Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Quest for a Better Lifestyle

Wysteria are a common sight in Japan.

by Kevin Burns

Originally published in the Vancouver Sun.

For many readers, children and adults, the brain drain is more than an abstract theory.

Quest for a better lifestyle

Sayonara, Canada:People laughed at Kevin Burns, when he said he would own his own school. Now he has four.

Minami Ashigara Shi, Kanagawa Ken, Japan

I am lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. At this moment, I am sitting on a hill top,
looking out at miles and miles of trees. It is so green, beautiful and only 10 minutes from my home.

I don't live in the Great White North anymore. It is sad that in Canada today, you often have to move
somewhere else to do what you want to do. Yet it also angers me to hear people complain that there's no work
in their home town and that is why they are on welfare or employment benefits--as if that explains everything.
I want to scream at the TV: "Move then! Go to where there's work!" There are many displaced Canadians
in this country. They cannot get a decent job back home.

I decided that I would be a teacher when I was 26. If I liked it, one day I would own my own school. People
laughed. With a Bachelor of Arts in theatre, I landed a job at one of the biggest English language conversation
schools in Japan. I learned enough to open my own school two years later. I now have a small chain of four
schools, an hour and a half south of Tokyo, and one of them is in my Canadian, Victorian style house.

Teaching English in Japan is a funny business and not easily defined. It is part entertainment, part modeling
and part education. Studying English week after week can be incredibly dry and progress slow. But if you
liven up the classes with humour, and make them into your own David Letterman or Larry King Show, the
students keep coming back for more. I sometimes don a funny nose and glasses for my class of high-powered
business executives. Sometimes I am not sure if I do it for them or for me. It keeps me sane.
My first school grew to more than 100 students in the first eight months. So I hired two part-time
teachers to help, a Canadian from Victoria and an American from Missouri. I believe in free trade.
After work, I kick back with a Labatt's Blue, watch Kids in the Hall on TV and , if I get bored,
a Mike Myer's video. Is this Canada or Japan? Would you like a Canada Dry before we go further?
That Scott Thompson is funny, eh?

My Japanese wife is great. She owns a small boutique and manages our schools. We have three beautiful children,
Jonah is six, Sennah, four, and Shanaya two- who all have the blessing of Canadian and Japanese citizenship.

Although I miss my family very much and can never really go back to the home I left, I like it here.
Where I am at this moment is quintessentially Canadian. What could be more Canadian than sitting among
tall cedar trees, listening to the birds, on a hot, sunny summer's day?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Land of the Rising Gas

by Kevin Burns

Few people stop to think much about it when they fart. Unless it happens on a crowded elevator,then everyone thinks about it.

You may not have pondered the fact that there are over 400 different kinds of gas in one human fart, and Japanese of course are no exception. Japanese routinely let them rip to the tune of 80 million litres of fart gas every day of the year. I haven`t even included hot air bags like Tokyo Governor Ishihara either! If all the people in the world could be synchronized via the internet to buff on cue, they would emit 4.2 billion litres of butt gas, and that would fill 3.5 Tokyo Domes. Not a pretty picture I know. Just think of the Dome`s maintenance staff!

I have often thought that my friend Doug`s expellations were particularly putrid, but no! According to research, Japanese young women expel especially smelly ones these days due to constipation. Half of the young women of Japan are afflicted. Doctors point to dieting as the culprit in this case. Dieting leads to a loss of muscle tissue in general, and loose stomach muscles in particular, which in turn leads to constipation, and farts that would make even Doug blush!

Help you gasp! I`m dating a Japanese woman, what should I do? Is there anything that can be done, Kev? Unfortunately, I am at a loss and it isn`t only dieting that make some elevators smell like Kawasaki. It is also because the Western diet has found popularity among Japanese palets. Simply put, Japanese are eating more meat.

Indeed, the fast paced lifestyle of Japan leads to increased stress, and worsens one`s intestinal condition. Perhaps because of this busy lifestyle, people don`t have as much time to exercise. Without regular exercise, we aren`t regular, and our bowels don`t move smoothly (extend and shrink well--as one Tokyo doctor, a proctologist I presume, was quoted as saying).

One shocking part of the study revealed that if you try to prevent a fart, it will actually get you in more trouble and could affect your love life! If you refuse to fluff one (as my Uncle Stan used to say), then the gas is absorbed into your blood and travels to your lungs. Then it comes out of your mouth, smelling just as terrible. Let one rip before you exchange lips with your special someone I like to say. It is a shame when couples break up over mouth farts. It wasn`t that garlic your partner ate the night before.

This problem isn`t purely a Japanese one of course, it also takes place in space. After a fatal accident involving Apollo 1, NASA was forced to re-evaluate their safety measures. The accident involved gas and some at NASA suggested that even one fart might have caused the calamity. They started their analysis at that point. Finding that farts contain methane, they proved that farts can burn. Herman, my boy scout buddy regularly proved that on camp outs, but that`s another story.

NASA analysed many farts and found that some do not include methane. It depended on what the farter had eaten. Eating carbohydrates tends to produce a methane based fart, while eating meat or space food that is meat based, produces an expellation that is methane free or low in methane. This tends to cause the fartee (or recipient of the fart) to do a severe space gag, and possibly knock one of the controls out of whack. This of course could lead to a serious accident.

The drawback to all of these findings was, that low carbohydrate space food doesn`t produce the dreaded methane fart, but does produce a fart like Doug`s. In space, no one can hear you fart! But they can sure as hell smell a fart after some gaseous Neil Armstrong has had his ration of low carb space food. It stinks up the whole lunar module man! No wonder few astronauts ever opted for a second mission and everyone wanted to go for a space walk! Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mouri, who served on the Space Shuttle remarked that when someone farts in space it doesn`t dissipate, " becum rump of gasu travelling through space shuttle. Sometime it strike fellow astronaut nose. Honto ni kusai!" (It smells just terrible,") he related. "It often happen in shuttle, but feeling is mutual," he finalized.

So there you have it, let`s be careful out there; and as my father saw on a Scottish grave stone:

"Aire we be, let wind blow free."

by Kevin Burns at great personal risk

(Researched by T. Yamaki under much duress. *Ms. Yamaki has shown no side effects, so far, from this research.)

About The Author

Kevin Burns is a writer and entrepreneur living in Japan. When not editing his guide: He can be found teaching at his English school or managing the family store: Where he constantly wonders who cut the cheese?

Editors are free to use this article but may not make any changes and all links must be active.
About the Author

The Importance of your Attitude -- Children are like Mirrors

by Kevin Burns

Whatever attitude you come to class with, children will reflect it. If you come happy and energized, they will respond in kind. Even if they are tired, their energy will often pick up because of you.

If you don`t enjoy your job, feel negative about what you do and moody, the children will reflect that too.

Often the most moody teachers, complain that their students are moody.

Do you enjoy teaching English? If not, how can you make it more fun for yourself and your students?

Are your students really moody? Or are you? Which came first? If they come to your class in a negative mood, did you do something to cause that last class? Do you view them as losers or in a negative light? People tend to live up to expectations. If their teachers don`t expect much of them, students won`t bother to try to improve.

Just by changing your outlook, catching yourself when you think negatively can help you to change for the better. Try to view your job and your students in a positive light. Try to see the good in them, your boss, your school and you will find that you enjoy things more, and your level of job satisfaction, not to mention actual job performance will increase.

Movies like "A Christmas Carol" featuring the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge are famous in one way because they speak the truth. People can change literally over-night just by changing their attitude. I have seen it happen too many times to doubt it.
About the Author

About the Author

Kevin Burns and his wife Ikumi own Kevin`s English Schools, the Canadian schools in Japan! They also own and operate an online store selling food and other things from home called Merry Lue`s General Store:

Maybe your lesson doesn`t stink...

But you do.

by Kevin Burns

I had a Japanese lesson recently and the teacher was good but he smelled. I could stand 90 minutes with him once, but I wasn`t about to have another lesson with him.

I chose another teacher.

Teaching English to Japanese has so many facets that we sometimes forget the most basic ones. Before you teach, brush your teeth. Eating a lot of garlic is probably not the nicest thing you can do for your students either.

Take a shower. Before you go into that classroom, you should be clean. Most of your students are, and they expect the same from you.

If you have to teach a lot of children`s classes, you may want to take some deodorant with you to freshen up after a few classes.

You don`t want to drive away students because you smell unpleasant. I think is often overlooked by teachers unfortunately. It is such a simple thing to rectify too.
About the Author

Kevin Burns is an entrepreneur living in Japan. He and his wife own Kevin`s English Schools Merry Lue`s General Store and Travel Central Japan

Go ahead, Hug a Spammer!

by Kevin Burns

As Butthead once said, "Beavis, you have to have stuff that sucks to have stuff that's cool."

It isn`t often that I take the time to thank all of the people who Email me. Today I received over 160 Emails and only two were from friends. It is so sad that the spammers of today, go unthanked. I mean they have a purpose to perform too, and I`m sure that many of them are supporting families with their hard work. Some probably have dying mothers and dogs with three legs to support. Just a sec, I need a tissue.

I just wanted to say, that if you were one of the thousands who have contacted me about penis enlargement over the past 12 months, a big thank you to you! I realize your job must be hard, and it must be embarrassing at parties when people ask, "So what do you do?"

I still remember the brief time I was a telephone surveyor, what a tough job that was. I can`t imagine what it must be like to be a penile spam merchant. Good luck to you, and I hope you continue to serve mankind in the way that God has chosen for you. Good hunting!

It is nice to know that so many people are concerned about whether I can get it up or not. Did my wife contact you somehow? Oh there I go again, bein` paranoid. I`m talkin` of course `bout sportin` a woody. I`m 40 now, and functioning fine, thanks for asking! If I do ever have any trouble in that way, I will be sure to contact one of the thousands who have offered me Viagra and the like. If you ever have a free sample, I might bite.

As for free porno movies, again a big domo arigato eh! I am touched. Really! It isn`t often that you get anything for free, and I really believe it when you say that you need my credit card just for registration purposes. Like Steve Martin before me though, I learned about sex by watching the neighbourhood dogs. Who needs movies? I have it live right in front of my house. Here`s a tip, ala Steve Martin, never let go of her leg guys! I didn`t read that in any "How to Make Love to a Woman," book.

To all my friends from Nigeria. Hey man! Thank you for your kind consideration. I would love to have millions of dollars in my bank account. Who wouldn`t? It is amazing how much money you guys have to throw around. I mean you don`t ever spend it on yourselves? Like Bob Barker you`re just givin` it away. Isn`t there anything you want for yourselves, like say, fresh water? Two million dollars would go a long way to putting in pipes to bring in fresh water for a village the size of Mombuko for example.

Boy your government changes every week, and I just can`t keep up with all the generals and government officials who need to get money out of Nigeria. Are all you guys related? I mean you all know my Email address. Sometimes five of ya Email me on the same day. It really is like playing Let`s Make a Deal. "Go for the Army General!" "No go for the city official!" --the audience screams. "So Kevin Burns," Bob Barker mugs to the camera, "which will it be, the city official or the army general?"

I just can`t choose who to receive the money from, and I really don`t deserve your money.

About getting the greenbacks out of Nigeria, I really feel a Swiss bank or one in the Cayman`s would be more helpful, than some poor smuck of an English teacher like moi? There are things like suitcases you know. Can`t you just carry it on a plane?

I know none of what I say will stop all of you from caring about little old me and spamming, sorry! I mean sending me your Emails. I could tell you until I am slumped over my delete key that I don`t need your money nor a larger organ, but you guys really do care, and want to let me know just how rich and huge I could be. I understand that. That`s what friends are for.

Just to give you a little of it back, I have subscribed you all to my newsletter, where I not only tell you my life story, growing up a rich white child (with a black dog named Sheba), in a small town in British Columbia; but I tell you all the secrets I have learned as a crazy Canuck living in the boondocks of Japan. Not only how to eat low level forms of sea life while they are still moving on your plate, (Geez Hiroko, that sure is fresh!), but other more practical things too!

Here is just one example of what you get by being subscribed to "Kev`s Secrets of Life." I will tell you things like:

"Now is your chance to be Governor of California! Anyone can run! Even the Terminator! Go for it. Sixty-five signatures and a few thousand bucks and you are a candidate. Not good looking enough to be governor? You too can get a great face lift (Just ask Arnold) and look sexy, desirable, and like a potential California Governor in just three weeks, Or Your Money Refunded!

You probably think, wow, "Kev`s Secrets of Life," that must cost over a thousand dollars, but hey, It`s completely free! Just send me your credit card number for registration purposes. (Offer not available in Mombuko, Nigeria.) (Canadians please include GST, PST, SST, EST,and LSD).

Kev`s Secrets of Life PO Box 987A Mombuko, Nigeria

Kevin Burns, author of "Offers from Nigeria for Dummies" and "The Complete History of Quiche"

"You have a friend in Mombuko!" --John Pennsylvania, Speech before the White House, October, 1943

About the Author

Kevin Burns is a writer, university teacher and owner of Kevin`s English Schools, the Canadian schools in Japan! He also writes and edits his free online guide to Japan called Travel Central Japan -- When not joking around, he and his wife operate a General Store which ships things for home throughout Japan This article may be published anywhe

Thursday, August 17, 2006

No Mad Cow, We`re Japanese by Kevin Burns

Update: The beef supply in Japan now appears to be very safe. However my complaint with the Japanese government is one that repeats itself all the time. It is this:
the lack of preparation for disasters. The lack of foresight. If one thing is
consistent about the Japanese politicians, it is an inability to prepare for the future. They seem not able to grasp what might happen if we don`t prepare for this potential disaster; be it AIDS, an earthquake, or some other calamity. While there have been improvements, it still seems to be a big problem in Japan. Japan is
the only developed country in the world where the cases if AIDS are still increasing.
It`s a tragedy that the government of Japan lacks a policy of prevention. Their policy is usually one of reaction. For many people reaction is just too late.

Why there is a lack of imagination about what potential disasters could be in store for Japan and how to prevent them is open to debate. Some would say it is the education system that creates people who lack creativity. Others would site the inflexible way decisions are made--requiring consensus. Which of course requires compromise. Indeed there are probably many reasons.

No Mad Cow, We're Japanese! How the "Us" & "Them" Mentality of Japan endangers Japan & The World

We all perceive the world in different ways and nations seem to have a national view as well. In Japan, as symbolized by the word "gaijin," we have an Us and Them mentality. If you are not one of Us, you are one of Them and labelled as a "gaijin." There are words for non-Japanese Asians as well. It is very important for Japanese to distinguish between Japanese and everyone else, a situation that doesn't exist as much in North America. It is difficult for North Americans to understand this mentality.

To each their own you say. But the fact is, this Us and Them mentality is a dangerous thing. I suspect that it was perhaps the major reason that allowed Japan to invade China during the 1930's. It was also a major reason allowing for some of the horrible massacres and experiments perpetrated on the Chinese people by Japanese people. I'm sorry I said it; yes maybe that last bit of truth should be censored out, like another Japanese junior high school textbook. Why should any young person know the truth about their past?

It is the reason Governor Ishihara can get away with some of the derogatory things he has said about Chinese people and still retain power. He would have been ousted a long time ago in North America for some of his racial slurs. It is also the major reason that Japanese who have lived in Europe for longer than 6 months have been banned as organ and blood donors in Japan.

According to The Japan Times, "a health ministry committee on Wednesday decided to ban organ donations from people who have spent six months or more in European countries since 1980. The move is aimed at preventing Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease from speading the committee said." The assumption being that living in Europe for 6 months is much more dangerous in terms of contracting a disease, than living in Japan for 6 months. Oh by the way, if you are German, British or French, and live in Japan, you are tainted goods too. You cannot donate blood. Sure they may allow you to do the procedure to avoid a confrontation, but your blood will go down the drain. You are a risk, at least if you believe the Japanese medical authorities. "...Tetsuyuki Kitamoto, a doctor and professor of Tohoku University, noted that those who have stayed six months or more in Europe are already excluded from donating blood in Japan."--noted The Japan Times.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob better known as Mad Cow Disease couldn't possibly be in Japan now could it? No couldn't be! Impossible! This month a European health committee judging the risk for Mad Cow Disease in various countries, dealt Japan the worst risk rating they have ever given for the disease--a "3." The reason stated had to do with the importation of cattle feed into Japan from Britain during the 1980's--the same feed that caused Mad Cow Disease in the United Kingdom. Japanese authorities argued that the feed was used for fertilizer, but the fact remains that farmers were never monitored in how they used it, nor in how they fed their cattle. In typical style, this story was on page two of The Japan Times. It should have been front page news but wasn't.

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo

The attitude often seems to be why get everyone upset? Why anticipate what might happen and try to prevent it? Let's let things go along, then react afterwards. I suppose I am being rather scathing, but I think I am correct. There is too much foot dragging and not enough realistic analysis of potential crises. Why would any intelligent Japanese health official assume that Japan is in any way safer than France for example? And why does most of the Japanese Press slink from their responsibility of accurate reporting? Part of accuracy is putting a story on the front page when it is really front page news.

The same thing happened with AIDS in Japan and is still happening. The impression is that there is very little HIV infection here, yet there is no analysis of the AIDS figures when they are intermittently reported. In Canada, the actual people infected with HIV is multiplied by at least ten to get an accurate figure as most people don't get tested, and this is mentioned in articles about the latest infection figures. In Japan there is no analysis--people aren't warned that the figures probably stand at at least 50,000 people infected. AIDS activists still complain that the populace is still largely ignorant of AIDS and AIDS prevention, that again coming from a Japan Times report of a few months ago.

Although this incident occurred in 1990, I think it is illustrative of the mentality here in Japan. Some friends of mine were in Hokkaido and thought today would be a good day to go to a brothel. When I asked Hide (name changed) if he wore a condom, he said, "No, she was Japanese." Japanese cannot have AIDS was his assumption. Japan cannot have Mad Cow Disease seems to be the assumption now. Yes history repeats itself, God help us! Would you pass the steak, it's Japanese--so can't be infected with anything. God I love Japanese marbled beef!

Kevin Burns
About the Author

Kevin Burns is a writer and teacher in Japan. He owns Kevin`s English Schools, the Canadian schools in Japan: As well he owns Travel Central Japan a guide to Japan with many articles about this great country: He and his Japanese wife also operate an online store called Merry Lue:

I Saw a Dead Child Today by Kevin Burns

I Saw a Dead Child Today by Kevin Burns

Today as I was driving, I saw a dead child lying next to a road in Odawara, Japan. It was on the local news. I had never seen a dead body before.

I'm sure that in Iraq many people have seen one, but I never had until today. He was a boy about five years old. He was in the typical cute clothes that kids of that age wear. I thought of my six-year-old son. I imagine the dead child had been hit by a car, but I don't know for sure what happened. Everyone at the scene was quiet and respectful.

I just knew he was dead. One man was wiping the blood from his head in a futile effort to stem the flow. I felt like crying. I imagined the anguish the parents must feel and how I would feel if I had lost one of my children -- not unlike how some of the Iraqis feel.

Imagine the anger it took, to do what Iraqis did to the American engineers in Fallujah. What they did was truly horrific, but maybe some of them had lost children to American or British bombs or bullets? Imagine the hatred that it took to kill four innocent men who were there to help rebuild Iraq and then hang them from a bridge after burning them black. If my country was invaded and if my children had been killed by the invaders, I would hate too. I believe we are all capable of that kind of hatred and that kind of vengeance if we are pushed far enough.

I wish the news stations would show the "real" news. Not the glamorized version of war we get usually, I mean the news. The blood and guts stuff. The real photos of what people look like when they are disemboweled, and what children look like after an Abrahms has ripped them apart. That really would be the news wouldn't it?

I think very few Americans would be in favor of a war, any war, if the news people were permitted to show what really happens in a war. Don't the American public deserve that -- the truth? Iraq is the world's ultimate reality show. Yet the version shown to American dinner tables is a palatable, cleaned up, ready for prime time broadcast.

Oh there's another squeaky clean, CNN newscaster mugging for the camera, and showing Iraqi prisoners. Why are the Iraqis who are still fighting, called "militants or worse?" Aren't they just soldiers defending their country from some very powerful invaders? Why have they become militants all of a sudden? Who decided on the name change?

They are soldiers. Most of them are battle hardened and have been fighting from the first day the U.S. and Britain invaded. Does it make the press more comfortable to call them militants as if they are rebels? It is their country, and Britain and America invaded it. Not the other way around! They are soldiers, Iraqi soldiers, let's call them that. We don't call the Americans during the American Revolution militants -- they were Americans fighting for their freedom. I think that is how the Iraqis see themselves too. They are fighting people they see as foreign invaders. It is that simple.

Many coalition families are grieving tonight. Their children are dead. They died in the desert in Iraq, for what? What really was the purpose of this ill-conceived fiasco? Is the world any safer? Please think about the grieving families whether they are Iraqi, or coalition, and say a prayer for them.

And think about the government that represents you and ask yourself: Do they really represent your best interests? Are they really acting on your behalf?
About the Author

About The Author

Kevin Burns is a writer and entrepreneur from Vancouver, Canada, though he has lived in Japan for many years now. To read more of his writing visit the following links:

Travel Central Japan:

Japan Living

Or visit Kevin's store or school:

Merry Lue's General Store:

Kevin's English Schools:

Fujikyu Highland, Riding the ALT Rollercoaster by Kevin Burns

Fujikyu Highland, Riding the ALT Rollercoaster by Kevin Burns

"I saw a documentary on NHK recently and it said that if the foreign teacher is allowed to teach and the Japanese teacher assists, then the class will go well. But if the Japanese teacher insists on teaching in a Japanese way and wants to control the class, the students don`t learn as much and the class doesn`t go as well. The foreign teacher and the Japanese teacher need to form a team, and that means allowing the foreign teacher to teach in the way she or he knows best." --a Fuji Film Executive

"The teachers don`t like you because you speak English better than they do, you don`t know grammar like they do, they think you are just another guy from down the block. You aren`t part of their teacher`s union, and you look different,so you are fair game. You scare them. You have the power to embarrass them in front of their students. There isn`t much Japanese hate more than embarrassment." --A JET Official

Mr. Kawaguchi calls me on the phone, "Walkersan, can you please teach at two local elementary schools? We need a good, native English teacher like yourself."

Walker hesitates, he has never enjoyed teaching children, though has done it for many years. Does he want to do it yet again?

"No sorry, thank you for asking, but I am really just too busy right now."

A few days pass then Mr. Kawaguchi calls again. "Walkersan, I have reduced the hours and you can teach any way you want. You don`t even have to discipline the students, the Japanese teachers will do that."

Walker starts thinking about it again. What he hates most is having to discipline as well as teach. He would rather just teach, so this is a little tempting now. He could use the money, he has a mortgage to pay off, a family, it might not be so bad. "No sorry, I really can`t do it."

A few days later...."Walkersan, I have reduced the hours even more. It is just at two schools and the classes are small at one. Can I talk with your wife and explain more to her?"

Mr. Kawaguchi uses all the weapons in his arsenal to charm Walker`s wife and convince Walker that this is one of the greatest jobs of all time. He does a Nixon with the truth. He tells Walker that the previous teacher quit. She wanted more money. (In fact the previous teacher still wanted the job.) It is very flexible, Walker can teach however he sees fit.

On a bright morning in April, Walker goes to one of the two elementary schools he will teach at. There has been no meeting with the teachers he will work with, there have been no introductions with the teachers he will "team teach" with. There has been no instruction about how to teach. Walker is not worried about that though, he was told he could teach any way he liked, and he would not have to discipline the students. He looks forward to weaving his TEFL magic with Japanese teachers waiting in the wings to discipline any trouble makers. Sounds like TEFL heaven.

Walker elects to teach in a huge room as he feels the children will be able to move around more, and he likes active, fun classes. The grade ones come in and they look so cute and tiny all 43 of them. Little brown eyes staring up at the visage of this foreign giant. The two Japanese teachers do not introduce themselves to Walker, they seem to want to stay as far away from him as possible, while still appearing to be "helping" with the class. Their help is in the form of standing motionless, and silent. While one occasionally, scolds a few of the more rambunctious boys in a husky army sergeant voice. At the end of class one of the teachers leaves and doesn`t look Walker in the eye. In 8 months she never will.

The children are great! Walker loves the kids. The kids love the classes. They light him up and they are so alive and open to anything. They really are great. Some of the teachers though look like someone told them they have one hour to live and will die painfully. It is amazing to see the teachers then realize that they must have been just like these children, only twenty years ago. What the f--k happened? Then period one is over.

The next class shuffles in. Another teacher who looks like Dr. Death has paid her a visit shuffles into the classroom with her grade two`s. Then a second teacher appears. She is so different from the other three teachers, Walker has to take a second to take it in.

She has energy, yet appears to be much older than the other teachers. She seems to love what she does, and she has command of the class. She turns out to be a joy to teach with. Walker puts his finger on it. She is still child-like herself, yet can lead the class. The other teachers seem dead inside. There inner child is buried. This happy teacher allows Walker to do what he does best---teach English. She doesn`t interfere, far from it. She works with him. She follows his lead and goes with the flow. She never second guesses him in front of the students as some of the teachers will. She works as a teammate. Walker comes to look forward to teaching with her. If only all the teachers were like her.................

The kids are great. They always will be. Ironicly, this huge man who loves children, but hates teaching them, loves teaching the children at the elementary schools. The kids are great! Walker can`t believe it! Walker realizes in these eight months that he doesn`t hate teaching children. Ironicly he hates teaching children in his own English schools, where many of the children are forced to study by their parents.

This is probably the greatest experience Walker will take with him from being an ALT. The kids are great! They are just a joy! Their eyes gleam with light and potential. They smile. They laugh. They grab Walker`s long legs and hang on, they give him impromptu tours of the school. They give him high fives. They show him the English on their shirts. They show unconditional love of life and everything. They write him letters to say goodbye. They bring tears to his eyes when he finally realizes it is time to move on. Walker is greeted by the children as a kind of celebrity a or pop star and that never changes. Walker has a fan club of over 300!

All 41 of the grade threes enter the classroom. . Teaching such huge classes will be a big challenge for Walker, who asks his wife to help with the classes, as about half of the Japanese teachers are not of much help. They will do all the discipline? Yah right! I can teach any way I want? Yah, hand me another plate of bullshit. More pepper please.

A meeting with the staff department chiefs doesn`t change much of anything. Though polite platitudes are expressed about the English lessons, Walker comes to feel he is not heard, nor are his opinions valued, as the problems he has mentioned are not fixed in any noticeable way. While his lessons are complimented, almost in the same breath he is politely criticized. So the impact of the compliments are quickly nullified and Walker comes to feel that he is not appreciated much by the staff. Perhaps this is not so. In retrospect, probably he was appreciated. But in the moment, it doesn`t seem so.

The grade threes enter. The children as always are a joy and one of the teachers is fine, but another teacher is a pain. Her game is to tell Walker at least once per class that the activity he is about to do, just won`t work. "The kids can`t do this." "Let`s just try it." "This is too difficult." "Let`s try it." "Shouldn`t we write all of this down on the board for them." (Fuck...g shut up!) "Let`s just try it." " I really think this is too hard." "It`s okay, it`s okay," (Ya c--t!) Trying to stifle a maniacal urge to strangle the 25 year old woman.

His wife urges him to ignore the interference. Walker can`t. He has been doing this for 17 years and finds it really grating that a 25 year old is telling him how to teach, as well as what will work and won`t work in his class. Walker can`t imagine ever being rude enough to stop a Japanese teacher while she is teaching a kanji class, saying "this is too difficult." This woman is making the class harder to teach. Yet her job is supposed to be as a team member and help him teach the class. She seems to regard Walker as her rival. She seems to see him as some interloper teaching her students. He sees her as some kind of saboteur.

In Japan, you are often not supposed to talk about problems. Simply bringing them up is something that shouldn`t be done. "Walker stops the 25 year old on the stairs, resists the crocodile urge to push her down them, and says "Please stop giving me advice during my classes. I am busy enough. Tell me after the class, plus I have done all the preparation, it is too late to change things right before an activity." She looks stunned.

Walker decides that is not enough. Acting like the Westerner he is, he goes to the boss and let`s it fly. Though he has mentioned this problem before Walker never named her, Now he does: The grade three teacher is driving me crazy. He tells him the whole story. The boss agrees it is really rude. The next week, she is on her best behavior.

The grade six class is taught by a woman in her fifties. She turns out to be nice enough, but in the beginning she is cold. After the first or second lesson, she tells Walker the class was too difficult. Walker thinks, that Japanese really don`t know how to welcome the new guy. Why not give him a chance? This was the lesson felt to be so difficult:

"Hello, my name is __________________. What`s your name?" "My name is______________." "Nice to meet you." "Nice to meet you too." Yep, rocket science ladies and gentleman. Learning English is rocket science.

The new guy is expected to pay his or her dues and the dues seem to need paying a lot longer than in the West. He sees that at the tennis club, at parties and in the English class, where classmates don`t even know the other students` names. A Westerner in Japan, if lucky won`t be the new guy forever at his work place and the clubs he joins, but he will be the new guy a lot longer than any Japanese would. The society is certainly not geared towards welcoming people from other ethnic backgrounds, and that applies to any situation where you are expected to work together as well.

"Japanese people love foreign ideas and things. They don`t really want foreigners around to instigate them though." -L.B, a company executive in Japan

It is a shame as the children really are great. Walker enjoys seeing their beaming faces. Even the junior high wannabes are not so bad. The teachers of the elementary schools are a real hit and miss proposition though, and Walker must work with them every class.

The range in the teachers seems to be from fantasicly energetic and simply great teachers, to people who look like they are really not enjoying themselves on planet Earth, and want you to be aware of it. "I`m having my period today and I want to eat you alive!" I hate my life, I hate my job and foreigners scare me. You might embarrass me in front of all the kids.

"Okay let`s do the hokey pokey..." The grade four teacher informs him that he can`t dance, he must discipline those boys over there. Okay, Walker has learned to roll with things more. "Five little monkeys dancing on the fell off and he was dead." (like some of the zombies I work with).

While reading the brown cow book, no one can hear him as the three boys in the front are being so loud. Not having to do any discipline Walker waits for the Japanese teachers to react. No one does. "I can`t read this book with them talking, can you help me please!?" The statues move, and take care of the culprits, then return to their pedestal.

One day a fax arrives at the Walker household: "Walkersan, sorry if you made your lesson plan already, but this is how I want you to teach." Walker you will remember was told he could teach any way he wanted. Now he was being told to follow Suzukisan`s plan. In the preceding weeks, though he was praised a lot, Walker was criticized in a polite way almost weekly by the Japanese staff. "Can you please hold the cards this way most honorable Walkersan?" "We have these cards and these books for you Walkersan." "Your books are too small Walkersan." "Your cards are too small Walkersan. Please use ours." "Please do the same songs that Noda sensei is doing." Noda sensei was a volunteer teacher. "Please watch our grade three teachers teach the class." Walker did, found it boring and very Japanese, rote-memory, repeat after me, teacher centred, 1950`s style crap. "Please watch honorable Noda sensei teach." Walker did, grumbling about being asked to watch the volunteer. More 1950s style bullshit. Repeat after me, sing the same weather song countless times; bore the students into stupor.

Walker decides after 8 months that he will quit. He talks about being lied to about the job. The job he agreed to was not the job he recieved. He outlined all of the gripes above. He asks, "If you want me to teach like a Japanese, why not hire a Japanese teacher? Am I just here for pronunciation practice?" An embarrassed silence ensues. Walker will never hear an answer to that question from any of the elementary school department heads he asks.

"One Japanese teacher always tries to sabotage my classes." --an ALT in Japan

"The JETs say the same thing, that the schools of Japan are very unfriendly places to work." --An official in the JET program who wishes anonymity

"The teachers in Japan are over-worked, under-paid, and are in an industry with declining numbers. They are stressed, under too much pressure, working too many hours, and not enjoying their jobs these days." --An official in the JET program

About the Author

Kevin Burns is an entrepreneur living in Japan. He and his wife own Kevin`s English Schools Merry Lue`s General Store and Travel Central Japan

The Myths of the Pacific War & Other Rants

Mr. Koizumi, prays in front of Yasukuni Shrine. He prays for the souls of the Japanese war dead. It doesn`t matter to him that the war dead he prays for are only Japanese. He doesn`t pray today for all of the
: Chinese,
New Zealanders,
and others.......

killed at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army. No today he prays for the souls of 14 class A war criminals and the souls of Japanese. For him, and many Japanese, Japan was not an aggressor, far from it. Japan was a victim of European colonialism, and American pretentiousness. "America denied us oil," is the retort heard often from Japanese.

"We were forced into the war." It doesn`t occur to them, or often, they have never been taught (as the textbooks devote a tiny amount of space to World War 2), that Japan had invaded China in 1931. No one forced them nor wanted them to do that. The Chinese certainly didn`t. An unequivical official apology has never been given by Japan to her Asian neighbours. Certainly Japan has apologized, but it hasn`t been the German style, reveal all the terrible, terrible things we did-type apology. It has been a very vaguely worded, sterilized Gomen Nasai (Sorry).

The high school textbooks outline the horrors of the atomic bombings in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Japan has been transformed by an organized government coverup to emerge as an unwitting victim of World War 2. The closest you will get from most Japanese that Japan might have done something wrong, is when they say, "Everyone goes crazy during war." Which of course can`t be denied. Some Japanese politicians regularly deny that Nanking occurred. If they do feel that it really did happen, the numbers are often miniscule compared to Western or Chinese estimates. There is virtually no mention of the sadistic experiments performed on the Chinese. Some of which would have made even a good SS man blush. When a socially responsible author writes a book about the war and gives more truthful details about what Japanese soldiers actually did, he is censured if he tries to get it adopted as a textbook. The truth comes out very slowly, if at all. Most Japanese have a distorted view of what happened: Japan was a victim, and America and the European powers--the aggressors. Japan liberated Asia, only to be defeated, and taken over by the Americans. Japan is still an American "lap dog" to many Japanese. The foreign policy often appears to be one of appeasing the men and women of Washington, D.C.

Hiding behind the tacit agreement that Japan must follow America in everything she does, no matter how misguided; Mr. Koizumi has seized his moment. George Bush has given Japan a reason to increase Japan`s already formidable armed forces, and go on foreign adventures. Mr. Koizumi went to great lengths to rewrite the Japanese peace constitution, so that Japanese soldiers can now attack abroad. We now see the JSDF or Japan`s Self-Defence Forces in Iraq. Self-Defence is a misnomer. Some of my Japanese friends have suggested renaming them the Japanese Army. I think their point is valid Mr. Koizumi. So a country that doesn`t know her own past, and no longer has a peaceful constitution is let lose on the world. Japan`s military by the way is consistently in the top 5 in military spending. See: Japan`s military is state of the art and now she will be pickingup valuable combat experience in Iraq.

While Koizumi and his government can be blamed, so can the Japanese public. The response to changing the constitution and the protests against sending the SDF to Iraq have been small. You can sign petitions in Tokyo, and people will quietly say they don`t understand why Koizumi is sending Japanese young people to potential death in Iraq. Supposedly we are living in a democracy in Japan. Yet the vast majority of Japanese I have spoken with are against sending Japanese troops to Iraq, nevertheless they have been sent. Koizumi and the LDP are not listening to the electorate. They are acting from the position that they know what`s best for Japan. They are not representing the views of the Japanese at large.

Often nations go on foreign adventures or start wars when the economy is bad. Japan is no exception. Mr. Koizumi is too young to have experienced the last cataclysm which was World War 2. He has no experience of being bombed. The elder Japanese, who on the whole are often more conservative, have direct experience of war, and they are very much against getting involved in more wars. They realize that Iraq is not a peace yet, and is very much still a war zone.

Nothing will change until the first Japanese young men and women come home in body bags. Then the horrible reality will come home. Crying Japanese mothers are sure to be shown on TV, unless the government steps in the censure that too. War is not pretty despite the jazzed up versions of it we can watch on CNN or Fox. Mr. Koizumi has tied his fate to George W. Bush, and like Bush he will be brought down. Mothers and fathers don`t like it when you get their children killed. Koizumi will never be forgiven for the blood on his hands.

Burakumin: Do Japanese Know They Exist?

Sometimes it is difficult to know if Japanese really don`t know about something, or
they just feel too uncomfortable to talk about it. There are some topics that they
just don`t discuss. As well, there are some topics that the government and other
institutions have done a masterful job of covering up, hiding the truth or if very
successful, changing the truth. The assault on the truth of Japan`s wartime atrocities is a case in point. Some young Japanese were surprised to learn that
Japan even participated in World War 2! But I digress.....

Photo: Hadano, Kanagawa Photo by Jonathan DeNardis

My wife is not stupid. She graduated from one of the best universities in Japan. But until I told her about the plight of Burakumin after reading a small book in English that had been produced by a Burakumin society in Japan, she had not idea what I was talking about. It is tragic that some Japanese are pretty naive about their own country, and I allude to not only the plight of the estimated 1.2 million Burakumin of Japan, but things like what really happened during World War 2. There are too many dirty little secrets here.

This exchange with my wife led me to wonder if there was some kind of conspiracy--some kind of coverup.

I later learned that in my wife`s area, there were few Burakumin, and they weren`t discussed much by anyone.

However, one of my students a few years ago, revealed that there were quite a few Burakumin living in Kanagawa. She was a retired teacher, and said that when dealing with Burakumin families, her school principal told her to be careful how she phrased things, and of course to always treat Burakumin with respect. He felt that the Burakumin were very sensitive to any kind of prejudice, imagined or real. So my student was very careful about what she said.

Probably I have met some Burakumin in Japan but of course they have kept it a secret.

At one time I read that there was a black list of Burakumin, that the large companies of Japan kept, so that they would avoid hiring one. I wonder if that is true. Japan is such a dilemna of mysteries, it is hard to unravel the truth for Japanese, and the press here is so locked up with press club system, that it is difficult to publish anything that might be too unpalatable to the government.

I think Burakumin have never enjoyed more freedom from prejudice than now. Yet I am just a smalltown Canadian, and how can I ever really understand what it must be like to grow up in a Buraku, and face a lifetime of stygma.

Kevin Burns

"Origin of the Discrimination Buraku people or Burakumin (min refers to people) are the largest discriminated-against population in Japan. They are not a racial or a national minority, but a caste-like minority among the ethnic Japanese. They are generally recognized as descendants of outcaste populations in the feudal days. Outcastes were assigned such social functions as slaughtering animals and executing criminals, and the general public perceived these functions as 'polluting acts' under Buddhist and Shintoist beliefs. When the social status system was established in the 17th century (early Edo era) in the form of three classes (warrior, peasant, townsfolk), those outcastes, origin of the present Buraku people, were placed at the bottom of the society as Eta (extreme filth) and Hinin (non-human) classes. In 1871, the Meiji government promulgated the 'Emancipation Edict', declaring the abolition of the lowest social rank. Nevertheless, this has never gone further than a simple statement, without any effective measures..."

---from the Buraku Liberation League

Japanese Funeral Customs:

Why Are Americans Treated Differently by Japanese Immigration & the Media?

"U.S. citizens planning to work in Japan should never enter Japan using a tourist visa or the visa waiver, even if they have been advised to do so. Such actions are illegal and can lead to arrest, incarceration and/or deportation."

--from a pamphlet at the Japanese consulate in Seattle

Photo: The azaleas of Kaisei Town in Kanagawa. Photo by Sandra Isaka

"The Catch 22 is: if Americans don`t enter Japan on a tourist visa, however, they often cannot work in Japan, as it takes just too long to secure a working visa. Companies would rather hire someone who already has the appropriate visa, someone who can get the visa quickly, or someone who is willing to break the law, by entering Japan on a tourist visa with the plan to work in Japan by changing it to a working visa. Illegal? Yes. Necessary though? Definitely! Sometimes laws don`t coincide well with reality, and sometimes laws downright discriminate against certain peoples."

-- an English school chain owner in Japan

The citizens of the following countries can secure a working holiday visa to come to Japan:
New Zealand
Republic of Korea
the United Kingdom

You will notice that America, supposedly Japan`s friend and ally is not on the list. According to the Japanese consulate in Vancouver, you can secure a working holiday visa in as little as three days! A treaty was negotiated between these countries and Japan that allowed for the creation of this visa. Americans upset that they cannot get such a visa should complain to their government. Americans are hamstrung by this. It really is an impediment to working in Japan.

This visa allows Australians, Kiwis and Canadians, to name but three, to work in Japan for 12 months and it can be renewed in some cases or switched to another visa after it expires in many cases. Often this kind of visa is secured for work as an English teacher, or for other work such as working in a hotel or a restaurant to name but a few.

Americans who have the yen to come to Japan to work, can only come with a tourist visa or a working visa. Switching from a tourist visa to a working visa happens all the time. Though you won`t catch a Japanese Immigration authority talking about it much. It is one of those open secrets so common to Japan. Certainly, most Americans simply don`t tell immigration that their goal is to come to work in Japan. They say they are sightseeing.

Getting a working visa can take up to four months. So on the one hand, an Australian can get her visa in a matter of days, but an American has to wait months. Why the difference? Why are Americans given such a raw deal?

Perhaps the American government simply doesn`t want such an agreement. To this author`s knowledge they don`t have a working holiday agreement with any nation.

It is interesting to note that Japan first chose Australia for the working holiday program, then New Zealand, followed by Canada. The impression it creates was Australia was most desirable to Japanese eyes. Is there a desire to make it more difficult for businesses in Japan to hire Americans? Verily, that is the result. What this leads to is fewer Americans in Japan.

Why would Japan want to create impediments for Americans hoping to live and work here? Could it be that America does the same to Japanese?

Perhaps it is simply more difficult for Japanese to get a visa to work in America than it is in New Zealand for example. So to retaliate Americans don`t get as good a a Kiwi for example.

Perhaps it is because there are already many Americans here. There are American military bases throughout Japan and their personnel number well over 40,000 people. Japan has to deal with all the problems foreign soldiers cause when they mix with the civilians of Japan. There are also many American business people, and of course American English teachers.

In spite of the barriers against them, many Americans still manage to come to Japan and work. However, without this bureaucratic obstruction, there would be more Americans in Japan.

I assert that (having more Americans in Japan) has traditionally been an idea incongruous with the feelings of many Japanese politicians. Keep the Americans out as much as possible seems to be their goal. But don`t make it so obvious that there is a backlash from the American government.

"The Working Holiday Scheme is intended to promote a greater mutual understanding between our respective countries, and to broaden the international outlook of our young people. The Working Holiday Scheme makes it possible for citizens of one country to enter the other country for an extended holiday while encouraging in temporary employment in order to supplement their travel funds."--Japan Association of Working Holiday Makers

Maybe the Japanese authorities simply want more diversification in who comes to Japan. They want to encourage people from other countries to come. This could simply be the case: restrictions on Americans for diversification of the foreign population here. It would give Japanese a broader exposure to many different nationalities here in Japan, and therefore, a broader view of the world (perhaps it is hoped).

A Japanese business manager suggested that "...because of the high crime rate in America, as compared to other countries like New Zealand for example, the Japanese authorities feel that Americans are more likely to try to bring guns or drugs into Japan. Or they don`t want any more American influence in Japan and want to limit it as much as possible."

The view in Japan by some Japanese, seems to be that America is dangerous: and by association, Americans are more dangerous than people of other nationalities. "Bowling for Columbine," was well attended on this side of the Pacific and its` influence has been felt. If this is true, it is prejudice, pure and simple!

It is interesting that some Japanese feel that Americans are undesirable. They give their opinion that Americans are more likely to break importation laws or be a negative influence in Japan, because of a society, that is seen by Japanese to be violent, and law breaking--ie) drug taking. the gun related deaths in America and the unfortunate incidents in Okinawa of the rapes of Japanese women by American military personnel. The latter, one that foments large scale Anti=American protests in Japan`s sunniest prefecture.

The Japanese media too seems to be a member of this anti-American illuminati. If an American serviceman rapes a Japanese woman, it is national news for days or weeks. So again, American men at least, are portrayed as a dangerous element in Japan.

Yet if a female American JET teacher is raped, sexually harassed, or sexually assaulted, (a few incidents of which happen every, year according to a JET official who wishes to remain anonymous), there is not a newspaper in the land of Fuji that will touch such an unpalatable story.

JET is an official Japanese program, and its` image cannot be tarnished. To publish such a story would cause a Japanese loss of face, an international embarrassment. It is okay to embarrass the Americans with stories of their rapes of Japanese women, (no matter how rare they are.) But a journalist who dares to try to get an embarrassing incident about the JET program by the editor would probably be fired.

To read those unpalatable stores about the JET program you must go to some of the unofficial JET websites, that talk about the problems associated with the JET program. These sites are written by teachers who actually work in the program and former teachers.

For whatever reason, the Japanese authorities are doing an excellent job of discouraging businesses from hiring Americans, and opting instead for an Aussie, Kiwi or Canuck. In these days of terrorism and war,securing the proper working visa for an American can take up to four months.

Head hunting companies in Tokyo are also reporting that securing working visas is taking much longer than before, though this seems to be across the board and for all nationalities. If you can get a working holiday visa in three days, you greatly increase your marketability.

Sometimes Japanese laws are unrealistic. The law may state one thing, but the reality of the matter is another.

English schools need teachers. Often they need them quickly. Teachers sometimes don`t give any notice and just quit. The English school must hire someone quickly.

If the working visa for an American takes so long, schools will naturally try to hire someone they can sponsor for the proper visa more quickly. Indeed, English schools are encouraged by Japanese immigration to discriminate against hiring Americans, by the bureaucratic system they have set up.

Plus Americans themselves, being law abiding citizens on the whole, don`t want to break Japanese laws either. If an English school says, "Come on a tourist visa, we need you now, then we will switch the visa over to a working visa, don`t tell Japanese immigration." Naturally the prospective American teacher is suspicious of the school. The school is essentially telling them to break the law. The school realizes though that the law is forcing them into an untenable situation: They need teachers now! Not in four months!

One good thing about Japan is that the law often bends. The fact is many Americans if not most, come to Japan on tourist visas then switch to working visas. This is simply a fact of working life in Japan, as few teachers quitting their positions in Japan give more than one months notice. You do the math. It doesn`t give schools enough time to secure the working visas for Americans. So they either have to hire a citizen of the Commonwealth, or tell a US citizen to come on a tourist visa and switch it over.

If I were American, I would complain. Why are you given such a raw deal in Japan?

I would come on a tourist visa, and tell the Japanese authorities, how I am so looking forward to sightseeing in Kyoto!

by Kevin Burns

For More Information on the Working Holiday Visa Program for Japan see:

My Trials & Tribulations of Starting the Tokyo Comedy Club

Update: The Tokyo Comedy Store now credits me as co-founding the Comedy Store. This
was a nice gesture and sets things right. Thank you to the Tokyo Comedy Store for
remembering me! --Kevin Burns

Pictured: Hadano, Kanagawa Photo by Jonathan DeNardis

Tokyo, Japan

One of the great things about being an expatriate in Japan is that there are so many unique opportunities for us here. If you are willing to take the time to go to the audition or job interview, you have a shot at many interesting jobs. As well, if there is something you want to do, but this organization or club doesn`t yet exist, if you start it, they will come. So often there are others like you, waiting for someone to start a club or group they are interested in.

I have lived here a long time, I`m a good organizer, so I have started many groups over the years. One of them was the Tokyo Comedy Club, which is now known as The Tokyo Comedy Store. I still have a little pride in knowing that I started the whole thing! Maybe someone would have done it eventually, but I did it!

Many years ago now, I decided that I wanted to perform stand-up comedy again (foolish lad). I had performed on CBC radio, and at UBC (where I majored in Theatre), Punchlines and Yuk Yuks in Vancouver. I had even performed Improv comedy at the University du Quebec in French! That was an interesting experience.

So I sat in my apartment pondering the possibility of starting some kind of amateur club that performed comedy in Tokyo. The Tokyo Comedy Club was born when I decided to stop thinking about it and put out some ads in the forerunner of Metropolis, The Tokyo Classifieds. I eventually attracted a group of about 15 performers, most of them stand-up comics, a few improv performers and even a hypnotist named Tony Paget. Many people Emailed me to tell me they wanted to come to the show.

I was interviewed by the Mainichi Daily News about what kind of crazy person would want to stand up all by himself, in front of a large crowd, and try to get them to laugh. I think you have to be a touch crazy to do it.

Our first show was to a full house at the Tokyo American Club. The next show was to an even more raucous crowd at the Tokyo British Club. We also put on an improv comedy show one night.

One day, one of the members, an Australian lawyer, offered to take over as co-manager of the club. This seemed strange to me as he had never offered any help in the past. Suddenly he not only wanted to help, but to be my equal. He wanted to make the club a professional club, which I wasn`t thrilled with. I often feel that the expats in Japan, are into making money too much, and should give back more to their fellow man by donating their time. So I wasn`t too happy about this offer.

I thought about it though, and realized that all the hard work it had taken me to start the club, and get it established had also burnt me out. I was tired and didn`t really want to manage the club. I said to this lawyer a week or so later, that he could be the sole manager, provided that I was allowed to perform at any show I wanted. He agreed. I should have had this in writing, but it was just a verbal agreement.

Ironically, he told me that after the second show I wouldn`t be able to perform. Perhaps I should have seen it coming. A friend of mine came over and excitedly said, "Kev, you have to read this. That lawyer dude is taking all the credit for your club." Sure enough I read the interview and either he had been misquoted, or misunderstood, or he was taking full credit for starting the whole thing. At the time I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to perform comedy, That was what I tried to focus on.

He had gone from being a performer to stealing my club from me. I felt raped. I thought of suing, but figured it would be a waste of time and money. I was very bitter, and sad, but I learned a valuable lesson. Be careful whom you trust, and be careful who you put in charge. Just because you would never do something, and just because you are kind-hearted, doesn`t mean the next man is, especially if there is money to be made.

A fellow actor who eventually took over the club Michael Naishtutt, lamented the loss of my club, and sympathized with me. I tried to downplay the whole thing, but it was a huge loss for me. I have never performed stand-up comedy since. It was always a tough thing to do, but I think this final incident, sealed it for me.

I still toy with the idea of doing it sometimes. I don`t think I will though.

Recently I visited the Tokyo Comedy Store`s homepage, and in their history of the club section, there was no mention of me. Even ten years later, I felt angry and promptly Emailed them, telling them if they are going to have a history of their club, it should be a true history. One of the members assured me this would be changed to reflect the truth. I hope they do change it. I feel a bit like Trotsky at the moment.

by Kevin Burns

What`s the Difference? New Orleans vs Kobe?

"As authorities struggled to keep order, police shot eight people, killing
five or six, after gunmen opened fire on a group of contractors traveling
across a bridge on their way to make repairs, authorities said." --Today`s
Yahoo News on the rescue effort in New Orleans

Photo of Kaisei Town by Sandra Isaka

Who would shoot at people trying to rescue and help them in New Orleans?

Many Japanese are shaking their heads and wondering why there is so much
shooting and violence in New Orleans? Why do the rescuers and
police have to fear for their lives? Why was the scene in Kobe after
the huge earthquake there so much different? I get asked these questions
by a Japanese friend or student almost everyday now? What should I say?

In Kobe, Japanese and the foreign community there were models of how one
should act after a major disaster. People helped each other, they shared
their food. I`m sure there were a few rapes or murders but I think the key
word is few or very few.

The Thais too were fantasic apparently after the tsunami. There are many
reports of people being helped by Thais, of poor Thais sharing
their food with rich Westerners with no questions asked. That really
says a lot.

I`m sure there are many people helping each other in New Orleans too.
I`m sure there are many heroic stories, however there are obviously
a lot of problems and a lot of violence now. They say that New Orleans
is very dangerous after dark.

The mayor of New Orleans is livid. He is disgusted with the slowness
of the relief effort. It does make one wonder, that had America not
been so heavily committed in Iraq, would more lives have been saved
in New Orleans?

Yet the relief effort in Kobe was criticized for being slow too.
There was a feeling that the Japanese leadership wasn`t sure what to do.
Moreover there was a refusal for foreign help initially that probably wasn`t

My feelings are that there are many desperately poor people in large
American cities and when a disaster happens, it is their chance to
rectify the balance. "The rich are gone, so let`s rob their homes,"
seems to be the feeling of many poor black Americans.

I also think there is an undercurrent of frustration amongst many
African Americans; and when a disaster like Katrina happens, and the
relief effort by a caucasian American president is slow, that frustration
boils over, and with guns widely available, it leads to

In Japan the living standard is more equitable. We don`t see the
extremes of rich and poor that we see in America. The poor in Japan
while poor, are not as poor as their American counterparts. They aren`t as
desperately poor and they don`t have access to the weapons that
Americans do. The police in Japan have done an excellent job of
limiting access to guns, but more importantly to ordinance. If you have no
bullets, it is impossible to shoot. America would do well to study
the Japanese example.

My Japanese friends point to a difference in culture. They say
"We Japanese are farmers. Americans are hunters." Is that really true?
Anyone who fought in Okinawa against the Japanese I`m sure would
laugh at such a comment. My father while abhorring war (he fought in
Europe) admired the Japanese soldier. He said they were amazingly
tenacious soldiers. The farmers of Japan were able to through down
their hoes pretty quickly, just ask China.

I think American society recently (the last 60 years) has been more violent
than Japan--that is true. But I don`t think Japan has been an example of
peace either. I think Japan`s recent history has been one of little crime
and violence, but I feel that is due to economics more than anything, and
that fact that it is very difficult to shoot a gun here. We do in fact have
a rising crime rate in Japan, and I think
most Japanese would agree that it has to do with economics, though
some Japanese will blame the Chinese in Japan first, then economics
second for the rise in crime.

If you compare Canada and America, while there are over 7 million
guns in Canada according to Michael Moore, we don`t see the prevalence of
gun violence that you have in America. I think it is a difference
in culture. It is a difference in thinking. It is also a difference
in desperation. Some of the African Americans are desperately poor.
There is something to be said for the social economic programs we
have in Canada. While we may be taxed a lot at times, I think we
have a much better country to live in than America.

Kevin Burns

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Quest for a Better Lifestyle

Originally published in the Vancouver Sun

Minami Ashigara Shi, Kanagawa Ken, Japan

I am lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. At this moment, I am sitting on a hill top, looking out at miles and miles of trees. It is so green, beautiful and only 10 minutes from my home.

I don't live in the Great White North anymore. It is sad that in Canada today, you often have to move somewhere else to do what you want to do. Yet it also angers me to hear people complain that there's no work in their home town and that is why they are on welfare or employment benefits--as if that explains everything. I want to scream at the TV: "Move then! Go to where there's work!" There are many displaced Canadians in this country. They cannot get a decent job back home.

I decided that I would be a teacher when I was 26. If I liked it, one day I would own my own school. People laughed. With a Bachelor of Arts in theatre, I landed a job at one of the biggest English language conversation schools in Japan. I learned enough to open my own school two years later. I now have a chain of four schools, an hour and a half south of Tokyo, and one of them is in our Victorian style, Canadian house.

Teaching English in Japan is a funny business and not easily defined. It is part entertainment, part modeling and part education. Studying English week after week can be incredibly dry and progress slow. But if you liven up the classes with humour, and make them into your own David Letterman or Larry King Show, the students keep coming back for more. I sometimes don a funny nose and glasses for my class of high-powered business executives. Sometimes I am not sure if I do it for them or for me. It keeps me sane.

My first school grew to more than 100 students in the first eight months. So I hired two part-time teachers to help, a Canadian from Victoria and an American from Missouri. I believe in free trade.

After work, I kick back with a Labatt's Blue, watch Kids in the Hall on TV and , if I get bored, a Mike Myer's video. Is this Canada or Japan? Would you like a Canada Dry before we go further? That Scott Thompson is funny, eh?

My Japanese wife is great. She manages our schools and general store. We have three beautiful children, Jonah is 8, Sennah, 6, and Shanaya 4- who all have the blessing of Canadian and Japanese citizenship.

Although I miss my family very much and can never really go back to the home I left, I like it here. Where I am at this moment is quintessentially Canadian. What could be more Canadian than sitting among tall cedar trees, listening to the birds, on a hot, sunny summer's day?

Kevin Burns
Owner & Head Teacher of Kevin`s English Schools

Monday, August 14, 2006

Play the Game!

After arriving in Nagoya, I told my friends I would be on radio or TV within the year. I did this partly to spur myself on to do something about it.

I worked for Nunoike English School and St. Mary`s College in Nagoya. As well I registered with the best talent agency there. I called them everyday, and was told there was no work; everyday. But one day they called me at the college, and said to come to the agency on Friday morning, there was a modelling job that would pay me \15,000. This was a lot of money in 1989!
The work took only one hour and then we got paid. It was an ad for a pharmaceuticals company and the work consisted of standing there and smiling. The ad appeared in some magazines in Japan.

In Vancouver, I was laughed at when I suggested that I could be a model. I have a big honkin` nose and at the time, had a baby face that my mother loved! Thanks Mom! I love you! Tissue please!

In Japan though, your big honkin` nose is an asset man! Big Nosers Unite! You are admired in
the Land of the Rising Nostrils! My Japanese friends often tell me, "my husband admires your huge nose." They talk about your huge probuscus over dinner! Don`t be ashamed, flaunt that Snoz! Flaunt it!

About a month later I saw an ad for a radio commercial. I went to another talent agency, and auditioned by singing into a tape recorder along with some canned music. I got the job! I showed up at the studio at the appointed time and met my duet partner, a beautiful African lady from South Africa. She had a great voice to complement my hoarse one! I have occasionally been told I am a good singer. My brother who is honest to a fault, has told me I have a pleasant voice.
This woman though, was a singer!

In the studio, they can make even Avril Lavigne sound great. I sounded great too once they flipped
a few switches and turned a few dials. "FMA Morning Energy Traffic," came my baritone. (I`m actually more of a tenor type dude.) "FMA Morning Energy Weather," wow I sounded great.

Then came the singing. Angels came out of the speakers! I was singing with this great lady, but angels were filling the studio. Anyone who is not tone deaf, can sound like a major star with what they can do! Just ask Avril! (Whom I happen to like, but recognize that she is not the singer live, that she is in the studio. It`s like listening to two different people!)

The agent for this job left early and paid us early, but it wasn`t enough. I had to go to their office and demand the correct payment. This was a hassle, but I got paid the full amount in the end. Some of the agencies are pretty bad. If you plan to get into this kind of work, ask around to find out which agencies pay, and which don`t.

After I had moved to Kanagawa, I decided that I wanted to be on the radio some more. I sent off a demo tape to a radio station (don`t laugh!) called FM Banana. They were on the USEN 440 radio network. This is the cable radio network in Japan, and they have 440 stations! It`s actually very good if you can afford to subscribe.

I didn`t hear anything from the Banana folks so I contacted them to ask why I wasn`t hired and if I could improve somehow. Tomitasan pealed off his best English: "You need more energy."
So I made another demo tape, just on a regular tape recorder in my Atsugi apartment and sent that off. It had lots of energy. I was a Kevin version of Wolfman Jack. I was hired the next week!

This caused me joy and extreme terror! I had lied about being a DJ at UBC! I had never Dee Jayed in my life except for having a canned music business where I played songs at weddings, parties, and wakes! I never spoke on my mike though. I just played songs. I wasn`t the greatest DJ but I would learn I told myself. I would learn in front of 800,000 listeners nationwide. Oh God, I gotta go to the toilet again man!!!! OUtta the way!!!!!!!

I called the Mitsubishi Car Plaza FM Banana office and asked if I could be in the studio with some of the other DJs, just to brush up on my skills, as it had been a while since I had Dee Jayed, I lied yet again. They said, "no problem." I trained with a pleasant American woman who was a very good DJ for two days. I asked a lot of questions, while trying not to appear like a total dork. Just a slight dork!

I started work that Monday and I was to be on three days a week from 9-12 noon Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The pay was only 1,000 Yen per hour, and Mitsubishi used the station to advertise their cars. We were played in homes that had cable radio, in stores throughout Japan, and at all the Mitsubishi Car Plazas
from Kushiro to Kagoshima. My husky voice blared out throughout Nippon, extolling the virtues of Eric Clapton and George Harrison. I learned how to be a DJ, hopefully not annoying too many Japanese mimi (ears) in the process!

I think it was Woody Allen who once said that "80% of success was just showing up." That is definitely true in Japan.

When I performed standup comedy in Tokyo and was active in improv comedy workshops, I met a man who
proved the above statement. Not only did he show up, he would give whomever it was, what they wanted. He played the game, whichever game it happened to be at that particular moment.

He told me about an audition for a TV commercial where they wanted a guitarist. He had never played guitar in his life. Yet he auditioned! All of the other musicians were very good guitar players. They played very nice melodies on the guitar to polite approval from the panel of interviewers sitting behind a table. My friend though, he came into the room and went crazy on the guitar. He imagined himself to be a Jimi Hendrix. It sounded terrible but it looked great. He got the job. The producer was going to dub in the music anyway, so what was important was the look. Boy were the other true musicians upset with him! But he laughed all the way to the bank.

There`s another lesson there. The look you give is extremely important here. If you are going to teach English, you must look like an English teacher, and the same goes for every other job, be it guitarist on TV or computer programmer for Sony. If you look suspicious to Japanese eyes, you will be stopped by the police and interrogated. So it swings both ways.

I think it is important to be yourself, but it is important to play the game too. You live in Japan now, so the game has changed. You are now playing Parker Brother`s "Gaijin in Japan Game!" Roll the dice and move around the board. Pay \20,000 to get out of the cockroach infested gaijin house you are living in! Take a Chance Card! Congratulations! You have become a radio DJ in Tokyo! Congratulations! A beautiful girlfriend!

You can harp all you want about how unfair it is to be called a gaijin. You can complain that you got stopped by the police on your bike. You can also say it is unfair that some schmuck from Canada who had never been a DJ, gets to be a DJ just because he can speak English and put together a silly demo tape.

In the end though, maybe it is better to ask yourself, if I get a hair cut, would my life be easier in Japan? If I play the game, would my life be smoother? Sure protest when you need to. Speak up about discrimination in Japan, but play the game too. The dice often roll your way as well. That`s what I`ve found.

by Kevin Burns

The Forums About Teaching English in Japan Need to Take a Reality Check

"After reading what they had to say in the forums there, I almost decided to go to Korea, it is so negative. When I did ask, well what schools are good to work for?-no one answered."

--A.P., USA--commenting recently on a very popular forum about teaching English in Japan.

Many forums are too negative and distort the reality of teaching in Japan. At one popular forum, one of the moderators dispensing advice is a university professor, who presumably has been out of the loop of looking for a teaching position in Japan for many years, yet he is telling people incorrectly how to get a job in Japan.

In one forum, he stated that schools here won`t hire you unless you are already in Japan. In fact, most schools will hire you while you are outside of Japan. Why? They have to.

If you have a school in one of the -sized mid to smaller cities in Japan--(which comprises most of Japan), you don`t have many teachers banging on your doors to teach at your schools. This same moderator was listed for a forum talking about teaching in Africa, yet he lives in Kansai.

My point is that some of ths so-called experts are anything but. Yet they are espousing their opinions on the internet and you are reading them, and sometimes taking them at face value.

The people who post at forums rarely post anything positive about any of the schools they work for. There must be some positive stories but you won't read them there. I think it would be a great idea to set up a forum that has a positive story only section. As this would help to redress the balance and restore some reality to the debate about is working for an eikaiwa school a good idea or not.

Have a separate forum where people can only post positive stories--just to give some balance. If your purpose is to educate people, that requires balance. Even if you are "Debunking Eikaiwa," as the LJ quote reads, surely you should alert people to some good schools to work for?

Unfortunately, I just spoke with a teacher from America-quoted above, and she felt the site was so negative that she was debating whether to even come to Japan. If the situation were so bad here in Japan, then the forums would be doing everyone a service. But it just distorts the actual reality of teaching English here. Many of the teachers who post have had a bad experience at one school, yet in many cases still continue to teach there, and rant about it--ad nauseum at one of the forums. Can you say, "Get a life?"

You won't find the people who enjoy their jobs posting much. If they do, they will take a lot of abuse from the complainers already ensconced there, and they are too busy enjoying their lives to log on and post. Happy people don't usually rant.

Two somewhat famous webmasters did not enjoy their time at Geos. Yet I have a friend named Lee who loved Geos. He loved the fact that he had his own classroom, would brag about the fact in his animated way, and enjoyed teaching and his students. Lee doesn't post at Let's Japan to my knowledge though.

At times some of the teachers seem to want to pick a fight over things so inane. In one story, a teacher said "Sayonara," to his students as they were leaving. Being an English school he should have said, "goodbye." His manager told him not to do it again.

Had it been me, I would have simply said, "Sorry," and said "goodbye,"to my students the next time. But this teacher argued with his boss over it. A person was called from head office to have a meeting with him. I gather his local manager felt she couldn`t get it across to him that what he had done was enough to make some students quit. I can see both sides, but a simple "sorry it won`t happen again," would have sufficed.

I agree with the author that it is a pretty silly thing, but students quit over silly things, and a lot of arguments are over them too.

I enjoyed my time at ECC and the YMCA. I modelled Kevin's English Schools after the 'Y' to some extent. My point is we all have different experiences and we have to be careful about what we read, especially the negative stuff. Don't spend too much time at any one site, even here! Don't take my word! You need to explore many websites and read many books. You shouldn't jump on a plane and not be prepared. It is your life you are thinking about, so read all you can so you can select the right place for you to work. Both you and your employer will be happy for it.

By all means read as many articles as you can about teaching in Japan. You may relate to things you wouldn't like, but keep in mind that all Geos managers are not the same. Personality conflicts occur everywhere. I'm not defending Geos, and it definitely is not in my interest to do so, they are my competition for students and teachers. Indeed there are many things about Geos that I don't like.

My point is, I am in favour of being fair and I am worried that some people believe the negative postings at forums. I am concerned that it affects them to such a degree that they choose to teach in another country. That really is a shame when there are many good schools here, and it is a great, safe country to live and work in.

I have a conflict of interest having my own school so could not do this, but someone really should start a website about the good schools in Japan. It wouldn't be easy and small schools like mine would have a tough time, not having as many teachers to vouch for us as some of the bigger schools, but it is a badly needed site. So someone with some internet savvy, here's your notice.

There is a need for an unaffiliated site like this. Many people abroad are going prematurely grey trying to decide for whom to teach. Help them! There are many sites like Gaijin but schools pay to advertise. You can find jobs there but don't have any independent reviewers who can tell you about the schools. We need some independent reviewers who can give the unbiased low-down on various schools--ideally a few reviewers would be needed. It wouldn't be easy. Perhaps it is a needed service? Perhaps some teachers would be willing to pay for such a service to avoid getting into a situation they wouldn't like.

Maybe even an independent site like Ohayo Sensei should consider offering this. They are well respected, independent and have been around for a while now. If they or some other site already does offer such a service please let us know here.

In the meantime, I interview teachers by phone and face to face. If by phone, I try to reassure them that we are not one of the horror stories they have read about at such and such forum on the internet. Prospective teachers sometimes ask to contact one or more of our current teachers to ask questions about what it's like to work at our schools. I feel uncomfortable with this, never having asked any of my prospective employers for the same privilege and because I don't want to infringe upon the privacy or free time of our teachers. Our teachers are kind though and allow me to give out their Email addresses to prospective teachers. It's a bit sad that this is necessary, but some of the internet forums and the bitter negativity that a minority of teachers express, seem to help make it so.

About the Author:
Kevin Burns Owner, Co-Manager and Head Teacher of Kevin's English Schools-"The Canadian Schools in Japan" He also is a Lecturer at a university in Kanto.
He and his wife own and manager Merry Lue`s General Store
Burns also writes and edits a guide to Japan called Travel Central Japan

by Kevin Burns

Culture Shock & Eikaiwa Teachers in Japan

Moving halfway around the world, to a culture as foreign and difficult to penetrate as Japan`s is difficult for anyone. If you become an English teacher here, you will probably have to deal with a Japanese boss and staff with different cultural values from your own. This can lead to a feeling of paranoia in some cases; isolation and disillusionment.

(Photo of the Defender of Odawara, courtesy of Global

To a great extent, leaving your friends and family and going to Japan to teach English engenders some of the same feelings as that of teenagers rebelling from their parents in the West. Teenagers rely on their parents, yet resent and rebel against them. Of course they complain to their friends about them too.

Foreign English teachers in Japan must rely on their Japanese bosses for: their work visa, in some cases their apartment, and of course their salary. Some teachers come to Japan with virtually no knowledge of the country. Childlike, they ask questions about Japan that many six year old Japanese know the answers to. The new teacher can feel embarrassed at times having to ask such basic questions as how do I use the Japanese toilet in my apartment? Can you open a bank account for me tomorrow? How do I get home from the school? To someone used to being independant, it is an uncomfortable, flashback to the teenage years.

Japan is a beautiful, interesting, yet daunting country for the newcomer. Some people thrive in the adventure that is teaching English in Japan and others don`t. For them it is the toughest thing they have ever done. The new arrival to Japan is faced with three alphabets to learn just to read her pay cheque! One comes to feel pretty helpless and childlike at times. Going to the doctor for your first cold can be intimidating. You don`t understand her questions and she doesn`t understand your answers.

Paranoia is common amongst immigrants the world over. Experts argue it is a symptom of not understanding what is going on around you--linguistically and culturally. The isolation this can lead to, causes the paranoia.

Resentment can set in if you are not prepared for this kind of culture shock. The possible symptoms of culture shock are many, and of course different levels of culture shock can occur over many years. If you are not a member of the majority, culture shock can hit you at any time. One symptom we often see in Japan is that of foreigners lashing out by complaining. They complain about the food, they complain about Japanese people, if they work for a Japanese company, they complain about how they are mistreated, and if they work for an Eikaiwa school, (which comprises most Western foreigners in Japan), they complain about the Eikaiwa school they work for. Some complain about all Eikaiwa schools as if all of them are the same, and all are bad. Some expats in an attempt to beef up future sales for the book they are writing, even set up a whole website to complain about Eikaiwa.

While there are certainly problems in Eikaiwa, there are many great things happening too. You only have to open the pages of an ETJ magazine, ELT Journal, or read the latest article at ELT News to see that. No this prevalence of complaints is something more. Indeed culture shock is one aspect of this phenomenon.

At many of the big schools the working hours are about the same as they are at public schools in North America. Yet the teachers of GEOS and Nova complain about their 28 hours of teaching and 40 hour a week shifts. (They
work a 9 hour shift, five days per week at GEOS, with a one hour lunch break which equals eight hours of preparation and teaching). One Canadian elementary school teacher said: " I don`t know what they are complaining about. That is what I do every week. That is what we all do at the public schools in Canada."

At many schools though, the shifts are much shorter and they don`t require you to be in the office. The work time of around 20-25 hours per week, would be considered part-time work back home. At Kevin`s English schools the teachers work between 20-25 hours per week with no requirements to be in the office when they are not teaching. Under the contract they can be asked to work as many as 28 hours per week but none are currently doing so. The current average is about 22 hours per week. They are not required to
put in any office hours, so when they don`t teach their time is their own.

Many of the Eikaiwa teachers miss their friends and family back home. Some were not happy in their home country and escaped to Japan to try to sort out their lives--only to find they are not happy here either. The old saying: "Where ever you go, there you are." springs to mind.

I assert that the rampant negativism on the internet about teaching at Eikaiwa schools is only in a very small part due to the schools, but is a symptom ofculture shock and the difficulty adjusting to life in Japan for some
teachers. It is a reaction to the sense of dependancy some teachers feel as they have to rely on their bosses and Japanese staff for many things.

The boss who is in some cases also the landlord, is cast by the teacher (unconsciously) in the role of parental figure, and the Eikaiwa teacher, the star of our show, is the rebellious teenager with a need to get it off his or her chest. The internet forums provide the perfect venue for that.

While most Eikaiwa teachers are well balanced and make the most of their time in Japan, it is the vocal minority we see on the internet complaining about how unfair their Eikaiwa school is. While some of these complaints are legitimate and the Eikaiwa school should be taken to task, others are merely venting a teenage like rage, as they rale against what they fail to understand is simply culture shock.

If the person is your friend, you need to listen to them and sympathize, but at some opportune moment, you may want to suggest to them, that couldn`t their negative feelings about their boss or school be due to something else? If their complaint is legitimate then talking with their union, labour relations board or finding a new job with one of the many great Eikaiwa schools here, might be the answer.