June 16 - July 4 2000
This has been a consolidation period for me, a chance to learn more about my computer, do some job related homework and most of all try to stay cool.
I closed my last Long Letter with the statement that it was Rainy Season. I had said in a previous letter that I thought Rainy Season was determined by the calendar rather than the reality of rain. Well, I humbly submit to you that I was all wet, so to speak. Rainy Season is not determined in such a simplistic manner, it is proclaimed to have started by the Japanese Meteorological Agency, which I think is part of the Transportation Ministry. The Meteorological Agency is responsible for determining not only Rainy Season but also Cherry Blossom Season.
Furthermore, they have the responsibility of reporting on earthquakes and volcanic activity through the Agency's Seismological and Volcanological Department as well as the Agency's Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions. Both of these august bodies have been very busy the last week with the earthquakes and volcanic activity in the Izu Islands; I was nudged awake at 5:30 on 1 July by what I think was one of the associated quakes. I was also dutifully impressed when I read that the Izu sub panel of the Meteorological Agency's Coordinating Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions had confirmed a change in the color of seawater off the coast of Miyakejima Island; and furthermore this color change indicated that a volcanic eruption might have taken place underwater. Meanwhile the Geographical Survey Institute of the Construction Ministry confirmed, using Global Positioning Satellite readings that the island had expanded by 6-10 centimeters. I don't know what else the Survey Institute does but it was gratifying to see that they didn't need a sub panel to do the measurement.
This is only an example of the bureaucracy that is prevalent throughout all of Japanese society. Some bureaucrat controls everything that happens in this country with additional political posturing by the Prime Minister and/or the Diet as the case may dictate. The Japanese like to pride themselves on their arriving at decisions via consensus but that is not what it is about at all. The goal of all decision making here is to be able to avoid responsibility; in this respect it is much more like Bulgaria than the United States. Even when the Izu sub panel made the statement that I referred to above they could not say there had been an eruption, only that there may have been one. However, it was somewhat obvious from live TV shots of the sea that that was what was happening.
What is Rainy Season? This is a time when it rains longer or harder than it did before. The frequency of rain seems to have actually decreased but when it does rain it rains for 24 hours, it pours or both. Then to make life even more miserable the temperatures have been slowly increasing so that it is somewhat like living in a hot house. The temperatures have been in the 27-30 Centigrade range but the humidity must be over 80% at all times and nighttime temperatures only drop 2-3 degrees. We will soon be out of Rainy Season and into summer proper which offers less rain but higher temperatures. Something to look forward to!
Now that I have been here for four months I think I can comment on the students that I am teaching every day. There continues to be many things about them that I don't know and probably never will, but I am now in a better position to make some broad generalizations.
We have 422 active students at this Nova school ranging in age from 22 months to 63 years. I am now seeing about 100 students each week with a few of them being the same ones. There are some students that come to Nova every day and they may take 3-6 lessons in one day. There is one girl that is going to leave here in August for the University of Nevada, Reno that will take 4 classes, participate in Voice class for 3 periods and complete 2 lessons at the Nova Internet site. Crazy!
Generally speaking they fall into 4 categories; first there is a small group that is going to go or have gone to school overseas. These students are a real joy; they are motivated, usually have good spoken English and you can carry on a limited conversation although they may not be the highest-level students in the school. Next is the group, mostly men, that are learning English for their job. We have a large Alpine radio factory near Tiara that manufactures the car radios for BMW, Mercedes and others. There also seems to be a lot of hospitals in the area and we have a number of doctors/dentists. This group is also very motivated and they have usually traveled rather extensively. The next group is a mixed bag and they come to Nova for a variety of reasons; but to socialize may be the common word. We have a large number of housewives that are studying English only because it gives them something to do and lets them get out of the house. They almost all have some other classes that they take; flower arranging, tea ceremony, martial arts, etc. - they are simply bored. There are also the younger adults that are using Nova as a dating/matchmaking opportunity because meeting people in a new town is difficult in their society also. Finally, we have another small group that is made up of younger students or kids that are here because their parents have told them that they are going to go to Nova and they are going to learn English. This group is not motivated! There are individuals in this group that are sullen and unhappy campers. There are also individuals in this group that shouldn't be here at all; such as a 22 month old that cannot even speak Japanese but the Nova Manager did a sales job on the mother. I also lump into this group the social misfits of Japanese society that are trying to find a place; or their parents are trying to find a place for them. It seems that we have a higher percentage of young unemployed than you would expect from the unemployment numbers that are published. In some cases it is apparent why the person is having trouble getting or keeping a job, they are slow learners not just slow English learners. Other individuals just don't seem to fit into the Japanese mold. These are actually some of the more interesting student that I have and are also a joy to teach even if they are very poor students. I feel so sorry for them, being forced to fit into something that does not fit - including our prescribed Nova method of teaching.