Sports club girls

I love talking to the sports club girls. Basketball, softball, volleyball and volleyball have separate gender teams. You can tell which kids are from what club. The volleyball girls all have their hair cut short in the exact style and they are usually tall. The basketball girls usually have short hair, but the style is not uniform, and they come in all different heights. The softball girls may or may not have short hair, but they are usually tan from being outside in the sun.

Most of them are usually super shy about speaking English because they don’t think of themselves as being smart. Well, if you’re in a sports club, practicing for hours a day, and you barely have time to study, or work hard at studying, you  might not know as much, that’s just how it is. I suppose some people have a knack for learning certain things, but the super nerdy ones are usually the ones in the worst health (as I’ve learned for myself!)

The thing that I’ve learned from these kids is that they know how to be happy. People might find them simple-minded. For instance, I asked a few seniors who used to be in basketball what they wanted to do in college (because “the future” was a bit murky). The responses I got: basketball and booze.


And then the one who said booze asked me which alcoholic drink is my favorite. I told her sake because it’s clean and doesn’t make me sick, and then asked her what she wanted to try. She responded with “Highball”.

Wow. “That’s strong! Remember to go slow and take it easy!”

And then we talked about which teachers they knew drink a lot. It was pretty awesome.

I was robbed! Kinda…

Usually during kyudo practice, I park my bike by the dojo. It was raining tonight, so I locked it underneath the eaves of the public bathroom across the way. When I went to pick it up after practice, a group of people were hanging out there. I noticed a couple of guys, one shining a flashlight at the other with his hands up, teasing him and calling him “Criminal!” I saw them eyeing me as I headed towards the bike, and muttered a “good evening” to them, signaling “Yep, I see you.”

I thought nothing of it until I prepared to ride off. I realized my light was gone, taken off its holder (it wasn’t that secure in the first place). I had no idea what could have happened. Really, could someone actually have stolen it? I was thinking, wow, someone must have needed it more than me.

It is seriously dark here at night and there are lots of bikes that I wouldn’t ride without a light. I stood there, confused, and worried about how I was going to bike home safely. Eventually, one of the guys, with spiky hair, light-colored sunglasses, and a camo jacket, came up and said something about using the light to, what I am going to guess, punk his friend, and apologized. Still a bit dazed from thinking I was robbed, added with the confusion that the “robber” was right there and just returned my light, I didn’t know what to say except, “Um, thanks for returning it to me.” He continued to apologize, and I left in silence because there was nothing else to say.

I think maybe I should get those cool Knog lights.

On cultural appropriations

I was going through my Instagram, and a Japanese Insta-friend had done a geisha/maiko makeover in Kyoto. She hashtagged Halloween on the photo, along with cosplay. The Angry Asian American in me squirmed at the innocent and unknowing perpetuation of cultural appropriation, one that somehow found its way back into its original country…

So here’s how I’ve been trying to process this…

Halloween in Japan has only been popularized over the last 10 years, and has slowly become a thing. I’m pretty sure Disneyland made it even more popular when people would visit in the fall season and see it done up in a cute Halloween theme. On TV, there is a big costume parade near Tokyo, that the media has basically deemed Halloween, “cosplay”, something that comes from anime and game fan culture that brings 2D characters to life.

Which totally goes against everything I’ve taught my students about the origins of Halloween! But really, what percentage of Americans really know the origins of Halloween, in a nutshell, and is it even something we practice?

Halloween was historically and culturally a time to honor the dead, whose spirits come back on a holy evening. Japan can understand this, as it is close to Obon, their own day of remembrance of past souls. But because we don’t observe such ceremony with Halloween in the States, the rest of the world sees only the fun, trick-or-treating part of it.

So, as the Halloween festivities spreads across Japan, without context, it will become a culturally appropriated cosplay parade, rather than “All Hallow’s Eve”.

Now, on the subject of geisha cosplay…

The geisha in the West is a cariacature and is perceived to be beautiful, quiet, and subservient, sometimes a prostitute, thanks to Memoirs of a Geisha. Totally objectified, right?

The geisha in Japan is an entertainer, one who knows how to play traditional musical instruments, traditional dance, and being the hostess with the mostest.

The reality is, geisha in Japan is a thing of the past. Many don’t care to have any sort of connection with it. Even Japanese people are finding it a novelty to be made up into a beautiful geisha, just as Western tourists do.

So honestly, I don’t know what’s worse, the watering down of culture and tradition that makes it no longer what it used to be, or their appropriation to what people expect it to be.

I guess I’m just really shaken by the fact that a culturally appropriated Halloween costume like the geisha is ok here.


Last weekend before Halloween

It’s been a good weekend. I spent Saturday at the Aizu Craft Fair with a friend and had a lovely time. The thing is, at my age, anyone who I might be attracted to is already married. I’m learning to enjoy simply the company.

Afterwards, I decided to go to a Halloween party thrown by the local university students, mainly to meet my gay Canadian friend’s Japanese boyfriend, who apparently had the scoop on lesbian hangouts. My last minute costume was a greaser, white t-shirt, jeans, a leather jacket, and sunglasses. I stayed for my friend’s set, which included some a range of good old American pop to dance to, from Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Skrillex, and ended with 「恋するフォーチュンクーキー」, which elicits this feeling of gaiety whenever I hear it, but especially after seeing the music video, which makes me think of Studio 54, gay pride, all mixed in with (a)typical everyday scenes…

My friend also won brownie points for playing Far East Movement’s “Like a G6”, which brought me back to when it debuted and everyone was so thrilled to finally hear an Asian-American hip-hop group make it on mainstream radio.

It was a good chance to break out and dance. I haven’t soaked my clothes in sweat for so long!

Today I had a Halloween lesson/party with a kids English eikaiwa class. I was the native speaker special guest, which surprised me, but I was happy to help anyway. It surprised me because usually one might want to have a foreigner who doesn’t resemble a thing like themselves come to motivate the kids to try out what they’ve learned. But they told me I was chosen because my English is easy to understand.

That’s encouraging! I am finally enunciating! Or is it that I look Asian and it’s just easier to focus on my speech rather than other parts of my appearance?

Anyway, I’ll take it at face value (hah…)

The kids took a while to warm up to, but eventually became confident in talking to me a bit, with some coaxing from their moms. It surprises me to no end how much kids will always look toward their parents for permission to even speak up in class, or to get the right answer from them, especially the girls, and yet they’re allowed to walk home from school by themselves. I think it’s amazing that Japanese kids have such value in this country that their support system works well beyond their family unit. Of course, it makes them so sheltered from the rest of the world, that even some boys in my class are scared to go abroad because a new country might not have the same value for safety as Japan.

But many people seem scared to go abroad because they think their English isn’t up to par. I hope that is just modesty talking.

Writer’s Block

Been having writer’s block lately. I have a few drafts on some topics that I’ve started to write quite a bit about, but I can’t seem to finish them.

I have mostly manic thoughts that sort of build up and die, so maintaining the emotion until I finish writing is challenging.

Teaching and seeing the students have been my motivation to get up every day.

I’ve been working my connections with people in the community, and I feel I have people I can count on, but I am so independent that knowing what sort of help to ask for is difficult, and that is something I’m finding to be the most effective reason to meet with people. I don’t know how to ask someone to just hang out without having it seem anxious-ridden for me, so I share and I share, and then the other person being such a good listener asks more questions, and then I overshare. And then I ask questions to get the other person to talk, and they share what they want to, and then by the end it becomes awkward because we both shared so much, and suddenly I am confused by these feelings of closeness that it scares me.

It scares me because I end up feeling empty and no longer interesting, even though I know that it’s certainly not true. But I run away from my perceived lack of mysteriousness and I make new friends so that I can once again shine in the spotlight.

I am trying to learn how to continue to evolve from my present state. I start off really well, but always seem to hit a wall. When things plateau, I strive for change, but instead of going forward, I go into a totally different direction. I tell myself that I’m all the more well-rounded of a person for it, but I’m afraid that I won’t have anything to show for at a certain age. Lots of experiences, yes, but advancement?

Friday night bike

I am relishing my Friday nights, which consists of biking to the kyudo dojo by the castle, spending a couple hours practicing the form, and having tea and coffee with funny, down-to-earth people, and then the bike ride back home.

Tonight in particular, since it’s cooler now, I decided to bike a few kilometers out to the local game center and spend a few bucks playing Groove Coaster, a music rhythm game by Taito. I played a few songs that I recognized from the students’ performances from the school festival:

Golden Bomber 女々しくて (The students did this entire song with matching costumes, face-paint, and synchronized dancing. It was pretty amazing.)

Momoiro Clover Z 怪盗少女 (Check out the impressive “shrimp jump” from the girl in red at 3:08. A student did this, too)

After doing my arcade “research”, I hopped back on the bike and rode to Sukiya for a Light Beef Bowl, which is basically beef over cabbage and corn over tofu, instead of rice. I ordered a soft boiled egg as well to go over it.

Throughout my night rides, I like to listen to Clean Bandit to keep pace, so I’ve decided to call my Fuji Feather, Bandit. She goes everywhere with me, just like Joey, my Toyota Matrix did. I figured if I named my car, I ought to name my bike, too.

To end the night, I was racing down a street and stopped at the light to cross and get to my apartment, when a car drove up by me. A girl was driving it, and a guy was next to her in the passenger seat. I was wondering if I knew them, or if they knew me. I didn’t recognize them, so I kept looking, waiting for a greeting, waiting for them to ask who I was, waiting for them to tell me how cool my bike is, waiting for them to tell me to get off the road and ride on the sidewalk instead…

Turns out they had just overshot their turn, so they backed up and went on their way.

Tough week in English

It’s been a tough week in English. I taught a lesson using an article from an ESL book about Taking Time, and wrote some questions to see if they understood.

The article was about how futurists in 1960 had predicted that our biggest problem in 2000 would be how to manage all our free time with all the timesaving tools available to us, when in fact, it’s the opposite. People are taking phone calls even when they’re they’re supposed to be shopping or relaxing on the beach, or working at home with computers and printers. Free time has decreased by 40%, but consumption has increased by 45%. People are working more to afford things. But people are re-prioritizing their time for what is important to them.

The really advanced kids did well, but the others found it challenging to understand not only the content of the article, but the questions that I posed. I purposefully make my questions sound a little different than what’s in the article so students can see different ways of using English. They study words, but they never get to see or use them in context, so I figure this is a good time as any to use a variety of words as possible. So it took some time to digest the question, but also some time for them to formulate their answers in English.

In trying to explain the article, I basically answered all the questions, so it seemed fruitless to ask the students to answer the questions again. My main goal in teaching this class is to have more of them talking and less of me lecturing, so this felt a bit disappointing to me. But they’ve got to hear native English somewhere first, I suppose.

The next day was trying to get them to relate to the article. I had posed some questions on their worksheet, but they didn’t finish, so I decided to just go off the cuff and start talking rather than write. I asked,

“What do you need to put time into in order to feel satisfied,”

  • Sleep
  • Playing with my pets
  • Playing with my friends
  • Eating

“What do you want to make time for?”

  • Watching a movie once a week
  • Reading a book once a week
  • Sewing and making things
  • Watching entertainment shows on TV
  • Taking an hour-long bath
  • Going out to eat with family

So after what felt like a grueling two days (one of the students skipped out on the second day! 🙁 ), I decided to share some music with them today and practice using some phrases (And I needed a music break myself!)

Learning my lesson from the last music lesson, I chose songs with nicer and empowering lyrics. Here was my music list for the hour:

  1. Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper
  2. Brave – Sara Bareilles
  3. What’s Goin’ On – Marvin Gaye

And these were the phrases we practiced:

  • Time after time, our teachers are always watching us study.
  • Time after time, my pet is always there when I eat dinner
  • Time after time, my friend is there for me when I need to borrow a textbook
  • I wanna see you all happy next spring.
  • I wanna see you be a cabin attendant. (A couple students are aspiring to be flight attendants. It’s a tough job to get into!)
  • I wanna see you be a great track runner.
  • I wanna see you pass your exams.
  • We’ve got to find a way to pass the exams
  • We’ve got to find a way to study
  • We’ve got to find a way to enjoy the time we have left in high school

And then I sent them off with this song:

I found that the kids tend to linger in the classroom even after I do the official end of class dealio. Hopefully it’s a good sign.

The Secret to Ramen in NYC is…

Grasshopper: Master! Please approve of my ramen!
Master: …
Grasshopper: I want to open a shop in New York!
Master: What’s the most important thing in making ramen?
Grasshopper: Soup!
Master: Wrong.
Grasshopper: Noodles!
Master: Incorrect.
Grasshopper: … Soul!
Master: NOOO! Shoes!
Grasshopper: Shoes!?
Grasshopper: These shoes are awesome!

Non-Japanese in Japan

Today’s lesson was to hear experiences of non-Japanese people who have lived in Japan all their lives, yet are still considered foreigners.

As a warm-up, I had them do this assignment: Imagine living in a foreign country for a very long time, and you have no choice but to stay.

What might be a concern in your daily life?

  • “Not speaking the language fluently”
  • “Going shopping would be difficult because I’m not used to using coins”
  • “I can’t get out of bed early”
  • “I can’t find Japanese rice”
  • “Food”
  • “Thinking about having to live in the foreign country for the rest of my life”
  • “Getting along with my neighbors”
  • “Getting fat”
  • “Miscommunication”

What are something you might want to do but can’t?

  • “Visit my friends and family anytime I want”
  • “Change nationality”
  • “Have a Japanese diet”

When you meet someone living in Japan who is not Japanese, what problems do you think they might face?

  • “Language”
  • “Proper behavior”
  • “Understanding different dialects”
  • “Making friends with Japanese people”
  • “Being on time”

What do you think about people emigrating to a different country?

  • Sometimes it is more difficult to live in the new country than your original country.

満足で感謝 With satisfaction, gratitude

So I’m coming off from a high right now after reading a Reuters news article about the Hong Kong protests with a Canadian-Japanese student who’s applying to go to college in Canada and the US. She’s probably the only true bilingual in the school, but doesn’t have proper high-level English training from her Japanese teachers, so she has several periods with ALTs.

Since I’m terrible with literature and am always keeping up with current events, I decided to focus more on that while the other ALT works with her on literature.

Personally, I think I need to work on more deep reading, which I’ve been telling myself to do in forever…

Anyway, helping this student dissect an article and helping her get it feels incredibly satisfying, and thankful for my own high school teachers for constantly questioning and pushing us egotistical kids to think beyond the words and thinking for ourselves.

One of my favorite teachers, and the favorite of many other students, was Laurie Weckesser, my sophomore English teacher, also Journalism advisor, who really helped me think outside of the box during a debate exercise. The topic was “Should women go to war?” and I was fighting for the con side that women shouldn’t be going to war. Being a weak debater and a team that wasn’t as cooperative, we had a weak defense, citing silly off-the-cuff reasons without any evidence. After the debate, Weck, as she had us call her, commented that we think more outside the box, and proposed a defense that included the increased use of robots.

I’m currently teaching debate to 2nd year high school students and this memory really sticks with me when I advise them on their statements and evidence,

And to my senior English teacher, Jane Voss, who was stone-faced and intimidating, but had a great dry sense of humor. It was in her class that we read the Great Gatsby, and though I can’t think of anything in particular

And mostly, to Rushton Hurley, who got the Japanese program going at my high school, which was considered urban enough to recruit a teacher from Teach for America. Without him, I would not be in Japan today.