Posted in Uncategorized

On #BendtheKnee

“The unity of freedom has never relied on the uniformity of opinion.” -JFK

Freedom is an interesting concept. The idea that we’re all entitled by birth to pursue happiness, follow whatever religion we want without governmental persecution, these are all relatively new ideas. The United States of America considers itself “free” and most of its citizens would say they have “freedom.”

Which is why I think when they see the Colin Kaepernick‘s #BendtheKnee movement, these citizens get pissed off. How could someone not #StandUnited for a song of freedom? How could you bend a knee to our precious flag?

And in turn, those who support bend the knee ask how could people be forced to stand and pledge for freedom that doesn’t include their skin tone? With police brutality caught on camera, when black bodies die because cops panic shoot, and nearly none of these officers see a jail cell? Here is a simple, powerful message done without violence to show their not going to stand for oppression anymore. Black Lives Matter, and they want to be heard.

Back and forth we go on the debate. It’s interesting to me that for so many people they find the kneeling so offensive. If we see North Korean propaganda videos of them all standing together and singing their national anthem, we would call that obvious oppression. No citizen in North Korea has the freedom to say no to standing or singing; it’s not their choice to do these acts. So how is it we’ve got a President of America that wants to do the same? Give no choice or freedom to protest?

Telling a group of disenfranchised individuals that they must “do as their told” for the sake of being “united in freedom” is oppression. Telling someone that they must be “obedient” to the government and its status quo isn’t freedom. Protesting, rebellions, these are the foundations of our country. Not liking this choice of protest might be understandable, but everyone has the right to freedom of expression and free thought.

In the end, there are two conversations at play. The #StandUnited conversation which argues for the total loyalty to a country that has served them well, and the #BendtheKnee protesters and supporters who want to shed the light on the country that had abused them. When it comes to the conversation worth having it’s the latter, because when one side of the conversation has people dying and being actively oppressed it deserves to be taken seriously. Dismissing and jeering at protesters is only proving their point: Their voices don’t matter to the status quo.

Until they are heard, they must continue the #BlackLivesMatter and #BendtheKnee movements.

Posted in cultural differences

Dear Japan, I’m Not An Eikaiwa

Dear Japan,

I understand, I do. In Japan it’s difficult to find cheap English lessons that are convenient for a hectic schedule. Usually, real eikaiwa lessons run at about ¥20,000 per month on average. That’s one month where you might only get about three or four lessons because you need to cancel most of your lessons due to work, kids, hobbies, etc.

You also think perhaps, due to a very common misconception, that all foreigners don’t find random interruptions as rude. You see foreign people in movies and TV shows randomly finding each other and becoming friends, and your teachers may even encourage you to find a foreigner to strike up a conversation.

“Don’t be shy!” Your sensei might say, “Be brave and try it out!”

However, foreigners aren’t all the same. Some Americans are fun loving and extroverted people who love to make new friends, but then there are some Americans who don’t want to interact with new people, they like their own people and don’t really want to extend their social circle any further. Some Australians are adventurous and want to try everything, but then there are some who want to chill at cafes and never go out past city limits.

Basically every person, no matter their nationality, is different. Each person will have an introverted or extroverted personality, a good day or a bad day. I know you want to find people who will sit down with you to talk, because natural English can be hard to find at eikaiwas or school, but don’t expect every foreigner to be willing to talk with you.

I’m more of an introverted person at heart. I like to sit and talk for hours with my friends, but when it comes to meeting people for the first time I’m not very good at chatting. I like to meet new people through friends of friends, through commonalities, not randomly at cafes or on trains. It makes me nervous, anxious, and just all around uncomfortable.

I know many foreigners who aren’t like me, who come to Japan to teach English and feel it’s their obligation to teach English to everyone. Be they friend or stranger, some people take on this mantle of English teacher both inside and outside of the classroom, because they believe it’s so very important for Japanese people to learn English.

I applaud their enthusiasm and their commitment. Personally, I will gladly teach English in my classroom, I will talk with my Japanese English teachers, I will sometimes teach my Japanese friends new English words, but I don’t want to be an English teacher for every single member of Japan’s population.

Although, I wasn’t always in this mindset. I used to be the go-getter, the one who did free, random English lessons. But then I discovered there are people who can’t be trusted, and I shouldn’t be a free eikaiwa.

Usually, it was at cafes, and it was usually a man but sometimes a woman. They would say something like, “HELLO! My name is ______! Can I sit with you? I would like to practice my English.”

At first I just said, “Sure, no problem!” and I would have interesting conversations with new people.

Then many times, after I’ve allowed someone to use me as a free English lesson, I will get harassed again at the same coffee shop. They will come up to me the next time, and the next, and they will ask for my LINE or Facebook, or they might look me up on Facebook without my permission to add me. As a single woman living in Japan, this scared me, and I blocked these sorts of people, and then I would never go to that coffee shop again.

“But they’re Japanese!” You may say, “They can’t be dangerous!”

I disagree. Whether someone is Japanese or foreign, they can become stalkers. Perhaps they only wanted to be my English speaking friend, but I don’t want to be that kind of friend. I don’t want to be used for my friendship, it just feels wrong to me. Also, I don’t want to risk my safety, just for a possible “friend.” I would rather be cautious.

Still, people would ask for English lessons, over and over again. I would get so frustrated, because I felt it was necessary to teach them, so I tried to keep it to simple and short chats. In the five years I’ve lived here, I can’t count how many times I’ve been approached to become, essentially, a free English teacher.

By year four, I was done. I couldn’t let my job become my life, and I couldn’t let strangers take away my coffee shops from me.

Nowadays, when I sit down at a cafe, I want to sit in peace. I want to browse the web on my iPad and sip on my coffee. If I’m approached by someone like you, who wants to practice English, I’m sorry, but my answer will be no. Well, I’m usually very polite in saying no, “I’m sorry, but I just want to have some coffee and relax, so no thank you.”

Sometimes people are kind, they smile and say, “Ok, I understand!” and they leave me alone. Sometimes people are a bit upset and ask, “Why?” and I have to say something like, “Because I’m busy.” and then ignore them. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to be a walking, talking eikaiwa anymore.

Sorry, but it’s just how I am. However, if you want to talk to people in English that’s more natural, here’s some advice:

1) Join an Language Exchange– There are many groups available on MeetUp. Search for one near your area with English and Japanese available. These are usually free or the price of a coffee, and they’re usually at cafes too!

2) Find a Teacher to Fit Your Needs- There are so many sites. My-Sensei or Hello-Sensei  are both great resources for finding a personal teacher for cheaper than the eikaiwa. Also, there aren’t any package deals, you just pay per lesson! No contract, just direct message and contact. You can choose between one on one or group, so you and your friends can learn English together.

3) Go to International Events– Unlike at cafes or restaurants, international events will have many foreigners who are talking and mingling, and it’s less rude to strike up a conversation with someone foreign here (it’s actually expected). Find out where your nearest International Association is and sign up for their event newsletters.

If you take my advice, you’ll find that these settings are better for learning English instead of finding random English speaking foreigners anyway. After all, not every foreigner comes to Japan to teach English, and some foreigners don’t even speak English. And as I said before, different personalities means there will be different reactions to asking for an English chat. Besides, women like me who are very cautious simply don’t want to take risks with strangers.

Please don’t give up trying to learn English, but please keep in mind that not all foreigners are free eikiawas.

Thank you!





Posted in cultural differences, From Kentucky, Japan News

My Students are Scared of America

The Orlando shooting at gay club Pulse is now the largest recorded mass shooting in the United States. It comes right on the heels of another shooting in the same area, where Christina Grimmie was shot and murdered right after a concert. My students know all about both incidents, although the Japanese news has been leaving out that the club was “gay” for some reason and instead just calling it a club (because I suppose viewers wouldn’t sympathize with hate crimes? I don’t know).

When I ask them nowadays where they want to go abroad, most of them respond, “France! Phillipines! Canada!” If anyone says, “America!” There’s an automatic reaction of shock and cries of, “No! No! America kowai! Sugoi abunai!”  America is scary, dangerous, especially at the schools.

Ever since the Sandy Elementary School shooting in 2012, my schools in Japan prep students going to America about what to do if a shooting occurs while they’re abroad. I didn’t realize it was standard procedure until I accidentally walked in one a PowerPoint presentation, with pictures of guns and videos of lockdown drills. I remember looking around the room and feeling such shame. I left to go cry in the bathroom.

Some schools in Japan have started dropping exchange programs in America out of these fears, and also because less students want to sign up for America. Australia, Britain, and Canada are becoming the top picks for English speaking countries. The schools are safe there, people with guns aren’t going to come in and shoot them.

People will disagree with me about the idea of gun control. I’ve heard all the arguments, that it never works, look how prohibition turned out, blah blah blah. I’m tired of it. I’m exhausted with listening to people try over and over again to justify keeping assault rifles legal, that we can’t even bother to try saving lives on the off chance that we might fail.

“Bad people are always gonna do bad things!” Right, but I counter with, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Staying stuck in our ways isn’t solving the problem. Allowing the NRA to have such a big hold on our government and its decisions on gun control is outrageous.

Florida NRA control.jpg
Washington Post

In Japan, firearms are illegal. The only legal gun allowed within the country is a shotgun, and it’s an expensive gun to get, have, and continue having. The yakuza don’t even like to use guns because of the immediate imprisonment sentence attached. When caught with a gun and you are foreign, it’s deportation and blocked from the country, end of story. I don’t know if that’s ever possible for my homeland.

That doesn’t excuse America from at least trying. We should make it more difficult to get a firearm, as in heavier background checks and longer waiting periods. Every single person should be required to go through a gun safety course, and if you’ve been arrested for precious violent activities, ban them from entering a gun store. These are all easy and simple steps to take, but America refuses to budge on the Second Amendment, calling it their “God given right to bear arms!”

Meanwhile, in Japan I can go to work every single day knowing that the odds of my students getting gunned down is near nil. I don’t live in fear of having to barricade a door and use my body as a human shield to protect them. It’s a shame America not only allows that fear, but that its politicians profit from it.

My students shouldn’t have to consider getting shot and killed en masse as part of their pros and cons options for first world countries to visit. We keep trying to give people leeway to clench onto deadly weapons instead of trying to think about protecting the lives of the children, teens, minorities, LGBTQ affiliated persons, and so on. There are people praising the attack on the gay club, as in there are people who consider this guy a hero.

It’s only a matter of time until another school, another club, another event is the next “record breaking” massacre. When my students go to the United States, I don’t tell them that I fear for them, that I worry about it just as much as they do. I don’t believe in allowing that fear to control our lives, though. We all need to go out into the world and see other cultures, and many countries have their own sorts of dangers to face. At the same time, mass shootings seem to be a contagious and consistent problem in America, one that could be solved if we’d just try.

Posted in Japan News

Drinking Ban for American Military in Japan

Alcohol has been banned in Japan for all American military members on and off base. The ban comes after a military serviceman, Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia stationed in Okinawa, allegedly drove under the influence and hit two people. This incident followed after an American contractor employed at Kadena was arrested after the body of a 20-year-old Japanese woman was found on a roadside in the prefecture.

According to Japan Times, “Commanders are additionally urging civilian contractors and family members to observe it voluntarily.” The sailors and other members are also confined to base for the foreseeable future.

People who live off base can “travel to and from work, schools, gas stations, grocery stores and gyms.” However, all other activities “are prohibited by the order and subject to military law.” The grocery stores on base have wrapped up and refuse to allow purchase of any alcoholic products.

Alcohol Ban on Base
Photo Credit: McKay Fleming

Cmdr. Ronald Flanders, spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Japan reported that the alcohol ban is indefinite.

“There is no timetable in place…The alcohol restriction will remain in effect until the commander of the 7th Fleet and the commander of Naval Forces Japan determine that all personnel have fully embraced their responsibilities of being a U.S. ambassador at all times.”

Okinawa and the American Military base stationed there have had tense relations since the 1990’s.  In 1995, a Japanese schoolgirl was raped by three U.S. servicemen, which incited protests across the country. To this day, protests can be seen outside of the military base demanding that the military leave Okinawa.

It should be noted that many American servicemen and there employers don’t support these criminal actions in the slightest. RocketNews reported that when “a civilian employee of the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa was arrested after allegedly admitting to raping and stabbing to death a 20-year-old Okinawan woman” many American people came out to show their support for Okinawa and that they stand with the Okinawan people instead of the attacker.

At the same time, complaints against the mass punishment have been widespread on social media.

Many people both military and otherwise wonder how the strict ban will be enforced. It would be near impossible to keep track of the thousands of military personnel across the country. At the same time, Flanders and other commanders are taking these charges seriously, so perhaps it would be best for the sailors and other military men and women to abstain for the foreseeable future.

Posted in cultural differences, Uncategorized

Japanese School Lunches: Not That Great


Sometimes people share things with me and ask, “Hey, is this true?” One of the recent questions someone posed also came with a link to the video above. From the short film, one would think that Japanese schools have the healthiest lunches EVER and that American schools are the WORST when it comes to healthy food at school.

But actually, as with most cultural comparisons, the truth is a bit more complicated.

First of all, while it’s true that students in Japan do prepare lunches in elementary and junior high school, they don’t cook the meals themselves. That’s ridiculous. If a child burned their hand while cooking up soup, you can bet that parents would raise hell about it. No, there are usually food prep people who cook the food for the students.

Also, ATTN seems to believe that the food is all made “from scratch.” I saw the people prepping the food at my junior high schools, and scratch is a bit of a stretch. The soups are the add boiling water to dry ingredients type, and the rice is rice. You throw water in a pot and cook it, it’s not hard. The fish is fresh because Japan is an island nation and surrounded by fish. In short, the food isn’t terribly labor intensive, and that’s on purpose. This way the food prep people can get everything done quickly and it’ll be done in bulk.

Second, Japanese students do take mandatory classes for home economics in elementary and junior high school, but most of those classes aren’t labor intensive either. Students learn more along the lines of “How to Peel Potatoes and Apples” and less like “How to Make a Full Course Meal for Yourself.” And keep in mind that budget cuts can happen, and when they do, one of the first classes put on the chopping block (pun intended) is the home ec and music classes, just like in the good ol’ USA.

Next, what the video left out for obvious reasons, I think, is that the students do not get a choice about what they can or can’t eat at lunch. The food they get from the food truck that comes everyday is the food they get to eat: milk to drink, fish or pork, 1/4th a plate of rice, and some kind of soup. Everyone eats in their classrooms, so unlike in America, they’re not choosing this healthy lifestyle. The students eat what they’re given or they go without. If you’ve got allergies? Too bad, go get water from the water fountains. The flexibility you’d find in other countries isn’t here.

Japanese School Lunch
Actual school lunch I had at a JHS

The food isn’t as healthy as one would think. The rice is white, which means it gets stripped of all its nutrients. Unlike brown rice, white rice fills up the stomach, but it doesn’t add nutritional value. Basically, it doesn’t hurt but it doesn’t help the body. Since it’s 1/4th of the meal, it gives everyone the illusion of eating a lot, but in fact nutrition wise they didn’t eat enough. The lunch system is set up to just be a hold over until the students go home and eat dinner after school.

However, the positives outweigh the negatives. One good aspect to the lack of choice is the small portions sizes. Because America has cafeterias designed similarly to buffet style restaurants, portion sizes are generally bigger than most other countries in the world. Meanwhile, Japan has one tray plate with appropriate portion sizes. In addition, the fact that children are regularly from an early age eat lighter meals means that they’re less likely to over indulge when they get older. Americans have the idea that children need so many calories to grow, but the Japanese way of thinking is that children should just be given “enough.”

Finally, putting Japanese people up as a paradigm of good health is fine, but the reason so many people are healthy is because they’re active. Japanese schools have recess and P.E. They haven’t budged so far on cutting those kinds of activities, and I don’t think they ever will. In junior high school, nearly all students are in some kind of club, with the majority of students choosing sports. Sports clubs practice both in the morning and in the evening, especially the basketball and baseball clubs. When the students go to high school and the university, most Japanese people remain active and do physical activity. Most people ride bikes in the countryside if they want to go to the convenience store, they don’t hop in their cars. People in Tokyo walk everywhere instead of drive. People in Japan are just on their feet more than the average American person, and they do sports and such for fun.

In my opinion, yes American schools could learn a thing or two from the Japanese school system, but it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul. I would suggest simply looking into cutting down the food options available at school. Less desert or no desert might be a good place to start. American’s love it, and it’s a big part of our culture, but desert isn’t really a big part of Eastern culture, so I’ve learned to stop having it at lunch and dinner. Then if we make it so that students can have only healthy options instead of constantly eating grease, cheese, salt, and sugar products then we’ll definitely have thinner waistlines and better minds.

When students eat better, they also perform better in school, fun fact. I hope that America will still give students options, because learning to make healthy choices is a vital part of education, and taking that away seems a bit too far. Fighting obesity would mean also bringing back recess in elementary schools, and getting all students more active. Until we have a more physically active culture, unfortunately we’re not going to see much change.