Friday, January 27, 2012

A bit of self-promotion...

Anyone looking for some new fantasy-fiction reading material?

My first book is available on Amazon Kindle for FREE for three days this month, starting today, January 27th, through the 29th.

Here's the link.

It's a fantasy-adventure with a bit of romance thrown in (but no explicit love scenes or anything like that--it's not erotica). It has a strong female lead, but the men are not to be discounted in the story either. There's a quest, some battles, a civil war, some magic, transformation, bravery, sacrifice, a few corrupt leaders, a young lady who knows when it's time to run from a battle rather than stay and die "nobly", a displaced young man with a remarkable knack for knowing just what you don't want him to know, a spunky retired lady mercenary, a priest who's too pretty to be true but probably hiding more than he says, five brothers of various qualities and flaws, and the question in the end: does love really conquer all? Oh yeah, and there's some dragons, too.

I would really appreciate honest but kind reviews--and it's FREE!

(If you missed this time, it will be free again at another time. I just haven't scheduled when yet. I only get a certain number of free days every 90 days.)

Thank you all. Mata, ne.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Me and Marriage

I stumbled across some videos of brides trying on wedding dresses on a reality show, and it has prompted me to write something of a more personal blog.

I am 31 years old, never had a boyfriend, been on a total of about four things that could be called dates--in my life. I don't even have my first kiss yet. I've spent a lot of time wondering why, exactly, and as I get older, some kind of biological compulsion is kicking in making me more disposed towards considering the possibility of a mate.

As for the marriage thing, well, even when I was a child I said I'd never get married. The adults I said this to laughed and told me I'd change my mind. Whenever anyone claims to know me better than I do, it triggers a stubborn circuit in my brain, that makes me dig my heels in and vow on several deities to never, ever do what the person has just said with such assurance that I will do.

I never dated in high school. I went to one dance, and hated it. I was bored out of my mind. Extroversion is the accepted and promoted social behavior of the US. Us introverts end up fending off the pressure to conform to extroverted behavior. At any rate, high school social gatherings were never enjoyable for me. As an adult, too, going out to parties that involve mainly loud music and drinking makes my list of "things I want to do" only slightly above "swim in a murky tank with crocodiles" and behind "swim in a clear tank with alligators." (I'll have to write a post later devoted totally to my frustrations related to the extrovert-introvert dynamic in society, which I've been dealing with since childhood.)

I realize now that there might have been some boys during middle school and high school who were actually interested in me. Who'da thought? At the time, I took their interest as bullying, teasing, and mocking. Perhaps, that was in fact what it was, but boys of that age have no other way they know of to express "I like you" to a girl. Though, the boy in high school who asked me out while his girlfriend stood around the corner of the lockers smothering giggles was probably doing it only to hurt.

I practiced martial arts all through my youth. When you're a boy who "does karate" it's cool. When you're a girl, it makes you a target, and of course I could not use my martial arts knowledge to defend myself. When the groups of half a dozen kids would surround me on the playground, when they'd steal my books and my notebooks with my stories, I couldn't hurt them, even though I knew how. It's a rule. No using what you know unless to defend yourself, and stealing my books for a game of keep-away wasn't exactly a physically endangering threat.

Maybe it was my martial arts that led me to be more boyish, but I think I remember starting to reject dresses even from an earlier age. I have a photo of me receiving a Barbie doll as a birthday gift when I was probably around seven or eight. The look on my face made it perfectly clear what I thought about it. I played with toy horses, toy dinosaurs, and toy cars. I did have a Cabbage Patch doll, but there were no games of "tea party." I remember enlisting my dad to help me play war between factions of my dinosaur collection. The only reason I once asked for a Barbie was so I could have the motorcycle that came with her. The Barbie itself--ignored. My toy automobiles actually spoke and had personalities all without a driver, in my world of make-believe.

At any rate, I spent my first decade of life just as a person. The male-female thing made no difference to me. I never saw it as a dividing line. Puberty was a horrid wake-up call. I hated it vehemently, but as my peers were all excited about it, and any adult I expressed my disgust to discounted my feelings, laughed, or told me "it will all be worth it when you can have a baby" I learned to keep my feelings of betrayal, disgust, and growing body-hate to myself.

I have no desire to be male, but I hate being female. I would wish for a sexual characteristic-free body. I didn't wear a dress--well, skirt--until the senior banquet in high school, and it was simple, floor-length, and black. I did not go to my prom. There was never even the slightest inclination to go. No boy asked me, and I had no expectation that one would. After all, I was "kung-fu girl" (despite the fact that I was not studying kung-fu) and might beat you up, right? Beyond that, I wore glasses, braces, had nasty acne, never chose clothes with the intent to flatter myself, wore no make-up, and always had my nose in a book reading or a notebook writing or drawing (though by that time I had well learned to always hide my writing and drawing to avoid ridicule).

Even in college, when a few different guys were interested in me, the knowledge (at least I'd gotten to the point that I could recognize it, right?) of it only made me afraid of them. There was one boy at the studio where I practiced martial arts in high school, with whom I one day realized I had a mutual attraction. He was three years younger, and attended a different high school. Maybe he knew a different side of me. Maybe at the studio I showed a different side of myself. Somehow, he liked me when I was nothing, even when I hated myself. And somehow, neither of us knew what to do about it. I went off to college while he was still in high school. We didn't keep in touch. I often wonder where he is now.

Since then, there have been a few times I've noted a mutual attraction, and I've had a few long and lasting crushes, but somehow nothing has ever progressed. Partly, I've spent a lot of time figuring myself out and trying to overcome some major personality hang ups. If you believe such things, I can blame part of it on my personality type (INTJ) which makes me very unique for a female (less than 0.5% of the female population) and other parts, well, who knows.

So, back to the title of this post--me and marriage? Unlikely. My parents learned long ago not to pressure me about it. Most of my relatives have even fallen in line with that, too. My brother is getting married, which I hope will take the focus off me. Realistically, at this late in the game, with no relationship experience to guide me, the statistical chances of me figuring out dating, courting, and getting around to the marriage thing are very, very low, I'd say. Most people start practicing mating behavior in high school, perfect it in college, and by then have their partner settled. Granted, a lot of marriages fail, and some are not healthy, so maybe it's not all that great anyway.

But I was watching the clips of brides choosing their wedding dresses and like 99% of the time when I watch other females of my species, all I could do was shake my head. That will never be me, and I would never want that to be me. I am incapable of getting excited about a completely white dress that I will wear only once but pay thousands of dollars for. I am a Rational. This does not compute. In a way, I'm glad that I ended up taller than my mom, so I can't blame my not getting married in her dress purely on my un-marrying-ness.

If I ever were to get married, the dress would not contain even the slightest scrap of white, and I would at least design it myself. I can't say I'm a good enough seamstress to take on the task of sewing it myself, however. I just can't understand the fuss over a two or three thousand (or more) dollar wedding dress that you have no emotional or time investment in, that is as ultimately as forgettable as every white wedding dress, and that you'll only wear once. Then there's the expense of the wedding, too. If I'm spending thousands of dollars, I'm going to spend it on something good, like a house, or a vacation.

So, nobody hold their breath, okay? The wedding thing and me is not in the least bit likely. Sure, there's an outside chance, but based on my history, personality, and let's not forget location, not to mention height and appearance (though I have ditched the glasses, braces, and acne) I think it's safe to bet on my eternal singledom. I've got a lot of other things going for me, though, like my writing and my teaching, and being unfettered has allowed me to live in many places and experience lots of things that the people with the dog, kid, and SUV in the suburb will never get. There is some mopey "aw, but I don't get what everyone dreams for" rattling around in my head, but that's a societal impression.

I would, however, like to get my first kiss someday (and maybe more, wink wink), but it's gonna take a pretty unique guy to mesh with the big package of uniqueness that is me. As I've said before, the future is a mystery, and that's what makes it so exciting. Let's all stay tuned--and see what happens tomorrow!

Mata, ne.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Food in Japan

Today I want to write about my impression of the food in Japan.

To head off questions early, I'll make mention of the disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant and the radiation-in-food fears. I live in Iwate prefecture, which is in the Tohoku (northeast) area of Japan. The coast of Iwate was hit by the monster tsunami. I am around 300 km away from the Fukushima plant, and inland, so my town was not hit by the wave. The earthquake registered 6.1 at my location. There was minimal damage, but electrical power was lost for three days and the roads were closed to all but emergency vehicles.

So, is there radiation in my food? I really have no idea. Is the government doing a good job checking food? I have only my impression and what I've read or heard. I do not go about watching them do the testing, so I can't say. Lots of people seem to have strong impressions and opinions about it. I honestly don't know. I did receive a newsletter from my local international center which showed a chart of tested radiation levels in local produce and meat. All the levels except a couple were nonexistent, according to this newsletter. The items that did show a result were still under the limits Japan has set as "safe."

If you can read Japanese, this site is apparently a grassroots radiation testing group in Japan. I looked at the numbers a few months back, for produce tested in the capital of Fukushima prefecture, and some numbers seemed very high to me. However, I am not trained in nuclear science. I'm not an expert. Look at the numbers for yourself.

The airborne radiation in my area is at the global average. See this site for airborne radiation all around Japan. If I'm getting radiation other than what I would normally get from background radiation, it must be coming from my food. I try to buy as local as possible, or from other countries, when I buy produce and meats. I have chosen to eliminate Japan-caught seafood. I have also chosen to eliminate Japan-grown rice. The worry I have is, what is ending up in processed foods, pre-made bento boxes, and restaurant food? If hot produce is still getting to market because the government wants to support the farmers from Fukushima, it's most likely to go to the lowest bidders--those who will reprocess it (in which case, it will no longer be tested for radiation levels, so I've heard) or those who will resell it in school lunches or bento boxes.

Other times, however, produce has shown up in the grocery stores, clearly labeled (in Japanese) as being from Fukushima prefecture, and it's being sold cheap. Fukushima peaches, which are apparently somewhat famous, sold way cheaper than usual this year--and people bought them. To me, the country seems divided between those who want to stay far away from Fukushima produce, and those who buy it because they want to support the farmers. By and large, there appears to me to be an attitude of "if we don't talk about it, it isn't real." Certainly, worrying about it all the time will do nothing but drive you crazy, but once you've taken all the precautions you can, it comes down to a choice: leave Japan, or stay and take some risk.

As a 31 year old gal who isn't going to have kids (ok, maybe a 1% chance of that) I choose to take the risk. I do my best to avoid products I think are risky, but at some point--I have to eat. Life is a gamble. I guess I've worsened the odds a bit. Some people drink and smoke and so worsen their odds. I stay in Japan and worsen my odds.

All right, so now that that's out of the way: food. What do I think about food in Japan? It's been tough to adjust to eating here. So many foods I ate regularly in the US are just not present. As a tourist, traveling and eating here is no big deal, but living here constantly, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners have to be sorted out and prepared. It hasn't been the easiest thing for me to adjust.

  • Breakfast: I always ate a mixture of healthy, grainy, crunchy, munchy cereals in the US. Here, the only cereal is corn flakes. You can get plain, sugared, or chocolate flavors. That is the standard option. Corn flakes do not suffice for me. I have found bags of granola, and they aren't bad. A few months ago, I found muesli in an import shop. I now combine the three. Luckily, soy milk is available. I've added to my breakfast yogurt and bananas. Yogurt is an issue. I used to buy a big tub of simple, low fat, vanilla yogurt, and it would last me a week. Here, the tubs are tiny. I've also been unable to find simple low fat vanilla with a short ingredient list (generally I can't read the ingredient lists, but shorter is always better). I now buy a tiny (regular sized) tub of unsweetened non or low fat (I can't tell which, but it doesn't taste like whole fat) yogurt twice a week and add a spoonful of jelly (which I also find in import stores) to sweeten it and cut up a banana into it. That's my breakfast.

  • Lunch 1: I make my lunch to bring to school. Initially, I cooked rice and added chicken, veggies, and an egg, all cooked up on the stovetop (I have no oven, as is usual for a small Japanese apartment). I make my own dashi stock and so would add some of that to the mixture. Only white rice is available here. I have heard rumors of brown rice being available somewhere, or that you can buy direct from farmers, before it's polished into white rice, but I have been unable to get a resolution with those options. Since I ran out of my pre-March 11th rice, I've switched to a different lunch.

  • Lunch 2: I finally found whole grain spaghetti in the import store I discovered a few months ago. Finding anything whole grain in this country is very difficult for me, and it's been one of my biggest complaints. I do not understand the Japanese aversion to whole grains. I've read that, long ago, only the rich could afford to consume white rice, because it took so much extra processing. Peasants ate brown rice. Eating white rice was a mark of status and wealth. As it became easier to make rice white, more people eagerly switched over, because it's a prestige issue. Brown rice was happily abandoned. Of course we now know that brown rice is much healthier, but despite that, it appears there's no market demand. So, I switched to pasta. I now make or buy pasta sauce (I can get it at the import store), add some chicken and veggies, and I'm good to go.

  • Dinner: dinners vary. I've gotten into the habit of making ham, cheese, and tomato sandwiches. Unfortunately, the bread available is only white bread, and the only lunchmeat available is ham. Good cheese only comes shredded. The pre-sliced cheese is actually processed cheese along the lines of "American cheese" which is as gummy and plastic-like as the US version, so I have to buy the shredded variety. I microwave the sandwiches, so the cheese doesn't fall all over the place.
It sounds like I'm being very negative about the food here. Apparently, the Japanese like it fine. I've just had trouble adjusting. There are, however, some foods that are great here, like the many, many sweet breads with chocolate or cream or fruit or whatever on or in them. They make tasty desserts. Eating ramen or tempura out is always fantastic. I also love kara-age (a type of bite-sized fried chicken) but it's not very healthy because it's so fatty and oily.

Another thing I heartily approve of is the absence of corn syrup in the foods here. Remarkably, my skin has cleared up a lot since I came here, and I credit the absence of the corn syrup. Of course, it could just be coincidence, but whenever a care package of sweets shows up from the US and I start eating the snacks, my face breaks out. I still love my favorite snacks from the US, and do enjoy the care packages, just not the acne.

Along the lines of corn, however--who ever thought that putting corn on pizza was a good thing? They were wrong. Corn does not belong on pizza. I am firm in my belief of this, and will not be budged.

One other thing that is reversed from the west--fatty meats are the good meats here. In the US, the lean cuts are the best. Whenever I have discussed this issue with people from one side of the pond, they always seem stunned by the attitude on the other side of the pond. In the US I grew up knowing that you eat the leanest meat you can, remove the skin, remove the fat, because it's healthier. People in Japan eat the fat and the skin because... I'm not sure. Do they think it tastes better? Maybe in the past, when calories were at a premium, fatty foods had higher value because they give you more calories? This is one more thing I'm just never going to be able to understand or accept. I don't want to swallow globs of fat.

One thing I love--is the selling of local farmers' produce in the supermarkets. There's the factory-farm section, and then there are the bins where local farmers have their stuff. Often, there are laminated signs and photos of the family that runs the farm. All supermarkets have this. I love buying from the local produce bins because I know I'm supporting the local farmers, I can be sure of where the food came from, I know it's fresh--and it's often cheaper! The only drawback is that it's very seasonal.

One thing I don't love, is how dang expensive some of the produce can be--especially fruits. Bananas are cheap year round. Apples are cheap in season. Strawberries are all right, in season, if you don't buy the big ones. In the US, strawberries are not sorted by size. You get a little basket, and it's full of all kinds of sizes. Here, they are sorted by size, and lined up carefully in the box. Larger strawberries cost more. I can get oranges from the US for an all right price. Any other fruits are a luxury choice. Grapes are far more expensive that I've ever seen them. Likewise, peaches. Cherries can be gotten sort of cheap, but only during the short season. I would never consider buying a watermelon here. I could spend that twenty bucks on something else.

I guess I'll stop here. This has turned into a very long entry. I expect, a Japanese person moving to the US would encounter another set of food frustrations. I have learned how to eat here, and take a multi-vitamin in case I'm missing anything important, but it has taken some adjusting.

Mata, ne.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Finally about my writing...

Hello again! So, folks who read the subtitle on my blog will notice that it says something about writing fiction, but I haven't really talked about it yet. I'll fix that.

I've been writing since I was little: really little. I started writing my first story when I was in second grade. It was about a bat, named Batter, who lived in a haunted house but one day was thrown out by Frankenstein's monster when he landed on some old lettuce headed for the compost. I illustrated the story by myself, too. Actually, that's not quite true. I invited some friends to help me do the illustrations, but then threw them off the project when their art didn't measure up to my standards. I suppose I was too demanding back then. Now I know to just do things myself if I want it done my way.

I've always been writing. I think, the more you do something, the better you get at it, and you have to go through a lot of bad writing before you grow into good writing. I'm sure I haven't finished my growth as a writer. I hope I keep getting better and better at it.

The cover of Book 1: Dragons to Loose
I have published a few books. I started a short story some years ago, but it turned into a novel that then demanded a sequel and then spawned a four book series. The series is completed now and available on Amazon in paperbacks. As of now, books 1 and 2 are also available on Kindle. Books 3 and 4 will get onto Kindle probably in the next few weeks. In fact, book 1 will be free on Kindle for three days at the end of this month, January, 27-29. So, if you're looking for new reading material, please do check it out. Here's the Amazon page for it here!

I only published this series because an online friend began praising my other bits of short fiction on a sharing website, so I was brave enough to invite her to read the first book, and she loved it and gave me a lot of encouragement and some feedback. She basically demanded I publish it so she could hold the hardcopy in her hands. I first pursued publishing houses, but was turned down, and somewhere in me, I really didn't want to sell my rights to my characters and story away. Writing is a personal thing for me, not a profit-based venture.

Because I have other employment, it really isn't that important to me if I make money off my writing. I don't want people to steal my work or claim it is their own work, but if I don't make much money from it, that's cool with me. What's more important to me is knowing that I wrote a good story and people enjoy it.

I mentioned one friend who demanded I publish the first book. She and I remained online friends until we met in person. For whatever reason, we had a much better online connection than we did in person, and meeting in person sort of ruined that, too. It was sad to see the friendship fade. However, a couple years later, another friend read the first book, and she loved it, too. It was with her encouragement then that I was motived to get the rest of the books out into the real world.

As I wrote these books, I grew as a writer, so my writing in the fourth book is far better than my writing in the first book. Sometimes I want to go back and rewrite the first and maybe second book, but I have been resisting. I'm afraid it would erase my own personal journey, and might damage also the reader's journey.

So anyway, a little about the series: it's a fantasy adventure. The first book has a romance that is essential to the plot, but it's not explicit. I don't write explicit love scenes. The second book continues the adventure, and has some bits that are as scary as I could make them. The third book adds some mystery, and the final book concludes it all.

What some people have said about the series, is that it has a lot about family, and different kinds of families. I hadn't noticed this myself, but I had been aiming to show many different kinds of love, in many different sorts of relationships, from friends to lovers to pair-bonded couples, including bonds between siblings and parents and children and allies, too.

I don't mean to make it all sound like it's all lovey-dovey and full of hearts and rainbows, because there's plenty of fighting, wars, struggle, conflict, and all that, too. I think it's an adventure before it's a romance or a lovey-dovey series, but perhaps what's best to say is that it's the bonds between the characters that are the most important aspect. It's those bonds that pull them through and make them strong enough to fight.

I really hope it's a series that can be enjoyed by more people. I poured my heart into it. That two of my friends have really enjoyed it delights me. If even more people enjoy the world I made, I would be even more delighted. If you'd like to learn more, here's my website where you can find more information about the books. Unfortunately, I don't update the site as often as I should, but I am trying to be more disciplined about it.

Thanks! Mata, ne.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Goodbye to the 3rd years --and-- a little teaching philosophy

It's my second post! There's so much different stuff I want to talk about, I'm not really sure what to write next.

Well, today I sort of said goodbye to many of my third year students at the high school I teach at in Japan. School years in Japan begin in April and finish in March. The third year is the final year of high school, and next week my third years will take their final exams. After that, they'll only come to school once every couple of weeks for one thing or another. I'm not sure why their classes end so early, instead of making them continue to take lessons for two more months and finish up when the first and second years finish.

Most of them have already been accepted into their university or found jobs. A few weren't accepted to university however, and so are now studying furiously to pass a second round of entrance exams; sort of scrambling and fighting with the other unlucky students for whatever spots are still available at schools. Those students will still be coming to school to do their studying. Most of them, however, I won't see again until graduation.

It's a little sad for me. I've been teaching these kids once a week for the past several months. I see around 500 students a week, so it's really impossible to get to know all of them, but regardless, a teacher builds a bond of trust and partnership with the students she teaches. For me, my job is to teach, to give the kids everything I've got and do my very best. I put the information out there, and they are welcome to take it, but ideally, their job is to be a student, to ask questions, to complete the other half of the circle I start. When they do, it becomes a relationship that creates the functionality of the classroom, and makes learning possible.

Maybe every teacher who actually thinks about his or her teaching has his or her own philosophy. I have never been trained to teach. I never went to school for it. I taught martial arts when I was in high school, and learned a lot there, but most of what I know how to do I learned on the job here. I really try to look at the kids. I try to work with them. I don't teach with a baseball bat--though I do ask a lot. Rather, I try to teach with an open hand. The kids can take what I have to offer, or not. I never force them. Maybe I can't properly explain it. Hmm.

I think of it like catching wild birds, or wild horses. If you chase and hunt and try to net and rope them, they're just going to resist. Even when you finally catch one and try to make it do what you want, you'll either be fighting it all the way, or have a broken-spirited slave. Maybe you can fight it's head down and make it perform, but it won't be performance from the heart. On the other hand, just putting out the food and waiting takes longer, and maybe won't give you the "results" you want down on paper, but when the wild critters do come and see you aren't going to hurt them, and work with you, you develop a trust, a positive relationship, that I think gives much better long term results for both the student's view of English, and for the student's confidence and spirit.

If a student doesn't like English, fine. That's really all right with me. I never liked Spanish, honestly, so I can relate. I think, trying to force a student to perform is only going to damage the student. Plus, his or her already negative view of the subject will only become more negative. In my classes, it's ok to sleep, but it's not ok to talk while I'm talking. I don't remember, back in the US growing up, that it was ok to continue conversations while the teacher was talking. It really bothers me that students are allowed to here. Anyway, I think the best learning happens in a calm, non-scary environment, so I try to create that as much as possible.

Maybe some people would disagree with me, but I let the Japanese teachers of English be the tough guys who demand that students perform, and I walk in with the open hands. I want a positive friendly relationship with my students. I'm lucky that, in my position, I get to be the good guy. I'm just making this stuff up as I go along. At some point I should get some kind of certification I suppose, but it's not required to work in Japan teaching English at my company, so I don't have to.

At any rate, I said goodbye to most of my third years today, and it's sort of sad. I care about my students a lot. Of course I'm happy to see them mature and go off into the big wide world, but I'm going to miss them when they're gone. I keep wanting to do more for them, help them more, but some of it has to come from them, too. I remember what it was like before I walked out of high school, how much I didn't know I didn't know, and how much I thought I knew that I didn't. Heck, I'm still learning tons every day.

I want to protect them, to shield them from the bumps and bruises of the real world, let them make it through all their coming trials and tribulations without collecting scars, but I suppose, even if I could do that, I probably wouldn't be doing them any favors. The real world is a rough and tumble place. I suppose, mostly, what I hope as I look around at the bitter, negative, grumpy and depressed adults in society, is that my students can retain their wonder and hope and energy and joy, and still have the spirit in their eyes and hearts that they have today forty and fifty years from now. It's a lot to ask, but I suppose, as I watch them fly away, that it is my biggest wish for them.

(That, and use sunblock every day, drink in moderation or not at all, and don't smoke.)

Mata, ne.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Welcome - and- Teaching English to Deaf J-students

I am a western dragon living in Japan.

This my first blog, so it make take me a little while to hit my stride with it, but I hope I can share some interesting information from my not completely unique but at least uncommon life situation. I'm an American, female, 31 years old (at the moment), living in Japan, where I teach English at a high school and a school for the deaf.

Many people ask, as soon as I say I teach at a school for the deaf, how exactly that works. Maybe a lot of people think deaf children can't speak and can't hear so learning a foreign language might be awkward if not impossible. I agree in that, when I found out I'd be teaching at a school for the deaf, I wondered exactly how that would work. I've never known a deaf person myself, and really wasn't sure how I'd go about teaching there.

There are around fifty students total at the school, from preschool up through high school. Some are just deaf, but perfectly bright and functional in all other ways. Others have additional learning disabilities. Almost all the students wear hearing aids because almost all of them can all hear at least a little. All the regular teachers use Japanese sign language--which is a combination of the finger-spelling used in American sign language and the more symbol-based British sign language (neither of which I really know much about). I only teach there once a week, so it's difficult for me to pick up a lot of the sign language, but I can use some.

It's also so true that communication is much more than words. Whether it's working with deaf students or just being in a country where few people know my first language, I've learned how to be extra-expressive with my body language and facial expression. Even though I know how to say "I don't understand" in Japanese, I can also say it with a little uncertain tweak of my head and face. In a society that values subtle, non-confrontational communication, a facial expression might even be better than spelling it out with words.

So, communication with my deaf students, although challenging sometimes, actually isn't that hard. I have a few signs. I understand a few more than that. I have facial expression and body language. I can draw pictures (I really like drawing, and I'm not bad at it). They can hear sometimes, and read my lips if I use Japanese, and sometimes they can hear or lip-read English. I can also write out what I need to say in Japanese or English. If none of that works, a regular Japanese teacher can step in and translate.

Maybe teaching English to deaf students doesn't sound useful or easy, but some of them are better at English than my regular high school students. They certainly try harder. Some of them have more obstacles than just deafness to overcome, and they're still better and try harder than some of my high schoolers.

I'm making my high schoolers sound lazy now. That isn't totally the case. Some students at my high school really do make an effort. For others, sleeping in class is more important than English. Others have decided long ago that English is too hard, and don't make much of an effort. Learning a foreign language can be difficult, and the more I teach English and learn about it myself, the more strange and counterintuitive English appears to me. There's lots more to write about that topic, but I'll close for now and come back to write more later.

Mata, ne. ("See you later" in Japanese)