Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Some seemingly unrelated topics...

Japanese license plates have a hiragana ideogram on the left and then 4 spots for digits on the right. My host brother says license plates with repeated digits or only one digit are indicators that the owner of the car is a yakuza. Every car I've seen that matches this description has been a large luxury sedan with darkly tinted windows. I'm not sure how accurate the yakuza theory is, but it's interesting at least.

I'm doing an independent study project on the Japanese metal (music) scene. It seems there is a big gaping void for scholarly sources on this topic, which is making things rather difficult. If anyone has any ideas for sources, I'd be thankful for the input. My small college here in Japan does not subscribe to any online databases, and I cannot access those of my home institution since I am not registered for classes there (which is irritating...).

Some Nagasaki related news: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2008425685_worldweek23.html

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nagasaki Peace Park pt.II

Various countries have donated monuments to the Nagasaki Peace Park in promotion of peace. I didn't get pictures of all of them, but here are a few:

Nagasaki Peace Park pt. I

This past weekend I went to the Nagasaki Peace Park with my homestay family. It was a rainy day, but I took quite a few pictures. I never know in advance when we will go to places of photographic interest, and I by chance had my camera on me this time.
This is the big Peace Statue. The left arm signifies peace and the right warns of the threat of nuclear weaponry.
The statue as seen through the Fountain of Peace. Nagasaki's water supply was contaminated by the radiation from the atomic bomb that was dropped here, and many perished in search of clean water. This fountain is a memorial to those who died.
This is a statue marking the date and time of the atomic bomb blast.
This black monolith marks the location where the atomic bomb exploded. The black box at the front contains the names of all those who perished in the attack. This includes members of my host family.
The above two pictures are of the remnants of a church that remained standing after the bomb exploded.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cell phones and colors

I bought my cell phone awhile ago, but I thought I should tell a little about what cell phones are like here. There are three major companies that offer cell phone service: Soft Bank (which is what I have), Docomo, and AU. In order to get a cell phone in Japan, even a prepaid one, you have to have some sort of resident identification (in my case, my alien registration card or approved application). A visa or passport is not sufficient enough. In Japan, there is no texting. All “texts” are done via email. I got a Yahoo! Japan and Softbank email address with my phone that I can use to email any address, and I can check my email through any computer with internet. I never had a cell phone in the states, so I’m not sure how prices compare here. The plan I have provides unlimited free calling and email to anyone else in the network, except for late hours. The charges for out-of-network or late calls are cheap, and emailing is even cheaper. Although, email charges are based on file-size, and it adds up quick if you go over so many characters. The basic email “package” includes some limited internet access as well.

The cost of a cell phone itself in Japan is not cheap, at all. Forget about being able to get a nice phone for cheap with the signing of a contract (unless it's two years or more). Phones here are full price. I bought the second cheapest phone from a Soft Bank located in a Yamada electronics store. There are more Soft Bank stores in Nagasaki than Starbucks in any American city. Walk a few feet…Bam! Soft Bank. Here’s what my phone has/came with: about 200mb of internal storage capacity, two 2 mega pixel cameras (one on each side), a barcode reader, bluetooth and infrared support, a microSD slot, internet, TV (which I’m not buying), and I don’t know what else. The software it came with includes unit converters, a Japanese->English/English->Japanese dictionary, a couple games, an e-book, vocal recognition software, calendar, world clock, calculator, etc. Oh, and it came with Gundam emoticons. I don’t know how this compares to U.S. cell phone tech, but remember this is the crappy budget phone. The phone itself is chrome, which I really like, but it makes it a total fingerprint magnet. It came with a USB cable that I use to charge the phone through my laptop. The phone allows different types of text input, as far as auto-words and stuff go. Japanese text is entered similar to English. There is one button for each set of hiragana, and a menu pops up at the bottom allowing the user to choose kanji.

This is completely unrelated, but…

Japanese colors, as descriptors, are far more abstract and vague than in English. Traffic lights in Japan are, as in America, red; yellow; and green. Japanese traffic stops when the light is red (aka) and goes when it is blue (ao). Although, an American would definitely refer to the color of the light as being green. Green does exist in the Japanese language; the word for it is midori. I have no idea, then, what makes something green, but Japanese color descriptors cover a wide range. My homestay brother insists that my tan khakis are a shade of white and not brown.

School Festival

If you watch anime or any Japanese school drama/movies/etc. you probably have an idea of what our festival was like. The festival was Sat-Sun, and classes were cancelled Friday for preparation. Outside there were lines of booths around the school grounds and along the parking area. The festival had an international theme, and the booths sold country specific food. Although, some booths also sold crafts or had games. The money went to fund the student run clubs, or into the pockets of those who ran the booths, as was the case with the American students. Most of the stuff was outside, although there were some themed “cafes” inside the classrooms. There was a German restaurant and a room offering traditional tea ceremony, for example. The American students sold fried chicken and hot dogs, which was nice.

Some of the events that were put on during the festival: kanji competition, reading competitions (English, Chinese, and Korean), plays, hip-hop dancing show, flamenco dancing show, karaoke competition, and a fashion show. There were a couple larger scale competitions on Sunday which brought in people from outside the school. One was a singing competition sponsored by Sony, and the other was a dancing competition. The people that did the dragon dance for O-kunchi gave a performance on the grounds Sunday morning.


Nagasaki has a large population of big spiders. After doing some research online, I found that the spiders are called Joro spiders, and they play a role in Japanese folklore. Anyway, these spiders were everywhere before it started to cool down. They make these giant webs that are often occupied by multiple spiders. These spiders virtually made a wall of webs around the lake at Unzen in the areas where trees were present. Praying mantids are everywhere too…

Both of these pictures were taken at different locations on the way to school. I had to duck for a few days to avoid walking into the one in the bottom picture.
Here are a couple pics of the populations at the Unzen lake.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Japanese education system

The college I attend started to be a four year college only recently; it was only a two year university prior. Excluding all the foreign students that attend here, the student body (of 600 or so) is 90% female. This majority is consistent with other two year colleges in Japan. Men make up the majority of students in four year institutions, but the majority is not quite so extreme. Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies is a language school, and most of the students here are English majors. Some want to work abroad in the U.S. as English or Japanese teachers, although a lot want to become airline stewardesses. This “go to college for a job that doesn’t require a college education even in Japan” thing exemplifies the still pretty rigid gender roles in Japan. Women are not expected to have high career aspirations.

A popular phrase in Japan is shiken jigoku, which means “examination hell.” The tough competition to get into the right schools can begin as early as preschool, as certain schools claim affiliation and feed into each other. Getting into university is one of those times where shiken jigoku directly applies. In order to get into a university, a student must pass a tough entrance examination. High schools in Japan have different curriculums based on a student’s aspirations, similar to some in the U.S. Those that intend to get into college will spend their last one or two years focusing on getting ready for the exam from their school of choice. Japanese universities may provide practice exams to the high schools, and students can take these to determine if they would stand a chance at admission. To aid in preparation for the exam, most students (around 70%--taken from a text book) attend juku. These are classes offered outside of school hours, on weekends or evenings. They can be offered by the school, by professors from their desired university, or by qualified people in their homes. For those that don’t make it into university on the first try, but are still interested may continue attending juku for years. These unaffiliated high school graduates are known as ronin, a term originally used for masterless samurai. Japan’s current/future population issues (i.e. consistent decreases and a disproportionately large amount of elderly people with no one to take care of them) are having various effects on the nation. For example, there are rural villages suddenly ceasing to exist, as their exclusively elderly population cannot any longer support it, and, in a surprisingly extreme measure, the Japanese government is considering legislation to welcome in large amounts of foreign laborers to replace the eventual gaping void in their workforce. However, the effect this is having on education is a reduction in competition to get into university, and universities are being more lax with their acceptance requirements, except at the most prestigious level.

Whereas students are put under extreme pressure to do well in junior high in order to get into a good high school, and then again to get into college, the college experience itself is far different. The painfully dry textbook I have to read for my sociology class refers to Japanese college as “leisure land.” The reason for this is that Japanese companies care more about what college a student gets into rather than their actual performance in that college. This is why there is so much pressure to do well on the entrance examinations. Japanese businesses work in cooperation with certain schools to feed students directly into their workforce upon graduation, creating tough competition between schools for these contracts, and basically guaranteeing a job for the students. Once a person graduates college and is ready for work, they go to a “company college” where for a few years they undergo rigorous training and indoctrination in company policy and psychological shaping. Companies invest considerable time and money in training their junior workers, so it is kind of understandable that they give little care to the student’s prior college performance. One of the main criteria that students are evaluated on, however, is how well the company thinks the person may be assimilated into the company. They want moldable conformists, not individuals (which is the case for many schools as well). This psychological aspect is taken very seriously. People who leave work to live abroad for a few years or leave for family reasons may not be able to return to their jobs since this psychological training is suspected to be lost.

So, college is basically the last chance Japanese have to express themselves before entering the workforce. The lack of rigor in college level Japanese education is a particularly negative aspect, especially after considering a few things. First, very few Japanese go to graduate school. It is possible to teach at the university level with just a baccalaureate. Second, the concept of “publish or perish” is nonexistent here. One of my professors argues that his Japanese colleagues aren’t “academics” since they don’t publish. I haven’t noticed that college here is too much different from at home. There are a lot of foreign professors here, who bring teaching styles from their respective countries. I have professors from Germany, the U.K., and Australia, as well as the U.S. and Japan.