Friday, January 20, 2006

My Interview With the Town Paper

So far I have yet to achieve national fame within Japan. But if all my little appearances in local TV and newspapers were added up, I’ve probably had more than my 15 minutes.

This week someone came from the town hall to interview me for the town paper. They are doing an article introducing me and the other ALT.

The JET handbook has a whole section advising how to talk to the media. Most of the advice is common sense stuff, like “don’t badmouth your colleagues to the reporter.” More subtly implied, but not directly stated, is to always remember that blunt honesty is not thought of as a value in Japan.

I make it a point never to say anything bad when talking to a reporter. How is the town? Absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad I’m living in a town like this.
And the children? Really intelligent. We don’t have kids this smart back home in America.

The trick is to be as complementary as possible without crossing the line into ridiculous. When he asked about how the students acted in English class, I mentioned they were really well behaved and enthusiastic about learning English. Then I grimaced slightly on the inside as I thought about my Japanese co-teachers reading that one in print.

Most of the time I felt like I was just trying to stop him from realizing what a fraud I was. For example, when he asked me what my teaching strategy was, obviously I didn’t want to say things like, “Look, the Japanese teachers do most of the lesson planning. I just show up and help with the pronunciation. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’m worth my salary. And it’s my last few months now, so I’m just trying to get by with as little effort as possible until I go home.”

So I tried to focus on the things I did do. Like I do all the lesson planning for the elective classes. And I was conducting a pen-pal exchange with a class in Israel.

“Israel? But they’re an Arab country.”

“Jewish,” I corrected. (Japanese people know nothing about Israel.)

“Yeah, same thing. They don’t speak English there, do they?”

I answered they study it as a second language, just like Japan. And I mentioned that my students get really excited about the pen-pal exchange, because they get a chance to use English in a real situation, which is true. But then when he kept asking questions about it, I eventually had to admit that the idea originally came from Monika.

Still, he was very impressed by the pen-pal exchange, and wrote down a lot of notes, and kept saying things like, “Wow, that’s so great.”

At the end of the interview he asked if it would be okay if he could change my words around and give them a different nuance. “Yeah that’s fine,” I said. “I realize my Japanese isn’t very good. If you can phrase it better, go ahead.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make you look good,” he answered.

I have no doubt he will. This is the town hall newspaper, not some muckraker. Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed until I see the actual article.

Link of the Day
Tokyo Love Quest Video from Ifilm. Actually this one's pretty lame to be honest, but it does provide a good look at typical Japanese fashion if nothing else.

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