Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Miseducation of Ratna, Ken and Kumi: A Textbook Investigation

In each installment of this segment, I will analyze a specific chapter/activity/page from my school’s English textbook series. Before we get on with the very academic close-reading, let’s have some context. The series is called “New Crown” and it consists of 3 levels (books); one for each Junior High School grade. The textbooks of each level -1,2,3 - apply the same basic structure.
1)   Thematic Chapters.
There are approximately 8 Chapters per textbook and the chapters are usually ten pages long. Each chapter examines a specific topic. These topics are supposed to distract Japanese students from the English grammar being forced into their ear/eye-holes. To give you an idea of what I mean by “topic,” sample Chapter Titles include: “Life in Australia,” “At a Nature Park,” and “Human Rights for All.” You know, the type of shit your average 13 yr old kid is dying to learn about1.
The anatomy of a chapter is pretty consistent. All chapters contain some combination of:
-Graphics: maps, AP photos, pie-charts, hand-drawn illustrations, etc.
-Narrative Passages: uninterrupted expository passages on a given topic. These paragraphs are written by an unidentified narrator with some nasty habits. Nasty habits include: heavy use of rhetorical questions, interjecting interjections all over the place, speaking in fragmented sentences, and being a condescending douche-bag. 
-Dialogue: a written conversation (relevant to that chapter’s theme) between two of the main, recurring characters. More on them later.
-New Words: 15-20 new vocabulary words. All germane to the chapter's topic and culled directly from the narrative passages and dialogue.
-Miscellaneous Activities: these are basically lodestars for teachers who hate their jobs and need to waste entire classes without doing any actual teaching. In response, students-faces say:  "I hate English and I will never leave Japan, ever,"  "I'm going to sleep now and you can't stop me," and "What would happen if I shoved these two mechanical pencils really far up my own nostrils?”

2)   Songs
Each textbook contains the lyrics of at least four English-language songs. Songs include: I Just Called to Say I Love You, Stand by Me, Yesterday Once More (I had to Youtube this one. Never heard of it. It’s by The Carpenters and it’s really slow and bad. But it features the lyrics “All my best memories come back clearly to me, Some can even make me cry, Just like before, It’s yesterday once more.” So, you know, that’s fun.), White Christmas, Take Me Home Country Roads, and Yesterday. I would make fun of these song-selections, but when last year’s graduating class called me into their classroom and sang a heartfelt rendition of Take Me Home Country Roads, dedicated to me, I may have almost cried. Or actually cried. Either way, fuck off. Music is magic.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Self-Indulgent E-mail to Friends and Family - Pt. 1

Note: This is the first e-mail I sent to friends and family after moving here, late July, 2010. I probably disagree now with half the things I wrote. Or else I've completely forgotten them because they really don't matter at all.  Either way, the content of this e-mail qualifies as dated. But it mattered to me at some point. And you know, like, life is all about the journey, and stuff. 
Originally Sent: 8/19/10  8:42pm, Japan Standard Time. 
Original Recipients: Everyone I've ever wanted to like me. This is my go-to-move when trying to impress someone - especially girls. Step 1) Pen a 5,000 word, emotive personal history ASAP. Step 2) Check my inbox every 1-2 minutes. Step 3) Distract myself by watching home videos of the Glory Days - e.g. middle school musical theater performances/that one high school basketball game when I scored 26 points. 4)Send follow-up e-mail with desperate "joke" that suggests a bad case of hurt feelings on the part of the sender, but also includes a link to a Youtube video featuring babies/finger puppets doing something cute/involving a bowler hat. 5) Buy a new sweater-vest, as a comfort-purchase. 6) Drink heavily. 7) Send another e-mail, sans prose. This one only contains a link to a highlight reel of scenes from all three Chronicles of Narnia films. 8)Repeat. 

Here it is, my first correspondence from Japan. 
(Footnotes added after-the-fact.)

Hey y’all,

So I’m not planning on writing massive, rambling e-mails like I did during my year in Spain. I skimmed a couple of those the other day and was astonished that a) I wrote that much, b) I expected anyone to read half of it and c) I was such an annoying bastard. Sorry about that. I’m so over myself.

That said, here’s a quick update on what I’m doing in Japan. So you can read. About me.

My house is…so much better than your house. It’s halfway up the Central Japanese Alps and faces the Southern Alps and there’s a river valley in between the two mountain ranges, if that makes sense. The mountains are real mountains, not the kind you hike as a Memorial Day morning activity. Their summits are usually wrapped in clouds. My house is also a real house, as opposed to some shit Harlem apartment shared with Craigslist friends. It’s not big but it has a bedroom, living-room, shower-room, bathroom, large kitchen and laundry room. And a heated toilet seat. Apparently that’s vital in the winter.

The View From My Bedroom/Whattup, Ladies?
There are a lot of insects here. Big ass insects. Moths on the windows and ants materializing from the floorboards and black beetles everywhere. Also, I’ve been warned to watch out for some breed of wasp that’s bigger than a fat man’s thumb. Its sting not only sends you to the ICU, but implants some extraordinary venom that acts as a pheromone and attracts all the other fat, hairy wasps in the neighborhood – basically making your flesh the conduit for a raucous wasp orgy. I thought that was worth sharing.

Mission Statement

The purpose of this blog is to write about Japan from my not-so-objective POV. Japan is a series of islands located somewhere between Hawaii and Paris. Japanese is not spoken anywhere else in the world. I currently live in Japan and am employed as a junior high school English teacher and basketball coach. I have my own house and my house is in the mountains of southern Nagano Prefecture, where they held the first Winter Olympics (1998) I can actually remember1. My Japanese language aptitude is pretty much a disgrace. I claim zero authority on all things Japan-related. I'm rarely perspicacious or funny. I did not go to school for writing. Blogging sucks. Enjoy.

1. This is probably only because, by the age of 12, I was totally obsessed with bobsledding. I was obsessed with bobsledding for same reason all professional bobsledders (is that a real thing?) post 1993 originally got into bobsledding: Cool Runnings. I was obsessed with Cool Runnings for a more personal reason though: I had a thing for Jamaica. I mean, common. Bob Marley. Jerk Chicken. Weed (the idea of it). Dreads. A cool flag. The best accent ever. Some cutthroat sport where they push hand-operated, handmade go-karts down some seriously steep island-rubble trails. These are the things a 12yr old mostly-white boy from the bucolic hills of Northeast USA obsesses over. Admittedly, I had been semi-aware of the '96 Atlanta Summer Olympics. But that's only because America is the best.