Mrs. Kramer's Class Has Some Questions

(note: Sure it's been nearly 8 months since I returned from Japan, but this piece just seemed to trickle together very slowly.)

Being that my mother has been an elementary school teacher for over thirty years, my teaching in elementary and middle schools in Japan was ripe for experimental exchange between our students. My mother curated a set of questions from her students for me to ask mine. Some of these questions I was simply able to answer myself, while others are the result of my polling various different students and getting a feel for the best answer. My students really enjoyed knowing they were getting questions from Miami. After I returned to Miami from Fuji City, I came into my mother's class room and spent time with her students, presenting them with the answers from the Japanese students as well as fielding any new questions they may have had. It was great experience for both the students and myself.

1.  "How do you say Good morning in Japanese?" Ohayou gozaimasu, pronounced phonetically as “Ohio go-zai-mas” 2.  "What are the most important things that Mr. Kramer has taught you?" My students felt that "Hello" and "Thank you" were the most helpful. 3.  "What important celebrations are part of Japanese culture?  How do you celebrate them?" The most important holiday on the Japanese calendar is Shogatsu, which are New Years Day celebrations. New Years Eve is not a big party day as it is in much of the western world. Not long after the clock strikes midnight, the people of Japan go to sleep so they can rise early to go to the Shinto temple the next morning. Some of the more clever students responded with “My birthday!” 4.  How much time do you spend on homework after school, and on weekends? Japanese school usually runs from 7:30 AM until 3:20 PM, but more often than not, students come to school early and leave late to participate in club activities (sports, academics, competition practices) often not leaving until 6:00 PM. After that, most all students attend juku, which are cram schools tutoring students in various subjects such as English and math. Juku often goes on until 9:00 PM or even later. Some students will usually study or do homework upon returning home. So the answer to the question is “quite a lot.” 5.  How much do you read after school? Reading is hugely popular in Japan, in my junior high school there were always lines out the library door during recess of kids returning and checking out stacks of books, often 10 or 20 high. Many students will read recreationally between classes, comic books being especially popular, but novels of a wide range of genres are also read. So the answer to the question is, again, “quite a lot.” 6.  What do you like the most about your country? “Peace!” and “sushi” were  easily the most popular answers. 7.  Do you know enough English that you can flaunt it to other people? As an indication of the answer, only a select few of my students would even understand what this question means. 8.  If you could go anywhere in Japan, where would you go?  and why? Hokkaido and Okinawa are by far the most common answers to this question. These locations are much like Alaska and Hawaii of the US. Hokkaido is the northern most island of Japan, with abundant snowfall and distinct cuisine. The Sapporo Winter Festival is by far the most popular festival in Japan. Okinawa is the southernmost island group in Japan, actually being closer to Taiwan than to main land Japan, and is seen as a tropical paradise. 9.  How fast does the bullet train go? 240-300 km/h (149-186 mph)! 10.  What kind of sports do you like to play? Basketball and soccer are by far the most popular sports in my junior high school, with baseball close behind in third. We actually had the number one boys basketball team, number one softball team and number one boys soccer team in Fuji City for the 2010/2011 school year. 11.  What is the favorite food in Japan? As far as Japanese food goes, sushi and various types of fish were popular answers, but the winner, by far, was ramen noodles. Ramen is basically Japanese fast food; cheap, delicious and leagues better than the Cup Noodle we associate ramen with in the States. Outside of Japanese food, McDonald’s is also a big favorite. Some of my students have such an affinity for the Golden Arches that they thought it to be Japanese and called me a liar when I told them it was from America. 12.  What is the most popular sport that people like? Baseball is by far the most popular sport in Japan. Some of my students are under delusions that soccer or basketball are number one, but that’s usually because they play those sports for the school team. Soccer has definitely been gaining popularity in the nation and grows larger with each passing FIFA World Cup. 13.  What is the best part of living in Fuji City? I exclusively received two answers, “views of Mt. Fuji” and “my house.” A testament of the exciting metropolis that Fuji City is. 14.  Does Mr. Kramer speak Japanese very well? “Oh yes, very well, very good.” They are liars.

One last hurrah, 22 More Subtle Differences Between Japan and the USA

While I've been back in the US for nearly two months now, when I was still in Japan I kept a running list of differences that I would add to whenever I came across a new one. These are the last set that never made it out before I left the country, mostly small observations, but hopefully you can still find them interesting.

  1. Since an eye test using the Latin alphabet wouldn't make much sense to use in Japan, one developed by Russians in 1923 using circles is used instead, seen on the right side of this picture.
  2. For the most part streets don't have names or even numbers, but it is instead the blocks are numbered. Watch this video for a great explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1zh49J5rsg
  3. Newspapers are far from in trouble, some even publish twice a day. Japan is second only to Iceland in newspapers published per 1,000 people (634.5 newspapers, source).
  4. Japan has 12 cities with a population of over 1,000,000 people, the U.S. has 9.
  5. Japan is approximately 4% the size of the U.S..
  6. You know how Philly has Cheesesteaks, New York and Chicago have Pizza and Louisiana has Gumbo and Jambalaya and not many other regions have their own signature dish? Well virtually all cities in Japan have their own signature dish. Part of this has to do with the tradition in Japanese culture to bring back gifts for friends and family when you go on a trip and those gifts are typically food. As a result, most train stations and gift shops have a huge selection of individually wrapped snacks for your loved ones. Fuji City's signature food is boiled peanuts, I have no idea why.
  7. Light switches are typically horizontal.
  8. Most houses have car ports instead of garages
  9. Cream Soda is not a golden drink in Japan, instead it is actually a melon soda float with vanilla ice cream, and even though melon soda tastes nothing like cream soda (though equally as delicious) the added ice cream makes it taste exactly has the golden variety in the States.
  10. Valentine's day gift giving is reserved solely for females to give the men in their lives as where a separate holiday, White Day on March 14th, is when men give chocolates and what not to their lady friends.
  11. Power outlets have 2 prongs instead of 3.
  12. The entire country of Japan is on a single time zone, even though eastern and western extremes of the country see the sunrise an hour apart.
  13. Trash is burned as there is no where to put it on such a small island.
  14. Very few kids, if any, bring lunch to school.
  15. Handicap access is not mandatory and quite scant.
  16. When you move into a new apartment you have to provide what is called "key money." It's usually one to three months rent you have to pay up front. However, unlike a security deposit, you will never see this money ever again. I personally believe this to be bullshit.
  17. Houses are typically pre-fabricated and modular.
  18. People tend to own small dogs. Popular breeds being Dachshund, Chihuahua and anything else tiny and super cutesy.
  19. Toothpicks are one sided.
  20. Convenience Stores have a "warm drink" section that keeps coffees and hot teas at a great temperature for the winter.
  21. Almost all cars have a GPS unit.
  22. Soda and beer cans have a little dimple under the top of the tab, making opening cans extremely easy.

20 More Differences and 3 Similarities Between Japan and the USA

It's becoming harder and harder to discover subtle differences between Japan and America, both because I've likely found almost all of them and I've been here long enough that everything Japan throws at me now seems normal.  But this time I've found 20 more!  So let's get to it:
  1. There is zero tipping in Japan and it can even be considered rude to attempt to.  I'm told that in certain circumstances you can tip taxi drivers, but I haven't paid tip since the moment I stepped foot here.
  2. Soda just is not popular.  Yes,  there is Coca-Cola and some of the other big names, but it just isn't nearly as popular.  In the States there are entire aisles devoted to all the different flavors, but here attention is shifted towards teas, coffees and juices.
  3. Shoe sizes rarely go larger than 28cm, that's a size 10/10.5 in American at stores, they just don't carry things larger.  Unfortunately for me, I'm a size 11, 29 cm.  When I went looking for shoes, it took me a good month or two of looking before I found a single pair of red Converse Chuck Taylor's, the only pair of size 29cm shoes I found anywhere in Fuji City.
  4. The drinking, smoking and voting age in Japan is 20.  The driving age for a standard car is 18, but for a motorcycle, moped and "small special car" it's 16.
  5. The U.S.A. is always called simply "America" (or "Amerika" in the proper Japanese spelling), not a translation of "The United States of America."
  6. Gas stations are called gas stands.
  7. Denny's is just not the same.  The breakfast menu you may know and love is only a single page, with more Japanese style dishes involving rice are more prevalent.
  8. In school, notebooks have two rings.
  9. The major expressway in Japan, the Tomei, is damn expensive.  To go from Tokyo to Nagoya (358km/223 miles), it costs ¥10,000, roughly $100.  As where a similar journey on the Florida Turnpike would cost you less than $20.  However, on weekends, if you have an ETC card, an electronic device installed in your car to automatically pay tolls, you can drive unlimited on the Tomei for only ¥1,000, about $10.
  10. Facebook is not nearly as popular.  Mixi is Japan's leading social networking service with 80% market share and over 17 million users.
  11. Lost hasn't finished yet.
  12. Students often go to school on Saturdays mornings.
  13. Your familiar tally marks are not used in Japan.

    Western vs Japanese tallies

    The process goes like this: Japanese tallies

  14. The emergency telephone number is 1-1-o for the police and 1-1-9 medical or fire, rather than 9-1-1.
  15. Comb-overs are referred to as barcodes
  16. Snow-men are done with 2 snow balls instead of 3.  This fact especially boggles my students.

  17. I'm told most everyone peels their grapes before eating them.
  18. As with a lot of other Asian countries, almost all cars are parked rear-end in first.
  19. Baseball games and most concerts don't run too late so that the audience members are still able to catch their last trains home.
  20. Maps typically show Japan as being in the center, instead of the Prime Meridian.

To mix things up I've also come up with some interesting similarities, unfortunately I could only think of:

  1. Starbucks is exactly the same, from the music to the interior decoration.
  2. Converse Chuck Taylor shoes are popular.
  3. Teenage girls still love Justin Beiber and they often try to talk to me about him during lunch for whatever reason.

If you'd like to check out my prior lists of differences between the USA and Japan you can find them here and here.

20 Differences Between the U.S. and Japanese Education Systems

My mom sent in the following question:

Can you tell us more about the vast differences between the Japanese education system and  the U.S.  that you haven't touched on already?  One thing you told me that is interesting is that students there aren't rewarded or given treats of any kind.

You're the best, Jon!

I still wouldn't say that I know a whole lot about the Japanese education system, being that my position is more like an outside contractor than a proper teacher.  But I can give however little information I've come to learn since March.  Keep in mind that since I don't have first hand knowledge as a Japanese teacher or student there's a good chance that the information isn't 100% accurate, and it may only be relavent for my specific city or region.  Also, much of this info will be fore junior high since I spend most of my time there.

  1. Teachers and administrative staff change schools every 3-8 years, the younger teachers moving more frequently.
  2. In elementary and junior high school there are no actual grades, I don't even think that it's possible to fail, you just have to show up.
  3. Discipline is far different than that in the States.  There is no such thing as detention (the kids typically stay at school long after classes are over to do club activities anyhow) or suspension.  Troublesome kids are free to get up and leave whenever they want with no consequence, if a kid doesn't want to do the work that's his problem.  If a class gets out of control the teachers have a tendency to ignore that there's a problem and just continue on for the kids that care.  But all that said, there is far from a discipline problem with the students.  I have practically no problems maintaining order and attention in the classroom.
  4. Every teacher is required to coach a club activity or sport.
  5. At the beginning of the year the home room teachers in junior high school visit the homes of every single one of their students for a meeting with the parents.
  6. About a third of the way through the year the parents each come to school for a meeting with the teachers.
  7. The principle is mostly a title only position, given to an older teacher close to retirement, the vice-principle does much of the day to day running of things.  The principle is still the face of the school and also receives a lot of respect.
  8. You have to apply for high school and take a standardized test as part of the application, similar to college.  Students often travel an hour's journey to a different city just for high school.
  9. School officially starts at 8:30 and ends at 3:20, but students often come much earlier and leave much later.
  10. There are typically no yearbooks.
  11. Schools almost never have fancy names, often just whatever neighborhood they are in.
  12. Home room teachers eat lunch with their students.
  13. There's often half-days of school on Saturdays.
  14. The school year starts in mid-March
  15. There are only two real vacation breaks.  Summer vacation, which is the entire month of August, and winter vacation, this year being from December 25th to January 5th.
  16. If there's a national holiday on a Thursday you still have to go to school on Friday.
  17. There are no custodians, the students clean the school.
  18. In elementary and junior high, all students walk to school on a pre-designated route.  For high school kids either walk, ride their bikes or take public transportation.
  19. Curriculum is handed down from the national level as opposed to the state level.
  20. There are 240 school days in Japan, 160 in the U.S.A.

That's all that comes to mind, but I'll be sure to post more as they come to mind.  As always, everyone is welcome to ask questions of their own in the comments section or email me at kramersemail@gmail.com.

Climbing Mt. Fuji: The Worst Day of Your Life

Ever since hearing I was moving to Fuji City back in March, I was excited to climb Mt. Fuji.  How can you live in a city named after the mountain and not want to climb it?  Despite never having climbed a mountain before, and that it's tallest mountain in Japan, coming in at 3776 meters high (12,388.5 feet), I was confident I could do it.  I'd read stories online about people into their 70s doing it, along with children and even people doing it wearing just a t-shirt and gym shorts.  The only thing to decide was when.

The "official climbing season" for the mountain is July 1st to August 31st every year.  Climbing outside this window is discouraged due to bad weather conditions in addition to freezing cold temperatures at the top.  My girlfriend Stacy, visiting from America, and I had the perfect window in our travel schedule to climb it on the very last day of the season.  There are innumerable amounts of ways to climb Mt. Fuji, there are trails in various cities on all sides of the mountain that lead to the summit.  A guy I met from New Zealand even did a trek from the ocean to the summit, the whole thing taking him over 22 hours in total.  However, most people, ourselves included, take a bus part way up the mountain and start from there.

I've heard from a lot of different people that the only way to climb the mountain is through the night in order to see the sunrise, which would be at 5:12 A.M. the morning we would climb.  So that's what we decided to do.  We took a train to Fujinomiya, the next city north of Fuji City, and where one of the trails is located.  All of the trails have rest stops along the way to the top, called stations, which are closed outside of the climbing season.  Buses will take you as far up as the fifth station and the rest is up to you.

The hike from the Fujinomiya 5th station is about 2,300 meters up, and is said to take about 6 to 7 hours to complete. It would end up taking us much more than that.

The views from even the fifth station are spectacular.  You are just at the cloud line and all the cities that dot the coast just beneath Mt. Fuji are all lit up for the night, gleaming through the clouds, lighting them up like frosted glass.  This did nothing but motivate us for the climb.  So a half hour after doing a little altitude acclimating, and buying Mt. Fuji branded (literally) hiking sticks, we started the ascent.  The time was roughly 9 P.M.

I had no idea how stupid I was to climb such a stupid mountain

The first couple of hours things are going good.  We're excited, we've got lots of energy, the climb isn't so tough and we're making good time.  But ever so slowly, the higher up we get, and the later it gets, the more we start to hit a wall.  About three hours into the climb we're really starting to feel the effects of altitude sickness and our bodies were pissed they weren't getting to go to sleep.  Also, it got increasingly freezing as we got higher and higher.  It was the perfect storm for the worst day ever.

Stacy Hates Mt Fuji

It's possible that we were a lot less prepared for this climb that we should have been.  But coming from Florida, one of the flattest places in America, I have zero mountain climbing knowledge.  We brought with us a single backpack to store the warmest clothes we own (my being from Miami and Stacy being from Arizona didn't provide us with much to work with there), 6 rice balls, a box of granola bars, four liters of water and a single handheld flashlight.

There weren't that many people climbing the mountain because it being the last day of the season (there's are literally lines all the way up the mountain at peak climbing times), but those that we saw we far more prepared than us.  Extremely warm ski clothes, hiking boots, specialized hiking sticks, headlamps, portable oxygen, portable stoves for making food on the go (that was a bit excessive) and much more.  The one thing I wish that we had to improve our climb would be the oxygen.  Living at sea level my entire life altitude sickness definitely set me back.

I would hike for fifteen minutes and absolutely need to take a break.  After about 5 minutes of resting I'd feel great to go, but as soon as I'd start again I'd already be feeling short of breath.  And the mountain just never seemed to stop.  It was purgatory, every time you thought you were making some progress, you'd see a sign saying that you'd made barely any at all.  The climb itself wasn't bad at all, towards the middle it gets rocky, nothing too terrible, but it gets easier towards the top.  Something that would probably really easy had it been at sea level.

About 400 meters from the top we were approaching that 5:12 A.M. sunrise, making it obvious we weren't going to make it.  We figured that we'd make it eventually.

I no longer care about seeing the sunrise from the summit.  In fact, I no longer care about anything.

The gradual sunrise over the cloud line was gorgeous, it made the terrible time we were going through slightly more pleasant.  About an hour after the proper sunrise we made it to the top.  I was far more excited about the terrible climb was over than having just climbed the tallest and most famous mountain in Japan.

The summit of Mt. Fuji

The view from the top of the biggest asshole in Japan

From there we got to climb down! We figured it'd be easier and much shorter.  It's a much shorter hike down, taking us about three hours, but the descent actually felt much worse than the way up.  Thankfully the sun is out, so it's a lot warmer, however we were already exhausted and wanted nothing more to do with this silly mountain.  Also, 3 hours of constant down hill hiking, on loose volcanic rock/gravel/sand made for the perfect combination to put my legs into immense pain.  My legs are actually just now stopping to be sore from the descent, 8 days later.

Why can't there be a gondola to the bottom?  I'd love that! Defacing Japan's most recognizable landmark is no big deal, right?

I really should stop complaining about my Mt. Fuji experience.  The more time that passes, the more I'm happy that I did it.  I've never climbed a mountain before in my life, and now I've climbed the largest in a nation.  On top of that I live in a city named after the beautiful thing and if it's clear enough outside, it's the first thing I see on my way to work everyday.

There's an extremely common saying in Japan about this feeling.  Something along the lines of "you are a fool not to climb Mt. Fuji, but you are a fool to climb it twice" and it's almost perfect.  I would append "and a clever man builds a gondola to the top" and it's perfect.

Here's my recommended list for anyone wanting to try and climb Mt. Fuji in the future

  • 2 liters of water per person
  • A headlamp, I made it just fine with a handheld one, but my hand got a little achey from the constant positioning.  If you lucky enough to have a half-moon or more, you can get away with no flashlight and just use the moonlight, we did this for more than half our climb with zero problems.
  • Food, we brought 3 rice balls each plus a bunch of granola bars, I'd recommend more than that.
  • Portable oxygen, if you have any reservations about how inclined to altitude sickness you are or you have no experience climbing mountains like me, buy some, I would have killed for some halfway through my climb.  They sell it at the 5th station if you don't know where to get any prior.
  • Some damn warm clothes
  • Hiking boots if you got them, or anything with ankle support
  • Knowledge that the climb is going to suck

One last thing, these two hikers and their hats made me much more happy than reaching the summit

22 More Subtle Differences Between Japan and America

This is the second in my series of posts listing the subtle differences between Japan and the United States that I have been noticing.  If you haven't seen the first post, you can find it by clicking here.
  1. If someone in Japan is counting to ten using their fingers, when the time comes for them to use that other hand (6 and higher) they don't show their hand side by side like they do back in the US.  Instead, they display the smaller amount of fingers in front of the larger. Difference between 7 using your fingers in the USA versus Japan.
  2. There are still smoking and non-smoking sections in most restaurants.
  3. There also still cigarette vending machines, however they require a special card that you can apply for from a convenience store after verifying your age and filling out some forms.
  4. Although much less common, beer is also sold in vending machines (I've only seen this is Tokyo).  The ones I've seen did not require any sort of I.D. card.
  5. Nothing is said when someone sneezes, you just go on about your business.
  6. There's no such thing as male or female bicycle shapes.  Mountain bikes will typically have the male configuration, with the bar from handles to seat (crossbar or top tube) going parallel to the ground, and the normal commuting bike's bar dips down towards the ground.  Also, everyone usually has at least one basket on their bike.  I have two, front and back.
  7. Every two years you have to get your car inspected and pay a tax, called "shaken".  The inspection insures that your not driving an vehicle that's unsafe for yourself or others and meets emissions standards.  The shaken increases every single time you get your car inspected.  Because of this there are very few old cars on the road, the shaken just gets too high and it makes more sense to just purchase a new car.  I've been told that because of this there's a very healthy used Japanese car market in Australia and New Zealand (if only because you know that the cars were very well taken care of).
  8. In 2007 the Japanese postal system was privatized.  Also, you can open a savings account with the post office (this started before the privatization).  The bank part of the Japan Post operates separately from the mail handling part, as such it has different staff and different operating hours.
  9. We all know that the currency in Japan is the Yen and its symbol is ¥, right?  Well here in Japan it's actually referred to as "En" and its symbol is . The ¥ symbol is not uncommon, usually international chains will display that symbol, but you'll most often see 円.
  10. Similarly, the name for Japan itself is actually "Nippon" or "Nihon."  I'm not entirely sure why one is said over another, but in Fuji everyone calls it Nihon and banknotes say Nippon.
  11. Months don't have names, they are simply numbered.  January is "ichigatsu," literally meaning "month one", October is "jugatsu" (month 10), etc.
  12. The mullet is making a comeback.
  13. There is no turning at red lights at any time.  Not even if there is no traffic and you're making a left-hand turn (which would be a right-hand turn in the states).
  14. You have to stop at a railroad crossing as if it were a stop sign.
  15. Stop signs are triangular.

    A triangular Japanese stop sign

  16. Unicycles have a pretty strong presence at Elementary schools.  I've even seen a mother teaching her daughter how to ride one in my neighborhood.
  17. Trains don't suck and they go everywhere.
  18. Envelopes are vertical.

    Envelopes in Japan are vertical instead of horizontal.

  19. In the US when someone lets you into traffic, the standard "thank you" gesture is just a bit of a wave.  Here you flash your hazard lights after they let you in.
  20. Reading is very, very popular in Japan, even with teenagers. I regularly see lines out the door at my junior high school's library with kids returning piles of 6 or more books.  When I was in middle school, getting kids to read during silent reading time seemed like an unwinnable battle for the teachers.
  21. I've heard that it's actually against the law to sell new books at a discout, which is why the used book market here is extremely huge.
  22. Kick stands on bikes are a little different, and much more stable because of it.

    A Japanese kickstand

If you have been to Japan, or live here, feel free to e-mail any differences you've noticed, kramersemail@gmail.com

22 Common Questions I Get From Students, and 5 Weird Ones

When I first met with the teachers I would end up working alongside at a Board of Education meeting a week prior to my starting they showed me the lesson they wanted me to teach.  At the end of the lesson they had left space for the students to ask me questions, because apparently they had a lot.  I found this be only be partly true, a handful of kids had a lot of questions, the rest seemed too shy to say anything, but luckily those outspoken kids would often act as representatives and ask even more.
Also, as the kids have gotten more comfortable with me, I've been getting a lot more questions in the hallways and during lunch.  Which is a great way to get them to improve their English outside of class.
I always seem to get a wide variety of questions, but there are always good handful that I'm always asked.  So here's a collection of those.
  1. How old are you? 23 years old
  2. How tall are you? 185 cm
  3. Do you like Michael Jackson? Yes, I do
  4. What's your favorite color? Since I'm not 12 years old, I don't really have a favorite color, so I tend to go with green since I can use the chalkboard as an example.
  5. Have you been to Disneyland? I try to explain to them that haven't, but I've been to Disney World, and I tell them that there are 2 Disney parks in America and I show them where they both are.
  6. Who's your favorite singer? Sometimes I'll say Michael Jackson, other times I'll say the popular Japanese boy band "Arashi" and the kids go crazy.  I've never heard a single Arashi song.
  7. Favorite cartoon/anime? I'll often say One Piece (a really popular, long running show about pirates) and the kids go crazy.
  8. Favorite movie? Most of them have never heard of Back to the Future, so I'll say Totoro or some other wildly popular Studio Ghibli cartoon that all the kids know.
  9. Favorite comic? Comic books are extremely popular here in Japan, and people of all ages read them, so not too unusual of a question.  I try to stick with something they know, so I again say "One Piece" or maybe Batman.
  10. Do you like Japan? Yes, I do.
  11. What's your favorite place in Japan? Fuji! Sure, it's a lie, but Fuji isn't half bad and I've barely been anywhere else.
  12. Favorite food/Japanese food? Rice, Okonomoyaki and Ramen.  Showing the tiniest knowledge of Japanese food or culture blows any Japanese person's mind.  Telling them that rice is one of my favorite foods blows there minds because it's so banal to them (and the rest of the world).
  13. Do you have a car? No, I don't.
  14. What food do you not like? Avacados.  Which gets a surprised reaction just like it does back home.
  15. What sports do you like? Hockey (exclusively called "Ice Hockey" in Japan) and Football (the Japanese call American Football "Amefto").
  16. What are your hobbies? I like traveling.
  17. Favorite animal? Whales, bears or something else that I've recently showed them a flashcard of.
  18. Shoe size? 27cm
  19. Where in Japan do you live? Fuji, because some of them think it's a possibility that I commute from Tokyo or Kyoto.
  20. How long have you been in Japan? I got this question the most during the first few classes I ever taught, so the question was often 3 or 4 weeks, which was mind blowing to even the teacher I was assisting.
  21. When's your birthday?
  22. Are you married? No, I'm not.

During every Q & A session I have during class, there always seems to be one odd question out of left field that I wasn't expecting.  It usually starts with the "Japanese Teacher of English" scratching their head, trying to figure out the translation.  Here are some of my favorite of these questions.

  1. Are you Christian Born Again?
  2. Is your hair natural?
  3. What's your favorite type of history book?
  4. Favorite flag?
  5. What's your favorite type of woman?

17 Subtle Difference Between Japan and America

In Japan there are a lot of obvious differences that most people know about without even being to the country: they speak Japanese, they drive on the left side of the road, they don't use the Roman alphabet, etc.  This is the first in what I plan on being a series of posts about the more subtle differences that I have been slowly discovering during my year here.

  1. Most bathrooms do not have any means to dry your hands.  The vast majority of Japanese people carry around a handkerchief that they will use in this situation.  I'm not sure if they all carry it because of this, or two wipe off sweat in the summer months.
  2. Walking around with your hands in your pockets is considered bad manners.  But, it seems to be alright in cold, windy weather.
  3. When you beckon someone to come towards you, you do so with your palm facing down, instead of facing up.  Doing so with your palm facing up I'm told is used for animals.
  4. You do not point at someone with only your index finger pointed straight at them, you gesture towards them with an open hand.  Using just your index finger is rude.
  5. Teachers and administrative staff in public schools rotate to different schools every 3-4 years.  This is done to help iron out problem schools.  Japanese teachers actually find it weird that teachers in the west typically stay with the same school for most of their careers.
  6. In school, students brush their teeth after lunch.
  7. You can get change for a ¥10,000 bill (~$100) pretty much anywhere.  You can go to the convenience store, buy a Kit-Kat Bar, pay with a ¥10,000 note and they won't bat an eye.  It's magnificent.
  8. Most all gas stations are full service.  Also, they rarely have convenience store attached to them.
  9. Man-hole covers tend to be very elaborately designed and painted.
  10. In a restaurant after the host seats you and the waiter/waitress takes your drink order they aren't going to come around in a few minutes to see if you are ready to order.  They will leave you be until you are ready, at which point you call out "summimasen!" (excuse me).  Pretty often there will be a button on the table that you can use to call the waiting staff instead of calling out.
  11. Instead of a √ being used for correct, a O is used.
  12. If you buy something from the convenience store that is supposed to be microwaved, the staff will ask if you'd like them to do if while they ring you up.  The Mini-Stop chain of convenience stores also have a seating area where you can eat what you buy.
  13. There is typically no such thing as central air or hear in Japan.  AC units are wall/window mounted and pump out air to just the one room.
  14. There is no air conditioning in schools.  The only place in any of my schools that have AC units are the faculty rooms, but I have yet to see any of them ever turned on.
  15. If you have an electric stove top range, you can only use pots and pans designed to be used on that system.  The same goes for gas.  Pots and pans usually say whether they are for electric or not (denoted by an "IH").
  16. Japanese pens tend to be finer than Western pens because of the intricate characters they have to write.  Also, they rarely ever smudge since they write from right to left, which is a God-send for my left-handedness.An addition via Facebook from Jason Smith "Pencil lead (2H, 3H, 5H, etc.) and paper thickness (in mm) used in public schools are different in different parts of the country, depending on the average humidity and rainfall. A pencil & paper set typically used in Tokyo will smudge, smear, or wrinkle easier in Okinawa because the climate is different."
  17. When the Japanese sign for something they don't use pens, they use a custom made stamp with their name in it, called a "hanko."  They actually have to be registered with the government and can cost around $500 to get one made (so I'm told, but I've seen them sold at the ¥100 store).

If you have any of your own you can e-mail them to kramersemail@gmail.com, I'd love to add them to the next post.