By Valliant Corley
Pilot staff writer
GOLD BEACH A Gold Beach teacher spent three weeks of October in Japan as one of 158 teachers from throughout the United States selected for the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program to promote intercultural understanding between the two nations.
"While we were in Japan, we spent the first week in Tokyo," said Jim Shockley, who teaches computer sciences classes at Riley Creek School.
In Tokyo, the teachers selected from more than 1,700 to apply for the honor, listened to speakers from the government, met Japanese educators and people in science and technology. They were given demonstrations of Japanese dance and they heard from a survivor of Hiroshima and from the daughter of a survivor.
"We were taught some of the dos and don'ts about Japanese culture before we were sent to various cities," he said.
"After the first week, a group of 15 of us went to Kamakura," Shockley said.
There they went to schools and spent some time talking with professors and students at a local university.
"The students were education students. Some intended to teach English when they graduate," Shockley said. "We spent a day each in elementary school, a junior high school and a high school. Each of those experiences were totally different."
He said at the university, it was on a professional level.
"At the elementary school, the kids were all over the place, very interested in us," he said. "Junior high in Japan, seventh, eighth, ninth grades, is the last level of compulsory education. In the ninth grade, it's much more formal. They have to pass exams to go on to high school. Those students were very interested in us."
He said they all learn English in elementary school, mostly to read and write not necessarily to speak it.
"In junior high, they learn conversational English a little more. In high school, that continues," Shockley said.
"The first night we were in Tokyo, we met a college student who attended Portland State. She was reluctant to speak. She said since she had been back two months, she hadn't spoken English and thought it might be a bit rusty," he said.
The visiting teachers were then sent for a short home stay with local families.
"It was a very different experience," Shockley said. "I'm sure I violated some protocols. That was my first experience sleeping on a mat in a little room off the dining area. Mats on the floor. That's where I slept while I was with them."
He said the family took him to see Okinawa Peace Park and some caves where people hid during World War II to avoid being killed.
"On Saturday, there was a parade in the international district," he said. "It was different from most parades I've seen. It started out solemn. People represented the king and queen of Okinawa during that period. Then came instruments, playing and dancing. It was entirely Okinawa instruments drums, stringed instruments and cymbals."
He said he was impressed with Tokyo, a city of 12 million people, "but at night they roll up the sidewalks.
"The people are extremely friendly and will go out of their way to help you. If they don't speak English, or little English, they'll go out of their way to communicate any way they can."
Shockley said that Japanese are not as technical as Americans.
"While they may be some in their schools, their home life is not that way at all," he said.
"They have computer labs in most of the schools, but they are used on a limited basis," Shockley said.
He observed a college computer class on the visit.
"They were learning some of the same things I teach sixth and seventh graders here," Shockley said.
But he said the family he stayed with for home stay, had a car "with a dash unit that played AM and FM radio, a DVD player, GPS system and (they) were able to watch live television all in the one unit."
Shockley said the hotels have electric saving systems in place.
"You have to put your room key in the lock to operate the TV and air conditioner. When you leave, they all go off," he said. "It's a very clean society. There's very little trash, very little litter. If there is litter, it's not long before somebody comes along and cleans it up."
He said stories people may have heard about Japanese students are true, from the second and third grades on up, they clean their classrooms.
"The taking off shoes and wearing slippers, that was interesting to me. They have areas in school that are lower than the rest of the floor where you can walk. If you step on the edge, you have to take off shoes in that part. You're in the slipper zone," Shockley said.
"I met a lot of wonderful people, both in Japan and as part of the visiting teacher program," he said. "I made friends that will last a lifetime, both in Japan and among the teachers. I'm very grateful the superintendent and the school board allowed me to have this opportunity," Shockley said.