Saturday, December 27, 2008

Do Teachers Unions do more Harm than good in Japan?

One percent of Americans claim they have been abducted by
aliens! Isn`t that amazing!

Do you believe them? If so, where are these aliens?

You have to wonder about whether the hype that many
English schools are bad, that is promoted on the
internet forums, is not simply a way to try to get
more union members.

The unions will tell you there are hundreds of complaints about
English schools every year. How many are valid? What percentage?
What percentage is simply whining? How many of these people
complained about their employers in their home countries?
Why do they stay with their schools?

As a young man and being rather left wing, I scoffed at the suggestion that unions were not all good. My father pointed out how they can try to intimidate employees to get their way.

Being young and inexperienced, I refused to believe him, but it seems to be true. In spite of the hype, unions are not always good for you and don`t always do what`s best for you. Even if they think they do.

Some unions are great and represent their members well. Others are not.

One of the reasons I enjoy teaching at my English school is because of the stress-free environment. But that relaxed feeling has recently changed. This has occurred not because of the students, the management, the company or the location. Surprisingly, the dissent among instructors is due to the new teachers union, which has created a hostile workplace. And as if erecting barriers between coworkers isn`t enough, the union is damaging the entire English-teaching profession here in Japan.

--Joseph Barker, is an English teacher in Japan

Originally published in Metropolis Magazine

Wow! Strong words from Joseph Barker (a pseudonym). I have never had problems with unions myself. In my case, when I have been a member, I think on the whole I was represented well. I sympathize with unions on the whole, being rather left in bent, but I also have come to sympathize with managers, having been one myself now for nearly 20 years. I think if you are working for a company that is not fair, having a teaching union available to back you up in case of a grievance, is a great asset.

However, you need to ask yourself if the union works for your best interest. Every school is different. Some employers are very good--very fair. If your employer is one of the kind ones, is it worth it to join a union?

Can there be potential problems as alluded to in the above quote? Unions can sometimes lead you astray.

Sometimes what unions do in the spirit of improving the situation of the employee, ends up backfiring and hurting the teachers, as the actions of the union, incur unimagined consequences.

I don`t understand how unions can say that they are fighting for all teachers` rights while encouraging union members to bully non-union workers.
"--Joseph Barker again, in Metropolis Magazine

The above is what my father was warning me about. He had been a member of a union while working in an airplane factory. Unions often feel they know best, which doesn`t necessarily agree with how you feel about things.

"Our union representative posted a bulletin in our teachers`room stating that instructors who covered a striking teacher`s shift were betraying their family, their country, and even their God. The newsletter compared so-called "scabs" with Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Jesus."

--Joseph Barker, in Metropolis Magazine

Indeed some unions can be just as bad or worse than undesirable employers. Unions the world over have gone to extremes for their cause.

And is it your cause though? You need to answer that for yourself. If it is, then join the union.

In certain instances, I would think joining a union would be a great idea. But you need to decide for yourself.

A good union should never bully you to join it. It should have the integrity and respect of the employees, and workers join because of that respect for the well earned reputation.

So refuse to be bullied. But decide for yourself.

About the Author

Kevin Burns edits the website How to Teach English in Japan.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happy People

"Happy people live secure in the knowledge that
the activities that bring them enjoyment in the present
will also lead to a fulfilling future."

-Tal Ben Shahar, Ph.D

Thursday, December 11, 2008

We learn, We Grow, and We Move On Hopefully Together

We learn, We Grow, and We Move On Hopefully Together

Posted by preparedcitizens on October 16, 2008

I can not stop talking about pandemic preparedness any more than I can stop breathing.

The fact is that this virus is still marching on, changing, drifting, shifting and becoming more adapted to the human respiratory track. So please do not punish yourselves because of my ineptness.

The truth is, none of us know the future with any certainty. We could be preparing for a pandemic of H5N1 and find ourselves responding to some other catastrophe. The prudent course of action is all-hazards preparedness. But pandemics require a more specific type of preparedness. Medical emergencies usually do. The length of time that we will need to shelter in place is quite long compared to a hurricane or tornado emergency. They blow by us rather quickly but not a pandemic with waves and waves of illness.

We do have to be concerned about the continuity of our town government. The best thing that we can do for our town and our neighbors is to be prepared at home. We should be SO prepared that if our town departments need to close shop for a time, we are able to respond to emergencies within our own homes.

That means that our smoke detectors should be not only hardwired but battery operated (in case power is out)and they should be in good working order. Other ideas for self reliance:

* Have enough fire extinguishers and of the proper types for the different fire emergencies. Fire extinguishers of the proper type should be located in the kitchen, the laundry room, the basement, garage, and any workshops. Firefighters become ill during pandemics just like the rest of us. Extinguishers should be serviced each year.
* Clean and service water heating system and furnaces.
* Sweeping chimneys to reduce chimney fires. If the power is out we will be putting extra strain on our chimneys while heating with woodstoves.
* Install battery powered smoke detectors in proper locations and make sure to have extra batteries. If the power is out, our hard wired smoke detectors will be as well. Rolling brown outs and black outs make be more frequent during a severe pandemic as employees and repairmen also become ill. Smoke detectors should be on each floor of a house and outside all sleeping areas. Batteries should be changed every spring and fall when we change the clocks as a good reminder.
* Escape plans in case of fire for all family members. Making sure that there are two ways of escape and that there is a meeting place outside of the home is crucial. As a parent I know how we typically overlook this advice.
* Practice Stop, Drop, and Roll with your children. Good advice for any time.
* Always use a screen in front of the fireplace to reign in hot embers.

The next subject I approach with some trepidation. Discussing how we should best protect ourselves in our homes from home invasion and other threats during a pandemic when the police may not be available to respond to our calls is a touchy subject.

And this is where there simply must be a discussion in town about what residents should be expected to do. A neighborhood watch may be crucial in ensuring the safety of the residents of this town when absenteeism may be high.

SophiaZoe of A Pandemic Chronicle wrote a post “Law Enforcement and Panflu” that addresses this topic far better than I ever could. As a former LEO she has a much deeper understanding of the problem.

As for EMS and ambulance personnel in town, they will succumb just like the rest of us. Maybe even more so because they will be exposed more. Calling an ambulance is a moot point if the surge of patients and lack of supplies has closed our local hospitals. Having a heart attack during a pandemic will not usher you through the emergency room that has closed because there aren’t supplies to treat the patient.

At this point you may be saying to yourself that I just have an overly glum outlook, that I am overly pessimistic about the outcomes. You may be thinking that I am overstating the impact of a pandemic. That H5N1 will be the flu as usual and there is no need to plan. You may be saying that “its just flu” how bad can it be? You may be saying that “so people become ill, a week or two and they will be back to normal”. And you may be saying “there is nothing that we can do so why bother thinking about this or planning for it”.

All I can say to this is that there is a whole lot of planning going into pandemic preparedness at the federal and state levels. A lot has been done at the community level as well. Our town government cannot do this alone. Continuity of government means continuity of the services that we rely on now. We need a very deep bench to be a resilient community. Don’t take my word for this alone. Search out what others have to say about the issue. Ask the board of health if what I say is true and worthy of your concern. Planning is being done and volunteers for the medical reserve corps are welcomed with open arms - even when not from a medical background.

As Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt has stated

“Any community that fails to prepare with the expectation that the federal government or for that matter the state government will be able to step forward and come to their rescue at the final hour will be tragically wrong, not because government will lack a will, not because we lack a collective wallet, but because there is no way that you can respond to every hometown in America at the same time.”

Prepare for your family first - then let’s prepare this town - YOU are needed.

Monday, September 29, 2008

On Teaching English in Japan

*Teaching English in Japan*

"There are those who delude themselves into thinking that universities and
publicly owned institutions don`t care about the bottom line. I know that they do.

To say that English schools are not good places to work because they are
for profit is fallacious. All institutions base decisions on the bottom line.
Unfortunately, many university professors in Japan know exactly what I`m
talking about.

The money has to come from somewhere, even at publicly owned
educational institutions. What matters more is who your boss is
and do you agree with the educational philosophy of the institution in question."
--Kevin Burns
How to Teach English in

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Will saving a forest save us money?

Pictured: Saijoji Temple in Minami Ashigara, Kanagawa
by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola.

Do you enjoy David Suzuki's weekly article? Did you know that the David Suzuki Foundation is funded by readers like you? Make a donation today to support this important work.
How much is a forest worth? And how do we calculate that value? Do we simply count the trees and figure out how much we could get for them if we were to cut them down and turn them into logs, lumber, and pulp and paper?

That’s been the traditional approach, but it hasn’t served us well. A forest is much more than the timber it holds. A forest provides habitat for wildlife, recreational opportunities for hikers and hunters, a place for quiet contemplation, and filtration and storage of drinking water. And because forests scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their trees and soils, they are a critical "hedge" against global warming.

When we take into account all of the ecological benefits, or services, a forest provides, we have to reevaluate the way we make decisions about how we manage them. Clear-cutting an old-growth forest may provide temporary jobs and profits, as well as two-by-fours to build homes and furniture, but if it also results in the release of carbon stored in the trees and soil, thus contributing to global warming, or if it wipes out the habitat of an animal that is crucial to the natural order, then the short-term gains may not be worthwhile.

Two new reports illustrate the idea of taking into account the full suite of values that a forest represents, or its "natural capital", when making decisions about resource management. Dollars and Sense: The Economic Rationale to Protect the Spotted Owl Habitat in British Columbia and The Real Wealth of the Mackenzie Region: Assessing the Natural Capital Values of a Northern Boreal Ecosystem both argue for a more holistic approach to managing our natural ecosystems.

For a long time, we’ve only considered the immediate market value of resources when making forest-use decisions. In doing so, we’ve ignored the enormous value of the ecosystem services that are critical to biodiversity, human health, and community well-being. Although it’s not easy to put a dollar value on things such as carbon sequestration and storage, water filtration, clean-water availability, and species diversity, it’s foolish to leave them out of the equation.

For Dollars and Sense, researchers looked not just at the value of timber in old-growth forests in B.C. inhabited by the endangered spotted owl, but also at the value of recreational uses, non-timber forest products, and the role the forests play in storing carbon. They concluded that "in 72 of 81 scenarios, increased forest conservation yields better economic returns than does status quo logging and limited conservation."

The Mackenzie report concludes that the non-market value of that region is 11 times greater than the market value. The researchers estimate that the market value, based on gross domestic product, is $41.9 billion a year, while the non-market value, based on 17 ecosystem services, is $483.8 billion.

The outcome in the Mackenzie region has been positive. Under the Northwest Territories Protected Area Strategy – a collaborative effort between the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories, First Nations, conservation groups, and industry – the federal government announced earlier this year that it plans to protect 10.1 million hectares of northern boreal forest. The goal is to create a culturally and ecologically representative network of protected areas, ensuring that communities benefit from both conservation and development. The areas will be protected from industrial development, including oil and gas exploration and diamond and uranium mining.

The spotted owl habitat hasn’t fared as well. So far, the B.C. government has not announced any plans to increase levels of protection for these areas. But it’s not just about saving the spotted owl, as important as that is. It’s about finding a balance and about ensuring that we derive the greatest benefit for all from our forestlands.

Taking into account all the values of a forest doesn’t mean an end to logging and mining; it just means finding better ways to manage all our activities in these ecosystems – and it means putting a value on the very real services they provide. If we don’t address the serious problems of global warming and biodiversity loss, as well as issues such as access to clean air and water, we may well join the spotted owl on the endangered list.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Don`t Touch that Whale Meat

"Factories, apparently, dump lots of mercury in the ocean. What's up with that? In a worst case scenario, Japanese scientists found that one piece of legally "harvested" whale meat potentially contains a shocking 5000 times the legal limit of mercury. But if you can't afford whale sashimi, you can work your way up to it by eating lots of dolphins (not the Flipper kind, though). A single exposure to mercury saturateed whale meat could be hazardous even for an adult, by the way. For the little ones, mercury can (and does) lead to irreversible brain damage among other things.

The good news is that salmon, the fish we eat most in Japan, is generally lower in mercury than other kinds of fish. The bad news, I learned, is that the orange colored water that washes off cheap salmon is dye. Apparently, krill don't naturally swim into the net enclosures where farmed salmon spend their lives, so they eat pellets instead. Salmon that eat krill have nice, pink meat. Salmon that eat pellets have pale meat which consumers don't like. To solve the pale meat problem, dye is added to the pellets. Wellah, oishii pink salmon!"

--Andy Gray--from Japan

Friday, May 09, 2008

English Schools Being Tainted by Sleaze

by Kevin Burns

Some websites are being slandered by sex sites and many of them
happen to be English schools all over Japan!

Sadly its part of the Google world.
They (contemptible websites) look for popular sites, and then snatch the keywords to put in their sleazy place and pop up when people are really looking for you.
I don`t actually know what you can do about it - except demand Google do something about them hi-jacking keywords and Google effectively promoting this kind of behaviour and sleaze. Some gentle hints about exposing the problem in the press - such as your regular column in Japanese media - may assist them in their actions.
--JL a computer programmer in the UK

One example of this kind of unfortunate sleaze takes place at this
undesirable site: Adult Videos Klikfeed Info

If you check the sourcecode of the above site, you will find
many English schools with their addresses and telephone
numbers right in the source code. Some popular
children`s textbook titles are also in this site`s

It`s amazing that Google
allows this to happen! I should think that a lawsuit
against the website or would be pursuable based
on damage to reputations.

Apparently people sell the above information to sites like
this sleazy adult video site, and then they put
it in their sourcecode.
It supposedly helps improve their internet rankings,
but damages the reputations of decent businesses,
and Google is allowing this to go on.

Requests for interviews with Google have met with
silence so far. I think teachers and school owners
should know however.

A month after it was raised during a session of the Search Engine Strategies show, and even longer since it was raised on various search forums, a bug allowing people to hijack listings at Google continues. Pandia has a nice summary: Spammers hijack web site listings in Google...Google bug allows 3rd party hijacking.--Search Engine

Hopefully Google will correct the problem before too many businesses
and people are hurt, and before I will add, Google looses more money
and prestige.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Kanagawa Police Force

by John Ward

"Hi Blog. Developing a case for police patterns of behavior. If it’s a foreigner allegedly committing a crime against Japanese (as in the Idubor Case), the police go after it even if there is no evidence. If a Japanese commits a crime against a foreigner, it’s either not pursued (see the Valentine Case, for the time being) or handled with different standards (see the Lucie Blackman Case).

And when it’s a foreigner on foreigner crime, free pass."

--Arudo Debito (Dave Aldwinkle)

From the Official site of the Kanagawa Police:

"How was your day?" Smiles appearing on faces of a family. Pleasant dinner with family members. Lively conversations at the table.
An everyday affair at home.
Day after day, we patrol in the community hoping smiles of the residents never vanish.

One Japanese friend living in Kanagawa complained
if you call the local police:

They will ask you if it`s an event.
If it isn`t they won`t come.

For a comic take on the Japanese police go to Kevin`s
Strait Jacket.

Just don`t make the mistake of asking them to stop
the bosozoku like I did.

The police routinely visit the houses of the area
to pay a visit
and get to know
the local residents. Two officers showed up at our home
one day to say hello and ask about who lives in our home,
which was fine. All was very friendly and cordial until
they asked if there was anything I was troubled
by. If there was to just let them know.

I thought, what better time than right now.
They were right in front of me afterall...

I proceeded to mention that cars travel very quickly
up and down our street and the bosozoku too make a racket
often on Friday and Saturday nights.
It`s dangerous.

You should have seen their faces drop...

Their smiles and friendliness instantly vanished. I had
been very polite all the way through, and friendly
to them as they had been to me, but as soon as
I mentioned that something might be amiss or
that things were out of sort, they immediately
became obviously uncomfortable and bid a hasty farewell.

I talked with several Japanese friends about it
afterwards, and they all agreed that the police don`t
like to be told what to do even in a polite
manner. Moreover, they feel embarrassed if
it seems they are not doing their job.

I think too, it is often unstated, but some Japanese
have a tendancy to feel inferior in front of Westerners.
It is silly but it still happens too often. So my
telling them the above, may have been too much for them.
Instead of taking me as a fellow citizen of the community,
I might have sounded like an arrogant Westerner.

It certainly wasn`t my intention to offend or cause
discomfort. I worry about my children and the children
of the neighbourhood. If bosozoku are driving
crazily down the street or people are rushing
to work in the morning when children are going to
school it is dangerous.

I think Canadian police--many of them anyway,
would have listened and perhaps commented on the above.
They probably would have made a comment to the fact
that they would do their best to stop it (of course
depending on the police person you were talking with).
My father would probably have disagreed but that is my take.

So to make a short story long, I found the
reaction of these two Kanagawa police quite
surprising....Oh well, another cultural difference?

At least I don`t see the Kanagawa Police spending
hours hunched over their gut horking down Tim Horton`s donuts.

We won't absolutely forgive the extreme left wing groups for their violent acts such as burning down or blowing away public buildings and private houses. They tend to go underground these days hiding in their friends' houses, private apartments, rented houses, company dormitories, and so on. When your neighbors act strangely, for example, being secretive more than necessarily or suspiciously looking around when entering or exiting their houses, let us know.
--from the Official Site of the Kanagawa Police

Note that in the above quote, they make no mention
of right wing groups. Groups for example, that have
shot at elected officials and the like. Interesting.

Does the above quote sound a little too eerily like
"1984" by George Orwell? I often look around when I
leave the house. I just think it is good sense.
There are breakins in the area so I take a look as I
leave. But according to the above quote, that could
look suspicious.

I made the mistake of noticing the flashing lights of
a police car in southeast Kanagawa one night walking
back from a jog. I merely glanced at the car as it
pulled up next to me at a stop light. I must have
looked surprised, which I was by the flashing lights.

Well they stopped in my path two times. Once they pulled
into a 7-11 parking lot and so I figured they were checking
out some problem there. Then they pulled out and stopped
in front of a liquor store (No joke!) and proceeded to
banter away about the prices of different kinds of beer in
the beer machine. Ostensibly they were checking me out
I surmised as I had looked surprised. But frankly who
wouldn`t be a little surprised at seeing flashing lights
right next to them when you are not expecting it.

To their credit they never stopped me. But it felt
intimidating to say the least. I felt that this
must be how some African Americans must feel in a
city fully of white folk. Some of my friends in Tokyo
have been stopped by the police and questioned. I never
have thankfully. Arudo Debito has written extensively
about this topic and what to do if stopped.

Now I know that the police of the area routinely drive around
with lights flashing, and if you look a little concerned
that makes you an "event." So I ignore the police cars.
Whereas before I might gaze at them out of interest--wondering
what`s going on.

Now I know better.

"One day I went for a walk in Odawara
and I came down this street. A couple of police on motorcyles stopped in my
path on the sidewalk and really stared me down. I hadn`t done anything
but the effect of these two police with guns staring at me very coldly
was chilling. I almost wanted to run away. But I had done
nothing wrong. Strange. They didn`t stop me. Another time a policeman
drove right at me with his motorcyle--also in Odawara. I was handing
out pamphlets for my boss for our school. I got out of the way but
I was angry with the policeman. These kind of tactics are dangerous
and offensive. I imagine they are against the law too!"

-Name Withheld Upon Request

The Kanagawa Police Force`s Official Site in English

Debito`s take on the Kanagawa Police

Kanagawa Governor Shigefumi Matsuzawa on Foreigners

"Foreigners are all sneaky thieves."
--Kanagawa Prefectual Governor Shigefumi Matsuzawa. This gets a bronze because there is some disagreement in press accounts about whether he said “all” or “those” foreigners. Either way, he later corrected it by saying he’d meant “some.” The truth is, he probably meant “All Chinese are sneaky thieves.” At the time he was commenting on Kanagawa’s increasing crime rate which he said is caused by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara’s crackdown on Chinese crime syndicates in the Kabukicho red light district. (In order, your humble editor presumes, to make room for Japanese crime syndicates.) The Chinese syndicates are thus fleeing to Kanagawa and setting up shop there.

--from the Crazy Japan Times

More on Shigefumi Matsuzawa

Matsuzawa`s Official Homepage (in Japanese)

Expats in Fear of the Japanese Language Requirement

by Kevin Burns

How many Japanese can speak English well in
spite of years of study? Admittedly most of them
have never lived abroad.

I think it is fairly common
not to speak the language of the host
country well in spite of living
there for years--unfortunately.

Some people are simply not that good at
learning languages. Just like some people
can`t hit a tennis ball for the life of them.

We all get to a point where we are pretty comfortable and then stop
studying. This is regretable but understandable. If you work where
many people can speak English ie) at an English school or a university
you may stop studying for lack of need. If your
partner is fluent in English it further reinforces this.

I worked with many people in Canada who had lived there for years
but couldn`t speak English--Germans, Italians, Portuguese and Chinese
for example. They would go to work, could get by well enough with a
smattering of English, then go back to their family and speak the
language of their homeland. When they went out they went to enclaves
of their own language speakers--the Portuguese Residents Association,
the local Portuguese restaurant etc.

I think the expats that work in Japanese companies tend to be the best
Japanese speakers. They have to use it every day. I know people who
work for Hitachi and are amazing Japanese speakers. They have to be.

My Japanese was improving very quickly until we had children.
It stopped improving then because my focus became exposing them to
a lot of English. I would speak English to my wife in order for our
babies to hear it spoken.

My Japanese has started to improve again of late. My children are
learning English at a good pace so I feel I can again start speaking
Japanese with my wife. Moreover, at the university I get the
opportunity to speak Japanese with staff members, the university
restaurants and shops and I hear Japanese
all around me in the hallways and in the teacher`s room.

I am also making an effort to be more in the Japanese world. One way
is simply watching Japanese TV with my wife and children. And joining
in the local activities.

Yet it really is a shame that you
live in a country and don`t take part
in the local life of that nation.
I think we should all make an effort in that way.

I guess my point is that other real world concerns (like the ones I`ve
outlined above) can take precedence at times.

Regarding the proficiency test: I doubt anyone already living in Japan
is going to get deported for lack of Japanese ability. However,
they seem to be wanting to encourage people to study Japanese, in
order to come and live here. Basicly the analysis I`ve read is that Japan
is very quietly promoting immigration.

When I lived in Canada, multiculturalism was everywhere--on the
billboards, on TV, in commercials and was official government policy.
In Japan as always, things are much more subtle and quietly done.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How do People from Asia Emigrate to Japan?

Pictured: An old bridge in Kamakura from days gone by.

How do People from Asia Emigrate to Japan?

The two negative examples I remember are Japayuki san (Phillipina "hostesses" and "entertainers") and the Asian "interns" who have really been exploited badly. I remember the nurse story but I don't know if they went throuigh with it or not. The bottom line is that the Japanese government has to really recognize that in an aging society like this the best choice is to allow other Asians to come to Japan and not just for a short term. Among other things, the government will have to help these people adjust to Japan in terms of language, schooling, and other welfare items.

How can Japan remain competitive with other countries such as India or China without doing this? Excuse me for being skeptical but I think that the government"s action/non action is based on the idea that there is a steady supply of naive people who are not planning to stay here for good. I think that bringing this out in the open is great. I don't necessarily agree with everything that activists like Arudo Debito (check out his website) say and do but I believe that this kind of prejudice will become less the more it's brought out into the open (on the internet, in the press). This country doesn't want to lose face. At least that`s my view in my humble opinion.

Tom Anderson