Posts Tagged ‘history’

Educational History

2011年 9月 1日

Yesterday we had a change in plans. Monday we drove up the Central Expressway to Niigata and were aiming to return by the Hokuriku Expressway for a change of scenery and, presumably, less traffic. As we passed through Matsumoto on our way north, my father-in-law started going on about Kaichi Elementary school and its history. When we stopped in a rest area for bathroom break and stretching our legs, he tracked down a book about Matsumoto and bought it. By the next day, he had thoroughly studied the book and decided we must see it.

You may wonder what would draw him to see the school, so perhaps a little school history and personal history are in order. My father-in-law became a principal in the later part of his career: at age 50 he was the youngest to achieve such position in our prefecture. Although he, like me, bemoans a number of frustrating points in the education system (and likely retired early because of them); he still feels an unbreakable bond to the education system.

In 1872, during the Meiji Restoration, there were major education reforms taking place and the lord of Matsumoto Castle felt the importance of good education. With that motivation he opened the Kaichi school in 1873 and it is still continuing its history today, making it the oldest existing school in Japan. Of course it has been housed in different buildings and has been physically relocated; however, it continued from its original charter. The building we went to see is apparently the front portion of the second school building (c. 1876) and is used as a museum and historic site today.

One point about this school and other historical schools I have visited which bothers me is the student artwork displays. There are 140 years of school history to choose from; however, the large display of student artwork is from 1942 and, let us say, it is fairly hateful overall. When I was in Iga-Ueno I had the same experience. Why there is a conscious decision to focus on this element is beyond me. It is definitely not the focus of persons in general society, so the focus is coming from education historians or someone related to these projects. On the other hand, furniture, textbooks, and other historic materials are displayed from various periods.

Since we were in the area, we also stopped by Matsumoto Castle.


Thirteen Minutes to Go

2010年 2月 13日

Was it Andy Warhol who said in the future everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame? Well, here we are a whole decade into the 21st Century and I’m getting approximately two minutes. Tuesday, I got a surprise phone call from a friend in Nagoya. He was helping a friend at Nagoya Television (or Meetere, as it is called) find an interviewee.

Initially I was very excited because it sounded like they were looking for a foreigner who was interested in Japanese culture. Studying calligraphy, stone seal carving, wood block etching, bamboo flute, Japanese pottery, rice straw rope making, etc., should qualify me for that; however, there was a small communication error. Really, they were looking for someone interested in Japanese history, and specifically, in Sakamoto Ryoma (坂本龍馬).

While I am interested in Japanese history, I don’t pursue it like I do culture. My guess is that, in a world without deadlines, they probably would have preferred someone else; however, they were willing to use me, and I was up for a new experience.

I have been on the TV a number of times, but this is the first time I will actually be mentioned. My other appearances were usually incidental and only a few seconds. Also, this is the first time it won’t be on a local cable access channel.

Sakamoto Ryoma is very popular now because a TV series titled Ryomaden (龍馬伝) came on the air in January. I watched the first episode, but unfortunately have missed all the rest because of my busy schedule. Hopefully they will rebroadcast it.

If you happen to watch the program UP! on Nagoya TV this Thursday from 6:17pm, you should see me. If not, they’ll send me a DVD, so you can drop by and watch. I was pretty nervous, so I might look a little bumbling unless their editors are very kind and good.

The Whistling Season

2010年 1月 20日

Thanks to an unusually long train ride yesterday and a phenomenon mentioned on a fellow blog, I have now completed reading The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. Overall I found it enjoyable, thought-provoking, and challenging.

The story centers around the Milliron family and is narrated by Paul, the eldest son. At the time of telling – 1957 – he is 61 years old, and the overwhelming bulk of the story takes place in 1909; our narrator is 13 years old, a 7th grader in a one room school house in rural Montana. After hiring somone to clean their home (being a household of consisting entirely of males who are too busy or uninterested to get that important chore straight) their lives start changing, later a peculiar teacher is hired and again their lives shift in ever more unimaginable ways.

Often modern storytellers, particular the Hollywood variety, leave me dissatisfied because they either write stories I find too predictable or they struggle to avoid the first condition by making wild, unbelievable left turns. Ivan Doig proves he adept at protecting me from both of these let-downs. Many twists and turns pop-up, surprising me greatly, but never violating my trust and suspension of disbelief.

Considering an authors background had really been on my mind lately after re-reading The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s linguistics background is key to the entire work. Likewise Doig is a history PhD and it repeatedly shines through in this volume as timing of many actual events lace into those generated for the story.

Classifying this novel would be difficult. It is definitely a coming-of-age story, but it also promotes thought on how culture shifts over time, it addresses love and mourning and conflict, it’s a drama, but also almost a mystery, and it strongly addresses issues of education from teaching method to administrative process.

When the country school gets their new teacher, he rambles, he gets excited, he takes unorthodox approaches, but he always is thinking about how to get ideas into heads and motivate curiousity. Also he carries something (or things) mysterious from his past, which consumes much of the readers concern nearly throughout the story. I found myself identifying with this character, for better or worse: often I try to tie odd concepts into my lessons, seeking to challenge how students perceive relationships of knowledge. Many a time, home room teachers are cocking their heads and squinting at me, but occasionally they also get my point and reinforce it at the end of class in much more elegant Japanese than I can generate. Fortunately, the children seem to grasp these flights more often than not.

Our character list is long, and many characters have multiple nicknames, like Tobias, aka Tobe, aka Toby, aka Peg Leg Pete the Pirate. I kept a page in a notebook where I was scratching down all the family connections and school connections. Doig has an amusing (annoying) habit of introducing people in different manner at different times, like “the two sets of Drobny twins”, “the Drobny brothers”, “Seraphina and Eva Drobny”, “the entire 6th grade”, “Sam Drobny”, … figuring out who was being referred to was sometimes like one of those logic puzzles (i.e., The blue car is next to the green car, neither Mr. Smith nor Mrs. Jones drives a blue car, the cat owner drives a green car, …) I have at least 64 characters scratched on my list, plus at least five horse or pets. While the list is long, most of them include development and add to the story, so they are worth their weight.

Although, I can be an intellectual snob, my one complaint would have to be the way Latin is addressed, almost as if the average reader should be able to understand tricky sentences. Fair portions of the Latin discussion went right over my head, and I would expect even more would be lost on the average reader. This didn’t ruin anything for me, but a lot of it seemed unnecessary. On the other hand, a few times he deftly slipped enough explanation into the dialog that it just seemed natural to have the Latin there.

Yesterday’s long train ride is due to timing. After a meeting, I ended out at the train station before the proper end of my work day and long before the express train. Apparently there are some folk almost spying on the foreign city workers looking for complaints to stir up, so sitting and having tea near the station at that hour would be unwise. I hopped a local train for an hour ride home, reading all the way, and almost missing my stop because my nose was in the print.

As someone pointed out on a book-related blog, they often read faster and faster as they get deeper into a work. Certainly, this was the case for me with this one. Perhaps getting more adjusted to an authors style allows the faster reading, yet another factor plays in here; I found myself more and more invested in the story as things progressed.

Preparation for Japanese Language Proficiency Test

2008年 12月 6日

Nine short hours from now I will head for the train station to make another attempt at the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT・日本語能力試験). Being sick for several weeks, tied up with special events, and teaching friends on the side; not to mention getting sucked in by the Stargate, have all kept me from studying as much as I would like. What’s the number one rule for taking tests? Don’t get stressed out.

My choice was to be laid back and have a nabe (鍋) party tonight. We ate lots of brain food, drank a bit of beer, and discussed seventh century Asian history for kicks. Hopefully, living in Japan, speaking Japanese everyday, and being well rested will carry me through the test tomorrow. Regardless, I had fun tonight.

Since I met my girlfriend in January, I think my perspective has been shifting. If I bond my life to hers, I have to be ready to spend many, many years here; hence, failing the exam doesn’t concern me so much, since, “There’s always next year.”

Also, I only failed by four percent last year and have learned a lot about approaching the test. One key is that the Reading/Grammar section is ordered to make people run out of time and fail. The first two subsections are loaded with reading for a small number of points. The remaining subsections require about one sentence of reading for each answer. These latter sections clearly carry the most points per time; a wise test taker would attack them first. Merely taking this approach should improve my score by several points. I’ll report more on Monday. Not tomorrow because, of course, I must enter the Sunday Soundcheck… and it will have a bit of a twist.