25 years ago in Japan I used a blackboard and chalk. My how times have changed ….. NOT! Some 15 years after I left Japan, I still have to blink twice every time I enter my classroom which is in a reasonably well to do private high school and remember I am back to using a chalkboard. The blinking then continues along with coughing and spluttering as I get used to the chalk dust!
As a foreigner my image of Japan is so hi tech, yet in a staff room of 50 we have two computers, neither of which is linked to the net. Staff bring their own laptops to school and often their own private portable wifi connections.
Having come from a middle class state funded NZ school where I was blessed with a school laptop, an internet connection, a projector in my class and a smartboard I find myself feeling like I am back in the stone ages and should be chiseling out my lesson worksheets on a stone tablet while back in NZ my colleagues are doing work on tablets of a different kind with their students.
I am not sure if there is some sort of state control and paranoia in place with regard to the internet. Politicians are not allowed to campaign using the net, cell phones are highly regulated and most phones are locked to the provider company. Free internet access around the place is surprisingly hard to find as a tourist. It’s there but you must have a Japanese cell phone number to access it much of the time.
My work mates don’t seem to have emails to disseminate info around the work place and we still take the roll in the old-fashioned way, nothing is electronic. Our “photocopier” is close to a bander, something I have never come across teaching in NZ from ’97. I volunteered to set up some form of E-learning for the Enlish department in the form of a Wiki or online games through a subscribed site that I could tailor to the texts we use at school. This was met with the inscrutable Japanese “sou desu ne”, a kind of meaningless “let me see” and nothing more came of it.
Everyone has a “hanko” a personal seal (not the small furry one that gets clubbed), one like a stamp. Every morning I have to sign in by stamping my seal in a book at the front of the staff room. I am hunted down somewhat like the furry seal, should I forget to stamp the book. I have avoided a clubbing to date but should I forget one more time I may have to suffer the consequences!
This hanko, personal seal, is used everywhere. It’s in my bankbook. It can be replicated for $10 at any Hanko shop but that is what the bank wants, not my well-practiced, individually stylish signature. I have actually lost the damn thing so have to go and own up to the bank sometime soon. It will be a frenzy of Hanko stamping paperwork to get it sorted. Last time I went home I went to the ATMs five days in a row to draw out my savings rather than face the Hanko stamping scary bank bureaucrats.
The ATMs have improved since I was last here. At least you can use them on the weekend now but they are still not available 24/7 at the bank’s premises. Why? Guess they must let that little bean counter out of his box some time go home for a rest. However the convenience stores like 7/11 ( now open 24/7) often have an ATM.
I went to get my Alien Registration card (I kid you not!) made at the local city office on arrival in Japan. It’s like my ID card here. Fairly standard thing with a picture on it. Thought it might be made there and then, on the day so to speak. With modern-day technology thought it would just be a matter of pushing a button and scanning the photo and printing out the card. Oh NOOOOOOOO. Took two weeks. Meanwhile I could not get a phone, internet or set up a bank acount until I had one. Was in alien limbo! When I went to pick it up I saw the attached paper work and there were no less than 10 different individual’s hanko stamps on the forms.
However while technology seems to be lagging in education, civil services and the banking industry, it is alive and well in Japan. The toilet in my gym talks to me as I bare my bottom. I did find this a tad unerving the first few times. The toilet has more buttons than a TV remote and functions that astound. Smart phones abound and the train is lines of people seated and standing with heads down and thumbs scrolling.
My advice would be to invest in arthritis and anti-inflamatory medicine stocks for the future. Most cars are equipped with navigation units, backing cameras and TV’s. Akihabara, Tokyo’s electric town has department after department crammed with every kind of gadget imaginable.
Strikes me Japan seeems to be technologically gadget rich but practical useful technology poor!
Yoroshiku onegai shimasu