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.

Hair Metal Elementary

As I was preparing for my second class at elementary school today, I looked up at the door to see 10 or so kids staring at me wearing ridiculous wigs.  It was like some sort of Japanese elementary school hair metal cover band had showed up for English class. My lesson went on without them breaking character and no explanation was ever given as to why they were wearing them, but I honestly didn't want one.