Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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April 22, 2003 - Happy Earth Day!

Spring has Sprung!
The cherry blossoms were blooming last week and it really was lovely - to the left is a photo of me with some cherry blossoms. The Japanese have a special word for cherry blossom watching - sakura. That tells you how much they enjoy it. :-) Spring is, by far, the best season in Japan. I ride past about ten trees on my way to work everyday. Mariko, one of my students, made a map for me with all the best cherry blossom viewing spots in Nagaoka marked on it. (You may remember Mariko. She's the one who had an art exhibit at a local college. I told that story in the February 5th entry.) She took this photo to the right last year of some cherry blossom trees in Nagaoka. Using Mariko's map, I was able to find a place with about a hundred trees on both side of a 'river' (actually, it's more like a canal). I also found a high school with lots of cherry blossom trees on its property. I found almost all the places on the map. I couldn't find a couple, despite riding around on my bicycle, but I think I saw the best ones.

Yesterday I was suppose to go cherry blossom viewing with some other students (a group of housewives who take my class together more as a social outing), but it rained all day so we didn't go. Besides almost all the petals were gone from the blossoms by then. Instead we went for lunch at a french restaurant here in town. It was a very nice lunch. To the left is a photo of my students at the french restaurant (front left to right - Machiko and Tomoko. Back left to right - Kumiko, Kumiko and Hideko).

Another Tokyo Weekend
Last weekend I went to Tokyo again to visit friends. You may remember Astrid, the one I went to Hiroshima with. I stayed with her, of course. And you may remember Adam and Damian, the Australians we met in Hiroshima (see the January 14th entry). Well, we tried to have a sort of reunion. It turned out to be Astrid, Adam and I on one night (see photo to the left) - and Astrid, Damian and I the other night (see photo of Damian to the right). Oh well, it was still lots of fun. It was SO good to sit and just chat without worrying about language barriers. Although a couple of times politics came up and that got a little tense because we don't all agree. But it wasn't too bad because these are cool, open-minded people. Overall, it was a good sharing of ideas.

I also had lunch with Julian - you may remember he and Megan came to visit last fall (see the December 1st entry). By the way, Megan went home early, to St. Louis, a few months ago. And I had a dinner with Bryce at an English Pub - ate fish and chips. :-) Bryce was another of the teachers in my training group. Bryce is the tall guy to my right in the photo at the top of the August 25th entry. Just to review - Astrid, Julian, Megan and Bryce were all in my training group when I first got here. Others from that training group also live in Tokyo but I didn't manage to hook up with them. Anyway, I really needed to have some face to face connections with native speakers, and these folks delivered in a BIG way. (Thanks guys!) But now it will be a while before I can experience that again, so please keep the emails coming. I miss all of you so much!

I May Not be Learning Much Japanese, but My Japanese-English is Coming Along Nicely
There is definitely a unique language here in Japan. It's not Japanese, but it's not quite English. It's very close to English, but it's not quite the same. And I've acquired this language from talking with my students. In fact, all the teachers experience this, so we tend to talk to each other in the same language. And we use gestures quite a bit too. But even with these adaptations, students have a difficult time understanding foreigners. I think it's because they are used to being taught by other Japanese. So they are used to a Japanese accent on the English. Sometimes I listen to the Japanese teachers in their classrooms, and they say things I could NEVER say in my classroom because I would feel sure the students would never understand - and yet their students DO understand them, even the lower level students.

The words are pretty much the same in English and Japanese-English, but some have slightly different meanings. Also, many of the idioms are missing and there are other differences. For example, I was writing an email to a friend and it took me a full minute to remember the phrase 'down the tubes', because if I ever said that to one of my students they would stare at me in utter confusion. So since I haven't used it in SO long, I had to think pretty hard to remember it. Also, depending on the level, 'have you ever eaten a hotdog?' can become 'did you eat a hotdog?'. The two are not quite the same meaning, but they are often used interchangeably here in Japan because maybe the student hasn't learned the more complicated verb tenses. I cannot ask 'was the test hard?', I must ask 'was the test difficult?' A table is hard, a brick is hard, a test can't be hard (confusion). And pronunciation of r, l, th, v, b and other letters are very hard for Japanese students. I think all of these minor differences are because of how English is taught here in Japan in junior high and high school. Japanese education is very standardized, so these same differences are taught the same all over the country. And so this new hybrid language has developed. But you know, English and Japanese, are so drastically different that it really is amazing that so many Japanese speak English as well as they do. Language is a very interesting human phenomenon.

Most Mondays my friends Jim and Kris try to give me a call (thanks again, you guys!). And when I first pick up the phone it takes a little while to snap out of Japanese-English and know that I can just speak English. And yet, sometimes the casual English words just don't come very easily. So I think when I come home there will be a time when I sound kinda strange to y'all. And I may do gestures that seem insane. For instance, if I say the word 'one', I may hold up one finger. It's an awful habit, but it helps the students. Hopefully I will break it soon after I return home.

War Stuff
I wrote most of my thoughts on this topic in the March 29th entry. I don't have many new ideas. Although I have thought of another way to express how I feel about it. I've never been in a bar fight. (Bear with me on this.) It feels like America is a very good friend. Someone who has been there for me many times in the past, someone I appreciate very much. But this good friend has managed to get involved in a bar fight while I was in the washroom. Maybe he started it, maybe no. All I know is I look across the room and see he's in a fight. If I'm a good friend, I don't walk away. Instead, I go to his side as soon as possible and back him up. I don't like that I'm in the fight, and I want it to end as soon as possible - but I don't walk away. That's how I feel about America right now. I can't let people bash America, but I can't necessarily say I agree with all its actions. I know some of you support the war as strongly as those who oppose it. I don't mean to offend anyone, I'm just trying to share my perspective from out here. I still have strong faith in America in the long term, and this image is the only way to resolve the conflict in my heart and mind. That's all I'll say on the matter for now.

What Else to Write?
I know I haven't been writing very many entries the last couple of months. But I really haven't had much to say that's new, and I try not to talk just to be talking. I don't always succeed, but I try. :-) Recently I've been trying to focus my attention on writing personal replies to those folks that have emailed me. So again, please keep 'em coming! :-)

Dewa sono uchi ni
"See you in a little while"

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on to May 19, 2003