Thursday 28 February 2013

A Week Into Work

Last Saturday the building I was working in was closed for the day for maintenance.  I was told it happens once a year.  Seeing as no-one had to work on the Saturday, some of the other teachers had organised to go out on the Friday night and enjoy themselves.  The frist place we went to was an izakaya, which is like a casual dining bar, or a Japanese style Tapas bar.  It was really good to get to know them, about half of the teachers were there and we had a few drinks and some food.

After we finished there, we went to a karaoke bar and the fun and games really began.  For those who haven't sampled Karaoke Japanese style, it is a lot more fun than some of the versions we may otherwise be used to.  There is no standing up in front of a crowd of people you don't know.  In Japan, your group gets it's own little karaoke room and the only people who are watching and listening are your friends, so it is always a lot of fun!  One of the songs that I sung was Smooth by Santana and Rob Thomas.  The karaoke machine ranked my effort the top ranked version of that song that had been sung there.  I put it down to the fact that it is not a well known song in Japan and no-one else had sung it!  But it was a lot of fun.

A friend back in Australia has asked me to talk a little about how English as a second language is taught to adults, especially beginners.  Here in Japan, school students have 6 years of English study through high school, but generally that education consists of reading, writing and grammar, no speaking. That is starting to change these days, however.So, when teaching to a beginner, they can usually recognise some of the written words they encounter in a text book.  In a beginner lesson, there are a lot of pictures and gestures used, an lot of repeating what the teacher says, and if they don't know how to respond to a question, writing the answer down and memorising it.  A lot of repeating, reading out loud and very short sentences.  Gradually two short sentences are put together to make a longer sentence.  Slowly you encourage your student to start asking questions rather than just responding to them.  At this stage, they are usually at an intermediate level and before too long, they are initiating conversations and using follow-up questions to keep a conversation going.  

I had a student last week who was at a low intermediate level and he had a company meeting and party afterwards the next day.  There were going to be some English speaking people there from overseas and he wanted me to give him some pointers on how to initiate a conversation.  He was quite good at asking further questions, just found the initiating bit hard so I taught him 3 questions: "Where are you from?", "Is this your first visit to Japan?" and for someone he had met previously: "Long time no see.  What have you been up to?".  We practiced these quite a bit with me taking on the character of the overseas colleague, changing the country that I was from each time to elicit different follow-up questions from him, and he was great!  I haven't  seen him since to find out how he went, but I think he would have been fine.

When a student then gets to a more advanced level, the lessons then take on more of a discussion style, still with a target language to the lesson, but the main aim at this stage is to introduce more natural language, idioms and higher level vocabulary.  At a really high level, when they are almost like a native speaker, the only real difference at that stage is the number of idioms and slang that is used.  Primarily students at this level are there to take lessons simply to maintain their high ability.  These can actually be some of the more difficult lessons to teach, because at this stage, the student probably knows some vocabulary that the teacher doesn't especially if the vocab is very specific to the industry the student works in.  The good thing is that they usually realise this and are not too concerned if you have a blank look on your face when they use one of those words!!

I hope that helps understand a little of what happens in our classroms.  Of course, if anyone has any more questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section, or email me.

On Monday at about 5pm, I was at work and it was a little quiet, only one of the teachers had a lesson.  Suddenly the building's PA/intercom blared to life with a loud, high pitched whistle and a recorded voice announced something in Japanese, then in English, I heard: "Please brace yourself.  A big earthquake will arrive in 5 seconds"!!  At this point, the only student who was in the school went to dive under the desk!  The voice then announced something else in Japanese followed by the translation in English: "Please brace yourself.  An earthquake is arriving now", and exactly as she said the word now, I felt the floor starting to shake.  Now, we are in the second basement of our building so it didn't feel too bad, but it was a 6.2 magnitude earthquake based about 120 km north of Japan.  One of my students later that night whose office is higher in our building said the building was swaying noticeably.  But then, they are designed to do that to limit any damage.  So after the shock of hearing the warning it turned out to be not too bad, and last I heard, there had been no damage or injuries closer to the area it originated, which is good.

Today I had a day off and thought I would go exploring.  I headed off in the opposite direction to my train station as I had heard that there was a bicycle recycling place nearby.  A big problem in Japan is from people who leave bicycles at train stations.  After a while, the local government will put a sticker on the bike telling the owner that if they don't retrieve their bike, it will be removed.  If it is still there after a set period of time, they are removed and taken away to be crushed.  This place that I had heard about has a deal with some of the local governments whereby they will take some of the bikes that are in better condition, fix them up and sell them to the public at pretty cheap prices.  So I went off in search of the "Suginami Bike Recycling Centre".  I found it and a lovely man explained to me that they are only open for sales a few days a month and those days had already passed for February but told me when they were open for March.  He also explained that there are no mountain bikes or sports bikes, just standard shopping bikes, so I will keep looking as I am more interested in a mountain bike I think, to get around on.  Nearby there was a small elementary/primary school.  There was a very interesting statue in front of the school:

It looks like a statue of a child hiding under something with it's eye poked out!  You can see the blood running down the side of it's face.  I'm sure there is a perfectly logical reason for this.

I kept on walking though and soon came to a large highway and started walking along it as one of my housemates had told me that there was a 24 hour supermarket somewhere in the area.  Pretty soon I saw this bank of vending machines.  There's no such thing as too many choices.  Yes, Japan really is the King of vending machines:  

A popular way to deliver food in Japan is by little 3 wheeler motorbikes like this:

You might just be able to see under the bike, there is a kind of pivot, so as the bike is turning a corner, the whole bike except for the rear wheels lean into the corner.  The container that the food is in, usually swings independently from the bike so that the food doesn't go flying every time a corner is taken!  These particular deliver bikes were for a sushi restaurant.

A little further on I came across a Mcdonald's  restaurant and saw that their current special burger was this:

You might just be able to make out at the top, the name of the burger, the Idaho Burger, so thinking of my good friend from Boise Idaho, land of the blue football field, I went inside and got one.

Brian my friend, this one's for you!  I sat down at my table with a view, had my burger and watched the world go by.

I started making my way back home and as I was about to turn away from the highway and back to my place I saw something interesting across the highway so I made my way to the other side and found myself in another one of those "contrast" moments I talked about a couple of posts ago.  Leading away from the highway, the busy, modern highway was an old school Japanese shopping street.

So I went for a wander.  So many little small interesting shops with the owners constantly trying to encourage shoppers to enter their shops by describing  their shops, and their goods for sale in them.  I could have wandered around for hours and not gotten bored.  Eventually though, I turned around and made my way back home.  I decided to go along the river side instead of the road and as I looked over the walkway into the waters of the river below, saw this:

Yes, those are fish, huge fish!  The white things are ducks, that is how big these fish were!  Don't know that I would want to cook them up for dinner though, the water was a bit green.

Thanks again for reading.  I hope you are enjoying my stories.  Speak to you again soon.


  1. Great post, I'm learning a lot about Japan :) All that concrete makes me want to grab a .243 and hit the bush though. Scary how populated it is over there...

    1. Thanks Scott.
      It does take some time to get used to, that's for sure. I guess I have the benefit of having lived here before, so it is not as difficult as it was the first time. Hope things are well with you.

  2. Wandering and exploring through all those unfamiliar streets and shops would be so cool!
    Oh, and love the statue in front of the school! I wonder what it means? I also wonder what parents would say if we put one like that in front of our school. We used to have a half malls balls thing in front of the school but it didn't actually have any special meaning. Lucky that, as it got stolen!!

    1. Hi Natalie, I found out about that statue. It is a kappa in Japanese. It is a mythical figure. Check out what wikipedia has to say about it. It's interesting!

  3. Wandering and exploring is what I love best Natalie! That is when you discover amazing places.
    As far as the statue is concerned, I am not sure. I will ask some of my Japanese friends.