Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Back in San Francisco

I escorted a small group of students to San Francisco again this year. They are attending Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, south of San Francisco, which has an affiliated language school within the campus that offered them a two-week special language course. I am responsible for taking care of them during the program.
The students enrolled are from all over the world – Brazil, Colombia, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Taiwan, China, Russia, Vietnam, etc.

The language school, TALK at NDNU, is a thriving community on the NDNU campus. They have small class sizes and students can therefore work very closely with their teachers. Teachers and staff enjoy spending time with students, taking them on activities, showing them the area, and making sure they get the most out of their experience with them. On Friday after class they are taking all of us to Pescadero, a small beach town. We are looking forward to the trip.

According to the instructors, my students’ English has indeed improved and their vocabulary has improved as well. Thank heavens.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

“Hayabusa” Falcons

While the nation gazes at the Japanese crested ibises on Sado Island, I prefer to fix my eyes on the falcons of Mt. Yagigahana. Located in the Shitada area of Sanjo City, the birds are designated as one of Niigata Prefecture’s protected species.

According to a story in May 31 edition of the Niigata Nippo Newspaper, a breeding pair of falcons, who have inhabited the area for years, once again hatched eggs this year. Two young birds have been spotted in the nest on the cliff, but they are not yet fledglings.

In Japan, their nesting location was believed to be along the rocky stretches by the sea, but recent reports indicated that falcons choose to nest on high-rise buildings and iron towers. One such nest has been found on the Niigata Prefectural Government Building.
Still, it is not so usual that falcons inhabit mountainous areas.

When I was very small, falcons actually inhabited the area around my family’s house. In fact, the birds were so famous that many clubs and buildings were named after the “hayabusa.” However, they vanished from there soon after and were gone for a very long time, though there are some who say the birds never really left and were just hidden from view. Regardless, some twenty years ago, they made a comeback and can be seen in plain sight once again. I wish that the two young birds will soon be able to leave their nest safely.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Family Reunion in Venice

For many Japanese people, Italy is a dream destination. In Japan, Broadcast Satellite TV programs featuring Italian towns and villages run almost every weekend. Italy has the largest number of World Heritage sites and is one of the most popular destinations for Japanese tourists.

My wife, daughter and I had a chance to visit there and to appreciate its historic and traditional buildings, breathtaking architectural landscapes, natural beauty and rural villages during Japan’s Golden Week holidays. Our tourist guide was my son who has been enrolled at a Venetian university since last September.

He made sure to take us to St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco in Italian), which is the most famous of the many churches of Venice and is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in the world. Located just off the Grand Canal, the gleaming basilica overlooks the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) and adjoins the Doge's Palace.

Another pleasant trip was strolling along the cobbled streets of Milan. Amongst its splendors were the many types of traditional architecture all about us. However, what most thrilled me in Milan was when I stood within Santa Maria delle Grazie just in front of “the Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci.

A great experience many tourists would rarely get to partake in was a visit to an ordinary house in an Italian village. My son’s roommate was kind enough to take my family to his home and to treat us to a typical Italian lunch with good wine. He also showed us around the historical sites there and I felt as if I were immersed in its culture.

I was so happy we were able to make the best use of the short time we had there and to find such a relaxing place to stay in with my family.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Azaleas are at their best

My daughter is safely off to college, the weather has become more comfortable, the days grow ever longer and the azaleas are in full bloom. Finally, spring has truly sprung, and one of its most relaxing pleasures is to take in all the beautiful flowers while having a cup of hot black tea on the wood deck in my garden.

However, these relaxing moments seem to happen less these days. We had a very long winter and too much snow this year. Last week our area had unusually strong winds. Not to be outdone, the very temperate central Tokyo area was pummeled by hail. Most unusual of all were the many tornadoes that surprisingly struck the Kanto area in the early part of May, something I cannot ever recall happening before. It looks like abnormal weather is becoming normal in many parts of the world.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring has come to my house.

Look at the pictures above. As you can see, all the snow has gone. The buds on the cherry and plum trees in my garden will be ready to bloom in a few weeks.

In Japan, “spring has come” is often used when a son or daughter has passed an entrance examination to an upper-level school. In that respect, “spring has come” to my daughter. After one year of hard work to prepare for and take a series of entrance examinations last month, she is now heading out of our house to enter university in Tokyo.

Last weekend, my wife and I helped my daughter move to Tokyo. We brought a lot of her belongings in my car and we ended up staying overnight. She will be living alone temporarily, but her brother will join her in the near future. He is currently studying abroad, but he will resume his studies in Tokyo soon as well.

I feel very lonely without her, but I hope she will soon find a peaceful life and many good friends in Tokyo as well as success in her academic learning at university.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gyosei Koko puts some muscle into its English education program

In the vicinity of my college, there are its affiliated schools, Niigata Chuo Junior College and Kamo Gyosei High School. Gyosei Koko is unique and well known in that it is the single high school in Niigata Prefecture offering a nursing course.

Recently, the school won a grant under the auspices of the Niigata Prefectural Government. The grant, which runs for a certain period of years, is offered to private senior high schools that have plans to foster international human resources and to improve their English education. Programs offered under the grant include special Saturday English classes, access to on-line English education, a school excursion to Singapore and special tutoring to help students pass difficult English proficiency examinations and college entrance examinations.

Another of its programs was a three-day intensive English seminar that was held in early March at Niigata University of Management. I was involved in the seminar, helping design the program. I also collaborated with the high school teachers in charge.
During the course of the seminar, about thirty-five students learned oral English under six native-language instructors of English. The purpose of this program was to “give the students opportunities to express themselves in English and have cross-cultural experiences. It went well, in the end, but it was not without some bumps.

There was a good deal of confusion at first as to what the school was attempting to accomplish. The vague quality of the directions only added to this. To be fair, the school had never attempted such an undertaking in the past.

I was glad to see that Gyosei Koko is trying to strengthen its English programs through this grant, but there is obviously some room for improvement. In the near future, I hope to give the teachers an awareness-raising workshop in English that will encourage the teachers to be even more ambitious in order to take full advantage of this opportunity.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Todai Calls for Fall Enrollment

Todai or the University of Tokyo could move the start of its academic year from autumn to help it compete with overseas rivals and help students wanting to study abroad.
A school working group proposed in an interim report that the university stop accepting students in April, the tradition in Japan, and shift to a fall enrollment system, which is common abroad.
The university hopes to reach a formal decision by the end of March after each department has studied the proposal. (The Asahi Shimbun, 1/18/12)

I am for the proposal, but my reasoning is a little different than the ones given in the report above. Recently, my daughter has taken many college entrance exams during January and February as her high school life comes to a close and she prepares for her future. In Japan, it is still common for students to take entrance tests to multiple universities.

As her parent, I have had the responsibility to make sure that she gets to these tests at the appointed place and time. However, here in Niigata Prefecture, in winter, there is much snow, trains are often delayed and the roads and highways can be treacherous with ice, snow and slow-moving traffic.

Also, right now, it is cold and flu season. In Sanjo City, where we reside, four public schools have been closed because of an influenza epidemic. Because of this, my family and I have not dined in public or gone anywhere to relax for fear of my daughter getting infected before one of her tests.

In March, things aren’t much better. Not only is there still the danger of snow and infection, but nationally, because of the preponderance of cedar trees, it is the height of the hay fever season. Recently, the amount of pollen in the air has been increasing and some people have had severe problems dealing with this condition.

I’m not sure what kind of pressure my daughter is feeling, but I have felt under pressure just to make sure she is able to perform her best under the most normal conditions as possible. A lot of these problems would be eliminated if the test dates were moved to summer.
The pictures show my house and garden after a recent deep snowfall.
The pictures show a pine tree that has been professionally trimmed similar to a bansai tree and other trees. To protect them from the wet and heavy snows we get here, we had professional gardeners use ropes and long bamboo poles to give them support. Niigata Prefecture is famously known as “snow country.”