Getting into the top public universityin Japan

Translation from the May school bulletin advising and informing students of the amount of study necessary in their 3 years of high school so that students can plan accordingly.

This year, Todai has released the recommendations application process that replaces the current system of screening final semester examination results.

  • A total of 100 applicants will be accepted
  • Each school’s principal recommends one male and one female
  • The examination will screen applicants’ documents, in addition to an interview. They will also take into account high scores on the National exam.
    The document screening  includes:

    • Written essays in school, or other accomplishments during general study hours.
    • Various science fair (Olympic) awards, and the like.
    • Foreign language certifications (such as TOEFL, Eiken, IELTS, etc)
    • International study abroad experience, or scores on certified exams that could be used to enter international institutions (such as the International Baccalaureate, or SAT)
    • Other considerations may include activities that demonstrate motivation for civic contributions, art, writing, sports.

The National Exam scores will be used to judge the applicant’s academic habits that ensure the effectiveness of their academic foundation after entering university, so one should aim for scores around 80% in general.

Cultural lessons in English usage


“Fathers complain that they can’t have enough time to spend with their families because they are too busy.”

I don’t have the original Japanese with me, so I can’t guarantee the correctness of this sentence, but the keyword is 「できない」= can’t.

Grammatically, the sentence works. But instead of saying “I can’t have enough time”, native speakers would say “I don’t have enough time”.

I’m always at a cross-roads when I run into these sort of translations because I wonder if what I’m seeing is a cultural way of thought rather than an English mistake. Without knowing Japanese, an English teacher might immediately say, “No, that’s wrong,” but I would say, “This isn’t wrong, but Western speakers don’t say this because there is a nuance that there is nothing you can do about your lack of time.” If this is truly how they feel, I think they should be allowed to use it. While it might sound fatalist and dooming, being clear is reaffirming, and would lead to less misunderstanding.

Does this just confuse the students more?  Does it turn them off to English? Am I even qualified to teach this?

Or I could be just interpreting everything wrong, and should encourage putting more power to the speaker by changing the sentence to “can’t find enough time”?

Picnics at kyudo

On Tuesday and Friday nights, I go to the city’s kyudo dojo by the castle for a couple hours to train. Before winter, I committed myself to walking through the snow in whatever weather as much as I can in order to practice and be ready for my first test in the spring. It’s about 20-30 minutes to the dojo depending on how deep the snow is or icy the roads are.

Before the snowfall, I’d gone and bought a uniform to wear for practice. I didn’t want to practice with thick clothing on, and the uniform is surprisingly warm as long as I’ve got long sleeves and leggings underneath (Uniqlo heat tech!).

When I get to the dojo, I change, grab my arrows and set them in the stand. Then I pick out my bow and put on my bowstring. This isn’t necessary since all the bows available to borrow have strings on them, but someone had suggested I get my own bowstring, so after doing so, I’ve learned how to put on a bowstring on a Japanese longbow. This requires having to bend the longbow for the string to reach one end to the other, so I was really scared of snapping the bow when I first did it.

After everything is ready, I put on my chest protector (for women only, darn boobs), my glove liner, and then tie on the leather glove over that. Then it’s time to practice form on the straw barrels before the actual targets.

I’m going to spare all the boring details on perfecting the one form in kyudo, and fast-foward to the best part of practice. Since it’s winter and cold, we have an electric carpet on the floor, and heaters and stoves turned on in the center of the room. A kettle is boiling water on top of the stove. An hour into practice, the club boss brings out a tray of cups, tea bags, and other powder drinks, along with rice crackers and a variety snacks that people have brought.  The hot water is poured, we share the snacks, and chat.

In this time, I learn quite a bit:

  • Which snacks are good
  • The Aizu dialect
  • What jobs that people in town have
  • How an old man is able to flirt innocently with young ladies

“Imma eat all your potato chips!”

My supervisor is one of the kendo club advisors, and he sits next to me in the office. His co-advisor likes to come by and meet up to discuss club matters and students. They love to make jabs at each other. Today, they decided to include me.

<chatter chat chat, a jab here, a jab there>
Supe: Cat, this guy is crazy
Me: <playing along, but not culturally and socially adept enough to escalate> Craaaazy.
Supe: Crazy, 気狂い
I recall my high school Japanese teacher saying this was a bad and rude thing to say, but I’m an adult now!>
Co-advisor: Cat, you should tell the principal that this guy is so loud that you can’t do your work, and request to be moved.
Me: I see!
Supe: Cat, if you say that, I’m going to eat all your potato chips! <points at my snack drawer>
Me: My limited edition chips!

Accent privilege

Recently, I started to see privilege in having an American accent. You can go anywhere with it and be considered cool. But mostly, I’ve been told, understandable. It makes me wonder if the American accent was developed through generations of immigrants from everywhere in the world having to learn English, and the rules or pronunciation of American English simply made more sense to English learners than the rules of British English.

But back to accent privilege. Even in high school, the Viet-Am kids who were born in America would look down on the ones who spoke English with an accent. Even I was no exception to judging the kids that we used to call FOBs. Sure, we both spoke two languages, but I spoke better English than they did. And everyone else understood me better.

In Japan, students are learning English as a foreign language, and are also expected to be able to understand academic literature by their senior year. For the kids in Aizu, this is impossible without extra English courses outside of school, and only the students who can afford it can have this ability. And if you compare that to the American students, how many can actually read and understand academic papers in a foreign language like French and Spanish? Not to mention that English, French, and Spanish all fall under the Romance languages, while Japanese and English are completely in different language families.

So when someone says they know 9 different languages, I ask them which ones, and if they’re all from the same language family, then that’s a privilege to have been able to learn a language that share common roots with other ones, too. Japanese and Korean are in a separate language family all on their own.

When you meet a group of Asian people, all speaking English, but all with their own accent and style, who are you most likely to trust and work with?

Classy 渋い sang trọng

Almost all the Japanese transliterations of Vietnamese words are in the northern accent. R’s are transliterated as Z’s, so it sounds pretty classy. It’s so… expected of Japan.

ベトナム語の外来語はほとんど北ベトナムの発音を使って、しぶいと思います。 日本はさすが。

Tiếng Việt khi viết trong tiếng Nhật hay dùng giọng Bắc, mình nghe thấy sang trọng. Gióng Nhật thiệt.

The Longest Conversation

I just had the longest conversation with the high school social studies teacher that started from a cracker from Sendai.

Since it’s summer vacation and I have all day, let’s see if I can trace back where it went.

Sendai cracker -> Sendai Winter Illuminations -> Me talking about planning to go to the 3 big festivals in Tohoku -> Nebuta festivals in Aomori, Goshungawa, and Hirosaki, a castle town -> Kids who don’t make it into Hirosaki schools go to Goshungawa -> There are bad schools and good schools, and our school is like heaven -> Bad schools are really bad, for example, a teacher jokes that his school is on the waterfront, when it’s actually located inland. “Waterfront” is a stand-in for 水商売, which is place known for the sex industry. -> I ask if there’s a way to change schools or areas like that -> There was a school with students that were totally scary, but then they changed it into a school where only studious students could pass to get into, so the school became popular, but then the bad students would have to commute to a smaller town’s high school -> Some people are just stupid, for example, in a previous school, students were on the bus on a school trip. A student had put on his/her seatbelt when the bus  entered the highway because he/she had gotten into a car accident without a seatbelt and hit windshield and injured herself. The other kids teased her and asked why she put on her seatbelt. They didn’t get that it was for their own safety. I asked if maybe they’re just being rebellious. I was told they’re just stupid -> It’s probably the same in America right? Stupid people, bad schools, good schools -> Yeah, a lot of it is racism, too, but there’s also a  huge income gap. -> In non-white countries, the income gap is huge. It’s like that in Japan, too. Long ago, there were no homeless people. Now it’s just steadily increasing. You have the working poor, but you can’t tell them apart from normal people because they go into the manga cafes and can take showers. -> I see students taking social welfare classes, I think that’s good for them to think about -> Sure, but you don’t get paid very much with social welfare, for example, if you work at an elderly home, you have to be both a caretaker and a manager in order to get paid a good wage -> That’s why only immigrants are applying for these jobs -> Yeah, but Japanese is so hard for immigrants, so it’s tough for them to stay. Japan is tough for immigrants. For zainichi Korean Japanese, at one time, the cops were really tough on them, even asked for their alien card in the bathhouses. It’s gotten a lot better now. Normal people are all right with foreigners, but our politicians have a strong dislike for them. Also, normal people don’t know much about immigration issues because they don’t have experience with them. -> What do you think of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo? -> I dunno! -> Good luck to Japan during the Olympics!

Engrish is old news

Someone made fun of a dance studio in Japan advertising lock, in addition to hip hop and ballet, in a conversation about the L/R mistakes that was seen in a Chinese restaurant menu  (ie Flog legs). She thought they meant rock.

Um, sorry  lady, locking actually exists as a dance. The studio knew what they were doing.

This annoys me because the OP who posted the picture of the Chinese restaurant mistake in the first place, and captioned it “Japanese Chinatown” barely knows any Japanese, and wants to live in Japan for as long as he can. So I find that pointing out mistakes like this in a country where English is not an official language is pretty silly. This sort of mistake occurs in many places outside of Japan as well, so it’s nothing special to specify it just to Japan.

Are you so isolated that seeing this sort of mistake is still a surprise to you? Obviously, the restaurant doesn’t care enough about English speaking customers to have it double-checked. You’re just not that special, Mr. English speaker.

What’s more, English-speaking Japanese friends of the OP decide to join in on the fun, and make ignorant comments, like that locking comment. It doesn’t make you any better of a person to know English. It might get you a job, but there’s no value if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Advanced English class

Classes are starting up again! I’m especially excited for advanced English class. Apparently, the OCII class that was deprecated (tangent: I use this as a computer science term, meaning the class was marked for removal, not the “self-deprecate” version!) got converted into even more advanced English classes!

This school year, I get to lead one class a week students in Advanced English with a science and math focus, and students Advanced English with a liberal arts focus.

Probably my favorite class is going to be the Advanced English class for liberal arts focus because it most resembles an Adult ESL class. The teacher even gave me an ESL textbook as opposed to an EFL textbook, and I was so excited. The difference between ESL and EFL is that English is taught as a second language, which includes life skills in the adopted country. EFL is teaching English as a foreign language, so the way it’s taught is more in line with people who want to travel, and it’s really up to the student’s personal interest in English and perseverance in order to continue using it successfully. Think of it as learning Spanish or French in high school for a few years, and then never really using it again.

I think Japan should really up its English education and kids should see how important it is in the world stage. It’s been in school curriculum for years, and yet it almost feels like Japanese English speakers lack speaking skills when compared to Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese English speakers. While the usage of English above all other languages might seem to have imperialistic undertones, every country has its own style of using English, so different cultures can even claim it for itself through code-switching. For example, Singaporeans use Singlish, Hawaiian Pacific Islanders use pidgin, and even Jewish people code-switch when it’s convenient.

I taught a lesson today about body language, first by showing them an edited version of Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, then reading an article on handshakes, as well as showing them all the different types of handshakes, and then having a discussion on body language. The discussion went well with the stronger English speakers, but some were so shy that they decided to pass on sharing their opinion, and another, who’s participation I greatly appreciated, totally went off topic, and talked about food customs instead.

I think that Japan, being a first-world country, doesn’t have to worry about making English an official language, like Singapore, Hong Kong, or Ghana (Granted, these countries had all been imperialised by Great Britain.) Its economic and social infrastructures seem to be rich enough to be self-sustaining that people can have jobs without having to know English. The kids here have options, where as in developing countries, English might be the best, or only way, for upward mobility.

I certainly feel the privilege of being a native English speaker when I travel in Japan, and when I went to Vietnam. People perceive you must be so successful in business and sociability,  just like in the movies, and try to give you the best of what they got. In turn, I greatly appreciate the ability to speak the language enough to have a conversation, as it makes it easier to be incognito and get the real deal in cultural interaction. I do understand that in every country, you’re going to find people who are tired of your broken language skills, and would rather not bother with a terrible speaker, but they could just be having a terrible day.

I have to admit that I’m terrible with expectations, and I certainly do feel an expectation from others who share their stories with me to tell these stories to the world. I don’t think I was ever much of storyteller, being told before that my voice is monotone, and not very interesting to listen to. These days, I still try to write, but my mind is constantly trying to find the best words to convey what I’m thinking in a sophisticated way that it takes me forever to actually write something that I think is good. In addition, I go off on tangents and my posts end up not being very organized in the end.

I think perhaps maybe I should just accept that it’s my style, it’s my brain, it’s my blog, and so what if whatever I started writing about ends up in a totally different place? I don’t intend to make any money off the blog (although it would be nice), but I do appreciate knowing that it’s being read. So thank you to the two, maybe 3, people who continue to read my ramblings.

To end, I tell my students to be free, to have confidence, to just say something or write something, even it’s just a few words or sentences. For some, there’s so much going in their minds that they want to say, yet they can’t find the words to express it. I have the same problem, except perhaps I have too many words or patterns to choose from. But we both have this cloud of expectation to be perfect looming over our heads that nothing comes out.

Even though most of the students in the class did well, I’m an underdog-rooting person, and I really want to get the weaker students to share their ideas. Hopefully they will get used to sharing comfortably before the end of the year.

Why Japan?

Recently, the question “Why did you come to Japan,” “Why do you like Japan,” and “What will you do next,” has come up several times for me, first in the JET Japanese language course through a free-writing question, and questions from teachers when they’re inebriated enough to let go of their inhibitions (or excuse their inhibitions), and ask what everyone is thinking.

For the first question, the answer is pretty easy. I’ve wanted to live and work here for a long time, albeit in different circumstances, but I couldn’t be happier being in this position at this point in my life.

For the second question, my answer is different depending on the person. If they’re my age or younger, I might say, “I looooved Sailor Moon” and talk about my anime otaku days in high school. If they are curious Japanese strangers, I would give the generic, “The history, the culture, the people.” Since applying to JET, I’ve had to think about my answer more seriously. So now, if the person I’m talking to is someone I am comfortable with, respect, admire, and take seriously, I will say that Japanese has broadened my horizons and opened doors for me. It gave me a unique high school experience which I was able to travel to Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Japan, and it gave me an opportunity to work in the video game industry. I like Japan because it changed my life.

For the third question, I’m still exploring that. Given my past work experience, localization of education games would be a great intersection, but localization in tech would be amazing, too.