Friday, August 21, 2009

Memo: English Teachers in Japan

Here is my cultural memo to those folks teaching English in Japan...I know, I know, you are really hip to the history and culture of Japan, and you don't need some guy named Mr. Kato to tell you what to do, but just please listen up for a second.

Until you've read the novel "Silence" by the Japanese Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo, then you don't know much about Japan. To understand Japan, you should understand what happened when Christianity began to get a foot hold in feudal Japan.

Now I know, you're a free-spirited, Zen-loving, (maybe even an athiest too) who doesn't judge the world or do an imposing - and becasue of your progressive outlook, you might even think that anything Christian or Catholic is simply some theological manifestation of "The Man" that always cut into your fun....but you'd be wrong to think so.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Japan in the Summer

How is the weather in Japan? Hot and humid I imagine. I, Mr. Kato (now referring to myself in the third person), am really happy that I'm away from the humidity and the cicadas of summertime Japan.

How's everybody doing as we enter the dog days of August?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Japanese Government to Send English Teachers Home

In a dramatic move yesterday, Japanese secretary of Labor Kaz Saito said that the Japanese government will pay to send English teachers of Ango-Saxon descent back to their country of origin. The initiative comes as Japan is paying unemployed Brazilians to go back to South America instead of going on welfare.

Details are sketchy, but English teachers who are at least 34% Anglo-Saxon or have an O positive blood type, will receive $3,000 for a plane ticket home. While English teachers haven't lost jobs in the way that Brazilian automotive workers have, the Japanese government is anticipating the eventual abandonment of the whole "learn English project in Japan."

English teachers from Canada, the U.S., Britain and Australia gathered in the streets of Roppongi for a short time, but quickly dispersed and passively retreated to izakayas to have drinking parties and "work off the stress" in an appropriate way.

"I'm in a state of shock," said Bill Jones, 28, from Milltown, Ohio. "In Japan I'm a pretty cool guy and everything, but back home I'm just an unemployed guy who knows nothing about football."

Prime Minister Aso ducked the issue at a press conference, but an anonymous government source said, "It's been admitted that English is a western force that we are sometimes uncomfortable with. Some in the world say we don't speak English very well. This, however, will prove to the world we don't speak English at all!"

Prof. Akihiro from Tokyo University saw the measure as a kind of long-overdue reform in Japanese culture. "In some ways it's a reversal of the whole Commodore Perry phase of Japanese history," he said. "Japan needs to learn more about itself by looking carefully at the Tokugawa period. " He emphasized that the constant fuss about English made the Japanese people feel somewhat inadequate, even nervous.

It's expected that those handful of Japanese people who are still interested in learning English, will have to fly to South Korea or China to find native English speakers and English schools. In contrast to the Japanese, Koreans and Chinese have embraced the idea of learning a lingua franca that gives them a powerful tool for interacting with the world.

"I think you'll find that when the dust settles," said Prof. Akihiro, "Japan will survive without English. You may recall that French was the language of the 18th century, but nobody in Japan knew a word of French then. We were okay just keeping to ourselves, perhaps the world will leave us alone once more."

(The above piece, of course, is satire.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring Snow in Japan's Ishikawa Prefecture

Here is the evidence of a late-spring snowstorm about ten days ago in the village of Kashima in the Noto Peninsula area of Japan's Ishikawa prefecture. Needless to say there were no Sakura (cherry blossom) sightings that day.

Japanese Pay to Send Brazilian Immigrants Home

Of all the countries in the world, Japan is the last country that should be paying anyone to leave their soil. With a declining Japanese population and an increasingly insecure financial future, Japan should be finding a way to keep Brazilians and other South American immigrants in the country, even if they have to have them "on the doll" for a bit.

Japan is now paying to send recently unemployed South Americans of Japanese ancestry back to their country of origin, because they don't want to pay for their social welfare, and its very important to the Japanese that these contract or "temporary" workers get the ax long before any full-time salaried Japanese worker does. Fair enough...Yet this goes right to the heart of Japan's long-term resistance to a racially-integrated society, along with its attempts to maintain a rigid social stability no mater what.

Michael Zielenziger argues in his excellent book Shutting out the Sun that Japan will face a slow and inevitable economic, political and cultural decline if it doesn't take action on the following three items:

  • Open its borders to skilled immigrants who can help increase the sagging population, fill valuable employment vacancies and contribute to the tax base
  • Allow foreigners to invest in Japanese companies
  • Begin to teach English like you mean it (the way English in Japan is taught is a joke and everybody knows it); Fresh from a recent visit to Japan it seems that the country's English ability is actually in decline right now
I don't know if these goals are even remotely possible while the main players in Japanese culture refuse to engage in any reflection, openness or even to admit mistakes. I believe that Mr. Zielenziger is right in his recommendations - yet so what? Neither he nor I are Japanese, and its the Japanese themselves who will have to change.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Japan's Communists on Piracy in Somalia

Japan has agreed to send navy ships to the coast of Somalia to help combat pirates who are attacking cargo ships. This is good. Japan needs to do more of this. If you are a first-world nation that benefits from international trade, you need to help keep shipping lanes safe. Yet Japan's communist party doesn't see it that way.

A statement from our Japanese comrades:

"Japanese Communist Party Chair Shii Kazuo at a news conference on January 8 expressed opposition to the move to establish a new law to send a Self-Defense Force unit to waters off Somalia ostensibly to take part in anti-piracy operations to protect Japanese ships. "

"Ostensibly" to take part in piracy options? So this is all a ruse? I suppose Japan is really planning on colonizing east Africa. I see.

Our friends in red continue:

"The government has never attempted to dispatch a military vessel overseas for policing activity under the Self-Defense Forces Law. Shii said, 'Piracy is a criminal act that should be solved through police activity. It is wrong to call for Japanese warships to be deployed abroad.'"

Yes, piracy is a criminal act. Correct. So what's your point? This should be handled by Somalian policemen? Should we send Tokyo street cops in fishing vessels to handle things? If you thought that mainstream Japanese politicians were lost, you can take heart that the communists are really confused. Japan is trying to act like a responsible global citizen here, and forces within the country want Japan to stick its head back in the sand. Not good.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

North Korea to Launch Rocket Over Japan

Here's one important consequence of the constant political instability of Japan - other nations stop taking you seriously. Case in point: North Korea has announced it will launch a satellite-carrying rocket that will cross Japanese air space, and then land in the Pacific.

This is a provocative move by the North Koreans, and we learn that Prime Minister Aso's reaction was:

"The prime minister stopped short of demanding further U.N. sanctions if North Korea goes ahead with the launch."

All he can do is say: "If you do this, I might think about telling the UN." We know from experience with Iraq and Iran, that the UN means nothing to a country like North Korea. The sad reality is that Japan can't do anything. It doesn't have the military, economic or political muscle to do a single thing.

China, now that's a different story. If China wanted North Korea to back down, they could do it.

Another sign that Japan is fading into Geo-political irrelevancy.