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An alternative look at life in the Land of the Rising Sun, coming from its southernmost prefecture, the island of Okinawa.
Posted By Dave on July 8th, 2014

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/getting-healthy-in-leeds-with-v-physique-body-by-design/

Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying.  It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though!  But after a couple of months of being back in England […]

 

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UFC Japan 2013 (UFC on Fuel TV 8) Weigh-ins

Posted By Dave on March 6th, 2013

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/ufc-japan-2013-ufc-weigh-ins/

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Well the dust has only just settled and already the UFC bandwagon is making its way to Canada for UFC 158 this coming weekend, but last Sunday morning’s UFC on Fuel TV 8 (called UFC Japan 2013 domestically) has got to be regarded as another success for the organization.  The success and credit has to be put down in large part to the 2 main events of the night, Stefan Struve vs Mark Hunt, followed by Wanderlei Silva (pictured right) vs Brian Stann.  Will focus on the weigh-ins right here, but my next post later today will look at the main event itself.

The UFC’s last trip to Japan was UFC 144 last February, which was a sell-out and regarded as a very big success after not visiting the country for so long.  There were a few concerns about the crowd numbers though, as no ticket sales figures had been released and tickets were still being advertised as available.  But the organizers had been very smart, and placed well-known fighters in Japan (from Pride FC days) along with almost all Japanese fighters they have on their roster.  Throw in a smattering of Koreans and you’ve got a card everyone can get behind.

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Unbeknownst to me, the events actually started on Friday, with a signing session and part of Shibuya 109 being transformed into a temporary UFC Store.  If I’d have known about that then I’d have been there, but unfortunately I missed out on that one (must be slipping in my old age, and probably a little dazed after my pre-LASIK check – more on that in another post).  The weigh-ins were on Saturday at 13:00 Japan time, but I decided to get there very early and do some writing in Starbucks for this site.  As it turns out, I got there at 9:00 and there were already some people queuing!  Now the Japanese like queues so I thought they might be lining up just for the hell of it, but then I saw it was a signing of some sort.  Decided to join them and was about number 30 in the queue.  Standing and waiting in the bitter cold & wind, and wearing a T-shirt and a not-too-thick sweatshirt, every minute made Starbucks and a hot coffee more attractive, but I decided to stick it out, and about an hour later the doors opened and we shuffled inside.

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Turns out there was UFC Hall of Famer Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, and Glover Teixiera doing a signing.  Well worth a little frostbite for!  The queuing system was an absolute shambles though; a sentiment echoed by some of the American UFC officials there.  You lined up for the signing and went past the merchandise stand where you could take advantage of smaller lines before tomorrow’s event.  But after buying a programme and a poster I was then told I had to go right to the back of the queue and start the process again for signing.  And then if you wanted to see the weigh-ins you had to line up again!  The signing queue was now about 300 people or so deep, and there was no way I was going to the back of the line for that, but luckily I managed to sneak in with a guy from San Diego who was there lining up and who I’d chatted to earlier.  Definitely the most disorganized part of the whole event though.

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So I got my merchandise, and I got signatures from both Liddell and Teixiera.  I’ll tell you what though: those guys look big on TV, but it’s not until you get up close & personal with them that you realise how big they actually are.  But very cool to chat briefly with them both and the first fighters I’ve met.

So with all that out of the way I joined the final line for the actual weigh-ins.  From around 11:00-12:00 there was an interview and Q&A segment with UFC fighters “Sexiyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Hatsu Hioki.  Not a huge fan of Akiyama, but he came across much better when talking to the crowd and on a microphone.  Hioki definitely looked nervous or shy about the whole thing.  The interview segment ended at 12:00 but then there was a one-hour wait until the actual weigh-ins.  They showed some video previewing the fights but that was a 15 minute video and was just looped.  Think they really should have shown something else to keep people entertained, as plenty were getting bored.  Show some older UFC fights or something.

13:00 came around though and Jon Anik (Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg don’t travel out to the non-PPV events, I believe) came out to announce the fighters, along with Korean Octagon girl Su Jung Lee.  I managed to get photos of most of the fighters as they stepped on the scales (everyone made weight except Diego Sanchez, who was 2lbs overweight), as well as the staredowns, and you can see the gallery of them here.

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Best staredown had to be Kazuki Tokudome and Cristiano Marcello (see above), with most amusing unsurprisingly being Stefan Struve versus Mark Hunt.  If you can’t see the picture of it below then imagine Gandalf standing next to Gimli from Lord of the Rings!  Should also be noted that when Miesha Tate came out with her boyfriend Brian Caraway for his weigh-in, she was getting more shouts from the crowd than he was.  Make of that what you will.

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Best crowd reactions were given to both Mark Hunt and Wanderlei Silva; both well-known from their past fights in Japan over the years.  The reaction from Su Jung Lee at the sight of 7′ tall Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve was pretty funny too, as you can see to the left here.  An after 45 minutes or so the weigh-ins were over.  The fighters went off to hydrate and I headed out of the arena for some ramen and a drink.

The crowd at the weigh-ins wasn’t as much as last year, but there were still a fair few people there so it left me pretty positive for a good attendance tomorrow.  The reaction to Silva also told me it was going to be a very good event early on Sunday morning.

UFC Japan 2013, and a Look Back at Ronda Rousey’s UFC 157 Win

Posted By Dave on February 25th, 2013

Six days away in fact, so I’m getting pretty pumped about my annual trip up to the capital for some fighting action.  It should be another good card, with almost all the Japanese and well-known Asian fighters on the card, and a few lesser-known ones keen to make a name for themselves.  Then a main event featuring a legend of Pride FC in Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva, and “All-American” Brian Stann, who is sure to have the support of the US military community there, and it should be a great event.

A little worrying is that they said tickets were still available during UFC 157 on Sunday.  Not too surprising as UFC 144 in Japan last year only sold out very late apparently (wondering how many tickets got given away), but the lack of any mention of ticket sales makes me a little anxious as to how many have been sold.  I really want it to be another success like the last event and become a regular appearance on the calendar, as it can only be good for the sport of MMA, and especially MMA in Japan.

Ronda Rousey UFC 157

And while we’re talking about things being good for the sport of MMA, we should probably mention UFC 157 yesterday, and the first women’s fight in the UFC (headlining the event, no less) with Ronda Rousey (pictured right) defeating Liz Carmouche by… you guessed it, armbar in the first round.  You knew it was coming, and it was just a matter of when.  I actually wondered if any bookmakers would take money on it, as it was such a dead cert.  First off, she is an excellent fighter and all credit to her for going to her strength (the armbar) almost right from the off.  Straight away she went for the takedown and was looking for it.  She had her back taken at one point and was almost in trouble, but persevered and won with about 30s to go in the first round.

Gina CaranoIt was a huge moment for the UFC and for womens’ MMA in general, but I do think it was being overplayed how much of a pioneer she has been for the sport for women (looks, personality, ability).  I think Gina Carano was more of a pioneer in that regard; Strikeforce champion (until she came against a roided-up Cris Cyborg, which you can see the video of below, and wasn’t aware she was taking part in an inter-gender fight), arguably better looking that Rousey and a good media personality to boot.  I think Rousey coming onto the MMA scene with a strong social media presence (the Facebook era and all that) has had a lot to do with her popularity.  “Lil Bulldog” Felice Herrig has highlighted how important social media is in gaining popularity by using it, her looks, her personality, and once again a lot of MMA skills.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW6aLvF0vRc

Miesha Tate

Now while UFC 157 highlighted the skillset of Rousey (and in particular her armbar submission), detractors could say it shows how weak the women’s division is.  Personally, I was really hoping for a Carmouche win just to really open up the women’s division, or a Rousey win by something other than armbar.  A win by a rear naked choke, triangle, TKO or something that wasn’t an armbar and give people ammunition for being just a one-trick pony (albeit a trick she is damn good at).womens divisions will be in their depth.  The winner of Miesha Tate (right) and Cat Zingano will fight Rousey for the title, but after what happened to Tate’s arm last time, I doubt she’ll be relishing that prospect.  Strength will hopefully come, but the only person who can realistically give Rousey a run for her money is Cris Cyborg, and that’s a fight that neither are going to change weight classes for.  Cyborg has said (and been backed by UFC Hall of Famer Toto Ortiz) that she can’t cut down to 135lbs (it’s been said that cutting weight is much much tougher for women than men), and Rousey has said she won’t go chasing Cyborg; she would have to come down in weight to face her.

But hopefully women’s MMA will continue to develop and evolve, as will MMA and the UFC’s presence in Japan.  Which brings me back to where I started and the UFC this coming weekend at the Saitama Super Arena.  I finally got my tickets from Tickebo, the supplier the UFC recommended initially, and I have to say it’s the worst ticket buying experience I’ve had in Japan.  I booked tickets at the end of December, and just got my digital ticket today.  After a week or 2 of receiving no ticket after paying I contacted them and asked them when I should expect to receive them.  I was told that this was the “Japanese way of buying tickets” and that I should expect to receive them 2 weeks before the event.  I then replied asking them that how come all of the other major ticket vendors in Japan (which I’ve used at some point over the past 9 years) don’t use this Japanese way they talked about.  They then replied telling me it was to prevent ticket scalping.  After asking again why no other ticket vendor here does this I got no further reply.  But I’m a lot closer than last time so should be able to get some good shots of the fight and weigh-ins on Saturday morning.

Stay tuned for fight and fighter pictures from UFC Japan 2013 at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan, this weekend!

With Great Wisdom Comes Great Pain

Posted By Dave on January 30th, 2013

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:

  1. Take antibiotics and it will clear up, and wait for it to happen again… and again… and again.  And it will.
  2. 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!

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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…

Japan 4th in Global Education Rankings: Shurely Shome Mishtake?

Posted By Dave on November 27th, 2012

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:

  1. Finland
  2. South Korea
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Japan
  5. Singapore

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?

UFC Returns to Japan in March 2013

Posted By Dave on November 15th, 2012

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/ufc-returns-to-japan-in-march-2013/

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.

Saitama Super ArenaThe 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.

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No other details have been announced just yet, but as soon as they are I’ll be posting them up here.

English Speech Contests in Japan: A Few More Pointers

Posted By Dave on October 9th, 2012

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.

English Story Contests

Posted By Dave on June 22nd, 2012

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!

It’s Been a While…

Posted By Dave on May 30th, 2012

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…

Okinawa Going Nuclear: A Few Updates

Posted By Dave on March 29th, 2012

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.

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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.

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/two-cities-in-okinawa-ready-to-accept-radioactive-waste/

Making Joseph Kony Famous in 2012

Posted By Dave on March 8th, 2012

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/making-joseph-kony-famous-in-2012/

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.

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