Scooter vs Japan

Webcomic coming (or Blog necromancy part 2)

January 26, 2017
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In the spirit of comics like Life after the BOE, and as a result of a Steam Sale to buy a comic making program, I’ve been making comics about life in Japan. I’ve made a few already for Facebook, but I’ve decided to upload them here as well.

I’ve been struggling for some time to figure out what to blog about that isn’t negative or focused on “herr herr look at Japan.” I also don’t want this to turn into just another travel blog or the like. While the comics do kind of poke fun at Japan, it does so in (I hope) an innocent way, rather than focusing on how being an ALT/expat can be frustrating.

The comics, which I’ve titled “Gaikoku,” poke fun at the idea that everywhere and everyone that isn’t Japan is called “gaikoku.” So far, the comics are about funny things that happen to me, and in one case is basically verbatim.

I’ll start uploading the already made comics over the next little bit, and post here when I have any new ones. In the mean time, hold onto your butts.


Japanniversary

August 2, 2016
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First off, I wanted to touch on my absence. Aside from getting busy and dealing with some personal matters, I decided to take a step back from blogging. Most notably, I felt that too many of my posts turned into ridiculous gawking; looking at all the wacky stuff in Japan and talking about how wacky it is.

In a nut shell, I hated it. While I’ve had a good time writing, I never wanted this to be about silly gawking at or ranting about Japan. So here’s hoping I can do something different.

Orbital Rotations

what-was-still-is-hands-in-hands-happy-anniversary

It’s been a year since I came to Kamikawa. Prompted by the anniversary and my a friendly reader, I wanted to look at what has changed for me over the last year.

A lot has happened since I’ve come here, but at the same time I feel like I’ve done very little. I read a lot of comments about “putting you life on hold” this and “losing a year” that when people talk about JET, school, or what not.

I knew coming into this that my views were not the same as a lot of other JETs. I’m in this for the long haul, intending to stay as long as I can. I plan to enjoy the time I have here and use it to try and secure a better future. A year is an incredibly short time, even if you an cover a lot of ground.

Kevin

A while back, I talked about a student I’ve been tutoring. Things haven’t been going so well since he’s been really busy, but we’ve both made some headway.

Gold star on notebook

The small steps are the best ones.

Since I started tutoring Kevin, her grades have gone up by quite a bit. They are still low on a grand scale, but he got 40% on a recent test, even though we haven’t been meeting lately. Considering he was getting something like 10% when I met him, that is a phenomenal improvement. And he’ll speak to me in English once in a while, which I feel shows a lot of growth.

My hopes for Kevin were never that he become a top student. If he does end up loving English, great, but that wasn’t my goal. Instead, I wanted to show him some new ways to study and provide some simplified help that could get him through junior high. And I feel like Ive done that.

However, there has been another major development on this front. I’ve been having teachers slowly reach out to me to help other learning disabled students. My main teacher has even admitted that there are learning disabled students in class, that the problem isn’t just in English, and that we could be doing more to help.

Remember, this is Japan, a country that demands conformity and hasn’t been great in the past on handling special education. While there doesn’t seem to be a detailed enough diagnosis to work with, the fact that the teachers are ready to admit this and seek out my help is a huge step forward.

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I… I have really short legs.

I really hope that I can continue to move forward on this. Although I’ve not an expert in special education, I am learning disabled and a product of a system that promotes inclusive education. Being trusted to help learning disabled students represents moving forward in my job and an increase in trust and responsibility.

Better education

Another tunnel light has been the increased willingness of my teachers as well as some new and very sharp administration. The Japanese business world largely revolves around the same calendar as the education system; the year starts in April, and with that comes some employee movements. Some of the teachers and administration moved around this year, and my new vice-principal is wonderful.

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We can always use more blue in our lives.

While a lot of Japanese people do see problems in their country, it’s less common for them to know what to do about it. Mr. O have been a wonderful shoulder to lean on when things haven’t gone well in the classroom. He not only knows that there are problems with English, immigration, and other matters that deal with foreign residents, but he is also vocal about why these problems exist and how to improve upon them.

Add to this another new teacher who wants to focus more on communication, one of my teachers wanting to learn more about how to prepare better lessons, and a general interest in bringing change into the classroom (even if it isn’t a lot of change), This year is already shaping up to be far better than last.

My troubled marriage

As I’ve noted before, I have a pretty odd outlook when it comes to talking about the Japanese language. I unfortunately have not really progressed very much in this area. So far, all attempts to sit down and study Japanese just haven’t got over well.

piles-of-books_01

But that isn’t to say it’s all doom and gloom. My Japanese has gotten better by being here. I have to speak Japanese everyday, talk around my weaknesses, and explain complex thoughts that I lack the grammar and vocabulary for. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Further, I have been paying attention during class and trying to pick up some of the grammar and vocab that the students are dealing with. And I’m making tiny steps forward when it comes to reading, which I feel is the direction I should be moving in. Grinding kanji wasn’t really working, and sitting down with grammar drills isn’t going well without a class structure. But I’m able to (mostly) understand things that are happening around me. If I can get some practice reading for comprehension, that should give a notable boost.

One proof of concept was reading a kids book today. The library had a bunch of books they were getting rid of, and I grabbed a few kids books. I’m planning to give them to my niece and nephew when I go back to Canada for Christmas, but I read through one today at work. Even though I didn’t understand every word or phrase, I was able to read the story with only a few dictionary lookups. I also translated the story later so that the kids can read it later. This took some more work to get the exact meaning, but it was proof that I did understand what I read.

Professional development

Lastly, one of my goals while being here was to come to a decision about my professional future. I’ve been reading up on career requirements and graduate education. While I’m still not sure what I want to do following my time here, I have made some progress.

I’m looking at a Masters degree in TESOL at the moment, specifically an online option. I still have a number of options open, but I’m uncertain as to how viable they are. But following things backwards, it seems like having a Masters degree in TESOL could be a step forward.

teach-english-spain

Although a Masters would require more dice. Just a few.

One option this opens up is making it easier to stay in Japan and continue working. Not only would more formal training help make me a more desirable candidate for other ALT jobs, having a Masters degree in TESOL opens up options for temporary post-secondary teaching in Japan. This would make it far easier to keep working in Japan if I wanted to.

If I continue into education as I originally planned, a Masters degree could do two things. First of all, even though the degree would be in English second language acquisition, the skills should be transferable to Japanese. Second, having a Masters degree and a few years teaching experience should make it easier to find work as a teacher in Canada. I’m also told that it can result in a pay bump, which never hurts.

Lastly, if I decide to bypass education and look into special education, it’s possible that a Masters in TESOL and the linguistics coursework that I would complete could help satisfy admissions requirements for programs like speech language pathology. I need to confirm this, but this could make that process much easier.

Best of all, since I can complete the degree online, I can complete the degree now while I’m working in Japan, thus being able to hit the ground running post-JET. This could save me a few years in establishing a career, and if chosen carefully, I can ensure that I am studying at a good school instead of just paying a degree mill.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t aid another option I am looking at; Japanese anthropology. A Masters degree at this point wouldn’t provide many transferable skills nor help set up that career path. This could give me a fall back option while I’m in such a program, being able to teach on the side or continue to find work while doing research.

The future

back-to-the-future-delorean-transport-dezeen_936

Sadly, you can’t even drive 88 KM per hour in Hokkaido.

It’s been quite the year, and I can only hope that future years are as productive.

I hope to make a decision on a Masters degree or other professional path in the next several months so that I can get the ball rolling on. I also hope to make some more progress on helping the learning disabled students I work with, as well as further grow my job here. I have a lot of ideas on how to provide more English learning options for both the students and the adults of Kamikawa. And hopefully, I can find more to write about in the meantime.


Japanese language blog?

November 27, 2015
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As I continue my fight against the fantastic beast known as the Japanese language, I’m always in search of new ways to try and approach the language. In the past, I’ve been studying in a class, so I have a fairly well rounded education. But I’m now on my own, and I can’t seem to make a lot of progress. Worse, I know why.

Can you use that in a sentence?

There are untold numbers of gimmicks and plots that young learners will use to try and learn Japanese. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that any of these work; if it there was some magic trick or dodge, wouldn’t we have all done it? No, I think it all comes down to rolling up you sleeves and getting to work, and a lot of people seem to agree with me.

More to the point, a lot of the tactics employed by learners of all ages is to grind through lists of things, learning each painful item one flashcard at a time or by writing it out a thousand times. However, I’ve come to learn (through self reflection and from the advice of others) that this doesn’t work well. Learning grammar, vocabulary, and Chinese characters (kanji) one item at a time is simply a waste of time, since you lack the context of how it is used. You can spend weeks learning all of the readings, meaning, and components of just one character, or you can do something else.

You can work smart.

Instead of learning item by item, since that really has never worked, I am trying to learn Japanese as it is found in the wild. I am not going to learning kanji by memorizing characters, I am going to learn words. I’m not going to learn new vocabulary by reciting a flashcard hundreds of times, because that never seems to stick. Instead, I am going to learn words through sentences, using context and cues the reinforce the meaning. And I’m not going to slog my way through a grammar book, but will instead use those same sentences to see examples of grammar and learn by example.

And it really works

I’ve been spending that last few months on different language experiments. For example, I just made some grammar flashcards to review old grammar points that I have long ago forgotten. But instead of writing a single character on a card and then trying to define it, I did something different.

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I’m learning the grammar from the sentence.

And it worked. I was able to go through the almost 40 sentences for the flashcards I made, and understood far more than the majority. Even though I don’t remember the grammar points, even with grammar I’ve been using wrong, and without once reviewing them since I made flashcards the day before, I understood what was written.

When it comes to kanji, I spend several weeks running an experiment on word compounds (words that use multiple characters). Instead of learning a character in isolation, I was learning one word that used it, but was also learning all of the characters in that word as well. This was working to an extent, and I picked up a few words, but one problem prevented it was being a true success; context. Looking at my grammar flashcards, I was able to, more often than not, read an unfamiliar word from the context of the sentence. A great example is my card for “describing how an action is performed.” My example sentence was something like “I can swim like a fish,” but I couldn’t read the character for swim. But I knew “fish” as well as the grammar, so I was able to figure out that the unreadable character meant “swim.”

Hurray for proofs of concept.

Blog! You said blog! What’s this about a blog!?

Since I like to tell stories, that requires another detour before I can come around and explain what I’m thinking. My brain is funny like that.

I’m a kinesthetic/tactile learner. That means I learn by doing things. What that also means is that I don’t learn by seeing or hearing, as proven by my inability to pick up any co-workers’ or students’ names, or my inability to pull new words out of speech. No, I learn by doing, and unfortunately, that kinda means writing (which I’m beyond not good at).

So here’s what I’m thinking. I want to start a second blog, strictly for practicing Japanese. Now, that’s probably a terrible idea, given how backlogged I am here. But hear me out.

Someone on Reddit suggested a language practice thread. I said (in Japanese) that I thought it was a good idea, and that we should do it. And then I was immediately pissed off by it. See, I just want to use Japanese; I don’t necessarily want people correcting it, since correct just means you are wrong and over correction is the death of language learning. I quickly ended up going on to explain why I did X or Y, right or wrong, and was trying to explain that I am shooting for comprehension rather than 100% accuracy. Plus, everyone was using kanji, and Reddit’s system for including the readings for kanji is tedious at best. Thus, it slowed down my production and made it difficult to read theirs, since I was the only one using this system.

No. I want something a little different. While I’m happy to get feedback, I really only want feedback when a mistake causes a breakdown in communication. I do not want every single mistake or alternate particle use to be called into question. I do not want to worry about 100% production. I want to do Japanese, and everyone else can be damned. If I get a correction, I’ll look at it, but I don’t want to have to spend more time correcting and explaining my shitty Japanese than I am trying to produce it, because that will only get me so far.

Another issue with something like Reddit is that I would need to produce sentences with a certain amount of value or content. That’s also kind of not the point. While I want to practice stringing longer sentences and paragraphs together and creating more consistent language use, I am more interested in production than storytelling at this point. That means I am more interested in keyboard babbling about random topics and using unrelated sentences as I work my way through Japanese. If I post, say, six sentences that make no sense, using new grammar and vocab, I don’t want people bothering me about how stupid or confusing they sound because they have nothing to do with anything.

Soo… Why not just use a notebook?

Well, there are two answers. The first is that I am a young folk and like computers. Doing a blog or something on Twitter (another possibility) just fits me like a glove. I’m also a masochist, so I want this to be as complicated as possible.

But more importantly, I do want the ability to have feedback, should anyone care to give it. I just don’t want constant correction. Having something online will allow me to incite some feedback while at the same time creating an example of how I’m learning. If someone asks me how I’m learning, I can link them to the blog instead of trying to explain that I am basically just using Japanese. If I want someone to check my work, I need only send a friend the link instead of having to type out hand written work and then find a way to get it to them.

Ok. I get it. But why another blog?

Good question, dear reader. Ironically, I am a very visual person, despite being terrible at visual learning skills. I have this image in my head of what I want this exercise to look like… And it’s messy. I want this blog here to be a general blog about JET, living in Japan, and about learning Japanese, not to be filled with random and probably incorrect sentences as I learn Japanese. To do everything under one roof, I’m concerned that it’s going to get messy and make this blog inaccessible, forcing English language posts about Japan to be lost among piles of nonsense and experimentation.

I’m also pondering doing something over Twitter, though I’m not sure if that has the effect I want. I likewise don’t want to blast my followers with random bullshit in Japanese several times a day. But maybe they want that, I dunno.

What I’m thinking is that I want this practice to be self contained. I want to keep on with my normal-ish life and be able to interject some Japanese as needed without it overtaking my life. I don’t want to embarrass myself as potential JETs find this place and then laugh at my shitty language skills, nor do I want to make this blog inaccessible to those visitors, causing them to have to sort through tons and tons of posts to find something in English.

Floggings? Twits? YourTubes (probably not)? What do you think?

Now for the audience participation part of the exercise. What do you think? Do you want to see me fumble through Japanese here? Do you want me to send regular derps on Twitter? Does a separate and contained blog sound like a good idea? Do you have a batter idea? Leave a comment. For the love of god, someone leave a comment. It’s lonely here, and I think there are wolves.

howling_at_the_moon_by_shopkins


Where have you been?

October 2, 2015
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I’m sorry *cries*. I haven’t been posting anything because I’ve been pretty busy. We have a nearly week long string of holidays here called Silver Week, which meant that I wasn’t really home much.

But the real reason I haven’t been posting is… well… I’ve been trying to post. I have a number of half-written articles and pending ideas that need to be finished and edited, but something shiny keeps distracting me. As a new or more time sensitive idea comes up, my attention has been getting split.

The wait is worth in though. Here are some of the articles I’m working on or planning:

  • Weird things in Japan
  • What it’s like to teach in Japan
  • Learning disabilities
  • Context for the hated JET phrase, “every situation is different”
  • A topic about learning Japanese
  • Maybe some classroom activities or ideas I’ve been working on

They’ll all have their time to shine. I just need to finish the pending articles and focus my attention.

Thanks for bearing with me.


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He’s alive. Alive!

April 21, 2015
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Tesla coils rule

Hello from beyond the internet grave! I have returned!

When I attempted to start this blog in 2009, the internet was still in its infancy, or rather, thralls of teenage angst. It was budding and edgy, but it didn’t really know what it wanted to be, It’s funny. For someone who built computers for years, studied technical drafting and 3D animation, is the family’s go to tech guru, and worked in telecom and computer sales for years, I’m really quite technophobic. I first imagined doing this as an actual website, creating new pages every time I wanted to speak with friends and family. But then these new fangled blogs came out and I chose to do that, despite not knowing what a blog was or being pleased about using one. Hell, I JUST started using Twitter after getting forced into it at work.

But I attribute the initial failure of this blog to something else, and hope that my new situation will be different. See, when I attended Kansai Gaidai in 2009, half of the fun was finding things for yourself. with over 400 other exchange students every year, there is no shortage of information about Gaidai or Hirakata-shi. More, everyone ends up finding their own way anyways, eschewing advice and research within days.

So what’s different this time? Well, I’ve been shortlisted for the JET Programme, and will be returning to Japan in August. FOr those who aren’t aware, the JET Programme is a massive government hiring effort to place English native teachers in Japanese schools. The programme (yes, it’s spelled with two m’s and an e) is the cornerstone of ESL teaching in Japan, and is renown for it’s support systems. But even with the large number of participants every year and all of these supports, the reality is that much of Japan is still largely unknown outside of its borders. Sure, you can go down to any bookstore and buy a travel guide, but this only contains the tourism information on the most traveled areas. When researching placement options during the application process, I actually found very little information about different towns and cities, and only found topical discussions about what it’s like to live in Japan. For placement, I was basically throwing darts at a board.

Ok. Seriously. What’s different this time around? I’m hoping to provide more insider information about the JET Programme, ESL teaching, and general life in Japan (not that everyone and their dog hasn’t done this already). Whereas such info really wasn’t that essential to the Gaidai exchange, I’m hoping to create some documentation of my application and life as a JET, as well as more funny crap about Japan. I hope to document my town or city, classroom environment, and experiences for future teachers and travelers.

Another key difference is that, at Gaidai, I was very busy with school, play, and trying to get the most out of my trip. Although I had a lot of time to travel, I was studying, researching, and writing papers and exams for school. I was very busy at Gaidai, and really didn’t have the time or desire to write about my experiences when I was simply phoning home and telling people about them. As a JET, I may well be the only foreigner (or at least among a much smaller number) in the area, I anticipate having more free time to research at my own pace, experience things with more calm, and more opportunities and validity to share my experiences.

So here’s hoping that I fired enough electricity from all those Tesla coils into this dead husk of a blog, and that my deeper understanding of this internet thing, the increased and more relevant opportunities to share, and more time and desire to do so will keep this rag alive for a while.

And hey, if it works and I start blogging, I’d like to continue after my time as a JET as I progress in my career and continue my studies of this bizarre and fascinating land that keeps giving me work and opportunities.


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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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