Writing Task 2: Comparing American and Japanese Movies

The prompt was to write a four-to-five paragraph essay comparing American and Japanese movies. Here are some highlights from my students’ essays….

  • Comparing Anpanman and Hancock (two quite different superheroes)

I think that another difference is about the  main character. The face of Anpanman is made of bean-jam buns. However, Hancock is a human being. I think that a bean-jam bun is more delicious than a human face. I want to eat a face of Anpanman sometime.

  • Comparing Doraemon and Terminator (two very different robots from the future)

    Doraemon and Terminator are very famous and interesting movies. Doraemon is Japanese animation. Almost all Japanese children watch it at Friday night. This animation’s main character is Nobita. He is lazy boy. Terminator is world famous  movie. The movie’s main character is terminators. They are robots. These movies have nothing in common with each other at a glance, but in reality, they have something in common.
    Doraemon and Terminator’s characters are both robot. This is the first commonality. They are robots for helping people. Nobita is helped by Doraemon. John Conner is Terminator’s character. He helped by Terminator. But almost terminators are bad characters.
    The second is they are both from the future. Doraemon comes from 2112, and Terminator comes from 2029. They came through a time slip. Why do they came past? Because they must help people. […]

  • Comparing Heroes and Spec (superhero dramas)

    Since I was seventeen years old, I have liked Heroes very much. Heroes is supernatural power’s people TV drama. IT is an American TV drama. IT was very popular TV drama in America. I have also liked spec since I was eighteen years old. Spec is supernatural power’s people too. Spec is a Japanese TV drama. IT is very popular TV drama in Japan. Both of them are popular supernatural power’s people TV dramas. I think that spec is more interesting than Heroes. Sometimes, Spec is laughed me. Spec has laughable scene. And, Heroes is more many characters than Spec. Heroes is more exciting than Spec.

  • Comparing Gundam and Transformers (two movies about giant fighting robots)

    American males don’t get wildly excited when they see TRANSFORMERS. But Japanese males get wildly excited when they see GUNDAM.

  • Comparing Action in Japanese and American movies:

The American movies are very powerful compared with the Japanese movies. The American movies use a lot of Computer Graphics, and the American movies use fires and a lot of bomb. The American movies perform the intense action. For example a person sometimes run on may cars, and a person sometimes fly in the sky on his own.
There are many comedy movies and many cartoon movies in the Japanese movies. The Japanese movies are small scale compared with the American movies. But there are many good points in the Japanese movies. For example The Japanese movies sometimes use a sword. By contrast, the American movies sometimes use guns. It represents the traditional Japan. Gun is not ordinary for the Japanese people. Therefore it is easy for me to understand a sword than a gun.

  • Toy Story vs. Crayon Shinchan

   

  • Alice in Wonderland vs. Spirited Away

 

  • The Ring vs. Ringu
  • One Missed Call vs. Chakushinari

They worked hard this semester. Very proud- and very amused. 😀

Stereotypical perfomances and lack of critical thinking

Last week Katy Perry had a “Japanese”-inspired performance at the American Music Awards. (I won’t post a link to it here, but you can look it up for yourself on Youtube.) When a bunch of angry articles started appearing in my newsfeeds, I had to see it for myself.

While the over-the-top performance was admittedly visually stunning, it was completely stereotypical, offensive, and just wrong in soo many ways, from her sexy, cleavage-bearing skintight Halloween costume (a mutation from the kimono and Chinese cheongsam), to the strange, repeated un-Japanese bowing with hands together, to the non-Asian dancers shuffling around on stage, to the fake taiko-playing. It was the epitome of twisting of cultural “appreciation” into cultural “appropriation”. However, as an English teacher in Japan I of course had to ask some of my students. I showed the video to one of my four classes and to a group of students at English Conversation (lunchtime) Circle.

Surprisingly, yet maybe not so surprisingly, responses were a bit underwhelming. Perhaps it was because they were caught up in the flashiness of the performance rather than looking at certain details. One girl (who actually spent much of her life in New Zealand) even said that maybe it was a good thing that Katy Perry was raising interest in Japanese culture. My problem with this answer of course is that while many viewers might take the time and effort to learn about the real Japan, many more viewers will not, or even worse, think, “Wow, she really pulled that geisha thing off!”

Many Japanese college students and young people unthinkingly love flashy performers like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. One aspect that has bothered me about Japanese education is that it seems as if though students are hardly ever demanded to think critically, whether in English or their own language. (Essays and research papers aren’t often part of the curriculum, which is the complete opposite of my experience from middle school until I graduated from Oberlin. Our second essay task for my writing class was a comparison essay (Japanese and American movies), and even that seemed to produce a bit of confusion.) In any case, because so few students were willing to speak their opinions about the performance, I used it as a segue to an open discussion about cultural stereotypes.

Here are some American stereotypes my students came up with:

  • hotdogs, hamburgers, BBQ
  • scary
  • guns (everyone has them, walks around with them, or at least knows how to shoot them… “If you don’t have one you’ll be killed!” 7 students)
  • tattoos
  • fat/big (9 students)
  • hugs & kisses

Versus their stereotypes of their own country:

  • sushi
  • anime
  • kimono, geta (sandals)
  • old wooden, tatami-mat houses
  • always bowing
  • always on time
  • shaking hands (but not hugging)

I was amazed that I had to do it, but I had to explain to my students exactly why stereotypes and perpetuation of stereotypes can be so hurtful, why Katy Perry’s performance was so offensive to so many people, Asian-Americans like me in particular, and why they should take offense themselves be wary of these types of portrayals. Hopefully after my lesson they’ll think a little bit harder next time they watch any type of performance.

“Continue the story…”

On the first week of classes, I had my level 2 writing students get into groups of four and trade off writing stories based around four prompts. Two of the prompts were:

  1.  One day I went to school and saw it was under attack by aliens!
  2. One day I decided to go running in a haunted forest.

Here are some examples of their writing at the beginning of the semester:

  • Aliens ate many students and teachers. But a person was left alone. He is a superman! He can fight aliens. Aliens bit his leg. He had damages. But he was boyscout. He treated himself. He put up a good fight. Aliens grew weak.
  • One day I went to school and saw it was under attack by aliens! (This was the prompt.) They said “We are aliens. We’re from space.” I was very surprised and afraid of them. But we ate stacks together. Because we must eat stacks. We’ll strong what eat stacks. My skin changed green. and my eyes changed big. I looks like aliens.
  • One day I decided to go running in a haunted forest. I saw a bear. Bear appeared my behind. Bear introduced self in English. Bear’s name is Toby. Toby is so big!! His tall is about two meters. He doesn’t eat human. Because I was relieved. I made friends with Toby.

Toward the very end of the semester if I would love to redo this activity for fun.

In the meantime we are writing short essays (4 paragraphs) on My Dream Vacation. 🙂 I asked my students to answer certain questions like: Where did you go? How long did you stay? How much money did you spend? What did you do? (3 things) What did you eat? (3 things) How did you feel?

In one class, students are writing about imaginary vacations to China, England, America (Las Vegas, Hawaii) France, Spain, Italy, India, and Kyoto. In another class students are writing about those countries plus Thailand, Tahiti, Korea, and New Caledonia (a place that I’d never heard of), a French collectivity on a small archipelago to the east of Australia that is said to be “heaven on Earth”. Because I know that many of my students have never gone abroad before, I advised them to write about a foreign country rather than a place inside Japan. Many students might have originally written about Hokkaido or Okinawa. (The Kyoto student is an exception because he was absent for the brainstorming class.) To increase diversity I also limited one country to two students, so not everyone could write about Hawaii. In the brainstorming stages I allowed them to use smartphones to look up foods, activities, and places specific to those sites.

In class I usually go over certain grammar points and common mistakes within writing (a vs. the, comma usage, missing words, incomplete sentences/clauses as sentences, spelling, etc.). Last week I worked on past tense verbs that might be used to describe a vacation, and this week I taught about adjectives (to describe hotel, food, activities, mood) and connecting shorter sentences to form longer ones. (“I went to America. I went with my family. I stayed for 3 weeks.” –> “I went to America with my family for three weeks.”) I also reviewed essay structure (Intro, Body paragraph A, Body paragraph B, Conclusion) and mentioned the indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. I’m impressed with the first drafts of some of my students, and look forward to seeing their improvement over the semester.