Teaching English to kiddos in Fukushima City!

The Thai boys in the cave in northern Thailand have been rescued, thankfully. The native language of Thailand is not English, but the boys were discovered by two British divers, who did not know Thai. So the first words that the kids and their teacher spoke to their rescuers were in English.

Here’s a video:


I’d heard the first question was “How many of you are there?” because the rescuers wanted (and needed) to find out if all the kids and their teacher were there. (And yes, they were! A miracle!)

I myself have taught English in Japan pretty much continuously in Japan since I arrived in 1995. First I taught on the Jet Program, then in  a school that is designed to train young men and women to work at airports. (We lived in Narita City, home of the New Tokyo International Airport.)

When my husband was transferred to Fukushima City, I of course tagged along, still teaching English. It’s a real blessing for me to have knowledge of what is considered the international language.  I consider myself fortunate.

Currently I am teaching kids in elementary school at what is called a juku. (A school which offers extra tutoring in addition to regular school.) This is in addition to unpaid volunteer work in which I read to kids from English picture books.



It’s a real challenge to teach these kids English because JAPANESE IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN ENGLISH! Common things English speakers–and French speakers and German speakers and maybe even Russian and Greek speakers–take for granted are strange to these native Japanese speaking kids!!  VERY VERY STRANGE…..

Learning English (for them) is entering a world where everything is backwards and nothing makes sense!!!!!

Let’s look at the worksheet I created below:

First of all, notice that I put two lines for their name. This is intentional. Why?

If I only put one line, the younger kids will write only their given name. They don’t know how to write their family name. I want them to practice their family names. So I put two separate lines to let them know they must write two names (what we in English call: first name and last name.)

In what order do they write?

In Japanese, the order of a full name is the opposite of English.  Suzuki Hanako= Family name Given Name This is normal in Japan and many other countries in Asia.

But when using English, some Japanese people prefer Hanako Suzuki and some prefer Suzuki Hanako. I let my students choose which order they want to use.

Next, notice that this is a vowel worksheet. Vowels are not set up in Japanese like in English. It’s a hard thing for them to understand! I want them to pick out the vowels (AEIOU) and realize that these particular letters are incredibly important. This is something the youngest ones have trouble with!

Also notice that there is an upper and a lower-case alphabet. The kids need to practice both, and it’s hard for them to understand upper and lower-case. Japanese writing doesn’t have upper and lower-case. It does have three writing systems though! (Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana)

Look at the worksheet above.

I made it because I wanted to my students to practice the basic plural form of adding an “s” to words.

What makes this hard for many Japanese kids?

Well, the Japanese language often doesn’t use plural! Sometimes it does, but not usually. And when plural is used, “tachi” is added. Not an “s!”

But like I said, the plural form is not often used in Japanese, so it’s a different way of thinking for these kids.

If their Japanese mom points at ducks, she might say, “Mite! Ahiru da yo.” That word ahiru is not in a plural form. But really it’s not necessary because anybody looking at the ducks can see if there is only one or more than one.

Whereas an American mom points and says, “Look! There’s a duck.” or “Look! There’re some ducks.”

And ohmigosh……and don’t get me started on how hard it is to teach a/an and some and the. These words do not exist in Japanese.

Some other things that are difficult to teach (because the kids don’t understand the concepts):

*Putting spaces between words (written Japanese doesn’t use spaces between words and thus kids think it is okay to run words in English together.)

*English doesn’t end a line in the middle of a word, unless a hyphen is used. (In written Japanese, the line is continued until there is no room, then the next line starts even if it is in the middle of a word.)

*English letters touch the bottom line. (In Japanese, kids write in boxes. One letter per box. No part of their writing touches the sides of the box.)

*English letters like y, g, j,p, q all extend BELOW the bottom line. (This is very strange to Japanese kids. Like I just said, no part of their Japanese writing touches the sides of the box. Definitely no extending outside the box!)


Whew! And that’s just at the beginning!!!!!!!!  It’s hard because all kids here are supposed to learn basic English, even if they are not interested in it. In America, the majority of kids may choose whether to study Japanese or not.

So imagine the United States if all kids were required to learn basic Japanese!

Ending my blog post for now—with colors in English and Japanese. You can see how different they are! (Images from Irasutoya.com)




“Torrential Rain Sweeping Across Japan”

At this writing (afternoon, Japan time), fifty-five seventy-five people have been killed due to the heavy rains in Japan.

However, please do not worry about me. My area of Fukushima City (downtown) is fine. I believe the affected areas are mostly western Japan and down south.

I took photos on my walk this morning. You can see things are not bad here. (Although they are very bad elsewhere in Japan.)

Stepping out of our home… The ground is wet. It has been raining but not so much that it is too much. The storm seems to be coming up from the south, and thus the southern part is getting the worst of it. (Especially Okayama Prefecture.)

You can see the dry part and the wet part.

Hydrangeas! I have to admit, when I first came to Japan I didn’t like hydrangeas so much because after June they turn into zombie flowers.

My most recent manuscript is set in the United States…and it has a garden gnome statue in it. I looked closely at this one. Did it resemble my manuscript’s gnome?

she sat down on the steps next to the rock garden from which cacti grew in crooked lumps. Koral felt the cacti was proof that this part of Texas was a desert. The rock garden was also home to a porcelain gnome with a long beard and a chipped blue cap. Koral wondered how he felt living in a garden of rocks and cacti. Surely he would be happier in a field of mushrooms and toadstools. But he had a huge smile on his doughy face, so maybe he didn’t mind.

I’m guessing the gnome in the photo is enjoying the rainy weather. But our little stone gnome does look kind of stoned, don’t you think? Blissfully happy…

A local high school. Remember, I took these photos very early on a Sunday morning, so all the high school students were snuggly wuggly sleepies sleepies. Except my son, who of course was studying. ;-P


A bicyclist in a “kappa” (raincoat.)

Walking home….Good morning, Morning Glories!

There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world right now. Thinking of all the kids….

Kids in Thailand, currently trapped in the cave. Kids in southern Japan, affected by the rain. Kids in the United States, separated from their parents.

Thinking about them all….

Happy Tanabata!

Tanabata (July seventh, in Japan) is a holiday that originated in China (long, long ago!) and now is also celebrated in other Asian countries like Japan. In Japan, people hang their wishes on branches of bamboo. (Bamboo is plentiful in Japan.)

The photo above is from last year. Every year my Friday Japanese teachers organize a Tanabata celebration. ありがとう、せんせい!

Thank you to my teachers.

The photo above was taken last year in Sendai City. Sendai holds a huge Tanabata festival every summer–but it is in August. Why is it in August and not July?


Years ago, Japan used a different calendar system and Tanabata fell in August.  In the 1800’s, Japan switched over to the western calendar, and thus many holidays (like January first–New Year’s Day and July seventh–Tanabata) were changed to correspond with the western calendar. However, many people will still use the old calendar, thus making the holidays approximately a month later.

(This is also the reason why Chinese people celebrate their New Year Festival some time in February, but Japanese people celebrate it January first.)

This is Fukushima City train station.

The above photo is from years ago in Comu Comu, a place for kids in Fukushima City.

Tanabata is a fun festival because we can write down whatever we want! The wish can be selfish, silly, or philanthropic. You can sign your name, but you don’t have to.

We can read the wishes that are on the branches if they are in public locations. Some wishes will make you cry!  And many are by children and quite funny.

What am I wishing for this summer?

My philanthropic wish: I wish for world happiness.

My silly wish: I wish that the stray cat that hangs around our house would let me touch her! (Instead of staying always at a distance.)

My selfish wish: I want to get my manuscript published!

Cement Walls in Fukushima City

Yesterday I posted about a cement wall that fell on a girl during a recent earthquake in the Osaka area, killing her. (The wall was not constructed using modern safety standards, and therefore was inherently unsafe. It stood much taller than the walls in the following photos.)

If you come from an area that doesn’t have a lot of cement walls, you might not understand why there was a cement wall along her walking path. It is common in many areas of Japan to use cement walls to separate boundaries. Yesterday after writing the post, I rode my bike to a shopping center. These are walls near my home, which is located in the downtown area. There are LOTS more walls than this. My neighborhood has many cement walls.

Constructions such as these (as well as trees, powerlines, heavy roof shingles, and so on) are why it is considered safer to stay inside during a heavy quake than to head outside.

Just outside my home.

The path leading to the street.

Out on the street where cars drive.

More walls…

And more….

There are so very many walls in my neighborhood, it’s impossible for me to take a photos of them all! So, of course stay away from walls (and other heavy structures that may fall on you) during an earthquake.

June 18 quake in Osaka area

This news is slightly old now, although I guess it’s not because it’s now the beginning of July, so that means it’s only two weeks old. I wanted to discuss it earlier, but didn’t have the time.

There was an earthquake north of Osaka on June 18, 2018. Here is a link:


It was a 6.1 quake. Being so far south of me, it did not affect the me or the Fukushima area at all.

Still, 6.1 is a very big quake. Modern buildings and constructions here are supposed to be constructed to withstand intense shaking. The best technology is used.

However….  sometimes construction is NOT quake-proof. A nine-year-old girl was killed during the quake on June 18 when a tall and heavy cement wall collapsed onto the top of her. I’ve heard that that wall was NOT up to industry standards.


From the above editorial from the Daily Mainichi: the wall was “well above the height allowable under the Building Standards Act. No efforts were made to bring the wall up to code. ” So basically something was awry here.

Anyway, we in Japan are told it is safer to remain indoors (generally speaking) than to go outside, due to items that may fall on a person outdoors.

I feel so sorry for the girl who was killed and hope that architects, builders and the people who approve structures all stay honest and do their jobs well in the future.

Rainy Day Dolls

I was shopping and I saw this basket of……  Do you know what they are?

If you don’t know, can you guess?

Look at the sign above the basket. It is in the shape of an umbrella. It says:


Ame no hi o tanoshiku.

Enjoy rainy days.

(Below that, it says “Go ahead and feel free to take one.)

Those dolls are part of traditional Japanese culture. They are called Teru Teru Bozu.

When it looks like rain, people (often children) make these dolls and hang them up. This is to hopefully keep the rain away.

If an outing is planned for the following day, for example, a child might make them in hopes that the outing won’t be cancelled.

Currently, it is June, so that is considered the rainy season in Japan. It doesn’t rain constantly, but it rains quite a bit. In July, the rainy season is said to end and the days get hotter and sunnier.

So in Japan, the symbols of June are often “rain” or “hydrangeas” or “teru teru bozu” and so on.

When I wrote my manuscript about Fukushima, I wrote the basic story first. Then I divided it into a trilogy and added more.

In the the second (as yet unpublished) book in the trilogy, I write about the custom of “teru teru bozu.”

“If you make the teru teru bozu and hang them up, it’ll stop for sure,” said Baba Flap. “It always works. It may take a day or two or three, sometimes even four or five, but it eventually works.”


In the summer (and also winter), Japanese people have a tradition of giving, and receiving, gifts.

When I first came to Japan, during the last century in the days of rotary phones, and automobiles with no GPS, and airport security so lax you could get a parade of elephants through it, and–what else?  Oh, there were no self-check-out lanes at grocery stores. We used videocassettes instead of DVD’s and now we don’t even use DVD’s much any more.

Back then, Americans didn’t know anything about Japan except that we had fought a war with them. And that they were keen businesspeople. (Seriously. Manga and anime did not exist in mainstream America at all.)

Anyway, in those days, I worked in a small rural town in Chiba Prefecture. If you fly into the New Tokyo International Airport, and look down as you are landing, you’ll see it. It’s the one with the goat living behind its Town Hall.

My boss there was a woman named Ms. Sase, and she was/is very kind. She sent us these melons as our summer present! Wow! So nice!!!!!

In America, we call them honeydew melons. (I think.) In the Japanese language, they are just called メロンMeron (Melon.)

A sweet older woman lives near me. Mrs. H. owns a dog named Melon!!!!!!!!! I gave her one of the melons.

Melon is a very elderly dog with failing health.  She has no vision, but you can tell by the photograph that she was so happy to smell me!

“Nice to sniff you!”

“Nice to sniff you, too. Hope you have an aromatic day.”