Taiko: Back to the heart

When I was a kid, I thought the U-shaped desk arrangement in classrooms was the dumbest thing ever. There was no privacy there; you were staring your classmates in the face, and there was this huge awkward space in the middle of the room. Also, there was that much less of a chance of sitting near your friends because you only had some people to either side of you, not in front or behind.

I was reminded of this sentiment today in taiko class… and how my opinion of it has changed.

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What’s your JLPT strategy?

“I’m not going to pass, so I’m not going to stress about studying super hard this time around,” I said, shoveling textbooks into my shopping basket.

“It’s a futile effort, anyway, so I’ll just treat this as an experience, not a serious try,” I added, plugging vocabulary words into my SRS app.

“Who even PASSES the JLPT anyhow?” I concluded, struggling out of bed to complete my daily drills.

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Tape recorder, debate partner, or something in between?

Happy October, everyone! I hope the weather is to your liking– it certainly is to mine. I’m having all the hot tea, all the time. It’s lovely.

Anyway, so, teaching! Particularly in ESL/EFL. I’ve taught a wide range of ages since I started, from toddlers up to senior citizens. Every student has their own expectations from their teacher, be it the bare minimum, or something exceeding the usual classroom duties. I’d like to share two experiences I’ve had with students to highlight this.

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Let it go: the wadaiko way

Every few months or so, my taiko group goes through the basic forms/movements when playing the drums. Some of them are fairly straightforward: your stomach must be in line with the drum, not turned to one side; when hitting the drum, your drumstick should be angled down toward the drum, not parallel to it, and that sort of thing.

The hardest part for a lot of people, however, is the act of actually hitting the drum.

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“It’s better if the teacher can’t speak the student’s first language.” Really?

I’ve been in the teaching game since 2011. My experience is mainly teaching Japanese students, along with a smattering of Chinese and Korean folks who are based in Japan. Several times now, I’ve come across the belief that “Native English teachers shouldn’t be able to speak the learner’s first language. It’s better that way, because then the learner will be forced to communicate only through the target language.”

Not “teachers shouldn’t speak the learner’s L1.” They “shouldn’t have the ability” to do so.

I find this to be a very strange distinction, because of course the goal is to get the learner to use the target language as much as humanly possible in a given lesson. This means if the learner straight-up asks me, “How do you say 海外 in English?” I answer with, “Can you explain the word to me?” The learner then comes up with something like, “Well, not in Japan. In other countries.” At that point I can say, “Oh! Abroad!” and that’s the end of that. The learner has not only learned the word, they have “earned” it by explaining in the target language what they wanted to say.

And surely, a teacher is capable of doing that regardless of whether they can or cannot speak the student’s L1, aren’t they?

Maybe this is a cultural thing purely rooted in Japan, but let me ask you: have you come across this belief yourself, or do you believe it? What are the benefits on either side?

A day walking in history: Meiji Mura

I feel almost bad to admit that, though I’ve been to Nagoya twice now, I have yet to hit up Nagoya Castle, the Tokugawa Museum, or most of the other “famous” places everyone expects you to go. However, I have found some great places to see in Aichi around Nagoya City. You may remember my post about the Totoro House; today, let’s take a look at Meiji Mura.

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An Afternoon with My Neighbor Totoro

A week or two ago, I was hosting a friend in Japan. It was her second time in Kyoto, so we decided to branch out on adventure.

“Where do you want to go? What do you want to see?” I asked her.

“Well, going to the Ghibli Museum would be nice,” she said.

We checked the website, but as we were looking a mere month in advance, all of the possible days we could go were fully booked.

“Where else do you want to go? What else do you want to see?” I asked her.

“Well, since that’s a wash, maybe going somewhere related to a Ghibli film would be nice. Like the moss woods from Princess Mononoke.”

We checked, but we couldn’t justify taking a flight all the way out to a small island in Kyushu just to see one forest.

“Anywhere else you want to go? Anything else you want to see?” I asked her.

“Well, is there anything Ghibli related we could do on short notice?”

We checked, and struck gold in the form of Mei and Satsuki’s House–famous from the movie My Neighbor Totoro–in Aichi, Japan.

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