Tag Archives: japan

Cherry Blossom Festival

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I went to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco’s Japantown neighborhood yesterday. It’s held every year on two weekends in April.

Of course, it’s only been 5 weeks since the disaster in Japan. Maybe the organizers were not sure about whether to have this fun event this year. However, it’s really important to the Japanese and Japanese-American community here. For example, it helps Japanese and Japanese-American kids living here learn about and participate in Japanese culture. It’s also really important to the businesses in the area. So the festival was held as usual. However, you couldn’t forget about the disaster: there was fundraising everywhere. I thought that was good.

Anyway, here are some of my photos.

Getting ready
We walked through downtown on our way to Japantown. That’s where the parade starts, so some of the people who were going to be in the parade were eating lunch and getting ready.

Floats, waiting
Here are some of the empty floats. The one with the dolls is a special one to support Japan and encourage donations. It was really big and beautiful.

We stand with you
This is during the parade. I don’t know what group it is.

SF Taiko group
There are several Japanese drumming groups that perform during the festival or in the parade. They’re really popular.

"Cable car"
This isn’t a real cable car, but it looks like one. They’re tossing candy to people in the crowd. That’s common in American parades.

Dancers
These dancers are from a Californian Japanese dance school. Both small children and older people danced all the way from downtown–about 1 mile/1.5 kilometers away. Dancers, cheerleaders, etc. are common in American parades.

Keiko Fukuda
Ms. Keiko Fukuda was the Honorary Grand Marshall (leader) of the parade. She’s a famous judoka (also see this video about her). The mayor and the Japanese consul were there too…last year we saw Japanese-American actor George Takei (Sulu from “Star Trek) and the Japanese ambassador to the US.

Omikoshi
These Boy Scouts have a small omikoshi (Japanese portable shrine). There’s a really big one at the end of the parade, but I didn’t stay this year.

Rock
During the rest of the festival, there are outdoor stages with music. This band from Japan, Soulit, performed on a float during the parade, too! They sounded pretty good.

Religious harmony
This is some kind of Japanese/American inter-faith religious group…They look pretty interesting, don’t they?

Cosplay float
In the last few years, the cosplay group has been popular. This float has the best costumes, and the other participants walk. (You can see another photo at Flickr.)

Cosplay for charity
This participant carried a sign encouraging people to donate to the Red Cross by text.

Taiyaki
During the festival, the Japantown mall is really busy. There’s a coffeeshop that always sells their own special taiyaki (like a filled waffle), but they must sell hundreds during the festival. Of course, I had one. I also had mitarashi dango (a kind of sweet rice dumpling on a stick) at a tea shop. My husband had shaved ice.

Washiningyo parade
There are several displays of arts and crafts during the festival, including origami, cloth-covered wood dolls, and these dolls made of paper. There are also displays of bonsai, antique swords, ikebana (flower-arranging) and stones. They also have demonstrations of martial arts (kendo, kyudo, naginata, judo, karate, aikido, etc.), various kinds of dancing and singing, musical performances on the shakuhachi, koto, and shamisen, and they even play karuta (a kind of card game). Some of the people doing these things are not Japanese or Japanese-American at all.

There are other things to do, too. There is one outdoor area where people sell things like t-shirts with original designs, jewelry, and handmade soap. These things have to be related to Asian culture in some way. There’s another area where community groups like Buddhist churches and bilingual kindergartens sell food. You can buy “sakura popcorn” (rice crackers, seaweed, and popcorn), onigiri (riceballs), takoyaki (with no octopus for people who are scared), and lots of other things. I couldn’t take a good photo of these areas.

If you ever have a chance to visit the festival, I recommend it. It’s a wonderful combination of Japanese and American cultures.

You can see more photos from this year on Flickr, including some amazing origami, more cosplay, and a model of Osaka Castle.

If you have any questions about anything, just ask!

P. S. Where are the cherry blossoms? Well, the name is mostly symbolic–it’s just an image. There aren’t many cherry trees in Japantown. It’s in the middle of the city! Also, by late April most of our cherry blossoms are gone, except the double-blossom (yaezakura) type. But there’s good news! I noticed that more double-cherry-blossom trees have been planted in Japantown recently, so maybe next year…

More Messages

I’ve gotten more messages from my friends to share with everyone in Japan! If you’re not in Japan, please read the messages for some good vocabulary.

Bouquets
Flowers from my local farmers’ market

Name: Pat & Winston
Location: El Cerrito, California, USA
Message: There are no words in any language that can express our sorrow for what has happened, and is happening in Japan. Our thoughts and hearts are with you.

Name: Erin
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Message: We are thinking about you and hoping for your safety and well-being, and the well-being of your families and friends.

Name: Alex
Location: Fremont, California, USA
Message: We stand with you, and we are so proud of you! We hope you recover soon. We have great faith in you!
頑張れ 日本!!

Name: Kirsten
Location: San Francisco, California, USA
Message: I am cheering for you. You are in my thoughts every day. Please stay safe. I am so sorry and my sorrow is for you and Japan.

Name: Ellen
Location: England
Message: I want to send a message of hope to the people of Japan. The rest of the world supports you.

Name: Ian
Location: New Forest, England
Message: My thoughts are constantly with you all. I salute your strength and fortitude through these difficult times.

Name: Caroline and her mother
Location: Minnesota, USA
Message: The strength and spirit of the people of Japan inspire us. We pray for you in this time of tragedy.

Name: Dion R.
Location: Bay Point, California, USA
Message: Hearing what has happened in Japan caused much pain, but do not lose hope. I pray to God you’ll all make it through. I encourage you all to continue assisting others in need, as well as staying safe. May you be protected and live another day.

You can leave a comment if you want to say something.

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Sunrise

Messages of Support

Sunrise
Sunrise at the lake near my house – a peaceful scene few days ago

Some of my friends and family wrote messages of support to everyone in Japan. In the US and other places, there has been a lot of news about the earthquake, tsunamis, and other problems. I think we all know about it and are sending our best wishes.

Here is what they said. If you want to answer them or say anything, please leave a comment at the bottom!

Name: Marty (that’s Clarissa’s mom, by the way!)
Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA.
Message: May better days come soon.

Name: Julie F, ESL teacher
Location: Emeryville, California, USA
Message: I am aware of what has happened to you, which is so frightening, and my thoughts and concern are with you. It will be a while before life feels normal again. In this time you must be loving and patient with yourselves and others. I hope your country can safely heal, rebuild and move forward. My deep condolence for any lost friends and family members.

Name: Scott
Location: Denton, Texas, USA — Land of Cowboys, Horses, Tornadoes, and quite a few people from Japan who are here going to school.
Message: Y’all have my best wishes for future recovery. Many, many condolences for those you’ve lost. People at my office could not stop watching the news sites this Friday. We were awed and horrified by what we were seeing. I certainly hope things start getting better as quickly as possible.

Name: Melissa
Location: Sacramento, California, USA
Message: We are very sad about the tragedy that has happened in Japan. We grieve with you. I hope that you all recover and heal quickly, and I hope that the world will come together to help you in this dark time.

Name: Bardi
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Message: May each morning be a flower of greater hope.

Name: Erin
Location: Washington, DC, USA
Message: I would like to send good wishes and hope to the Japanese people during this difficult time.

Name: Stephanie
Location: Washington State, USA
Message: I wish there is more I can do to help. Take care of each other. Japan is in my heart and prayers.

Name: Brent E.
Location: Seattle, Washington State, USA
Message: This time is tough. I hope that all of you stay safe. Japan will recover!

If I get more messages later, I’ll make another post!

Please take care of yourself. Take a break, eat when you can, get some rest, and drink enough (if you can!). Be kind to yourself and others. We’re thinking of you!

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TOEFL, TOEIC, and jobs


I want to talk about something that I have talked about on Twitter. On Twitter, it’s hard to explain an idea completely. So I’m going to talk about it here.

The TOEIC is a test that many companies
in Japan, Korea, etc. use to decide if someone’s English is good enough for a job. A few companies use the TOEFL, but this is usually a very bad idea. The TOEFL tests English for university study, not for business communication.

However, I don’t think the TOEIC is very good, either. It tests normal reading, grammar, and listening more than the TOEFL, but it’s still not perfect or very realistic. Also, its focus is business–it’s not a test of general communication. Actually, the TOEFL should be called the “Test of English for Academic Purposes.” The TOEIC should be called the “Test of English for Business Communication.”

I’ve taught many people who have taken the TOEIC. Some of them have even lived in the US for more than two years. Sometimes people with the same TOEIC score have totally different English abilities: One person is easy to talk to in English, and can write understandable and emotional English, even if it’s not perfect. Another person freezes every time she needs to speak, and writes strange-sounding sentences. But they have the same score (or the second person might score higher!).

Companies like the TOEIC because it’s easy to use. They don’t have to spend much time checking each job-hunter. But I think people shouldn’t trust it too much.

  • Test-takers shouldn’t trust it too much. If you think your abilities have gone up, but your score didn’t, don’t worry. Your skills probably did improve. The test does not measure everything.
  • Companies shouldn’t trust it too much. They should consider other measures of a job-hunter’s English abilities, because they want to find the best employees and provide good service in English. The ones with the best scores may not be the best English speakers or the best employees.

In the US, if a company wants to hire someone who speaks another language, sometimes they ask for test scores. But sometimes they do something that’s better: 1) Someone in the company who speaks the language talks with the job-hunter for a few minutes in that language. 2) The job-hunter is asked to do an example of that kind of work. For example, write an e-mail to a company, translate part of a letter, make a simple advertisement, or something like that. This kind of thing lets the company see if you can do the work they need you to do. It takes more time, but it’s very practical. It also helps the job-hunters, because not everyone is good at taking tests. It gives more people a better chance to show their abilities.

I don’t know how much other countries use this kind of measurement. I know that in Japan, sometimes part of the interview is in English. (That sounds really stressful, but if you need to speak English for that job, at least it’s more realistic than just the TOEIC!) I hope they use other measures sometimes. If you need to speak and write English for a job, it’s good if you can find a company who does this kind of thing. It means they may truly care about finding good employees and providing good service.

Okay, I’m glad I got that off my chest! (<--idiom meaning "to finally tell someone about something that has been bothering you")

P. S. I have extended the deadline for the contest! That means that you have more time to enter. There are not enough entries yet…Please think about a way to study English that works well for you. (Even if it’s for the TOEIC!) Talking to people in cafes? A favorite book? Watching TV shows? Listening to music? Karaoke in English? Traveling to Australia every time you have a vacation? Is there a hobby that made you really want to learn English? It can be really specific or really general. If you can write about it, take a picture of it, make a short video about it, or do anything like that, you can enter the contest! Just e-mail me (Tweet me or contact me for my e-mail address) or comment with your entry! I will send a postcard to EVERYONE who 1) enters the contest or has already entered the contest 2) sends me their name and a postal address through DM, e-mail, or the contact form 3) in the NEXT THREE DAYS (till November 14th, US time). English learners who read this blog only! (People who are both English learners and English teachers are fine!)