Friday, December 31, 2010

3 Appalling Stories from New Crown

After getting so angry about the five worst pages in New Crown last month, and then later the 4 most annoying characters I thought I had let off just enough steam to get on with my life.

Unfortunately, when I next picked up New Crown 2 it flopped open to Pot of Poison and I realised my work was far from done. "You're bad," I thought, "I must punish you."

Without further ado, here are some terrible editorial decisions from the NC team.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Being an ALT #1: Teaching English in Japan

So you want to teach English in Japan?

Well, here's the start of a new series of posts giving you a sample of what to expect as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). Hopefully this information will help you decide if teaching here is for you, and answer any questions you may have.

You may also want to consult our "How much will I get paid teaching English" blog, and our "Living expenses guide".

Anyway: first off, here's an explanation of what an ALT actually is.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

PT: Onsen

These two disturbing old ladies sit by the side of the road in Komagane, Nagano-prefecture.

They appear to be enacting an onsen scene, but without the hot water. Which reminds me: an onsen outside in the rain or snow is really, really nice. I recommend you try it if you can. The iconic Snow Monkeys (the Japanese Macaques who live next to and bathe in a natural hot spring) share the area with many outdoor onsen.

Check out our onsen blog for some more information about the experience.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Call in Gmail for Free Through 2011

This year, Google added an extension of their Google Voice VOIP calling feature to the Gmail interface. Simply by logging into your Gmail account and typing in a phone number, you can call friends and family anywhere in the world.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

WS: Scramble Scrabble (all grades 12 years +)

Different versions of this game are floating around ELT/ALT circles, but this one is wholly original to this site, and arguably much easier for kids to understand. So there!

Everyone knows Scrabble, right? Well this is a combination of that and a word scramble. Hence the name.

It can last up to the whole lesson with some classes, or you may want to set a time limit and see who has the most points after that.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from AccessJ

Merry Christmas, and thank you for following our site. Especially for December posts, we've concentrated on adding quality information on topics frequently asked about by our audience. Please take some time to browse our recent posts about getting a driver's license and working in Japan, and enjoy the holiday season.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Learning Japanese: The Japanese "R" Sound

Last year, Tofugu made an awesome post about how to pronounce the Japanese "r" sound. If you haven't already checked this out, you should. This is the first time I've seen the sound "explained" in a comprehensible manner.
(For the record, my long-standing useless explanation to others was "it sounds more like a 'd' than an 'r'.")

Here's the video:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Using an Amazon Kindle 3/4 Part 3: Japanese eBooks and Manga

Well, last article I went into some depth as to why I loved the new Kindle and why you should definitely buy one (UK link). We talked about using it for studying Japanese and how great it was at that.

However, it was clearly designed for reading standard books, and even though it isn't directly for sale in Japan (although you can import it from Amazon) it does support Japanese script.

So here's everything you need to know about getting (free, and modern) Japanese books onto your Kindle for study, pleasure, or whatever you want. I've also included a section on reading manga with it, which is a revolutionary experience!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

PT: Cold

Here's our first Photo Tuesday.

If you want tips on how to keep your Japanese house warm, I have just the article for you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Getting a Japanese License: Foreign License Conversion

If you used to drive in your home country, you may be eligible to "convert" your license into a Japanese driver's license using a process called 外国免許切替 (gaikoku menkyo kirikae), often abbreviated to 外免切替. There are a lot of good guides about this online, which we highly recommend you check out.

But in addition to linking these resources, we've compiled our own bullet points and special tips regarding the 外免切替 process. To start off, here are some common questions and answers about the 外免切替 process:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

WS: What Time Is It? First Grade JHS (12-13yo)

Here's a simple activity for first grade JHS. You could use it with elementary too, but only with an advanced class which can read simple verbs - or you could edit the sheet to use pictures instead of text.

Estimated time: 20-25 minutes, but give a bit longer for under-motivated classes.

Those of you using New Crown will find this on page 64 - Chapter 6 Do It Talk 4.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Running Tokyo Marathon part 1

Well, it's too late to apply for this year's marathon. Entries have been closed, invitations issued and now reserves called.

But for those of you reading this blog in The Mystical Land of The Future, here is a collection of necessary information for applying and running. You can also read part 2: the race and after.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Using an Amazon Kindle 3/4 Part 2: Reading Manga

Check the end of this blog for some troubleshooting tips.

The Kindle is fantastic for studying Japanese, as well as reading books. I think it's great, and take it with me everywhere. And get ready to be blown away - you can read manga on it. Yes indeed.

This will revolutionise the way you read manga. No more ripped plastic bag full of smelly tankoban on the subway for you! No more long flights watching Nicolas Cage "act".

I found a lot of barely legible/outdated guides to converting manga for your Kindle, so to go with my upcoming "Using a Kindle for reading Japanese books and manga" blog, here's the best guide currently available for converting and adding that manga to your Kindle:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Using an Amazon Kindle 3/4 Part 1: to Study Japanese

I just bought an Amazon Kindle and I love it. Nothing ever attracted me to ebook readers until I tried one, and now I can't see a reason not to immediately burn all physical books and start again.

This blog is about using your Kindle for studying Japanese. Next time I'll look at reading Japanese books and manga.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Job Spotlight:

For those of you who are interested in teaching English, but just want to escape the yearly-contract, no-bonus, no-pay-raise ALT quagmire, here's a site to keep an eye on.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Are Japanese Houses SO COLD?

I feel your pain. It was -1C in my room this morning, with ice on the inside of the windows.

After writing about how to warm up your house in these cold winter months, I realised that perhaps we should cover exactly why the Japanese house is such a freezing nightmare.

Here's your answer: they aren't insulated.

The reason for that is quite interesting, I guess:

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Net Print: Fuji Xerox + 7-11 = Miracle

One day Fuji Xerox Japan and Seven & I Holdings got together and decided they would make the best service the world has ever seen: Upload documents to a website, then go to any 7-11 in Japan (in Japanese that means "anywhere") and have them printed out at your convenience. The service is called Net Print and I do not know why the companies have not made a bigger deal about this, because it is a miracle for every apartment-dwelling, printerless single adult in the nation (of which there are many).

If you've ever needed to print something out while on the road, or needed to meet a deadline when no printer was in sight, or took your USB thumbdrive to work to print out your resume so you could apply for another job, Net Print is for you.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Job Spotlight:

One of the best places for foreign nationals to look for jobs in Japan are career forums. Career forums strip out a lot of the traditional Japanese hiring practices of attending compulsory seminars, filling out entry sheets, and attending up to eight rounds of interviews before a job offer finally arrives. They concentrate employers in one convenient location, so you can gather information and talk with recruiters at a dozen companies all in one afternoon.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

WS: 14 Time Fillers (part 1 of 2)

This is part one of a two-part entry of some short games you can use to fill extra time at the end/start of a lesson (here's part 2). Most require little or no preparation at all.

We've got stuff for all JHS grades, and a bit of elementary, so come one, come all!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Insulating a Japanese House for the Winter

For the most part, the Japanese still haven't discovered either central heating or double-glazed windows (another example of low-tech Japan). Not only that, but old Japanese houses are actually designed to be cold. Kerosene heaters and kotatsu are the obvious ways to heat up your home, but if your house is anything like ours, you'll need to do some extra work to keep that heat in.

Read on for hints on tape, bubble-wrap and various other solutions designed to stop you resorting to buying one of those monk-outfit/blanket/muu-muu things with arms.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

11 Useful Vocabulary in Your Job Search (Part 2 of 2)

Knowing just a few particular terms can double your readiness to tackle a professional job search in Japan.

Continuing from our last post about job-search vocabulary, here are six more words that you ought to know as you embark to find work outside of ESL:

Monday, November 29, 2010

11 Useful Vocabulary in Your Job Search (Part 1 of 2)

If you're determined to find a job outside of the English teaching industry, it helps to familiarize yourself with the Japanese job-seeking world: A whole subculture exists for university juniors and seniors in which they identify the companies they want to pursue, attend seminars for those companies, climb a pyramid of four or more progressively more demanding interviews, and finally get hold of an offer for a job that won't start for another year.

Accompanying this subculture is its own special vocabulary. Here are the first five of eleven words you ought to know when venturing into the Japanese job market, and what they mean:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

WS: Pen Pals for Students

In line with this week's articles on making new friends with pen pal services, we'd also like to introduce a pen pal service that can be adapted for use in the classroom:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why Don't My Pen-Pals Write Back?: How to Keep a Pen-pal Relationship Alive

(Admit it. This is what you are really after.)
It's easy to get onto a "friend finder" website, write up a form letter about how you're a lonely foreign person looking for friends in Japan, and send it off to the first 20 people that show up in your search results.

But, out of the 20 people you send to, maybe only a handful respond. And although things seemed to be going great with that handful, a week later none of them are replying to your messages anymore. So, what's wrong? Why aren't the pen-pals you made writing back anymore?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Want a Japanese Penpal? Here's How to Find and Make One.

Pen-pals can be an awesome way to practice Japanese or learn about Japan. If you're moving into a new city, you can connect with people there beforehand.

And, it seems like there's no shortage of English teachers in Japan who never get to talk to Japanese people outside of work. Pen-pals can be a nice self-confidence boost if you get to Japan and realize that you've 1) left all your old friends behind, and 2) are having trouble making new friends here--especially Japanese ones.

A lot of sites advertise pen-pal matching services for a fee. (And they usually do it right alongside dating services.) But, you don't need to pay money to find quality networks of people who want to practice their English, listen while you practice Japanese, or make a genuine friend.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Japanese Electonics: Plugs, Voltage and Wattage Guide

When bringing electrical goods back and forth across international borders, it is important to keep different countries' electricity standards in mind.

Not only can the socket shape be different, but different countries use different voltages and wattage, which means some appliances could fail to work in one country's outlets and cause a fire when plugged into another's.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

WS: "I Can, Can You?" First grade JHS (12-13yo)

My kids have just started learning the "Can" structures, so I thought I'd post the things I'll be using.

These work well for the first graders, but a more simple version for elementary schoolers can also be a lot of fun (see this recent post for that). Details below. As always these sheets are free to use, but please don't redistribute.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Browsing the Web in Japanese (Kanji translators etc)

It can be particularly frustrating to come across a new kanji and not be able to translate it without navigating to a time-consuming and often unreliable site, like Google Translate or Yahoo Babelfish. It's especially annoying when trying to fill out some unfamiliar form.

So for you lucky people, here are some resources to help you on your way.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Top 5 Most Annoying Pages in the New Crown Textbooks

It was pretty hard to pick the very worst, but here are the 5 most inexplicably stupid pages from the current JHS textbook series in my school. Sorry about the quality; no-one's explained how to use the scanner :(

Monday, November 15, 2010

Alternatives to Working Visas

Usually, you need a 4-year university degree to obtain a working visa and come work in Japan. But, in case you really wanted to know, and people seem to ask about this a lot, there are other kinds of visas that enable you to work in Japan.

For readers hoping to find a secret, easier way to work in Japan than finishing college, I'm sorry to say that these other options aren't going to thrill you with their ease:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

WS: Laura's Category Game (all JHS grades 12-15yo "Anything OK")

Laura is a genius. Well, she'd have to be to wind up with a guy like me. Anyway, she is a fountain of good teaching ideas. Her latest wholly-original, gloriously-simple yet highly successful activity is called the Category Game.

It's another all-purpose solution to "anything ok".

Expect to fill 20-25 mins including explanation and wrapping up. Can work with all JHS grades with some tweaking.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Working in Japan without a Degree

Occasionally, people ask whether it is possible to work in Japan without a 4-year university diploma. I won't beat around the bush: The answer, in 90% of cases, is "no."

The reason for this is not an industry requirement so much as an immigration requirement.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Resources for Finding an ESL Job in Japan

Pretty similar to my post on "How Much Will I Get Paid Teaching in Japan?", here are some resources for finding yourself some employment on this radical island.

All of my experience has been in finding teaching positions, so most of the information is geared towards that. However, you can use the links at the end of this post to find a great variety of different careers, some with no language requirements at all. Check them out.

In the future we'll go into more detail of how exactly to approach applying for a job, give a rundown of the different companies and advise on other career choices.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Ear Cleaning: The Horrible Truth of Mimikaki and Mimisouji

If you live in Japan then you have surely come accross the ear-cleaning-scoop-things (耳かき - mimi kaki) used for the horrifying practice of mimi souji (耳掃除).

The Japanese love to clean their ears, and cleaning a child's ears is a sacred moment akin to breast-feeding.

BUT I have some terrible news for the proponents of this practice, and some weird genetic information (!!!).
Read on.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

WS: Relative pronouns: Noun-"that"-Adjective (Third Grade JHS - 14-15yo)

A needlessly over-complicated part of the second half of third-grade English is relative pronouns.

After having been asked to come up with something for page 52 of New Crown 3 ("I have a book that is good for childen") I eventually produced a version of Battleships which went down pretty well. Fills about 30 minutes with the explanation.

Friday, November 05, 2010

(Good) Japanese Rock

I've always had a difficult time getting into the Japanese music scene. If you have spent any time in Japan at all, you'll have realized that the Japanese public eye rips through musical acts at a frenzied and disconcerting pace. Each week a new artist appears with a hit single that gets played over and over on radio stations and late-night entertainment shows. And a scant few days later, the song and the artist are all but forgotten, like Dust in the Wind, to be replaced with a new flavor of the week. Persistent stars are all but theater productions built up by media conglomerates, with little or no hand in creating the content they act out on stage.

If you mention an act from last month or last year to Japanese colleagues (or students, if you're a teacher), you'll be met with cries of, "Oh, that's old!" But, honestly, it all sounds the same to me. Meaningless pop fluff repeated over and over in the same ridiculous formats (and so many, many more iterations of them than any country should ever need). Sometimes I'll happen across a song that's catchy, but I've rarely felt respect for the artist or his (or her) creation.

That is, until I stumbled across this gem:

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"Wot dis? Dis pen!" Appalling classroom English set to change?

Before AccessJ's five favourite terrible classroom English moments, we have some news.

It looks as though things may be set to change at some possible distant point in the future. Today both the Daily Yomiuri and The Japan Times have been busy informing me that the government has hypothetical plans to send Japanese English teachers to genuine, bone-fide English speaking countries as part of their teaching qualification.

This could be a smart move as some teachers we've worked with have been embarrassingly bad at the language. Let's just hope they send the textbook writers there too.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Gundam Halloween Costume

Why not slip a bit of fun your way? Here's my Gundam costume from this year's Halloween party. Hope you like it!

I won second place, only losing out to some obscenely cute child who shouldn't have been in the bar in the first place.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Eihouji Temple, Tajimi

Scattered across Japan are thousands of gorgeous locations that go untouched by guidebooks like Lonely Planet. Drawing on our own experiences over time, we'd like to introduce some lesser known locations that are very much worth your time to visit. Experience the Japan that even many Japanese are unaware of. And best of all, do it without the crowds of those tourist traps that everyone knows about (and most everyone has already seen).

Today's location is Eihouji Temple in Tajimi, Gifu.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

WS: Halloween

Well, it's Halloween today so maybe this is a little late, but for those doing something next week or next year here are some activities for mixed ages.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Accommodation: Capsule Hotels

If a Love Hotel seems too lonely, Couch Surfing too scary, Youth Hostels are full of roudy youths and an Internet Cafe too sleazy, why not opt for a capsule?

People bang on about capsule hotels being a Japanese revolution of quirkiness and efficiency. To be honest they're just a crappy version of a bunkbed, but they can be handy when you need a cheap place to stay in the business district.

Beware: Height Resitrictions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Japanese Cooking Measurements

A cup is a cup, right?

Well, it is, as long as you stay in the same country. Even though the word "cup" remains constant across a number of countries and is a constant go-to word in the kitchen, the actual volume it refers to differs by country.

Let's clear this up with the help of some internationally recognized measurements:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Example of a Landing Permission

As a continuation of our visa series, today we take a look at the 上陸許可 (jyouriku kyoka), or "Landing Permission," stamp in your visa. This stamp is your lifeblood in Japan. Obey the items written on this stamp, or risk deportation from and sanctions on re-entry to Japan.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

WS: Review Crosswords

Laura has been at it again and made another great couple of sheets.

These two are crosswords for 2nd and 3rd graders. The second grade one covers vocab and grammar up until about mid-October (chapter 6) for New Crown, and the 3rd grade one is a review of past tenses, including present perfect forms.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Buying a Used Bike from a Recycle Centre in Japan

Being the headcase that I am, I thought it would be a great idea to cycle back to my town (in the mountains) from Tokyo. At a mere 277km I was fearless. So I set about bike shopping.

I briefly considered spending 700,000yen on a nice, new road bike before thinking about buying second-hand. I came across a place called Suginami Green Cycle. There I bought the pictured bike for 15,000yen. The retail price is something between five and ten times that.

This particular blog only has information about Tokyo bike shops, but if you contact your city office for information about local schemes like this you might get lucky.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Example of a Japan Visa

If you come to Japan and intend to stay for a long time, you will almost certainly have a "Japan Visa" in your passport. It is big and shiny and takes up a whole page, and at the top in block letters are the words 日本国査証.

We explained the difference between this Visa and the much more important Landing Permission (上陸許可) before, but for your reference, here is an example of a Japan Visa and explanation of its important points:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting a Re-Entry Permit (Going on Holiday)

In addition to other items in our growing visa guide, you will probably sometimes find yourself in need of a re-entry permit. This is required if you want to leave the country for a holiday, etc. and then return. Why you need one with a valid visa is anyone's guess, but if you don't bother getting one, your hard-won working or student visa will be voided when you return.

They come in two formats - single re-entry and multiple re-entry. The former is 3,000yen whilst the latter will set you back 6,000. I'd recommend the multiple even if you aren't sure about a second trip - you never know when an emergency will come up and having to go to the prefectural office at short notice may be valuable time wasted.

Anyway, here's how you get one:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

WS: Vocab Crunch

Here is a simple warm-up lesson idea that can be used with high-functioning, motivated students. It's super easy to prepare and can be tailored to review material from the last lesson.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Your Real Visa: 査証 and 上陸許可

Visas are a pretty big aspect of any expat's life. And more often than not, they seem to leave people feeling stressed and bummed out. Last year, when I was up for renewal, I waded through a lot of information about renewing visas in Japan. I’ve collected and organized some of that info here.

First off, I want to introduce the difference between a Visa and Landing Permission in Japan. Many newbies are unaware of this difference, which can be very dangerous: If you screw up and overstay in Japan because you mixed up the dates on your Visa and your Landing Permission, you could get deported from Japan and barred from reentry, even as a tourist. So, listen up:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Regional Sites and Mailing Lists

If you are part of the JET Program, you are probably aware of the robust and cohesive communities JETs tend to form. In each region, older JETs train the newbies, helping them accustom to Japan by introducing local events and facilities.

Through generations of JETs, fantastic and comprehensive regional websites, wikis, and mailing lists come together. And usually, the managers of these websites and mailing lists welcome anyone in the local community to participate and make use of the information--not just JETs.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Accommodation: Couch Surfing

If you are on a very tight budget and can't afford the other cheap accommodation options (Love Hotels, Capsule Hotels, sleeping in Internet Cafes and Youth Hostels) or just looking to meet new people then you may want to consider Couch Surfing.

CS is a project where people around the world list themselves as free places to stay for visitors. Through the site you can contact them and see if it's alright for you to visit on specific dates and stay for X amount of time.

There are loads of people in Japan offering this. 1200+ in Tokyo alone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

WS: Mine and His (First grade JHS)

Those of you teaching the JHS New Crown textbook at the moment will be on or approaching using personal pronouns and possessives (I, my, me, you, your, you, he, his, him, she, her, her).

My lovely girlfriend has again made a great lesson plan. On Friday I had a fantastic lesson with my students on this, so I thought I'd share the activity that we did together.

Friday, October 08, 2010

New Year, New Teachers

Those of you working as an Assistant English Teacher in Japan are probably familiar with the mysterious shifting of personnel every year. Particularly in March and April (but also sometimes in September and October), schools in Japan throw big "going-away" and "welcome" parties to commemorate the changing personnel.

These personnel changes are the public equivalent of company transfers. Here is a decoded policy message from a ken-level public board of education about these transfers for your enjoyment (...?) and to help us all understand the Japanese reasoning behind this revolving workplace employment.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Learning Japanese: Common Pronoun Mistakes

A long time ago I read an article about pronouns in Japanese written by the Yale Anime Society.
Fortunately, a quick Google search taught me that today there are many better resources about pronoun usage in the Japanese language (Wikipedia and Wa-pedia for starters).

But, when I read that Yale article, it really stuck with me. I thought it was the definitive guide to pronouns in Japanese and even made detailed flashcards for myself to remember who says what pronoun when. I'd taken the article completely out of its intended context (anime) and thought I'd meet people in real life using sessha or atai. Fortunately, observation of Japanese friends over time let me realize that what I'd been taught was horribly incomplete. I generally agree with the content of the Wikipedia and Wa-pedia articles linked above, but it's still, really, a long list of words from which only a handful are ever realistically used. For what it's worth, here are a few of my observations about Japanese pronouns.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Weird School Lunches

A couple months ago, "school lunch" was all the rage on Japanese TV. A guy named Hideo Makuuchi published a book called "Weird School Lunches," which featured terrible food combinations served up to elementary and junior high school students in different parts of Japan. (School lunch in Japan is mandatory in most public schools; kids cannot choose what they eat or bring their own lunch from home.)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

WS: All-Purpose "Anything OK" Escape-Method #2: Ultra Snail Salt Chopstick Attack

As a follow-up to the fantastic Typhoon Game which I published a little while ago, here's a very similar game which can be used when you feel typhooned out but still need a filler game.

I recommend you try the Typhoon, or at least read its description first to help you better understand this post.

It's basically the same game but with chopsticks instead of cards, snails instead of houses, and only one word per chopstick. Because there's only one word, students can be very creative, but you must also make sure you get the aim of the class clear at the start.

Again, it can last from 15-20 minutes up to the entire class. Here's how to make it:

Friday, October 01, 2010