Subject: Plagiarism lives!
Hi, all,

       This email is really a bit of a cheat, because I'm robbing my students' work rather than coming with something original. I put these together recently for a conference workshop, for which all the participants were to bring a lesson plan. This is a writing exercise I do near the end of the third year, just before the kids graduate. It's a way to let them have fun by expressing themselves in English--about any problem. I first have them do "planning": a guided outline, with blanks to fill in for "What's the problem?," "Explain the problem," "What are your ideas," and "What will happen/Succeed?" and room below for kids to write a full sentence for each of the ideas in the blanks above. A mini essay. I give them silly examples (old sushi in a conveyor belt restaurant--solution: plates that explode after thirty minutes; young women wearing 10" high platform shoes so that they look stupid and fall over--solution: new laws and aggressive police action).
       Some of my favorites were from classes at Manyo, but these were before it occurred to me to collect and copy the kids' work. One group chose to address the problem "Mr. Omori will not make a baby with his wife." The results of this are "Poor Mr. Omori's wife" and "Maybe they will get a divorce." The causes are Mr. O being a heel and having many girlfriends. Solutions are sexy underwear for the Mrs. and artificial insemination (I had to teach them the latter word, though I didn't have to explain it, thank God--for some reason they'd expected to find it in the junior high school dictionary). Mr. O is not an especially intimidating teacher, as you may have guessed. In a similar vein, some kids worried that Doraemon, the robotic cat from the future, had an ordinary cat for a girlfriend, and so could not "make babies." Another problem was a teacher who spends most of social science class talking about his infant son. Others were a boy in class with BO and the shape of another boy's head. As I mentioned before, I dissuaded Saki-chan from writing that Chinese people were a problem (she thinks they're stealing and eating people's pets). Last year's favorite was a group of girls who decided that the solution to the stalking problem was for women to carry "skunk poo" in their purses to throw at threatening men. Here are the essays I copied from Go-chu (these were written by individuals, not groups). I haven't fixed anything, and sometimes the English is a little cute, but these are junior high school students, and often their ideas are a lot more sophisticated than the English they know. Some are from great students, some are funny but at a more typical level of English. Strange words probably came from the dictionary; the kids also got help from Mrs. Sugimoto and me. I don't correct this kind of thing very much because I just want to focus on effective communication (kids really like feeling that they can come out with something all by themselves that I can understand).
      First, the glosses: Mr. Omori is an English teacher, Yasu is an enthusiastically heterosexual boy in the class (i.e., a big flirt, but a great kid and very popular), Ampanman is a popular superhero ("ampan" is a pastry roll with sweet bean paste in the middle, so Ampanman's head is a slice of this), Bainkinman is Ampanman's enemy ("baikin" means "bacteria"; it's all very complicated), and "Kitty-chan" is what the Japanese call "Hello Kitty," even though it says "Hello Kitty" in English all over all the Hello Kitty products (which include kimono and living room sets). "Sekuhara" is a borrowing from English, but shortened and accented: "sexual harassment." Koshian is a kind of bean paste.

1. What is the problem? Yasu
2. Why is it a problem?/explain: dangerous noisy sekuhara
3. What are your ideas? mouse>>paper tape not go to school
4. What will happen?/Will you succeed? impossible problem

In Go-chu, Yasu is a very big problem. He gives us a lot of trouble. His is very noisy in class. Sometimes he talkes with girls. He is very dangerous, and do sekuhara. So we must put the paper tape to his mouse. And we must say him, "You mustn't go to school to do sekuhara." Impossible problem. If I say it to him, he is angry.

What's kind of sweet bean jam in Ampanman's head a very big problem. Some students very worry about it. First my idea is eat a head. I think it'll probably be Koshian. Second my idea is break a head. But I think he'll probably die. (other students in different classes also chose this problem)

My problem is McDonald characters are not pretty. I watch them on TV. I think, what is purple character, and Ronald looks like a clown. I have two ideas. First is character change. Second idea is characters uniform change. (Will it work?) I'll probably be gotten angry (at) by McDonald staffs.

I think my problem is strong Ampanman. I like Baikinman, but he is weak. I don't like Ampanman. Because he is not cute. He is very popular in the world. Baikinman is not. Ampanman is a bread so he looks weak. Baikinman should eat him, kidnap his family, and knock down his body. Baikinman will win! Will my idea succeed? Soon Ampanman's friends will run there. Ampanman has a lot of friends. But Baikinman doesn't have a lot of friends, so Ampanman will win with his friends.

Kitty chan doesn't have a mouth. So she can't talk and eat anything. Maybe she is always lonely and hungly. How poor she is!! I think maybe she wants a mouth. I want to make her happy. I should draw a mouth on her face. Then she will be able to talk and eat. So she will be happy.

These days I often see cute bears drawn on notes. The bears are too cute. I think it will happen very dangerous thing. For example, many children will not be afraid of a bear. A bear is a very dangerous animal. If many children aren't afraid of a bear, you can picture what happen, can't you? So I think we should write a realistic bear. We should teach children a bear's scariness.

I think a person's name is very difficult. So only a few people can remember. And I think person's name is misleading very much. If it characteristic name, maybe we don't mistake. We may should try to remember. Before that time, I should try to remember.

(Peter again) The last is a real problem in Japan. There isn't a fixed set of preexisting names, as there is the west. You can theoretically take any couple of kanji characters and string them together into a name. Each character has a meaning, but it can have several different pronunciations, and conversely each syllable or group of syllables could be written any number of different ways. Fortunately, there are a lot of common (often very common) names, but often with different characters chosen for auspicious meanings or odd family reasons. My (grown-up) friend comes from a former samurai family, so all the first names in her family incorporate a character from the name of their former lord (from 130 years ago; the family custom is every bit as pretentious as it sounds). For example, there are three or four common ways to spell "Yoko," and you could come up with more obscure ways of spelling it, too. Except for common names, you can't look at a written name in Japanese and be sure of how to pronounce it. When you present your business card, it's customary to explain the pronunciation of your name (and, conversely, when you meet someone informally, you'll often draw the kanji characters of your name in the air or against your hand, or verbally explain which kanji you use)--this all takes a lot of time. I showed my boss a name with two kanji characters, and she told me it could be either "Shirayama" or "Hakusan" ("Shirasan" or "Hakuyama" being much less likely--in any case, it means "white mountain"). Go-chu is in a village in a part of town called Shirayama, and Hakusan is a large holy volcano visible from town on a clear day--the myriad other villages, shrines, and temples using the same two kanji characters could be either. And, meaning compounds it all. I don't pay much attention to meanings of names unless they're very obvious, but I can see how it can be confusing if the meaning of a person's name has nothing to do with what that person is really like. I have two Shizuka's ("quiet")--one is actually a fairly quiet girl, and the other one, as I would have thought inevitable, is a brash mouthy little thing. I met one college-age woman who explained to me that her name meant snow "but really it is a bad name because I am very brown." The name of my letter writer, Moe, means "germinate" or "bud" which might be appropriate when she's fifteen (or 30 and pregnant) but will be a stretch in a few decades, and my other favorite, Yukari, has a very complicated three character name (the first has far too many intricate strokes) that translates as "excellent fragrance principle." I can't remember every having smelled her, but I doubt it's an especially appropriate or inappropriate name. Sometimes parents just pick any kanji that has a sound they like and ignore the meaning, which I imagine to be the case with my friend Asami ("beautiful hemp"--I should introduce her to my hippy-parented American friend Sativa). I think that's why I prefer the fake names that kids teach me when they introduce their friends: "Peter, this is [Thief]" or "Peter, meet my friend [Condiment]." "Shit" seems to be the most popular boys' name, to judge by student introductions.

That's all, a little bit more from my daily life.

Be well,




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