Thoughts, links & ideas from the 2008 National Teacher of the Year

Each time I've taken off in a plane since May (which is a lot), I've been writing in my journal, then adding these journal entries on this blog.

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(Note: the blue posted dates are actually the dates I wrote the journal entries, not when I posted them online.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This Week's (Japanese) Top 40

Tokyo, Japan

Holy Shinto! What a week!

I am forever indebted to the Baba Foundation, Nakajima-san sensei, my guide Endo-san, and all of the wonderful people I met while in Japan this past week. I was very well taken care of and learned an incredible amount about Japanese culture, education, history, food and people. And one day I was a big boy and navigated Tokyo all by myself. In Japanese.

I'm scheduled to arrive home today, a couple of hours ago. Gotta love crossing the date line! (Of course, Jennifer would say that I haven't crossed the date line in over a decade.) But before I leave Japan (and technically after I land at home, too) I'll sum up what I learned this week in a handy list.

1. When traveling to a non-Western country, secure a local guide. Try to get one who specializes in rail-travel and local food, like I did.

2. Don't take a guided bus tour in Japan unless someone gives it to you as a gift. You'll feel like a stereotypical Japanese tourist. In Japan. This will be true even if your local guide comes along with you.

3. The Japanese have nearly perfected the science of public transportation. We should do that.

4. The Japanese drive on the left side of the road, and usually walk on the left, too. But not always. This anomaly seems to appear randomly. Dodge and deal with it.

5. Middle school students are middle school students wherever you go.

6. When a Japanese store clerk hands you your change and you reply with "good morning," she will smile and graciously bow to accept your sorry linguistic offering.

7. Even the uniformed workers who seem to have no apparent job other than standing on the sidewalk, bowing, and occasionally gesturing in a general direction take great pride in their work. They usually wear hard hats for safety, too.

8. No one leans on a shovel in Japan. If you're not hustling, you're not contributing to the greater good.

9. Japanese are proud of their country. And they should be.

10. I'm almost tall.

11. Check your socks for holes before leaving the states, and check to make sure your socks match before leaving your hotel room. Oops.

12. It's handy to like fish.

13. It's honorable to like highly fermented soybeans wrapped in straw.

14. It's handy to have copious amounts of sake to chase the soybeans down. This is also honorable.

15. A little sake goes a long way. A lot of sake goes even further. This is also honorable.

16. There will be more garbage cans in your hotel room than in an average Japanese city, but the city will have less garbage laying around.

17. Don't bother trying to learn written Japanese for your visit. It takes years.

18. Most Japanese homes have heated toilet seats. Hotels have even crazier toilets.

19. All Japanese students take Engrish crasses during junior and senior high, but they never practice actuarry speaking in Engrish. They just read it and study it. This strikes me as rudicrous.

20. Something like 99% of Japanese are literate. This strikes me as really impressive.

21. When Japanese educators ask what you will lecture on for your guest lecture, "lecture" is the key word.

22. I can't hold still enough to lecture for very long.

23. It's difficult to teach with 50 adults and four TV news crews in your classroom. It's also difficult when you don't speak or understand more than a dozen words of the native language.

(Also, see the news coverage of the class at this link. Open it in a new tab and be patient, it takes a minute to load.)

24. It feels pretty good when every student asks for your autograph after class.

25. Bring lots of business cards to Japan.

26. When handing a small gift to someone, tell them what it is before they open it. This is customary. "It's chopsticks."

27. When grocery shopping in Japan, be prepared to be yelled at by dozens of store employees soliciting you loudly to buy interesting foods that you won't recognize. (If you can't find a grocery store, try looking in the basement of any department store, right below the floor with women's makeup and jewelry.)

28. If a Japanese person sucks in through their teeth and clutches their nose as if they had just eaten a liter of green tea ice cream way too fast, they're telling you "no." But they won't actually say no.

29. No one says "sayonara" in Japan, either. At least not that I could understand.

30. If you slur a bunch of words together and end with "mossss...," it passes for "thank you" and other various greetings, and it mildly impresses people. But then they might start speaking Japanese really fast to you.

31. College roommates living abroad can be a great source of entertainment and insight.

32. There are something like 80 million Shintoists in Japan, 90 million Buddhists in Japan, and 120 million people in Japan. Do the math. That's pretty cool.

33. Most Japanese celebrate Christmas, too. It's a good excuse to drink and give people presents.

34. Obesity is not a common problem in Japan. It is a national sport, however.

35. U.S. Ambassadors are from Texas. At least, both of the ones that I met this month are. Interesting coincidence?

36. Japanese children are dang cute.

37. When Japanese are on the phone and repeatedly say "Hi! Hi! Hi!," they're not just excited to hear from someone, nor do they have a bad connection. "Hai!" means "yes."

38. When obtaining food from a communal dish or plate, use the other end of your chopsticks. Unless you've eaten with a person a few times, then it's okay to spread germs.

39. People wearing face masks around town are not Ninjas. And they're probably not even trying to protect themselves from viruses. They're most likely trying to protect everyone else.

40. After three weeks of international travel, I'm ready to be home with my family. I will definitely go back to both Japan and Switzerland. Next time, though, I'd like to take my family with me.


  1. Love that the posts are getting closer and closer to the present. How long before you are posting from the future? This was an entertaining glimpse, for sure!

  2. Mike - Just wanted to thank you again for posting all the pictures, videos, comments, etc. to the blog. I really enjoy each new entry and appreciate you sharing your experiences. Hoping you have some great quality time with your family soon.


    Eric Langhorst

  3. Mr. Bunyan - I was posting from the future, since I was a day ahead of you in Japan. But the videos took a while to upload...

    Mr. Langhorst - Thanks for being a faithful reader, and I appreciate your comments! Any plans for winter break?

  4. Mike - Planning on a little travel over break - driving down to Dallas (10 hours each way) to see the in-laws and then returning to Missouri for some relaxation at home before the new semester starts. Will you be able to be home in Oregon over the holidays?

  5. Mike - I am hooked on your site! Electric toilet fountains, mystic musings, and just plain fun! I get exhausted from laughing so much! I second Eric's thoughts, you are doing a great service for all of us. This is so much better than anything on prime time.

    Enjoy Mexico, catch some great waves and just enjoy your family.

    Rick Ellenburg

  6. Mr. Roboto or Mr. Toiloto? What fun! It sounds as though Mexico will be a much needed, but more importantly, much deserved break. Thank you for being such a strong, positive, and fearless voice for education.


Feel free to question, disagree, challenge, or make suggestions! I'm a big boy. I can take it.