Random thoughts, comments, observations and general fluff from a random bint who left London at the end of September 2004 to embark on a new life and new adventures in Tokyo, land of the cute.... and is leaving mid-June 2010 - and counting!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Naive and Xenophobic

Well, according to Japan, all terrorists are foreigners. All criminals are too. We can, of course at this point conveniently overlook a couple of facts, such as there never having been a foreign terrorist in Japan. In fact, in most terrorist attacks, haven't the perpetrators been home-grown? Think IRA, think ETA, think suicide bombers....

And let's not forget the majority of serious crimes here are also done by Japanese and not by foreigners...

So, the news that from next month every foreigner entering Japan will be forced to be fingerprinted and photographed, regardless of your status, regardless of whether you have permanent residency, regardless of whether you have been here 20+ years, regardless of whether you are on a family register and have kids here. Regardless. Every foreigner is going to be treated the same.

Japanese people will not have to be photographed or fingerprinted at immigration. I'm sorry, but this is making my blood boil. I think it's absolutely disgusting.

If you want more information then you can watch this nauseating government video explaining it.

I love Japan. Most foreigners that I know here also love Japan. However, foreigners are treated as second-class citizens here, and this is just making things worse.


Of course, the other big news here has been the suspension of business of NOVA, one of the largest language school chains in Japan. There are so many links to this story that I don't know where to start but here's one: stranded teachers.

In a nutshell, this company got caught out screwing it's students (false advertising, etc) a few months ago and by way of punishment wasn't allowed to take on any new students for a period of time. This hit them so heavily that the Japanese staff haven't been paid since June, teachers haven't been paid since September and students - many of whom paid for TWO YEARS of lessons up front - have all been fucked over. 1000s of teachers are now stranded.

What effect this will have on the rest of the industry is to be seen. Unlike the UK, Japan doesn't have a tradition of evening classes at local colleges, etc, so unless you are of school age and can go to extra lessons at Juku (cram school) - you don't really have much choice if you want to continue studying English, I guess.

But time will tell.


As for the rest: lots of working, drinking, movies.... All good. And the weather has got warmer.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


It's turned cold. Really cold. I mean every morning when I leave the house it's a tad chilly, but it's been heating up by mid-morning.

Tonight is the first time I've been in my room, since last winter, that I've felt cold.

I don't like this. I want summer back. I'm a summer person. Cold weather makes me really grumpy. So does tiredness. So do (c)rush hour trains. In combination this is NOT a good picture.

P.S. I bought a pair of black Crocs in preparation for Lao. Well, why not! They're super-light and they're not orange or yellow - both colours of which make people like like ducks.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"I don't want to do any more."

This is what a student today told me today and continued to say she didn't want to spend her English lessons doing readings... or thinking....


Same student had my lesson straight after another teachers' last week. She got pissed off when I asked her how her week was... because the other teacher had already asked her that.

Some students are VERY hard to please.

Oh - just to clarify - above student isn't one of my 19 year olds. She's a 30 something from my Saturday school.


"I picked up a German on holiday." - this week, I had the dilemma of whether or not to explain to my 19-year olds what this means. I decided it was easier to not have to get into the difference between 'picking up A German' and 'picking up SOME German', and merely circled the error.


Baring in mind that for three years I got up 4 days a week at 10am (Saturdays were always earlier) and the new job/s are requiring me to get up at either 6, 7 or 8 am generally, depending on the day -

I actually woke up one morning this week at 7.45am and thought 'yay! i can have a lie in'

Oh how things have changed!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Day

Right, you wanna know about my day? The key word today is 'TIRED' -

6am Get up
6.30am Leave the house, endure an hour of mild rush hour trains (ie I could breath, but not really move)
7.30am Arrive at station an hour away
8am Start teaching a business class to five adults
9.30am Leave the building, endure 25 minutes of rush hour train
10am Arrive at the college. Drink two strong coffees.
11am Teach an IELTS* listening class
12.30pm Finish teaching
12.45pm Leave the college
13.15pm Get back to my home station, collect lunch from Subway
13.40pm Get home, eat lunch, faff around
14.30pm Crash out for a quick nap
17.40pm Wake up and drag self out of bed

* IELTS is an exam recognised throughout the world as an accurate assessment of someones level of English. Reading, writing, listening and speaking are all tested. And it's bloody hard. Especially some of the reading stuff. To be honest, if it weren't for the teachers book I'd probably struggle with some of the questions. I actually tried some matching exercises online - and didn't get them all right - but don't tell my students that. The test is used for such things as entering universities or being able to emigrate.

Anyway, I digress. I can't help but think this isn't the most productive way to spend a day. I HATE HATE HATE early mornings. I'm BAD at early mornings. I can't believe this is likely to become my regular Wednesday pattern for the next 12 weeks while I'm teaching the Wednesday business course. And besides, who in their right minds actually wants to study English at 8am in the morning?

One of my students is particularly amusing though. She's in her mid-30s and not afraid to speak her mind. I think she could be definitely be worth her weight in amusement value.

To start the session, I'd played a game with the students where they had to write various one or two word answers on the board about themselves for the others to guess the questions. This normally involves home town, hobbies, family stuff, maybe favourite things, etc. One guy wrote 'a woman' - so, of course I'm standing there imagining he's about to tell us he used to be a woman, or he wants to become a woman, or the last person he murdered was a woman, or something - but it turns out it's 'what he wants'.

Let's return to female student mentioned above. At the end of the lesson, when I asked them if they had any questions (normally this ends up being about me or the lesson itself), she turned to 'a woman' guy, and interrogated him (this is the only word I can think of for it) about what he was doing about finding someone.... Not surprisingly, she's not Japanese. Highly amusing (for me). The poor guy didn't know what had hit him though.


It's always a dilemma knowing what slang to teach people and what slang to not teach them. After all, slang is slang, and sounds very strange when used in the wrong contexts or with the wrong stress, etc - and this is something we struggle enough to achieve with 'regular' English.

So, I'm wondering whether to teach my IELTS kids the difference between 'to pick up some German on holiday' or 'to pick up a German on holiday' - what do you reckon? Maybe I should just correct it without explaining and revel in its amusement value.


On getting one of my classes to brainstorm famous adventurers from fact and fiction, one named 'Mickey Mouse'. See what I'm up against?


Seriously though, I adore the kids I'm teaching. Considering how much is riding on them passing their courses and particularly their IELTS (they all want to go to universities overseas next year, which they cannot do without a good pass in the IELTS), they are hard-working and really enthusiastic and I'm loving finding interesting and stimulating things for them to do. I teach IELTS listening and reading twice and do a couple of more general English courses. Every lesson is 90 minutes and I do a total of 9 of them over the four days. The time flies by!

And I'm starting to do really well with learning the 5,000 names - okay 52 names - which is also REALLY surprising me as I have such a crap memory for names normally.

I also still have my regular day on a Saturday in an eikaiwa (language school). I have awesome students on this day and an intensive class, so I'm really happy.

Unfortunately, because my hours are now on the lower side, I have to do some business classes - the 8am-9.30am one and two more in another place for two hours on a Thursday night. That's life. I understand why I have to do them. I just wish I didn't.....! Oh well.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


How to make pensioners smile: drop your backpack on the head of the businessman sitting in the priority seating area.

It was an accident. Honest! The damn thing just slipped out of my hands as I tried to put it on the overhead shelf on the crowded train.

Mr. Snoozy should be grateful it didn't weigh as much as it has done the rest of the week.

I apologized. He went back to sleep. End of. It took much longer for the pensioners to stop smiling about it though!

Oh, and two other things: I'm feeling more comfortable in the job already, which is cool AND I've booked my flight to Bangkok for Xmas (Laos/Cambodia trip) which is VERY cool. In all - a good day.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Well, that's two days now of the new schedule, and the first lessons of three of the courses I'm teaching. I've taken my own mug in, so that's out the way. I'm coping with the early mornings and grinning and bearing the sardine tinnedness of the rush hour trains. Okay, snarling a bit more than grinning, but as long as my iPod doesn't rundown on me, I'm sure I'll cope.

I feel like a new teacher in many aspects. Let's compare:

Old job - class size - 1 to 6 students
New job - 13 in my smallest class, 20 in my largest

Old job - duration of class - 30 to 60 minutes
New job - 90 minutes

Old job - hours - generally from 12pm to 9pm
New job - from 8.30ish to 4.30ish. Different times on different days.

Old job - ages - from toddler to pensioner
New job - 18-20 year olds.

Old job - sitting around a square table or on the floor
New job - sitting on a stool at the front of the class looking at rows of students

Old job - clothes - pretty much whatever
New job - I have to iron shirts!

Old job - I tended to know exactly what I was doing. And was a good improviser when I didn't
New job - I'm still treading water and trying to figure out which direction the shore is in!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

First Day

Awesome! Loved it!

I started the new job in the college today and really enjoyed it. I had three 90-minute sessions with the same group of 18-20 year olds - EIGHTEEN OF THEM! It was certainly VERY different from what I've been doing for the last three years, which consisted of mainly chatting to students or trying to keep them under control. Okay, I'm kidding - but it certainly felt that way a lot of the time.

All my college kids are hoping to go to university abroad next year, so they're pretty motivated. How they'll survive is another thing as a lot of them are wanting to do pretty tough courses.

Anyway, I loved the kids I had today. And yes, I would consider this bunch to be kids. They were surprisingly (for Japanese students) a lot more talkative than I'd expected them to be which was great - or every pairwork or group activity would have fallen on its face. And they were nice students and seemed to be enjoying the sessions.

For a highish level group though, I was a tad surprised at their lack of basic English grammar knowledge - things like using the past simple or past continuous were flummoxing them - really basic stuff.

The sessions flew by though. For me anyway, I hope it did for them too. I'm glad I overplanned the lessons. I abandoned a few of the activities I'd planned, but not too many. There was just no way of gauging before teaching them how long things would take.

I didn't enjoy the rush hour train in the morning but that's life! My biggest problem of the day was the stool I had to sit on. Or rather, perch on. My feet were KILLING me by the end of the day. I'm used to sitting when I work! And the stool had a life of it's own, I swear. Every time I moved away from it, it seemed to readjust its height, which meant I spent a lot of time discretely trying to readjust the bloody thing.

Oh. And I used someones mug. Being the new girl and all, nobody told me that people took their own mugs in and I used someone else's - they were very quick to point this out to me - so I poured my coffee away and washed it for them and felt right properly told!

And I was so knackered I crashed at 10pm. Except now it's 4.40am and I'm wide awake. GAH!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nearly There....

So, as I sit in my room, surrounded by bunches of flowers stuck into pint glasses, wine bottles, plastic jugs and oasis, I am thinking that it's perhaps time to get a vase or two. I'm also wondering about the pile of scarves I've been given. This being, apparantly, a fairly traditional goodbye gift. Then there's all the cookies and cakes, the bowl, the cards and letters from the kids, the photos in the frame, the offer of free Japanese lessons from a Japanese teacher... and the beautifully wrapped gum guard.

Three leaving days down, one to go. And the day after tomorrow I start the new job. How do I feel? Excited. Very very excited. And nervous. Bloody nervous. But mainly excited. And I still can't quite get over how lucky I feel to have been handed this opportunity. I really hope I can live up to what's being expected of me. I think I'll be able to pull this off, but I've never done anything like it before.

Not to belittle what I've been doing for the last three years, as I've been on a slow but steady learning curve and have felt my teaching slowly getting better, but I feel that what I'm about to do is going to BE real teaching. Much of what I've been doing for the last three years has been, if I'm going to be totally honest, about entertaining, babysitting, fueling a hobby, helping people pass the time, giving people something to do.

Don't get me wrong: I have loved most of the teaching I've been doing, but it's not really been brain surgery and hasn't been really pushing me as far as I've wanted to be pushed.

So far everything (apart from the early mornings and rush hour trains) just feels so right about the new position. I just hope I'm right about this!

Oh and I nearly started crying when my five 4-year olds each solemnly walked up to me after the lesson and presented me with an identical pink flower and a note each..... But then I spend half of 'X-Factor' crying. Just call me pathetic.

Oh, oh and I got hit with a horrible cold a couple of days ago but have fought viciously against it, dreading the thought of starting the new job on Friday feeling like cack and snuffling. I think I've won! Must have been all that vitamin c from the fresh grapefruite I drank tonight (with shochu naturally).