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Veteran teacher finds his own way

Nineteen-year veteran teacher discovers ups and downs of country

by Mami Maruko

Paul del Rosario was flabbergasted when he was reprimanded for being too loud at a language school where he was teaching English, and had to confront a Japanese boss there. The boss came to him and said, “Maybe it’s a good idea not to talk so much (with other teachers between classes).”

“Do you mean it’s bad?” del Rosario replied. “Not good,” the boss would repeat. Del Rosario asked her over and over again whether she meant that it’s bad, yet he kept on getting the same answer: “Not good.”

Del Rosario, 42, couldn’t understand why his boss wasn’t saying exactly what she meant, but he eventually learned how to come to terms with the Japanese mentality.

“After living in Japan for 19 years, I’ve learned to be patient and just listen. You need to compromise. Temper and tension are not going to work,” he says.

The Filipino-American, originally from San Francisco, arrived in Tokyo in 1991 with a simple plan to stay here for just a year to teach English. However, one year stretched to two, two to three, with his stay now approaching two decades.

After teaching at language schools and even setting up his own language school, which closed recently, he went on to teach English at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Hitotsubashi University and Ferris University. Now a full-time instructor at the Foreign Language Center of Jissen Women’s University in Hino, Tokyo, he has settled in the city’s Tama district with his Japanese wife and 2-year-old son.

Del Rosario cites two reasons for his long stay: the relationships he has built here and the fascination he finds in Japanese things he has never seen before, including parts of Tokyo that he finds utterly aesthetic. He has captured these things — both obscure and fascinating — on video, posting them on YouTube.

He says that combinations of traditional and modern structures, such as old shrines and skyscrapers, are very photogenic. According to del Rosario, there are many “hidden parts of Tokyo,” places beyond Asakusa and Tokyo Tower, places whose beauty, he notes, Japanese people are not even aware of.

Festivals equally fascinate him. He finds Nagano’s Suwa Taisha Onbashirasai Festival — which is only held every seven years — especially intriguing in that pushing big tree trunks down steep slopes with many young men sitting astride them is unique to Japan.

“After 19 years, I still find things new about Japan,” he says.

He puts a video camera with a microphone and lights in a special backpack made to hold this equipment and takes them with him everywhere he goes. His intension: Capture as much of these unique places and moments as possible.

He has also introduced video-making into the English class he teaches at Jissen. This semester, he assigned students to record a minidocumentary with narrations in English and upload them to YouTube.

“I want them to create something that will live on the Internet,” del Rosario says.

Despite the numerous electronic gadgets that are part of youngsters’ lives, he feels they still use them more for entertainment purposes than for communicative use at educational institutions and at work.

He also says he found the existing EFL (English as a Foreign Language) support materials uninspiring and decided to create his own. He has collaborated for five years with an associate instructor at Hitotsubashi University to produce video clips for EFL support materials. Some clips depict exaggerated Italian-American and Hispanic-American accents.

“The students like it!” he says, adding that it is important to have fun while learning a language.

Born to Filipino parents, del Rosario spent most of his life in the United States. His father took on a job as a civil engineer in the U.S. Navy, which provided him and his wife with the opportunity to become American citizens. After del Rosario was born, the family moved around a lot, including the Philippines, Hawaii and Japan. The U.S. Navy base in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, was his first exposure to Japan. Del Rosario arrived there when he was 4 years old and stayed until he was 7, attending the base school.

He says, however, that this was not his first real exposure to Japanese culture. It was at the Japanese nursery school Nihonmachi Little Friends in San Francisco that he had his first true insight into Japanese culture.

He first volunteered there as part of the course work for his clinical psychology major at a college in San Francisco. After graduating, he worked at a bank for two years but found it boring and quit the bank to go back to the nursery school to teach full-time. He learned many Japanese songs while working there for a year and a half, and enjoyed the Japanese food such as “udon” and “chirashi-zushi” (sushi on rice in a bowl) that they served for lunch. Del Rosario still loves Japanese food, including “natto,” which he has grown to like.

With such fond memories of Japanese culture, it came quite naturally for him to eventually settle down in Japan.

His family in the U.S. used to ask him when he would come back home, but del Rosario says they have given up trying to persuade him.

“Now my mother thinks that I’m here for good. She looks at me as to where I’ve gotten in life, and she thinks it’s good,” says del Rosario with a smile.