Monday, January 30, 2012

A Collection of Little Red Stories

Every year, in my English class, I have the students re-write the Little Red Riding Hood fable (called あかずの扉  in Japanese, or simply Akazukin for short). I usually begin by showing a short two minute animated video of the Little Red Riding Hood story done by the British Council (the United Kingdoms organization for cultural relations and English learning). The video is very cute and, I find, is perfectly suited for Japanese elementary school students.

The great thing is, most of the students are already familiar with the story. The one in the video also uses British English which is a good change of pace (since I speak in the bland American accent). I ask them if they can catch the words. Inevitably their eyes grow big as they strain to listen to the words. I show them the video a second time to give them a fighting chance.

Next, I give them the basic plot points of the Little Red Riding Hood storie, which I have simplified for their ESL level, narrowing the key plot points to six.

1. Little Red goes to her grandma's house.
2. Little Red meets a big scary wolf.
3. Little Red arrives at grandmothers.
4. Wolf pretends to be grandma.
5. Wolf eats Little Red and Grandma.
6. Hunter saves Little Red and her grandma.

After this I usually give them a template I made with six boxes for them to fill in. The challenge is that they have to rewrite the story. I tell them they can change the whole thing or just one box--it is mainly up to them.

After a bit of excitement the class calms down, and they get busy writing (I allow them to write in Japanese to begin with--they are only elementary school kids, after all. I later translate them--another reason I try to keep the structure of the plot simple. Also, by making it five or six points, as shown above, the students can follow the pattern and create their own version much more easily than if I were to simply ask them to rewrite the story without highlighting the plot points first).

Usually the brainstorming and writing takes up the rest of the class time. Before the bell, I collect the papers and translate for them.

In next weeks lesson I will have them rewrite the English neatly, draw pictures to accompany their stories, color them, and then present them before the class. The H1 (Homeroom Teacher 1) and I always try to work together to help them read and pronounce the words correctly. Often times they get into their parts and do the voices and gestures of the characters. It is always a blast!

Here is one example of a student's take on Little Red Riding Hood. (Of course I helped translate and get the grammar just so.)

One day, Little Red was picking rare fruits for her mother. Suddenly, she met a big scary Wolf. Unfortunately, her gun wouldn't work. The Wolf snatched up Little Red in his teeth and gobbled her up! Putting on her clothes, the Wolf pretended to be Little Red. Then he went to Little Red's grandmother's house. Fooling the grandma, he ate her too. The End.

I absolutely love it! Another story went like this:

One day, Little Red's mother wanted her to take some mackerel fish to grandmas. While walking to grandma's house Little Red met a wolf. But he was a nice wolf. The wolf had an idea.
"Let's eat this fish together!" he said. 
 "Okay," said Little Red Riding Hood. 
So the two of them sat down and ate all of the fish! After their stomachs were full and all the fish were gone, they worried about what to do. 
"I know," said Red. "We can go fishing and catch more fish!"
So they went fishing and were happy when their very first catch was a giant tuna fish! It was one of the largest tunas they had ever seen. They carried the heavy fish all the way up the mountain to grandma's house. Finally, they reached grandma's house but they were exhausted and hungry from the long walk and having carried such a heavy prize.

Grandma cooked the giant tuna and made dinner and together they ate it all up! It was a happy time. 

The End.  

Many of the stories crack me up. In the past, one girl's morbidly erotic version had Little Red fall in love with the Wolf. When the woodsman/hunter arrives to slay the Wolf and save the grandma, Little Red intervenes, explaining that the Wolf was only hungry. Besides, grandma was old anyway. At least that was the gist. The hunter notices Red is showing (i.e., she is pregnant) and asks Red what the meaning of all this is. Rubbing her belly with a maternal love, Red explains that she is carrying the Wolf's baby. The story ends with a wedding. Naturally.

My students always tell the best Little Red Riding Hood stories. Which is probably why I have so much fun making them do it. They seem to enjoy it too.

[Note 1: As an ESL instructor in Japan, I am required by the Japanese government to teach from the Eigo Noto (Eigo Note) textbook. However, some of the lessons are too insufficient, pathetic, or horrible to teach effective English, and so I supplement them with my own lesson plan. I use this lesson instead of the Giant Turnip section of lesson 8 in book two.]

[Note 2: This accomplishes the objective of the English Note lesson 8. Strangely enough, the origianl lesson plan does not accomplish the objective set forth by the book. In other words, chapter 8 of book two fails to teach the kids how to create their own fable and then write it in English. If you are familiar with the Eigo Note textbook, you will likely be familiar with the horrible Giant Radish story--and the three days of repeating the same stupid chant only to find on the last day they students are expected to meet the impossible task of writing a full fable in a different language. Yeah, pretty impossible, since we haven't covered how to write a fable let alone how to form coherent English sentences. If you are an ESL instructor, or English teacher, please feel free to use this lesson plan. You can adapt it to your own classroom setting and alter it for your own purposes and needs. Good luck!]

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Superstitious Japan: Yakudoshi

Even as Japan is mainly a secular society which prides itself on its "freethinking," a term most Japanese throw around loosely, over the years I have found that Japan is infested with age old superstitions and ritualized customs which have seeped into mainstream life.

Partly this is due to the fact that the contemporary culture of Japan is fused with a 3,000 year old history. When you have had certain customs or traditions ingraned into society for so long, they aren't thought of as "superstitions" so much as they are traditional Japanese practices which reflect their ancient heritage.

One such tradition is called Yakudoshi.

Yakudoshi refers to the belief that there are certain ages in one's life where their bad luck increases and there good luck diminishes (as if good luck and bad luck were forces that were intertwined--like the yin and yang). Thinking about yakudoshi in terms of the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang makes sense considering that, in Japan, yakudoshi is part of the official religious practice of the Ommyodo school of philosophy. Ommyodo literally translates to "The Way of Yin and Yang."

One of the best online Encyclodpedias about Japan is the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. On there page about Japanese traditions they state that 

Bad luck ages are referred to as yakudoshi, with yaku meaning “calamity” or “calamitous” and doshi signifying “year(s).” These years are considered critical or dangerous because they are believed to bring bad luck or disaster.... For men, the ages 24 and 41 (or 25 and 42 in Japan) are deemed critical years, with 41 being especially critical. It is customary in these unlucky years to visit temples and shrines to provide divine protection from harm.... The equivalent yakudoshi ages for women are 18 and 32 (19 and 33 in Japan), with 32 thought to be a particularly hard, terrible or disastrous year. 

My Japanese wife recently asked here friends what they thought about this tradition, and one of her friends, an American woman married to a Japanese man, had this to say about the yakudoshi ritual:

It was my Yakudoshi last year, and my mother in law and I had many disagreements about its customs. I refused to go to go to a shrine and be cleansed, because it's just creepy and unnecessary to my western mindset.

Another friend of my wife's informed that her mother-in-law waited until after her yakudoshi to buy a car. Supposedly because she didn't want to buy a new car and then have the bad luck of wrecking it. 

There is even an iTunes calendar app to help you keep track of your yakudoshi! After all, you wouldn't want those unlucky years sneaking up on you!

This superstition of good-luck/bad-luck periods in one's life, however, is not so different from other long held Japanese superstitions and traditions, such as blood type determining a person's personality type, or the fertility rituals in which a giant penis is paraded around the local rural communities. Most of them are odd, even downright absurd, if not plainly bordering on the ridiculous. Many Japanese citizens--the same Japanese people who pride themselves on their status as "freethinkers"--will often blindly accept, with unquestioning ease, these age old superstitions and rituals. 

Mainly, I think, they accept it without protest because they view these age old customs and rituals as an inbuilt part of the Japanese cultural identity. Strangely enough, many people seem to not only practice them out of tradition but also seem to believe in them. Those that don't believe often still practice them anyway, and when questioned on why they continue to practice useless and erroneous traditions you'll often hear the rejoined, "But it's part of Japanese life, it's part of our cultural identity, it's what we've always done."

Whether or not that excuse is good enough to pardon oneself in the practice of silly and erroneous things which, quite frankly, make a person look absurd--I don't know. For a country often concerned about saving "face" and maintaining a certain decorum, and priding itself on its strong economy, modern lifestyle, health, longevity, and a slew of technological achievements, it sometimes seems that many of Japan's ancient customs and traditions are out of place in today's world. But that's Japan for you--a hybrid of the ancient and the modern, the old blended in with the new. It's one of the things which makes Japan truly fascinating for me.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Finding Work in Japan After JET

Some people have been wondering about my life post JET Programme and how I came to find stable work in Japan. Here I try to explain a little about my current situation and how it came to be while offering advice to those who may soon be in the same boat (so to speak).

My job now is basically the same as JET but I get to do more. I work for a city government, privately. The pay is less (way less), but since we moved in with my wife's parents I haven't noticed it too much.

I lucked out finding the job early though. Roughly *two weeks after I quite the JET Programme and I had absolutely nothing lined up.

However, let me state that I did apply with the job services here in Japan--called Hello Work. There is a ton of paper work to go through... so you will need your significant other, or a close native speaker of Japanese, to assist you--but you should definitely apply.

Here's why.

You get paid for looking for work in Japan! They go by your previous earnings. Every week you make a percentage, which is taken out of your unemployment tax which you've been paying the whole time you've been working and living in Japan. I would have made 9 man a month (roughly $1,000 American)... however, because I found a job within 2 weeks of signing up they gave me the 9 man plus a 20 man early find bonus! I literally made 30 man (approx. $3,000) in less than 3 weeks.

Here's the thing though... Hello Work SUCKS for finding jobs--and you have to go to one of their seminars and listen for two hours to a Japanese person drone on and on about finding work in order to get the money back. As a foreigner, absolutely NOTHING they say in the seminar will apply to you. Nothing.

I went the the "International" section of the Hello Work agency and tried to find someone who spoke relatively good English. The person does not exist! At least not in my area. Hiroshima City ought to have one.

I left Hiroshima and came down to Kumamoto, and they had no English section, but looking online I found that the Fukuyama branch in Hiroshima has an English speaker. If you're in the Hiroshima area here's their address and phone number of their Hello Work English contact information.

3-12 Higashi Sakura-cho Fukuyama-shi


So anyway, Hello Work pretty much sucks for finding work when you a non-native. That said, I still recommend applying to them to get the extra money--because you won't know how long it will be until you find work--it may come in handy. If you get lucky like I did, it's a pretty nice bonus. Kind of makes up for the five years on JET I worked without ever getting a single bonus. 

I found my current job on a local city listing online. But the best place to look for work in Japan (at least for foreigners) is on

Make sure you sign up to their job listing section. Your name will be posted for companies to contact you as well as allowing you to see all the job listings. 

I received tons of job listings for English speakers with moderate Japanese. Everything from bar tending to the same old ESL grind. There are translation jobs, as well as personal tutoring jobs, among many other jobs to select from.

Well, that's the low down on what I know. Like I said, I found work right away so I didn't struggle too much. I wish you the best of luck and hope this info helps.


Bikkuri Vick