near me and coughed on me twice from about 3 feet away. Yes, it is hard to not say anything (or punch someone in the nose) for that, but this is Japan. Had I said something, I would have been the bad guy.

The other nice thing about cold season is that Japanese don't like to blow their nose (or wipe it on a tissue). It is much better manners to sniff constantly. Most foreigners really enjoy this. It is nice to work next to someone all day who sniffs her runny nose about 30 times a minute. Nice to be next to someone on a train doing that, while sneezing, and coughing all over you.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Recently, trains and subways in Tokyo

have reintroduced women only cars. Usually these are the last cars of a train. They can ride any car, men just aren't supposed to ride women's cars. This was done, supposedly, because of the number of perverts on trains feeling up women. Women also claim men stink and are often drunk. Naturally, women don't drink and never stink. Equality in Japan.

sunset this evening

Pics from around the neighborhood this evening

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Results of 4 Berlitz classes on a private student.

I have been teaching a intermediate-level student for the past 10 months. When we first started, she lacked confidence and had the common problem of focusing on perfect grammatical accuracy first, rather than communicating an idea. This resulted in her over-correcting constantly and causing problems in comprehension for listeners because she was so hard to follow. She slowly improved over that period as I worked to get her focus off of form and on fluency.

Well, one month ago she started a Berlitz eikaiwa class at her company. Her fluency and speed have deteriorated to the point to which they are worse than when we first started working together. She cannot get half a sentence out without correcting things which are not even wrong to begin with. She is constantly stopping and searching for the "right" words. Frankly, most native-speakers would not be able to talk with her for long if she spoke like that.

It is obvious why this happened. She told me that her "teacher" is a 10 year Berlitz vet who is very strict on grammatical errors, correcting them all immediately, critical or not. Berlitz itself claims to have gone to a communicative approach in which this type of error correction is not done because the vast majority of modern research indicates that it is counter-productive. But in fact, most Japanese students have been incorrectly conditioned to believe that grammar is the most important part of acquiring a foreign language and that 100% correction is the best way to achieve accurate grammar. Sort of like this is still 1940, which conveniently matches the era that Berlitz operates in. And, of course Berlitz doesn't care as long as "the students enjoy the class and think they learn something." And come back and waste another $3000 for 50 40 minute "classes."

I would never go to Berlitz for language lessons. Mere exposure to the language and use of it generally will provide some benefits for most. The question is, is it the most efficient, effective use of one's time and money. Personally, I want someone who can effectively teach instead of being forced to follow a one-size-fits all model.

Unfortunately, I cannot do much for her if she continues to go to this class with such incompetent teaching, and then come to mine to practice what amounts to stuttering instead of speaking. I may have to stop teaching her as long as she is with Berlitz. It will be a waste of her money and my time to try to again get her off the conscious focus on form. It is a shame as she was making progress.

Update: 2 March 2006. She finished the Berlitz classes in December and has just gotten back to the point where she is able to speak much more quickly and fluently. She began to realize what she was doing, so she has made an effort to get off the excessive worrying about grammar and form. Her knowledge of grammar was already well above average, but she occasionally makes the normal grammatical errors when speaking, most of which are insignificant.

I often feel that I am too hard on Japan

on this blog. I get tired of the Japanapologists---the vast majority foreigners---who apologize and explain away everything that happens in Japan because the Japanese are unique and pure of heart and intent. Japan, like every country and culture has its unique aspects, but it ain't uniquely unique. The Japanese are not always polite, they are not weird or inscrutable. They are not "mysterious," they are not WW2 type imperialists. Many are truly---though unrealistically pacifist. Most especially if it means Japan has to get involved. Some, like blinky Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo are blatant racists. Racism---or racialism as I have heard it described perhaps more accurately---runs beneath the surface of Japanese society. Often it is hidden, but it is easy to find. Apologists will excuse that because they themselves are bigots and believe that no better can be expected of the Japanese. Then again, many Japanese are not racist and are as opposed to it as anyone. Japan is not a crime-free society, nor is it the "safest" in the world as is often claimed. (Show me some figures that support this claim.)

I started thinking this over after seeing a Japanese news program in which they interviewed some foreigners about their beliefs about Japan before visiting here. A few said they had thought that Japan was the most opposite culture to America or England on earth, and were surprised to find this to be untrue.

This is the fault of people like Edwin Reischauer---the Harvard historian and former ambassador to Japan, who wrote some of the most obviously ridiculous nonsense ever written about Japan. Unfortunately, he was very influential in Asian Studies in the US until the old fool kicked the bucket in September of 1990. At that time I was in college finishing a BA in Asian Studies. Japanese who were in some of the classes we used his books in would say, in class, that what he wrote was not true. Too bad the old coot took so long to expire. Most people now understand how idiotic his sugar-coated bullshit was.

Hollywood movies like The Last Samurai, Mr. Baseball, Shogun, Lost in Translation don't help. They push the idea that Japan and the Japanese are weird, or 18th century warriors, or inscrutable. One recurring theme is the dirty, filthy, uncouth foreigner comes to Japan and gradually accepts the Japanese way and in the end is accepted by the Japanese as one of them, and is actually more Japanese than the Japanese. This garbage is so unrealistic as to be comical.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

As much as I laugh

and complain about Berlitz and NOVA and the other eikaiwa (conversation) "schools" in Japan, I can't blame them. They are giving students what they want---sort of satisfying a fetish for English---more than what they need. If they really tried to teach English as it should be taught and is taught in the States, Australian, and England, most students would quit and the schools would end up going broke. If Japanese customers started demanding professional level classes, companies would start providing them. I don't know, but I doubt Berlitz could get away in the U.S. with what they provide here. The idea of "we don't care what you do as long as the students enjoy the class and think that they learned something" wouldn't fly. At least in the classes they teach on contract in some public schools in the US. Standards are a bit higher there. However, the fact that students will accept any kind of garbage, doesn't excuse some of the unethical behavior some of these companies are involved in against their students and staff.

I recently got a "smile award" from a student who liked my class in part because my pronunciation was easy for her to understand. Wow. Now I feel like I have reached the peak of my teaching ability. I have such clear pronunciation, I get an award. I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but that is the type of criteria students judge teachers on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Koizumi Reelected, but

will there be any real change? According to all of the pundants---especially foreign journalists, Koizumi won in a landslide because the Japanese want change and action. However, he focused on reforming the Post Office this time. That is understandable, but his postal reforms are so watered down that it will not be until 2017 that most changes take effect and that leaves plenty of time for evasion of even these small changes.

The LDP---Koizumi's party---has been in power since 1955 except for very brief intervals. Some of the so-called opposition parties are ex-LDP members who pretty much agree with the LDP. Every time the LPD has won an election in the past 5-10 years, foreign "experts" have claimed that somehow the LDP victories were showing that the party was weakening and Japan was moving towards a real 2-party system. Most Japanese whom I told about this (or who could read the articles) laughed at such idiocy.

Now the LDP has won a huge landslide. So now many of these foreign experts are claiming that the LDP itself is bringing "change" to Japan (lead by Koizumi). Koizumi has said he will retire next September. The LDP is still led by 70-85 year-old retro-grouches. Change? Reform? Don't hold your breath for this one.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Two good Japan articles (from Japan Focus)

One is on how "free" peaceful protest is in Japan if you oppose the nutter rightwing WW2 apologists at Yasukuni Shrine. (PM Koizumi and the racist bigot Tokyo governor Ishihara will have no problems there.)

The second is an article by a non-Japanese teacher's (William Underwood at Fukuoka Jo Gakuin University) attempts to address Japanese denials of its World War 2 atrocities. It does tend to slightly degress in the "everyone does it" excuse for Japan's war conduct that many Japanese do. (The Americans did bad things too, so we can be excused.) Frankly, the US or British conduct that did not have a direct on Japan's---the atomic bombing could not be said to have influenced the Nanjing Massacre, for instance---so be kept a seperate issue. Period. Japan has used that excuse long enough.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Another perspective on living in Japan (link here)

Just found this blog, a lot of good information and commentary, but with a very sad note. Makes one appreciate what he has and not sweat the small stuff so much....

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Year's Worst Movie

is the Emperor Penguin, a French film---supposedly a nature film about penguins in the Antartic. Unfortunately, although you got to see penguins migrating in a natural setting, the sound was all dubbed. Even worse, you had a simple-minded dialog which was supposedly the penguin's thoughts all the way through the film without more than a few seconds break. Who the hell wants to watch a fake, manipulated "nature" film with the natural sound replaced by idiots pretending to be penguins? This has pretty much been the uniform reaction of people I saw it with. Yet not one so-called critic---foreign or Japanese---that I have read ever mentioned this at all. However, the ceaseless chatter begins to grate on people within the first 5 minutes. What a disappointing waste of time and money.

Avoid this crap at all costs and go to a Disney film. You have people acting like animals, but at least the dialog is not something that could be written by a rather shallow 8 year old.