The audio-visual resources have been a great boon for little ole time pressed me.   I can pause, do my parenting and other duties and go back to video resources that have been vetted and suggested by trusted academics.   The Pacific Century videos have been especially helpful to me.

The audio-visual resources have been a great boon for little ole time pressed me. I can pause, do my parenting and other duties and go back to video resources that have been vetted and suggested by trusted academics. The Pacific Century videos have been especially helpful to me.

I’ve always had good intentions for my participation in “Online Professional Development on East Asia” offered through  These free online courses are offered through a collaboration between Columbia University’s Asia for Educators program and the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia.

The course format is rather simple.   Course resources (excellent lectures from experts on East Asia, visual and video resources, primary documents, etc) are posted and for two weeks you are invited to participate in discussion boards.  Most of the classes I’ve registered for have been hosted by Dr. Harold Tanner, Professor of History at the University of North Texas.   In the previous classes I’ve “dipped into,” Dr. Tanner has been both extremely informative and inviting.

However, up until now I haven’t really continued my participation in these courses.  My main stopping points have been time and my own perfectionism.   I’ve felt like I am too busy and feel like I should know more–that I should already be the expert.   Many of the other teachers are scholars and also teach Advanced Placement courses.

Everything is going a lot better now that I’ve decided to drop my perfectionism.   In fact, the administrators of the course recently sent an email us that all the rich resources are “recommended” not “required.”   I have decided to peruse the materials and not get hung up on being an expert.  It’s time to use my beginner’s mind.

I am having a whole lot more fun.  So far, the first couple of weeks we have been studying modern China.  I’ve been listening to lectures from Harvard, reading primary sources, and watching an online edition of “Pacific Century:  Writers and Revolutionaries.”   Because I’ve decided to relax, I’ve kept the tabs to various resources open and dipped in and out.   When my daughters are playing and I’ve got a few minutes to myself, I read a new document.   When I am too tired to read, I watch a little bit of “Pacific Century.”   And instead of being overwhelmed by the emails that flow out of the discussion boards, I dip into them at home or on my smart phone.    Sometimes it’s over my head and sometimes it sticks.   For example, I never knew that many of the Chinese “warlords” were, in their own complicated ways, also focused on social reform.

Some of the things I’m learning I  may never use in my classroom.  However, in my class on Japan and the Development of nuclear weapons, I am finding that knowing more about China has helped me give background to students with more confidence, especially since the history of China and Japan became so intertwined at the turn of the 20th century.

In order to learn more I am tuning down the perfectionism and have decided to:

  • let what other people know soak in (or not)
  • take it all in a little bit at a time
  • dip into it periodically when the children are playing (at home)
  • go where my curiosity takes me
  • leave browser taps open to resources  and tap into them when I can

So far so good.    I’m learning a lot.  I’m forgetting some.  But I’m in the “conversation.”

I'm experimenting with using the Brown University Choices curriculum this semester.  This unit is a little dense and I am also trying to deal with the academic distance it creates.

I’m experimenting with using the Brown University Choices curriculum this semester. This unit is a little dense and I am also trying to deal with the academic distance it creates.

Though Regents week was hectic,  I have had the opportunity to review curriculum as I get ready to teach new courses.   Reading as a teacher is an interesting process.    Like most teachers, I read as an interested adult but I also try to think about points of interest and road-blocks for students.   It’s not exactly pleasure reading.

I found myself stopping a lot as I read through Ending the War:  Science, Morality, and the Atomic Bomb.  This is a curriculum unit from the The Choices Program at Brown University.

For me, the curriculum is new territory because I have been looking at World War II from the point of view of the Japanese.   This curriculum looks at the history of total war and then looks at the development of nuclear weapons and the internal American debate about whether, when and how to use nuclear weapons.

What interests me as I work with this material is the issue of distance.   It fascinates me how distance and created distance frames how we look at history.  During my Fund for Teachers funded visit to Japan, I noticed how there is a definitely reluctance to look at Japan’s role as an aggressor in Asia.   There is a created distance in most textbooks to look deeply at the aggression side of the equation.   One teacher in Tokyo was taken out of the classroom because she chose to teach about Korean “comfort women” during the Japanese war time occupation.

I had my own distance during my travel  the memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   I heard a survivor speak about her experience, I went to the museum and outdoor memorials.    I saw in person how many rivers and bridges make up the city.   But I was never there on those fateful days.   In one day I heard a survivor talk about seeing arms without bodies holding on the straps on a tram that had been hit by the nuclear blast.   Hours later, I was walking outside and seeing people smiling and chatting.    It was a strange dissonance.

Thanks to Fund for Teachers I was able to attend memorial events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thanks to Fund for Teachers I was able to attend memorial events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

However, I experienced a lot more dissonance reading the curriculum guide.   The guide really focuses on American scientists and policy makers as they developed nuclear weapon and then debated on whether and how to use them.   The documents and technical language made me scratch my head in a couple of places.

But what really got under my skin and that I am still dealing with is the fact that reading this resource took me so far way even from the limited experiences that I had “on the ground” in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I would love any ideas for how people deal as teachers, scholars, or students with any uncomfortable dissonance.

Screen shot 2014-01-21 at 7.45.32 AM

The other half of this gate to the temple was sheared off by the atomic bomb. By the time I got to Nagasaki and its anniversary I realized I needed to connect with the surrounding culture and history rather than focusing on the unfathomable events of 1945.

It’s hard to believe that it has been over five years since I received my grant from Fund for Teachers. Thanks to Fund for Teachers I was able to go to Japan for over a month and:

  • visit a manga cafe every day, study Japanese, and do research for the rest of my trip
  • travel to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Tokyo on the anniversaries of the atomic bombings and Japan’s declaration of defeat
  • visit a variety of museums:  the Kyoto International Manga Museum, the Kyoto Museum for World Peace, the memorial museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Yushukan Museum at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine
  • purchase a small collection of museum catalogs and materials that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to buy without the grant
Screen shot 2014-01-21 at 7.40.20 AM

I asked a friend to talk to one of the reenactors and he explained that he did this just for fun. However, whenever Japanese prime ministers visit this shrine, it causes diplomatic ripples in the rest of Asia, which suffered under Japan in the 1930’s and 40’s.

There are so many other experiences that were made possible by this generous grant, but I’d have to say that being a traveling on a schedule that followed the anniversaries had the greatest impact.   In Hiroshima, I saw how the city had taken on an international role for peace.  In Nagasaki, the ceremony was smaller and focused on family experience.   Visiting Yasukuni Shrine on the anniversary of Japan’s defeat had a very different energy.  I saw a small military re-enactment parade.  On the outskirts of the shrine “black vans” associated with Japanese right-wing advocates sat parked, festooned with slogans calling for more nationalistic textbooks and the right for Japan to become a nuclear power.

Japan is a personal historical puzzle for me.  My wife, Yoko, is Japanese.  Wherever I travel, I like to understand the history of how it got to be that way.   Since I travel to Japan almost every summer, it has been a big part of my historical puzzle.

But I can’t just teach material to students because it is personally interesting to me.  I teach in an alternative school for students who have transferred out of more traditional schools.   Many of our students come with low skills, so I really have to think about how I maximize my time with them.  I like to use my experience and materials of Japan on several different levels:

  • by studying how Japan made the decision to modernize, I hope to get students to think as national leaders through powerful essential questions.    What makes a country “strong”?  What are the advantages and pitfalls of modernization?
  • Japan successfully staved off colonization and imperialism but at what cost?  Imperialism reshaped borders, cultures, and set a whole host of problems and dynamics into play.   Imperialism may seem like some dry academic topic but everyone on the globe has been shaped by it and I think it is important to have students think about the impact and responses to imperialism.
  • Skills.   Main ideas.   Writing a position paper.   Text on text.  Note taking.  I like to develop skills that could help students move on in whatever endeavors they choose in the future.
  • Japan serves as a mirror to many other nations and the United States itself.
  • The idea of the importance and fragility of education.  Japan set off on a modernization campaign that included reform of its education system, but nationalism was deeply infused into its curriculum.   In the 19th century Japan borrowed some ideas from the United States’ education systems but also emphasize a test heavy culture. (See  Dewey’s visit to Japan. )   I think it is important that students learn to question educational systems, their intents and design and how they may serve larger purposes.

I am excited that this semester, I will be developing a course that examines both Japan and the United States and the impact of living in a nuclear age.  As I always do, I like to get in over my head in material, historical and pedagogical.  Luckily, I will also have the personal experience of visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Flashing the peace sign at a citizen created exhibit. The banner on the back says, "For the purpose of peace a Kyoto exhibit about war."


I’m back on my side of the world again and in the reality of teaching in the classroom.  I am lucky to be teaching in a public school where I can design my own courses.  I am teaching a course called Japan and the World and an orientation social studies class that teaches the tools of social studies by comparing Japan and the United States.  I also teach an elective class called Japan-0-Mania that is a more fun and activity based class that includes a lot of movies.

I was not able to keep up with my blog as I raced from Kyoto, Hiroshima, Hiroshima, and back to Tokyo.  It was a hectic pace to be following but one that followed the timeline of World War II’s final days in Japan.  On August 3rd, I spent the night in Kyoto to visit the Kyoto Museum for Peace.   Since the museum was closed on my first day, I made a bee-line for the Kyoto International Manga Museum, thus managing to visit Kyoto without visiting a single temple.  I wanted to check out their collections to see if there were any World War II connections and just to see what else they had available. 

I began with the special exhibition on Yokai.These are hundreds of Japanese shape-shifting monsters varying from the mildly amusing to the horrific.  They have been richly illustrated for hundreds of years and have been the inspiration for many manga artists such as Shigeru Mizuki, the creator of “Ge Ge No Gitaro.”  Photographs were strictly prohibited within the exhibit of antique Yokai, but I was able to take pictures in outside exhibits: 

Let the shape shifting Yokai begin


The rest of the museum is largely a library of manga going back decades.   The bulk of the collection comes from a retired bookstore owner who donated his entire collection, supplemented by donations.  Patrons are free to borrow manga and read them indoors or take them to an outdoor space so basically the museum is more like a manga cafe with a more extensive collection and specific exhibits.  

A rather small and out of the way exhibit in the basement touched on manga’s role in politics, war, and propaganda. Here is a sample from a a 1940 journal called Manga which demonized Franklin Delano Roosevelt before open hostilities with the United States began in 1941. 

Manga as Propaganda


Black cat character 'drafted' into war effort


Manga characters of all sorts were “enlisted” into the war effort, beginning with the invasion of China in the 1930’s.  This lovable black cat, in the 1930’s was conscripted as an army recruit and donned a helmet, gun and participated in all sorts of exploits against enemies in China.  After the war, the cat was pacified once again and just became a normal non-combatant manga character.   

Manga mirrors the Japanese occupation of Manchuria.


The next day I went to the Kyoto Museum for World Peace at Ritsumeikan University.  This is one of the few museums in Japan that examines Japan’s militaristic role during World War II, atrocities committed in Japan’s colonial empire, in addition to examining the American fire bombing and atomic bombings on Japan.  In a small space, the exhibits examine how Japanese society and youth became militarized and how the Japanese military dehumanized its own soldiers in its misdirected campaigns.   

I was not allowed to take pictures here but you can get an idea of some of the exhibits at their website at  What was interesting was that the museum was hosting a local group of citizens who were hosting their own amateur exhibits about the war in the name of peace.   The museum did not curate these exhibits but I thought it was interesting that there were citizen groups that got together to create their own exhibits about remembering the war.   Exhibits included everything from personal memorabilia, photographs about atrocities committed by Japanese troops in mainland Asia, the atomic bombings, and statements supporting Article 9 of the American influenced Constitution which bars Japan from creating offensive military capabilities. 

Another great exhibit was what looked like a high school project, completed with markers poster board but which examined the Self-Defense attempts to recruit young people into their forces, and interviews with American soldiers about their training and where they go after their training in Japan.   Unlike my visit to the public schools, this seemed like a place where young and old both were actively examining  not only Japan’s experience with World War II, but also its sometimes troublesome military relationship with the United States and its internal debates about defending itself and what role the Japanese military should have in its society. 

Recruitment campaign ads showing how popular Self-Defense (Japan's stripped down military) forces can be in their uniforms


Manga promoting Japan's Self Defense forces roles in humanitarian missions.


Student diagram of where American troops go after being posted in Japan.


Heroic stories meant to glorify Japanese troops.


Amateur exhibit showing the horror of the bombing of Hiroshima.


Inside a Manga Cafe Cubicle

Inside a Manga Cafe Cubicle

Part of the purpose of my visit to Japan is to become more fluent than before. I can happily say that I probably understand more than 30% of more conversations but 30% is frustratingly tantalizing. Some days I wish I could just upload the language into my brain Matrix style, but unfortunately, I can’t.

I am inspired by a website called In this inspiring website, a jolly fellow named Khatzumoto inspires people to learn Japanese by constant input of interesting music, dramas, movies, manga, and following several key study methods . Khatzumoto apparently learned Japanese in 18 months and is currently tackling Cantonese.

The first step that (AJATT) is to learn Kanji. In Japanese there are three writing systems: kanji (漢字–the ideographic system that came from China; hiragana (ひらがな–which is a phonetic system used mainly for Japanese words that don’t have kanji or in children’s books; and katakana (カタカナーーwhich is another phonetic system that is used for onomatopeia, foreign words, and species of animals and flowers. Kanji are more like symbols that represent whole words and concepts. Kanji came from China but has evolved along different lines so they are not exactly the same. Also, in Chinese there are more kanji to learn since it relies exclusively on kanji (hanzi).

Chinese and other East Asian students have a great advantage in learning Japanese not because of some “Eastern” connection, but rather because knowing kanji makes it easier to learn how to read Japanese. The easier it is to read, the sooner you can learn on your own. For example, if you know that 男 means “boy” then it might be easier to remember that it is pronounced “otoko” in Japanese. It is a bit of a stretch but learning Japanese without knowing kanji is learning English without fully knowing the alphabet–it is possible but knowing it makes it much easier to advance.

Luckily, there is James Heisig’s book, “Remember the Kanji.” This book breaks down the parts of kanji into “primitives” and encourages the reader to visualize stories (mnemonics) in order to learn how read and write the kanji. My interview Heisig can be found at Kanji Clinic I still have hundreds of paper cards that I made to remember the first 500 or 600 hundred kanji.

Then in an Amazon review of Heisig’s book, I discovered that there is a website designed to bring people who use Heisig’s system to share mnemonic stores and manage their learning. This website allows people to share their different stories that allow people to remember how different kanji are written. One of the most useful features is that it operates as an SRS or Spaced Repetition System. Items that you learn come up for review and the more times that you remember it the longer interval before you are quizzed on this again. This means items that you tend to forget come up sooner while facts you’ve already mastered come up for review so don’t forget these as well. For example, in after you’ve learned an item, it comes up again in three days; if you master the word, it comes up again in a week–then two weeks, then four, etc. The site’s graphs are a fun way to chart your progress and great ideas and discussions come up in the forum.

Photograph of website

Photograph of website

Another great online tool is Anki. Anki is an SRS that allows you to create your own flashcards and as you master them, they come up in an algorithmic schedule. If you learn the hard you grade yourself on how hard it was to come up with the answer: Hard, Good, Easy. The harder it was to remember the sooner it will come up again for review. I currently have around 5,000 cards. Some are waiting for my review right now and others won’t come up again for another five years.

Anki Website

Anki Website

Remembering the Kanji, SRS’s, and Anki are all tools that mentions but what is really important to the AJTT “method” is constant Japanese input and fun. This summer, for me, this is where the 漫画喫茶 or manga cafes come in. Manga cafes are a cross between internet cafes and a spa. For around to $12 to $15 for three hours you can surf the internet, read manga and magazines, watch movies, and drink all the coffee and soft drinks you want. Once you sign in you can choose between smoking and non-smoking sections and reclining (Western style), zaseki (close to the ground), or massage chairs. You can also come as a couple and sit on a small couch or in the zaseki style. You can do all of this in the semi-privacy of a cubicle.

Copies of the historical manga I am reading this summer.  I spent the most time reading the manga on the right.  It's an overview of World War II.

Copies of the historical manga I am reading this summer. I spent the most time reading the manga on the right. It's an overview of World War II.

Cubicle and fun don’t usually seem to go together, but for me it’s great. As a parent of a young toddler, there is less and less space and time to think and just plain goof off–in Japanese. Thanks to Fund for Teachers I’ve been able to come to 漫画喫茶 many times over the summer. This is the place where I get chance to do the work of kanji and sentence reviews, but I’ve also gotten a chance to scan over hundreds of manga. It’s also where I have been doing my “homework”, reading the Japanese historical manga about World War II that I also study with a tutor.

One of many racks of magazines available at manga cafe.

One of many racks of magazines available at manga cafe.

But what has also been extremely valuable is the time that I “goof off” in Japanese. Albeit, I am an email and Facebook junkie,so sometimes I waste my time with English input. However, there are a lot of fun choices. In addition to all the manga, there is a Cinema Channel at every computer, where you can watch Japanese (and some English movies subtitled in Japanese) movies and television dramas. This summer I watched: Handsome–a movie about a restaurant owner who buys a suit that turns him into an extremely handsome man; Ramen Girl–about an American woman who persuades a strict ramen-shop owner to teach her the art of making ramen; Happy Darts–about a woman who turns her life around by learning how to play darts. …There were no English subtitles but I understood about 25% of the vocabulary of each movie and because the movies were fun comedies I understood 80% of what was going on through context.

Thousands of manga from adventure to historical are available at most manga cafes.

Thousands of manga from adventure to historical are available at most manga cafes.

It is really hard to measure whether my language skills have improved over the summer. I still get tounge-twisted trying to say otherwise simple things. Following Facebook, the New York Times and talking to my daughter I surely haven’t been doing “All Japanese All the Time.” When I visited Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Kyoto, I relied on English audiotapes and explanations to make sure I bring back good information to my students. But I’ve noticed a few things. When I watch Japanese movies with Japanese subtitles that I understand what is going on twice as much thanks to my kanji and sentence study. I also struggle every now and then to find the English equivalent of words. For example,when I go to the beach my daughter uses a yukiwa or *floatation ring.* When I tried to think of the word for yukiwa in English I had to work at it, at one point simply describing it as a “personal floatation device.” I am going back to New York in three days and I wonder how much more I would have learned (and forgotten) if I had stayed longer.

Juan in his manga cafe cocoon.

Juan in his manga cafe cocoon.

Who knows? For now, I will just sign off and enjoy my last few hours in my happy little Japanese cubicle.


It’s easy to dismiss the Japanese as workaholics, economic animals, and uncreative imitators. It’s easy to forget that they are the inheritors of an ancient culture drawn from East Asia, but nurtured in isolation to produce something that surprises (and sometimes appalls) even its immediate neighbors. It’s easy until you watch your first animeor read your first manga. p. 16

One of my projects this summer is to read four books about Japan. I had to literally weigh two factors: limiting the weight of the books and materials that I will be bringing back from Japan and also limiting the amount of time that I spend doing things in English (like writing this blog) so that I can come back from Japan more fluent in Japanese than when I left.

Samurai from Outerspace made the cut. As the back cover points out Samurai from Outerspaceexplores the “hidden meanings” of Japanese animation–including stories and symbols from Shinto, Buddhism, and Japanese art traditions such as Noh, Kabuki, kamiboshi, and takarazuka (male impersonation theater).

The key thing that helped me was how Levi points out that anime is not a product of Judeo-Christian cultural norms. Japan has several cultural and religious influences: Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism. A look at any local map or a drive through any Japanese town will show the Buddhist and Shinto influences to be most prevalent. Whether at the base of small mountains or where you least expect it, you will find the torii gates leading to a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple. Right now in Numazu and around Japan, activity is buzzing around Buddhist temples because Obon season is approaching. Obon is the time when people remember and honor the ancestors. Buddhist priest are usually used to deal with death rites. Right now, I’ve seen more Buddhist priests out and about–some on motor scooters–in preparation for Obon in a few weeks.

Some photographs from the remembrance for Yoko’s grandfather. This was officiated by a Buddhist priest:


Within the grounds of the Buddhist temple, there is a small Shinto shrine.

Within the grounds of the Buddhist temple, there is a small Shinto shrine.

From Inside the Buddhist's easy to see how Buddhist art may also influence anime.

From Inside the Buddhist's easy to see how Buddhist art may also influence anime.

Antonia Levi characterizes Shinto more as the religion of life in Japan. Levi explains that the word religion needs to be used lightly:

Shinto is an animistic form of nature worship that provides anime with over eight million deities and their legends from which to draw on. Shinto itself is quite alien to the Judeo-Christian concept of organized religion. Indeed, Shinto could best be described as a disorganized religion. It has no official theology, no set scriptures, and no moral code beyond cleanliness….a Shinto deity, called a kamiis nothing like the Western idea of a god….A kami is the essence or soul of anything that inspires awe…An ancient tree, an oddly shaped rock and almost all animals can be kami. (Levi, p. 34)

This explains why when one watches the movie “My Neighbor Totoro” or “Tenchi Muyou”, and other anime to which Levi refers, huge plaited ropes (shime nawa) and white paper chains (nigite or nusa) surround especially revered trees. Levi mentions a dizzying and delicious number of examples of how Shinto influences can be discovered in anime.

Levi’s exploration of religious syncretism within anime was the most fascinating aspect of her work, and one which I think would be the most interesting to explore within a social studies classroom, but I think her exploration of Japanese heroes and heroic ideals is really instructive. Unlike American cinematic heroes, Japanese heroes don’t necessarily have to be good or win. What seems to be important is that the hero gives their all, sometimes even to a clearly futile goal. For example, Levi explains that shinsengumi–Samurai that fought to preserve the feudal order–are often heroes in Japanese drama and anime even though most Japanese realize that their cause was futile.

This might help me to understand the movie about the Yamato, which I haven’t had a chance to see in full yet. Levi explains that understanding the Japanese ideal of a hero helps explain how Japanese drama about WWII doesn’t necessarily reflect a return to Fascism:

Losing and therefore gaining nothing confirms the hero’s altruism and therefore renders his or her sacrifice all the more tragic. As a result, it is quite possible to portray a young kamikazepilot as a hero without necessarily endorsing the agenda of Japanese fascists. (Levi, p.68)

Next week I will include an update on my attempts to learn Japanese, including my tutoring sessions and reading a Japanese historical manga.

Meeting the vice-principal of Iwanami Junior High School....notice the rock garden in the background

Meeting the vice-principal of Iwanami Junior High School....notice the rock garden in the background

For my first visit to a Japanese school, I decided to simply view how the school was structured and how classes are taught instead of rushing headlong into the issue of how World War II is taught.  I visited a small junior high school in the countryside town of Iwanami. Like all Japanese schools, the first thing 一ne does is head to the 下駄箱、getabako.Students place their shoes on shelves and therefore do not bring in dirt from the outside into the school.   At this school, everyone wears the same kind of sneakers, white with yellow stripes.



In Japan, all schools have a large main office where each teacher has a desk.  Unlike the staff rooms I remember from my high school in Kentucky, the staff room is a place where students are welcome to come in and ask questions.   Several students dropped by while met the vice principal and spoke to several teachers.

Staff Room

Staff Room

Students in Japanese high schools typically have a homeroom where most of their classes take place.  Teachers travel to the students’ homeroom class, unless it is a special class such as gym or a science lab.  For the class I visited the first period of the day was shop for boys and home economics for girls, science, social studies, followed by math, and a school assembly.   There schedule for the day was brighly posted on the board:

One particular homeroom's schedule

One particular homeroom's schedule

The lesson was invited to observe was a lesson on Japan’s parliamentary system, focusing on how the Prime Minister forms and reforms his cabinet.  Recently, Prime Ministers have changed rapidly after Junichiro Koizumi retired in 2006.  The class began with an interesting technique that I have never seen before.   Students stood up and simultaneously read rrom an introductory chapter about 内閣or the reshuffling of the Prime Minister’s cabinet.

Stand Up and Read

Stand Up and Read

The class was taught by a 32 year veteran and a teacher in training.   They relied on organizing notes from the board, having students take notes on a graphic organizing worksheet, and a demonstration of a newspaper article demonstrating how Prime Minister Aso’s cabinet was organized.   A lesson on government is a hard call right before lunch, but students and the teachers made the best of it:

Two teachers at the board

Two teachers at the board

Using visuals

Using visuals

Well into the lesson,I saw one student rubbing his belly in obvious signsof hunger.   My attention wandered to the back of the room, where the lunch schedule for the month was posted.   one of the things I remember explaining to my wife, Yoko, is that in the United States most students I knew did not look forward to lunch.  In Japan, students generally look forward to the meals.  What was interesting was lunch was in the classroom.  Students moved their desks to create tables to eat in groups.   The food was brought into the classroom and served by students who had lunch duty for the day.  I was invited to have lunch with the students and ate a delicious meal of eggplant and ground beef, a mix of root vegetables and a bowl of rice.   I enjoyed the lunch and the wonderful and welcoming smiles of the students.

Monthly Lunch Plan

Monthly Lunch Plan

Lunch Plan Close Up
  • gen_1

    My daughter has gone to sleep early and I finally have gotten a chance to get through “Barefoot Gen.” This 1983 anime tells the story of Gen and his family in Hiroshima before the dropping of the atomic bomb-pika-and afterwards. According to the liner notes it is based on the real-life experiences and the subsequent manga of Keiji Nakazawa. As a six-year old, Gen is struggling with his family just to survive. He even attempts to steal a carp from a local temple, so his pregnant mother can stay healthy. His father is a hardworking man, who at the same time openly criticizes the country’s war-leaders for leading the country astray.

    “Barefoot Gen” quickly goes from corny sentimentality to horror as the bomb is dropped:

    Yet what makes it possible to feel something about this event is sweetness of the family and children in this anime. “Barefoot Gen” then begins to shift its focus to the survivors of the bomb as they begin to die and reconstruct their own lives. In addition to dealing with food shortages, and a bombed infrastructure, survivors have to deal with different forms of pika-related diseases, and most importantly, the reactions that people have about them. Part 2 of Barefoot Gen follows Gen as he lives on with his mother, and a young boy that they have “adopted” in the absence of the family they lost in the bombing. Constantly framed by the sight of the Atomic Dome, Hiroshima is a rubble-filled world where people are struggling to survive and homeless children barely eke out an existence. At one point, the police round up homeless children to put in detention camps. I am not sure about the historical veracity of that, but I’m looking forward to finding out more.

    I’m not sure I will use this film in its entirety in my classroom. The pacing is challenging and at times slow. Graveyard of the Fireflies, which is about children who survived the Kobe firebombings, is more compelling. However, this movie has reminded me that where I’m going this summer is a place where something I could never understand happened. I’ve been to Hiroshima before and I felt a great disconnect. Despite all the images in museums and paintings its hard to imagine what actually happened. I will visit the museum and attend the 65th memorial service, but I think it for some reason it will also be important to experience Hiroshima’s beauty. For example, I would like to walk around the rivers that intersect the city. Those rivers became graveyards for thousands of people. However, like remembering a person, sometimes its best to think of the beautiful and touching moments.

    More information:

    Cover of DVD for Anime

    Cover of DVD for Anime

    The school year is still in full swing and I had a killer cold but now I can see the end is near and I will be heading to Japan soon. I rented this DVD after re-reading parts of Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga by Frederik L. Schodt. As soon as my mind clears after the school year, I’m going to read Embracing Defeat and other more scholarly works. Right now, all I can handle between wrangling a 20 month old and high school seniors is watch pretty moving pictures.

    Zipangu is a visually enticing anime. It begins as a young boy and his father explore South Sea islands and come across an old Japanese war vessel. “A long time ago, Japan fought a war in these waters.” The boy asks who were the bad guys and the father says he doesn’t know.

    Fast-forward to the future and that boy is now an officer in the Japanese Maritime Self Defense forces. He and two other classmates have been chosen to serve on the Mirai (which means future), the latest in naval military technology. However, the mission of the vessel is strictly self-defense.

    The ship gets caught in an electrical storm of some sort and they are vaulted back to the past–smack dab in the middle of the Battle of Midway. The dilemma of the crew is how to react–whether to stay away from the action or take an active part in the battles. The officers debate everything from the “butterfly effect” (every small change effects everything else) to defending the honor of the ancestors and the right to fight.

    When they enter Midway, they pass–of course–the Yamato. They gaze upon its grand structures and maneuver stealthily away from its majestic hulk. What I need to figure out this summer is whether the Yamato is a national Japanese phenomenon or whether it is a phenomenon of the otaku/anime world. How many producers of anime grew up playing with and constructing the ever-popular plastic models of the Yamato?

    The only thing is that war is not a game. This weekend President Obama and millions of others observed the anniversary of D-Day. Real lives lost. Anime like Zipangu are forms of entertainment but they may also be ways of having conversations and debate about issues that are hard to have in the open in Japan.