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Wednesday
Oct122011

Those who can - Yôyôkaku

   There’s a saying I don’t care for much. I first heard it when I was in high school, spoken by a person who considered himself a self-made man. Like many self-made men, he held education in contempt.

   “I didn’t go to college, and look at me!”

   I think he expected me to be impressed, but I wasn’t. I thought of him a buffoon. Successful in his own—albeit limited—way, yes; but a buffoon, nonetheless. 

   “University is a waste of time,” he said. “I’d much rather be out in the world getting my hands dirty, making money.”

   People like him tend to also have a deep-rooted disdain for teachers. “Those who can, do,” they’ll tell you. “Those who can’t, teach.”

   I heard that a lot growing up and let me tell you if you ever want to undermine someone’s enthusiasm for education just keep whispering that into his ear.

   Having spent almost all of my life in education, first as a student and later as a teacher, I can say with some confidence that such a glib denunciation of educators is not without merit.

   The other day I was talking to a new member of my soccer team. A Canadian, he is working at one of the largest universities in western Japan. Let me just add that Canadians are to expat teachers what the Irish once were to Catholic priests who were dispatched to the four corners of the earth to convert the heathens. Despite Canada's modest population, you’ll find a Canuck teaching at pretty much every institution of higher learning in Japan. That, at least, has been my experience at the seven-odd Japanese universities I’ve worked at so far.

   Anyways, this Canadian and I had met once several years earlier when the two of us were teaching part-time at a dental college here in town. Like me, he had also worked at the college’s sister school for dental hygienists. The girls might not have been the sharpest tools in the shed, but some of them were damn cute.

   “I was interviewing the students one-on-one, and asked a girl what color her shirt was,” the Canadian told me, “but she didn’t understand the question. So, I tugged on my shirt and asked her again. And what does she do? She grabs her tits and says, ’Momo?’”

   If this doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry. It didn’t make sense to me, either.

   Thinking about it a minute, I realized the Canadian had probably meant to say oppai, which is Japanese for “boobs” or “breasts”, rather than momo, which is the Japanese word for “thigh”. I’m also guessing that the girl in her confusion was asking her teacher if he was inquiring about the color of her nipples. Stranger misunderstandings have happened.

   I laughed politely, and then went back to lacing up my cleats.

   Now, the reason I bring this conversation up is that a few minutes later I overheard him telling another person on our team that his masters was in education, education with an emphasis on vocabulary acquisition.

   I almost cracked up. The guy’s been in Japan for a decade and a half, immersed, as they say, in the language, and despite being an expert in "vocabulary acquisition" is so utterly hopeless at speaking Japanese that he doesn’t know his tits from his arses. (Being quite the boob man myself, I picked up the word oppai within weeks of my coming to Japan.)

   Those who can’t, teach, indeed.

   Let me tell you, I have lost count of the number of people I’ve come across over the years—all with advanced degrees in TEFL or TESL—who cannot speak a foreign language themselves if their lives depended upon it. There are also multitudes of English teachers, native speakers mind you, whose own children struggle to utter even the simplest of English phrases, meaning they haven’t done much of a job teaching the very people you’d think they would be most motivated to teach: their own children.

   Those who can, don’t.

   And then there are the Japanese professors of English. The older they are, the worse. Their command of English is so tenuous I find it highly dubious that they are able to understand the very literature they claim to be so familiar with.

   At the very beginning of the school year, the freshmen girls were corralled into busses and taken to the city of Karatsu in Saga Prefecture for a two-day orientation. Since I was not an advisor, I was able to skip out and explore the town for a couple of hours.

   During my walk, I came upon an old ryokan called Yôyôkaku. A member of the Exquisite 12 Ryokans of Japan, Yôyôkaku is “the quintessential Japanese-style inn” with “distinct reminders of traditional Japanese-style inns of yesteryear . . . there is nothing that the Inn’s unlimited relaxing hospitality highlights more than the delectable joy of seafood cuisine from the Genkai-nada Sea.” (Who writes this crap?)

   Verbose brochures aside, Yôyôkaku was a real find, a place I would quickly recommend to anyone not traveling on a tight budget. (Rooms go for 15~30,000 yen per person.) One of the charms of the inn was the okami (女将), or proprietress, who showed me around the inn. The woman had such grace and dignity. What’s more, she spoke beautiful English, far better than, and with none of the arrogance of, most of the professors of English I have come across all these years.

   Those who can, do indeed.

 

 

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