Thursday, June 08, 2006

Not Sorry To Leave Japan

There are certain things I will miss about Nejime:

The scenery at Ohama as you look over Kinko Bay.

My long runs over the mountain.

The sound of the cicadas in the summer evening.

The hot water of the onsen, Neppi-kan, in the midst of Winter.

A cold beer with the neighbours, the Torigoes.

The laughter of the most innocent children in the world at the smaller shougakkous. If I could live my childhood again, I would take Namerigawa or Noborio Shougakkou over anywhere else. To misquote George Orwell,

'If there is any hope for Japan, it lies in the children'

But I am under no illusions here. My position in Nejime is untenable, temporary, and essentially, ridiculous. I have not been 'welcomed' in any but the most superficial way. Japanese inaka society is so insular, racist and and ignorant that I could never be at home here even were it financially or legally viable.

For a while I was convinced that it was only the yakuba that was the source of evil, that outside its parasitical and unnecessary bureacracy some kind of real culture marched on, separate and somehow opposed to the absurdity of the paperwork and tatamae that the town hall generates. I thought I could catch glimpses of this in the chanting of the omikoshi priests, the shochu comraderie, the kindness of the obasans, the timelessness of the fishing boats. But I don't believe that anymore. The local people put up with and perpertuate the gomi system, the insidious neighbourhood meeting network, the absurd PTA meetings, the Orwellian public announcements and chimes. They are happy to send their kids to the soul destroying junior high school, bow to people in the town hall, lie to me constantly, bribe the mayor to join the public service, and stay off the beach in the hottest weeks of the year because 'swimming season' has officially closed.

I cannot live in such a morally bankrupt, hypocritical society and stay true to myself.

So I have no regrets in leaving Nejime. I will take on the rudeness, filth and lies of Sydney one more time.

Monday, June 05, 2006

My Job is Stupid Part Two: the English Teacher Who Couldn't Speak English

After the calamity of trying to teach with Baka Sensei, I waited in some trepidation to find out who I would be 'team teaching' with in the new term. I was sick of the waste, humiliation and frustration of trying to work with somebody who refused to let anyone speak a word of English in 'English class'.

Naturally I had no say in who would be the new Japanese Teacher of English. I was not even informed about who would be making such a decision. Attempts to discover the chain of command were ignored (sometimes people in my office will literally not acknowledge that I have spoken).

So finally I met the new sensei. Seemed like a nice guy, in his thirties, a typical smoking pachinko-loving Japanese guy.

I decided to test the waters after introductions were made in Japanese.

'How long have you been teaching?'

Nothing. No response

'How long have you been teaching?' More slowly this time.

No reply except a puzzled look.

I tried something a bit simpler. 'It is nice to meet you.'

Nothing. A look of mild panic.


'Ah, konnichwa.' A smile spreads across his face.

So I continued in Japanese...

'How long have you been teaching English?'
'Ah, this is my first job.'
'Okay...what were you doing before this?'
'I was studying at university'
'Right...and before university?'
'Um, high school'
This guy was definitely in his thirties...
'Okay, how long were you in university?'
'Nine years'
'Nine years??'
'That's right.'
'Well, what did you study at university?'
'I just don't get it, mate'

There followed a long complex explanation about what he was doing at university which I could not follow because my Japanese was not good enough.

I never found out exactly what he did at university because I never asked again and he never offered. Nor did I ever attempt to speak any English with him again.

In class he gave explanations in Japanese of grammar points presented in the textbook. In Japanese, of course.

I want to get one thing straight right away. No Speak English Sensei was a vast, monumental improvement on Baka Sensei because he let me do stuff in class. That's right. I could make and implement games and activities that were communicative in nature. As a result the second years became infinitely more interested in and proficient with English. I began to enjoy coming to the Junior High School. No Speak English Sensei was so much better than Baka Sensei that I signed up to do a third year of JET. I even formed a good working relationship with him though I did wonder how he got to be teacher...which is a large topic in itself.

Naturally the fundamental problems with English Education at the Nejime Junior High School were not solved even though I was now speaking in class.

For example, I was not going to first year classes as I wasn't invited by the music teacher who was teaching them, nor was I going to third year classes, because third years were doing tests. These tests were happening every day I was there. No Speak English Sensei would photocopy a very long list of grammar or vocabulary questions, take the handouts to the class room and distribute them. The students would take out their pens and do the tests, mark their neighbour's, and, if time allowed, listen to the grammar translation that would follow. This went on, to my knowledge, for the entire term.

Next: Dream Sensei