Walking race: blonde foreigner VS hapless Sagawa deliveryman

Who else out there is a fast walker? I wouldn’t call myself speedy Gonzales by any means, but I do tend to wind around the multitudes of people in downtown Kyoto, rather than matching their (glacial) pace. The main streets of Kyoto aren’t all that busy before ten AM, mostly thanks to the department stores not yet being open. It’s a great time to wander around, check out the cafes, and get a feel for the city.

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The laws of omiyage strike again! (It’s good to be a teacher)

Omiyage is such a confusing thing when you’re the person in the “position of power”, as it were. When you’re friends, or coworkers, it makes sense that there’s a balance between the both of you giving each other souvenirs.

“Ugh,” you groan while on the beach in Okinawa, “I have to buy chocolates for work or the Boss and everyone else will hate my guts.” So you drag yourself to the nearest souvenir shop, select the biggest, cheapest box of individually wrapped stuff you can find, and boom, done. And you’re perfectly content knowing that Tanaka-san in Finance is going to do the exact same thing, as is Rachel in HR and whoever else you deal with on a regular basis.

When it’s friends, of course, a bit more thought goes into it. “Fancy chopsticks! K-chan’ll like these.” “Ooh, a youkai-themed set of sweets? I know someone who’ll go for this.” And again, you’ll be content, because you know that those people also would pick out individual things for you based on what they know you like, so it’s all good.

But if you’re a teacher?

Pictured above are four different gifts: chopsticks from Vietnam, a snowflake from Germany, and tea and soap from Nepal. Each from adult students who apparently thought enough of me to get individual things for me while adventuring abroad.

How do you even respond to that?

I feel like omiyage gets complicated from here, because as a teacher, you’re of course already “giving” the students something- your time, your instruction, your advice, etc. And if you’ve made enough of an impact on their lives, they’ll get you gifts to thank you for what you’re doing for them.

However, at the same time, isn’t it natural that a teacher teach a student? It feels like you’re getting a “tip” in addition to what you’re actually owed–that is, the student’s time and attention to whatever you’re teaching. So I’m left feeling like I need to give something tangible in response.

And yet.

If you’re “higher up” as it were, what’s an appropriate gift? What works?

I’m sure those of you better versed in Japanese culture than I am are out there, rolling your eyes at my lack of understanding- and if you’re out there, please do advise! But here’s what I do to ease my conscience:

Bake goodies.

Nothing crazy- usually simple sugar or chocolate chip cookies. Something I can make without having to go to the store to get special ingredients.

This appeases my American tendencies to “feed people I like”, and the homemade cookies help me feel like they’re “worth” enough to give to the students. The cookies, while simple, still cost my time and attention, and that seems like an equivalent exchange to what they have been giving me.

I’m likely entirely wrong in my assumptions, but students have responded positively enough to the gifts thus far. Perhaps they’re enjoying my clueless American self (or at least the free food), but so long as nobody’s getting offended, that’s what’s important in my mind.

People who live and work in Japan, regardless of your choice of employment- how do you deal with omiyage? Do you not bother with it at all? Do you know every nuance to it? Are you in the middle like me, where you know omiyage is needed but don’t know where to draw the line? Let me know!

Revving the wadaiko engine

Yatai bayashi (屋台林) is a hard song to play, you guys. My group isn’t even learning how to do it at full speed and it’s still kicking our butts. I’ve mentioned before it’s a pretty traditional song. The beat can be repetitive to those who haven’t been exposed to it, and don’t hear it properly played. It can be boring, in fact.

Tonight, I got to see Taiko-sensei show us how he intends for us to play.

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Why I’m glad Taiko-sensei corrected me

In four years of taking wadaiko lessons, I can say that I’m pretty decent at picking up on what my Sensei is teaching us at any given moment. Granted, the teachers I’ve worked with have all been incredible and vivid in their imagery (many times humorously so). I will never forget the Ichigo Miruku rhythm one Sensei taught me, or how another taught me to compare a particular beat (dokko) to how a horse trots.

One thing I’ve noticed, however, is how rarely I’m singled out for correction.

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Let them talk

Hey guys. How’s your new year stuff going? Good? Terrible? Same! I’ve been doing quite good in the reading department, and have been exercising almost every day. Go me.

That’s not what I’m here to talk about. What I’m here to talk about is how I view English conversation lessons as they pertain to me.

Disclaimer: everyone teaches differently, especially when it comes to teaching a language. This is just my experience. Yada yada.

We good? Awesome.

So, since coming to Japan I’ve taught the gamut of ages, from toddling kidlets to folks who’d been retired for a decade or more. It’s been an interesting experience because every age group brings their own strengths and desires to the classroom, and you have to react accordingly. For kids I find that they react a lot better when we play a load of games- the more active, the better. For adults, helping them figure out how to share their political views can be challenging- especially when they’re voicing opinions about your country! 

Whatever the case though, when I see other teachers with students one thing kind of bugs me- how much the teacher talks about situations the students don’t understand.

Imagine you’re a beginner student hoping to pick up a second language for work or for an upcoming trip. You go into class and, in the target language, the teacher says, “Have you heard about [this conspiracy theory]?”

You shake your head, and thus begins a thirty minute lecture you can barely understand about something you can’t quite grasp. Wasn’t there a lesson for today?

Mind you, there are students out there that love that kind of thing. At the right level, they’ll get into it- asking questions, scribbling down notes, the whole thing.

But other times, you see their eyes glaze over as they politely nod along to the teacher’s words, waiting for it to be over.

If you’re new to teaching OR are used to teaching in a particular style, it’s easy for this to happen. Especially in a land like Japan where students are often taught in a lecture setting where you don’t interrupt the teacher- you let them do their lecture and if it’s not interesting to you, you wait it out by doodling, napping… The usual shenanigans when kids get bored.

I dunno about you but I feel pretty cruddy if a student falls asleep on me.

But let’s say you really want to share that conspiracy theory or that news about the celebrity or whatever. What can you do so they don’t roll their eyes and pull out a comic book?

Here’s what I find works:

Me: Hey student, did you read the news yesterday?

Student: [answers either yes or no; if yes, I press them about what they remember. Then,]

Me: What do you know about [topic]?

Student: [answers again. Sometimes they know all about it, sometimes they have no clue.]

Me: Well, according to the news [blah blah blah]. 

I give the student a chance to react, then ask them questions on the topic depending on their level of interest. If they’re keen we’ll go into more detail. If not?

I move on. I’ll save the topic for another audience.

Fellow conversation teachers, I get it. I really do. Teaching similar lessons day in and out can be super boring. But that’s why you get the students talking about what they like. If you only discuss what you’re into, you’re only going to bore yourself further. 

Let them talk. Let them practice. Let them share.

Let them learn.

You might learn something yourself in the process.

Travel 2017?

First of all, Happy New Year! Let’s hope it’s a happy one, anyway.

The other day I was talking to a coworker about “things we collect”. He was very into tangible things steeped in history that you can only find in Japan, and was telling me about how he was willing to spend a full paycheck (a month’s salary) to get whatever it was. Not my thing, but hey, someone’s gotta do it I guess. Anyway, he then stopped and said, “What do you collect?”

I had to think for a minute, and here’s why.

When I was living at home with the family, no question in my mind–I collected books. Novels, mainly, science fiction and fantasy being my usual choice. My bookshelves were filled and my desk was cluttered with them. When the time came to move, I boxed up several of them–but I also donated something like eight moving boxes’ worth to my local library. It was incredibly painful for me, because books were my “thing I collected”.

Then I moved to Japan, to a little two-room place that I adored but which had no built-in shelves and little counter space. I picked up three or four sets of small bookshelves over the time I’ve spent there, yes, and my collection has grown, but I don’t know that it counts as a collection in the same sense that he meant it.

For him, a collection was something he absolutely had to have, and was willing to blow all of his money on if necessary to have it. By that definition… books were not my “thing”. While I will happily wander into a Book-Off and pick up five books and then spend a week reading them all (oops), I will not spend more than five or six dollars on a given novel.

So then, what will I happily blow all my paychecks on?


It doesn’t even have to be anywhere special, but if given a choice between taking a cooking class in Seoul versus buying a fancy set of my favorite fantasy series, I’ll take the former any day.

The travel bug bit me when I was in university, studying abroad in Osaka for the first time, and it hasn’t left me alone since.

To that end, what does 2017 hold for me right now? Well, here are a couple things I’m considering:

  1. Traveling in Japan. I’m going to have a friend visiting me and, potentially, family. So I’m deciding where exactly I’d like to go with them. One potential place is Koya-san. Another is Okinawa.
  2. Taiwan. I’ve been there one time before, but am hoping to go again. Last time I was only able to go for three days- now I think I can devote a week to seeing new things and trying new food.
  3. One more place abroad. I haven’t decided where else I’d like to go, but I want to go at least three different places this coming year, and I’d like one of them to be entirely new to me. Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand… somewhere in Southeast Asia would be lovely, but I’m not setting the “where” in stone yet.

How about you? What are your travel plans or hopes for 2017? What do you collect?