Readers' letters: Hague abduction pamphlets, East Asia ties, temping teachers and learning English

Some emails received in response to recent Community articles:

Hague pamphlet seems fair

Thank you for the article headlined “Biased pamphlet bodes ill for left-behind foreign parents outside Japan” (by Debito Arudou, Just be Cause, Oct. 8). I would like to make two comments on your article and the brochure it refers to.

First, the brochure does say that the convention works “both ways,” which sounds reasonable and unbiased. Second, the article says there is a biased reference for using the word “removal” instead of “abduction.” It is a bit of an exaggeration to say that this is biased terminology. I refer you to Article 3 and other Articles of the convention that refer to “unlawful removal” rather than “abduction.” The Convention only uses the word “abduction” once, in its title.

The only criticism that could be made about the brochure (the English version) is that it does not use the word “unlawful,” but this is probably because the authorities are trying not to use legal jargon so it is easier to understand.

Melbourne, Australia

Love is the vaccine

Re: “Tokyo: What can be done to restore Japan’s relations with China and South Korea?” by Mark Buckton (Views From The Street, Oct. 6):

Japan, South Korea and China are civilizations that everyone recognizes have evolved in all human, social, technological, artistic and economic aspects to high levels.

These three cultures have had close relationships in the past. They shared in each other’s knowledge and disciplines for many years, which explains the cultural resemblances. Still, there were times when they fell into conflict, centuries ago as well as in recent times. It seems that new generations are worrying about the return of the old ill will that World War II left behind. Japan has since been responsive to the issues of victims and damage, but the lists of both keep growing as people dig more in the past.

Millions of people of all races were affected by the last world war, so if we were to bring up issues of past cases of damage in different countries and people, we would probably end up in conflict once again. If this situation is not treated with the right understanding and proper action, in time things might get worse.

The reason why we all want and need peace is because everyone shares the same origin — we are all humans, regardless of race and gender. Peace is a human principle embedded in our composition. It is our responsibility to learn the functions of our body, mind and feelings, and establish a proper, balanced connection between all of them, in order to achieve an understanding of other humans and nature.

Since ancient times, humans have fought an innumerable amount of wars, all of them for different reasons and similar goals. All the knowledge from people of the past, in their failures and achievements, has become one of the most important tools of our present in order to build our future. For that reason we must show our gratitude and respect for them.

Regret and apologies for misdoings are extremely important virtues. But compassion and forgiveness are even greater virtues.

We must leave the conflicts of our previous generations where they belong and create new alliances, cultural and economical. If there are open ports, a connection can be established. Cooperation helps creation, conflict brings destruction.

We should take one another’s hands right now while we are standing, rather than waiting until we fall and are forced to take a hand to stand up together. But if stubbornness and insolence arise, measures must be taken.

Hatred is like a virus that can spread into every single human. Love is the vaccine. Agreements and reconciliation are the first steps to take.


Teachers should be valued

Re: “Job insecurity among Japan’s university teachers is a recipe for further decline” (Labor Pains, Sept. 24)

So very true: Without job security, most employees are living in a twilight zone of economic and social uncertainty.

How can one feel motivated if there’s no future? How can a part-time academic think about marriage or raising children without a secure source of income? What about a pension plan? Sorry, obviously, those teachers who are able to secure tenure (whether because of real talent or just “connections”) look down upon the part-time educators as the “expendables,” essentially creating a serf system within the university.

How can anyone accept the job title of “temp” if that person has a graduate degree listed on his or her resume, along with other outstanding qualifications? In Japan, where “job-hopping” is frowned upon, how can a temp hope to find future employment after being dismissed from a university or college teaching position? Jobs, even part-time, don’t come along every day.

Hey, I’m a 63-year-old American English teacher (gaijin) who has taught at various schools and universities in Japan since 1984. All of my employment contracts were for a year or two only. I just had to hope that when my current employment contract expired, another one would be found elsewhere. What a messed-up life that was. Anxiety was a daily emotion. Depression? The future was always uncertain.

Japanese co-workers (other teachers) must have found my predicament very amusing. Most of them had secure lifetime jobs. The lowly gaijin was the whipping boy to be mocked and sent on his way after a few years. So now more and more Japanese academics are beginning to experience the “existential nightmare” that has been the norm for so many long-term gaijin teachers in Japan since the 1960s at least. Oh boo hoo, boo hoo. Even the famous Lafcadio Hearn was kicked out of the University of Tokyo to make room for a “proper” Nihonjin professor, who happened to be Natsume Soseki.

Japan is no country for old gaijin, or young Japanese academics these days. Sounds like the education ministry has become a “temp agency” and now even highly qualified Japanese teachers are looked upon as expendable, a disposable commodity. It’s cheaper to hire and fire younger teachers on a regular basis. The government doesn’t have to pay a pension, nor offer higher salaries as the teachers age. American universities and state-run school systems have been doing the very same thing for years. Educators are so easy to exploit. It’s not about the government’s budget.

I think deep down, bureaucrats, all with secure jobs, look upon teaching as a hobby job, especially for young women. Women will teach until they get married and then quietly leave their chosen profession to be a full-time housewife and mom. Sexism is at the root of this thinking.

For gaijin like myself, we have always been expendable in the eyes of most Japanese, hardly considered human in fact. Thousands of highly educated Japanese professionals have found secure, lifetime employment in Europe and the USA, but Americans working in Japan are supposed to be “temporary” workers. This has been true since the Meiji Period. It’s a blatant form of racism.

And to think of all the thousands of Japanese English language students I’ve instructed over the years, often furthering their careers. We gaijin are taken for granted. Imagine a Japan without any foreign workers, none! Certainly no “gaijin academics.”

After 30 years in Japan, I have no pension. And most schools and universities want cute, younger gaijin teachers, so it’s unlikely I’ll find another teaching job at my age. Oh, and unlike Japanese teachers, gaijin always get the same salary in most schools, regardless of educational background and/or years of teaching experience.

I hate the thought of “starting over,” teaching in an ESL [English as a second language] school alongside someone from an English-speaking country who’s only about 23 years old, with no teaching experience, and we are paid the same salary.

Yes, there will be far fewer students in Japan from now on. The baby boomers are all rapidly reaching old age. And the birthrate in Japan has slowed to a standstill. In fact, the population is in decline. No one will be building any new elementary schools in small towns. Eventually even a number of well-known high schools and universities will be closed due to a lack of enrollment.

Education used to be one of the most attractive professions in America and Japan. Not anymore. In America, teachers are looked upon as “blue-collar” workers. Education is looked upon as a lower-class profession for those who couldn’t get a “real job.” The cool professions are in computer science, engineering, aerospace, medicine, etc.

But I agree, as teachers face less opportunity, lack of benefits, and little job security in Japan, there will be a decline in the quality of education that most students receive. This will have dire consequences for the rest of society. Start building more juvenile detention centers, prisons and basic vocational training programs.

It will also mean that those Asian countries that do support their teachers will excel in most other fields (manufacturing, science, the arts, medicine, etc.). Japan will go into decline. Read the book “Twilight of American Culture” if you want to better understand what happens when a nation and a culture decides that teachers are very disposable commodities, and not much more important than the other “hired help”.

Finland should be Japan’s model. In Finland, a teacher is treated with the greatest respect, looked upon by the rest of society as medical doctors are in America or Japan. Their work is vital. Job security is a given for all Finnish teachers in that nation’s school system, including the university-level instructor.

The education ministry is making a big mistake treating Japanese educators as temporary employees. Education is at the very core of a vibrant and healthy society.

America has forgotten this, especially in the less affluent school districts, and at the university level. About 30 percent or more of all university teachers are part-time workers in America today.

No job security. Americans are better off going to work for WalMart or becoming a fast-food franchise owner.

On the bright side, now more Japanese teachers can appreciate what gaijin educators have had to endure for the past four or five decades in Japan!

Otaru, Hokkaido

Explaining Japan in English

Re: “Could the lingua franca approach to learning break Japan’s English curse?” by Kris Kosaka (Learning Curve, Aug. 17):

Japanese education of English should be reformed and be made more serious. As the article says, Japanese adults have not improved their English in spite of taking English classes as part of their compulsory education. In fact, Japanese people have learned English as a kind of hobby.

Japan is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, with 98 percent of the population being ethnically Japanese. We do not have opportunities to be in contact with foreign people that often. When I went to Hawaii, there were many tours with Japanese-speaking guides. We still have the stereotype of learning English that it is not necessary to speak, read and listen to it in our daily life. But now, in a competitive global economy, we need to use English.

As we like to do European and American things such as exchange presents on Christmas and dress up at Halloween, Japan must “imitate” their language, English. I think that “Westernization” is very influential for not only Japanese people but also other language speakers.

I agree with the lingua franca movement. Having the same language with other countries makes it easier to communicate with people around the world.

English is recognized as the universal language. I think if the English education system in Japan improved, Japan would be more likely to survive the global competition. High-level English education might help set our position in the world, both economically and politically. We can understand each other deeply by using more than one language in some situations, like when we have to negotiate with people around the world.

This is the reason I studied English hard. I think that many Japanese people lack the opportunity to use and learn English. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to study abroad in the U.S. During my studies abroad, my view and values changed over time. I was surprised at many cultural differences, but these differences gave me new ways to think. It was really stimulating for me to take a class in a different country and talk to my classmates in English.

The Japanese government should provide more opportunities to study abroad and take another step forward in English education in the coming generations. Japanese people have been lacking the ability to express their own culture in a different language. If our English education goes to the next level, there will be more countries around the world that understand us better. This will not decrease the value of the Japanese language. It will increase our ability to communicate our values to others.

All Japanese people should get the communication tool: English!

Bellingham, Washington

Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

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