Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

How amazing am I?!

June 16, 2011 1 comment

I have not done origami in quite some time, so i though it would be nice to do some again. I had promised my students at one of my smaller schools a prize after playing bingo (what’s the point of bingo without prizes??) and I though, “instead of giving out stickers, whxih are SO last year, why don’t i give them some origami?” And so I decided to make each student a origami backpack in the same color of their real backpack! There are only 14 students so it’s not too much work. I have until Monday and am about hapfway done!


Categories: Japan, Pictures, School Tags:

An Update!

November 10, 2009 1 comment

First off, yes, my layout is different. I have been looking for some time now for a layout that was wide enough to be able to post multiple photos in a row, and this one looks like it may do the trick. However, because I changed layouts I may or may not have lost my custom banner, so please bear with me as I do my best to fix this up. I may go back to my original one, but the width of the posts on this one is much better.

I have not been keeping up with my past posting, which is unfortunate, and I apologize. The reality is that life (as it usually does) has been getting more and more normal as I live here more and more. There are a few things you all can look forward to in the coming weeks. This weekend I will be going to a sports/fun day organized by the JET association in Oita, and I plan on bringing my camera. Then the weekend after that is Natalie’s birthday party and we will be spending it in Beppu. Also, it’s fall in Japan now, and that only means one thing!



That’s right, it’s time for that! 紅葉(kouyou – Fall colors) is probably the best time in Japan. We have a pretty good foliage season in Massachusetts, especially in the Berkshires, but I don’t think anything compares to what goes on over here. The bright colors are all over the place. I will no doubt be going out and taking pictures of the stuff around me. So fear not, I am here to feed your Japan addiction, even if the fixes are spread out a bit further than they were before.

I am currently in the process of retooling my blog a bit, adding a few things, tightening up a few places, letting some things hang out, all that kind of stuff. I’ll be categorizing my posts better, so if you are just looking for posts with pictures or something like that, you will be able to search by that instead of having to scroll through the admittedly novel-esque blog posts of mine. Or if you just want to read about Elementary schools in Japan, or just about my trips, or just about my random thoughts on linguistics (I don’t know why you would, but I’m all about giving you the choice) you will be able to do so quite easily by checking out the “categories” under the post.

On the photo front, you will have to be content for now with a few pictures from the Halloween party last week, which was a lot of fun. But yes, you are being censored.

My Halloween costume. I wore all seven of my polo shirts, gym shorts, flip flops and a football. Yes, I went as a jackass (or a frat boy.)

This is Georgia. She went as a bear. She was not the only one with a full body costume like that.

Cam went as a ninja. He would not be alone.

ahem…no comment.

Stuart in his mask with no mouth or eye holes…I had to cut one in with his keys.

A few of the best costume contestants

The winner! He won $200

This is entirely unrelated, but apparently in Japan November 1st is as good a day as any to begin your Christmas celebrations.

Until next time!


Categories: Japan, Pictures Tags: , , ,


October 31, 2009 1 comment

So on Friday, to celebrate Halloween I taught some classes not at all related to the books we are supposed to use. To be perfectly honest, I only have my kids use the book once in a blue moon anyway, but Friday was slightly different.

For the sixth graders, I made a worksheet with six monsters on them. I taught them these monsters in English: Witch, Mummy, Vampire, Ghost, Werewolf and Zombie. Then I taught them six adjectives: scary, strong, cute, immortal, real, and old. They then made their own sentences, for example: The witch is old! Or: The zombie is cute! They had a lot of fun with this, and it was quite a rewarding lesson. I think they will probably remember these words quite well, too. After class I handed out candy, but only after they said: “Trick or Treat!” That’s right, I made them say it.

With the fifth graders, I remembered they learned some parts of the body a few weeks ago (head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…and eyes and ears and mouth and nose, head, shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes.) I added to their repertoire with arm, leg, foot, hand, chest and stomach. Please don’t ask me why they learn knees and toes before arm and leg. Well, I know the answer, it’s because there is no good melody for arm and leg. A also taught them directions, right and left. Then, the real fun began. I brought in two packs of toilet paper and split the classes up into groups of four. They played rock paper scissors to determine a winner, and this person got to become a mummy! As I said a part of the body, the remaining kids in the group wrapped up that appendage! They really had a blast with this, and I was able to get some good pictures in the process. Some of these groups did phenomenal jobs wrapping their mummy, as you will see. One group in particular (I am sure you will be able to pick the correct one from the pictures) did an absurdly good job.

I brought in enough candy for all the kids in the school (300+ students) and brought in my cheesecake for the teachers. All in all a great Friday!

That says “Halloween” in Katakana, by the way

fifth years class 1

Hard at work

They were going for the bed-head mummy look

Now THAT’s a mummy!

Fifth year 2nd class

Happy Halloween everyone!!!

Two guesses…

October 29, 2009 3 comments

…as to what kind of lesson I am teaching my 5th and 6th graders tomorrow, and what will be wandering around the school during the day. I give you two hints:

Categories: Japan, Pictures, School Tags: , ,

Just thought I’d share

October 27, 2009 3 comments

It’s amazing how this:

can make this:

Categories: Japan, Pictures Tags: ,

Sorta ramblin’

October 23, 2009 2 comments

I joined the local gym when I first got here, convinced that I was going to make the effort to go at least a few times a week. This was of course before classes started. Since they’ve started, I haven’t gone. It doesn’t help that the place is a 20 minute bike ride away, so it’s kind of rough to get myself out of the apartment to bike for 20 minutes, then run around some more, and then bike back again. So instead I bought some weights myself, and have been going out for hour-ish long bike rides every other day. There is a 300 km in 3 days bike ride in March that the Oita JETs organize, and I am planning on participating, so I’m kind of sort of starting to train myself. I’ve always been pretty good on a bike, but 300 km in 3 days is still a pretty hefty workload, so I’ve been going out after work and just picking a direction and biking. The first time I went I biked to one of my schools and then past it, only to find out that about 5 minutes later the bike path ends and a rather large road starts. Not exactly ideal biking conditions. The next time I picked the opposite way and ended up across the river in another prefecture. There was quite a nice bike path there but it only went for about 25 minutes before it ended. I plan on exploring the town more and more like this until I’ve figured out the best places to bike. I may have mentioned this before but there is a 22km bike path that begins in Nakatsu which is supposed to be really pretty. I haven’t made my way to that one yet, but maybe this weekend I’ll check it out. I figure if I can train myself to do alright on the 44 total km back and forth, I should be fine by March for the big ride which I am really looking forward to.

Now onto a few other things. As I’ve settled into my life here I’ve found fewer and fewer things to write about. Expected, surely, but still a little depressing. I’ve also stopped bringing in my computer to school so I simply don’t have enough time to write. I now spend most of my free time at work studying Japanese, which can only be a good thing. I recently received the first month’s lessons from the free JET program correspondence course (advanced) and have been working through that. So far it’s fairly easy, though I do spend a lot of time using my electronic dictionary. My problem with Japanese has always been a lack of vocabulary, but hopefully the copious amounts of readings in the book will remedy that.

It’s always the little things in life that are really profound, isn’t it? Japan is seen as such a strange country, with such strange people, but once you start actually living there it’s the “regular” things that you really start to notice. I want to share two examples on that note. The first happened before classes started, when it was still really hot. It was around 30 degrees, and one of the administrative people at one of my schools was complaining about the air conditioner not being on in the teacher’s room. The school rule was that if it was 30 degrees or above, the air conditioner could be turned on. Noticing that one of the thermometers in the office said 30 degrees, she took it away from the place it was previously hanging and displayed it far more prominently on the wall which the vice principal’s desk was staring at, meaning he had quite a good view at the thermometer from where he was sitting. She then muttered under her breath to a colleague: “Maybe this way he’ll see how hot it is and turn the air conditioner on.” Sure enough when the Vice Principal returned to his desk he looked up and noticed the temperature. He then said: “Oh, it’s 30 degrees! Let’s turn the air conditioner on!” I barely managed to stifle a laugh at that one. In Japan, where people are so often described as hive minded, and doing everything for the good of the group, this was an extraordinary example of one person simply getting her way. Sure, it was sneaky and unobtrusive and extremely passive aggressive, but it still happened! She was not afraid to make it known that she was uncomfortable, and did something to fix it. They are human after all!

The second story I want to tell happened last week at another one of my schools. I was eating lunch with the regular crew of people I eat with: The administrative folks, the principal and vice principal, the nurse, and the science teacher, basically anyone who doesn’t have a class to take care of during lunch time. The science teacher told this story: “Today in class we were working with amonia. And you know how much amonia stinks, right? It smells terrible. So one of the kids slowly moved his nose over the tube with amonia in it and took a whiff. ‘Gross!!!’ He yelled and he pulled his face away. Yet then 10 seconds later his face was slowly but surely creeping back towards the bottle to smell it again.” I have heard and witnessed similar stories so often in America, where one kid will take a whiff of something gross and then instantly move to his friend and say: “Dude, smell this!” or something similar. Yet hearing the story in Japanese was just so weird to me! This is certainly no ground breaking revelation, but hearing the most common stories in the world told in two different countries and in two entirely different languages just really shocked me for some reason. This whole: “human nature” thing, which states that human beings as a people are pretty damn similar regardless of culture or skin color or life experience, was known to me but didn’t really sink in until I heard that story being told. Japanese kids may stand up in class when they answer a question. And they may have all kinds of quirks differences that make them seem alien, but then you hear a story like this and you realize that beneath all that kids are kids whether they are in Japan, America, or somewhere in Africa. They have the same interests, they do the same things, and the feel exactly the same. The same goes with adults. Sometimes I feel like that understanding gets lost in the world where we spend so much time trying to pretend we’re so totally different. Deep down, we’re all pretty similar.

Categories: Japan, School Tags: , ,

Linguistic thought

October 13, 2009 6 comments

This blog post takes place between 10 am and 11am some day before last Sunday…

dun dun… (24 theme)

I was having a conversation with my principal and vice principal and one of the administrative workers at Okidai today, scarily enough, about getting fired. My principal (!) had earlier made the joke that, because I did not have any work to do (a.k.a. I only had two classes today because of the upcoming 運動会(exercise festival) and none tomorrow) I had no job, and indeed had been fired. Luckily, I recognized it as a joke right away. Also, they can’t actually fire me, so I wasn’t too worried. As an interesting aside, the word for “fired” in Japanese is 首切り(くびきり,kubikiri), literally meaning to cut off one’s head. Ahhh ancient Japanese culture! Anyway, this is all a very long interlude to what I really wanted to talk about, which is what happened next. The conversation switched over, as it naturally does, from me being fired to how good my Japanese is. My principal offered to have me use one of the sixth grade kanji textbooks so I could study more, and I said that would be great, though at this moment I am only focusing on learning words, not kanji. As I put it, communication is much more important. The world for communication in Japanese is “コミュニケーション” which is an incredibly difficult looking word that is pronounced “Communication” but with a Japanese accent. So instead of saying: “communicationの方が大切だと思います”, with Communication pronounced in English, I said: “コミュニケーションの方が大切だと思います” It seems like such a small little thing, but isn’t that usually how these things start?

My vice principal then wondered whether living in Japan would hurt my English pronunciation, and he pointed to the example of me using “communication” in Japanese. So here’s my question to you all. If a word had been basically taken directly from a foreign language and implanted into a different language, is it, as a speaker of both languages, acceptable to use the “English” pronunciation within a Japanese sentence? Is that word still English, or has it become Japanese? It may seem like a relatively simple question but I don’t think it’s quite so easy to answer.

To begin, I’m going to say that this is not an issue in Japanese alone, though it’s the main topic for this discussion since I’m in Japan. We have the same issues in English, where words from French or German or anywhere else have been simply taken and plopped into the language. We have at times changed the pronunciation, and at times have kept it exactly the same. I refer to, for example, a “frappe”, a tasty coffee drink, or a town in Wisconsin called “Fond du lac”, which somehow has come to be pronounced “Fondle-ack.”

On the one hand, the words are exactly the same. It’s not even as if they did what they do with many other foreign words, which is mangle them until they basically are Japanese, for example the word for part time job, which is “baito” from the German “arbeit,” which means to work. Take as another example the name for a police car in Japanese. It is a “patoka-” which at one point must have sounded somewhat similarly to “Patrol Car.” In these instances, I think it is safe to say that you cannot say them in an “English” or “German” accent because they are not actually words in those languages anymore. With words such as “Communication” however, the differences are quite negligible. The Japanese will understand you perfectly well if you say “communication” instead of “コミュニケーション” so it’s not an issue of becoming lost in translation, it’s merely an issue of accent, of intonation.

Yet on the other hand, because the word is being used in this language, should it not become by that fact alone a “Japanese” word?

Let me give some more examples, this time not using Japanese but using our own English. Works like: cliché, clique, crêpe and many others have been lifted straight from French. For one of these (cliché) we have lifted the correct pronunciation along with it. In fact, even my auto-correct tool on my computer adds the accent when I don’t type it myself. For words such as clique (most often heard as “click”) and crêpe (most often heard as “craype”) though, we have changed the pronunciations. And we cannot even use the same excuse Japanese people can, that we don’t have enough pronunciations in our language to make the sounds. We are perfectly capable of saying: “clique” or “crêpe” but for some reason do not. So then are these English words now? Does a speaker of French face ridicule for pronouncing the word “correctly” while speaking English? For example, when one of my classmates from school pronounced croissant “croissant” in a French accent, he was ridiculed for not saying: “crossant” the way we say it. He exclaimed that he did not know how to say it in English, an interesting response considering it’s not technically even an English word. OR IS IT?! That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

This is mostly kind of a thought process, not a very well thought out argument so I hope you’ll forgive me for jumping back and forth a little. But what do you think? Are words which are lifted from foreign languages into other languages still foreign words? Or do they become, through the process of this lifting, a part of the new language? Do we make distinctions depending on how we pronounce them or is there one single standard? For those of us who speak multiple languages, do we say these foreign words in the way of the language we are speaking in? Or in the original language of the word we are using? Do you know any linguists who have done work on this?

I have no answers for you. Especially in Japanese where they change the words so much, I think distinctions have to be made when entire words are shortened (patoka-, baito). But for words like “communication” it feels silly for me to say: “コミュニケーション” when I could just as easily say “communication.” And yet I think to Japanese people you are not speaking fluently until you speak the whole language, foreign words or not.

Think about it! Let me know, I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

Categories: Japan, Linguistics Tags: , ,