Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New GReeeeN video and song

I really like the J-Pop group GReeeeN.

They were uber-popular while I was teaching at Jr High schools a few years ago, and I think they're still popular with Japanese teens, altho I haven't heard anything about them in a while.

Until I saw this new song of theirs on YouTube today.

Unfortunately, in the song seen below, they are mostly back-up for an annoying "tarento" named "Bekki." I believe she's half-Japanese and half... something not-Japanese, which perhaps explains her un-Japanese name, altho it could just be a stage name.

GReeeeN is made up of 4 dental students who never appear on camera so you can see their faces in their videos or on their album covers, etc.
But I thought they were going to give that up when they graduated from Dental School. Oh well, I hope they bring out a new CD in 2011 - I enjoy their music.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

2 cents in 2 minutes - Episode #3 - Sumo scandal & role models

The latest installment of my new series - 2 Cents in 2 Minutes.

I discuss the recent Sumo "yaochou" scandal and talk a little about role models.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Another Valentines Day comes and goes

It's V-day today, and boy is it cold.

Started snowing at lunch today and I'm back under the kotatsu all the time
at home just trying to stay warm.

Can't wait to get back to San Diego in a few weeks and enjoy either
the warmer temperatures or the benefits of insulation and central heating.

For Valentines Day today I offer the following random bit of trivia
from my Peanuts page-a-day calendar:

"Trite but true, flowers bring a smile to a woman's face.
That's what a 2005 Rutgers Univ. study showed.
All study participants smiled when given flowers.
Gifts of fruit, candy, and candles did not elicit even a grin from some of the recipients."

Speaking of Peanuts, my all time favorite comic strip, I feel a little like Charlie Brown on V-day. He and I share a horrible track record in the love department.
It's been 8 years since I had a "valentine" and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Oh well, there's always sumo coming up... (what? they canceled the basho? *sigh*)

who got beat in bowling by a guy from Ireland and a girl recently - oh the shame!

Random additional trivia:
Five Frequently Misspelled Words

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Found in Translation -- Valentine's Day

Fun little video explaining how Valentine's Day is slightly different in Japan.

He leaves out one category that is common in Jr High and High School - tomo choco or tomodachi chocolate, which is girls giving chocolate to their female friends.


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Japanese Girl Explains Spiderman

The same Japanese girl who explained Titanic is back,
this time explaining the first Spider-Man movie.


March 2011 Sumo Tournament Canceled

I've been reporting on this most recent scandal to hit the world of Sumo on my all-Sumo channel on YouTube.

Below is the video I made on Feb. 4th when the news first broke and above is my reaction to the news that they are canceling the March tournament in Osaka.

As a big fan of the sport of Sumo, this is really a bad development, with face-saving measures taken by the JSA (Japan Sumo Assoc.) board seeming to hurt Sumo fans more than helping us continue our enjoyment of the sport.

Match-fixing, or "yaochou" in Japanese is not illegal, and it has long been suspected in the lower divisions of Sumo, but this is the first time they have solid proof it has happened.
Americans like myself are a bit immune to less-than-honorable goings-on in our major sports, but it usually doesn't diminish the love of the sport itself, and my guess is the same will hold true in Sumo.

I am eager to watch the next basho, and I sincerely hope that they get all this worked out before the May tournament in Tokyo.


Japanese students - make a vlog!

Practice makes perfect. This is a phrase you hear often in America.

It's a cliche, クリシェ , but it's true too.

You'll only get better at speaking English if you practice and don't worry too much about making mistakes.

The great thing about making a vlog is you can edit out some mistakes and try again if you really mess up.

Take the young woman in the video below.
A friend on YouTube recommended her channel - she's in high school in the UK
and studying Japanese on her own.
So she doesn't have a lot of chances to speak Japanese in England - there just aren't that many Japanese people around where she lives.
So she speaks Japanese into her camera and puts it on YT, and adds subtitles in English and Japanese as well.
It's really good practice and also brave, because sometimes you get bad comments on YouTube. But most people support her and try to encourage her to keep trying and making videos.

Can you make a video like this where you speak English for 3 minutes?
Why don't you try?


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Impact of JET alums felt in Japan-US relations


Here’s a great article that just appeared in The Mainichi Daily News titled “Returnees of English-language program key to Japan-U.S. ties.” Notably, the article quotes several JET alums who are established foreign policy experts including:

* Michael Auslin – Director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
* Ben Dolven – Current director of the East Asia division at the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Congress’ official think tank
* Michael Green – Head of Japan Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former head of the Asia team under President George W. Bush’s National Security Council (Note: Michael was a “Monbusho English Fellow (MEF), a precursor to the JET Program.)
* Andrew Ou – Currentlyworking in the U.S. Embassy’s political section

Here’s a link to the article

Here’s the text of the article:

Returnees of English-language program key to Japan-U.S. ties

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) — When current participants in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program gather, the discussion often focuses on English teaching methods. When the program’s U.S. alumni get together, however, talk often turns to a weightier subject: U.S. foreign policy towards Japan.

Since the program was established in 1987, it has brought tens of thousands of young Americans to Japan to engage in cultural exchange, with a focus on teaching English.

Although the program has an uneven track record when it comes to improving Japanese students’ English, it has quietly and unexpectedly become a powerful tool for achieving another objective: grooming the next generation of American leadership in U.S.-Japan relations.

Michael Auslin, a former participant of JET and prominent Japan expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said recent attacks on the program by the Japanese government’s budget screening have focused on the quality of its English teaching, while ignoring a more important feature as one of Japan’s most valuable tools for conducting “public diplomacy” both with the United States and other countries.

JET’s success in this regard is perhaps best demonstrated by the number of former JETs occupying Japan-related positions in both the academic field and the U.S. government. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo alone employs 25 former JETs, and JET returnees have done Japan-related work at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

“The JET Program created a fairly large cadre of people who had Japan experience,” says Ben Dolven, a former JET and current director of the East Asia division at the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Congress’ official think tank.

“You’ve got a core of people who have had this experience all over, who are now part and parcel of U.S. policymaking on Japan,” he said.

Dolven’s point is illustrated by an anecdote told by Michael Green, the head of Japan Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former head of the Asia team under President George W. Bush’s National Security Council.

Green, who participated in a precursor to the JET program, was tasked with putting together a group to examine how the 2001 election of Junichiro Koizumi as Japan’s prime minister might affect its relations with the United States.

The task force consisted of Japan experts from various government agencies, ranging from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Treasury Department.

“The interesting thing about it was that you had all of these people from all of these agencies, who had been JETs…” or, like Green, had participated in similar programs in Japan, he said.

The group put together a set of recommendations that “became, in many ways, a blueprint for President Bush’s first meeting with Koizumi,” Green said.

Dolven said since JET program participants often work in rural areas, the program gives them a more nuanced view of the “real” Japan, a background that provides crucial context for better understanding the country and making informed policy decisions.

“There are lives being lived all over the country, and if you are just focused on Tokyo, you miss so much,” Dolven said.

Auslin also said that JET is probably the most successful, institutionalized, organized way to get young foreigners to obtain a deeper understanding of the “real” Japan.

This sentiment is perfectly embodied by Andrew Ou, a former JET now working in the U.S. Embassy’s political section.

While on the JET program 10 years ago, Ou developed a relationship with Ichita Yamamoto, now a leading figure in Japan’s main opposition Liberal Democratic Party. Ou cites this connection, as well as his JET experience with Japan’s local politics, as invaluable to his current work analyzing Japanese politics.

“You can’t put that into an equation and come out with a figure of how important it is for bilateral relations,” he said. But he believes that his own and others’ experiences on the JET program “add up to invaluable benefits for the U.S.-Japan relationship.”

Recent criticism of the JET program comes at a time when many scholars have observed an increasing tendency in Japan towards turning “inward,” contributing to what the Japan Center for International Exchange, a New York-based think tank, has called an erosion in the “the institutional base of U.S.-Japan policy dialogue and study.”

Ou finds criticism of the JET program especially disappointing. “I think as a group, JET alumni have a bigger impact on bilateral policy than any other,” he said.

And that is what makes it essential to “emphasize how important the JET program was and is for me and countless other diplomats,” he said.

(Mainichi Japan) February 5, 2011

Monday, February 07, 2011

Big America #2 - the IDAHO burger from McDonald's in Japan

Even tho I know it's not that good for me, I now eat at the small McDonald's in my town about three or four times a month.
I always, and I mean ALWAYS, get the same thing.

The Big Mac meal, or in Japanese - ze biggu maku setto.

Costs 630 yen if I get the L size cola, which would be a medium in America.

I've been eating Big Macs for more than 30 years now. Kinda weird when I think about it.
But just the other day I was at the Mickey Ds in my town when 4 of my college students came over to me (it's in a food court type setting in a mall) and started to chat. Two of them have never had a Big Mac before. "Too big," one of them said.

But they'd all just eaten the new burger - the IDAHO burger, part of Japan McDonald's new campaign of American style hamburgers that started off with the for-a-limited-time-only TEXAS burger.

The IDAHO burger has bacon and a big hash brown patty in addition to meat and cheese and sauce. It's looks pretty good, but I haven't tried it because I always get the Big Mac. There is nothing about the Big Mac I don't like except for the two pickles, which are easy to take off.
But the IDAHO burger has mayonnaise and I HATE mayo. And I always feel weird about asking for a "special order" at McDs. The ones in America just aren't geared up for special orders, like the way Burger King is. If you order a burger at a McDs in America minus one of the regular ingredients, you almost always have to wait for them to make it for you, while everyone else is eating their food already.

Anyway - if you've tried the IDAHO burger, let me know. I may finally try something different at a McDs for once.

The vid below is a YT friend who eats even faster than I do - believe it or not. He eats more than one IDAHO burger in this video - do you think it looks delicious?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Photo Essays of High School students in Japan 日本の高校生のフォトエッセイ

I stumbled across a cool website showcasing photography by Japanese high school students.
Prize-winning works in the “Photo and Essay Division” for high school students of the 31st Yomiuri Photo Grand Prix.

I plan to make a vlog on my YT channel about this and why I think it's so cool, considering the images Westerners are routinely bombarded with regarding HS students in Japan, but I thought I would share the link with you now.

Go HERE to see the prize winning entries from a few years ago.
Some of the text and stories are really interesting.

These are the basic guidelines for the contest, which does include a 300,000yen First Prize.
Introduce a high school friend you know well, expressed through a set of not more than five photographs and a text of 150 words in English or 200 characters in Japanese.

The site is bilingual - the above link is in English, but you can click to get 日本語。


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Setsubun (節分) Bean-Throwing Festival

Today is a holiday of sorts in Japan called "Setsubun."

It's a fun holiday (you don't get the day off tho), where you throw beans out your window and doors to ward off the evil spirits, and welcome good luck into your home.

Kind of like the English expression "Out with the bad, in with the good."

You can see a video I made in 2008 about Setsubun, where I participated in mamemaki at one of my elementary schools.

You can read all about Setsubun at this link to Wikipedia.

Have you ever done mamemaki?


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Who are JETs?

I often get asked what "kind" of person JET is looking for, or who has a better chance of making it into the program.

While there are certain traits and accomplishments all JETs shares, such as being a college graduate and having an interest in Japan, the JETs I met over my 5 years in the program were a very diverse group of young people from many different countries.

This is perhaps illustrated by this page showing the representatives and leaders of an organization called AJET.

AJET is the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching, and it's basically a group for all active JETs in Japan to have a way of communicating with each other and with the ministries in Tokyo that organize and oversee the JET Program.