30 September 2004

Behavior Patterns

Human behavior patterns often make no objective sense, but make perfect sense if you role-play what the participants are feeling. Here in Kanazawa, the school only has one staff member (other than teachers), Yasuko-san. Yasuko-san ends up helping out everyone with schedules, arrangements, reservations, and the thousand other details involved with traveling in a non-English-speaking country. So, there's usually a clot of students waiting to speak to Yasuko at the breaks.

Both in May and on this trip I saw a distinct behavior pattern emerge. Yasuko speaks English well, but is a native speaker of Japanese and encourages people to speak to her in Japanese as much as possible (better for learning!). Because of that, there's a clear pecking order that's established around her: the advanced students who can speak easily in Japanese will go ahead and speak, while the students who need to use English to ask their question will hang back and wait for a turn.

This beahvior sorts almost perfectly along level of education in Japanese. Obviously, there's a little bit of personality variation to it, but not a lot: some of the least social students, so long as they are advanced speakers of Japanese, speak up the quickest in this environment. And even the most social students will hold back when a advanced student is having a rapid-fire conversation with Yasuko.

Of course, logically, this is silly because the students who can't yet speak in Japanese are usually the ones that most need Yasuko's help! The advanced students may just be telling a story or asking about something trivial, whereas the beginning students need something more important (like how to get home!). But in terms of the ego of the individual, it makes perfect sense: the advanced students are speak out because they don't fear ridicule or correction (even if they are corrected, they'll simply take that as a learning experience). Not only do the beginning students have more anxiety around speaking out in Japanese, they feel the penalty of interrupting a rapid conversation with one that's likely to be much slower. So, they'll wait for a quiet moment to start their own question (and quiet moments, around Yasuko, aren't so likely to happen!). These factors play out at each different skill level down the experience levels of the students, with the pecking order behavior as the result!

28 September 2004


Once again, I'm struck by being in an incredibly international group. I just started Japanese class here in Kanazawa again, and even though the group is very small this time (11 students), it's incredibly diverse. We have three Swiss (Eurocentres is headquartered in Switzerland); two Germans; a Brazilian; an Italian; a Dutch woman; an English woman; and three Americans. For two people, both of their parents are Japanese; one of them already speaks good Japanese, the other does not; for one more person, one of their parents is Japanese. We have at least one person who loves Manga and Anime (that was also true when I came in May), and two doctors. We have two University students and several retirees. I go through the list because I'm continually amazed at the complexity of the world whereby all of us come and find common interest in learning Japanese in this particular school, in this particular town, in this particular month.

27 September 2004

Japanese Cellphones

I just returned to Japan, and cellphones (or 'keitai' as they're called here) have changed dramatically since I was here in May! I spent several weeks in Japan in May of this year, and I was amazed by the keitai culture -- everyone in Japan has a cellphone, and uses it constantly, rarely for talking! The most common use of the keitai is for instant messaging, but the next most common is for photos and after that comes games (Japanese talk on their cellphones way less than Americans actually, the prohibition against annoying others is much stronger here!).

Anyway, between May and now there was a noticeable change in Japanese cellphones. The camera-in-phone craze had just started then, and between then and now it has bloosomed mightily, as has GPS-in-cellphone and cellphone-as-picture-archive. As a result, Japanese cellphones today are noticeably larger than May's versions were; they have a good camera, tons of capacity for storage, a nice big display and lots of features as compensation for the extra size.

After I returned from Japan in May, I had cellphone envy so I went out and upgraded to a cool new Sony-Ericsson T616. At this point that phone (my American cellphone) is smaller than most Japanese cellphones! On the other hand, it doesn't have the multi-megapixel camera of the latest Japanese phones, or a built-in GPS either ;-).

four comments from old blog site:

Are Japanese celluar companies more expensive than the states?:-I

Sweety (godsbabylove_1 at hotmail dot com) - 12 June '05 - 20:50

Nope, if anything somewhat cheaper. Like here, there’s a huge variety of plans and discounts with service, but they weren’t more expensive particularly when I was there in Oct. 2004.

Leo - 15 June '05 - 02:48

I have a Samsung Triband cell phone. Does anyone out there knows how I can make my cell phone work in Japan?? I will really appreciete an answer. Thank you.

Ron Thompson (randolph.thompson bnet dot net dot tr) - 18 June '05 - 00:06

No, it won’t. Although the Japanese phones use the GSM standard, they use it on a different frequency band than the rest of the world (see, for instance, http://www.geckobeach.com/cellular/artic..).

If you’re going to be in Japan for more than a few days, the cheapest thing to do is to buy a prepaid card phone from Vodaphone once you arrive in Japan. It’ll set you back about $50 if you buy the dead-cheapest one, and after that you’ll use up the prepaid cards as you call. Most combinis (convenience stores) have new cards.

If you’re only there for a few days, you can rent a phone at the airport, I’ve used Telecom Square before http://www.telecomsquare.co.jp/sights/e_.. (they’re half the price of the Vodaphone rental service), but it’s about $5/day and the per-minute charges are much higher than the prepaid phones.

Lastly, my US provider (AT&T Wireless) actually has a plan where they’ll rent you a Japanese phone here in the US before you leave. It’s not a great deal, mostly because it’s a handset that roams on your US number—meaning anyone in Japan who wants to call you has to call the US (and get charged), and then you get charged the roaming fees. But if you must-must-must be available at your US number while you’re gone it’s a way to do it.


22 September 2004

The Ultimate Kitty Toy

Here's a cheap tip for you guitar players with cats. One of the things I wanted to do before taking off for Japan was change the strings on my guitar. As I was doing that tonight, I discovered the cutest kitty toy ever: An old low E string. You hold onto the tuning machine (i.e., sharp) end, and the bridge nut becomes the object of total fixation. Best of all, the metal string has enough springiness to be intrinsically fun, you don't have to dangle it or anything; it will oscillate all by itself. It's absolutely indestructible, so the kitty can claw and chew all they want, and it's shiny so it glints and calls to them. It's hard but not impossible to catch... what more could you want! Whee! Obviously, if you let the cat have the whole string, be sure to wind off the sharp wire end.

My cat is tired but very fascinated right now.

19 September 2004

Sky Captain, the biggest waste of Art Direction since Fifth Element

I just saw Sky Captin and the World of Tomorrow, and there's never been a movie that took me out of the film so many times. While the posters show off some of the gorgeous art direction in this film, the film is terrible. Over and over again something happens -- whether in plot, character, or effects -- that takes you right out of the film.

* "Paley", the boss character at Gwyneth Paltrow's newspaper, is trying to be Lou Grant. But they forgot that the fruff-but-caring character has to be gruff before he can be caring. His first line is, "Polly, I don't want you getting mixed up in this."

* A scientist steps on a plate which passes him through the Van de Graf generator and turns him into bones... bones which have a richly textured, pitted look like absolutely nothing else in the entire movie (can you say, "Additional Visual Effects by...").

* Jude Law's P-40 (the Flying Tigers plane) flies from New York to Nepal. And back (admittedley, partway back he does run out of fuel).

After seeing the movie, I read some of the background information about how it's the "first live-action picture made entirely with computer-generated sets." Both this movie and Final Fantasy show why that's a bad idea; conveyance of emotions is not supported by the performances or flow in this movie. We've seen the lead actors be good elsewhere, so you can't blame it on them... From the footage I've seen so far, Polar Express later this year may put another nail in the coffin of the idea that performance capture and virtual sets are a good way to make [an entire] movie.

There is a lot of good work in the film (primarily art direction, but also Giovanni Rabisi as the show-stealing sidekick. "I meant, throw something" is a great line. If you're cursed enough to see this film, be sure to watch for him!

12 September 2004

Losing Tactics

The Democratic candidates and party machinery continue to disappoint with bad choices of issues and angles. Everything I've read or received lately about the election has been depressing, and not simply because the W. has climbed out to a lead. I've become more and more convinced that the reason the Republicans have won control of the country is because they actually do have more clear convictions about how the place should be run (convictions I happen to disagree with, but nevertheless).

The specific depressing item was the report that the Democrats have decided to run on the economy as their big issue. If this pans out in their strategy, we can only hope the W. does something really stupid, because it's a losing issue. On its own right, it fails for the simple reason that in most of America, the economy isn't that broken. There's a related issue that might be a winner (job security), but for most Americans, there is work and people are spending.

But that's not the real reason the economy is a terrible choice. The fact is, the issue of this election is 9/11 and our response to it, up to and including Iraq. There's no reason to avoid that issue, as long as you're willing to speak clearly on it (Point #1: Our reponse to terrorism has inflamed much of the world against us, and made our country palpably less safe; Point #2: As President, George W. Bush knowingly lied to the public about Iraq in order to drum up support for an immoral war that is unrelated to the war on terrorism). Alas, the Democratic nominee is unwilling to speak clearly on these points, and so the entire issue now needs to be avoided.

--sigh-- The lack of clear thinking, the lack of strong ideas -- these days, liberalism is defined by what it's against rather than what it is for.