Saturday, April 29, 2006

Japanese/foreign apologist hypocrisy

is discussed by a guy who pretty much has it nailed at this link . Strange how some people live in Japan for years and never get this. Granted, they are rare. Usually the apologists who give us the "Japanese are so polite" crap only visited or lived in an isolated dream world and were baka gaijin handled while they were here.

Ever wonder why any complaints or criticism about Japan is called whining? The Japanese in general are supersensitive to anything close to criticism, but white foreigners are the most likely to make this charge. It seems that they prefer that everyone goes-along-to-get-along just like the Japanese. They are of the same ilk that in the US tell anyone who would dare criticize that country "Why don't you leave if you don't like it." The answer is, "Because I live here, it's a democracy---whatever that is---and I have a right and a duty to participate in society. If you don't like democracy, then why don't you leave and go where nobody can make any openly critical comments."

Of course, this is not how society/democracy works in Japan. However, imagine that minorities were viewed and treated in the same way in the States or other countries. Would those same apologists who whine about any non-Japanese who criticizes (and even with Japanese- critics too--many will argue with a Japanese who criticize Japan that no, it isn't so bad, it's the same or worse in "my" country.) whine and complain about a minority criticizing their own country's short-comings?

I have pasted the full comment below because it is spot on. This guy has a better understanding of the country than old Edwin Reischauer ever did.

Are Japanese more hypocritical with foreigners ?


I know some people are going to call this thread "overgeneralization" because I am talking about "the Japanese", a group of 126 million people. Let me say from the start that for the sake of discussion I will use the term "Japanese" not to refer to "all the Japanese", but to "the average Japanese in the streets (of Tokyo where I live), based on my observations". The purpose of this thread (and other ones with such generalization) is to compare one another's opinion based on our personal experience. This seems obvious to me, but I need to explain this if I don't want to be misunderstood.

Are Japanese more hypocritical with foreigners ?

I have now been living for 3,5 years in Japan, during which time I have assiduously analyzed the behaviour and mentality of people around me (just for the record, I very rarely meet foreigners in Japan, apart from Thomas once in a while )

I am pretty good when it comes to understanding people's emotions and guessing what they think. My wife is often surprised how I express her own feelings better than she can herself. I often predict correctly what the person I am talking to will reply to some questions - be it about their opinion, feelings or knowledge for something specific. When I ask the question, I can see in their eyes what they are going to say before they actually say it. I rarely mistake (esp. with Japanese people, which I usually find easier to understand than Westerners).

After these few years of mind-reading and careful observations, I am left with the feeling that the average Japanese have awkward and prejudiced feelings against anybody that doesn't look Japanese. (let me define that "the average Japanese " are not those who come to practice their English with the first foreign-looking person, or those who have lived abroad, but the real average Japanese that don't speak English and know little about other countries).

For example, no later than today, as I was queuing at the supermarket cashier, the careless woman in front of me walked back and stepped on my foot. She first started a typical "ahh, suuumimaseeen !", but as she turned and saw that I was not Japanese, her voice faded before she finished her "sumimasen" and she just walked away with a strange look on her face. This has happened to me times and again.

First, when I mentioned that to my wife or some Japanese friends, I heard "excuses" such as "they think you don't understand Japanese because you are a foreigner", or the like. But these are really just (prejudiced) excuses. At the place near my house where I usually buy my bento, and have been going for 3 years, the staff (you should know m by then), still hardly says anything to me and when they have run out of one kind of bento, make signs crossing fingers and speaking in strange Japanese as if I couldn't understand. They have heard me speak fluent Japanese with my wife, and could not possibly not remember me, but still act in such prejudiced ways (while I always speak Japanese with my Japanese friends, and the have no problem understanding me at all). The worst is when those kind of shop's staff thank the previous (Japanese) customer with "arigoto gozaimaashitaaa, mata okoshi kudasaimaseee" then when it is my turn, they just don't say anything or mumble a quick and dry "arigato gozaimass" as if they were angry.

This week again, as I was riding my bike at lunchtime in crowded central Tokyo, a police car stopped with the policeman rushing toward me and asking if that was my bicycle and checked the registration number. There were other bicycles around, so my intentionally stop me for no reason. That is very embarassing in front of hundreds of people (and made me come late to my appointment, as it took a few minutes). The policeman was also surprised that I spoke so well Japanese and asked me if I had lived for over 10 years in Japan. Again that is very prejudiced to think that foreigners can't speak decent Japanese just after a few years's stay (or maybe because he couldn't do the same in English).

Westerners usually see the Japanese as polite, well-mannered and respectful. But do they behave this way because of social-pressure or because of genuine good feelings ? Very often it is due to social norms. But taking things a step further, I'd like to say that the attitude of many Japanese toward foreigners is very different from the one they use between themselves. When the "foreigner" is a "customer/guest" (kyaku-san) and people treat him/her even better than they would treat a Japanese, with lots of blatant flattery (sometimes annoyingly so, like the fake expression of amazement at how well a gaijin can use chopsticks or eat sushi - which in fact conceals a deep-rooted cultural prejudice that foreigners are inferior to Japanese). But when the foreigner is not a "kyaku-san" or reluctantly so (esp. in small shops), we can see how this was really hypocrisy, as this time the gaijin is treated like a weird animal and not even like a standard Japanese customer.

Any thoughts ?

IKEA returns to Japan

IKEA furniture store reopened in Chiba last Monday. We went there yesterday to look for some new furniture for our new place. The prices were extremely good for Japan. Probably 1/2 price or less for similar quality. IKEA is not thought of as a place for high quality furniture in most countries---sorta like a furniture WalMart or Uniqlo. A lot of it is shoddy, particle board junk, frankly. I saw some pine dining chairs with huge knots in stressed areas which are likely to fail.

But this is Japan, and you usually get shoddy junk at more than double the price. Really good stuff is beyond the reach of most, which is why many homes are furnished with stuff that looks like college dorm junk.

People were walking around IKEA like it was Disneyland (Disneyland is only a few stations away). Some acted like they had never seen furniture before. (Of course they had, but not likely so much at reasonable prices.)

I have read a few complaints online by foreign residents who object to IKEA coming to Japan, because it will put small furniture shops out of business they fear. I have yet to speak to a Japanese who shares this socialistic concern. These same folks often whine about Starbucks coming here and putting many of the small coffee shops out of business.

How terrible. I remember a cup of coffee costing over $7 here, and it was not good coffee. You could not get a decent cup unless you were willing to part with a fortune. That is why so many people used to go to McDonald's for coffee. The coffee was garbage, but you could sit and drink it and not lose a month's pay. You had to (and still do at McDs) inhale the cigarette smoke of all the tobacco suckers, but that was true everywhere in Japan.

Now you can have a choice of coffee and coffee shops. If you want to inhale cigarettes with your coffee, you can still go to McDs, many Tullys, Dotours, and the small over-priced coffee shops. Feel free. If you want to sit in a smoke free room and have halfway decent coffee---it won't please a coffee snob, but who gives a fuck---for about half of what you used to have to pay. The rest of Japan no longer has to pay absurd prices for coffee to sustain the fetish of some guy/gal who wants only small over-priced shops catering to like-minded snobbies.

One guy told me that IKEA will probably be a "price killer" in Japan. He seemed quite pleased with that, as he and the rest of the people in his office were quite excited about IKEA opening and were all delaying furniture purchases until it did. Seems they weren't as concerned about saving the shop of the local price-gouger. Why in the hell would a foreigner be?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Value of the Life of a Young Mother in Japan

The Yokohama district court decided that the car company, Mitsubishi, pay the family of a young woman killed by a tire that had fallen off of one of its trucks 5.5 million yen---about $45,000. It rejected punitive damages sought by the mother of the victim, because Japanese law does not allow punitive damages.

So, Mitsubishi, the company which lost a huge sexual and racial discrimination lawsuit in the US with much more serious consequences years ago---got off for nothing for killing a person. Mitsubishi knew of this defect---and had just recently been caught faking its data in order to hide flaws and defects in its vehicle from the government and public---but will pay less than the annual salary of an average white-collar worker in Tokyo. The government is serious about stopping these kinds of things. $45000 for a huge company is a serious deterrent.

Earthquake Resistant Buildings

One would assume, especially since we always read about how advanced Japan is in earthquake resistant buildings, that these buildings actually exist. There has been as scandal in Tokyo this year because an architect had falsified the documents on the standards of the buildings that he designed in order to increase the profit (and get kickbacks) for his firm. The government missed this during their "inspections" which mainly consist of reviewing the paperwork. Private companies do the same. Of course, if the documents are all full of falsified information, then these "inspections" are not going to work.

Several buildings have been condemned because they are unsafe in earthquakes---some unable to resist even a moderate quake. These are all new buildings, hotels, apartment buildings---buildings which if they collapsed could kill hundreds and hundreds of people. The architect and a construction firm which may have pressured the guy into becoming a fraud are being investigated by the government. He and others have been arrested.

I know an architect who says that this is not a surprise to him, but that he believes that this is common practice in Tokyo. According to him, most buildings do not meet those standards. Since his firm is not a Japanese company, and deals mainly with foreign firms, they have to personally and closely check all construction on work that they do to make sure that the standards are followed. If not, it is likely that cheap, shoddy, illegal work will be done in order to increase profits. Who cares if this results in people being killed.

One of the problems according to him, is that the Japanese bureaucracy does not have people who can competently inspect these buildings. They don't understand the construction, engineering, or even their own laws. Perhaps this is a reason they rely on the numbers in the documents alone.

A major earthquake in Tokyo is going to happen. It will kill thousands. Wonder how many will die needlessly because the Japanese government is not doing its job, and is not going to do its job, but instead will prosecute this small group of crooks and then go back to business as usual. Once and appearances and show over substance and action. And no, this is not the same as in other countries---such things happen, but not as a way of life.

The architect whom I talked to about this, expects nothing to come of it---the government has not seriously reviewed other buildings and firms in order to see how widespread the fraud is (it probably doesn't want to know, or at least doesn't want the public to know)---and he believes it will all be forgotten soon and everything will got back to normal. Fraud, lies, pretend---tatemae.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fuji Hill Climb

Damn! Once again I will miss the Mt. Fuji Hill Climb bike race. This year there were 4,000 spots and all are already full. They are no longer accepting applications. Last year I missed it because of hotels being full and trouble getting the Saturday before the race (on Sunday) off in order to get there with no rush. Now, I gotta find a replacement race> Next year I ain't waiting---gonna pay my 8,000 yen fee as soon as it opens. Damn, damn, damn, and damn it again!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Things that I miss about home

I have lived in several cities states in the US, WVa, Washington state, Washington DC, NYC, Great Falls, Montana (my absolute favorite), and Texas (my least favorite with the possible exception of DC). Tokyo has its good points and can compare with NYC in some ways, but it is hard to find anything within a reasonable distance of Tokyo that compares with Montana.
  • I miss 4 real, clearly distinct seasons, especially winter.
  • I miss clean air---air that I can't see. I miss forests and especially wildlife. I miss the camping, hunting, and all those outdoor activities that are difficult or impossible here.
  • I miss wild, quiet places that aren't full of noisy humans. (City people are usually noisy in the woods and then wonder why they can't see any animals, but from my experience, a group of singing, laughing, shouting Japanese outdo most people in the States.
  • I don't miss cars at all, but I do miss going to work in reasonable comfort without some stranger who hasn't bathed, brushed his/her teeth, used deodorant and drank sake and ate a ton of garlic the night before, and who has a cold and is coughing and sneezing all over me and everyone else. On second thought, I do miss cars. I could throw that kind of slob out. At high speed.
  • Honest opinions. Rational debate---although that isn't always a given.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Tama River near Futako Tamagawa

This separates Tokyo prefecture from Kanagawa Prefecture. Housing costs about 30% more on the Tokyo side than just a few hundred meters away on the Kanagawa side. This is just a small stream on the Tokyo side of the Tamagawa. The river is dirty and polluted, but fish still live in it, so it is not as polluted as it once was. It stinks after a flood though.

Down river there is constantly construction going on as they move the river bed to one side, then another, and build parks, build up then tear down parts of the river bank. Gotta keep the construction industry going. A splendid use of tax money.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Recently, I have been seeing a lot of yakuza in the Ooimachi area. Accroding to some locals, they often meet at a restaurant there. Of course there are a few soapland (basically prostitution sevices) in the area.

There are those who claim that non-Japanese are largely responsible for the increase in crime in Japan. Just the slightest research shows this not to be the case, but it fits in with the traditional Japanese belief that Japan is pure and outsiders are responsible for damaging that purity. The Japanese, you see, rarely commit crimes on their own. And who could believe that any Japanese is responsible for crime in other countries? Only foreigners in Japan are criminals. Japanese who are foreigners in other countries are not. (Of course, we must not forget that when many Japanese go to other countries, they call the citizens of that country "gaijin" which as I have shown is a racist---or at least racialist---term for foreigner. So perhaps the Japanese believe that they are never the foreigner. It's everyone else.)

Well, unfortunately, the yakuza---and the very closely connected right-wing---is deeply involved in crime here (no problem, I guess, since the police seem to be a bit easy on them and other Japanese punks unless it is time for a big show) as well as overseas. They have been involved in crime in Hawaii for decades, as well as in sexual slavery in Japan. The women used for this are non-Japanese most often, but not exclusively, from southeast Asia.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

In Honor of Sei Shonagon Part 2

As I continue to turn more Japanese than the Japanese, like the drunken charactor in the Last Samurai,
I will post some of my observations in the style of Shonagon-san. A few days ago, I wrote about hwat I had observed over the preious week entitled: Things That Are Disgusting. Today I will again write about what I have observed over the past week entitled:

Things Kind and Polite
  • Uhhh. Let me think. This is Japan, so this should be easy. Ummm. Let's see.....I'll get back to you on this if I see anything.

Blogger at work again

Another scheduled outage while they work on it. After they finshed, there are usually more problems than when they started. Now I cannot edit old posts. Anyway, the price is right. We don't have to pay for it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In Honor of Sei Shonagon

As I now try to become Japanese, like Anjin-san in Shogun; Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball; and of course, Tom "I'll eat the placenta" Cruise in the world's most ridiculous movie, The Last Samurai, I have begun to recall some of the ancient traditional Japanese cultural icons that I learned at Washington State University where my undergrad major was Asian Studies.

One earlier writer whom I admired was Sei Shonagon, the author of Pillow Book in the late 9th/early 10th century. Sei was a bit of a snob and a bit sarcastic which made her work fun to read--- much more so than the tedious, repetitive, Tale of Genji. (Has anyone, Japanese or not, who is not a translator or researcher ever read that whole thing?)

In honor of Shonagon-san I have jotted down a few things that I have actually observed over the last week.

Things that are disgusting:

A McDonalds employee catching a cough in his hands and then picking up a cheeseburger and filling a drink with said hands.

A guy on the train sneezing repeatedly, and often catching the sneeze with a hand. Then playing with what he caught on his and, rubbing it between his fingers and playing with what he sneezed out it.

A guy sitting close who has a bit of a cold or allergy. His nose is runny with snot almost leaking out. Just in time he SNORTS it back in. WAY BACK in. Repeatedly. Perhaps 3-4 times a minute with constant smaller sniffs every 1.2 seconds.

A man letting his little 2-3 year old boy playing right in the middle of a cycling path. As cyclists approached, he backed away from the child. If there were to be an accident, he didn't want to be involved.

A guy at Starbucks near Kamiyacho in Tokyo wearing gloves when handling food, but then keeping those gloves on when handling cash; then going back to handling food with the same gloves.

An old student who has lived in the US and seemed somewhat openminded who associated the number of foreigners in Kabukicho, Tokyo with the crime rate there. Foreigners always contribute to higher crime rates.

Hearing politicians, the press, and a student criticize stock investing because "
WE Japanese don't like to get money for nothing," while at the same time lottery ticket sales are very big, as is gambling, as is pachinko (not direct money for winning pachinko, but you can chose an over-priced stuffed animal or accept cash instead).

Me, for saying nothing. I am adapting.

Soon, like Tom Cruise, I will be more Japanese than the Japanese. Hopefully, I can avoid the placenta eating that Tom enjoys. (OK, He was joking. Like when he made The Last Samurai.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Today is turning out to be a beautiful spring day. Only 2 weeks to Golden Week which is one of my---and probably most people's favorite times of the year. Not only are most people off, but Tokyo often clears out as people leave for their hometowns. I have one private lesson scheduled with a favorite student on Saturday, the 29th, but that is the only scheduled holiday lesson for me.

We will be moving this Golden Week which will dampen the fun, but we are going to a really nice place in Tokyo. After the move, I will get back into archery, or try Kyudo as I thought I might early this year. One reason that I am interested in kyudo, is that it focuses on small details more than results---so I hear. Generally, I don't like this kind of thing and tend to lose patience with it; that is one reason I am interested.

One thing most people here have is an outward calm and tend to show a large amount of patience compared with Americans, and especially with me. I would like to learn some of that. There is nothing worse than losing one's temper in public in Japan. You will simply appear to be some uncouth lout. Nobody will be impressed with your manliness. It is actually shows childishness and immaturity here.
I usually can bite my lip and say nothing, but am po'd inside. I suppose this happens with people who have lived here all their life too, but they seem to be better at dealing calmly with it. (Or so I guess.)

So hopefully, I can get a little bit of immersion into somewhat "traditional" Japanese culture (although I learned when first researching kyodo, zen was not traditionally a part of it. I linked to an article in an earlier post in Jan or Feb of this year.) and at the same time gain a bit more patience and calmness when dealing with small irritants or an extraordinarily slow pace.

Back home, politics and traffic were the things that irritated me the most. Other things, generally were just a pain, but no problem to deal with (unless it was recurring, like a noisy neighbor or something.) It's different in a foreign country, because no matter how conscious I am of it, I still tend to get irritated by individuals and then take it as all of Japanese society. Some of these things are common, and some aren't. It isn't always easy to seperate the two automatically like we do in our own cultures. Lots of drivers are rude, impatient, and obnoxious in the US, but when that happened, I didn't get upset at US society or culture, but just figured the individual(s) were to blame. (Never myself, of course. At least until I calmed down and thought it through.) Ultimately, that is how I want to live in Japan.

Blue skies, but no spring

or so it seems this year. It is much cooler that usual for April. Golden Week is almost here, and yesterday it was only about 12 centigrade. It's also been much windier. Perhaps it means the summer won't be as ho and humid as usual.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Occasionally, we have blue skies

but not today. This is from last month on a stunningly---for urban Kanto--clear Monday afternoon.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Hints for Private Lessons

I do a lot of private lessons, both company classes and private students. By private, I mean I have no company between me and the student(s). No middleman. This does not make me rich. On the contrary, I get more for teaching corporate classes for my employer.

What it does give is freedom. I pick the text, come up with a syllabus and course outline in consultation with the student. I pick and choose students and am pretty selective, so I don't have to deal with time-wasters.

A few things I have learned, or had the importance of reinforced. This is for real lessons. If you get someone who wants to do nothing but sit and shoot the bull, and you want to do that, go for it. None of the below applies. I have seen people do that and get paid for it. (No prep, no materials, no nothing. In a lesson I saw like that, a guy sat and ran his mouth without stopping for an hour and the 2 girls just giggled and barely said anything. Doubt they understood anything either, but I saw him get 3000 yen. Never saw them there again either, so probably not a path to long-term profit.)

  • Set feasible goals, both for the medium and long term. If you don't it guarantees disappointment for the student, and an aimless hit or miss course. This is obvious for most, but don't lose focus of it. Readjust or reevaluate it occasionally. Ideally, you need a way to measure if you and the student have reached it. BE SPECIFIC! Many students will come with a vague "I wanna speak fluently" etc. Define "fluently" and design a course and materials to support that goal. Oh, you did interview your student to find out all of this and other important information during the first meeting didn't you?
  • Charge for trial lessons. Unless you do it close to home or work, you are spending your time and probably paying transportation. Some students get a lot of free "lessons" by taking numerous free trial lessons. Charging discourages this. You are doing it to make money I assume? If not, then give 'em all free.
  • Make sure to set a finite term for your course. You can always extend it, but I would start it at about 3 months or less. This helps you set and stick to goals, and gives both you and the student an opportunity to end the lessons if either needs to do so. Otherwise, they will go on and on and you will start losing focus of the purpose. Reevaluate your objectives each term.
  • Many don't want to pay your transportation costs. Too bad, make them pay or come to you. These can be significant.
  • 3000 yen per hour is the standard fee. Do not charge less! First of all, people will think something is wrong with your underpriced service. This is Japan, remember. You could charge more, and for evening work when demand is highest, you should charge more. If you work for a good business school, you get at least 4000 yen per hour for an average 2 hour class after 6pm. You are losing money at less than that unless you are just looking to fill a empty slot on you schedule.
  • Be professional, be on time. Do what you say you will do. Be friendly, but remember, these are paying customers, not your buddies. Most people, both teachers and students want it that way.
  • I haven't been doing this, but I may start as it is costing me money. Charge some price for same day cancellations. You can be flexible, but you don't want to show up and wait for an hour for someone who decided not to go, and never bothered to tell you.
  • Don't forget, copies, materials, time--everything you do to prepare for a lesson is an expense. It is not going to be 3000 yen per hour pure profit. Do lessons at a cafe? Who pays for your coffee? That's an expense. Print ads? Have a website? Expenses. Download and print lesson materials from the internet? Ink and paper. Belong to a TEFL that charges to download lessons/lesson plans? Who pays. Now, why would you charge LESS than 3000 yen per hour?
  • Be available for students outside the lesson (by e-mail generally, and by phone for somethings. Don't worry, it is rare that anyone abuses this.) That doesn't mean you have to give all your time away, but helping people with problems or questions is part of the job. I have free services I provide to students, but unfortunately, few take advantage of them. A hour or so a week is enough for many to acquire or improve a language, they incorrectly believe.
  • Don't be a language whore. Use your education, training, or experience to guide them in studying and learning English. Don't be tempted to do anything and everything they want, even if it costs you a customer. If someone insists on strict grammar correction at all times when speaking---and many will, don't waste your time. (Of course if you are a sadist or a grammar nazi, then you might be interested in doing it. Good for getting rid of students who are not working out. Maybe.)
  • There are 4 skills needed to master a language. Address as many as possible, though in the lesson it will likely be mostly speaking.
  • Your biggest problems will likely be keeping people motivated and getting their focus OFF form and grammar. This is almost aways true in Japan, but is often made worse by the eikaiwa schools whose teachers know no better.
  • Forget word-of-mouth referrals. This occasionally happens, but a very large number of people want the fact that they are studying English kept a secret. Berlitz had problems when someone accidentally violated this top secret policy.
  • Teaching company classes on your own? Remember, this is income and is taxable.
  • Keep good records of everything.
  • Again, either the student pays for everything---all your expenses---or you do.
  • Perhaps slighty off topic, but do not use Hotmail as it exists for any business-related purposes. You may need a record of your correspondence, and Hotmail deletes any saved sent messages after 30 days. This can cause a real problem if you need evidence of original correspondence for any reason. Yahoo is ok, just check message sent to the spam folder often, as Yahoo tends to put spam in the inbox and valid e-mail into spam.
  • Of course, all of this assumes that your visa allows you to do it.
  • Cash. Credit opens a can of worms. People forget, some may sorta intentially forget and not return. I used to allow payment once a month AFTER 4 lessons. I was never cheated, but people don't always remember well how many lessons they have had due to cancellations etc. There are ways around these problems, but the best is cash on the barrelhead.
These are some things I have learned. Other people may have different ideas, but don't ever believe this nonsense you read online about some guy getting rich from private lessons. It ain't the bubble economy of the late 80s and early 90s anymore. I never met anyone even then who was getting rich in this business. Don't quit your day job.

Sept 12 2006 update: If you have to travel, I would recommend setting a price of 4,000 yen per hour, or a minimum of 1.5 hours (at 3,500 or so per hour.) It is not worth 3000 yen or 3,500 yen to travel 30 minutes each way to teach for one hour. A waste of time. You won't get a lot of students at 4,000 per hour, but you want want many (any?) at a lower rate if you are traveling. And, need I say it again? ONLY A FOOL CHARGES LESS THAN 3,000 per hour. You aren't doing it for a profit at that rate. I have been a fool like that before. I learned my lesson fast.

Again: Set a time limit with a realistic goal. Don't let it become shoot the bull session with you simply robotically (and idiotically) doing nothing but correcting unimportant grammatical errors. (Although lots of "students" want this. Do you? Just how braindead do you want to become from this job? And what will this do to help a student become communicative in a reasonable period of time?

Don't accept a student with no clear goals. "I wanna speak English" ain't a clear goal. A short-term goal is extremely improtant as it give you and the student a focus and also helps you to measure how effective your teaching is (since you cannot really test a student). I will not even bother with students who cannot come with, nor stick to a goal.

Cash on the barrelhead. Extend no credit! IF someone forgets the cash, politely wait while they go to the ATM and get it. (I have one student who owes me 9,000 yen and has for 4 months because she took a new job and we haven't been able to arrange another lesson.

Keep all receipts for tax purposes. Teach at Starbucks and buy coffee? You can count that as a business expense if you keep the receipt.

One other thing, many people either do not understand you clearly in the first meeting or assume what you agree to is all window-dressing horse manure. I put things in writing now---goals, materials, lesson type etc. This helps prevent someone from agreeing to a goal, or type of lesson etc, then the first reall class expect to sit and shoot the shit, or expect 100% grammar-nazi correction when you already agreed that this would not happen.
Of all the myths about Japan, the one which is so absurdly false is the idea that the Japanese are so wonderfully polite. This is not true. In general, people are polite to those they know, or are interacting with personally. To people they don't know, or to the stranger passing on the street, they are at best indifferent and at worst extraordinarily rude. The Japanese are no more or less polite than others.

I suppose I am viewing that by western standards, but even many Japanese say this. Foreign apologists don't. The worst of the lot are those who have paid a short visit, or those who worked for a year in some school, or lived some pampered expat existence in Hiroo or some other "gaikokujin ghetto" and were treated like visiting royalty. What they don't know is, that people who are not guests aren't treated so well. If you stay any length of time, you learn this, unless you are wearing blinders.

One reason people believe this, is because the Japanese government promotes it. People also become deluded into believing that since nobody openly argues or disagrees with you, that it is politeness. Well, you could look at it that way. Or, you could say that someone lying to your face in order to avoid debate and allowing you to believe that the person agrees with you or is your "buddy," is a pure form of dishonesty and rudeness. Yes, I know about the wonderful Japanese tradition of (forced) harmony, and am very familiar with the "nail that sticks up" proverb. So what? That is Japanese, and these are Japanese good manners. It is not considered good manners in other places, so if they are polite by mainly Japanese standards and not others, how can they be considered so polite?

I have written about the very common open, uncovered sneezing and coughing that goes on here. I have seen people on trains cough or sneeze right on others without apologizing. Most likely, the sneezer would not do that to a colleague, and if she did, she would apologize. Now how is that in any way good manners? How about the pushing and shoving on trains? This occurs not only on crowded trains, but even uncrowded ones. It seems that on a train in Japan, anything short of murder is OK. Well, I guess sexually molesting women is now a little more restricted on trains. You will get arrested for that. But gee, how could a man, who is a member of the most polite ethnic group in the world be so rude as to molest a female? Evil, filthy foreign influence perhaps?

Just walking down the street requires extreme patience here. People will walk right into you. This is in part because nobody watches where they are going. I am not in any way exaggerating. Most people look no further in front than the toe of their shoe or the screen of their cell phone. They will run into you and to expect an apology is usually a dream.

At other times it is simply rude carelessness. I was in Tullys this afternoon and was walking out the door. A young woman was coming in. There was nobody else in the vicinity. She walked right down the middle of the floor headed directly at me. She was not on her cell. She was looking straight ahead and should have seen me unless she were blind or stupid, or both. I thought she would move an give me some room to get by, but she kept coming right at me. I had to actually jump to the side to keep Ms. Manners-san from smashing into me. Now a stupid rude evil foreigner in a dirty foreign country would have told her to "Watch WTF you are going," or "Pull your head out of your ass." But since this is Japan, there are no immediate penalties for being an asshole.

I remember when I came to Japan with my wife to meet her parents after we were married (yes, after). We were getting off a bus and I was behind some short, fat, bald guy. For no reason that I could think of, he suddenly elbowed me in the stomach. Luckily, it didn't hurt. If it had, I might have returned the favor, but I was more shocked than angry.

Every so often, you will be banged into very hard when there is absolutely no reason. Usually, this is by short middle-aged men, whom would be pounded into a pulp for such a thing elsewhere. But as I said, this is Japan and there is no immediate penalty for boorish behavior. Unless it is by a rude, evil, nasty, impure foreign creature such as myself. A few years ago, my wife and I were at a kiosk at Kajigaya station near my home. I was looking at magazines or something on a stand near the counter, when some short gummer came by and slammed into me. There had been plenty of room and no other people around. It was either carelessness and negligence, or he was trying to be a rude prick. He achieved that. But I got some satisfaction, because as he was at the counter paying for his Viagra or whatever, I went to pay for my purchase. I don't know what happened, but I suddenly lost all control of my body---very Japanese-like---an slammed right back into grampa. He said not a word as he bounced back from his impact with the counter. Shoganai! Can't be helped. Anyway, he probably expected such inconsiderate, rude, impolite behavior from an evil foreigner.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

It's New Recruit Season

Most companies are getting their new hires from college now. I was talking with a guy about the stuffy trains as the weather begins to warm. Since the AC and ventilation in trains and subways, and most buildings remain off, it is becoming quite uncomfortable with the stale, humid, smelly air. This is especially true in crowded trains. In fact, some frankly stink of sweaty people in the early morning. He told me that a lot of this is the new hires who have not learned proper bathing yet.

I wouldn't be at all surprised---companies have to teach them nearly everything. One would assume a college grad would at least know to bathe, but apparently not. This of course could be because, according to nihonjinron nonsense, the Japanese have little or no BO. (I actually saw this printed in an article in the New York Times last year, and it was NOT written by a Japanese.)

Apparently, the guy I was talking to didn't understand Japan since he claimed that the new hires--who are pure, BO-less Japanese---basically stunk. Strangely enough, he was Japanese, not a stupid foreigner who couldn't understand the pure Japanese.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Another Dangerous Foreign Thug Busted

The Japanese "police" (again, my apologies to professional law enforcement officers. I call the Japanese version "police officers" in jest) have arrested an evil, dastardly non-Japanese who threatened the security of the "pure" Japanese. Below is part of an article from correspondent Kjeld Duits' excellent Japan news blog. You can read the rest of it and many more at

Japanese Police Arrests Thai Woman Abused by Japanese Husband

Kjeld Duits, Thursday, March 23, 2006 Posted: 11:36 PM JST

A Thai woman who was abused by her Japanese husband has been arrested by the Japanese police because her visa has expired, TBS' News 23 reported today. The woman experienced terrible abuse and was even threatened with a kitchen knife. The abuse was both physical and psychological. Her husband for example compared her with vermin in front of their child. She was eventually able to escape to a shelter and sued her husband for domestic abuse. But as she was sorting out her domestic problems, her visa, which needs to be extended every three years, expired....

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Unions in Japan have not been especially strong, at least since McAuthor cracked down on them during the Occupation. They have since often mainly served as a stepping stone to company management for the union leaders. Unions have pretty much been limited to company unions---those directly connected to a company, (e.g. Company A union) as opposed to the broad base unions of the west (UAW etc).

In addition, Japan's labor laws aren't especially well-enforced, unless the wrong person (gov't bureaucrat etc) gets pissed off at the company. A lot of eikaiwa schools and university teachers are in unions and these tend to be more broad based unions open to people of similar employment as opposed to company unions. The problem is, they aren't especially effective either. A strike in Japan is unheard of anymore (JR used to have strikes---and seemingly serious ones before it became a private railroad).

The Asahi Shimbun, pretends to be a liberal newspaper---it is not liberal in the western sense of promoting democracy and individual freedom and rights, but mainly as opposing the LDP (Japan's most obviously nationalist party) and still basically supporting Japan's uniqueness, exceptionalism, and ultimately, purity which must be protected from dirty, dangerous foreign ideas. They won't even negotiate with their own union representing employees---both Japanese and non-Japanese. Liberal? Not at all. Rush Limbaugh is a left-winger compared to them. And if you read here you will see that they are in direct violation of Japan's labor law, but as is usual, the last place one can turn is to the Japanese government for any effective help.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Thoughtfulness at the local 7-11

I dropped in to pick up something for lunch when I returned home between classes. The woman at the register seems to have a cold, or perhaps the epidemic hay-fever many suffer here. (Because of the Japanese love of nature, years ago they destroyed much of the native forests near Tokyo and replanted them with cedar trees which has resulted in pollen-filled air, and a lot of allergies.)

She was repeatedly sniffing as I went to make my purchase. This is normal in Japan, as it is bad manners to blow ones nose. (Except apparently in restaurants. I see and hear more and more of that while eating nowadays.) Sniffing constantly every 2-3 seconds all day, seems to be the very picture of Japanese good manners. So as I handed her my money, she wiped her nose with the palm of her hand and used it to return my change and the receipt. I marveled at the comparative kindness and politeness of Japan as a whole. If only others could be so thoughtful. Why even here this level of politeness is somewhat uncommon. (Except for the sniffing and snorting.)

Nearly Everyone Wants to Get out of Teaching English

In Japan. I have rarely met anyone for whom it is the first choice in careers in this country----non-Japanese anyway. However, most do it because there is really no other choice. People will start doing it, some will become interested in it as a career and get more education/training in the area such as a masters in TESOL. However, even in graduate work in Japan you have little choice as a foreigner as, most of the fields of study (in English, or from accredited foreign universities are in English teaching. One could enter a Japanese university to pursue a graduate degree in another area, but the question would be, why? It is well-known that in a Japanese university, one plays and learns Japanese roles in society. One does not master a subject. Besides, in Japan a university education---or any post high school education is not taken seriously by most Japanese. Does that tell you something about the value of a Japanese college education?

Over the years, there has been a big jump in the number of non-native Japanese language speakers who are very fluent. Nowadays, it is not rare at all to find people who speak Japanese, and mere fluency will no longer make you a TV star like it did 20 years ago. Since many---Japanese and non-Japanese both---used to claim that it was a lack of Japanese language skills among foreigners that held them back and was one of the biggest reasons for nearly any problems foreigners faced in Japan, entry into the job market outside of teaching should be easier today.

For a few, it may have improved. There are some cases of non-Japanese westerners working in Japanese companies in more than a temporary token foreigner capacity. I suppose. They are still very rare. Imagine that Japanese immigrants to any other country could only get a job teaching Japanese. And they couldn't even do that as a full-time permanent employee in the public school system. Wouldn't that be called discrimination at best, racism at worst? Wouldn't the Japanese government be first to call it such? Theh why isn't it called that when it is so blatantly obvious in Japan?

One of the things that I have been seeing more and more in wants ads in Japan is a requirement for the Japanese language skill to be "native-level," not simply fluent. What does this mean? Most likely it means that if you ain't of "pure" Japanese blood---whatever that is, you aIn't likely to get a job there. Perhaps if you were of Korean or Chinese descent you could, but even then you would have a severe problem in the Tokyo area getting any government post in which you might exercise some capacity to supervise a native Japanese. (There was a recent court decision which upheld this rule in Tokyo. As usual, the primary backer of this policy was the bigoted racist "Blinky" Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo. Most citizens appear to agree with this, as the law is still in effect, and Blinky is still governor in his second term. (He'd probably win his 3rd if he could run again.) You may see ads requiring "native-level" English occasionally, and I would not be surprised if that were not meant to exclude Japanese, however I would assume it to be rare outside the English teaching industry.

The End of Self-censorship

It was short-lived, and I am still in Japan and repercussions are still possible from the foreign-sugarcoaters, or a few Japanese who cannot stand any less-than-complimentary things said about Japan, but to censor myself would be to fall victim to the same thing that many long-term foreign residents do. They become Japanese in that way. People have no choice. I still do in daily life, I have gotten so used to it that when a Japanese person says something completely idiotic, debatable, or even flat out racist, I am very guarded in direct criticism or a direct challenge. If it were in private, I might do it, but in general, with the average person, especially in a business setting or relationship, criticism of even the slightest or implied sort is very, very risky.

What got me to change? I have to pretty much live a lie---basically tatemae, in Japanese---anyway, so I don't want to waste time writing a bunch of sugar-coated lies. I guess the controversy about Ichiro Suzuki, and what he said, or did not say about the Korean team in the WBC started it. Naturally, many are now claiming he was mistranslated Perhaps, but that is ALWAYS the excuse used when a public figure makes a statement which in other countries would be considered intolerant or bigoted. (Remember former Prime Minister Nakasone in the 80s and his openly racist comments about minorities in the US? It was all a misunderstanding due to poor translations. Strangely, my wife said the translation was correct and that he did make those racist statements. Perhaps she doesn't understand the Japanese since she went to university in the US and was polluted with nasty foreign ideas. For example, honesty.)

Another reason is the constant equating of foreign products, people, and ideas as evil in some way and the Japanese as pure. This is a constant theme in every area of life in Japan. The word gaijin, in addition to being simply rude, is racist. It has historically been used to refer to non-Japanese of white European descent. Other races, are held in even less esteem. There is tons of evidence for this, and should not need more proof. But in the West, the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia and the like, many people still buy into the lie that the Japanese are the most polite people in the world, or that they are the only peaceful country*, or that being non-white means that there can be no bigotry or racism in the society.

*Michael Moore came to Japan and actually said that Japan has done more for world peace than any other country. As long as idiots like that run around, we cannot stop pointing out the fallacies of the Japanese myths. Ahhh ware, ware, Nihonjin...