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Intro to Kansai, Japan
getting there

big cities

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Urbanisation: big cities

Teacher note

Kansai packs a lot in a small space. Cities border on cities – giving the impression to the local train passenger that Kansai is one big city.

The train system makes it possible, at not much cost, to go from city to city in Kansai, quickly. Many train stations have more than one line running through them. Change trains and go somewhere else.

Stations are the centre of more than transport services. Supermarkets, hotels and a great amount of activity is to be found in many stations. Buy your goodies, and as long as they are not too big, take them on the train with you.

Arrange to meet people at a landmark in a station.

Information about destinations, and fares, are graphically presented in train stations – near the ticket vending machines.

Learn to buy a single ticket, or bulk concession tickets, possibly helped by a total stranger ready to practice English on you and help a bewildered foreigner. If you get the wrong ticket, the machine that checks your ticket as you go onto the platform, will tell you – and a station attendant will likely tell you that you need a fare adjustment.

When Angela Cole, who has spent a decade as an assistant English teacher in Hutt’s sister city, Minoh, says you can learn a lot about Japanese by keeping your eyes open on the train, she spoke a truth others will appreciate.

Start by looking for the patterns. Find your way into the station with the help of signboards – increasingly in English as well as Japanese. Note the number for the entrance and exit. Look at how the rail administrations provide their services – work it out once and you will probably find the same pattern elsewhere.

Think of the time of day. Look at people’s clothing. How western the suits, dresses and casual gear. How many kimono clad do you think you would find?

Is it evening and are salarymen in their suits coming home from a late night at the office - and building relationships with others?

Are there lots of groups of young office ladies talking with each other, young couples, groups of chaps?

Is it morning and are the trains so crowded they need pushers to help office workers and students start their working day? Look at the school uniforms the girls and boys wear.

Look at older people, and how they carry their shopping. Are these the sort of Japanese who might enjoy the beauty of New Zealand, its soul?

Notice some people have white surgical masks over their mouths – the socially responsible Japanese who don’t want to pass on a cough or cold to other citizens.

Look at the use of portable entertainment, plugged in peoples’ ears. See the evidence of cell phones – and the convention that restrains people from raucous conversation.

Look at people sleeping – but waking up before they miss their train station. Think of how long some of these people travel to and fro each day from home to school or work.

See the advertisements in the trains, and on the buildings and streets that whistle by. What is hot, what’s not?

Where were you going?

Are you at Kansai International Airport, choosing a train, bus or taxi to take you on your first ride into your accommodation?

Home to your homestay – see the residential suburbs through the train window.

To the city centre – see the big office buildings.

Have you found some place where you can get local information – or did you pluck up courage to ask a stranger for directions? Did they wave their hands, and indicate they don’t speak English. Or did a total stranger, noticing you were bewildered, come out of the crowd, and in English, help you?

Have you found a money machine – and is it a Japan Post office money machine that takes a New Zealand credit card?

Are you swamped by the people, shops and noise in the shops in the big railway station?

Have you found a meeting place in a railway station – such as “Big man” in busy Umeda station.

Did you notice people with disabilities? Kiwi assistant English teacher Wairani Eruera does – and says on sighting of a person in wheelchair, inclusiveness of Japanese society has lessons for NZ.

Have you found your way to underground B1 or B2 in the big department store where you buy fresh food, groceries, drink – and see which products are stocked from New Zealand?

Which temple are you visiting? See the name on the station sign, and the entrance to a part of Japan’s, or perhaps the world’s heritage.

Perhaps you are going by train to Sakai City Hall – and going to the top to see the view of the centuries old burial mound.

It is sensible to break your travel into train and other ways of getting around – perhaps you get a map and walk from the train station. Perhaps you get a short ride in a taxi found at the station.

Maps are great – ask the person you are visiting to draw or give you a map – or download a relevant one from the internet.

Perhaps you are walking to the Minoh waterfall – taxi to the top of the walk, and train from the exit.

You may be in Kobe, and want to visit the museum that tells of a great earthquake not so long ago. Kobe was the original port for what is now known as Kansai. It was crucial to Japan’s industrial successes from the late 19th century onward.

And don’t forget the humble bicycle. They are everywhere – even on the pavement!

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There you are, you’ve seen much of the big cities of Kansai just by concentrating on the local train system!

Now make arrangements for the rest of your visit.

You might take a working holiday, an assignment on the JET programme or find a job in the open market in Kansai.

What sort of place is Kansai for living and working? What are the observations and experiences of Kiwis, including teacher Rodney Smith, teacher Angela Cole, local government coordinator Rebecca Hillis, and lawyer Catherine O’Connell?

Rodney Smith, who taught English in Sakai, got some of his local links from a Japanese friend he hosted in New Zealand. Get a |JET or a private English school teaching job – and get a degree first. Maybe get recruited in New Zealand, by a language school such as Nova. Hope to earn $NZ30-60.000 a year, and Rodney Smith says you may save $2,000 per month.

Consider what has changed in Angela Cole’s ten years as a teacher in Minoh.

They are more aware of the importance of English to Japanese society. Teachers have become more skilled at teaching English and aware of what they don’t achieve. They use the text book less.
On the negative side, discipline has worsened in the classroom, affected by social change.

The economy has changed over the decade, so parents cannot educate as well at home. Behaviour deteriorates. Mothers work more outside the home. Fathers come home late.

The lack of attention at home has contributed to a lot of stress in the home. There is a lot of stress from the emphasis on entrance exams from a very young age. They are eager to get into the best kindergarten, then elementary school, then junior high school, then senior high school, then university. They act opposite to New Zealand’s system. As soon as they get to their university, they relax.

Students are required to do a large amount of homework, compared with New Zealand.
The Juku, or cramming school, is held after school, three, four or five days a week. They have clubs daily after school for several hours, they might also meet before school in the weekends, and in the holidays with their club. There is no time to regroup. NZ does not have this seriousness that Japan has.

70% of students probably go to Juku. School ends at 3.30. Then they have clubs. Then at Juku where they study more intensively to a higher level than they do at school. Juku may be 7-10 pm for these 13-14 year olds. From Juku, the students get more homework. At exam time they may go to bed after midnight, and then they may sleep in class. Juku is stricter, more intense than normal school. Juku classes may be smaller, with 10-15 students/ Normal school class sizes are 34-40 – which makes it difficult to teach. Juku can be quite expensive.

They do have foreign teachers. I have assisted sometimes. But foreigners tend to be only as assistant English teachers (AET).
Juku are more text book based. There is no conversation English. They have hard grammar to learn. Juku are not just for English teaching. They are primarily to prepare people for entrance exams to help the students get into the high school of their choice. Senior high schools are ranked in Japan. Students sometimes travel for one or two hours to get to high school.

Are Japanese satisfied with their English language performance?
They are trying to improve. That is why they introduced the JET and the AET programmes. They still have a long way to go. They cannot implement English language in class adequately. The AETs are underemployed across the board.

Japanese Boards of Education (BOI) and Ministry of Education (Mombusho) pressures are contradictory. They know student English is inadequate – but their teachers have to teach the syllabus.

A lot is to do with confidence. Japanese English teachers don’t have confidence in their ability. They see team teaching with foreigners as extra work. Few have overseas experience. So they prefer to avoid using the AET. But now there are more foreigners in Japanese society.

Japanese love computer games. This after all is the country of technology. Japanese have become physically weaker over the last 20 years because the kids spend so much time playing tv games a lot. They are technologically impressive, but they play outside less than New Zealanders. They may go out with their families in the weekend. Or go with their families for holidays. Parents, especially fathers, come home late and this reduces family time together. Clubs keep them at school, one advantage is they are supervised. But some young children end up at home without their parents there. More grandparents live with their children than in New Zealand.

How safe is it?
This is a safe society. But there have been spates of violent crimes that have made schools more aware. Elementary school gates are locked, and an intercom system is used to grant entrance. Kids are advised to come to school in groups.
At the beginning of this decade murders of some young people increased awareness.
Japan is one of the safest places. I live in central Osaka and teach in Minoh City, and I take normal precautions. I travel on the trains and walk home safely at night.

Drinking events are popular – Enkai. People here don’t get violent and anti social from their drinking.
A lot of the international image of Japanese women is false. A lot love drinking. There is a lot of sexual harassment – and it is more prevalent and tolerated than in New Zealand. It is tolerated, or put down to drinking. There are drinking sessions in the workplace. Women go to more extremes – from teetotal to too much. Their tastes include sweet cocktails. Men tend to drink beer, sake and shotyu.

Smoking is increasing among women. The morning of our interview Angela Cole read that 43% of Japanese men smoke, and 20 something percent among women. Smoking is decreasing among men and increasing among women. Tobacco costs a third of NZ prices in Japan. Alcohol is also cheaper in Japan than in NZ. Japan is stricter now about what happens on trains – about smoking, about cellphones. Restaurants have smoking and non smoking areas – but as they tend to be next to each other, so the discouragement does not have much meaning. Japanese find restraints can be stricter off shore.

Japanese are slimmer and smaller then westerners. This makes it hard for westerners who stay here for a long time to buy clothes.

Japanese tend to be conservative dressers for work. Other styles include the funky approach in Osaka that you wont see in New Zealand. There are girls who like cutsy, pink, furry, dangly and Hello Kitty. Kids and teens tend to go for all the same.
Fashions run in booms, followed by the next one. At the beginning of this decade was the Tamoguchi craze – you had to feed the Tamoguchi egg, powered by computer. Everything has a boom. Even restaurants. They might stay open for two years.
Junior high school girls dress in sailor uniforms, boys in the uniform with the military collar. Girls who rebel tend to lift up their skirt hems, and pierce their ears.

This is part of the search to be an individual, rather than a member of the group.
At universities, students seek to be as fashionable as possible.

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You might want to work, as Rebecca Hillis did, in a place like Sakai City office. What is her advice?

Present oneself formally to superiors. Learn Japanese mannerisms – “Language leads to cultural understanding.”

Look at the formal room layout – perhaps a meeting with a visitor will include flags, tea, gifts. Recognise that meetings in New Zealand are more laid back. Seating is of high importance. Highest importance is in middle. Highest rank seated first. Seat in status order she says. In her work area the head of their table can talk to anyone on it. The section manager sits back one. The Director is in a separate part. The Executive Director has his own room. Rebecca Hillis has provided the Japanese and English words for the work roles.
Chief: Kakaricho
Section manager: Kacho
Director: Bucho
Executive director: Riji
Deputy Mayor: Jyoyaku
Mayor: Shicho

Catherine O’Connell spent four years in her 30s in Tokyo and Osaka in legal jobs – and expected to stay longer. Earlier she had seven or eight years Japan client experience in New Zealand as a lawyer. She found her initial opening for a legal job in Japan through an advertisement in a New Zealand legal publication. In Kansai she became a staff lawyer in Panasonic Osaka.

Japanese language studies were not readily available when she was at school, but she later studied the language at polytechnic, then learnt most of her language in Japan. She has some conversational Japanese capability, and can read enough Japanese characters to find her way around a railway station.

What were her first impressions?
Japanese work hard. Setting up provided some challenges, getting the phone and gas on, the internet connected. However, English speaking Japanese colleagues were very helpful at her initial job in Tokyo. Earlier, she had had an experience of getting lost in Japan, which led her to delay coming back until she was better prepared. At Pansasonic she works in a company building with 3000 people. People are diligent, Lots of overtime. Physical office work settings are very much the same in Japan. They show the hierarchy. People have their desk in an island of desks, called Shima, and they might work away there at their computer and hone.

Catherine O’Connell is a manager, sitting in one of these islands, with the younger hardworking staff. The manager’s role is to supervise and assist the staff. Her role is particularly to assist with their questions about English sentences, and about the law.

How does she cope with her level of Japanese in talking with staff?
“I cope”.

What sort of misunderstandings does she have?
Timing. Places to meet. Confusion sometimes occurs when Japanese refer to the 24 hour clock. “Communication takes time. If I want a day off, or to visit a factory, the group needs to be involved.”

What would have been involved in permission for this interview?
“I needed to ask my manager, the Kacho, and perhaps he would have needed to ask his manager, the bucho.

How do they see you?
“Being a gaijin, one needs to be aware of one’s identity. I’m seen as a foreigner. As a New Zealander – I’m one of very few in this area of the Kansai. I’m seen to have a Kiwi English accent” she says.

What sort of jobs do Kiwis get in the Kansai?
Most teach English, some through the JET programme. She is rare as a lawyer. The majority of the 850 Kiwis known of in the Kansai teach English, some go into local government -as coordinators of international relations they look after English teachers in that area. They are mentors for JETs. Some Kiwis come together in the New Zealand- Japan Society of Kansai, Kiwi Salon, and other informal groups. A Consul General office was in the Kansai. Now there is only a semi replacement in the Consul-General. The Embassy covers the Kansai from Tokyo.

What are her tips for communication?
Email, then phone up. Fly in. Meet. Email cannot replace face to face communication. Email is a godsend. But people have to speak with people. Go for win win, use face to face techniques.

How do Japanese contracts work?
There are different views between Japanese and New Zealanders. Paper v verbal. Japanese are more paper oriented now.

During New Zealand Japan contracts 30 years ago there were challenges when “Conditions change”. What has Catherine learned about that type of situation?

The Japanese are adjusting. But handle it delicately. New Zealanders also need to think of Japanese cultural conditions. They are moving from verbal to paper contracts more. This leads to confidentiality agreements.

How can New Zealanders help Japanese with cross cultural communication?
New Zealanders should come to Kansai. Interact more here.

Ambassador Saito also says Visit Japan.
“No longer should New Zealanders feel hesitant about living here because of language. Japanese are hesitant, but they do speak English. To keep costs down go and eat where Japanese go.

You have committed yourself to serve the collective New Zealand good. What do you say of Ambassador Saito’s call for revitalization of the bilateral relationship?

What is he going to do. What is his plan? I try to give a good impression.

What plan would you suggest?
Use people with recent experience.

From Anthony Haas, Asia Pacific Economic News service

March 12, 2007

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