Archive for December, 2009

For the geography-challenged

A few days ago, I read the article “Finding Sparks Rethink of Russo-Japan War” in the Yomiuri (Link to original article HERE). According to some new documents discovered by University of Tokyo historian Wada Haruki, a key Russian politician attempted to propose an alliance with Japan in the days leading up to the Russo-Japanese War. The article reports that Aleksandr Bezobrazov, a man who has long been considered an advocate of the conflict, first communicated the draft “to Japan’s Foreign Ministry by telegraph on Jan. 1, 1904, by a Japanese diplomat in Russia. The diplomat reported to the ministry in detail about the proposal 12 days later…Despite the tip, Foreign Minister Komura Jutaro met with Prime Minister Katsura Taro, along with the ministers in charge of the army and navy, on Jan. 8, when they agreed to initiate hostilities.”[i] The article concludes that this new finding could lead to a revision of the widely-accepted interpretation that Japan was goaded by Russia into starting the conflict. This may also attract attention in Japan because NHK just started airing a three-year drama series based on a saga by novelist Shiba Ryotaro that depicts the Russo-Japanese War as one of self-defense by Japan.



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This week is Christmas, so I’ve been teaching Christmas classes. This really just involves me having my students watch a segment from “A Sesame Street Christmas Carol” and baking them gingerbread cookies. (Hey, it’s the last class before winter vacation, if you think you’re going to get the kids to do any work you’re probably suffering from the side effects of a temporal lobotomy.) Most Japanese homes don’t have ovens, so being able to produce homemade cookies makes you a magician on par with Siegfried and Roy. Only without the tigers…and homosexual innuendo. But today was a pretty bizarre day…

First, I had three girl students give me a Christmas present and a homemade Christmas card where they wrote “You baked for us is cookies. Delicious. Please again. Thank you!” That was extremely sweet and touching.

Then, in class I taught the students the word ‘collection.’ For example, “I like Rilakkuma, so I collect Rilakkuma things. I have a Rilakkuma collection.” Then I asked the students if they collect anything. You can always count on boys to say something entertaining and two answers stuck out from the rest:
A) I collect girls. (Uh huh, sure you do.)
B) “I collect ‘good’ movies.” says the student.
“Really? What is the title of one?” I ask.
“Uh…it’s a secret…” says the boy.
“Do you have a hentai video collection?” I ask.
The class bursts into laughter.

Then, we watched two short videos about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. In the videos, everyone is hugging. I explain that hugging is a part of American culture. On the way out of class, a boy student hugs me while his friends (and one of the English teachers) yell “SEKUHARA!” (Sekuhara is the cute Japanese way of saying sexual harassment). Then he ran away. Yeah, I told my students that hugging is ok in America, so I guess I had that one coming…

I also had a boy student say, “I love you” and run out of class. And people say Japanese kids don’t learn anything in school.

Later in the day, I had yet another boy student come up to me and say “Sensei, itsumo kawaii” and run away while his friend stared at me dumbstruck. Japanese high school boys have courage, but they really need to work on their follow through – running away isn’t going to win you a girlfriend.

After work, I had a police officer pull me over for exceeding the speed limit while passing a car (not out of the norm considering the way people drive where I live). But, he just said “Dame desu yo!” and made me promise not to do it again. Then he started talking about how he can’t speak English, but if he had a teacher like me when he was in high school he would have studied a lot harder. I gave him a cookie. Seriously, I gave him a cookie.

Then I went to the office New Year’s Party and gave out more cookies. And won a takoyaki grill in a quiz game because of my freakish knowledge of Japanese history.

Moral of the Story: Cookies is Japan are like volatile magic fairy dust…they both create problems and solve them. Either way, it’s bound to make the day more enterntaining.

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My sannensei students sometimes write extremely adorable essays:

My treasure is this charm. This is the charm for entrance examination. When I was a junior high school student, I had a close friend. He was the most intelligent in the school. What he was intelligent was true, but he wasn’t earnest. He would often find fault with others, and he didn’t obey the school regulations. Anyway, he was not warm-hearted. But he was not always cold-hearted. He was kind to me occasionally. Informed of his leaving Oshima after he graduated, I felt bad a little. The graduation ceremony breaks up, he approached me, and gave me this charm. For I have talked with him about the university once. I never dreamed. I was glad to have given me all the more because he was cold-hearted. So this charm is my treasure.

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So, the Imperial Household Agency has agreed to let Li Xinping, the probable successor to the presidency of the PRC, meet the Emperor…without giving one-month in advance notice (as is customary). I find it rather interesting that the unrelenting bureaucrats (or cloaked shadows, as I like to think of them) of the Imperial Household Agency have actually agreed to let the Emperor out of his cage without following the proper protocols (Now China, you know all play dates with the Emperor must be scheduled at least one month in advance). Of course, the fact that the DPJ holds a majority in both Houses of the Diet (thus the purse strings over the Imperial Household Agency’s budget) might have something to do with it.

You can interpret the DPJ’s (or just Ozawa Ichiro’s) interest in China two ways:
A) The DPJ sees the value in warmer relations with China as necessary and doesn’t want to slight them by refusing a visit with the Emperor.
B) The DPJ is too soft when it comes to their China policy and is allowing Li Xinping to show the world that a Chinese leader can meet the Emperor whenever he wishes, regardless of protocol. Considering the current Futenma debacle, the LDP will take any chance they can get to point out the Hatoyama government’s lack of finesse when it comes to foreign policy.

Regardless, I doubt Li Xinping will contort himself at the waist when he greets the Emperor like the foolish young American did…

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