But Let Me Tell You More About Germany!

reverse1And I thought I was doing so well.

One month after coming back to the UK after having lived in Germany and Japan for a total of 6 years, a reverse culture tick hit me.

In the garden of a pub, I was sat with a nice guy, trying to charm him as I tend to do with nice young men. We were trying to find how compatible we are by asking each other ridiculous questions. He asked me what my favourite fizzy drink was.

“Uhm, well I’m not sure of the drinks round here but in Germany there’s this cola…”

To which he mock rolled his eyes, and poked fun at me for starting most sentences with “in Germany…” [Read more…]

My Biggest Mistake in Japan

mistake

Recently I was in a Japanese restaurant with some Japanese friends. The conversation was flowing, but then I stopped dead when I heard a certain song. It was a song I’d long forgotten, a song that took me right back to the school I worked at while I was in Japan.

I worked at a junior high school, and in Japan, all JHS students should choose one club activity. It’s fairly hardcore, and the kids have to practise their chosen activity every day – even on weekends.

When I arrived at the school, I was told there was a baton twirling group. I couldn’t believe it! Of all the schools in the prefecture, I got the one that did twirling! From the age of 7 I was a majorette in a troupe called The Sapphires. We were the top in England…though I wasn’t that good myself. The winter months were spent planning our new routines, spring would be village fetes and carnivals to hone our moves then in the summer we’d travel all over the country to competitions – most of which we won.

So to have a team right there in Japan – I could show them all our training exercises and get them to be top of their game! They’d love me forever and we’d all live happily every after, right?

Wrong.

In Japan, it’s not the level of skill that you have that matters, it’s going through the motions. So, as long as you join the club and go to the meetings, it doesn’t actually matter if you put in any effort or not. You’re there as part of the team, not to be amazing at whatever it is yourself. Proving this cultural observation of mine, there are teachers assigned to each group, but the chance of them being an expert in that activity is slim, and they rarely turn up to train the kids. The kids train each other – meaning that bad habits are passed down from year group to year group.

So I turned up to their training session on the top floor of the school to find them sitting down, copying each others’ homework, playing with their phones. I asked to see their routines, and they were technically very very good. They’d been given some great tricks to learn – some of which I couldn’t replicate later at home when I tried… But their dances were set to slow music…love songs where the beats dragged on.

April came and the 3rd graders graduated and tiny little 1st graders joined the team. I saw an opportunity to start a new training regime and to oversee them practise so I could pick out any bad habits they were learning. The kids hated it. They hated me butting into their ‘downtime’, they hated me trying to change things, they hated the music I was suggesting for their dances. They just wanted to sit down with the team and chill out for a bit – even while the school’s famous sporting teams were showing dedication by training really hard outside the window.

I tried to show them videos of other Japanese baton groups who are just spectacular. I thought maybe they’d be inspired and want to be like them. They said that those girls were different. They were just country girls so they would never be as good as that. Then they went back to playing with their phones.

Around the time of me being exhausted trying to think of ways to make the girls be more passionate about baton twirling, some nasty bullying happened. A nasty 1st grader girl was picking on a slightly eccentric teammate. The bullied girl stopped coming to practice, and then stopped coming to school all together. I was fuming. As someone who suffered with bullying, I spotted the signs early on and told the Japanese teacher in charge. She said to leave it be, and the girls will sort themselves out. Of course, that didn’t happen and I felt rotten that a little girl was missing out on an education just because this wasn’t sorted out earlier, and more so that there was nothing at all being done about it. As a foreign teacher, I had no right to discipline the kids and I wasn’t even meant to be left in a room with students without a Japanese teacher there (though this rule was conveniently forgotten each time the Japanese teacher was sick and I was asked to lead classes alone).

The mistake that I made with my experience with the baton twirling group was that I, as a foreigner, can’t just come in and project onto the kids the things that I assume people strive for. In the west, we are taught to be the best that we can be. I am proud to say that I was in the top English majorette group, and I trained hard in my garden every night to try to be as good as the other girls. In Japan, they are taught to be a team. As long as they were together at the right place at the right time, even doing the least amount of work possible to qualify for that activity, then that’s OK.

I also can’t assume that education works the same all over the world. Bullying is dealt with seriously in the UK, but it isn’t in Japan. Me standing over a Japanese teacher tattle-telling on a spiteful girl won’t make Japan change its stance on how to deal with bullying. They are in charge of their own country’s children and I should treat this with an open mind, even when kids are staying home from school because of it.

I did a lot of good for the team, as well. After me prompting and then preparing them, they performed at the summer festival in the village, and were simply wonderful. Two of my favourite girls performed a duet and even pushed themselves to do much more difficult moves than they’d previously tried – which they aced on stage without a single baton dropped. They also performed at the local old peoples’ home, showing that just because they themselves chose the baton team to get out of much harder sports, they can still use their skills to make other people happy.

We expats go about the world and take with us ideas of how things should be, and what is right and wrong. It takes some failure to realise that you have to relax these jerk reactions in response to things that you think are wrong. And we can’t go into things like a bull in a china shop, as I did. This was my biggest mistake in Japan.

 

The JET Programme

 

** Another post copied over post from Sherbet and Sparkles! Enjoy! **

This week I went to dinner with a nice American girl. I’d helped her a little in her application to the JET Programme, and she got in.

I like to help people with the JET applications in my spare time. I had a lot of help when I applied, and so I like to give back. Also, I just like that satisfaction you get from knowing you helped someone out.

So what is JET? Most people think it stands for “Japan English Teaching” but it’s actually “Japan Exchange and Teaching”. The Japanese government spends a lot of money sending young people from all over the world to live in the Japanese countryside, to live among Japanese people who would never get to see a non-Japanese person  otherwise, while teaching in the local schools. I was on the JET Programme for 2 years.

I had always wanted to be on JET. I first encountered Japanese people when I did an exchange in my town with one of the Keio middle schools when I was 13. I thought those kids were amazing – I’m still good friends with some of them today. My Japanese teacher (because I would not shut up until my parents let me study it in the evenings) told me about the programme, and I had my heart set on it from that day forward.

Applying to JET is a rollercoaster of emotions. You need to write an essay, then you have an interview, then a police check – but that’s not all! You don’t know if you’ll get on the programme until around this time in the year (for a July departure) and you won’t know which area you’ll go to until June, in some cases.

I sat there across from my friend this week and I could see all the same emotions in her that I had 3 years ago. I’d been to Japan twice before – the second of which was for a year as an exchange student – so I imagine she was feeling even more nervous than I was. But I was so excited for her. I was bouncing on my chair telling her how she’ll be the star of her town, how the kids will be amazing, how the food will make her fat, but happy…

So why did I quit?

Well, there is a downside to JET. In preparation, I had done a joint degree in Japanese and teaching English. I had also had experience teaching English. I was ready and raring to rock the classroom. But you can’t as an Assistant Language Teacher. Well, not in junior high schools, at least. My job was to, if I was lucky, make 15 minute activities that couldn’t be too creative and at other times I stood in the classroom and was a living cd player. Why wasn’t I happy with the activities? Well, it really depended on the teacher and the class. Some classes were awesome – I remember doing a gap-fill exercise to The Beatles’ Hello Goodbye. The kids LOVED it. It was creative, used real English and wasn’t a textbook. Other times I was not so lucky.

The textbook had a section on how to take a train. It had a small map with stations called “Plum Station”, “Flower Station” and “Sunshine Station”. This was for 16 year olds. I was asked to do an activity based on this, so I started off working through these pages, and teaching things like “take the Apple Line to Plum Station, then change to the Banana Line”. This worked well. Then I whipped out a REAL LIFE map of the london underground. I had simplified it to a handful of stations and had written how to say the stations in katakana. The teacher wasn’t happy. The students did their best, but they just don’t experience real English. It was using all the same terms as we had just practised, just with real life stations. If it’s not in a textbook, the teachers don’t think it’s useful and the kids get scared and don’t try to understand it.

My opinions were not valid in the school, my experience and skills were not touched upon. And moreover, the other teachers in the school practically ignored me. I understand Japanese perfectly fine, but they spoke to me in a mock foreign accent… They made me so angry.

However, the students were angels and I love every single one of them. That’s why I went back to see their graduation last month. Even the kids who were little monkeys were sweet. One little boy in the first grade (11 years old) would come up to me every morning and say, in English, “Charlotte-sensei, I have a hangover!!” I’d reply with “OH NO! What was it this time? Beer? Whiskey?” While he would nod enthusiastically and choose which drink he had “drank”. Another girl named Airi was particularly close to me. She was a loud mouthed drama queen – always screeching about this and that and creating a scene. She dyed her hair and rolled her skirt up, and the teachers said she was a lost cause. Do you know what? I’ve dyed my hair since I was 12, I sure rolled up my skirt when I was younger, and teachers have also called me a lost cause (the one that sticks most in my mind is my A Level French teacher who told me I am “just not cut out for languages – if French is too hard then Japanese will be impossible”.) I wasn’t going to let her fall behind. I knelt by her desk when I was in her class and explained stuff to her one on one until she got it. And do you know what? I think she was one of the brightest kids in there. It’s just that when I wasn’t in the room, no one tried with her and so she didn’t try to study.

Look at this long post… I could talk for days on my JET experiences. If there happen to be people out there applying, I would be glad to write a post on how to prepare and so on. But I think I should make more posts about the cute things students wrote and drew for me. While looking back in my old folders I came across a stash 🙂

10 Twisted Myths about Japan – Debunked!

IMGP4792

When I tell people I’ve lived in Japan, people usually reply asking me if something about Japan is true. Usually, it is not. I’ve written before about how frustrated I get when people think Japanese culture is all about weird sexual preferences, but I thought I’d write again about 10 things that just aren’t true.

  1. Japanese men are not all perverts.

Nope. I mean, some of them, sure. But no more than any other place, I bet.

“But Charlotte, what about those weird pervy manga comics? Don’t they even read them on the trains?” Yeah, but come on, in the UK we have a topless woman on the 3rd page of one of the (sadly) most popular papers. And then there are lads’s mags, which are full of semi naked women posing between articles. These things may be very different to dodgy manga, but they are still on a similar level of perviness.

  1. It’s unlikely you’ll be molested on the trains.

“Wait, don’t they have to have women’s train carriages in Japan because the men can’t keep their hands to themselves?!”

If you’re a Japanese woman, the sad fact is that there is a chance of you being touched on a busy train. I once tried to ask Japanese friends about it, so I could understand how often this happens, but they weren’t very keen to talk about it. If you are a foreign woman, Japanese men would probably be way too scared to lay a finger on you.

And anyway, if you’re worried about this, you can always use the women’s carriages of trains. It differs from city to city but the Nagoya ones at least ran as female-only from 5pm – 8pm on weekdays, since that’s when the rush hour was (and having lots of people squeezed next to each other makes it easy to grab someone). If you are a man, be aware that if you are in a women’s carriage when the clock strikes 5pm, you’ll end up being pretty embarrassed.

  1. You won’t be finding used underwear machines.

They are illegal. It is a myth.

  1. Japanese women don’t need you to save them.

When I went to study in Japan I was at a university for women. It’s one of the most prestigious women’s universities not academically but for producing young ladies of the highest quality – fit to marry any politician or high profile, high earning business man.

One day, I said to the Japanese guy I was dating that I felt sorry for my classmates since they have no choice in life but to work in a meaningless job for a year or so, then find a guy to marry, then quit their job, have a baby and then be a housewife for ever more. He told me that they don’t need me to feel sorry for them, that they are perfectly happy with this situation.

True enough, in speaking with my classmates, they really did just want to have lovely families. Sure, there were probably some of them who probably wanted to be career women, but in the same way that in the culture I grew up in it’s common for women to aspire to have jobs, it’s common for Japanese women to aspire to have families.

Japan has one of the largest gender gaps in the developed world, but it seems there are women fighting for the gap to be closed. Whether they are close to doing that or not, I don’t know. But what they don’t really need is for the west to look down on them while they work this out, and they don’t need rescuing because that’s just patronising.

  1. Japanese people cannot automatically speak Chinese, and vice versa.

English is like German. Just because you can understand English doesn’t mean you can understand German. Oder?

  1. Japan isn’t all skyscrapers with busy streets.

The Japanese countryside is gorgeous. Hills and fields and trees…ahhh I swear Japan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

  1. Manga doesn’t equal porn.

Just like how novels come in all kinds, manga (Japanese cartoons – NOT anime which is animation) also comes in all kinds. There are kids’ manga, girls’ manga, boys’ manga, women’s manga…and dirty old men manga!

Before you start judging manga, do a little research. There’s so many great titles that have been translated into different languages today and many chain bookshops stock manga these days. I love girls’ manga from the late 80’s…like Tenshi Nanka Jyanai and Itazura na Kiss.

  1. Japanese people DO know English…

Japanese adults have learnt English from junior high school to high school, and Japanese young people have probably learnt it from elementary school. BUT, especially from junior high on, they learn grammar so that they can pass tests. They don’t learn how to have a conversation. So if you are lost in Tokyo there may be a brave person who wants to use their English on you but a lot of other Japanese people will be scared that you’ll ask them something and they won’t understand.

  1. Japanese isn’t that hard.

“Oh, you speak Japanese, that must mean you’re clever!”

Haha, I wish. Here’s an awesome link from Tofugu explaining why Japanese isn’t that hard at all.

  1. Gaming isn’t making Japanese people forget about sex.

Late last year the BBC was craping itself over having created an amazing story to tell – that Japanese guys prefer 2d girls to sex with real women. Only, that story wasn’t true. Some Japanese men (and women!) like to play dating gaming but it’s no more worrying than men who like page 3 girls in Britain. There may be men who like to spend a lot of alone time with pictures of the topless models, and in Japan there may be men who prefer to spend all their efforts on fictional girls in games. But neither country is suddenly sexless because of either of these things.

Around the time the BBC’s documentary and article came out, a Japanese speaking friend went through and tried to find the Japanese sources of all the BBC’s facts. Guess what? Most of them were greatly misquoted and some seemed to be made up. So even with the BBC, don’t believe all you’re told!

 

So there we have it! Do you know any myths about Japan that need to be debunked? Let me know in the comments!

%d bloggers like this: