Monthly Archives: March 2007

CROSS

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     On Tuesday of the 27th, I joined in a kind of reunion, which was a party for the people who had taken an English class of an Australian teacher at a university before, and about 10 people got together.

     We had the party at a Chinese restaurant named Cross in Sakae. I thought “Cross” sounded a little bit curious for a Chinese restaurant when I heard its name, but the real restaurant was more curious.

      Cross is on the 6th floor of a building in northern Sakae. It is quite dim inside the restaurant, where the room is carpeted throughout, and I almost tripped up on it. All the tables and the seats are low, and all of the seats are sofas. There is a piano and a bar counter, and no smell of Chinese food. Yes, it looks like a nightclub.

      What surprised me was not only the restaurant’s atmosphere but also the attendants. The one who came out when I arrived there was dressed in black: a black suit and a black shirt. His tie was maybe dark-gray and his hair was dyed light brown. He said, “Welcome” without smile and let me inside. Other staffs in black were standing there and they also said, “Welcome”, but I couldn’t see if they were smiling or not because it was too dim inside to know. Yes, they look like the ones at a club where male companions entertain women.

     You can enjoy smorgasbord there. You can select anything from over 40 kinds of Chinese food and eat them as much as you can eat for only 1980 yen. And you can enjoy a live performance by a musician who sings to his own piano accompaniment there. 

     I’ll introduce the participants at the party:

     K is a science teacher at a junior high school and is wise in social issues. He is the organizer of it that time.

     MS used to belong to a big international institution and she has a good command of language. She is now polishing her English skill because she is going to stay in Australia for while this year. Her daughter is getting married with an Australian man soon!

     Y is a cat-lover like me and an English teacher. She is supposed to teach English to kids at an elementary school this year. She is excited now because it’s the first time to teach there for her.

     R is stopping teaching English now but used to be a teacher. She is positive with learning English. She let her son, who is a high-school student, to study abroad last year.

     H just gave birth to a boy last October! She is also an English teacher and amazingly keeps teaching still now after birth.

     I think T is great because she studies English hard, taking care of her kids, husband, and a mother-in-law who needs nursing. She is not only into learning English but also many things! For example, seeing movies and plays and exhibitions etc…How does she manage all of them?

     MH loves cats and has one named Benz, and is a temp staff. She is supposed to work at a university from this spring. She studies a kind of psychiatry and English, working.

     YS is an English teacher at a junior high school. According to him, he started studying English when he was 40 years old, and he is now 55. His present aim is studying abroad be in office and makes use of what he acquired there in his classes.

      A is a young par-time worker. She studies English, working hard. Probably she would like to get a job where she can use English in the near future.

      I was really stimulated by them. It was not only effort at leaning English but also the way of life. They gave me much energy. Anyway I had a good time together with my friends at a curious restaurant!

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Whaling

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                                                  The other day when the big earthquake hit Japan I wrote about happiness, which was one of the topics of my second intensive course this spring. The course’s aim was improving expressing your opinion, and the topics were basically controversial issues: civil rights, women’s choices in Japan, Japanese sex life survey, whaling, Japanese happiness survey, middle age couples’ divorces, Japanese immigration policy, globalization, and Japanese constitution, and so on.

     I’d like to write about all of the topics, but I’ll need much time for each one. I don’t have that stamina. So I’ll write about only whaling among them because the topic was allotted to me for a presentation in the class.

     As you know, Japan used to one of whaling countries, but it’s stopped commercial whaling activities basically and formally since 1987. It’s because IWC (The International Whaling Commission) introduced the commercial whaling moratorium in 1982. About 70 countries join IWC now, and anti-whaling countries are USA, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. There’re some other countries which oppose to whaling for protecting whales from extinction, but they admit whaling under some condition.

     There’re 7 points at the issue mainly: Recourses, Conservation, Intelligence, Culture, Conflict between whaling and whale watching business, and Cruelty. About them, I’ll leave out. If you are interested in whaling issues, please check this page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling

     My position of the presentation in the class is: For whaling, Japan should appeal to other countries for understanding with scientific and specific evidence.

     ① Japan’s evidence isn’t persuasive.
              Japan asserts that there are many whales in the world and there’s no concern of extinction  at species. But the evidence is by own investigation and the way itself is unreliable.

     ② Japanese scientific whaling program is suspect.
              Japan asserts that killing whales is essential for some researches, for example, analysis of stomach contents is for studying the dietary habits of whales, and analysis of whale ear plugs is for knowing the whales’ age. But Japanese whaling is too many for these researches. It kills about 1000 or more whales a year. And there’s a fact that we can buy whale meat anywhere and anytime in spite of the time of the commercial whaling moratorium.

     ③ Japanese claim for whaling with the cultural background sounds fretful.
              Some aborigines for example in Greenland, Alaska or Russia are admitted whaling with restriction. It’s for cultural preservation. But Japan is excluded from the list. Why? Because Japan keep catching too many whales in the name of researches.

     Japan should ask other countries including opponents to survey the population of whales by species. And with the report, Japan should show the reasonable number of whales to catch a year for study and preservation of culture. If it’s revealed that there are plenty of whales still now, Japan may be able to appeal to international society for renew commercial whaling with restriction because the preservation environmental is more important for us.

     Some people often say, “Japan always refers to the word of culture, but it’s nothing but a plausible excuse. Japanese people started eating whale meat because oft he food shortage after World War II. ”

     Yes, it is true that whale meat became a primary source of food and protein Japan in the postwar 1940s and 1950s. But the history between whales and people in Japan started long time ago. Whales’ bones were excavated form some ruins of the Jomon period, which started about 12000 years ago. But it seems that people used whales adrift at that time.

     There are many monuments and festivals as tokens of people’s gratitude for whales near most of the fishing ports in Japan. In some area, whales used to be held memorial services for their souls as the same as people. And some parts of whale are used for Japanese mechanical dolls. It is said that whales has no parts thrown away. Those show historical and cultural relation between whales and Japanese people. Japanese government should appeal that point to international society more with stopping a mass whaling under the name of researches.

Happiness

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     Yesterday morning a strong earthquake with an estimated magnitude 6.9 rocked in central Japan. It was around 9:42 a.m.when I knew it was a quite big earthquake although I live in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture far from the hypocenter. I turned on TV as soon as the shake stopped. The TV said the intensity of the earthquake on the Japanese scale was over 6 in Ishikawa prefecture.

     I suddenly remembered about my second intensive course this spring when I saw the TV news. I was going to write here about Yasukuni Shrine Issue which had been a topic of my first intensive course entitled “Talking about Japan: Social issues”, but I’ll mention about it another day.

    My second intensive course was from the end of February to the beginning of March. The title was "Expressing Opinions Course". Why did I  remember about it when I was watching the news of the big earthquake on TV, then?

   Because the second course’s teacher, who is kind of controversial Australian, mentioned in the class that disasters in Japan might have something to do with low sense of well-being of Japanese people.

     According to a survey by Spa!, the magazine, in 2005, most Japanese young men aged 28-34 felt unhappier than others and had no hope for future. And Japan is 90th out of 178 countries for happiness in the World Map of Happiness produced by Adrian White, Analytic Social Psychologist at the University of Leicester last year (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-07/uol-uol072706.php) . Moreover, Japan had the largest proportion of 15-year-olds who feel lonely among some industrial countries by UNICEF report on child well-being in February.

     After World War II, Japan has enjoyed the big economic growth, recently it’s not been so much good though. People have blessed materially, but might not mentally. Fathers are busy with their business for their houses’ loans and kids’ school expenses and are not at house. Mothers also have to work hard and are tired of both of job and house chores. Children are really busy because they have to go to cram schools after school and take many lessons for example, playing the piano, swimming, and so on.

     It is said that children learn by imitating their parents in general. The parents, however, are exhausted themselves by hard work and often not home. Can children find bright futures before them when they see their parents like those, and besides they feel themselves also exhausted by their tight schedules?

     As you know, Japan is a country with frequent earthquakes and typhoons. We’ve had many of the dead and the wounded, and victims who lost family and friends and household effects by those disasters. I think when people have something to protect, they’ll have fear of losing them.

     How can people picture their bright futures in the environment like that people are too busy, and there are many disasters as like earthquakes, eruptions, typhoons or other recent abnormal weathers? But it’s true that some underprivileged countries are ranked higher for happiness than Japan.

     People of today in Japan, especially children have been well endowed with a large variety of things since birth. In spite of that or because of that, many people may lose their zest for life.

      Japanese people love seeing cherry blossoms and firework displays. Both of them are loved because of not only their gracefulness but also their briefness. I think it has something to do with Buddhism. It might form the basis of most Japanese people’s behaviors and minds in which there’s sense of mortality and emptiness. I think the sense might have been carved in Japanese genes through the memories of many disasters. I’m wondering that that’s why people are sort of pessimistic…

Pachinko & North Korea

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     In general, gambling is banned in Japan except for municipally operated ones as like horse races, bicycle races, motorcycle races and boat races. Pachinko, however, is regal.

     Do you know Pachinko? I hear it was born in sometime after World War II here in Nagoya. It’s like a pinball game with small iron balls. If you can succeed in fall your balls into certain windows of the machine, you can get more balls. You can exchange the balls for something according to the amount of them. You can also get money with the balls.

  As I mentioned, gambling is basically banned, but there’s a loophole. After the game, you exchanged the balls for something like a token, for example, a pen or something. If you take it to a small exchange place nearby, you can exchange for cash there. Pachinko parlors cannot pay you cash under Japanese law, that’s why they pay money outside.

     So, do you know about 70 to 80% of pachinko parlors are related to North Korea? In “Talking about Japan: Social issues” course, I studied it as well. It is said that there are about 16.000 pachinko parlors in Japan and about 70 to 80% of them are ran by ethnic Koreans. According to “Pinball Wizards” written by Eric Weiner in 2003, Pachinko business’s annual revenue is roughly $250 billion. And much pachinko money are sent to Pyongyang.

     According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachinko), the “official” sum of remittances to North Korea from Japan was 3 billion to 10 billion yen in 2005. The figure doesn’t include the pachinko revenues.

     The big pachinko money is connected with Chongryon (The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) which is an organization for ethnic Koreans residents of Japan, has close ties to North Korea. Seo Man-sul, the chairman of Chongryon and five other senior Chongryon officials are also memebers of the North Korea’s parliament.

     Chongyron is North Korea’s de facto embassy in Japan because there is no diplomatic relations between the two countries. Japanese government also regards it as a kind of embassy and has exempted Chongryon from taxes by diplomatic immunity.

     About 3500 pachinko parlors belong to an organization so-called the chamber of commerce and industry of ethnic Koreans residents of Japan affiliated to Chongryon. And it seems that Chongryon itself owns about 40 pachniko parlors.

     There are many problems between North Korea and Japan as like abductions issue, weapons and mass destruction (especially nuclear weapons) issue, missile test and so on. North Korea frightens not only Japan and also various countries. Japan, however, is a hotbed for them. Many people hooked on pachinko may invest their energy and money in helping North Korea again today.

Immigrants

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     The second topic in the course “Talking about Japan: Social issues” was about immigrants. As you know, the number of immigrants in Japan is increasing. According to the Immigration Bureau of Japan (http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/index.html), it is 2.011.555 in 2004, when it is the first time to be over 2 million. It is 47.7% increases in number in these 10 years. And the rate of immigrants in Japan is 1.57%.

     The biggest population of immigrants is Korean, they are about 600.000 and the rate is about 30% among all immigrants. The second biggest is Chinese and the rate is about 26%. After that, Brazilians (15%), Filipinos (9%), Peruvians (3%), Americans (2.5%) and others come.

     The prefecture which has the largest number of immigrants is Tokyo and the rate is 17.3%. Thereafter, Osaka (10.5%), Aichi (9.7%), Kanagawa (7.5%), Saitama (5.2%), Hyogo (5.0%), Chiba (4.8%), Shizuoka (4.6%), Kyoto (2.7%), Ibaraki (2.5%) come. Those 10 prefectures account for about 70% of immigrants in Japan.

     As you know, Tokyo is the capital of Japan and has about 12 million people, which is about 10 % of Japan’s population, and has the largest GDP of any metropolitan area in the world. If you add surrounding prefectures to Tokyo, it is an area so-called the Greater Tokyo Area. It includes Kanagawa (4th), Saitama (5th), Chiba (7th), Ibaraki (10th) and has about 35 million people. Tokyo has the mainstay of society. That is, it has many departments and ministries of the government, and many head offices of the major industries.

     Kanagawa is the fourth largest commercial area. It has three big ports and is very important for foreign trade. It also has many major industries for Japan’s economy as like: Nissan, Fujitsu, NEC, or Cannon. It has American military bases and Japanese Defense Force bases, too. Saitama has many departments of the government and some major industries like Honda, but it’s more like a commuter town. Chiba has Narita National Airport and Makuhari Messe, the convention center, it looks like an international city. It has many laboratories, universities and other schools, and head offices of some major companies and major industries like Aeon, Seiko, Sharp, Fujitsu, NTT. Ibaraki is one of the best agricultural areas in Japan because of the warm climate, and is also one of the biggest industrial areas and a school zone because of the location which has many ports, rail ways and roads. It has many industries like Hitachi, Sumitomo Metalworking, Cannon, Intel, Nestle, Mitsubishi Chemical, NEC, Daikin, Matsushita and so on, has many food industries like Kirin Beer, Asahi Beer, Coca-Cola, QP, Kagome and so on, and many pharmaceutical companies like Kyowa-Hakko, Astellas, Tsumura, Banyu and so on.

     Osaka is the second largest prefecture after Tokyo with a population of about 8.815.000 people. The area which is added Hyogo and Kyoto to Osaka is called Greater Osaka Area and it has roughly 15 % of Japan’s population. The gross prefecture product of Osaka for the fiscal year 2004 was ¥38.7 trillion, second after Tokyo. Osaka is a strong point for Japanese economy because it has some important ports and airports. It has a big industry area called Sakai-Semboku Industiral Region, which has many major industries like Nippon Steel, Hitachi Zosen, and Kubota and so on. There is another big industry area called Hansin Industrial Region laid across Osaka and Hyogo, which has many industries like Nippon Steel, Sumitomo Metal, Kobe Steel, Mitsui Chemicals, Matsushita, Sanyo, and Mitsubishi and so on.

      Aichi is supported by the world’s second largest automaker company, Toyota Motor. It is also the eighth largest company in the world with revenue of $179 billion last year. So Aichi has many related industries to Toyota, too. Shizuoka is famous for a tea-producing district, but is typical secondary sector of industrial area, which has many plastic model companies like Tamiya, many pulp and paper industries like Oji and Mishima, many musical instruments industries like Yamaha and Kawai, and many motor bike industries like Yamaha and Honda, and also a big motor industry, Suzuki.

    The reason that many immigrants are in those areas is obvious. Those industries need labor. It’s natural that people gather to the places where you can make money. It may not too much to say that Japanese economy is supported by those immigrants.

     Industries can have labor and immigrants can make money. It seems that the both of them look happy, but they aren’t. Probably many Japanese managers are complaining about their foreign workers, saying, “They are rude, aren’t diligent, aren’t punctual…” At the same time, workers is also complaining, saying, “We are working as same as Japanese workers, but the pay is cheaper than them! It’s unfair! We have to work harder than Japanese! The school doesn’t accept our kids! We cannot understand Japanese!” It’s a natural result that immigrants lose their zest for job in such bad working conditions. Yet most industries in Japan haven’t tried to make the working conditions better or to give immigrants enough for welfare and money. But they need and have to do soon because other countries also need labor. Human resources may become the most important imports from now on.

     But many companies hire foreigners illegally because they want to make wages as cheaply as possible. I mean they are hiring illegal or overstaying immigrants. Those immigrants put up with bad working conditions, cheap pay, or other problems without complaining because they are afraid of the discovery of their overstaying and so on. If it’s revealed, they must go home by force. If major industries accept immigrants with better working conditions, those immigrants have still many problems. The government and the educational world don’t accept them.

     The government’s stand is: There is policy for immigration control in Japan, but it’s not social policy, not for accepting immigrants. We never accept immigrants as permanent residents when they enter to Japan. If we give immigrants the right of permanent residence, it’ll be just on the occasion when they have stayed for a fixed period of time and they meet their requirements. That means that Japan don’t accept immigrants. But the government won’t be refuse the fact that Japan is lack of labor soon.

     Immigrants have problems in educational world, too. Most schools in Japan usually don’t accept immigrants because they don’t know what to do. But some schools in the area which already has many immigrants have accept. They couldn’t wait for the government’s movement. But Fundamental Educational Low has no words for immigrants still now. It means that it’s very difficult to have proper education for immigrants and their kids in Japan.

     Japanese national isolationism have sill continued.

Bullying

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     The first topic in the course ( http://moshimoshimo.spacs.live.com/blog/cns!1D0F2197A6F55843!1125.entry) was “bullying”. Recently bullying, especially in schools, has been a big problem in Japan. Last year, many (at least 30) children killed themselves because of bullying. Although it’s obvious that there are many bullying in the educational world, many teachers and schools don’t admit the fact still now.

     What is worse that some teachers themselves bully students in some cases. Last year it was revealed that a teacher bullied one of his students with them and let him die. The child hanged himself in the shed of his house. His teacher’s bullying was found out by his suicide note. In front of his coffin, his parents cry out to the teacher, “What did you do to my son?” The teacher muttered to them that he might have teased him.

     What is the differences between teasing and bullying, then? According to Diana Townsend-Butterworth, it seems that teasing becomes bullying. http://content.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=1438The conclusion is also quoted but the article says:

     What Bulling Is

     Unfortunately, teasing is often part of growing up – almost every child experiences it. But it isn’t always as innocuous as it seems. Words can cause pain. Teasing becomes bullying when it is repetitive or when there is a conscious intent to hurt another child, says Merle Froschl, CO-Director of Educational Equity Concepts, a non-profit organization that addresses issues of teasing and bulling. Bulling includes a range of behaviors, all of which result in an imbalance of power among children. It can be:
    
*Verbal: making threats, name-calling
    
*Psychological: excluding children, spreading rumors
    
*Physical: hitting, pushing, taking a child’s possessions

     Why people sometimes bully others, then? I found an interesting article on the Chunichi, the newspaper yesterday morning. Because the article is written in Japanese, I’ll translate into English. The title is Live with bullying.

     They are usually still, but suddenly stand up and start threatening when they get excited. They are Cobras at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo. Their one of feeds is blue-green snakes. Cobras swallow them up.

     Why people bully others? Prof. Takada (Hamamatsu Medical University) says, “Bullying is caused by being out of control of the reptile brain.”

     The brain of human beings consists of triple structures. Takada says, “Human-beings had added new brains to the old ones in the process of evolution.” According to him, the oldest brain is the brainstem. It’s called “the reptile brain”. It’s covered by the cerebral limbic system so-called “dog and cat brain”. And it’s covered by the cerebral neocortex, which is called “human brain”.

     According to Takada, “reptile brain” is also called “the brain of life” and necessity for breathing or beating of the heart. And the brain tries to keep own territory, and attack and remove enemies. “Dog and cat brain” also attacks others, but it’s only when it regards people or creatures as enemies. And then “human brain” can forgive even enemies.

     Takada thinks that people sometimes become aggressive and bully someone when these three brains become unbalanced. “Reptile brain” and “dog and cat brain” are primitive and sometimes drive the newest brain and let people lose control.

     According to Takada, the three brains become unbalanced when the person is tired, or is irritated or has no self-confidence. And the key is serotonin, which is related to mental condition. Takada says, “Anyone has “bullying brains”. Bullies are not special. So we have to think how we keep balance of the brains.”

     Another specialist, Prof. Kubota (Nihon Fukushi University) has a different view. According to him, bulling is caused by ecstasy, not impulse or instinct. He says, “People repeat something including bullying because the brains feel pleasure when they are doing it.”

     Midbrain has neurons called A10. When the part activates, many areas, for example, prefrontal area, and motor area also activates by secreted dopamine. And when those areas activate, dopamine is more secreted and it causes A 10 to activate more. It’s the circulation of pleasure. That is, when people bully someone continuously, the brains of the bullies feel pleasure.

     Prof. Kubota shows a hint. “If you are angry to the bullies, saying “Stop bullying! “, your words will be useless, when their brains feel pleasure. You should praise them when they are not bullying anyone and let them feel pleasure.

     I think the reason why people bully someone because that the bullies try to release their stress and other complaints by feeling pleasure. Unfortunately, there is much stress and many problems in Japan, people don’t feel happy so much. Japan is one of the richest countries in the world, though. Bullying problem shows our weakness in the society and is nothing but one of phenomena in the social problems.

The Meaning of Learning English

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     This is a cliché, but I’ll use it: Time flies! What date is today? It’s March 19th! I’m going to write what I did a full month ago…

     I often join in some intensive courses on spring or summer vacations at a university. I was in an English class of the intensive courses on February 19th. Each course has 5 days: from Monday to Friday, and each day has two hours classes: from 10:00 to 12:10 (including a 10-minute break time).

     The class had 10 students, and I had already known 8 of them. That is, only one person was new for me. I had known the teacher, who was a little bit big American man, as well. I was able to study in the relaxing atmosphere because most of my classmates and the teacher were familiar to me.

     The course’s theme was “Talking about Japan: Social issues”. Sounds difficult, eh? Yeah, it was for the request for participants. The course description suggested having as much English ability as over 400 scores on TOEIC. The topics were bullying, Immigrants in Japan, North Korean issues, Controversy on Yasukuni Shrine, and so on.

     Anyway, the most important thing when you have to speak English is what you want to say or what you think about, not the English ability, I think. Many of my friends say to me, “If you speak English fluently but you don’t have any idea for the topic, your English ability is useless.”

     I studied many things through the class this time. I thought it was necessary for me to study English hard and to know many things all over the world. If you cannot talk about something in even Japanese well, you won’t say anything about it in English. And you know, it has a limit to widen your knowledge by reading or listening in only Japanese.

     I’m going to write about each topic of the course next time.