A Guide to Japanese Pop Culture written by real Japanese High School Students.


The following is a guest post by Matthew Rowe.

Let's Pop Culture!

If you know anything about the Japanese people’s ability to speak English, or if you search for this subject on the web, you will undoubtedly know two things. First, that English education in Japan is terrible, and secondly, that English education in Japan is terrible. Some may say that is two things, but like a fat guy at the theatre this problem is so big it takes up two seats. To be honest, it’s not entirely true. No matter the changes made or the form of the education, it does not change the core of the problem which is that Japanese people are inherently shy. They have the ability, they are just shy. I’m not being racist, I’m not being offensive, it is just true. I’ve seen university classes split apart into boy and girl groups like western elementary kids; I’ve seen adults too afraid to leave their homes because they would have to talk to... people! I’ve seen stunningly attractive women in their late 20s who have never, ever had a boyfriend! All this is because they are shy.

My name is Matthew Rowe and I’m an English language teacher in Japan. I’ve been working here for almost 4 years, at all levels of education, and I am currently at two high level senior schools in Sendai, Miyagi. Recently, I started an ambitious project with my 10th grade students. I tasked them to write and with my help, publish a book on Japanese culture in English. The disbelief on their faces was legen-(wait, for it)-dary. They hadn’t even heard the whole of it, because the profits we raise from selling this book on Amazon (yes, kids, it will be available on Amazon for real people to really buy), they would all go to local earthquake victims still suffering after last year’s great disaster.

I’m sure many of you are aware that on March 11th, 2011, east Japan had a massive earthquake (8.9 richter) that caused a tsunami and triggered a nuclear meltdown. Tens of thousands of people were killed, hundreds of thousands lost their homes, and far more lost loved ones. It was a terrifying time; no one knew what was happening, information from the government was awful - in the end, the yakuza, the local mafia, turned out to be more helpful! - and everyone was panicking. I was here. Although me and my schools were lucky, no students or teachers were lost, everyone knows somebody affected. What you probably don’t know, because the event disappeared from international news in a few days, is that even today, over 18 months later, thousands of people are still struggling to rebuild their lives. Many are living in flimsy, temporary homes with another harsh winter fast approaching and going to school in broken buildings.

So, can you imagine what confidence it would give a young, Japanese student in such a disaster stricken area, someone who thinks their meagre knowledge of English can’t achieve anything, can you imagine how good it would feel to use an unthought of skill to make a book in a foreign language and help so many people? Not only would they help people rebuild their lives at home, but to inform foreign people the world over about the great country they live in. No, neither can I, because I never did that. However, I can tell you I have published books in my native English and that felt fantastic! I’ve had small achievements in my use of foreign language too. Sadly though, I have done little to help disaster victims so far. There is always so much to do. However, my students are going to know this feeling to its full extent.

They have written all their articles for the book, and some of them have contributed pictures too. So, I’m currently in the middle of formatting the book. “Formatting?” you say, “Not editing?” No, I’m not going to edit this book at all and I’ll tell you why: it would completely defeat my purpose for making it. Sure, if I polished their English to perfection the book would be more readable, and it might sell a bit better (maybe), but let’s think about how the student will feel after they have been all excited to see their work in print, and then... it’s been changed so much it’s not their work anymore! They aren’t going to feel confident at all! They are going to feel dejected, deflated and other words beginning with D. Plus, they’ll probably never listen to me ever again. So, sure, there will be some mistakes in this book, but not as many as you think. It is entirely readable and, even when I knew their level was high and they could pull it off, I can honestly say I am impressed with the effort they put in.

If you care at all about Japanese culture or are just curious, this book is a great gateway into a foreign culture complete with fancy springboard for you to leap off in funny positions and land safely in the world of more detailed cultural guidebooks. Sure, it’s not going to be as detailed as other Japanese culture guides, but it is possibly the only one not written from a foreign perspective and it talks about what is important to real Japanese teenagers today. There’s movies, anime, comics, books, games, and many more traditional elements of their culture. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s Pop Culture!

The final point in our little journey is publishing. In that, we’ve needed some help, I have the knowledge, but neither I nor the school has all the funds. So we’ve started a fundraiser on Indiegogo.com (www.indiegogo.com/letspopculture). It’s open until December 1st, and all money donated will be used to publish the book. Any excess will go to our charity fund for disaster victims and it will be donated directly! So it’s not through those horrible government schemes that have been spending over 25% of donations on unrelated projects. We are real, and we really care. Wow, that’s almost a good tagline.

With all said and done, we would really appreciate it if anyone were to spread word of our project. The more money we raise the more people we can help and the more effect this project will have on my students and Japan’s English education system at large.

If you want to learn more, we have a blog that tracks progress of the project (http://machuusensei.wordpress.com) and a Facebook page which has more frequent and snappier updates (www.facebook.com/letspopculture).

Whatever you do, I, my 3 co-workers on the project and 200 Japanese high schoolers all thank you for taking the time to read. You will never know how much this means to all of us.

Thank you,

Matthew Rowe