Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I'm Okay!

Those of you who have been following the news know that it has been a rough week for natural disasters here in Japan. First a high death toll from an unusually strong typhoon. Then several people killed by an earthquake.

The area I live in wasn't hit hard by either the earth quake or the typhoon. But I appreciate all the e-mails asking if I was okay.

Actually I only recieved on e-mail asking if I was okay. Thank you mom. As for the rest of you....

The earthquake was far enough North that we didn't even feel it down here. The typhoon on the other hand was a little closer to home. It caused some mud slides in my prefecture and knocked out a few train lines, but my town itself was okay.

One of the stronger typhoons I've experienced since my time here though. I actually was stupid enough to go out driving in it Wednesday night (for no other reason than I was tired of sitting in my apartment). Several of the roads were flooded, and I thought for a while I might have to leave the car stranded on the road, but I made it back eventually.

The kids got sent home early from school on Wednesday because of the typhoon. I was hoping I would get sent home early as well, but the school didn't offer so I just stayed at my desk and studied Japanese. The company I work for made it very clear that if the school does not offer to send us home early, we should never suggest it.

Thursday was another good example of this. The students went home at noon because there was a teacher's "research meeting." Now this is the kind of thing that has "send the assistant English teacher home early" written all over it, but no one offered so I just went along to the research meeting.

The research meeting consisted of going to a neighboring elementary school and observing a lesson in progress. Afterwards we assembled in the gymnasium to talk about the lesson we had just watched.

The lesson we watched was a classroom debate. I think these classroom debates have gotten more popular in recent years in an effort to reduce the image of the Japanese educational system as stiffling all independent thought. Which is a good effort their making, but the topics of debate have got to be improved.

The topic of the debate I watched was, "Which is more convenient, conventional daily planners or electronic daily planners?" So the students were getting up and presenting their findings on the issue, showing the graphs they made and talking about the relative merits of a daily planner or electronic planner. And the disadvantages of both. And I'm just in the back of the classroom observing and getting ready to bang my head against the wall out of boredom.

Now granted this was only a 6th grade class, so it could be argued they weren't ready to debate world issues yet (although we did in my 6th grade class), but I've heard similar reports of mind-numbingly boring debates from other Assistant English teachers all the way up through the high school level.

As always I tried to disguise my criticisms as compliments. When talking to some of the other teachers afterwards, I would say something like, "That was really an interesting debate. When I walked into the classroom, I had no opinion on the subject. But as the class went on I began to realize that conventional daily planners really are more convenient. How do you feel about the issue? Which do you think is more convenient?" The irony seemed to be completely lost on my Japanese colleagues.

I also mentioned it to my girlfriend on the phone later. "That's the difference between Japanese and American thinking," she explained to me. "Americans always think they have to do everything so big, but Japanese people like to take time to make sure the little things are taken care of."

I tried to explain that my irony was lost on my colleagues, but I didn't know the Japanese word for irony, so I needed to pause the phone conversation to find my dictionary. After searching for a few minutes, I returned to the phone and said I couldn't remember where I had put my dictionary. "Aha," she said. "See? That would never happen to a Japanese person!"

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