近海る (Kin Kairu)

JET, Japan, Journalism and other J words

Archive for the tag “JET Program”

My Farewell Speech / 私のお別れの挨拶

Author’s note: This was the speech I gave to both of my school’s on my last day at each one. This speech was given to both the students and staff.全部英日翻訳もあります。

“I’m going to tell you all a secret: When I came to Japan, my job was never to teach you English. That’s the truth. When hired by the JET Program, we’re told our job is not only to provide assistance in the English lessons, but also to add more internationalization into the classroom. I am among roughly 5,000 other English speaking people from all over the world who decided to apply and move to Japan. We all share that same goal.

今から秘密をお話しようと思います。私が日本に来た時に、私の仕事は英語を教えることではありませんでした。それは事実なのです。JET Programに入った時、英語を教えるだけではなく、教室に国際化をもたらしてほしいといわれました。私と5000人のALTの先生には共にそのミッションがあります。

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The Shikoku Pilgrimage, My Time on JET, and Uncanny Similarities

Shikoku 88 Temple Completion Certificate

Shikoku 88 Temple Completion Certificate

The circle has connected. I’ve finally completed it. After 1,200 kilometers, a book containing $264 worth of ink, and three years, I have finished the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. I am not the first, and certainly not the last, but I can now say that I’m part of the club.

It’s very strange to think it’s over. The pilgrimage was always something that sort of hung over me; A conversation point friends and colleagues who would ask about it before long vacations. Now that feeling of “unfinished business” is gone, which in my lifetime having such business is still rare.

As I show my completion certificates to my friends, students, and coworkers, I’m happy they express their amazement and congratulations. They do seem genuinely happy for me. But when people ask “how was it?” I find myself at a loss. How can I really encapsulate everything that I experienced? Do those pieces of paper really project everything I learned along the way? Is there really any way I can truly express those lessons? In the end will anyone really care?

It was through this thinking I found an uncanny parallel between the pilgrimage, and my three years here on JET.

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When I was tasked with helping a student adjust to their new upcoming life in America, I was a little confused on where to start. My fellow coworkers were just as uncertain, so I was basically given a blank slate as what to teach. I decided on lessons that would incorporate more complicated English, American history, and advice about moving to another country. When I began my first American History lesson, I asked her two questions.

“What do you know about American History?”

“Basically nothing,” she replied.

Ok, well, we got a lot of ground to cover…

“What do you think an American looks like?”

“Ummm, like a Native American?” she said with a bit of hesitation.

She always was a clever one.

I showed her a bit of a recent National Geographic piece that covers what “an American” might look like in the future. Simply, it’s hard to even define what an American looks like or “is” anymore with our population of rich backgrounds and cultures. I wanted to show her this because she too is a part of this change: A blonde haired, blue eyed Japanese-American citizen. Or in more modern Japanese slang, a “half.”

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“O MAI GAAA”: On Japanese-Altered English, Making Language Boring, and GRE Questions

Imagine you’re me for a moment: living in Japan for a few years, have a considerable amount of Japanese under your belt, and one day you find yourself at any given net cafe taking a four hour practice GRE test when this reading section question appears.

The Question

The Question

For those who, understandably, don’t feel like ruining their eyesight squinting at the small text, the left paragraph goes into detail about how Japanese commercials use foreign languages, from English to French and Italian, to heighten their sense of priority and significance. “The viewer usually does not understand [the foreign words], but the connotations of prestige associated with these languages are enough to warrant their use.”

The question reads as follows-“Which of the following would provide the best justification for the existence of English in Japanese commercials, despite the fact that most Japanese do not understand English?”

And from the variety of answer choices, the answer is #1-“To many Japanese, the mere voicing of an English word evokes a cosmopolitan splendor, thereby conferring sophistication onto whatever is being advertised.”

I would now like you to watch the following video which is a collection of Japanese commercials from early February of this year. Keep a mental track every time an English word/phrase (or what sounds like the Japanese pronunciation of an English word) is used or seen.

I think the important thing to remember here is that these commercials are not being targeted towards a foreign audience. These are made by Japanese people, for Japanese consumers. And yet, there was an exorbitant amount of English words/phrases interspersed within the ads.

Now, I fully understand the stance that most Japanese have learned or taken classes in English in some capacity, whether it is during their higher or lower education. I also have no doubt there are people on those advertising teams who do speak a fair amount of English. But can I just point out the ad featuring ninja-ladies and spouted “BE CONSIDERATE” and “CHANGE YOURSELF” was for boat racing?

And without the context that the Universal Studios Japan ad used “RE-BOOOOOOOOOOOOORN” to refer that the Jurassic Park ride was under construction and recently opened up, what the hell would that even mean to a) Japanese people who don’t know that word and b) people outside Japan who don’t know about the reopening?

Welcome to modern Japanese!

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The Power of a Droplet

Solid confession: I have never enjoyed math. I have never been good at it, and those unfortunate to have seen me try to split a bill know that all too well. I barely slid out of high school and college with the most basic requirements for graduation, and I remember the semesters where I never had to take a math class again. It was fantastic! While there are certainly other subjects which involve math that I have an interest in, my overall feeling of the subject is still one of disgust.

Having said that, I was one of the “bad students” in the math classes. Not that I caused trouble per se, but rather that I never really studied, never really applied myself, but also never really made any progress even when I did have to buckle down. Now I often wonder how much of a bother I was to the teachers: having that kid who actively hated your class with the bonus of never seeming to “get it.” Granted, they probably don’t remember me at this point, but I’ve thought about it retroactively.

Now being on the other side I see plenty of my past self in my students.

While I am here to help, between the bureaucratic beasts that loom around, societal aspects that are far larger than me, and questioning the willingness of the students themselves, I find myself frequently asking the all too familiar questions: Am I really needed? Am I making a difference? What would or would not change if I wasn’t here? I could go all day as to the arguments on both sides of these questions, but talking in hypotheticals can get a little moot at points.

One time when I was talking to a veteran ALT friend, and he began with a metaphor that I think best solidifies this quandary. Something along the lines of a “is the cup half-full or half-empty?” kind of thing. And that is to ask “How much do you believe in the power of the droplet?”

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Life on Pause

Not too long ago, I found myself in a discussion about the impermanence of the JET Program job. This should not come as a shock for anyone with JET experience, as it’s bound to come up as a conversation point. For a job that only just recently allowed a five year stay instead of three, the topic of “what’s next?” is bound to emerge at some point.

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A Million Ways to Move Your Feet and Abroad

While I’ve neglected to talk about it for some time (extended to writing on this blog in general, blah), I actually have my black-belt test in Judo coming up within the next week. As I’m trying to solidify my movements and get rid of bad habits, it’s been interesting, and honestly a little frustrating, going between different teachers for help. When I ask one person how to do something, they show me, I “perfect” that form, go and try it with another person and then I’m told to do it a totally different way. Now, granted, the other person’s method totally works too, but it turns into a continuous cycle of encounter new person->correct previously taught technique->learn new technique->try technique->encounter new person->etc. When I question which move might work between two, the usual responses are either A) Well, it’s both or B) The one I taught you.

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Being “The Guy”

During this past weekend, I had the chance of seeing some old friends to catch up and say some final goodbyes. Some of these people were past JET applicants, but unfortunately did not get into the program. However, all of them seemed to say one same thing: “Well, you’re the kind of person that they’re looking for.” While there was always a joke added that my physical features helped (no, guys, really, I’m pretty damn blonde), it really got me thinking as to what “that kind of person” actually is.

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Being (Semi) Anonymous

Alright, let’s start out with some cliches.  1) Our society is becoming more connected than ever before and 2) Our definition of the word “privacy” is changing at an accelerated rate.  Especially with our phones, computers and gaming devices trying to integrate just about every social application they can, what’s “private” to my parent’s and grandparent’s generations is totally different than what I might consider private.

What does this have to do with blogging in Japan?  Well, while people in my generation may be more willing to share things online, I think an important distinction is to also add that these sorts of people are Americans my age. The opposite could be said about Japan.

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The Woes of Snow Part 2

Read part 1 here

It was 9 p.m. the night of the snowstorm. We ended up with about 11 inches by the time everything came through. When Chris and I finally got word that the state had opened up the only major highway out of the city, we decided to grab our stuff, head down to my car and attempt to make the trip right then and there. Our interview was the next day, of course.

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