Category Archives: EDUCATION

From the Dorms to Fuji and Back

Even a Sunday can be eventful while abroad with TUJ. My week began with exploration of an area that is very old to Tokyo, but very new to me. Asakusa is one of the city’s oldest districts, and was the site of my final outing with part of my Practical Japanese class and our professor, Matsuhashi-sensei. A few of us treated her to brunch at a small okonomiyaki joint. We then explored the area, stopping by Sensō-ji, a well-known and longstanding temple built in the 7th century. Although Asakusa is a large tourist attraction of Tokyo, and thus we were caught in large crowds most of the time, I felt fortunate to experience it with my professor, who could provide some background and answer questions.

The owner of the restaurant took our photo after our okonamiyaki, shared on a hot plate. From left to right, back to front: Greg, Matsuhashi-sensei, Kevin, Rob, myself, and Ruchi.


We unexpectedly pet an owl while exploring the streets of Asakusa after brunch.

Not less than a day ago, three study abroad friends and I took on summiting Mt. Fuji. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit how nervous I was about whether or not I could manage. But with the help of my friend’s good planning, the advice of the OSS office, and several boxes of Calorie Mate (a popular energy bar/meal replacer in Japan), we completed the journey.


The Wednesday morning sun rose around 4:40 AM on …continue reading


Surviving Summer As An ALT In Japan

Source: Gaijin Pot
Surviving Summer As An ALT In Japan

It’s that time of year again when schools across Japan wind down for the summer break and our overworked students can finally enjoy a little respite for a few weeks. No such luck for our Japanese colleagues though. Teachers in Japan may get four or five days off during summer — if they’re lucky.

The same goes for full-time, direct hire English teachers working for city boards of education or private junior/senior high schools.

If you’re an ALT working for a dispatch company, however, you’ll probably get about six weeks off without pay, whether you asked for it or not. Some companies will offer a small stipend during this time you’re not working as part of the contract. Dispatch companies all across Japan market this as an “opportunity.” For example, the chance to go home for a few weeks to visit family, travel around Japan or visit other nearby Asian countries.

Not all companies do this. I know of at least one major ALT dispatch company that pays teachers the same salary all year round — even on summer break. But, sadly, this is the exception when I feel it should be the rule.

The reality is this isn’t a holiday being offered by dispatch companies. It’s a mandatory period of unpaid leave — and it should be advertised as such.

I know many ALTs who signed up to work in Japan and were not made aware of this circumstance until September arrived and they found their paycheck considerably lighter than usual. Especially in those first few months, when we are all struggling to find our financial footing, having almost half your salary docked, or possibly even worse, really is despicable.

Of course, there is the argument that these young, naïve teachers should have read the “small print” before signing up, but companies …continue reading


Katana Samurai Sword – A Practical Guide

Anyone interested in Katana, the traditional Japanese sword?
Even though Katana is no longer used as its original practical purpose, there are many enthusiastic fans all over the world, who are attracted by the beauty of Katana.

Origin of Katana

The Katana is perhaps one of the most iconic swords ever made and its prominence is tied closely with the Samurai of ancient and feudal Japan. The Samurai is a warrior class who get their name originally from the Japanese verb “saburau” which literally means to serve. Their main role in Japanese society was to serve and protect the imperial family or other feudal lords. They follow a strict moral code known as the Bushido or “the way of the warrior” which they are expected to observe.

Bushido considered the Samurai sword its symbol of power and spirit. The very possession of the sword imparts to the warrior a feeling and air of self-respect and responsibility. The Katana embodied his mind and heart, his loyalty and honor. Until death, the Samurai was never parted with his sword.

The origin of the Katana dates back to the Kamakura Period in the year 1185 but it was only during the Muromachi Period of the 1400s that the sword became a favorite weapon of choice for the Samurai. It was prized for its razor-sharp blade and it was light enough to carry and wield during combat. It had been used extensively by Samurai warriors from the 15th to the 19th century until the Meiji Period when they were forced to relinquish their swords.

The Katana is a weapon steeped in so much history, making it a highly sought after item. The Japanese have perfected the meticulous art of sword craftsmanship and any sword enthusiast would surely want to own a Katana as a distinctive symbol of Japan.

Parts of a …continue reading

Unagi and Konnyaku Sentences in Japanese

Unagi, or eel.

ウナギ文 コンニャク文

An unagi-don, or box of eel on rice

The Japanese are a nation of foodies, take what they eat very seriously indeed, and talk about it a lot. It is no surprise then, that food expressions are used to describe a couple of peculiarities of Japanese grammar.

Unagi means “eel” in Japanese, and is a summer delicacy that will cost you at least 1,000 yen, usually for those imported from China, and at least twice that for home-grown ones.

Konnyaku is the romanized spelling of the Japanese pronunciation of konjac (Amorphophallus konjac), a plant used to make a jelly much used in Japanese cuisine – especially oden – and which is related to the very smelly plant that has the world’s largest flower, the Amorphophallus titanum.

Anyway, an unagi sentence is a common grammatically contracted sentence in Japanese that seems to identify the speaker as a foodstuff, but which really only identifies the speaker’s preference for it. The archetypal example is “Ore wa unagi da.” 俺はウナギだ Ore means “I” and is used to address only those with whom one has a very close relationship, or who are ranked well below you. wa (は) is the marker indicated that ore is the topic of the sentence. Unagi is eel. The final da is a sentence ending that equates to the be-verb in English, affirming the existence of something.

Literally translated, this would mean “I am an eel.” in the same way as “Ore wa sarariman da” (“I am a businessman”) indicates that the speaker is a businessman.

However, this so-called literal translation is based on a misunderstanding of the function of the marker wa. As stated above, wa is the marker indicating that the word which precedes it is the topic of the sentence. And the topic of …continue reading


Who’s Teaching the History and Diversity of “Blackness” in Japan?

#BlackEye is Back! Previously Black Eye has brought you several series. The first (a three parter) on maintaining identity in Japan. The 2nd was another three-parter on Jamaicans in Japan. The 3rd was yet another 3 parter on Black Women with Japanese husbands. Starting this summer I’m launching a new series on the people tasked with introducing and disseminating “blackness” here in Japan, and it will likely run a bit longer than 3 parts, cuz there’s a GREAT deal to cover, a great many voices to be heard.

If you’re told a falsehood often enough it’s bound to take hold.

If your experience is similar to mine, then you’ve heard (from both Japanese and others, as well) “we don’t know anything about black people” as a rationalization for all kinds of foolishness, offensive statements and behaviors, to the point of normalizing that statement. Maybe you’ve even heard yourself saying it to others, or worse, to yourself!

In my 13 years here its frequency hasn’t diminished a smidgen. So, it’s clear that unless this is addressed the situation will worsen because, despite the overuse of that statement, it’s clear to anyone who lives here that a contradiction exists. There certainly IS a narrative about “blackness” that abounds, resulting from misinformation, mis-education and a tendency toward oversimplification.


What isn’t clear however is that there is also a REAL history, a story that isn’t being spread as widely as the foolishness. A story that begs to be promulgated.

Since its inception, #BlackEye has endeavoured to do just that, but Black Eye is far from alone in this undertaking. Any non-Japanese here, to an extent, is tasked as well with being a voice from the “outer world” on a more personal basis, with varying results. But …continue reading