A little cryptic title for my long-overdue first post in 2013, but I’ll quickly explain. Having a wisdom tooth removed is not an experience I would wish on many people, yet is something I had to go through this past week. A couple of weeks ago I got a pain at the back of my [...]
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A little cryptic title for my long-overdue first post in 2013, but I’ll quickly explain. Having a wisdom tooth removed is not an experience I would wish on many people, yet is something I had to go through this past week.
A couple of weeks ago I got a pain at the back of my jaw on one side. As soon as the pain came on I had a feeling what would be the root of the cause (pun intended). I’d been told before by my dentist (at Piece Dental Clinic in Chatan, Okinawa – an excellent place with some of the most modern equipment I’ve seen in Japan) that my lower wisdom teeth would impact at some point more than likely, and would cause problems. I’d told them in the past I’ll leave it as long as possible, but this was the first time it had given me any pain. The dentist saw me a couple of days later and confirmed that I’d got an infection in the gum, and that it was swollen. Then dentist gave me 2 options:
- Take antibiotics and it will clear up, and wait for it to happen again… and again… and again. And it will.
- Take antibiotics and once it has cleared up get the tooth pulled.
One gum infection is enough for me so I told them to book me in and get it done. so the following Friday I was in the dentist’s chair after work, a little nervous, as a needle entered my gum and started to anesthetize the area. Once numb, they told me they were going to laser some bits around the tooth first. Slightly disturbed that they might whip out a gun from Star Wars, they started doing something that I don’t really have any knowledge about. All I knew was that every so often I could smell something that can only be compared to the time I dropped a hot soldering iron on my arm which then stuck onto my skin. Fun times.
Once lasered they started drilling away at different areas. They had to take the top off the tooth in order to get an angle to pull the wisdom tooth out. Once the cap had come off they got what I can only describe as medical needle-nose pliers. Unfortunately, by the time they started tugging at the tooth, the anesthetic was starting to wear off. So I was not only getting the noise in my skull of the tooth being ripped from the gum, and little bits of tissue breaking, I had the added joy of starting to feel it too. Combined with the not insignificant amount of pressure they had to put on my mouth to get the thing out made it quite an experience!
It came out eventually though and 2 stitches were put in (which will be removed later this week). I was told I might have, “Some discomfort” the first night and day. Luckily I know that’s Japanese speak for, “Expect hell”. I was given some antibiotics to prevent infection and 3 painkillers; one to be taken every 4 hours if needed. They were all finished off by about 3am the following morning! Went the next day with a slightly swollen jaw for a final bit of lasering and check up, and they said all looked well. the pain has subsided now and my only real problem is that my mouth won’t open fully just yet. I’ve been doing some reading and have found this is quite common, and to do with the fact that your jaw muscles have been stretched. The best thing to do is rest and speak as little and as softly as possible. Not easy when you have to shout to hear yourself over a bunch of teenage kids you’re attempting to educate. Imagine, if you will, you’re running and you pull a muscle. And then you keep running on the pulled muscle every day. Kind of like that feeling in my mouth!
The swelling is going down though and I can open my mouth about 50% of the way now which means I can stop eating soup for every meal! I can’t really cook anything apart from soup and curry so that’s not a huge benefit to be quite honest.
And that’s been my excitement in the last week. Will be back very soon (honest) with updates about cars, life in Japan, the UFC coming up next month, and much more…
To say my jaw dropped when I read this story was something of an understatement. Education firm, Pearson, have just released global rankings for the quality of education, which have placed the top 5 countries as:
- South Korea
- Hong Kong
With the UK coming in at 6th and the US in 17th. The test measures test results globally, as well as the proportion of students who go on to university.
Now I’ve racked my brains since reading this and I really have no idea how Japan can rank so highly in education rankings. And I’m not just talking about it from being a cynical English teacher living and working here for the past 8 years. Education standards on the whole seem to be slipping, and especially when viewing comparisons to countries like Hong Kong with it’s tutoring “kings and queens”, and seeing the levels of students in South Korea. The fact that Japan is even above the UK is very surprising to me to be honest. The report talks about the top countries having an understanding of education’s ”underlying moral purpose” which, after seeing a number of students coming out of schools recently, appears to be completely absent. All I can think is that since the data was collected 3-4 years ago, much has changed in Japan for the worse. Or my memory of education in the UK is through very strong rose-tinted glasses.
It then mentions about how in the best countries, that teachers are respected and efforts are made to recruit the best people for teaching through salaries and status. The former definitely isn’t the case for the normal teacher in Japan, and gets even worse as the students get lower. A friend of mine was talking about their job at a kindergarten. She had just started working there, and took a test to be classified as a fully qualified teacher which comes with increased benefits. Six teachers at the school were told to take the test, which they all worked hard for and passed. The school then turned around and told them they were only going to give two of the six the benefits that come with being classed as a fully qualified teacher. The others would continue to be classed and paid as juniors, regardless of their performance. And paying someone a salary of around USD$1300 (£840) a month is not really the way to make someone want to remain in the education profession.
The only possible reasoning I can find is that the rankings are formed in part from test scores achieved by students. I would hope that these are the same type of test conducted all over the world to provide a benchmark for results. But it’s possible that these tests may be done individually on a country, board of education, or even school level. And that is where the distortions start to occur.
I have seen numerous times where a student is going to fail an English exam (usually through lack of effort, as the tests are made simple so any student who works can get a passing grade). In addition, the student has not written anything in their books all year and failed to hand in a single homework. But the teacher needs to make the student pass because the rule is that the student has to pass. So they are given letters or words to copy on paper. This paper is only given to the students who are definitely not going to pass, and then a huge emphasis is placed on this paper, instead of the test (which is the case for the majority of students). What this means is that the student will sleep through the English exam, get maybe 5%, and then get final grades which are not so much lower than the students who worked harder but were graded more harshly as the goalposts were moved. It’s this type of distortion which can easily affect figures like this.
But maybe I’m being far too critical. I have been wrong on a couple of rare occasions, and maybe the Japanese education system is one that the rest of the world should be looking up at. I just have this niggling feeling that if I’d have never handed in any homework and school and then slept in class, I’d have had a blackboard eraser thrown at me by the teacher, and given adequate reward/punishment to motivate me to try and improve my scores.
What do you think?
What the rumours were suggesting was confirmed yesterday by the UFC. After their successful return to Japan for UFC 144 in February of this year, followed by UFC on Fuel TV from Macau this past week, it has been announced that the UFC will be back in Japan early in 2013.
The Saitama Super Arena (see right), venue for so many Pride FC fights in its prime, and where Benson Henderson defeated Fankie Edgar at UFC 144, will once again host the event, scheduled for March 3rd. it will take place on Sunday morning in Japan, which will correspond to Saturday night for US TV audiences. The only other information currently available about this 2013 event is that it’s not going to be a full PPV event, but instead will be UFC on Fuel TV 8.
Not over the moon with this, and it comes at the end of a huge run of 6 events in 7 weeks for the UFC, starting and ending with PPV shows. There’s a good chance the Japan event might not get the cream of the crop in terms of fighters, but it will give the Japanese fighters a chance to star on a home card. After Takanori Gomi’s (see below) win in Macau, he could possibly get top billing for the fight card. If he does and they can push some Japanese fighters, it will hopefully continue to breathe life into Japanese MMA. And to be honest, I’m happy with any UFC event, PPV or not, coming back to Japan.
No other details have been announced just yet, but as soon as they are I’ll be posting them up here.
Well my student’s progress in the Prince Takamatsu Trophy All Japan Inter-Middle School English Oratorical Contest ended this year at the prefectural level. It was a big disappointment compared to the success of last year when my student was awarded 6th place in the whole of Japan, but didn’t come as a huge surprise due to a few different factors. It is a shame though, as I would have really liked to try a few things with my student to improve their confidence, belief and general impression when they walk to the podium and give their speech. It’s following along the same lines of some things I mentioned back in my article a couple of years ago on preparing SHS students for speech and debate contests; being that your content is only a small part of the impact your speech has. You can have the most interesting content in the world but if your audience isn’t captivated by you and your words, it will quickly be forgotten.
I regularly visit TED.com as they often have some interesting discussions and talking points. One of the latest was a talk by Amy Cuddy, social psychologist from Harvard Business School. The talk was entitled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”, and focused not only on positive body language affecting those around you, but also having a profound effect on yourself and way of thinking.
It was a very informative talk, and got me thinking about how ideas like that could be used as I prepare my students for future contests. In a speech contest in Japan, students have to stand in front of a large audience, remember a 5 minute speech in a foreign language, get all the pronunciation and intonation of words right, and at the same time appeal to the audience and judges. When you think about it, it’s no surprise that many students will forget their speech, rush through it or come close to freezing up.
I always try to work on mental images with my students as the contests get close. I’ll draw an outline of the venue, ask them to visualize walking onto stage and seeing all the faces looking at them as they take their first big breath and start to talk. It’s had a positive effect on my students in the past, but there’s always the knot in the stomach in the few minutes before you are due to go on stage. This could definitely be a way to instill a little self-belief in yourself before you take to the stage, although possibly without the arms in the air which could be distracting to others!
It almost goes without saying but the other main thing is frame of mind. The student who won the Okinawa contest this year and will go on to the national contest is in that position for a number of reasons. She has good English, yes, but she also worked very hard, devoted time to practice in and out of normal school hours, and had a very strong desire to reach Tokyo and the finals. I was talking to some of the students before the contest and they were saying they hoped they would do ok, or they would try their best. This student had one aim, which was to be in the top 3 and qualify for the Finals. The combination of desire, ability and hard work is always going to reward you with a certain amount of success.
And the last but integral part which I always hark on about is the dedication of the ALT. It will almost always fall to the ALT to get the student and their speech/story ready for the contest, and to be successful they have to take the initiative. And yes, this does mean putting in time before work starts, unpaid overtime, and working during your summer vacation. Times that you’re well within your rights to be off work relaxing, but time that could be spent with your student getting them ready for the contests. This summer I could have taken the entire summer off and lay on a beach for a couple of weeks. Instead I was in work each day, making sure that once the contest was over, neither me nor the student were left feeling there was anything else we could have done to be ready.
Just a few thoughts for you to ponder. But I do believe once your student has the basics of the speech perfected, things like mental preparation are often overlooked and can prove the difference between being 1st and 2nd. And let’s face it: nobody ever should set their goals at 2nd place.
Let me know what you think of the video and my ideas, especially if you employ these things with your own students.
Busy times at work. For the past few weeks the time after after my regular classes has been filled (am now the teacher with the dubious honour of having the most classes in their weekly schedule, and I strongly suspect, the lowest salary!). I’ve been working with a student towards our local area’s English Storytelling contest. Last year in the first year I had been involved in JHS competitions, my student was in the top 5, but just got pipped at being placed. And this year on my desk in plain view to everyone is listed my contest goals for this year, including a top-3 place in this contest.
And actually the pressure was a little higher for me for a couple of other reasons. In the other main English contest (the national All-Japan Inter-Middle School English Oratorical Contest), I had coached a very hard-working student to 2nd place in the local area. This was followed by placing 3rd in the whole of Okinawa and qualifying for the finals in Tokyo. There, she placed 2nd in the Kyushu region semi-final, which got her into the grand final in front of over 1,000 people and pitted her against 26 of the best students in the country. She put in a faultless performance, giving her a 6th placing and I couldn’t have been prouder. We had a very good combination of a gifted student, a well-written and thought out speech, and a little bit of assistance & guidance from your author. But now that has set the benchmark and the pressure is on (mainly from myself) to do the same or better this year, and have similar successes in all of the contests.
And secondly, because of the very healthy rivalry I’ve got going with the other junior high school in the town. We are good friends, but both desperately want our students to be the best. He is one of the hardest working foreign teachers in Okinawa, and has had numerous successes in these contests, including winning the aforementioned Oratorical Contest at the national level. This success doesn’t just happen by chance; it happens because of a very hard working teacher/coach with good methods. So I know that whatever student he is coaching in the contest is going to be very good and up there when the results are read. Which means that I’ve got to work even harder to give him as much competition as I can.
So, for the past 6 weeks I’ve been meeting on an almost daily basis with my chosen student (who was picked after auditioning the 12 students who applied for this contest; record numbers of applications for all English contests this year). An appropriate story was chosen (this year, an edited version of Marsupial Sue’s The Runaway Pancake) and practice began in earnest. We’ve been working on memorization, natural gestures, delivery, pronunciation, and the right mental frame of mind for a contest. To take part in the contest and perform reasonably, you only need the first of those, but I really believe to have the best chance of winning you need the latter.
I try to get the student thinking about the contest and imagining it from the offset. I’ll draw the hall layout on the board, telling them where they and everyone else will be seated; I’ll impersonate the MC calling their name during practices; I’ll have them visualize the hall and everyone looking at them before they start talking (often, a student’s biggest fear). Basically I’ll do everything I can to ensure the student isn’t taken aback when they first enter the hall on contest day. They won’t have the nerves that some might have, because they’ll have a mental image of the hall and what will happen during the event right burnt into their mind. Even very gifted students can have attacks of nerves (it’s only natural) so I try to make sure they stay as relaxed as possible. It might not work for every student, but I am comfortable with that style and the students I coach seem to be too. And it could be the tiny difference between winning and losing.
So my student worked hard and got their speech nailed down, and under the 5 minute limit with 15 seconds to go each time. I thought he might have a chance if he didn’t make any mistakes on the day. Unfortunately, the day before the contest we were told that out of 36 students mine would be placed 30th. While there are good and bad sides to a number like this, I’m really not a fan. It means they’ve got around 2 hours of sitting in one place to do, listening to speech after speech and doing nothing, before they perform. If the student can switch off and go into their own world for a couple of hours then they are fine; if they start to listen to speeches and hear good speech after good speech it can make them very nervous.
And then contest day came around yesterday. And the first thing my student said on arrival at the contest venue was just what I wanted to hear. “It’s not as big as you were saying”. Perfect! It meant that the size and scale of the event and venue was not as big in his imagination, which reduced a potentially huge cause of stress for a student. We got there in plenty of time so nobody is rushing about, and had a relaxed lunch. After that it was time for one practice outside, and one simple practice walking on and of the stage. And then it was time for the contest to start.
My student had a few nerves, but just the usual pre-contest type. I was much worse! Mainly because I knew that if he performed as well as he had in his last couple of practices, he had a good chance of being placed. Speech after speech went by; some good, some not so good. In fact, to be honest the average wasn’t so great. I know some schools don’t have foreign teachers working at all, or if they do they may only have them there once a week. But these contests should be the times when the foreign teachers put in the extra effort, especially the teachers assigned to a single school. Take the English Oratorical Contest in September as a prime example. Practice for my student starts in July and I’ll be coming into school almost every day during the summer holiday, voluntarily and completely unpaid, to practice with my student. The reason I’ll be doing it is because I want my student to be successful, and they want success too. And you can be sure that my friend at the other JHS in my town will be doing the same too, which is why both of us will be very unhappy if our students are among the top when the contest results are read out. It would be very easy, and understandable, to say, “I’m not getting paid for working these hours/these days, so I’m not going to come”, but doing that will always give you the “What if…” questions if you’re not successful.
After over 2 hours of speeches it came to my student’s turn, and as he started I pushed the button and my stopwatch started to tick over. His speech was going pretty well, with no mistakes or hesitation. But then I looked at the stopwatch and at the 2-minute mark he was about a line behind where he should have been. At the 3-minute mark this had doubled and with one minute to go he was almost 3 lines behind where he should have been. In the end his speech was 3 seconds over the 5-minute time limit: an automatic one point deduction depending on how strict the judges and timekeepers are feeling. To say I was gutted was an understatement. There were a few really good quality speeches and he needed every point he could get to stand a chance of winning. The remaining students read their stories and I tried to figure out where I’d gone wrong with my student, and why his story was 20 seconds longer than normal.
After an age waiting for the judges to choose the top 3, they returned and went to the stage for the announcement. 3rd place went to a school in a neighbouring town, who I’d actually thought was the best speaker. 2nd place was read out, and I had to double-take when they announced the name of my student! Couldn’t believe it but even going over his allocated time slightly he still had done enough for 2nd place. And first place went to… my good friend and rival from the other school in my town. So once again 2 of the top 3 prizes available in the are went to our town, and both of our students will be taking part in the Okinawa-wide contest in 2 weeks’ time.
We need to work on the timing, but I do like the attitude of my student. “If I’d been under time, do you think maybe I’d have won?” I told him I didn’t know for sure, but we’ll make sure that he’s not asking the same question next time.
Onwards to hopefully some more success!
Just looked at the site and realized how long it’s been since I was hammering at the keyboard in anger. Either raising awareness about radioactive waste being pencilled in to come to Okinawa for storage, or my constant woes with the cursed Evo, I’ve not usually taken this much of a break. And I’m back, but without a clear idea of what I should talk about.
I could talk about the fact that it seems like summer is here now in Okinawa, and came overnight a week last Monday. Right now it’s a beautiful 27C outside with just 54% humidity. That’s much more preferable to the 90% we’ll be subjected to in a few weeks when things really ramp up. It’s not the heat that most people have trouble with when they come to Okinawa; it’s the intense and unrelenting humidity. Still, I shouldn’t complain after the winter and spring we’ve had. The reservoirs aren’t going to be short of any water this year, that’s for sure.
The car… ah yes, the car. Well I have considered getting an exorcist for it, but I could just imagine it spitting out oil & coolant as the words “The power of Christ compels you” comes from an old and young priest! I forget where I was the last time with the car, but in the past month or so I’ve grabbed a couple of new tyres, as I realised when driving in the wet that the ones I’d got were shot. And I have no intentions of repeating what happened with my first Evo with tyres in less than good condition and wet Okinawan roads. I have been doing a fair amount of tuning and the car is feeling scary quick once it gets up to speed, although it does take a little while for the big old turbo to spool up. A little more than I think it should to be honest. Part of it is one of my cheap wastegates leaking and letting some boost pressure out, and doing some more checking I found that my injector seals were… what’s the word… shot to hell. There was air leaking out of the seals and I don’t think there was one of them in good condition. So they got replaced in the past few days which should improve things a fair bit. And then I had the joy of an 8-month old Mitsubishi wheel stud breaking when I was changing tyres. Just don’t ask…
I could talk about work, and how I’m thinking of making some substantial changes in the next 12 months. Possibly looking at moving away from teaching, in Japan at least. Have got some concerns that in 10-15 years I don’t still want to be an “Assistant” Language Teacher, with the same salary as people in the same position as me had 20 years ago, with no chance of a bonus and no chance of career advancement. I’ve had it in my mind for a month or 2 now, but am thinking of possibly getting back into something else I’m reasonably knowledgeable about: computers. My contract with the school runs until at least April next year, which gives me time to study the area of computing I want to get into, and hopefully get some certifications under my belt to make me a little more employable if it comes to it. We’ll see – maybe I’ll get 6 months into studying it and realise it’s not something I want to do as a career, but you never know these things unless you jump headfirst into them and take a chance.
I could talk about any or all of these things, but right now it’s 1730 and I’m still making duplicates of CDs for teachers so I’d better get to it. Will get back to the keyboard very soon…
What a difference a week makes. Just 9 days ago I published an article based around a story from fukushima-diary.com about how two places in Okinawa (Onna Village and Nago City) had said they would accept radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster; a story that not too many were aware of at the time. Today, I am writing this on the way to a meeting in Naha which RBC (local television) will be attending and the problem will be discussed. Indeed, this has gathered pace so much that yesterday an email was sent out to military members Okinawa-wide, stresing that the Ministry for the Environment has stated that no radioactive waste will be stored beyond the Fukushima area. More about that later.
Soon after I posted my original article up, people started sharing it and talking about it. A guy called James Pankiewicz, owner of the Dojo Bar in Naha, decided to take this matter to heart, and created a Facebook group about it, called “A clear and loud “No Way” to radioactive debris on Okinawa“. Yup, no chance of misinterpreting the point of this group! And from then things have spiralled. The group formed their own logo (pictured right), are making online and paper petitions and gathering signatures, in both English and Japanese. The English petition is here; if you haven’t clicked and added your support then please do. Who knows if it will have any effect, but it can do no harm whatsoever.
James has taken this much further than I ever would, and I applaud him and everyone else who have become involved for caring. I’m happy to report these kind of things and the only times I overstate things, I make it very tongue-in-cheek that I’m doing so. But my aim was just to bring people’s attention to it.
And attention certainly has come. 700 signatures to this online petition, people handing out flyers in English and Japanese; RBC and NHK news companies talked to and consulted, and even the US Military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, running an article. And here is where the plot thickens even more. Yesterday morning, Kadena Air Force Base’s Public Affairs office sent this out Okinawa-wide to all military members (or Air Force members, not 100% sure):
There are rumors circulating via social media and email concerning the possibility of radioactive material being shipped to Okinawa from the Fukushima area. Here is the latest information from the American Consulate in Okinawa.
According to the Japan Ministry of the Environment, none of the radioactive debris will be shipped. All radioactive debris will remain in the Fukushima area. The only tsunami debris considered being sent elsewhere is the NON-radioactive tsunami debris from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. No decision has been made by the Government of Japan where that non-radioactive debris will be shipped to. Any and all debris will be inspected before being shipped, and it will not be shipped if it is contaminated.
BOTTOM LINE: No radioactive debris is being shipped to Okinawa.
18th Wing Public Affairs
Now, while I would like to believe this is the case, this does seem very strange. Firstly, because the final statement goes against what Nago City, Onna Village, Yomitan Village and Naha City are saying. In addition, Okianwan newspaper the Ryukyu Shimpo published stories in Japanese about this a week before I started mentioning it. And finally, it would seem that the Ministry for the Environment is going against with Prime Minister Noda has stated, about all of Japan working together, and local cities helping with the burden of dealing with the radioactive waste. The Japanese government is not renowned for being completely honest and open, especially when it comes to both public safety and Okinawa. So the question is: who do you trust? The governments who are trying to quash any rumours and stop any public unrest about the situation, or the media outlets and personal bloggers? While newspapers and TV companies might have a financial interest in the story (more controversial stories get more readers buying their newspapers or watching their shows), but if this was the case then more would be being made of the story. As it is, it was just a couple of relatively small reports informing people of what is happening and no follow-ups.
And people do seem to be waking up in Japan to the fact that the government isn’t always as open as they should be with them. Okinawans have had this skepticism for a long time, but it appears to be spreading. Both Japanese bloggers and foreigners here in Japan have talked about it to me recently. Now I’m definitely not saying everyone should take to the streets and start rioting (I’d quite like a chance to have my visa renewed and not be labelled a conspirator!), but the past 12 months have changed a lot of things regarding people’s perceptions of the government in Japan. Especially in the past 6 months, people have started asking questions that 3 or 4 years ago I couldn’t imagine people accepting and would assume they would just accept. It will be an interesting thing to watch over the next 12 months and beyond to see if the Japanese people push to get their own voices heard against the government. I’m not talking about Japan being the next Egypt or Libya, but just how people and society will evolve here.
Well, I’m going to make my way down to Naha in a little while for this press conference. If you have the chance, please take a look at the petition. I’m not asking you to sign it, but just to think about it and try to find an answer for yourself. Question what you read and hear, even on here. Discussion and questioning is what helps us progress and evolve. It’s when we just blindly accept & follow that we lose our way.
I’m sure plenty of you will have no idea who Joseph Kony is, or why we should be making him famous in 2012, but please take the time to read on. The Kony 2012 is a campaign started by a group called Invisible Children, and is going viral on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Youtube at the moment. Its aim is to bring to the world’s attention the crimes of Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. He holds the number 1 spot of the wanted list at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on 33 counts, including 12 for crimes against humanity. These crimes include enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape and murder.
Before I go any further, please take the time to watch this video. I know you might see that it’s 30 minutes and skim it at best, but just take 30 minutes out of your day to watch it.
For 5 years I taught high school students English through the Model United Nations. We would talk about world problems, and students would act as delegates from different countries around the world, trying to find solutions to them. I would always try to tell the students that even if they were the smallest country in the meeting, they could still make a difference and make their voice heard. And this is what this campaign is all about; making voices heard and making the world aware of this man so that he can be invisible no more.
I helped students to learn about child soldiers in Africa as part of 2 or 3 conferences, and they were so passionate about the topic, because it was something they could relate to. They couldn’t believe that this was happening in the world and that countries weren’t doing everything in their power to stop it. It was this passion and motivation that drove one student to produce the poster you see to the right. I had no involvement in it, other than telling her the topic and giving her a country to talk about. The poster still remains the piece of work that has made me most proud as a teacher.
High school students at a small high school out in the countryside in southern Okinawa, Japan, learnt about these things with a view to making a difference sometime in the future. Now this campaign gives them, and you, the opportunity to do so.
Am not asking you to buy anything or donate anything to this cause (but if you want to then that would be great), but to encourage students to strive to make the world a better place with their actions and not do anything myself in this case would be hypocritical. If you didn’t before, watch the video above, and share it with anyone you can think of.
And so we get to Sunday February 26th – the day I’d been counting down from since December 10th of last year when I purchased my UFC 144 tickets. It was another chilly day but at least the rain had stopped. Headed off a little early to get to the arena as it was also the day of the Tokyo Marathon, and I was wary of how many people might be travelling into Shinjuku station to compete or watch. As it turned out I saw 4 runners and possibly the same number of people going to watch on the train, so I arrived there with plenty of time.
And a good thing too as I’d decided to get a couple of event programmes – one for a friend in the States and one for myself. I know the prices were akin to daylight robbery, but unless the UFC comes back to Japan I probably won’t see another event again. But what I didn’t know is how long the queues would be. Even an hour before the gates were set to open, there were hundreds of people around and it seemed that most of them were queuing up for the merchandise stand. So I joined the queue, thinking I really should have bitten the bullet and bought them the previous day, and waited. And waited. And waited. The booth was ready, the staff were all there waiting to take our money, and customers were ready to hand over hard-earned cash. But rules are rules and nobody could be served until the clock ticked over to the right time. At that point the queue began to shuffle forward and after a while I was being served.
Queues to get in were similarly-sized and the gates only opened 30 minutes before the first fight. I thought it was a little late, but there was no huge backlog of people once we got moving. I was the very first into my seating area and so was one of the first to take a look at the arena. And a pretty impressive sight it was too. For the weigh-ins only half of the arena had been visible but now it was fully open and we could get a sight of the 20,000 seats and arena layout. For better viewing of some of the closer aspects of the fights, there were 6 huge screens above the seats. I have to admit it was sometimes difficult to stop myself looking up to them as they offered a perfect view every second of every fight.
So I snapped some photos and video around the arena and took my seat as people began to file in. And it filled up quite nicely. Already full when the first, non-televised fight started at 9:30am, in which Issei Tamura knocked out Tiequan Zhang with a very clean strike. A great sign of things to come, and a big boost for the Japanese fans to go 1 fight, 1 win. The prelims started at 10:00am and almost everyone was in their seats at this time; in contrast to the US events where the preliminary fights look, on TV at least, to have modest crowds at the start. Highlight of the fight for me was Englishman Vaughan Lee (the only Brit on the fight card) beating Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto by an armbar in the 1st round. My big shout of “Get in!!!” as “Kid” tapped out drew a few looks from the Japanese around me, who were obviously in strong favour of the Japanese fighter. No worries, the English were going to go home with a 100″ winning record from the event, so I was happy! The fights were pretty good and 2 hours flew by, and then came time for the main PPV event.
At about 11:50am, the lights went down and the screens above the arena fired up with a montage of UFC highlights, with The Who’s Baba O’Riley as the backing music. Apparently the video montage frequently changes from event to event to include updated highlights, and I have to say it made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It’s only for the crowds at the events and hasn’t been released on any DVDs or anything by the UFC, so is a great little touch to get you psyched up for the fights.
I won’t go into detail about the fights themselves, as you can read much better reports from sports journalists, but for me it was a great event that had almost everything. Knockouts, submissions, a 5-round war of a main event, a little controversy and everything else inbetween. The only disappointments were Yoshihiro Akiyama (aka “Sexiyama”) and Rampage Jackson. Jackson’s excuse was mainly that he came into the fight with a knee injury and was advised that he shouldn’t be fighting, but he wanted to try and put on a show for the Japanese crowds. He was given a huge reception though, especially during his entrance which was to the theme tune from Pride (the now defunct fighting organization based in Japan, and under which Jackson made his name), and even as he limped out of the ring the crowds were cheering him.
As for Akiyama, well he didn’t get the best reception at the weigh-ins and the response he drew from the crowds at the fight was certainly mixed. This was at least partly due to a previous incident he had with Pride fighter, and Japanese fighting legend Sakuraba, and Japan loves to remember its villains. Akiyama has also won only one of his 5 UFC fights, and that win was a very controversial decision against Allan Belcher at UFC 100. There is a strong chance he could get cut from the UFC roster after this loss, although UFC president Dana White does seem to like him and his fighting style. A lot of Japanese fighters are finding this though; they are competing in organizations that are not of such a high level in Japan, but are getting built up by the Japanese sports media as being huge stars and potential champions. They then move to the UFC and find that they are, at best, a mid-level fighter, with the Japanese media left stunned at how their fighters are being beaten by non-title contenders in the UFC.
Following the great main event, the interviews were conducted and the arena lights came up. It was time for everyone to head out and go back home. A really good show for everyone, and the UFC executives must have seen how much the Japanese crowd took to it. he event was described as a sell-out although I think there was a block of 100 seats or so that were empty, but the crowd was much bigger than anyone initially envisaged. Fingers crossed it will won’t be another 12 years before they come back again. Somehow, I don’t think it will be.
For more pictures of UFC 144, check out my full gallery here.
It’s only 2 days since the event but today the UFC stars and staff are all flying to Sydney, Australia, for this weekend’s event. But there’s no doubt they have left the Japanese audience wanting more, and there is already talk about the UFC returning to Japan annually or even more often than that. It may not be a PPV event each time, but talk so soon about a possible return here has to be good news for anyone with an interest in MMA in Japan.
For me, it all started on Saturday morning with an early rise to my first morning up in Tokyo, after flying up from Okinawa the day before. And what a cold, miserable morning it was too. Temperatures just over freezing and a constant rain falling didn’t make someone who was used to winter temperatures of 17C or so feel very jovial. I headed off in plenty of time up to the Saitama Super Arena, to make sure of my connections and what my travelling time would be, which meant I arrived in plenty of time. Met up with friends Bret, Chris and Steve for a coffee and warm-up before went to the arena.
The Saitama Super Arena has great access. One station next to the arena itself (Saitama-shintoshin), and one station about a 5 minute walk away (Kita Yono) meant that, with the Japanese public transport system, getting there and away was no problem whatsoever. It is also an impressive arena too, and in typical Japanese fashion they have to do something crazy with it; so this one moves! One end of the arena can actually move out so it goes from a square-shaped arena to a stadium the size of a football pitch. Saitama Super Arena… TRANSFORM!!!
The Q&A session was scheduled to start at 11:30am, so I thought that heading to the entrance at 10:30 would mean we were almost the first people there. But then
I forgot about the Japanese love of making hge lines for anything! When we got there there were already a few hundred people at least in front of us. I was expecting just a couple of hundred there for the weigh-ins, so to see so many people made me think maybe the event will be better attended than I thought. So we queued until about 11:00 when they started letting people in. Everyone was given a ticket when they went in which would be used in a prize giveaway after the Q&A session. I was hoping to win either Arianny Celeste or Azusa Nishigaki (octagon girls, see right) but alas I won nothing.
They were selling merchandise though for the event so once inside I joined yet another queue for the merchandise booth. They had the usual clothing items, posters etc there. They also had a replica belt; quite cool but at $500 it should come with a title shot too! And they had a signed poster which had signatures from all the fighters on the card and which cost $250. A lot, but potentially worth quite a bit in the future. if I hadn’t had to spend a little extra than I thought on the car recently I might have considered it. I did want to pick up a programme though… well that was until I saw the price of them! I go to a few sporting events in England and even at finals the programmes cost a maximum of around $8. So you’ll understand that I was a bit surprised when I saw that these ones cost $50. So I just got a couple of posters and made my way into the arena itself. Grabbed some seats which were pretty close to where I was going to be for the fights the next day, and was surprised at the quality of view we got relative to the ticket price. Not too far away and we could clearly see the stage and area they had erected for the weigh-ins and Q&A session.
UFC Welterweight interim champion Carlos Condit was supposed to be the guest for the Q&A, but it pumped everyone up even more when they announced that instead of him, UFC Welterweight champion Georges “Rush” St. Pierre (see left) was going to be the guest. He came out to a huge reception from a crowd that had grown to around 1,500-2,000 people. The questions he was asked were not the most probing in the world (“How do you like Japan?”, “What karate moves do you use when fighting”), and I was half expecting them to ask the typical question of whether he can use chopsticks, but they refrained. They did ask him though whether he was going to ever fight in Japan with the UFC. An awful question to answer right, but you can see his attempt below. I think he made a pretty good one.
Prizewinners were then chosen to have photos with GSP and get some other goodies, and then it was time for the weigh-ins. Out came UFC President Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta, octagon announcer Bruce Buffer, Arianny & Azusa, and then MC for the weigh-ins, Joe Rogan. The atmosphere was building quickly now as all the fighters had they time to step onto the scale and weigh-in. Mark Hunt got a good reception, as did the Japanese fighters of course (with the exception of Yoshihiro Akiyama, whose reception was very mixed), but the majority of the cheering was kept back for Rampage Jackson.
Rampage made his name with the Pride organization and in Japan, and it seems to be a place very close to his heart. That, combined with fight day being 6 years to the day since he last fought in Japan was making it a huge occasion for him. He came out with traditional rising sun headband to a huge ovation. However, the smile and cheering died down when it was announced he was 6 pounds overweight. In the UFC, you are allowed to be 1 pound over. More than that and you can be given 24 hours to lose the weight. The problem with that for this event was that 24 hours ahead of the weigh-ins would be fight-time, so it wasn’t logistically possible. It was announced the fight would go on, but that 20% of Jackson’s purse would go to opponent Ryan Bader. He said he’d had some setbacks in his training camp but was looking forward to putting on a good show for the fans. That didn’t appease Dana White though, who looked like he was ready to choke someone out!
Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson also got big ovations for their appearance at the weigh-ins, and with the exception of Jackson, everyone came in within weight limits. Everyone was thanked for coming, and the arena lights came back up. People with certain tickets for the weigh-in were given a UFC mousemat as they left. Don’t really need one but am always willing to pick up free stash so I grabbed it and some more flyers. And that’s all she wrote for the weigh-ins. Everyone was psyched for what was set to be a great UFC 144.
Below are some photos from the weigh-ins. For more, check out my photo album here