David Chart's Japan Diary

January 24th 2006

So, in an attempt not to miss my new schedule as soon as I start it, I'm making a bit of time for a diary entry today. Work is rather heavy at the moment, so this probably won't be long, and it will be very miscellaneous.

Snow The snow at the local shrine. You can see that it is still snowing.

First, we had snow on Saturday! Lots of snow, far more than is normal for Tokyo, and it still hasn't all cleared. That said, 'lots of snow' means about eight centimetres, which is not that much by Japanese standards; Niigata had about fifty times that amount. It was enough to be pretty, slow traffic down a bit, and get everyone commenting about the snow. And that was about it. Yuriko and I went out to take some photographs of the snow at the local shrine, and my hands got quite cold. You can't take photographs with gloves on, after all.

Fortunately, Sunday was clear. This was fortunate because four of Yuriko's friends were coming round for a dinner party. I had some work to do on Sunday, despite it being nominally a day off, so I didn't really start helping with preparations until about four, but even so we got everything done in time. One of the friends, Hana, came early to help with the final preparations. I've met Hana lots of times, because she's one of Yuriko's closest friends from university. The other three people I've met less often, and I'm still not absolutely sure of all the names; Yuriko has a tendency to use nicknames for her friends, a tendency that is very common in Japan overall.

The party itself went off quite well. We can fit six people round our dining table, although that's a bit cramped and I certainly wouldn't want to try to fit any more. We even have enough seats. As ever, we prepared too much food. The biggest mistake was preparing six portions of sushi. Each portion was for a whole meal, and we also had other dishes, so there was quite a lot of that left. The dip didn't get used much, either. We had fun chatting, and looking at the pictures from our various holidays, and then everyone left before the buses finished.

Before that, I don't think there's a lot of news to report. I did a lot of work, and I still need to do a lot. Yuriko has been having a lot of computer problems at work, which has been frustrating for her, but at least she hasn't had too many late nights.

The other main bit of news is that my books are very nearly here. (And my CDs, DVDs, and various miscellaneous bits and pieces.) This has been a major performance. First, way back in August last year, we got the boxes out of storage in the UK, and I sorted everything out. Then we had to find a shipping company, which took several weeks. Then we had to find someone to build us a wooden crate, because you can't put cardboard boxes in a ship. The next hold-up was getting the bookcases installed here, because it would have been a disaster to have the books arrive first. Still, we got the boxes out of Mum's house before Christmas, which was good, and they arrived in Japan on the 12th.

That precipitated a whole lot of new paperwork. Obviously, they have to clear customs, and various forms and copies of bits of my passport are necessary for that. Because I hadn't filled in a customs form for goods coming separately last time I entered Japan, I had to fill in something that needed to be the original, so that had to go by express mail. Then it turned out that, because I hadn't been in the UK for more than a year before coming to Japan last time, I needed to do a different form. Fortunately, that could go by email. Almost all the documents were in Japanese, of course, so I am now very familiar with the Japanese for 'clearing customs' and so on.

Then they couldn't find my crate. You would think that a three cubic-metre crate, weighing about a tonne, would be hard to miss. Normally it would be, but it had come out of a container with lots of similar crates, and the UK company had not stuck my name on it anywhere. (They should have done, as that was in the invoice.) Fortunately, an earlier hiccup, wherein the crate was too small for the books and had to be extended, meant that it had a distinctive shape, so I was able to recognise it from the photographs. I was assisted by the fact that they knew who owned every other crate in the container, but obviously they can't just work on a process of elimination before sending it through customs.

Anyway, it is now through customs, and should be delivered here tomorrow, around midday. The delivery people will help me unload the cartons from the crate, and then take the crate away. The Japanese shipment people suggested this, as they suspected that I wouldn't be able to get a one tonne crate down from the truck by myself. I confess I had been wondering about that bit of the logistics. Tomorrow I will have to get fifty odd cardboard boxes full of books from the ground floor to our flat. Thank goodness we have a lift! I'm not sure just how long it will take to get the books into the bookcases, or whether they will all fit, but it should be done before the next diary entry, so I will report back.

Right now, I never want to go back to the UK. I'd have to do it all again, in reverse...

In other news, I know that some of my UK readers remember the TV series Monkey, from the late Seventies and early Eighties (I think). I certainly remember it; I really liked that series. It was a Japanese series dubbed into English, and it's just been remade in Japan. The cast is completely new, of course, and the style is rather different. It seems to have brighter colours than I remember. But that might just be because we didn't have a colour television. Anyway, Yuriko and I are both enjoying the new version. It's a comedy drama, and the guy playing Monkey (the character is called Goku in Japan) is very good. It strikes me as more comedic than the previous version, and the characters seem to be a little bit different as well. This week was the third episode, and our heroes found themselves in the Country of Dreams. (I think they get to visit a different 'Country of X' every week.) Lots of inspiration for role-playing games. In fact, Saiyuuki (that's the Japanese title) would make a good RPG. I wonder if they'd be interested in licensing it? I wonder if they already have?

Completely different topic now. The Guardian Weekly has a monthly supplement on teaching English, as quite a lot of its readers do that. This month's cover article was about how schools should hire qualified non-native speakers rather than unqualified native speakers. As an unqualified native speaker, I feel that this position is fundamentally overstated (naturally), but one sentence in the article rather caught my attention, partly because it was pulled out as a large-print quote.

"The requirement that applicants 'must like children' is disquieting."

Clearly, this means that the job involves teaching children. In this case "candidates must hate the little buggers with a passion" would be much more disquieting to me. I would say that, in fact, liking children is a necessary condition for any job involving prolonged contact with them, particularly teaching. The clear implication of the paragraph is that such teachers are a threat to children, because 'like children' can only mean 'like[ly to rape, murder, and do unspeakable things to corpses of] children'.

There is a sensible point here. I do not teach children, and I make it clear in my adverts that I don't. There are two reasons for this. One is that I have very little experience teaching children, and I'm not sure I could do it. The other is that parents should not be inviting random foreigners they found on the internet to teach their children, particularly not in a private tuition situation. It's just not a good idea. (Thus, incidentally, I might teach the children of people I knew, if asked. I'm not a threat to children, and people who know me know that. They would be inviting someone they know and trust, not a random person off the internet. The first reason would still stand, though.) Thus, I do think that there should be some checks on people who want to teach children. However, teacher training does not, to the best of my knowledge, provide such checks.

The phrasing of the paragraph is a clear invocation of moral panic. It's not justified by the evidence (liking children is a necessary condition for such a job, and the school may perform background checks subsequently), does not distinguish trained from untrained teachers, and manages to suggest that liking children is inherently suspect. It is disquieting that the social background is such that an author can write like that that, and have the quote pulled out and emphasised, without seeming utterly ridiculous.

Of course, I'm one of the untrained native teachers he's inveighing against, so I'm biased. On the other hand, the author is a professor of English at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. That institute is a specialist teacher-training institute. In other words, the author trains non-native teachers of English (or, at least, is employed by a body which does so). I think our biases balance.