Culture · Culture Shock · Education · Japanese Language · Jr. High School Education · Teaching

Of Typhoons and Speeches

So, there has been a lot going on recently and not all of it has been good things, but not all of it has been bad either. Between a typhoon, and judging a speech contest, it has been a wild week.

So, yesterday was a speech contest that I was required to go to. The truth of the matter is that myself and the other seven local government based ALTs had to attend the competition as judges. It sounds all fine and dandy, but it is really a frustrating and tiring experience. The first third of the contest is recitation where students, typically second year students, memorize a story from a textbook or another source and perform that piece on the stage. The rest of the contest is students, for the most part third year students, giving speeches on a topic of their choice. Students are supposed to work with their ALTs, but there seemed to be very little of that going on this year when I talked with the other ALTs that were also at the event. My overall feeling from this year, as this is my second year judging, is that not only the students, but the teachers are showing a serious lack in interest towards this competition.

As I mentioned before, I had been asking my school about its speech contest participants since I first stepped onto the campus. The standard response I got was, “they will come talk to you soon.” Apparently by soon they meant a few days before the actual contest. Now, my student had live in England for four years and was therefore ineligible to win the competition – yes, they have a rule where if you have lived overseas for more than 3 months you cannot win the speech contest. They also included this semi-ridiculous rule to a boy who lived in Hong Kong for a few years and went to a Japanese school. He had no previous English experience until he was in Jr. high school – just like all other Japanese students. I don’t get it, but I guess this kind of illustrates the whole Japan not being foreigner friendly.

Anyway, she gave me her speech to correct last Friday, so I did that, gave it to her, and she said that she would practice on her own and maybe come talk to me on Monday. I probably met with her for a total of 20 minutes and during that time I did not hear her speak a word of English. My other student was only participating in the recitation section and asked me to read the story once and then I listened to her practice two times before we called it a day. I probably spent a total of 40 minutes doing contest prep with my students and other ALTs did even less. The atmosphere during the contest was also very “we just want this to end” and it showed the moment the contest was over as all the students and teachers practically ran to their cars to leave and the banner on the stage was taken down. It was kind of disappointing, but I suppose I can’t really blame people for wanting to get out of there with the coming typhoon.

We had some major technical difficulties to start the contest off. When I looked at the score sheet for the recitation, there was a category called “context” which really only applies to speeches since the students are the ones who pick the topic. The recitation is text given to them by their teacher and then they memorize it, so how can we judge the context? It took the Japanese officials over 10 minutes to figure out what we were asking before they told us to change each paper individually by writing “Accuracy.” Please not that this was all going on while the first student was presenting. After we struggled to judge her as we could hardly hear what she was saying over our confusion, the next student (who was my student) went on stage to do her recitation. Literally the moment she started, the Japanese officials whispered in our ears that there was another mistake and that two of the scores were incorrect and what was 30 should really be 40 and blah blah blah. So, not only could we not hear the first two speakers because of all the chaos going on our end, but their scores were also totally messed up because of the sudden change. I felt really bad for my student and I ended up explaining what happened to her at the break time and ensured her that she still did a good job even if she did not win and that she should be proud of herself. She did not end up winning, but I personally think she would have been in one of the top six had we actually been able to hear and focus on her when she was presenting. My other student, the one who did a speech, ended up winning a special prize for her efforts. If you have never heard a Japanese person speak English with an English accent, I will let you know that it is adorable.

don't we all look so spiffy?
don't we all look so spiffy?

After the contest was over I went out with some of the ALTs for billiards, Indian food, and a few drinks before heading back home. We were all feeling a little frustrated from the day..especially concerning our schedule for the next day in terms of the coming typhoon. The news reported that the beak of the typhoon was going to be around 8 am, which is the time when all children are on their way to school. My boss announced that the Board of Education had decided to cancel school to keep the kids safe…but…teacher would “please go to school.” On top of it, we were told we had to go out to the main office. For most of us, that means riding our bikes to the station, riding a train, and riding a bus…all during a typhoon? We tried to argue that we should just stay home, heck, we were arguing for everyone’s sake that we all just stay indoors during the typhoon to keep everyone safe. That was an option…if we wanted to take some paid vacation…


The peak of the typhoon hit earlier than the news expected and around 2 am there was SUPER heavy rains, thunder, and strong winds that were loud enough to keep me awake and worry about Jun until he came home from his part time job around 3 am soaked to the bone. When I woke up, the streets were flooded and the wind was only getting stronger, but at least it was not raining. About an hour later, around the time I needed to leave, it was sunny, no rain, and very strong winds. I was glad that the typhoon had passed, but it did not make me any happier about having to go into the main office when the company owned ALTs were getting the day off.

So, now the typhoon has passed and the winds have died down for the most part. I, on the other hand, have come down with something due to all the ridiculous biking around in the rain my boss has made me do over the past week – more than was really necessary. I had a pretty high fever a little while ago, but that seems to have gone down some now. Still have a sore throat, a heavy chest, and a cough that are not making me feel great and I am hoping that I can just make it through tomorrow and spend my three day weekend relaxing.


3 thoughts on “Of Typhoons and Speeches

    1. thanks, Mom. I get a lot of use out of the black one – that seems to be the “accepted” color for a teacher to wear to work. Not too many other colored suits around.

  1. Enjoyed reading your blog. My son’s best friend is Japanese and I will be sure to share with him. He and Adam are always whipping up some type of Japanese cuisine in the kitchen, but I hope to never see or smell jellyfish.

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