Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Shogi Merry Christmas

When my wife and I turned on the TV on Christmas morning, we couldn't stop laughing at the shogi guys dressed up like Santa.

So no Tori!

This is my samui Japanese joke:

A-san: Asoko no tori desu ka? あそこの鳥ですか?(Do you mean that bird?)
B-san: So no Tori!その通り!(exactly!)

so no tori "exactly" sounds the same as "that bird."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Japanese Kids Love Sticker Books

So, what are Japanese elementary kids into these days? Sticker books! My daughter, first grader Hana and all her friends both younger and older are crazy about these sticker books. They are cheap little binders for collecting and trading stickers with friends. Rika has one, too. Even boys like them. My girls are always asking Junko, "Can I have these stickers?", from stickers she uses for her students. I know a second grader when asked what she wanted for her birthday, she said, "I don't need anything, just stickers!" Sometimes, their books get so full with puffy relief or gell stickers, they can't even close the book anymore. Our kids aren't to the point where they want a cell phone or video games, just stickers. I know some kids who already have those things, but seem to spend more time trading stickers with friends. People talk about social isolation through video games, but these kids interact a lot and make up games while trading their stickers.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kankeinai!

This is one of my Japanese faux pas that is a running joke in my family. I said this:

Junko:  Kankeinai.(関係ない) "It has nothing to do with it."
Jason:  Kankeru.(かんける) "Yes it does."

The correct response is "kankei aru".
You know you've been in Japan too long when you voluntarily wear a surgical mask when you have a cold.(I hate those things)
You know you've been in Japan too long when you ask a foreigner on the train, "Do you mind if I speak English with you?"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

You know you've been in Japan too long when you visit America, you can't finish your dinner.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

You know you've been in Japan too long when you apologize for no reason.

Japanese TV: Yokai Ningen Bem 妖怪人間ベム and Cast

This is the newest hit at the Winter house. Yokai Ningen means "Monster Human" or "Creature Human". It's about three monsters, a man woman and child, who were born from the same cell on the same day. They look more or less human, but when emotional, change into hideous alien like monsters. They're actually good and are on a quest to become human. The show is based on a famous anime from the 80's. In the cartoon, the trio fight other monsters and protect humans, but in the live action show, they fight human bad guys. The stories are pretty good, though and focus on the human tragedies that drive people to do evil. But, the people who cross their path are influenced by the mysterious, "Red Man" who seems to hold the secret to their past and how to become human. We all love the show and tape it every week.
Yokain Ningen Bem Cast:
The monster "father" Bemu, s played by pretty boy band KAT-TUN's leader Kamenashi Kazuya, the "mother", Bela is played by the beautiful Anne Watanabe, daughter to Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Inception), and the "boy", Belo, is played by Suzuki Fuku, more famous for the recent hit show "Marumo", which we also loved. Here's another synopsis

Bem, Bella, and Bello are ugly monsters that are neither human nor animals, but they are peace-loving, righteous heroes who feel compelled to help humans in trouble. Because they are monsters, they are feared and detested by humans, and on top of that, pursued by the police. However, a friendship develops between them and a detective (Kitamura Kazuki) by mere accident. Through their contact with humans, Bem, Bella and Bello’s earnest wish to become human grow increasingly stronger. They battle evil for the sake of mankind, in the belief that they will be able to become humans one day…

Here's the rather creepy intro:



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You know you've been in Japan too long when you think foreigners on the train are noisy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

You know you've been in Japan too long when you stop thinking every woman is gorgeous. (I'll never be here that long)

Monday, December 5, 2011

You know you've been in Japan too long when you cover your mouth when you laugh.

Japanese Persimmons, Kaki 柿

Japanese persimmons, or kaki have become my favorite fruit. They are a perennial sign of autumn in Japan. They are very common throughout the country. I don't think I'd even ever seen  persimmon in America before much less eaten one. I've heard the taste described as like an apricot, but with a darker, honey flavor. There are two varieties. the kind of persimmon that is eaten fresh, like the one pictures here.These came from Junko's parents. The other I actually like better is the dried "hoshigaki" and are a common sight hanging like pearls from balconies. My wife told me that boom harvests of kaki come in alternating years. Omotedoshi means a get a lot year like this one. Uradoshi means a get nothing year like last year and probably next year. I wondered if there was any other way to eat them. I found a fruit cake recipe online that called for two mashed persimmons. It tasted good and moist, but not particularly like persimmons. I recommend trying this sweet autumn fruit if you have the chance.

hoshigaki, dried persimmons


Top 10 Best Hayao Miyazaki Animated Movies


Miyazaki is the most famous animator in Japan. His company, Studio Ghibli has produced not only some of the finest and most entertaining films to come from Japan, but also, many of his movies rank as the top grossing films in Japanese history. Looking like a kindly grandfather anyone would want, Miyazaki is an expert animator, director, and storyteller. He has brought his visions to the world. There are many recurring themes in his films; strong, youthful characters and heroine protagonists, mans' relationship to nature and an ecologically sustainable way of life, innocent, true love, and magic. All of these combine to make wonderful stories that are classics in the hearts of families around the world. Go here if you want to know more about Miyazaki's newest film, The Borrower Arrietty.The following is Miyazaki's top 10 films.

When watching Miyazaki's films, if you have a choice, watch them in the original Japanese with English subtitles. I guarantee you'll enjoy them much more.

10. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Whisper of the heart is a gentle and fanciful coming-of-age romance. Shizuku is a junior high school girl, who one day follows an interesting cat called Moon or Muta to an antique store on a hill and meets Seiji, a boy from her class who wishes to become a great violin-maker. She also encounters The Baron, a human-cat figurine belonging to Seiji's kindly grandfather and owner of the shop. Along the way, we meet Shizuku's friends, Yuko and Sugimura who are caught in an impossible love triangle. The magical Baron helps Shizuku find her dream to be a writer as the relationship between she and Seiji grows.

This movie inspred a not so great, but entertaining sequal called The Cat Returns(2002). It's about a 17 year old high school girl named Haru who one day, saves the life of cat who turns out to be Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom. The king decides to reward her by turning her into a cat and bringing her to the Cat Kingdom, to marry his son, Lune. With the help of Muta and The Baron from the original film, she tries to return to the real world and become human again.

9. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Howl's Moving Castle did not receive the same critical acclaim as some of his previous films, but it is still the 3rd top grossing film in Japan. Based on the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, you enter a breathtaking fantasy world. Sophie is a quiet girl working in a hat shop. One day, she is literally swept off her feet by the handsome and mysterious boy wizard named Howl. Later, the jealous Witch of Waste transformers Sophie into a 90 year old woman. Sophie's only hope to reverse the spell is to seek out Howl and climb aboard his noisy, cantankerous, steam-spewing, walking castle. Along the way she meets many exotic and magical characters. It's a magical tale of true love that sees beyond the surface.

8. Pom Poko (1994)

This is one of my personal favorites. Pom Poko was written and produced by Miyazaki. It is an ecological fable of a group of animals who must face great changes in their world. The story centers on a community of tanuki living in the mountains. Tanuki are common animals living throughout Japan. They are often mistranslated as raccoons or badgers. They are the "Japanese raccoon dog" and are part of the dog family. Tanuki, along with the fox, are the shape-changing tricksters of Japanese mythology and figure prominently in Japanese folklore. One day, the tanuki discover that humans are encroaching on their mountain and want to bulldoze the whole area to build a highway. The Tanuki try to use their powerful magic to create scary illusions to scare away the construction crews, to no avail. They also meet a fox, in the form of a slick businessman who offers to help them. In fact, the foxes prefer the human world. They like getting rich and have no desire to return to their natural way of life. In the end we see three groups of tanuki and how they react to the changes. One group of conservatives are unable to accept change or let go of the past and sail off to the "other world." Another group wants to fight back and goes to war and are all destroyed. The tanuki who are left, grudingly accept change and adapt, using their magic to appear human and enter our world. But before they go, they give the humans a nostalgic image of what life used to be like in the countryside generations ago. The tanuki are illustrated three ways in the film,; one, in a realistic way as the animal appears, second as a more humanistic version we mostly see throughout the film, and last, a strange kind of stylized sketch version, especially right before they die. Pom Poko is a kind of dark comedy, but it has an important, subtle message. The Tanuki really represent the Japanese people and their longing to return to a simpler way of life. A great, lesser known film, but be warned, Tanuki derive their strength from their testicles and can cause their scrotums to swell to enormous size. In one funny scene, the tanuki use them like clubs in a fight and bash people around with them.

7. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Kiki's Delivery Service is lighter fair than some of Miyazaki's other films. Based on the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono, it is a heartwarming tale of personal discovery and one of Studio Ghibli's first big hits. Kiki is a 13 year old witch, the cute, nice kind. At this age it is customary for young witches to fly off on their own to make their place in the world. With only her broomstick and her black cat Jiji, she sets off. She's not great at flying yet, but soon reaches a picturesque, seaside village and decides to see if a witch is needed in the town. She soon discovers that flying through the streets is all together different and nearly causes a traffic accident. The police let her off with a warning. She eventually comes to a baker's house on a hill and asks to stay there.She is welcomed by the baker's wife. Mrs.Osono and her entirely silent husband. Kiki is grateful, but knows she can't live off of them and has to make a living for herself. Then one day, a customer asks her to deliver a package. Flying on a broom is a quick way to get around the city, and soon, with the Osono's permission, she opens a business out of the bakery, "Kiki's Delivery Service", She quickly learns the value of hard work and the responsibilities of being a business owner. She also starts to meet other kids her own age and make friends. But something in her training goes wrong and she looses her ability to fly and to communicate with her familiar, Jiji. But soon, her friend Tombo finds himself in perilous danger. Can Kiki recover her ability to fly in time to save him? The film is very entertaining and great for kids. The relationship between Kiki and her cat Jiji is fun to watch. I especially like the character of Mr. Osono the baker, who doesn't speak at all, but conveys everything through emotion and body language. He is initially cool towards Kiki and Jiji, but later we find him fretting and worrying about her like a father and also trying to conceal his fact from her.

6. Castle in the Sky (1986)

This is a wonderfully entertaining film, a high flying, fantasy adventure. Sheeta is a 13 year old orphaned farm girl with a magical crystal necklace with mysterious powers that is connected to the legend of Laputa, a floating sky island. Because of her necklace she is being pursued both by the government and a band of air pirates. Then she meets Pazu, another orphan who whose father loved flying and who once photographed Laputa. There are also mysterious robots which are very powerful, but basically benevolent and are the guardians of Laputa. We also meet Dola, the robust matriarch of the air pirate gang. She is quick, intelligent, and a good fighter. At first she seems threatening, but later befriends and helps the two children. Dola becomes an adopted grandmother to Sheeta. They must stop the ruthless Colonel Muska, the government gent who will stop at nothing to find Laputa and uncover it's scientific secrets for his own gain. Can Sheeta and Pazu stop Colonel Muska and uncover the true nature of Laputa's secret power? This film is exciting and fast-paced, the children are always on the move. With a haunting theme melody, this is a great addition to the Miyazaki film library.


5. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke was Miyazaki's first big hit in America and really brought him to the attention of American moviegoers. It's story of man's relationship to the environment is more direct than his other films. In this fantasy world of ancient Japan, one day a grotesque monster covered in writhing worms attacks a remote village, poisoning and withing everything it touches. The beast is finally taken down by Ashitaka, a young warrior. He discovers, however that the monster is actually a gigantic wild boar, a revered spirit that has been infected with a sort of demonic madness. Ashitaka himself has been poisoned by it and is sent on a quest by the village elders to find the answer to cure himself and their lands. Along with his red elk steed Yakul, Ashitaka eventually comes to Irontown, a settlement built by the Tatara clan near an iron mine. The clan has taken a completely hostile attitude towards nature and the environment. The residents live behind huge walls and use guns and technology to scrounge out a living. The area around Irontown is devoid of trees. However, the residents of Irontown are under attack from the forest. led by a young girl named San also known as Princess Mononoke who was raised by gigantic wolves and hates humans. San is at first wary of Ashitaka, but slowly, a trust and bond grows between them. We also see the Great Forest Spirit, a kind of deer with the face of a man.At night, it transforms into the Nightwalker a gigantic spectral creature that walks the night. Lady Eboshi, Irontown's leader is trying to kill the Deer God, believing it will win her the war and make her invincible. She succeeds in decapitating it, but then as the Nightwalker, it causes everything it touches to decay in an effort to regain it's head. Ashitaka and San must work together to try and restore balance. Ashitaka tries not to take sides and he represents a middle ground between the two extremes of Irontown and Princess Mononke. He respects and revers nature, but also lives within a human community. The animation is beautiful, but this is a serious film for adults or older children, not only for the difficult story, but also the high level of violence. My favorite line is when one of the wolves looks at Yakul the elk and whispers to Princess Mononke, "Tabete ii?" (Can I eat it?)

4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1985)

Nausicaa is my favorite after Spirited Away, though it's not as well known in the states. The movie is based on a manga comic book series with a strong ecological message that Miyazaki himself wrote, then adapted to film. We find a fantasy world of a distant future, a place of toxic jungles with gigantic insects. Nausicaa is a young girl and a princess of the people of the Valley of the wind who live a quiet, sustainable life. She has a special ability to communicate with animals and alone seems unafraid of the fearsome beasts of their world, including the ohmu, which look a lot like enormous pill bugs. Nausicaa seeks to find an answer to the "sea of decay" which is destroying their land. One day, a plane crashes in her valley. It is commanded by Kushana, leader of the army of the country of Tolmekia. The Tolmekians are an aggressive people bent on expansion They wish to stop the decay by force by resurrecting the last God Warrior, gigantic artificial men of incredible power that are grown. They are symbolic of weapons of mass destruction and the God Warrior's huge, pulsating heart is the secret cargo on the Tolmekian ship. Nausicaa is taken prisoner and must find a way to stop the Tolmekian plan a well as calm a stampede of rampaging ohmu before they destroy everything. The only way is for Nausicaa to make a great personal sacrifice. Nausicaais a masterpiece, not only of animation and storytelling, but a message of an ecologically sustainable way of life. A must see.

3. Ponyo (2008)

Unlike many of Miyazaki's former films, Ponyo is squarely targeted at children. Loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid", Ponyois a fanciful tale of innocent love and the power of the sea. Ponyo is a little goldfish girl. Her human father is Fujimoto, a Captain Nemo like Alchemist who has rejected humanity and seeks to bring back a new "Age of the Sea". Her mother is the sea goddess Gran Mamare. Ponyo starts life much the same as her many identical sisters until one day she escapes her father to another world and is found by a 5 year old boy Souske. He is the only one that sees how special Ponyo is and the two quickly form a strong bond.She also takes a liking to ham. Fujimoto uses his power to recapture Ponyo, but her love for Souske and desire to be human are too strong. With the help of her sisters, she gets gets into daddy's powerful elixirs and obtains the power to be human. She then returns to Souske as a little girl, running on top of the waves. But her transformation has upset the delicate balance of nature and threatens to destroy the world. Now Gran Mamare must intervene. Is Ponyo and Souske's love strong enough to make her truly human and save the world? The animation is superb and the story heartwarming. I loved the opening scene with Fujimoto using his elixirs to retro-evolve small sea life. I also liked Souske's spirited mother Lisa. It was the #1 film in Japan in 2008 and one of the highest grossing films of all time. An instant classic you family will want to watch again and again.

3. My Neighbor Totoro(1988)


In Japan, this probably Miyazaki's most notable film and Totoro's image graces the Studio Ghibli logo.10 year old Satsuki and her 4 year old sister Mei move into an old house in the countryside with their father, a professor. Their mother is in the hospital. As soon as they arrive however, the girls immediately notice something is not quite right with the house. They first encounter the "makuro kuroske", little, black fuzzy spirits inhabiting the dark corners of the house. Later they meet and befriend Totoro, a benevolent forest spirit living inside a huge, sacred tree along with his smaller cousins. Totoro resembles an enormous bunny rabbit and eats acorns. He becomes protector of the girls and shows them how he makes plants grow and takes them on a magical journey. Later, Mei goes missing and Satsuki needs Totoro's help to find her. Another unforgettable character is the "Nekobus" or Cat Bus, a bus sized, twelve legged cat with an enormous Cheshire grin who helps them along the way. The thing that strikes you about the girls is their incredible, youthful energy and positiveness. One of the most endearing things about the film is how the parents never once question the girls stories. They never say things like "It's all in your head." or "Your imagining things." They simple accept them. The illustrations of the trees and Japanese countryside are absolutely beautiful and the whole film has a very nostalgic feel. I love the scene depicted on the DVD cover of The girls and Totoro at the bus stop in the rain. A masterpiece and family classic.

1. Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Awayis my personal favorite as well as the film that won Miyazaki the Academy award for Best Animated Feature as well as numerous other international film awards. It is also the highest grossing film in Japanese history. Like The wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland it is the enchanting journey of self discovery of a girl in another realm. Chihiro is driving with her parents to their new house in a new city. Along the way they stumble upon an abandoned amusement park. Smelling the aroma of delicious food, her parents stuff themselves until they literally transform into pigs. As the sun goes down shadowy apparitions appear and Chihiro finds herself trapped in a hot spring resort for gods and spirits. She is aided by the strangely familiar boy Haku who tells her in order to stay safely, she must ask for employment from the owner, Yubaba. Yubaba is powerful sorceress as well as a scrupulous business owner. Yubaba accepts Chihiro's request, but strips away some of the characters in her name. She is henceforth called "Sen" and is rapidly losing her memory. She goes to work and meets all the colorful characters as well as guests of the spa. Later, we discover that Haku is actually a dragon spirit and forced into servitude like Sen. He is mortally wounded on an errand for Yubaba and Sen must save him. At the same time, the spa is taken siege by No-face, a lonely, vagabond spirit who views Sen as his only friend. She takes No-face to visit Yubaba's twin sister Zeniba for help. Can she uncover Haku's true identity and save him, her parents, and herself? The story and animation are absolutely fabulous. Unlike many of Miyazaki's films where the natural background plays a major part, Spirited Awaytakes place almost exclusively within the world of the spa. One of the most unforgettable scenes is when a grotesque and incredibly stinky blob monster comes to the spa. Sen realizes that the blob is actually just dirty and full of trash. With the help of another employee, she is finally able to clean away the last bit of filth. The spirit then reveals itself to be a dragon-like river god who was afflicted with human pollution. The God then blesses the spa with an abundance of gold. Spirited Away is a triumph, one of the best animated movies ever made.

The following movies are not included in my top 10, but are still fine Studio Ghibli films

Porco Rosso (1992)

Porco Rosso (The Crimson Pig) is undoubtedly Miyazaki's oddest film. It's set in war torn era Europe and is about an ace pilot whose head was somehow magically transformed into a pig's. This is never clearly explained, nor does Porco, whose real name is Marco, seem to mind. Marco is ace pilot in he Adriatic sea and bounty hunter who used to fly for the Italian Air Force. He also hates the fascist, Italian government. Marco is a loner and lives in a secret hideout in the rocks, but also has many close friends who help him. A group of air pirates, tired or Porco Rosso's interference, hire another ace pilot, the American Donald Curtiss to shot Porco Rosso down. Curtiss soon falls in love with Gina, the beautiful and charming owner of a hotel on an island in the sea. She is a three time widow to air pilots and also Marco's closest friend. The two pilots battle it out in spectacular dogfights in the skys and fight for Gina's affections on the ground. Will Porco Rosso be victorious? Check out this nostalgic, war era love story with a twist.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

The last film is technically not a Hayao Miyazaki movie, but is one of the most famous released by Studio Ghibli. Recieving critical acclaim all over the world, This is not a movie for kids. Grave of the Fireflies is one of the best war films ever made, yet it is animated and there are no battle scenes. It is the heart wrenching, yet thought-provoking tragedy of a brother and sister caught in the turmoil of Japan during WWII. 14 year old Seita and his 4 year old little sister Setsuko's father is away, serving in the Imperial Navy. At the beginning of the film, their mother is killed in a firebombing in Tokyo. With nowhere else to turn, they go to live with their Aunt. But she has little sympathy or affection for them. She has a family of her own to care for. She seems cruel and resents having two more mouths to feed. After a short time, Seita decides to leave with his sister. He believes he can care for her better on his own. They end up living in a cave near a stream and for a short time, know happiness. I can't say this is one of my favorite Ghibli movies, not that it isn't a great film with wonderful animation and storytelling, but because it's so sad.I guess I prefer movies with a happier ending. However it does beg the viewer to think who is to blame for what happens to the children? Is it the war, the cruel people, or is it Seita's own stubborn pride that prevents him from staying with their aunt?

Hayao Miyazaki Box Sets

I think the best and most cost effective way to enjoy all these films is through one of the various box sets available through Amazon. Start your collection today and enjoy these films which have enthralled audiences all over the world.




Preschool Education in Japan, Making Superkids

Super Kids


I recently saw a very interesting TV show in Japan about a new trend in education. Shibushi city, Kagoshima prefecture, on Japan’s large southern island of Kyushu, is home to a very progressive preschool. Tori Yama preschool is gaining fame throughout Japan. Its students, mostly three and four years old and sometimes referred to as “Superkids” perform at levels two or three years more advanced then they are. What’s the secret to their success? It’s Tori Yama’s unique curriculum and the four switches.

The founder and principal of the school, Yoshifumi Yokomine is brother to Yoshiro Yokomine, a member of the Japanese Diet, and more importantly, uncle to Sakura Yokomine, Japan’s highest paid professional, female golfer. Yoshifumi Yokomine, now 58 years old, opened the school when he was 29. At that time he hired good teachers and started with a standard preschool curriculum. However, one day he noticed the children were lethargic during the morning calisthenics and singing the school anthem. They looked bored and uninterested. They lacked enthusiasm and their eyes were dull. This led him to make sweeping changes in the schools daily schedule. He wanted to motivate students and find what they were interested in. He put more emphasis on exercise and excursions to the local mountains and rivers. In addition, be began developing a whole series of activity workbooks for reading, writing, and math.

Tori Yama’s daily schedule

8:15 a.m. Warm-ups

When students arrive, before they do anything else, they run laps and races in the school yard for about 20 minutes or so. This is to get the blood flowing to their little brains and to wake them up and improve concentration. Students at Tori Yama get about 20 times more exercise than other preschools.

9:00 a.m. Workbook Study

Students work in their practice books, 20 minutes reading, 20 minutes writing, and 20 minutes math. They work mostly silently with the teacher acting as a monitor. Also, students work at their own pace; working in a book of appropriate level and only move on when they are ready. Students read approximately 1500 books during their time there.

10:00 Exercise time

Students have a rigorous schedule focusing on gymnastics style exercise. They jump over hurdles, do one arm somersaults, and even aerials. They bend over backwards into the bridge position and have races on their hands and feet. It looks like something out of the exorcist. It’s all very competitive and if students fail, they must go back and repeat it until they’ve mastered that particular skill.

11:00 Music

All children have a Melodica, or blow-organ, a small keyboard with a tube you blow into to make music. They follow the teacher or a pre-recorded DVD and play songs completely by ear. They learn to play about 80 different songs, all without ever reading music!

12:00 Lunch

Students are expected to concentrate while eating. They eat silently and quickly and finish everything. They use a lot of energy in the morning sessions, so they eat a lot.

Afternoon: Free Time

Until they go home,students are allowed to play and work on any skills they choose.

The Four Switches


Over the years, Mr. Yokomine came to recognize that children have four switches that motivate them to learn. If teachers can “switch” them on, kids will have more fun, learn naturally, and progress faster.

1. The Competitive Switch:

Children are naturally competitive. This is especially true in athletics. Recently in Japan, as well as America, schools de-emphasize competition as not alienate or make students feel bad if they don’t succeed, but this can be a great motivator. True, there are tears and frustration when a child can’t achieve a goal, but used effectively it can make them try harder. I saw kids panting hard with fire in their eyes, waiting for their next chance at doing a somersault or jump. Then they have an even greater sense of accomplishment and self-confidence when they do reach that goal.

2. The Mimic Switch:

Young children are natural mimics. They can’t think logically yet, but they copy what they see and hear. This is apparent in the music lessons. Children have the innate ability to listen to and differentiate notes. Students are blindfolded and listen to a series of notes and can tell you the names on the do-re-mi scale and then play the notes on their Melodicas all without reading music. If students are consistently given good models, they will naturally acquire knowledge. This is also how children acquire language.

3. The Challenge Switch:

To keep students motivated, activities and materials should be of an appropriate level. It should be just a little bit difficult and challenging. If materials are too difficult, they will become discouraged and give up. If they are too easy, students will become bored. At Tori Yama, they have an array of graded workbooks with each student working at an appropriately challenging level and at their own pace. They also teach writing Japanese characters in a specially developed order, starting with simple Kanji, then Katakana with angular, straight lines, then finally Hiragana with more curved lines.

4. The Assessment Switch:

Students at Tori Yama are constantly being given feedback and a realistic assessment of their performance. In every race, students know who was first, second, and third. In writing practice, students have a notebook, where the teacher writes down which books they studied and how well they did. Students clearly understand their performance in relation to others and their own progress.

These four switches can be used effectively by educators to motivate students to learn, not just for preschools, but students of any age. Tori yama’s students, on average score two or three years higher in many skills, equivalent to a first or second grade elementary school student. This unique approach has caught the attention of educators nationwide in Japan. Now, over 113 preschools have implemented similar programs. The principal, Yoshifumi Yokomine has written a series of books on the success of Tori Yama and his philosophy. He gives lectures and holds seminars for teachers wanting to learn more and he has been a guest and the focus of discussion on several popular TV shows. According to Mr. Yokomine, all children are geniuses. You just have to find the genius in them and open up their potential.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

You know you've been in Japan too long when you take pictures of your food on vacation.

The Cloud Factory

We went for a drive the other day. It was cloudy and then the smokestacks of Oji Paper factory here in Yonago came into view, billowing out smoke and there were other smokestacks visible in the distance. Six year old Hana said they were probably making paper, but four year old Rika declared, "They're making clouds." My wife and I were impressed with her reasoning. I have to admit, the smoke blended into the cloudy sky very well. It's funny what kids think of.

Life in Japan: Japanese Lighting


One thing that foreigners might find strange in Japan is the lighting in homes. Japanese homes mainly use bright fluorescent lights instead of incandescent bulbs. This picture you see is ours, a very typical Japanese ceiling light. Bulbs come in "Cool", or "Natural". Most people buy cool. Of course in America, we use fluorescent lights in offices or public places, but we think these lights feel artificial and prefer the softer, more natural light of incandescent bulbs in the home. For Japanese, incandescent lighting is too dark. This always strikes me as odd because of the Japanese love of nature and naturalness. But, I think there's another reason because fluorescent lights are more energy efficient and cost effective. The Japanese are always energy conscious. They've definitely got a point. My mother had lamps burning all the time all over the house, but it never seemed bright enough. The brighter fluorescent lights are easier to read and clean by, too.

Junko's Castle

It's getting colder and we bought a kotatsu this weekend. In case you don't know, a kotatsu is a table with a heater beneath and a blanket over the top to keep your legs warm. After setting it up, Junko declared it's her "castle" and spends as much time there as she can. She kindly lets the kids use it. There's a pun joke in Japan. The word for snail is katasumuri, but people who like to sit under the kotatsu all day are referred to as "kotatsu-muri". The favorite activity is to sit, watching TV and devour a bowl of mikan, winter oranges. I think it feels great, but don't particularly like sitting on the floor without something behind me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

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