I first came to Japan in mid July 1999. I was selected, in Ireland, to be an instructor on the Japan English Teaching (JET) Programme. The JET Programme is a Japanese government scheme to promote the teaching of English in schools all over the country. How? Invite 3,000 foreigners every year to help teach the language, about 50 of whom come from Ireland.
Japan is a country where the same political party (the LDP) was in power for 58 of the last 60 years, until the new centre-left government of 2009. Yes it's a democracy, but the people keep voting the same figures back in. The longer I live here the more I realize that things don't change in Japan all that quickly. Tradition, not just in politics, means a lot.
That can, perhaps, account for the teaching methods used to impart the rudiments of the English language. When I arrived in Japan I discovered that I was to be based in a prefecture next to Tokyo, Saitama. I would be teaching at a ‘commercial’ High School, just outside the city of Tokorozawa. My school? A low academic, technical school, an hour outside Tokyo, where the students were much more passionate about their club activities (every day, six days a week - baseball to cheer leading on the 'Western' side, from Kempo and Kendo, Japanese martial arts, to Kyudo, Japanese archery, on the 'Eastern' side) and their beloved keitai (mobile phones), than about the learning game. Then again they were amazingly polite, friendly and happy. Perhaps there is a lesson there.
The teachers were an interesting bunch, some prodigiously fluent in English, others less so. In 1998 they were told that their salaries would be cut by 10%. Not only was the word 'strike' not mentioned but only one teacher expressed any anger over it to me. Ireland it is certainly not.
Then we have the assortment of school uniforms, from the micro-minis and long, baggy white socks (held loosely in place by special 'skin...