Sunday, July 30, 2006

Japan Focus Returns, Maybe

One of my favorite sites to get information about Japan is Japan Focus
It is back online after being down for a while. Unfortunately, I can't get many of the new articles to load and it is as slow as syrup just to load the home page. If only they had left it alone instead of redesigning it for "important new features."

It worked fine before. Now it doesn't. It is (or was) a good place to find good articles. For instance, here is an article on Japanese whaling. The site covers various topics related to Japan, but also East Asia in general.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rainy Season Finally Over?

Maybe. After a few years of a very light rainy season---at least in the Tokyo area---it seems to be ending. (I know they have been light recently, because I keep a record of the temperature in my cycling training journal.)

The good thing is that it will stop raining, except for the typhoons which will start soon. The bad thing is that it becomes extremely hot and humid. It doesn't cool down at night, at least in the Tokyo area, because of the heat island effect.

This will mean 24 hours a day of AC use when we are home. Either that, or stay awake all night trying to imagine being cool. I once had a student with no AC who would get on the JR Yamamote line which encircles central Tokyo, and ride it around for hours while studying. Some people thought he was nuts, but it was a pretty good idea. He only had to buy the cheapest ticket to the next station and could then ride for as long as he wanted. Now, most just go to Starbucks and sit all day with a small coffee.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

So what?

It seems that every report about Landis and his ride Thursday includes the apparently extremely important information that he had a beer Wednesday night to relax after he cracked and had the disastrous ride.

I don't get it. Most endurance athletes avoid alcohol during competition because it dehydrates you. So I guess having a beer was unusual, but it surely as hell is not that big of a deal. It is like high school kids who get all fascinated about a beer because they are too young to drink legally. It ain't such a big deal to a non-boozer adult as he/she can go buy one anytime. But the cycling websites have just got a hardon over hearing this., the site of the overpriced American cycling paper (which normally has more ads than cycling news in the paper. You can get better info on the net at than you get if you buy Velonews' rag.) has a guy who writes a rant occasionally. Naturally, most of what he writes is just political asskissing, but last Friday, his little wee-wee got bigger when he became all excited about what type of beer Landis had.

July 24 update. Here's why they think it is so interesting, I guess: The night before his epic ride on stage 17 he had a beer. People have beer every day, it's a mundane daily custom for most of us, but Landis is a Tour athlete - men who supposedly measure every gram of fuel that they put into their bodies. Every Joe Six-pack around the world took heart.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The World's Dirtiest McDonald's

has to be the one in Denenchofu. No matter when I go there, it is always filthy. Early morning or late at night, it makes no difference. Floors are covered with pieces of paper, dirt, cigarette butts and who knows what else. The tables appear to be sloppily wiped off about once every 30 customers. Naturally, this being Japan, the smoking and non-smoking sections are in the same room. In fact, the tables are side-by-side with no ventilation. What's the point? (anyway, I will bet that I can find some nihonjinron nutter who claims that cigarette smoking is a Japanese tradition and them thar foreigners and Japanese non-smokers should leave traditional smokers alone.) It's usually filled with a bunch of loud, ill-mannered junior high and high school punks anyway. I try to avoid it, but it is open late and cheap. Just have to eat dirt and breath smoker-shit.

In contrast, the Denenchofu KFC is sparkling clean. Most every KFC I have been to in any country has been in some state of filthiness. Not this one.

Starbucks. I am not a Starbucks hater. In fact, it is pretty good for the price. You can get tasteless fake coffee here in smoke-filled Dotours for more. (I mean it. It has no coffee taste for me. Just a warm brownish liquid with an undefinable taste.) You can get a cup of instant for more than $5 too. You can go to Tullys and get good coffee, however, some have smoking rooms without doors (does the word idiotic fit here?) so you have to inhale smoker-shit with your coffee.

But one of the Starbucks in Jiyugaoka is pretty bad. No, it's clean. Its coffee is typical Starbucks, but sometimes it seems as if they ran out of Starbucks coffee and substituted weak instant coffee---or even worse, it tastes like Dotours coffee. But its food is always dried out and hard as a rock. It isn't really fit to eat. Now Starbucks could never be accused of having good food. In fact, at best some of it is barely edible. But at this Starbucks they set the standard for old, stale, possibly decaying fake food. It's not the one near the station, but the one close to UFJ bank. I complained once. I even filled out the "How are we doing" form. I suspect since my Japanese isn't perfect, that form was used to provide entertainment for the staff.

Another nice thing about Starbucks is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a seat. People will buy a small coffee and then study or chat for 3-4 hours or more. During test season they get filled with students studying for hours and buying nearly nothing. Some, such as the one in the Takashimaya Dept. store in Futakotamagawa even put up signs asking students not to stay for such a long time. They ignore those signs. The staff, this being Japan, does nothing.

I have lessons in Starbucks sometimes, and when I do and I will be there for over an hour, I buy more accordingly. It is only fair, I am using space that they could use for other paying customers. However, at the Jiyugaoka Starbucks, I sure can't buy food, so its gotta be more coffee.

What a Race

Wow! Landis is back in 3rd, just 31 seconds back after winning Stage 17, the last Alpine stage. He simply kicked ass today, and he did it without his team for most of the stage. Something unbelievable after he cracked yesterday. I, and about everyone else, (perhaps even Floyd himself) figured he was out of contention in this Tour. I doubted he would even finish top 10 after yesterday.

Had to be one of the best stages I have ever seen.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


blew up completely last night. Up until a few days ago this has been an exceedingly dull Tour de France. But yesterday was pretty good because of the nearly instant change of contenders. I still wish Ullrich and Basso and others had been able to race, but this year's has not been the total disaster that I thought it would be at the start.

Monday, July 17, 2006


And how nice not to work. I may be going to start more company classes at my part-time job. Private students are nice to have, but frankly, it is a lot of extra work and no extra pay. I believe I will stick with locking for company classes on my own, and accepting courses from my company. More profitable that way---at least more consistently so.

Anyway, I don't have to care until possibly tomorrow evening when one of my long-term private students may be able to take a lesson. She has a new job---as a teacher, including as an English teacher---and has much less time to take lessons with our current schedule.

Things are also so much better since we moved to our new place, which is very big by Japanese standards and reasonable by American.

But it is more Japanese study today if I am gonna have any shot at passing the test this year. (The test is for motivation---not for building fluency. It is a written test, after all.)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Studying Japanese

Below I mentioned some useful books that I have used, as well as a few useless ones. I would also be very careful about any websites run by amateurs--especially non-native Japanese speakers to learn kanji or vocab. I got a vocabulary list off of one such site and showed it to my Japanese teacher and it had numerous errors. Kanji listed was obsolete, definitions were incorrect, or only half right. The guy had put a lot of work into it, and was well-meaning, but unfortunately it won't help anyone if they learn useless kanji, or words with incorrect meanings...

Mmmm Fat

Everyone believes that Japanese food is very healthy. Most of it seems to be, but some is pure fat. Japanese beef makes you wanna ask if they provide any meat with the fat. It has to be over 50% marbled fat---you cannot trim it.

I just bought "low fat" milk. 3% fat. That is whole milk most other places, but here they sell milk with 3.7% and more. Packed ramen has a lot of fat, as well as high sodium.

I don't know many people here who have much knowledge about fat, saturated vs unsaturated, or anything else. More and more food products are coming with nutritional labels and it is surprising.

Heart disease is increasing here, as is obesity (though nothing like the unbelievable obesity one sees in some Americans). I suppose it is the high consumption of seafood, and the relative slimness and less gluttony that keeps heart attacks below that of the US. I suspect it won't continue that way.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Presentations 2

Below I wrote about a class I am teaching which is going through a presentation block. Once we finally got into the final, full presentations,things really improved and they have all tried very seriously and done very well. I am pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, I just can't read a class, and this one seems to be one I have trouble with. Even had one woman whom I thought would do horribly---mainly because of nervousness and lower speaking ability than the guys in the class---had actually prepared and delivered one of the best presentations in the group. I was amazed at that, as were the guys in the class.

This job can be rewarding at times and this is one of them. After the last 4 weeks of the presentation block wondering what I was doing wrong, or how I could get it working better, it turned out fine. Better than fine and it was obvious that they had all made progress. At their level (intermediate-high intermediate) progress is not easy to see.

This is the kind of thing that would be nearly impossible to experience at a place like Berlitz where you don't have your own students, you may or may not know the students, you are using material which seems to have been created by committee--a committee which includes nobody with any knowledge of language teaching or SLA, material which you may or may not be familiar with, teaching a class which you MAY have had a full 5 minutes to prepare for. Oh wait. Am I regurgitating Berlitz nightmares again? Gotta stop now.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Racial Discrimination is legal and

acceptable here, but Tottori prefecture passed a law making it illegal. Then they "unpassed" it.
(Sorry, but you have to register with the Japan Times to read that.)

The UN Human Rights Commission has repeatedly criticized Japan for tolerating (and as far as I can tell encouraging and promoting) racial discrimination. Up till this bill, Japan made no attempts---as far as I can find---to make it illegal.

There were real problems with the law, and the fact that it ultimately failed does not mean that all of those who opposed it are racist bigots. Some were, I am sure. It is encouraging however, to see that some people in the government do realize that there is a problem and are trying to do something about it instead of denying any racism exists in Japan because "Japanese aren't racist."

The most boring Tour de France

in years. In fact, the most boring bike race I have listened to, watched, or read about in years. Yea, it has just started, and the real racing has not begun yet, but I am sorry, without Basso, or Ullrich it is tedious. I keep waiting for someone to show something, to do something, but so far, not much has happened. Perhaps Armstrong spoiled me. I do like someone to show some dominance I guess. Now it is just mediocracy. Perhaps it will change tomorrow when we get out of the sprinter stages. (Ride 200 miles to race the last 300 meters. Oh, the thrill...)

Decent Books for Learning Japanese

Are there any? Not many that I have seen, but there are a few. Most written in Japan--or before the late 90s anywhere seem to be based on some type of "grammatical accuracy is everything" behaviorist ideas. One I used in Washington State University in the late 80s and early 90s was Learn Japanese. These texts were basically audiolinguistic drills with vocab lists to memorize and tons of grammar drills. Grammar was explained by charts and diagrams and used grammatical terminology which required you to spend as much time trying to figure out the diagrams and unusual terminology than we did learning the grammar. The professor didn't even use the grammar explanations for the book half the time. If the instructor---like mine---did not add any communicative activities, these things were horrible. You can still find them in Tokyo, but I would not give you 1 yen for the whole 4 volume set. I went through all four, and even though I could easily do the grammar drills, I could not understand nor use half of what I had learned. Such are the results of drill and accuracy exercises. (Can you say Berlitz pre-2004?) Even worse, these things were full of nihonjinron nonsense which was often even more absurd---and inaccurate---than stuff published by the Japanese. (These were published by the University of Hawaii Press, written by John Young and Kimiko Nakajima-Okano).

The Japanese for Busy People texts have been very popular in Japan for over 10 years. There are also based on dialogs and drill, drill, drill. For some reason, I liked them better than the texts above. The grammar studied is less complex and the explanations are easier to understand. The workbooks for these texts DO have communicative activities, good listening, and good reading exercises. All in all, not a bad set of texts, especially in the hands of an instructor who understands what a language is. (Hint: it ain't abstract grammatical constructs.)

My favorite is published by the Japanese Times. Unfortunately, it only covers the beginning level, but it is interesting, and was written by people with a knowledge of modern second language acquisition theory, and who knew how to teach: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese Genki. The CDs, the workbook the text, the reading exercises, the listening exercises are all good. Even if you are studying alone, I would recommend these above any of the others I have personally seen.

I am now studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level 2, which is a huge jump from level 3. Huge. 1000 kanji, 6,000 vocabulary words, and much more complex grammar knowledge is required. So far, I have found NO especially useful texts. I love to read, so I did pick up some reading practice texts. One is published by Kenkyusha and has some decent readings with Q&A. I also have one form ASK (ASuKu) which has a slightly different focus. It uses reading materials form a variety of sources, advertisements, warranties, instructions etc which focuses on general meaning as well as details.

The Japan Times also publishes and intermediate-level text, An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese, but frankly, it sucks. It consists only of fake stories written about the lives of a foreigner studying at a Japanese university. This might be interesting if that is what you are doing, but otherwise it is boring as hell. The folks who wrote it seem to have some sort of huge penis-envy for the US. One story is of a woman who went to New York City, but was disappointed. The only thing as good as, or better than Tokyo, was the fact that she could see squirrels there. Kanji are introduced in the text with furigana above it for only the first encounter. I hope you can memorize it instantly, or else you will repeatedly be going back to the first use to remember the damned thing. This is very common with most Japanese-published texts. One could get the impression that someone is living in 1956 and has not kept up with the field of education since.

For extensive reading---nearly vital in learning a new language---I read kid's books, books without a lot of kanji, and if they do have kanji they always use furigana too. I find that those for 1st or 2nd graders are about right. They do have a good series of manga-style history books which I am reading. The point of course is that it is easy to understand and I can read it without being frustrated by too many kanji or unknown words, or grammar forms. (Did I ever mention what one of the Berlitz salesman/teachers told a student about extensive reading? Oh, sorry, I can't go there again, I will puke.)

Listening material. Good luck. I nave yet to find any that is interesting that I can listen to on my own. Again, this is vital, so my Japanese teacher gave me a CD with a Japanese TV series on it and with her help, I am using that. It is very tough---too tough really---but it is interesting.

For kanji? Kanji cards help, but in the end, I think you have to write and write and write them. It is the only way that I can really remember them. Cards are good, but the differences in some kanji are small, and if you don't write them, you often don't notice the small differences which can make a big difference in meaning. And you can bet, those will be on the JLPT.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Crosswalks: the Kill Zones in Tokyo

One thing I have always known, as does anyone who comes to Japan, is that traffic goes through crosswalks while pedestrians have the green light and are already in them.

I have no idea of the legality of this, but it is what happens. In fact, it happens right in front of the "police" who usually do nothing. (The fact that they do nothing has no relationship to whether or not something is legal.) In nearly 8 years here, I have seen a cop stop someone for going through a crosswalk with peds in it only one time, and that was in Kawasaki near Kajigaya station. In Akasaka-Mitsuke, right next to Goldman Sachs IT and the Oak Apartments, cars routinely do that. There is a police box with a guy inside and I have never seen them react. It happens right in front of their face, so I guess it must be legal in Tokyo. I used to drive here (Toyama) and I was so naive that I used to stop for people in crosswalks. Legal or not, I had no desire to kill or injure someone.

I and another person were almost hit in a crosswalk today by an old man and his wife (?) in a silver car. All I could do, being an evil, bad-mannered, dangerous foreigner, was cuss and give him the finger. I expect that I only gave him ammo to claim that non-Japanese are dangerous crooks. That s.o.b. never signaled an apology, so I am sure he felt he was justified. The Japanese guy beside me cussed too.

It is extremely dangerous to walk along the street near our house now. At least in Kanagawa, we had sidewalks, and cars didn't drive on them like they do in some smaller towns. (Yes, they do. You should have seen Tokyo in the mid-80s when people rode motor scooters down sidewalks in Ginza. Despite what many want everyone to believe, and what we sometimes forget, Japan is an Asian country, and it has a lot of things that we stereotypically associate with Asia.)

I have though of getting my video camera, or SLR and just going around taking pics and movies and sending them to foreign media. Who knows, it might make the news of "weird" Japan. The Japanese police of government certainly would not do anything about the danger, especially if a non-Japanese complained.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


When I teach so-called business English courses, one block of instruction is presentations. Most students---or HR departments request this. It is actually very important and done correctly helps students see that the most important part is no perfect grammar, but such things as clear, logical formation, varying intonation, rhythm, and stress are of much greater importance.

Despite this, this block is usually the time that most people skip. I often joke that if I want time off, I just mention that we will be practicing presentations and nobody will show up.

In one class for an American company, I have students of intermediate-upper intermediate levels. Last week, only one person of 4 showed up for the 2 class sessions, so I postponed the presentation practice. They were surprised this week to find out I still expected them to do it.

It has been 2 weeks of trying to get them to come up with a topic. I had to give up on brainstorming sessions, because they were going nowhere. (This is often a huge problem here, getting people to brainstorm, to think quickly and opening without immediately filtering ones ideas.)

Today, I am going to have them start on writing/outlining the presentation, whether they are prepared or not. Most are hoping to do a shallow, half-assed job. Ain't gonna work. However, as they had mentioned during the mid-course evaluation that they wanted more presentation practice, one would expect more cooperation and enthusiasm. As is often the case, one would be wrong.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4th

A US holiday, and I unexpectedly have it off except for a Japanese class. I wish I could be in the States for a picnic. I especially wish I could be home where we would have a barbecue....hotdogs and hamburger and fresh vegetables from the garden. Those are the things I miss most (other than the people, open, direct---relatively speaking---honesty, and good manners among most people in general. Not only when you are dealing with someone. At least where I am from that is the case. I hope.)

In fact, I have 4 days off this week. One of my students left for the US for a year, others have canceled this week for various reasons. So I basically have my own company classes and class for the company II take contracts with.

No much money to be made, and I should use the time to recruit more students/companies, but I'll take the time off.