Essays on English in Japan

About English in Japan

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I kept thinking to myself for years, “What a juicy topic!” I always wondered about English in Japan, what it meant, how it could be different and why it ended up like it is. I have kept a teaching journal for many years recording my frustrations, joys, and various reactions to my job. The teaching topics always spilled over to my life, though, so I put a lot of other non-classroom things into my journal, too.

Every day in my work as a teacher, I run into people, problems and perspectives--the three P’s! Those three are the most important parts of my working life, so it seemed important to write about them. I always have and I guess I always will inside the sloppy typing of my journal, but I wanted to write about this juicy topic with more clarity and order, too.

A lot of what I wrote in my journal was negative, just blowing off steam. But, inside those complaints was the germ of understanding about the relation of English and Japan. Most of these essays have taken the topics from my journal and examined them in a different light. Gradually, a few patterns emerged, and some experiences seemed more meaningful than others. I couldn’t believe how vast the relationship is between the English language and Japan, its profound culture, intricate society, and millions and millions of people, all of who have contact with English at some point in their education. It is one of the most curious intercultural episodes in history!

In addition to that, though, I started to see the relationship as a very dramatic one, like some long-term love affair--uneasy at times, passionate at others, and always overflowing with confused emotions. It is fascinating and exciting to think about the joys of learning more deeply, but it is painful and difficult to try to untangle all the knots. The influence of English on Japan is more than just a school issue or a few katakana words and phrases; it extends into social attitudes and ways of life. Without judging it all as good or bad, the topic of English in Japan reveals much more below the surface.

English in Japan is an area filled with many, many problems, but it is the solutions that students, colleagues and people I have met found for those problems that are most interesting. The way out of the mess of problems is not through more grammar, stricter testing and simplistic memorization tricks. From what I hear people say, and from what I have seen, the best solutions to learning and understanding English have to do with attitude, passion, creativity and a backpack, briefcase, or handbag full of courage. Having an electronic dictionary is great, but having good habits of mind is even more important.

So, these essays head in those directions, the positive ones, and focus on active and imaginative ideas with which to move forward. The nice thing about essays is that they can let you stop and wonder at the mystery of it all, but give you something concrete to help you on your way, too. English in Japan deserves the broad reflection, but needs the pat on the back and a little constructive advice, too.


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About The Author

Michael is currently teaching at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan, in the American Literature section of the English Department. More information in the About Me page.