Neglected Students

I’m troubled on how to best teach my classes, both for myself and for the students. Today, the teachers told me that it is not uncommon for my high schoolers to have trouble distinguishing Bs from Ds (both upper and lower case), and that they don’t remember words. Some of them can only remember the order of the ABCs because they have never developed the ability to use letters like building blocks. Forget about pronunciation, they told me.
There is something seriously wrong with kids being forced to learn stuff that they have no interest in or use for. Even if I do bust my ass working on a great lesson, most of them will not appreciate it, because they will be sleeping or in their own little worlds.
It’s really scary to think that I can’t even use the same elementary school lessons in high school because they’re too advanced, and the high schoolers are harder to control. I don’t think anyone will be able to convince me that the education system in Japan is better than ours back in the U.S..
Their time and the educational funding would be better used teaching the kids what they need to know for life after high school. Classes in parenting and birth control, time and money management, and trade skills that they can use in the real world are what they really need. I can see that many of them are destined to go through much suffering, because they will not be adequately prepared for their futures (the seniors are graduating in December).
It’s too depressing to think about the education program as a whole in Japan, pertaining to teaching English. After shogakko, the majority of the students will develop a distaste for English, and will be conditioned to lose their self-confidence. I shudder to think what will happen when standardized English lessons will be implemented across Japan in a few years. It could make things better, but the track record suggests otherwise.

Unconventional Lessons

I’m trying to come up with as many different games to play with the kids as possible so that I’m not stuck in the classroom with a room full of people that don’t want to be there, and for the times when we must use the classroom, I am trying to plan unconventionally.
This week, I am going to teach the kids about streetball by using the And1 Mixtape and other DVDs. I’ll try and give them a peek into basketball culture and about stories of hope and despair like those seen in “Hoop Dreams”.
Today I took the students out to sketch and label some plants (a tree, flower, leaf, etc…), and they seemed to do pretty well.
Right now I’m planning a lesson themed “Your dream house”. I’m going to print out a huge copy of Bongo’s Dream House with Japanese written under the English labels, and let the kids take most of a class to draw and label their own. By the way, this page has a bunch of Groening’s “Life in Hell” pages- they bring back so many memories.
Ultimately, I would like to do some of my classes using the pool, and teaching games that I used to play as a kid, but at the moment this is just a pie in the sky. I am the only ALT I know who has successfully persuaded a school (in my case a couple of schools) to allow me to teach sports lessons and to use the gym.
Unfortunately, desinging lessons like these leads to great expectations from the students and teachers alike. I can make some pretty good, unconventional lessons, but with limited resources, a great demand for lessons (3 separate lessons PER WEEK), and disinterested students, there is only so much I can do. There will come a time when my tank runs out, and all that will be left are worksheets.
So I am trying to space out these special lessons, but even so it is difficult.
This originally started as a joke, but I’m toying with the idea of one lesson devoted to “quiet time”. I want to make a lesson on “meditation”, with the goal of “achieving inner peace” and “enhancing concentration”. The class will be quiet for the whole stretch, and maybe they’ll get something out of it (a nice rest). If this lesson goes well, then I might implement “nap time” every class for 20 minutes, and ask if we can have juice and cookies for the students.
Oh, and dodgeball!!! Now that I think of it, regular class would be a great time to play this great sport. I think I’m going to allow head shots, purely for (my own personal) entertainment value.

News that matters

I really enjoy reading the Daily Mainichi’s WaiWai page. There is always an interesting story about some obscure segment of Japanese society to contemplate. Some of the stories here are just too strange and twisted to be contrived.
For example, It is easy to see why and how an immoral doctor would prey upon a man’s ignorance about circumcision and penile health in order to take him for all he?s worth, but why the hell would adult men get circumcised if their health or religion doesn’t require it?
If I had a friend who ran into this problem, I don’t think I would be capable of sympathizing with him. Stupidity of that magnitude is a cry that one is not mentally fit enough to survive.

A Toast to Chris and Sarah!

(These life jacket-wearing dogs will be walking the plank of holy matrimony on Saturday, they will! Yaaarrrrr!!)
Of the five of us who lived in that broken down Sabado Tarde apartment, drinking beer by the keg, chilling while grilling lunch and dinner over a Webber, and generally living a life of debauchery while going to UCSB, I wouldn’t have imagined that you would be the last to leave Isla Vista. Nor would I think that you would be the one to be caught with his pants down by the I.V. foot patrol. Those guys can be such bastards!
I am glad, and also relieved, that things have worked out for you. It’s probably a good thing that you veered from your original goal of becoming a doctor. Had you abstained from partying and taken that route, you very well might have ended up with a psycho girlfriend, working so much that you would have no chance of enjoying life. When I hear about how you are living back it makes me happy, and a bit envious. I see a young couple, full of hopes and dreams (I couldn’t resist these cliches) ready to embark on a long, happy journey together:

5/13/05 – I realized last Wednesday, as we paid for the cake via cell phone in a car speeding towards an event in Montecito, that this is all definitely going to happen. I’m excited and a bit nervous – not that I’ll forget my lines or my black socks or the rings or anything – just that feeling that my life will forever change towards something better. Something more complete, something richer than pizza and beer on a Friday evening. Something with children and hopes and dreams and futures and a certain amount of solidity that my bachelor life did not have.

I read these words, and all of a sudden, old and previously forgotten snippets of “The Wonder Years” mixed with “The Graduate” start to mix and play in my mind. I can hear the words as narrated by an older, nostalgic Kevin Arnold, with a Simon and Garfunkel song gently playing in the background. In this context, Pete would have to be Paul, Winnie could kind of be Ranya, and Wayne would be a composite of me, Steve, and Brian.
I think you’re right in thinking that you’re life is going to get better as a result of marrying Sarah. You wisely have taken the time to get to know each other, and are proceeding with confidence. I think that your life will change from being beer and pizza on a Friday night, to the deluxe pack that comes with wild bread, cinnamon bread, and a two liter bottle of Pepsi, along with a special barbecue delivery from Woody’s, spent in front of a home theatre system. Enjoy this while you can, because it?s going to start getting expensive when you start having kids, and you’re going to have to watch Disney movies over and over on your widescreen TV?
On Saturday, when you are getting married, along with friends and family, I will join in the celebration in my own humble way. I will raise my glass, filled with something other than Crown Royal and toast you, Sara, and to your future together as Mr. and Mrs. Dillingham (or is it to be Dempsey? ah, technicalities).
Have an awesome wedding(T-minus 1 day, 15 hours, and 57 minutes) and enjoy your long-anticipated honeymoon. Congratulations, and the best of luck!

Kujira ryouri

Minke whale curry is on sale now in the bargain bins at Don Quixote for only 1,029 yen. Supplies are limited (only 2 cans left), so don’t miss out on your chance to dine on stewed cetacean! Get it before they go extinct (nah, they’re not endangered, but that doesn’t make it right)!
This is one of the few foods I refuse to eat, not because it is prohibitively expensive, but because it sucks to support the harvest of rare plants and animals. On top of that, it just doesn’t look like it would taste that good (certainly not worth the “discount” price of 1,029 yen).
Now check out this other whale meat product from Toretore Ichiba in Wakayama:
All that’s missing for a proper breakfast is a side of scrambled loggerhead turtle eggs. I wonder if you are supposed to fry this stuff up like bacon, eat it raw, roast it, or stew it. In any case it sounds disgusting, not unlike tongue loaf.

Home of the Gods

When you gaze upon the mesmerizing beauty of Nachi waterfall, you can understand why this area is holy ground for Japan’s animistic roots. At 133 meters tall, this is the mother of all waterfalls in Japan. I think that standing under the pounding streams of Nachi can probably dislocate one’s ribs and joints, so even if it were possible to climb down under the waterfall I was content merely to observe the water in motion and to feel the cool mist on my face.
In terms of natural beauty, I would have to rank Wakayama at the top along with my favorites in Kyushu including the Aso area, Kagoshima (around Kaimon-dake), Saga (especially around Karatsu), Oita (the Kuju area and the coastline), Miyazaki (around the gorge and beaches), and of course Okinawa. Shirahama beach has crystal clear water, an onsen carved out of the coastal rocks where you can feel the sea spray of the waves as they crash, and a long stretch of white sand (although this, I am told, is imported from Australia).
It is also said that the mountains in Wakayama look like broccoli. This is because they are covered in a nice variation of foliage and trees and give the hilly landscape a bumpy, mottled appearance, as opposed to the landscape of the usual evergreen monoculture (of cedar) that has unfortunately replaced most of Japan’s natural forests. The mix of deciduous, broad leafed trees, bamboo, pine trees, and other native plants is easy to look at.

How it really happened

Damn you Obi-wan, I can see your blue glow from behind that tree- come out from there!
“You must go to Dagobah to find the great Jedi master, Yoda.” you said. All that’s here on this cursed mud hole is a geriatric muppet who taunts me, making me carry him around on my back. Stop laughing, you dick.
You better have an idea on how to get my X-wing out of that bog, and I better not hear any of that “try using the force” crap! I should have never left Tatooine with you crackheads!

Pensions and Mansions

Currently I am living in a mansion in Osaka. It is probably around 200 square feet and includes a bathroom, kitchenette/dining cubicle, a tiny patio, and living room/bedroom. There are no butlers in my mansion, and the people who live in the mansions around me typically ride the train or bicycles, and work as English teachers. No a mansion in Japan is not the same thing as a mansion in the western world.
When I was first told that we were going to a pension, I had no idea what my Japanese friends were talking about. Unlike the pension plan, which is a pain in the ass, pensions are quite pleasant. I guess the pension would best be described as a family run hotel.
Of the pensions I have stayed at, the Starry Pension in Aso-machi (Kumamoto-ken) and Zion in Hakuba (Nagano-ken) are my favorites. The rooms have a nice, cozy feeling. As opposed to the hermetically-sealed and sterile vibe in regular hotels, the accommodations are clean but lend the feeling that you are home away from home.
At both of these pensions the food is first-class. Both places serve up European-style multi-course dinner sets and continental breakfasts. The meals are delicious and served in large proportions. They’re a nice break if you’ve been subsisting on fish, rice, tsukemono, and other traditional Japanese foods. My favorite would have to be the bacon-wrapped filet mignon at Zion, and the lasagna-like tofu gratin at Starry.
The surrounding areas around these pensions are awesome if you enjoy getting out into nature. I think one of the best times to visit these mountainous regions is during the middle of summer, when your shoes fuse to the asphalt in the cities of Japan.
Starry is right at the base of Aso Mountain, and you can a number of activities from this central location such as hiking, golfing, paragliding, sight seeing, driving, or onsen hopping. They also have three family-style onsens that you can relax in- one of them offers a view of the starry skies above (the stars are amazingly clear in both Aso and Hakuba).
Zion is a terrific place, and has many of the same type of activities that the Aso area has to offer. Arguably, the best part about Hakuba is the skiing and snowboarding resorts. 47 is within 15 minutes by car, and you can walk to Happo.
I think the part that I enjoyed the most about staying at the pensions was interacting with the people who worked at these places, and talking with other people on vacation. It’s always nice to sit around the hearth with a nice frosty beer and to chat when everyone is on vacation. The people who run these pensions enjoy providing good service to their guests, and the regulars develop a close relationship. Because of this, everything is much more relaxed and staying at a pension is a much more intimate experience than staying in a hotel.

Hungry Demon Jinja

This morning I had some extra time to burn before going into work, so I decided to walk around the neighborhood. I found this awesome shrine a block away, and made offerings to the giant head.
It felt as if I had entered the world of Big Trouble in Little China, but Egg was nowhere to be found. I did, however, feel that I could see things that no one else can see, and do things that no one else can do.