It’s that time of year again when my 3rd year classes finish and I have to say goodbye and wish them all well. I had a nice couple of classes this year so we took some group pictures. Here’s 3:2:
And here’s 3:3:
All in all, a very nice bunch of kids －and I told them that too. I’m not sure why most of the boys in the last picture are hiding themselves at the back… There’s no hiding my losing battle with the middle-age spread though. I’m definitely going to have to start running again. One student though seemed to find my burgeoning paunch most amusing.
Popped into my old school today (after an income tax form), and met some of my old students. I first taught them when they were noisy little junior high 3rd years and now they are senior high 3rd years talking excitedly about the study abroad program they will have at their university. Time’s arrow, eh? Actually they haven’t changed a bit. Scallywags. Many thanks to Matsui-sensei for taking the following picture. Left to right: Yurika, Tamami, ワタシ, Tomoko.
I was watching my Japanese colleague (and immediate superior) bollocking an arsey student today (on my behalf), and I couldn’t help but admire his awesome bollocking skills.
He was tenacious. Like a dog on a bone, he wouldn’t let it lie until the reluctant student had apologised.
He was tough and intimidating. He isn’t a big guy by any means, but you get a definite sense he could take down an elephant if his ire was raised. Nevertheless, like a true teacher, he never lost control.
His anger had eloquence. He cast quibbles, denials and excuses aside like chaff. Never at a loss for words, even when they erupted from his mouth in a furious torrent, he left the student speechless.
Obviously a lot of all that has to do with his personality. He’s a no nonsense kind of guy. But I couldn’t help thinking how cool it would be if I could speak angry Japanese like he can. How awesome would that be? What a pity they don’t give lessons in scolding, arguing and generally venting rage at Japanese language schools. It would be soooo useful (And so much fun to practice too!). Angry time is the one time when eloquence is really handy. Start stumbling and stammering over what you are saying, or use an innapropriate level of politeness and the force of what you are saying is entirely lost. Still, fortunately I’m now in a job where discipline is largely out of my hands. There are other occasions (which I’d better not go into) when it might be handy to be able to express onself like that though… Anyway, all praise to S_____-sensei and the Art of Angry Expression! Twas a beautiful thing to behold!
Here is something I’ve been meaning to post for a while. Last term we did a simple writing exercise where students would write down their dreams anonymously and then exchange them with another class for interpretation. An inordinate number of students had dreams about climbing steep mountains and then falling from cliffs at the top, or being swept away by rapid flowing rivers, or alternatively hurtling over and down waterfalls. It’s not too hard to figure out why. They are all facing a real uphill struggle to get into a good university and the fear of failure is obviously very profound. Like I said, that was the most common type of dream I came across. One student, (who I shall call “S”), however wrote down a dream that wasn’t just unique, it was pure golden AWESOME. I told the students to draw a picture of their dreams before describing them both to help them to clarify in their own minds what they were about to write about, and also to help whoever ended up reading the dream to underdstand it if the English wasn’t so clear. This was the picture “S” drew.
And this, verbatim, is what she wrote:
I had a stern dream. Can you analyze it for me? In the dream a predatory mickey from Disneyland. I met it stayed in my room. I said “Please take a picture with me”. Mickey said “ok.” In fact he was changed suddenly. The mickey was predatory animal. Lovely mickey was commercial face. I was very surpriced. He had a sauce. I was obliged to take a his face. He was opposition. However, I can rob his face. He content alien. It was very mysterious! What do you think it means?
Wow, eh? Please note in the picture above that the predatory central Mickey is in fact carrying a bottle of sauce. A nice detail I think. Many thanks to S for allowing me publish her dream – and also for making my job that little bit more interesting.
View from the Sumitomo Building, Yodoyabashi, Osaka.
Happy moment: This evening, I’m sitting in Shichijo station waiting for my train and three girls I taught last year at my old school came through the gates. “Hello!” says I, and they said “OOOOHHHH!” and ran up to me in an obviously delighted fashion. I was delighted too. How nice of them to remember me and to chat with me for a while…
Later, in Osaka, I had a few minutes before my class arrived so I took the opportunity to snap the picture above. I’ve been teaching at the Sumitomo building off and on for about 4 years now. Those business classes have certainly helped me pay my way… But soon I’ll be finished for good. Only two more classes to go in fact. The students are nice enough. We are all around the same age and on pretty much the same wavelength. But I’ve had it with working evenings. And the paperwork.
1. I work with good people. Stirling people. They are not only fun to hang out with but they work hard and are keen to share ideas and to help each other out. They are totally awesome.
2. The school generally treats us pretty well. We all get our own computers for example. And the pay is pretty good. And then I get a twice yearly bonus on top of that. Just like a regular Japanese employee! This is the first time I’ve experienced this in 12 years of living and working in Japan. That’s awesome.
3. My students are friendly and interested in their subject. I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome that is.
4. I can get to work by bicycle in ten minutes from my house. (You see I live in an awesome area).
5. I work a long day and I’m really busy but it’s fulfilling. I actually look forward to getting to work in the morning. Even Monday mornings! And I have a lot of opportunity to think and create and do a good job. I really enjoy that. Being paid to make stuff is awesome.
6. I have a free period at the end of the day, four days out of five. I go into the gym with a couple of my fellow teachers and they show me how to use the machines and are now teaching me kick boxing too. And they are all nice and encouraging about it too. This job is good for my health and… it’s like I’m getting paid to train! How awesome is that?
7. Yesterday I learned that on top of the two weeks we get off at Xmas and the two we get off in the spring, we will be getting two months off in the summer – and (!) we have a two week autumn break!
Apropos of nothing, here are some pictures from a fun night we had out at Gnome at the weekend. Felicity Greenland and Tomoko Saito conducted a singalong style workshop of British and Irish songs. And sing we did! Here are the two musicians:
Here are (villainous) Ted and Mewby:
David and Yuki:
Myself and Mewby too:
Why Ted kept pointing at me and singing “Dirty Old Man” instead of “Town” I have no idea… There’s a video of a nice Gaelic song Siúil a Rúin up on Deep Kyotohere.
Hello. I hope you all had a lovely Easter with lots of eggy goodness. Today a delightful young chap from NTT came round and reconnected me to the interwomb with a nice new fibre-optic umbilical. I feel whole again. Lots of things have been going on. I’ve moved to a new place with mostly good aspects (spacious! convenient! 10 minutes from work!), and one slight drawback (the teeniness of the kitchen). I’ve had my bank account raided and emptied by Mr Tsujii of the National Health insurance bureaucracy (which was a wee bit scary till I actually went to see him and he was quite reasonable in his own way and everything turned out nice again…). I’ve started a new job where I have to bow to the school at the gates when I’m leaving and entering (which perversley I kind of like) and everyone gets their own computer (wow!) and the students are shy but very nice… I’ve attended a couple of entertaining hanami parties (pictures later – too tired now). I’ve watched the Doctor Who Easter special “Planet of the Dead” and thoroughly enjoyed it and think they should have brought that Bionic Eastenders lass on fulltime (but I expect her fee is in direct proportion to her levels of hottyness and so they can’t afford her). And last night I went to see Donal Lunny at TakuTaku with Mewby and Ted Taylor. If you don’t know who Donal Lunny is – go away. I expect Ted will be blogging about the show later as he was taking notes last night (did he find a better word than thwack I wonder?) but I’m going to add my two-pennyworth anyway. Here’s my review:
It was really good. Why weren’t you there?
Now I want to make my brother-in-law jealous with the picture below. I also put a nice video up on Deep Kyoto here. Here’s the picture
(left to right: Miu Takahashi, Ted Axl Taylor, Donal Lunny and Michael Lambe).
Many thanks to Mr. Lunny for taking a moment from the endless signage to have his picture taken with a bunch of strangers (such a nice man!), thanks to Miu for the lend of the camera (such a nice girl!), and thanks to Ted for the beer (he’s quite nice too).
I’ll be leaving Kyojo in the Spring and starting a new job, fulltime at Heian High School. It’s good to start something new after three years at Kyoto Girls’… but at the same time I’m going to miss a lot of the students. This week I’ve been saying goodbye to my first year students. I really liked these students and really enjoyed teaching them. I taught a lot of them before, when they were 2nd Grade Junior High and I was just starting at the school… so in a sense we’ve grown up together (ha ha). Here they are in the order I taught them this week. You can click on the pictures for a closer look. First 1:11:
Here’s a couple of things I found on the BBC tonight that I found interesting. A poll by Barnardo’s has found that more than half the UK population thinks children are no better than animals, so the charity has launched a video campaign against this “disturbing intolerance” of children. There’s no doubt there are a lot of cheeky young gits about on the streets, but the level of anger, fear and hate this seems to have induced is disturbing indeed:
At Barnardo’s, we want people to recognise that children who are troublesome and engage in antisocial behaviour are often those most in need of support. Our work demonstrates that the majority of children who start down the wrong path can be helped to change direction.LINK
Doubt it? Check out this video of an educational success story on the Seacroft Estate in Leeds LINK TO BBC VIDEO. It’s pretty impressive.
Around this time of year a lot of 3rd year students on the “escalator” system that takes them directly from our high school up to the associated university are busy writing up as part of their application a document explaining their hopes and aspirations for their further studies. Seeing one such student scribbling away at her first draft I engaged her in conversation. She’s taking “Modern Society” next year so I asked her if she was particularly interested in that. Not really, says she, in fact she’s taking it because it seems like the easiest course. So what do you want to be in the future, I ask, and she confesses she has little idea, except she knows for sure she doesn’t want to be a teacher. Why not, I ask.
“It looks really hard. I could never be a teacher.”
“Yeah, I thought so once too, ” said I.
It depresses me that so many students go on to university to spend four years of their lives taking a subject they have no interest in. Surely they’d be far better off studying something practical pertaining to their further career, at a technical college or vocational school. Why this need to waste four years of your life falling asleep in irrelevant lectures just so you can say you went to university? It’s a meaningless waste of an important time in your life… Why isn’t the educational system doing more to help young people truly discover what they are interested in and good at, and encouraging them to pursue that course, instead of forcing them down a predetermined path of tedium and mediocrity?
Anyway, later that day passing by the north entrance to the school I chanced to look at the chalkboard they have there. Ours is a Buddhist school, so they put up Buddhist messages there every month. Here’s what it reads this month:
michi wo motomeru
mayou koto mo
Which interpreted word for word seems to mean “If a path is not pursued, there’s no getting lost either”. Obviously this is not meant to be interpreted too simply, but still, what kind of message is this for young kids who are, right now, trying to find their path in life and need our help to find it? It’s better not to try because you can’t get into trouble that way? Surely not. It troubled me. So I asked Inoue-sensei what it might mean.
I was opening a can of worms…
Japanese people are very eager to help you if you ask them something. And the more difficult the answer, the more eager they become to help you, and in fact the more of them will gather to discuss the problem. Inoue-sensei is a a very nice chap but an English teacher, so he immediately called on Koike-sensei (a teacher of religion) to assist in explaining this troublesome message. Surely, I said, it can’t be saying that it’s better not to choose a path? Inoue-sensei (the English teacher) thought it meant that we shouldn’t rely too much on ourselves to choose a path but upon the Buddha. Even though we think we are living a good life, it is only the Buddha who can save us, and so by relying too much on our own judgement we are in fact lost and we aren’t living a good life at all. I wondered if the implicit message was that if we stick too rigidly to one way of seeing or doing or living, then we will inevitably get lost. That we should go with the natural flow of things a bit more. No, said Inoue-sensei, that’s not it. And he directed my attention to the following:
oujou wo togu
iwanya akunin wo ya
Even a good person
can attain birth in the Pure Land,
how much more easily an evil one!
Well, now I was really lost. What did that mean? This is where Koike-sensei, (teacher of religion) stepped in and taught me a few Buddhist history factoids. That last quote is from the 歎異抄 (Tannisho or Lamentations of Divergences) a short collection of dialogues between the Buddhist master Shinran and his disciple Yuien. Yuien wrote them down because he was upset about the ways in which Shinran’s teachings were being warped by his followers his death. Shinran founded the 浄土真宗 (Jodo Shinshu – True Pure Land School) sect of Buddhism (the sect to which my school belongs). Previously to Jodo Shinshu there was a school called simply 浄土宗 (Jodo Shu – Pure Land School) which places great emphasis on repetition of the celestial Buddha’s name as a practical means to attain salvation. Shinran taught rather that the chanting of the Buddha’s name should be an act of gratitude more than a means to an end, and placed more emphasis on being humble and thankful for one’s life. One of his central teachings was that we are so deluded by our desires that we cannot hope to save ourselves. Only the compassionate Buddha can save us. So in a sense it easier for those who accept that they are evil to attain salvation than it is for those who mistakenly believe that they are good.
Still with me? Well, having explained all that Koike-sensei pulled out another Buddhist quote for me to ponder, a kind of companion piece to the first. If you remember this was written at the north gate of our school:
If a path isn’t pursued,
there’s no getting lost either
Hadn’t I seen the message at the south gate? (There’s a message at the south gate?)
inai no ga
To be lost
and not notice it
is the very deepest
You see, said Koike-sensei, we are all lost in life. But those who do not realise they are lost are the most lost and the most deluded. In realising you have lost your way, you have a chance to find salvation by asking help of one who knows the way (in this case the friendly passing stranger would be Buddha). So maybe you do need to choose a path to realise this. In any case the teaching of Jodo Shinshu is that only the Buddha can help us and we should put all our faith in him.
However, on a side note, another writer added an addendum to the Tannisho that stated:
This Tannisho has very important teachings for Jodo Shinshu. But it should not be shown lightly to those who have not reached a mature understanding of Buddha’s teachings.
In other words, a little learning is a dangerous thing… People can so easily misinterpret religious texts, can’t they? Which begs the question, I suppose, why do they teach it to teenage girls? Or to me even? I imagine the majority of the teenage girls are not so interested anyway. I hear that as their teacher scribbles enthusiastically upon the chalk board, they are studying not so much what he writes but instead the way the hair grows thickly on the upper part but not at all on the lower part of his arm. Girls, eh? I am interested though and Koike-sensei seemed pleased to have a new student. A few days later he gave me this passage from the Tannisho translated into English:
Even a good person is born in the Pure Land, how much more so is an evil person! However, people in the world usually say, “Even an evil person is born in the Pure Land, how much more so is a good person”. At first sight this seems to be reasonable, but it is contrary to the purport of the Original Vow, of the Other-Power. The reason is that, as those who practice good by their self-power lack the mind to rely wholly on the Other-Power, they are not in accordance with the Original Vow of Amida.
Amida Buddha, the celestial Buddha, vowed you see, to devote his existence to the salvation of all sentient beings. Now, that was nice of him, wasn’t it? I’m not so interested in Buddhism as a religion to be honest, more as a way of thinking, as a common sense type approach to life. Neither do I believe in celestial powers, comforting though I’m sure their existence would be. But I think Jodo Shinshu’s emphasis on humility, and on gratitude for one’s life and also on compassion is important. Anyway, I enjoy thinking about and puzzling over these things. Expect more.