Masks used to be the purview of bandits, bank robbers and superheroes; people who wanted to keep their identities concealed, but over the past year, masks have become essential for everyone, despite the reluctance of some. Now, we are all wearing masks whether we want to hide our identities or not.
One possible reason why COVID-19 hasn’t not had the impact in Japan that it has had in Europe or the US, is possibly due to how quickly and easily the use of masks was taken up. Wearing a mask in public is not a strange thing in Japan and it is very common among Tokyo commuters especially in the winter months. It is also common practice among family doctors and nurses at anytime of the year.
Over the New Year holiday period in Japan, despite my general distain for every day TV, I've been entertained by one TV programme that runs every year, called "A or B". A sort of game show, the contestants , usually a pair of are well-known celebrities, to tell the difference between the real and the replica, the high quality and the low quality. Each stage focuses on something different but the categories are usually fairly stable each year, comprising food, musical instruments - Strads versus Yamahas - professional versus amateur dance and the like. Despite it being absent the last few years, the category that made me most curious above the entertainment value, was the film section. Here, the same sequence of a drama using the same setting and actors, was filmed by a professional and an amateur. Invariably I'd get it wrong. But more than that, I usually thought that the amateur's version was better.
When Yoshiro Mori, the former prime minister and prime gaffe maker, made his comments earlier this month, he seemed to know that he would get in trouble, and that the newspapers would write it up badly. That didn't stop him. Aware enough of the potential repercussions he went ahead anyway and more or less suggested that women should be seen and not heard in meetings. Women across Japan are rightly upset and the torrent of criticism has finally led him to resign.
Working in English language education in Japan for the last 8 - 9 years, but not as an ALT, I have often wondered about what goes on in the English classrooms of Japanese high schools and why they are so obsessed with teaching grammar. It is fairly clear that whatever teachers are doing in Japanese schools there is little improvement in learning outcomes despite government pushes to improve English language education as well as extend it by starting it earlier. In some senses if the English language education in schools was adequate there would be little need for the once booming eikaiwa industry that has grown up since the 1970s. Eikaiwa schools are supposed to follow the communicative approach. The very name means conversation school, so the emphasis ought to be on communication, and by and large this is true, eikaiwa’s place more focus on communication, but it is still very much enslaved to a grammar based curriculum and limited by the confines of a usually irrelevant text book. The problem is that in both cases grammar is an easy option, but it highlights the dangers of decontextualised knowledge.