Friday, February 25, 2011

Caring Co-Workers

"The best way to realize you're a jerk it to surround yourself with nicer people." - Me

All is normal in the office. My water bottle is halfway full, music is blasting from my macbook into my earphones, and I'm typing away at another post when..."CRASH!" Something, somewhere has fallen. My first and only reaction was laughter. Returning to my world of hydrated and seranaded writing, I can't help but notice EVERYONE leap out of their chairs and rush out of the office. "They really care," I thought which of course makes me realize that I didn't. Well I crashed the kindness party and followed the gang. As it turns out one of the teachers stood atop a wobbly desk to put a box of materials away in an overhead storage closet. Of course gravity ups the anti and sends him and a bundle of binders down to the floor. No one was hurt, but it was still a close call. That sound was not only the audio consequences of clumsiness, it was also possibly the signal of someone in peril. Therefore, I can't believe I laughed. Well...of course I laughed, and to be honest, everyone should have as well. Falls, fumbles, and anything klutzy is pure entertainment. But what I should have done is responded to the scene of the sound. Just laughing and ignoring the situation is cause for membership at the Jerk Club. So I want to personally thank all of my kind Japanese brethren for paving the yellow brick road towards kindness.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Secret Travelers

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware" - Martin Buber

Japan is an intricately organized society burdened with paperwork but maintained with policies, rules, and red tape. Part of the nation's success is due to its citizens seeing their jobs as more than a paycheck. Biologically speaking, everyone has two parents, a mother and a father. But in Japan, there exists a third, the company you work for.

In the case of teachers, it's very difficult to get away, and very few teachers even come close to using half of their paid vacation leave. Though with the existence of several large travel agencies, such as JTB or HIS, someone is hopping on those planes. But who?

The answer: everyone. When I first aquainted myself with the Japanese workplace, I was dumbfounded when many colleagues had confessed to never leaving the country, let alone a trip to the southern islands of Okinawa. It was only after befriending them did I realize that everyone was lying. While, Japanese people are portrayed as shy, and speak less English than neighboring Asian countries, they love exploring the world, if only for a few days at a time.

Then why do they, especially teachers, work so hard to keep their travel on the downlow? It's simple: they're lazy and want to be left alone, but you can't blame them. As a teacher in Florida, all I had to do was input my requested days on the computer and my vacation time was automatically approved. In Japan, not only does your Vice Principal and Principal have to sign off, but if you're traveling, you need to submit a detailed travel report.

Just like a child going on a camping trip with friends, educated adult employees need to supply precise dates, locations, hotel addresses, phone numbers, and emergency contact information. Perhaps, the true reason for keeping the trip secret deals with the return. For any employee missing work is expected to 'thank their co-workers for picking up the slack while they were gone.' This is done with おみやげ / souvenirs, typically of the edible kind. For the first two years, I loved picking up boxes of cakes from exotic countries for the staff room, and personalized presents for my favorite co-workers. But now in my third year, I've grown tired of the ordeal. With bag limitations, and strict travel budgets, it's sometimes difficult to supply the necessary 'thanks.' This is why one co-worker didn't publicize his relative's wedding in another prefecture, and why another secretly took his family to Europe during winter vacation. It also explains why I need to keep my mouth shut. For instance, I only told two colleagues that I was traveling to China, and then everytime I was at the photocopier, someone would approach me and say, "China!"

Consequently, I can't blame any of my co-workers for not telling anyone about their trips, well except me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Winter Walk

"All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking." - Friedrich Nietzsche

When a town drowns in snow, the likely response is to stay at home. While I agree in the power of heat, it's impossible to cage curiosity. So one day the time had come for a walk, a winter walk.
Location: 青森市 (Aomori City)

No one said it was going to be easy!

Snow Leaves

A pedestrian's eye view presents the obscure.

Talk about dedication. I've heard of fair-weathered fans, but these are cold-weathered athletes.

Commemorative Couple Shot

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Edible Statistics: McDonaldland Japan

"McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15." - Thomas Friedman

On July 20th, 1971, the first Japanese McDonald's opened in Tokyo. While that's 31 years after the first one opened in San Bernardino, Japan has quickly become 2nd ranking nation with the most McDonald's.

With an estimated 312,072,000 people, the United States accounts for 4.52% of the world's population. With an estimated 31,000 plus locations globally,  America's 13,381 locations account for roughly 43% of the world's McDonald's. In total, the US has one McDonalds per every 23,322 citizens.

While Japan, with a population of 127,370,000, has 3,598 locations. While Japan accounts for only 1.85% of the world's population it has nearly 12% of the world's McDonald's with one per every 35,400 citizens. Even my city of residence 青森市 / Aomori, with an estimated population of 302,068, has 5 locations providing one McDonald's per every 60,413 people. But 青森市 is in the rural Tohoku region. Now factor in Japan's bustling metropolitan areas, and that's a lot of McDonald's to make up for the numbers.

What about the competition? Burger King left in 2001, returned in 2007 and now has a mere 37 locations. America's 3rd fast food burger chain, Wendy's, left Japan in early 2010. Mos Burger, founded just one year after McDonald's landed in Japan, is the nation's 2nd largest fast food chain with an estimated 1327 locations. Consequently, McDonald's has nearly 3 times as many locations as its closest competition.

Of course these numbers don't account for competition, population density, tourists, economic factors, or dietary differences. Surprisingly using statistics alone, you're more likely to find a McDonald's in Canada, than either the US or Japan with one location per every 2,454 people.

Also surprisingly is that South Korea which shares some of Japan's food culture has only 243 locations with one per every 199,592 people. Lotteria, though first founded in Japan in 1972, is Korea's number one fast food chain accounting for 45% of the market.

McDonald's World Locations

*Please note: Crave Cravak, nor craveVSworld claim no responsibility for the contents of this post nor attest to their validity. Please visit wikipedia for their respective world population and McDonald's pages.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Evaluation Station: Reviews Are In Part 1

The first grade students at my high school have put in their two cents regarding my teaching style. Below are some juicy nuggets from their evaluation forms. Laugh at them, use them to guide your own teaching of ESL students, or do both, the choice is yours. Grammatical errors were kept in tact to prove the authenticity of the responses.

"I was surprised at your big voice."

"I learned that it is important not to be shy."

"Please do your best at Canada!"

"Journals were hard for me but they were very useful study."

"I love you. I want you. I need you."

"I think you are a good teacher. Because you are always kind to us and always fine."

"You have a great and big voice!! It is like an alarm clock!"

"I want you to speak more quietly."

"I don't like homework, but I owe what I am to it."

"I understand your mind."

"And I love peanut butter like you. I often eat it with bread for breakfast. It is very dericious."

"I like peanut butter too."

"I love Peanut Butter forever."

"Journal is little hard, but it will be my power."

"Please have self-confidence!"

"It was also fun for me to listen unique phrases in English."

"Your class, team teaching, is difficult. However I sometimes couldn't hearing your English, I can enjoy it. Why? Because you express not only speaking English but also sing and face."

"I get a lot of things from you. But, I am fool boy."

"I learned that there are many ways to express words."

"I like Japanese proverbs, so it's very interesting to study English proverbs."

"Your presentations excited me."

"I love you. You are loved by a lot of students. You are very handsam. You are very cool. I hope you will be happy in the USA. You will be loved in USA. I'll never forget you. I love you."

"By the way, do you have facebook or twitter account?"