Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kyoto: Fortress of Solitude

Most people who live in Kyoto realize that any tsunami big enough to tackle our city would be big enough to destroy the rest of the earth so there is really no point in fretting over it. However, a lot of our family members and friends don't live here and have been expressing a reasonable amount of concern over the issue. I am making this so that you can pass it on to them.

When the location for the new capital was being scouted in the 700s, court geomancers remarked that the city was well protected in the northwest by Atagosan and in the northeast by Hieizan two mountains that tower over the city today. The mountains are part of several groups of mountains, Higashiyama, Nishiyama and Kitayama, that surround the city on three side creating the Yamashiro Basin which is listed by Wikipedia as having an average elevation of around 1,000 meters. But that is a bit misleading. A good portion of the city itself is at an average elevation of around 86 meters forming a basin known as a 'bonchi.'

Here is a very good map with certain points marked by elevation. My apartment is directly across the street from number 1 on this map.

Two major rivers run through the city and feed into the Yodo River which flows on to Osaka and into Osaka Bay which opens onto the Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

It is roughly 30 miles between Osaka and Kyoto.
Just to speculate, A tsunami would have to come into Osaka Bay, over the city of Osaka-a substantial metropolis-up the Yodo River for 30 miles climbing close to 100 meters in elevation to damage Kyoto. I don't want to tempt fate, but that is highly unlikely. Or, a Tsunami could begin in the Sea of Japan, scale a mountain range and attack from the north. Also highly unlikely.

If you are unfamiliar with the area, please note that the large body of water you sea directly to the east of Kyoto (although not on these maps) is Biwako, the largest lake in Japan. It is not connected to the sea.

Now, all of this is not to say that there is no worry of earthquakes in Kyoto. There are fault lines in the city. But that applies to anywhere in Japan. We also have a lot of green space, a large aquifer, no high rise buildings (not that high rises are dangerous and smaller ones are safe necessarily) and many broad streets.

One further note for those not familiar with Japanese geography.

We live in Kansai. Or, the area on this map labled 'Kinki.' You can stop laughing now. You should see the shirts that say "All Kinki Girl's Softball Tournament." The earthquake happened in Tohoku. Tokyo is in Kanto. We are over 500km away from the damage. Which is the hardest part really.

Thank you for your concern and I hope this makes you feel better.

(if there are any mistakes in my data, please let me know. there were lots of conflicting average elevations)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Update: Limbaugh Still Stupid

Here Rush Limbaugh makes fun of Japanese refugees for recycling in their shelter. His caller thinks it is pretty funny. That conversation doesn't hurt my feelings or anything, it just shows the divide in the world views going on. Not between Japan and America but between the ignorant people who participate in this dialogue. It took me a second to think about why it would seem odd for people in a shelter to divide their garbage. Everyone does it every day in Japan. I imagine it makes life a lot more livable in the shelter. It would make sense to get quickly decaying things like fish bones and orange peels out of an enclosed place packed with people and to take bulkier but non-rotting items like cans and containers out later. But I forgot what I always forget about Rush world, it is for exceptionally lazy people. Where putting one thing in one box and another in the box next to it is oppressive labor.

To understand their further joke about it being ironic that a country making electric cars would have thousands of people killed in a natural disaster- wait I will give you a second to stop laughing at how funny that is- would require slithering into a world view almost too low to penetrate. I would wager that most people that are environmentalists, don't believe in a deity that meets out ironic punishment by angry destruction. I have never met anyone, besides the most borderline kook, who even uses the word Gaia seriously. Whatever. All they have done, as usual, is place their view over a supposed liberal one and then comment on how it seems odd. Yes it does, because we don't think like that. In Sendai there is a large porpoise killing operation and shark fin fishery. I strongly oppose those things but I don't feel any sense of relief that the people involved in it are suffering. That isn't fair. I haven't seen any commentary from the radical left- to the extent that that exists- saying that anyone feels that it is, and I am on their mailing lists.

Until I am re-exposed to him, I often forget who truly stupid and gutless, metaphorically, that Limbaugh is. What an undeserving person of a public voice. What a loser dressed up like he won.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Earthquake Proof Housing-For Poor People

Since most of the world is poor people, this National Geographic piece is filled with useful information. This is actually what I majored in in college and would still like to be doing. Anyway. I think this is how we should be thinking about architecture and urban planning going forwards, as we all get Third Worlded.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It Wasn't Not Capitalism!

Thank you David Cay Johnston for pointing out what anyone with a cursory interest in economics- which we all should have as we are pulled around by it- should understand; that once you pay public workers, be that in benefits or wages, the money is theirs, not still yours.

Is it that hard to understand? If you go to a Yankees game once, you can not forever claim that A-Rod is taking Madonna on dates with your money. Bill Gates isn't giving out vaccinations with your money. You paid for a service they supplied, which they negotiated a contract to work for, it is their money. Is that difficult?

To not understand this simple point is either willful ignorance or a deep misunderstanding of the economic system which you claim to be so strongly allied with.

If you skip the whole article, I will point out what shouldn't need pointing out; health benefits and vacation days are not presents from your boss, they are compensation. Workers negotiate a mixture of salary and benefits and that becomes the conditions that they work under. To pretend that it is the bosses magnanimity that grants vacation and benefits is insulting. But, what really is new there. The new, angry conservative makes their bones in the insulting. They wallow in it like a dog on a rotting corpse and then prance around talking about how good they smell.

If we are to believe that corporate CEO's wages must be kept high to insure interest in the position from qualified people, are we supposed to think that the government wants to discourage qualified teachers and public workers? Almost assuredly, they do. Or just want to roll the dice on getting them on the cheap, which is the situation I am in.

Yet again, there is no internal logic in the conservative position.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Train in Vain

I think this is only 100% correct. I couldn't get George Will's absurd piece about trains being unAmerican, but then again I am so confused on what exactly is unAmerican and what isn't anymore. To me, trains are not only a part of my everyday life, but are much more democratic than flying. Flying to me, feels like being contained in a giant, terrifying pre-school. It seems the exact opposite of freedom.

JR just built a new Shinkansen line direct from Kagoshima to Kansai. It opens next week. My wife's grandfather, a lifelong JR employee, has a ticket on the first run. It is a strangely emotional thing. Think about how wonderful this is though; when I go to Kagoshima for summer break, all I have to do is walk down the street for ten minutes. Get on the subway for Kyoto Station. Ride that for about ten minutes. Buy a $150 ticket for the next train available. Walk on, sit down, read a book, drink a beer, watch the world go by and walk off a few hours later on another island at the bottom of the country. No IDs. No metal detectors. No tiny seat. No terror. No delays (probably.) What is this conservative hang-up about trains? It seems arbitrary, like the whole vindictive styrofoam thing. It probably has bigger meaning though.

Trains. Make them. Build them. Ride them. Please. Florida, I am looking at you here.

Interesting Names Update

Yesterday I was looking back over old school related blog posts. Wow. Anyway, I realized I hadn't done an update of unusual surnames at this school in the two years that I have been here. If you have missed out on it, I have a minor, unexplained obsession with Japanese last names; especially crazy ones.

I'll just give you a brief recap of why Japanese surnames are so varied. With the exception of the very powerful, Japanese didn't have last names until the fall of the feudal system in the 1860s. Under the Meiji they were told to give themselves last names. That hasn't been enough generations for the rarer names to eleminate themselves. That sounds ominous.

One category I am getting stricter on is the combination of a place specifier, i.e. 原、谷、山, plus a qualifier for it. Because, really you could stick any two kanji together and some are going to sound rarer to others.

Under the category of easy to read but strange, we have the all-time champion, now, at this school:

上圡: Uedo. I have never seen another Uedo and was convinced it must have some crazy reading. Nope. Uedo.

We also have: Ryu. But as a last name. Is that odd? It seems so to me. "Hello, my name is dragon. Fuck you."

There are two brothers both named 薬師寺: Yakushiji. Which is a famous temple in Nara. Other teachers say it isn't so rare, but I have yet to find any others.

There is a 2nd year named 島子: Shimako. Very easy to read. I want that last name. 'Island Child.' Not bad.

There is a 征禄: Seiroku. Never seen that before.

There are two sisters with a slightly unfortunate reading of their last name 槍山: Yariyama.

Maybe related, maybe not, we have a young lady named: Tomari.

Outstandingly bad-assed name 三星:  Mitsuboshi. 'Three Stars.' Maybe they can grow up to be a chef.

Possible rare name champion 伝宝:Denpo. Here is the thing; Those aren't even the actual kanji for her name. The real kanji won't come up in any computer or cell phone, even if you look under other readings. They have to be written out by hand, so she just uses these.

There is a 古舘: Furutate. Which you don't see very often.

We have 中条: Chujyo. Whow is as unique as his name.

The 3rd year teachers have my grade book right now, so I will have to come back with more later.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I wanted to talk about how Mike Huckabee's defense that saying that President Obama had grown up in Kenya had been a slip of a tongue had no internal logic, but Media Matters beat me to it. And why not, that's their J-O-B.

Think about it. What if I said, "Mike Huckabee clearly has an issue with white people after growing up in a township in aparthied era South Africa idolizing Nelson Mandela and dreaming of playing rugby. Wait. Did I say South Africa? A slip of the tongue. I meant 'Arkansas.'"

But nothing makes sense if you change it to say Arkansas. Except for the apartheid. Hahahaha. I kid. Nothing about his statement makes sense when you switch Indonesia for Kenya. Also, it leaves out the huge central element of him growing up with his father and grandfather, which he didn't. Isn't it a giant detail of the President's life that he grew up without a father? Doesn't saying that you meant to say that he spent time in Indonesia have to be coupled with the fact that you know he was estranged from his father? Nothing in that argument makes sense.

What does make sense is that Mike Huckabee is a bit more despicable than I thought him to be. I think this indicates that he knows exactly what he is up to and who he is appealing too. He will now run around the Right Wing stupidverse saying how everyone is just blowing this whole thing out of proportion around poor ole Huck. His audience already got what they wanted out of it. The corrections don't matter.

I want to talk about this in more detail at some point. I think FOX caught on to this a while back. It doesn't matter at all what you say. You put out the storyline you want. Lightly correct it later and keep going. No one who wants to believe it will heed the correction.


Here is an even better piece on it describing how thoroughly stupid Huckabee's take is. I find it very hard to see it as anything other than a thinly veiled call to racism. What is this odd conservative obsession with Churchill anyway? I remember it being written about during the Bush presidency but what is there in it? President Obama moved a Churchill bust and installed a Lincoln bust. We all know that he would be criticized for doing the opposite as well. Does Huckabee find something wrong with Lincoln? Does anyone in England really care? Try this headline on:

Democrat Pres. Bows to Europe, Replaces American Hero with Foreign Leader.

Tell me that they wouldn't run that in a heartbeat and that would be the issue of the day. Then if he switched them back they would go on about what a weak flip-flopper he was. As a member of the Left, I think we should just push what children Conservatives are. What little babies. Ignorant, whiny little babies.

Oh. I forgot. Is Huckabee, in his book, saying that the American story isn't one of aligning ourselves with freedom seeking people everywhere? Are we not the City on the Hill. Maybe I misunderstood. Our sympathies should lie with the British Empire. The worst elements of the British Empire. That is 'our story' as Americans. Weird.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hirakata, You're Cut Pat II

This was to be the thrust of the last thing but I got off track when I went to scan pages out of the text book.

Last month Hirakata City, only 40 minutes from my house instead of an hour and 40, had openings for 6 new ALT jobs. Hirakata does direct hire and not dispatch. Direct hire provides a steady salary instead of paying by the day and cuts out the middleman, gaijin wrangling, useless companies. Companies like mine. It would have also been a $300 a month raise and a paycheck for the summer break which I am not paid for. On the downside, I very much love my school now and was not anxious to change.

But these things become a matter of ego don't they? Even if a girl you don't like tells you you are ugly it still ratchets down your confidence. So I went to apply on the last day they were accepting applications, sneaking out of school and returning to the campus where I was an exchange student in 1999, now converted into public buildings.

The process worked like this; One submits an application at the board of education. This office is n the old Kansai Gaidai administration building, which was a nice building. ( It has been Japanese officeized. I would spend time on this but that is not the point of the piece. Just imagine putting a lot of dusty cardboard boxes full of useless paper in random corners, hanging up a lot of public service posters, and carting in busted up old metal office desks. There.) After
this application is received you are given a number. I was N17. I was told that there would be a test at 10am the following Thursday and an interview on the Monday following that at a time that would be specified at the test. Why is when these occur important? As I said earlier, I work dispatch. Most people with my job do. We are paid by the day and get no personal days. At my company if we don't miss any days in a month and aren't late or have to leave early we get a $100 bonus at the end of the month. Taking days off for this process, including dropping off the application, would cost me $460. This is a large barrier to even applying. Who is it not a barrier for? People with irregular work. I think there is probably a pool of good teachers who don't have regular work, but you are limiting the field. How did I get around this? I am brazen. I just left work to drop off the application. On the day of the test I had a full schedule of classes but I met with the teachers and told them the situation and asked them not to mention anything. The day of the interview, I thought I was pushing it a little so I informed the vice-principal and all of the teachers that I would be out in the morning. I sent my work a mail detailing the situation. I will elaborate on this a bit later. (If someone from my company or the school board reads this, this is a work of fantasy. )

I say all of this because all through the process, on both sides; or employers and or prospective employers, we aren't really treated like full humans. Every marathon or grappling competition I have taken part in has been on a Sunday as most people work during the week. he school board doesn't want to work on the weekend so they put the burden, the financial burden on us. Should I point out again how much less money we make than these people?

The weekend before the test, I took the GRE as my 5-year window had expired. As usual with me, I did very well on the verbal- 97%- and barely passable on the quantitative- 30%. I had a total score of 1,200, which isn't terrible. I wanted a 6 on the essay but I got a 5. The Hirakata test was scheduled for an hour in the old reception hall at Kansai Gaidai. I remembered are welcome party there in 1999 when Tanimoto Gakucho sang "Old Susanna" for the Alabama contingent. Odd to be here now hoping for a $300 a month raise. After having took the GRE the test was pedestrian. I finished in about 20 minutes and went back through the whole thing about 3 times. There was very little math and it was basic compared to the GRE. The grammar was so easy as to be laughable. There was an essay section that was remarkable only in its limit to 700 words. I might be guilty of overconfidence but I have the GRE and its very real scores to show me the level I was preforming at.

My interview was scheduled for the following Monday at 10am. We were separated into groups of 6 and told that it would be a group interview. We would need to answer the first question in Japanese and give a 3 minute demonstration lesson on our assigned topic. Our group was assigned the relative clause. The example sentence was "The scientist who wrote 'Silent Spring' was Rachel Carson." I think that this is a terrible example sentence. If you are just introducing this grammar, you have to explain 'scientist', that 'Silent Spring' is a book and that 'Rachel Carson' is someone's name. In 3 minutes.

There is a lot to unpack in this. First, the tendency in Japanese society towards the simplistically maudlin is well documented. I am not saying that to be a jerk. I like it sometimes. However we are given these strange examples all the time because they are thought of as touching, or at least echo something that older teachers knew of when they were younger. As I pointed out in my last post, I don't think you should saddle knew grammar with new words and distracting tidbits. Again, this is to be a 3 minute lesson.

The instructions were vague as to whether we had to teach this sentence or the grammar that it was an example of. I had been through a large teachers office fight about this grammar earlier in the year and had then done a demo lesson of it for the Higashi Osaka Board of Education that had won a (meaningless) first prize. I decided to go with the method that I used there as it brings students to this grammar through language that they already know.

"There are a lot of students at this school. Mia is a girl. Mia plays soccer. Mia is the girl who plays soccer." The sentences in bold I had printed out and laminated. I also had printed out and laminated two pictures of girls. All of my materials were magnetized so I could stick them on the board. One playing soccer, one playing basketball. I then ask "Who is Mia?" Everyone gets it pretty quickly. I don't explain that 'a' becomes 'the' immediately, but I don't think it is that important. Other applicants did. Once the students get this I move on. "Takeshi is a boy. Takeshi plays piano. Takeshi is the boy who plays piano." Again, picture of two boys. "Who is Takeshi?" I don't think mine is the only effective method, but I have decided out it after years of teaching this grammar. It seems the quickest path to being able to understand what this point is trying to get across.

Other candidates taught the Rachel Carson sentence. Not all of them did. I would say that 4 out of the 6 applicants had below average lessons. 3 of them used up their time writing the grammar out long hand on the marker board. I would say that, in my opinion, one other lesson was good. Three other lessons had major, major issues. The remaining lesson was not well conceived but well prepared and presented, if that makes any sense.

I should backtrack for a minute and say that the interview was before the demo lessons. We were asked to give a self-introduction in Japanese. The overall level was pretty low, but whatever. We were then questioned by a panel of people from the board of education and our answers were translated by an older gentleman who did, I must say, an atrocious job. One other person being interviewed is completing his master's degree in education, I believe. That was translated as "He hopes to master teaching." A lot of information was cut out of the answers. I remember thinking it was a little humorous and not being able to tell if he was editing for brevity or out of ignorance. I was asked a question by one other member of the panel whose English pronunciation I couldn't quite get. I had to ask him to repeat himself. He looked disturbed and had already started his stopwatch.

There were two other groups of 6. So 18 people up for 6 jobs. Going just by my group, and I understand that my viewpoint is self-serving and biased, there were 2 people who I would have given the job to. Two that I really wouldn't and two that...whatever. Assuming that applied across all groups, the numbers work out to six jobs. With confidence I sat back and waited for my letter of acceptance to come.

But you already know what happened don't you. On the expected day, I went home early and opened the letter. "You are the 11th out of 18 applicants. You were not selected for employment." Questions abound. I don't think anyone is required to give me a job, but I am curious how the selection worked.

My real concern in all of this is; How are teachers selected?
It is a mystery. There is no standardization and it all seems so random. A lot of garbage teachers have great jobs. A lot of great teachers have to scramble to make a buck. The arbitrariness of it all is a different form of torture. Was I not selected because of my test score? Was my lesson flawed? Did my interview rub someone the wrong way? I won't ever know, but I do know that the people making the selections know very little about how to do the job. That can't be a good process.

I have an idea. I think it is a good idea. It will never be implemented.

Have prospective ALTs for Osaka take the GRE. Have the scores submitted to the BOE to a general pool. Weight verbal and essay scores over math. Have 1,000 be a cutoff, and a 4 on the essay. Have this pool submit a CV and 2 letters of recommendation from former schools. If they have no experience, then from former employers. Then have them come in for interviews and demo lessons. Have these scheduled on evenings or weekends to allow everyone to participate. Have the panel that considers applicants include current English teachers.

Additionally, give this pool of teachers a path to being licensed. Have them take the JLPT. Provide them a way to advance. In the state it is now, the education system is creating a system that is both unstable and stagnating. Teachers don't advance for being good at their jobs and aren't fired for being bad. There is no difference. It is all arbitrary.

I reiterate that I think none of this will happen. If Japan is willing to take any constructive steps, then I hope they decide to get rid of English education entirely at the junior-high level because it is a false promise for everyone and a joke in practice.

Hirakata, You're Cut. Part 1.

I don't think I have made much of a secret of my new (year-old?) decision that the best course for Japan was to give up on English education, at least at the junior high level. My reasoning behind this decision, again for the record, is that it doesn't help to do something half-assed and then rate it and judge the results as if it was being done appropriately. In fact, I think more damage is being done by teaching English than the benefits gained from it.

Let me quickly run through my main points regarding this issue.

1. Most English teachers can't speak English. That is just the reality of the situation and everyone knows it. This situation would not be tolerated for any other subject.

2. English programs are controlled by bureaucrats at city hall, not by English educators. This generally means that they try to get things done on the cheap with more attention paid to appearances than results. This applies to lots of things everywhere, however.

3. The teaching methods are outdated. Most teachers still use the Grammar Translation Method, which went out in Western schools in the 1960's and was being criticized in the 19th century. In fact most text books only really lend themselves to this method. More modern teachers use ESL methods, but ones usually geared towards college students.

4. Whither the ALT? My job is a cipher. Sorry to say it. It doesn't have to be that way. I am reminded of a passage in Jarhead, where the author describes the military having no idea how to use snipers in the First Gulf War, so they would just be told to 'go do something.' I think that I have been able to turn this vagueness into something constructive but it is a bit like needing to build a dam and settling for dropping a boulder in the river.

5. Japanese society is still too immature in its approach to an international society. Again, I am sorry if that sounds vague and general and insulting. Let me tell you a story. I was called in to an impromptu meeting with some very high-ups in the city's education department. They began asking my opinions on different things regarding the English program. I was a little off guard, but thrilled with the opportunity. I began by saying, "As you know, Higashi Osaka has the lowest scores in the country." I was immediately stopped and told, "We don't care about that. Japanese people can't speak English. We were just thinking that maybe on Wednesday afternoons we could have a program were moms came to the school to play with their kids in English. Whadda ya think?" A completely normal answer to a question in English in class is "I don't know what you are saying, I am Japanese!" Television constantly hammers in ideas that the world is divided into Japan and Gaikoku. People in Gaikoku all speak English. To be Japanese is to not be a part of that. I am probably going a little far afield with this one, so I will get back on track.

6. The only text books allowed have to be made by Japanese companies. And they suck. We are not allowed to use the decent ones made by Oxford, or any other company.

7. The high school entrance exams are flawed. Deeply. And that is the endgame of all of junior high.

Let's look at a page from the text book for 2nd years. I won't get sued if I name it will I? It is New Crown. If you make this text book I am here to tell you that, as many hours as you might have put in, your product is garbage.

This page is in some ways an aberration. My objections to it are largely philosophical/political. First: Have a gander.

You can see my notes on the subject. Remark on the lovely handwriting. It would be nice to get some fresh eyes on the subject. What problems do you see? Or is it solid and I am a crank? That is possible.

My large issue with this is the whole "foreign people" angle. Not just because I am a "foreign people" but because what this is trying to convey only really makes sense in Japanese. That is a larger problem with these books, if you don't understand Japanese, it is hard to grasp them. The priority is not to teach speakable English but to reinforce Japanese. Which seems an odd goal for a foreign language textbook.

Of course, the word they want to say is "gaikokujin." The letter writer wants to teach Japanese to "gaikokujin." But how can this be clear to a world that doesn't divide itself into Japan and everyone else? I would contend that there is a large amount of people in Japan who would be very surprised that that isn't how the rest of the world thinks of things.

Scan down to the last sentence. In the future, just thinking about it in English, where does this person want to go? Do they want to go to Korea or Australia? I don't know. Do they want to stay in Japan, which is foreign to 98% of the world? Probably not, but I don't know. What group of people will they be teaching? Will they go to America and teach Japanese to Brazilians? There is no way to know. Usually other teachers' eyes glaze over when I talk about this page, but I can't understand how you don't consider these things. If they want to teach Japanese to foreign people, and they want to go to a foreign country and do this, do they mean the people of that country or non-natives who have come there? It seems peculiarly awkward to me.

The real trouble is that the people who gave the okay to this never had to consider it because they all knew exactly what they meant because they thought about it in Japanese. Japanese is a language that is in no way related to English. This becomes an overarching problem in these books.

On a brief side-note: As an American teaching in Japan I have refused to teach this lesson. I think it is rotten. Of all of the times that I have had to teach Japanese children about their own history and culture to then be forced to put stuff like this into their heads seems insulting. I know that most will take that as an overreaction, but I have to fight for every ounce of respect I get in the schools I teach in and I won't surrender it lightly to text book authors who put very little consideration into the matter from quite a great distance. I had to explain to a Japanese teacher, who has job security and bonuses, what the difference between a temple and a shrine was when he couldn't answer students' questions about it. I had to teach elementary school kids what Setsubun was because they didn't celebrate it at home. I should point out that the Japanese teacher's approach matters a lot in this lesson as well. When I have done this class, some teachers have used me as an example. You have to think about what you are teaching when you are teaching.

In my opinion the lesson would be more effective with the sentence, "I would like to go to another country and teach Japanese." What country they are going to is a little vague, but it is somewhere that is not where they are now and it carries little of the pejorative aftertaste.

If you are new to Japanese textbooks, this will be your introduction to the puzzling practice of beginning an inordinate number of sentences with "So", "And", "But," and other things we are taught to not begin sentences with.

Let's look at another page from the same book.

Certainly I don't object to the subject matter. It was my major in college for Christ's sake. I applaud the effort of discussing environmental issues in junior high. What's my beef then? This is indicative of two other major issues in these books. First, there is a group of social issues that they are compelled to address: Ainu, Okinawa, guide dogs, landmines and the environment, to name a selection. The problem is that they do it in such a ham-handed way. Second, the books introduce way too much superfluous information in a subject that is already overwhelming for kids. It is hard to separate what is important from what is filling. Again, if you are familiar with Japanese, you will recognize the influence.

Let me point out here, when considering these two pages, that most students will struggle to answer the question "How are you?" A good number of them can't write their names in English. The majority of kids doing this chapter right now have trouble with "I play. You play. He/She/It/ plays." What are they supposed to do with this?

Look at this page. What is the focus of the lesson? What grammar is being taught here? Can you figure it out? Any luck? The answer is comparatives. In this case "good, better, best." This is the introduction to the concept. Most new grammar points are taught this way in Japanese schools. This mass of disparate information will be shown to 14 year-olds who haven't mastered any basics. Some rules about the grammar will be quoted to them. These rules might be accurate or they might be something someone told the teacher once. The students will then read the passage out loud and then copy the whole thing in their notebook. Now they will be expected to know it forever.

I have no confidence in this method. I don't think mine is perfect, but here is how I did the lesson. I made a Powerpoint presentation with sets of pictures of three things. "Fuji is tall. Denali is taller. Everest is the tallest." "The dog is big. The cow is bigger. The elephant is the biggest." Once the students got the pattern- and it is the pattern that is important here, not the grammar rule-we changed it into a game. I also made sure they understood why 'the' is used for the superlative. I would show the first slide. "Kamakura." They would guess. "Kamakura is old." "Kyoto is older." "Nara is the oldest." After about 5 minutes even the lower level classes would get it. The game went on for 30-40 minutes. If I went to classes more than once a week, I would come back to this game for 1o minutes or so once a week.

This kind of lesson is known in Japanese schools as "a game." Games are what people like me are in schools to do. Real lessons involve sitting around and copying dialogues out of textbooks. You know, real learning. Our school is lucky to have a ton of laptops, projectors and screens. I would estimate that, including me, about 5 teachers use them. 5 out of 70+. A lot of older teachers are either amazed that someone can use Powerpoint, ashamed that this kind of goofing off is allowed in schools, or both.

As a teacher, another objection I have with this lesson is how many irrelevant things I would have to teach to do this dialogue. Do the authors consider this? I am all for conversations about outside stuff, and going off topic, but this isn't easy for the students. I have to explain: roof, sand,surface, degrees, heat islands, fight, green, and regular, just to get through this page. Again, to kids who can't answer "How are you?"

What did all of this have to do with Hirakata? Let's take a break and I will get there.

attempting to silence the voices in my head.