2020 Activity Report

October Activity Report

31 October 2020
Global Japan Office Coordinator

This may be a reflection of the current global situation, the foreign teachers in this country are hurrying back to their home country. Leaving Turkmenistan, which I like very much, is certainly regrettable, but it can’t be helped given the circumstances.

When Japanese language students come to my classroom one after another, or when I meet them on campus, they say things like, “What on earth does it mean that it’s already finished when it has just begun?” or, “I’m sorry to hear that, I was so motivated.”. In particular, I feel sorry for the students who were sitting in the front row of the classroom with their eyes shining brightly. They were so depressed. My heart aches as I cannot do anything for them even if I want to.

I’m not coming back to Turkmenistan for a while, but even if I want to visit a museum I haven’t visited yet I can’t… those facilities are closed. Even if I think about going to that restaurant again to eat delicious food … I cannot eat or drink there anymore. My favorite “Cafe Reading ” also became almost impossible (Students often ask me which coffee shop I go to recently.). The city is very peaceful, but it has become inconvenient for daily life due to counter epidemic measures.

While it was difficult to leave the country due to the almost total suspension of international traveling, I safely returned to my country via chartered flights thanks to the thorough support of the Japanese Embassy. The function of the international airport in Turkmenistan is now temporarily located in the Turkmenbashi Airport, so I decided to stay overnight in a port town on the Caspian Sea. In the morning, I looked out of the hotel window and saw the Turkmenbashi Bay and the treeless rock mountains, took a taxi around the city, and on the way to the airport, paid a visit to the cemetery of Japanese detainees, which became my last memory of this mission.

Turkmenistan was a good country.

September Activity Report

30 September 2020
Global Japan Office Coordinator

The summer holidays have come to an end and the new school year has begun. Last year, Japanese language classes consisted mainly of third year students majoring in economics, but this year, there are many second year students majoring in IT/Computer and International Law. Considering the current situation, each class has been divided into two, held in the morning and afternoon with 40 minutes per class. I was surprised by how quiet the classes were, which may just be because the term has just started, but also most likely because of the small number of students in each class. Last year there were nearly 100 students in three classes, but now the maximum number of students in one class is 12, so there is a big difference. I was able to pay more attention to each student and teach them how to write and pronounce Japanese characters.

Meanwhile, Student G and Y (planning to study in Japan) seemed to really like the Japanese ghost stories, so we decided to continue reading more of them. There are many keywords that appear in Kwaidan that require explanation (Ochimusha, Munen, Onnen, Onibi, Jobutsu etc). The students listen with solemn expressions, especially when I talk about some of the strange phenomenon that I have personally witnessed. Student Y asked, “Do you believe in UFOs?” Apparently this summer, he woke up in the middle of the night at his home in a rural town (a place famous for its ancient battlefields) not far from the capital and went out into the garden, where he saw ten perfectly round light sources, larger than a full moon, neatly lining up in the night sky. They remained still for a while, then suddenly flew silently all in one direction. He thought they were UFOs because it was a different movement from ordinary airplanes and helicopters, so he got scared and rushed into his room and observed them from the gap in his door. “That doesn’t seem like a chartered plane bound for Tokyo.” I said, but I don’t think he heard my dark joke as he was too preoccupied in telling his own spooky summer experience.

August Activity Report

31 August 2020
Global Japan Office Coordinator

Many people have told me to be prepared for the summer in Turkmenistan as it can get as hot as a desert, but this summer was not as bad as I was expecting it to be. Even in mid-August, a light breeze blows in the evenings.

Student G and Y, who are planning to study at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies continued to come to university to study Japanese even during the summer holidays. They should have been able to go to Japan in September this year, but due to the current situation, they still have no idea as to when that will be possible. I am extremely sorry for them.

Students need to be wearing their uniforms to enter school buildings, so we decided to study in the teacher’s space in the cafeteria (it is divided for students and teachers). The cafeteria is stays open for some teachers and assistant students because the university holds orientations and accepts applications during the summer.

As examinees and their parents stared at us, we gave a three-day presentation using images and sound sources on the theme of “Summer in Japan”. I knew that fireworks displays, Bon Odori, Nagashi Somen, and so on would be rarely held this year … but I explained these activities hoping that next summer the students would be able to experience them in Japan. They say mosquito nets and Uchimizu (an old Japanese custom of sprinkling water in streets and gardens with a ladle to lower the temperature) can also be found in Turkmenistan. Student G saw a candy apple in a picture of a food stall at a summer festival and asked me, “Teacher, are candy apples in Japan the same as the ones in Turkmenistan?” I was at a loss for words, as I don’t like sweet things and so have never had a candy apple. I had an idea that the inside of the apples was also candy, but that would make it very hard to eat. Not knowing what to say, I told the student that I would check and let her know next time. I emailed my Japanese friend and he sent me a video about how to make candy apples. I watched it with my student, who was content with the answer to her question.

What seemed difficult for the students to understand was the fact that the sound of cicadas is a comforting one for many Japanese. When they heard the sound, they both said, “I think it’s just noisy.” I brought up the topic of 1/f fluctuation and the Japanese sense of the seasons, but they still didn’t seem to be completely convinced. Perhaps they will not understand until they actually go to Japan and experience the summer for themselves. However, they had a better reaction towards the sound of Japanese wind chimes and said that they sounded nice.

Both students showed a strong interest in radio calisthenics. I told them that it has a history of nearly 100 years, that there is a character named Ratabo, and that elementary school students have to go to school every morning during their summer vacation and get a stamp to show that they did the exercises. After listening to the current radio calisthenics song, we actually practiced some radio calisthenics while watching a video. Out of breath, student Y asked, “Do Japanese people live long because they do radio calisthenics?” After this session, the student made radio calisthenics a part of his daily routine and also taught it to his students (the student teaches English and Japanese to children.) Student G also does radio calisthenics from time to time. In fact, I’ve been trying to do some myself recently, and I feel lighter on the days when I do the exercises, and heavier on the days when I don’t. I am actually feeling the effects.

I also introduced Japanese ghost stories, and other topics related to them such as Lafcadio Hearn (Yakumo Koizumi) and haunted houses. The other day, I found a collection of short ghost stories in Japanese and Russian called “Japanese Kwaidan” at a bookstore in the city and used it as a textbook. More than a dozen stories including “Hoichi the Earless”, “The Snow Woman” and “Slit-Mouthed Woman” are included in the book. Student Y reacted quickly to “Teketeke” in the table of contents. He comes from the Teke, the main Turkmen tribe. “Are there any Teke tribes in Japan?” he asked. I told him, “If you go to Japan to study, you will prove that there are Teke in Japan too.” Apparently, student Y now has the sound source of the ghost story into his mobile phone and puts it in a bucket to make it echo so that he can listen to it while working in his garden or field. Student G also plays the sound of ghost stories on her phone while cooking. I am truly impressed.

July Activity Report

31 July 2020
Global Japan Office Coordinator

All classes have come to an end and the summer holidays have begun. Most of the students went back to their hometowns as soon as the final exams were over, but Student B, who had previously studied in Japan, and Student G and Student Y, who were candidates for studying in Japan, stayed in the city area to continue studying Japanese.

In the past few months, Student B has steadily advanced in his reading comprehension of Kawabata Yasunari’s “Snow Country”, but has put that aside for the summer to study for the Level 1 and 2 Japanese Language Proficiency Test. After he had finished his final exams, thesis presentation, and academic conference, he was determined to complete the practice tests for both levels in a very short period of time, and did so by studying day and night in just ten days. To be honest, teaching for this test was more difficult than regular classes because there are quite a few questions in Level 1 that even a native speaker would need to contemplate on, so it was necessary for me to brush up on my knowledge. However, it was all worth it as Student B works extremely hard on anything he puts his mind to, and always produces results. Student B graduated with a “Red Diploma” (honorary diploma), which is given only to students with top grades.

For the past six months, I have been teaching Student G and Student Y, using textbooks that are widely known. However, perhaps because it is the summer holidays now, we have been getting off tracks a little. Still, I am trying to introduce knowledge that would be useful for them when they get to go to Japan. In August, we are thinking of changing the theme, and doing a presentation class on “Summer Traditions”, allowing a little demonstration experience, and dealing with typical Japanese ghost stories ….

By the end of the month, the three students mentioned above returned to their hometowns. All the teachers who had been working overtime until recently also returned home, making myself probably the only one left on campus. At night, when I read ghost stories that I am thinking about using for class, my surroundings are so quiet that I often get scared. During the semester, I woke up to the first adhan in the morning coming from the Ertuğrul Mosque near the university, but now that the students have left and the classes are over, I hear the adhan before going to bed.

June Activity Report

30 June 2020
Global Japan Office Coordinator

It’s time for exams again! The first half of June is the final exam period of the second semester, and senior students present their graduation theses during this time of year.

Since last December, second-year students in the Department of International Relations and International Politics have been studying Hiragana, Katakana, and 80 Kanji that first-year elementary school students in Japan learn. In this final exam, I wanted the students to concentrate on Kanji, so I excluded Kana from the test. As a result, there were many students who got full marks or close to full marks, and none failed. It has been proven that these students are fully capable of following fast-paced classes.

On the other hand, in the case of the third-year students of the five economics majors, there is a wide variety of students, from aspiring students to those who are not as much so, making it is difficult to create exams. In each class, there is a consultation period shortly before the exam, where exam topics and important points are shown to the students. The students often complain so as not to make the exam too difficult. The scene is rather reminiscent of haggling. In the end, the test covered the original scope of about 80 words in Katakana (half dictation and half translation).

As a result of the examination, more than a dozen students from the five economics majors got less than 50%. There is an option to take a makeup examination, but I find it pointless to force students to memorize material overnight because they will only forget what they learned, so I came to think that it would be better to let them read some literary works, which is also a good way of introducing Japanese culture. I asked them to choose and write a report on one story from the “Postwar Japanese Short Stories” collection or “Three Great Essays from the Middle Ages in Japan” (both are translated into Russian), which I found at a bookstore near the university. As a result, everyone was able to pass this term’s Japanese exams.

After the exam, most students go back to their hometowns. The fourth-year students graduate, so they leave their dormitories. Only the third-year students stay to do internships and cannot go home (with the exception of those from the capital), as it is obligated to have work experience at banks, general companies, universities and public offices during summer. I feel it would be better to have Japanese classes for first and second-year students as well, as students in their third year or above are extremely busy with more classes, internships and graduation theses.

May Activity Report

31 May 2020
Global Japan Office Coordinator

Although we just finished midterm exams in mid-April, final exams await us in June. We will be wrapping up the school year in the month and a half around May. (Perhaps I should say “half” of the school year, as we only had six months of Japanese classes this year.)

In the past one and a half months, second-year students in the Department of International Relations and International Politics have mastered all 80 Kanji characters learned by first-year elementary school students in Japan. It is quite a fast pace for our students to be learning these Kanji, which takes Japanese students an entire year to study, but I am sure they will be fine. Some of them are studying Chinese, and so they seem to have no trouble with Japanese Kanji. Since there are quite a few motivated students, I explained the differences and similarities between the grammatical and writing systems of Japanese, Korean and Chinese, the history and significance of Kanji and Kanbun in East Asia, the history of Kana and its development, and a brief history of Japanese phylogenetic research and recent trends. Some students said that they didn’t understand that part of East Asia because of its hazy nature, but after listening to the lecture, they could understand it clearly.

As there were only a few classes left after completing the Katakana course for the third-year students in the five economics majors, I kept my explanations for Kanji to a minimum and proceeded with basic conversation practices.(37 words)(The content of the conversations were based around economics, considering the students’ majors.) This class started in February this year, a little more than a month later than the class above, and I have become aware of what a one-month difference can make. I cannot help but feel that if I had been able to start in September like the other subjects, I would have been able to do a lot more.

April Activity Report

30 April 2020
Global Japan Office Coordinator

The second half of the midterm exam was held in the second week of April. The second-year students of the Department of International Relations and International Politics, who began studying Japanese last December, finished studying all the Katakana characters as well as Hiragana characters before taking this midterm examination. Since Hiragana was tested in the final exam of the first semester, the scope of this exam was 100 words of Katakana vocabulary. 50 of them were in the test. The questions were not only based on everyday vocabulary, but also proper nouns such as “Turkmenistan” and “Ashgabat”. The test results were excellent, and several students got full marks and nobody failed. After the exam, the class progressed to learning Kanji, greetings and basic conversation.

Students in the five economics departments that started learning Japanese in February of this year (all in their third year) managed to finish studying Hiragana by the midterm examination. There were many holidays in March, so we got to the last character of Hiragana in a month and a half. The test for these students also covered 100 words in Hiragana. Again, 50 of them were in the test. Students who studied Japanese last year scored high this year as they reviewed their studies, but the scores of first-time students varied. In general, there were many students who did well, but there were some students who unfortunately failed. They took a makeup examination, in which everyone got passing marks and was able to finish their midterm examination without any problems.

On another note, Ms. G (female student) and Mr. Y (male student), who were selected in February to study abroad at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, both came to the GJO office one day in April looking concerned. I wondered what had happened, as they remained silent after saying, “Can we really go to Japan?”. The effects of COVID-19 around the world are getting worse day by day, and the students are worried about whether they will be able to go to Japan on time in the fall. On another day, a teacher of our university, who was thinking of taking the MEXT government-sponsored overseas study examination, came to the office and said, “I decided not to take the exam after all because everyone seems to object to my studying abroad”. The virus outbreak is casting a dark shadow over the future of Turkmenistan’s talented youth.