Categories
Uncategorized

Why You Shouldn’t Use The Internet to Translate Japanese

Original Japanese:

おはようございます。サロマ湖100kmへ向けて皆さんがんばってますね。

今日の佐呂間(4月22日)は昨夜からの降雪で9㎝積もりました。佐呂間町内でもサロマ湖100kmに出場される方々が練習されている姿を拝見します。

6月30日5:00湧別町スタートまであと2か月少々です。

BING!’s translation:

Good morning.

Lake Saroma 100 km towards, and you guys do the best. Today Saroma ( 4/22 snowed a 9 cm snowfall from last night.

Saroma Saroma 100 km to town also contestants are practicing to please. 6/30 5:00 Kamiyubetsu Town start until two months little is.

Google’s translation:

Good morning. I have everyone working hard towards Saroma 100km.

I estimate 9 cm in snowfall from last night Saroma (April 22) of today. I I see your figure that is practice those who are competing in Saroma 100km in Saroma town.

5:00 Yubetsu town start the 30th June is the month to little or two later.

My translation:

Good Morning. People who will be running the 100km Saroma Lake Marathon are training hard these days.

Today in Saroma (April 22nd) we had 9cm (3.5in) of snow accumulate overnight. Even now you can see the competitors in the ultramarathon practicing in and around Saroma.

Only 2 more months until the start in Yubetsu Town – June 30th at 5:00am!

Categories
Hokkaido Saroma travel

Beautiful Sunset on Lake Saroma

20130420-193128.jpg
View from the shore of the Saroma Tsuruga Resort.

20130420-193157.jpg
Some rain clouds were passing to the south of the lake, but the sunset was spared.

20130420-193140.jpg

Categories
Uncategorized

An Elegy for Toby

I wrote this very quickly in the moments after Toby’s passing.  It’s just sort of a way for me to process the news and deal with such a loss.  I don’t mean to offend anyone with my beliefs or my perspective.  But this is how I knew Toby.

The mountains in Toby’s backyard.

 

My friend Toby passed away about an hour ago. He was injured in an avalanche almost 36 hours ago and was in the hospital undergoing surgery. I’m not really sure what to do. I’m hours away and it’s still hard to believe.

Toby was older than me, old enough to be my father – a fact that I would tease him with often while we were hiking or working together.  Of course, on the mountain, in a kayak, on a bicycle, and especially on skis, he could kick my 28 year old butt without much thought or effort.

I came to respect Toby greatly, in some ways looking up to him as one might a wiser older brother. I always had dozens of questions for Toby – he seemed to know more about life than I did, and I wanted to know what his secret was. I can’t express how fortunate I was to befriend him.  Toby’s relationship with Japan was long, but I only met him three years ago, both of us barenaked in a hot spring bath on the shore of Saroma Lake. In the changing room, I chatted with him a bit, and later found him on Facebook. A few months later, my wife and I dropped by his amazing handbuilt strawbale house with a nice bottle of Alaskan port wine. Leaving his house that time, my wife Yoshie hit me in the shoulder and shouted “build me a house like that!”

I really can’t think of many people who had the breadth of life experience, natural life skills, and openness and greatness of heart than Toby. He was one of the few people who had hundreds of Facebook friends who were all actually his friends. I considered myself really lucky to be friends with someone like him. After the disasters in Japan on March 11th, 2011, Toby went down to the area, just days later, to help rescue stranded animals.

I didn’t know him when he built his house, but he inspired me to do something like it. I still have one of his straw bale house books on my bookshelf. The night before his accident, I stopped by his house to drop off some craft beer and other Costco shopping. He wasn’t there, but had left a key hidden for me. He had two bags of freshly roasted coffee beans waiting for me, one still wide open to let the beans breathe. Only his three cat “children” were there to greet me. I regret now that I wasn’t able see him face to face.

So, while whatever loss Toby’s passing is to me, one of many, many friends, one who had the pleasure of knowing him for only a short part of his amazing life, the loss is far, far greater for his brothers, his wife, and all of those who, luckier than I, have known Toby much longer.

Lastly, let me say one thing.  As humans, it’s in our nature to assign meaning to events. We want life to be meaningful; a meaningless existence is a deeply frightening thing to consider. Toby died doing something that he loved, something that without doing, he would not truly have been alive, not really have been Toby. I am not a backcountry skier, but I have been up with Toby in the snowy mountains of the “deep north,” as he called it, just as Ross was when Toby had his accident. He was a different person up there – happier, goofier, and a maniac on two skis. He loved Japan, and Hokkaido, and the mountains in his backyard. His community will be set back by the loss of someone like him, someone who was the nexus of so many friendships and connections. In a truly just world, Toby’s passing should have never happened. He deserved to fulfill his dreams in this stage of live, open his business, introduce people here to good beer and good coffee, and live on to an old age with his many friends and beautiful wife. So the fact that he died doing something that he loved doesn’t make anything better. It’s not comforting. But it does at least mean something. Toby talked to me before about the possibility. He had made some sort of personal peace with it. What this means is for each of us to interpret in our own ways as we deal with the tragedy. But I know it would have meant something to Toby.

Update: Toby did know it would have meant something to him. That card wrote his own obituary back in 2008:

Toby Weymiller, a man who followed his dreams and was always passionate about making a difference, passed away in the mountains on(insert date), just as he had hoped.

Toby loved nature, the mountains, his family and his friends. He always thrived for the ultimate balance with all of these passions and his dying wishes were to tell everyone, “Thanks for the memories!” and “Thanks for all the support over the years!”. In lieu of flowers or donations to charity (although he always encouraged donations to charities), Toby asked that you all go outside, sit down, breathe in that fresh air and take a few minutes to remember him. Toby asked that you smile and laugh as you remember the good times you shared with him. Toby says that even though he is not visible to the eye, he is still very alive in spirit and you can find him often when you go out into nature and especially up into the mountains. Toby said he is waiting for you to come visit him there.

Toby is survived by many family and friends, all of which he loved dearly. You can go to www.weymiller.com to see more about Toby, including pictures and videos, as well as his family and friends. Toby wrote this obituary himself back in 2008 and his final word to all if you is “Namaste”.

This is one of my favorite memories of him, the day we hiked up to the hut at Ashibetsu-dake two summers ago. We stopped at a stunning series of falls for a break:

Additional:

Graham Gephart’s blog post in honor of Toby at grahamgephart.com

Categories
Uncategorized

Sōgōteki-na gakushū

This is a term that one encounters in any reading of or experience in the Japanese education system. For years before the introduction of “foreign language activity” instruction, my English classes at the elementary level were taught as part of the sogotekina gakushu time block. Sogotekina gakushu means something like “synthesized study” or “general studies” but is more accurately and lyrically translated as “integrated learning.” Students are encouraged to make connections from their studies to their environments, their lives, and the world around them. Some activities done as part of this time in my elementary schools include studies of fish in the nearby lake, and other activities within the community. This video, produced by the Pearson Foundation, gives a good, if uncritical, view of this part of the national curriculum.

The larger website from which this video comes is actually rather interesting.  Produced for the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) it focuses on those countries and states that performed well on the international PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). I’m not sure I am in agreement with how much attention the test results garner in the media, but the videos themselves make for an interesting look at the successful education systems of different countries.

Categories
earthquake Hokkaido Japan

A Cute Hokkaido Power Map

This morning I found a rather interesting infographic pamphlet on my desk from HEPCO, the Hokkaido Electric Power Company.  It contained a very straightforward graphic showing the major sources of power generation on the island of Hokkaido.  I searched for it online, to no avail.  So, I snapped a photo:

With no classes in the morning, I decided I’d try and reproduce the graphic, along with English annotations.  I think I did a pretty good job.  Have a look: (click for a larger version)

I’d say this is a sign I either have too much time on my hands, or perhaps would enjoy a job in graphic design/translation better.

Categories
Uncategorized

Election 2012 at SJHS

The 2012 election is over and done, but there are some extra results I should add to the public record.  Saroma’s 9th grade class mock-voted a week before the election, after watching several commercials from both candidates and watching excerpts from their convention speeches and the debates (they greatly enjoyed the moment in the second debate in which the two candidates confront each other with some tension in their voices).

And here are the results:

✔ Obama 45 Romney 3 Undecided 1
91.8% 6.1% 2%

Categories
Uncategorized

English, Made in Japan

This post has been slowly fermenting in my drafts folder, waiting futilely for me to add enough to it to make it publish-worthy.  But I think I will simply publish it and make it a work in progress.  If you have any interesting bits of wasei eigo (Made-in-Japan English) please leave a comment and I’ll add it to the post. Dumb puns and other wordplays are equally accepted.  I’m not really interested in attested (dictionary) words here but more in the creative usage that people casually bring to life in their daily lives.

Vice Principal – “Half Middle President

“Ok, kids, this fruit starts with ‘water’ and the second half is the name of a fruit we’ve already learned today.” – Waterpeach!

What’s the opposite of hungry? – “uphungry!

LamentableRamen, taberu? (ラーメン食べる?)

Categories
Hokkaido

Who Owns Hokkai.do?

Sometimes when I’m bored, I’ll plug interesting word combinations into register.com and see what domain names are available. A while back I was intrigued by the two character top-level domains (TLDs) available from other countries such as .ly, .gl and .it (i.e. bit.ly, goo.gl, redd.it). I like the simplicity of a short, clean domain name and these do that.  So I tried to create domains that would fit with the preexisting TLD.

And of course I thought “wow, wouldn’t hokkai.do be great?” So I searched it. It turns out that .do is the TLD of the Dominican Republic, and that hokkai.do is taken.  But I was disappointed when I visited it.  There is nothing other than some text that says “Welcome to Hokkaido! Soon, my pretties…”  It’s been like that for more than six months since I checked it.

.DO domains aren’t cheap – one like this costs $125 for a two-year registration.  Someone’s paying $60 per year to sit on the hokkai.do domain name, linking to nothing and showing nothing. It seems a waste of a beautiful and sexy domain that if the Hokkaido Government decided to make use of, would give them some major street cred with internet-savvy peeps.

Who owns you, hokkai.do?

Categories
earthquake education English Hokkaido Middle School

Sapporo Conference Presentation

This is a short post to quickly provide the PDF version of the presentation that I and my JTL and wife Yoshie Holland and I presented at this year’s Sapporo ALT Skills Conference. The topic was “Cooperating and Communicating Effectively” at the Junior High Level. Check out the slideshow below, or click here to load the 7.6 mb .pdf file.

Holland2012sapporo from seanmisen
Categories
education Japan JET Middle School Tokyo

Depressing Elephants

This year, the Sunshine English textbooks were updated.  One of the new stories is called “Faithful Elephants” and is about the sad end of three elephants at  Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo during WWII:

Many years ago, there were three wonderful elephants at the Ueno Zoo.  The elephants were John, Tonky, and Wanly.  They could do tricks.  Visitors at the zoo loved the see their tricks.

Japan was at war then.  Little by little the situation was getting worse.  Bombs were dropped on Tokyo every day.

If bombs hit the zoo, dangerous animals will get away and harm the people of Tokyo.  So, the Army ordered the zoo to kill all the dangerous animals such as lions, tigers, and bears.  Before long, it was time to kill the three elephants.  The zookeepers did not want to kill them, but they had to follow the orders.  They started with John.

John loved potatoes, so they gave him poisoned potatoes together with good ones.  But John was so clever that he ate only the good potatoes.  Then they tried to give him an injection.  But John’s skin was too hard for the needles to go through.

When this did not work, they decided to give him no food.  Poor John died in seventeen days.

Then the time came for Tonky and Wanly.  They always looked at people with loving eyes. They were sweet and gentle-hearted.

However, the elephant keepers had to stop giving them anything to eat.  When a keeper walked by their cage, they stood up and raised their trunks high in the air.  They did their tricks because they were hoping to get food and water.

Everyone at the zoo said with tears, “If they can live a few more days, the war may be over and they will be saved.”

Tonky and Wanly could no longer move.  They lay down on the ground, but their eyes were beautiful.

When an elephant keeper came to see them, they looked so weak.  He became too sad to go back to see them.

Bombs continued to drop in Tokyo.  And a few days later, Tonky and Wanly died.  Later, when the bodies of the elephants were examined, nothing was found in their stomachs — not even one drop of water.

Today, the three elephants rest in peace with other animals under the monument at the Ueno Zoo.

There are many, many things wrong with this story.  Some grammatical, some stylistic.

However, I’m not concerned with these here.  What I find unacceptable about this story’s inclusion in a textbook approved by MEXT (The Ministry of Education) is that it contains blatant historical inaccuracies, that when taken into consideration, completely undermine the importance of this story as a (purported) piece of history.

First, the story makes several statements or allusions that are simply untrue.  In the second paragraph it says:

Bombs were dropped on Tokyo every day.

This is false.

Consider this timeline (which I will refer to later on).

  • December 1941 – Attack on Pearl Harbor
  • April 1942 – Doolittle bombing raids on Tokyo
  • August 13th, 1943 – Starvation of John the elephant begins.
  • August 1943 – John dies.
  • September 4th, 1943 – A memorial service is held for all three elephants.
  • September 11th, 1943 – Wanly the elephant dies.
  • September 23rd, 1943 – Tonky the elephant dies.
  • June 15th, 1944 – B-29 Raid on Kyushu launched from China.  The first raid on the Japanese home islands since the Doolittle raid.
  • Nov 17th, 1944 – B-29 raids on Tokyo begin and last until Japan’s surrender.

As you can see from this timeline, Tokyo was not bombed for a full two and a half years during the war – the time that the textbook alleges “Bombs were dropped on Tokyo everyday.”

This fact exposes another inconsistency in the story.  The very next paragraph says:

If bombs hit the zoo, dangerous animals will get away and harm the people of Tokyo.

Since there were no bombs being dropped, this premise is false.  The paragraph continues:

So, the Army ordered the zoo to kill all the dangerous animals such as lions, tigers, and bears.

If there were no bombs falling on Tokyo, then what was the reason for the killing of the animals?  Even if there were bombs falling, if the bombs landed close enough to damage and open the metal cages, surely this would also injure or kill the animals.  If their safety alone was the concern, then they could have been relocated to the countryside.  There certainly could be other explanations – lack of food, lack of funds to maintain the zoo. After all, this was war.  But of course, as in war, the true story of why, how, and by whom, the elephants were ordered to be killed is more complicated.

A few google searches revealed two useful resources on this incident.  This article in Japan Focus, which chronicles in great detail the power struggle and series of events that led to the elephants’ deaths, and this webpage (in Japanese) devoted to the treatment of zoo animals in wartime.  They both delve much further into the motivations and chronology than I will here in this textbook critique, but their main points are very important:

  • The governor of Tokyo at that time, Odachi Shigeo, had recently returned from a posting as governor of Singapore, where he had seen the war firsthand.  He felt that the people of Japan needed a shock to wake them up to the realities of war, and chose to use the elephants as martyrs to this end.  As zoo director Koda wrote in his memoir about Governor Odachi, “when he returned to the motherland to become governor of Tokyo and saw the attitude of the people, he seems to have felt keenly that he had to open the people’s eyes to the fact that this was not the way to go, that war was not such an easy affair.” (市長をしていた大達さんは、内地に帰って、勝ち戦と思い戦争の怖さも知らないでいる国民に自覚させるために、動物園の猛獣を処分することによって警告を発したのでしょう。)
  • Not only had Fukuda, the acting director of the zoo after Koga, “confidently listed” the amounts of poison needed to kill the elephants, but zoo records show that Tonky had been given injections of medicines and had had blood taken soon before his starvation.  The story in the textbook says “Then they tried to give him an injection.  But John’s skin was too hard for the needles to go through,” which seems unreasonable considering that injections and blood samples had been easily administered on Tonky.  Why was John different?
  • The story fails to explain why John was the first to go.  As it turns out, John had been a violent elephant, and this was the reason for putting him down first.  The zoo director “decided to put down the violent male elephant, John, and his starvation was begun on August 13th. (暴れん坊のオスのゾウ「ジョン」を処分することを決めて、8月13日より絶食を行う。)
  • Maybe most horrible of all these revelations is that on September 4th, 1943, after John had died, and while Tonky and Wanly were still undergoing forced starvation, a public memorial service was held at the zoo to mourn the deaths of the three elephants.  I repeat: this was while Tonky and Wanly were still starving nearby.

These three elephants may have been wonderful animals.  It’s sad that they ended up as ancillary victims of a human war.  But the true tragedy of this story is not simply in their deaths, but in how they died, in the equivocating, cruel methods used to kill them.  It is completely unexplained in the story, and both of the resources that I found, why the elephants were simply not shot.  Would this not have been more satisfactory, both to the army and the zookeepers?  Excuses are made in the diaries of the zoo director Fukuda, that the noise of the gunshots would “scare” the population.  But, was this not the intended effect?  To “open the people’s eyes” to the hard realities of war?

Due to the textbook’s simplicity and gross inaccuracy, the true, complicated nature of this story as a piece of history, and its moral dimensions of human cruelty, are skirted and warped into a sentimental and dangerously simplified platitude on war and peace.  This whitewashed version of history does not belong in an nationally approved curriculum.  It certainly has no place in an English textbook.

If you use this textbook, and are asked to model-read or deal with this story in class, make sure your students know the whole story.  Help them be critical thinkers.  Help them ask questions about this story and about their own history.  Help them understand not only the story in English, but the critical and skeptical stance that one should bring to any encounter with a new text.


Addenda:

  • Above is a simple presentation that I made and showed to our 3rd grade students after their final reading of the story.  I would recommend showing it to them after their first reading, and then have them reconsider the story with this new information in their subsequent readings.
  • It seems that this story book is somewhat well known in American education circles as well, in the book Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya.  There seem to be lesson plans for this on the internet for the elementary school  level.  I would suggest finding another story that deals with Japan and the war.