Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, September 22, 2006


We had one of those dratted staff meetings at ye olde academy today.

We have those things once a month on average unless something actually happens, in which case we have more. On each such occasion we can look forward to 2+ hours of long, rambling presentations, usually simply read (in a droning monotone) from the mound of papers that always welcome each of us as we ooze into the meeting room. And if we're really lucky one or more of the frustrated activists on the staff will take exception to something and launch into a protracted (and totally meaningless) debate that just goes on and on and on...

Most of the time it's all I can do to keep my eyes open. Actually, I tend to fail more often than not. The sight of me snoozing away during meetings has become a familiar one at ye olde academy, and there has been many a good-natured joke about it.

Tonight I actually managed to stay awake, though. I did it by making use of the meeting time to write a couple of Japanese tanka poems. That kept my brain occupied while the droning dialogue flowed around me like a warm breeze. At least it did until something came up that actually grabbed my attention. It was the second-to-the-last item of the meeting, and it was a cause for concern.

One of the vice principals, after inviting us to dig through the stack for the appropriate paper yet again, began by saying, "It has come to our attention that someone connected with this school has used the name of this school and posted pictures of it on a blog site..."

I think every hair on my body raised a nanometer.

The vice principal went on, saying, "With regard to the recent privacy laws, we want to make it clear that our policy is as follows:
a. No pictures of students are to be displayed.
b. No names of students are to be mentioned.
c. The name of our school is not to be used in any manner which is non-beneficial."

"The recent privacy laws", indeed. Protection of personal data has been one of the witchhunts du jour (read "overblown crusade that winds up causing more trouble than it solves") for the past few years. The new privacy laws are draconian to the point of absurdity. They have already prevented hospitals from sharing urgently-needed medical information during emergencies and disallowed people from tracking down estranged marriage partners that abducted their kids and disappeared in violation of custody rulings. It's getting to the point where the government is so paranoid about protecting society's personal data that society is becoming unable to function properly.

And now this.

One of the other teachers asked if anyone had actually complained about such a blog. The vice principal replied that no one had. The administration had simply been "made aware" of the existence of such a blog and wanted to establish official policy.

Unfortunately, the Japanese language tends to be vague by nature. The near-total lack of plural forms means there is no way of knowing whether the vice principal was talking about a specific blog or all such blogs collectively. Therefore, I don't know if the "warning" (as he called it) was directed at me or not. In any case, another teacher, who coaches one of the sports teams, immediately stood and made an impassioned defense of the blog created and maintained by the members of his team. He was neither reprimanded nor ordered to take down the blog, but the vice principal warned him that such a website was in violation of the law and urged to make it compliant (i.e. render it largely meaningless).

I have to wonder, though: if it's evil to post pictures showing students on websites, why is it okay for the school to put up all those recruitment posters that are nothing but pictures of students...especially since they always include a shot of a dance competition showing plenty of leg? Yes, I know; intent plays a large part in the argument...but the vice principal never said anything about intent. He just said no pictures, no names, and no taking the name of the school in vain.

As for me, I understand what he's saying completely, and I have every intent of not complying. If a student has a problem with any of the pics I've posted, they can bring their grievances to me directly.

Anyway, here's the two tanka (31-syllable) poems that I wrote during the meeting. It took a while to find the right words and get the syllable count right. (I also dozed off a time or two mid-verse, but anyway...)


tsuuka shita taifuu - A typhoon has passed on,
sonogo safaia sora - Afterward a sapphire sky;
tooi tokoro ni - In a faraway place,
hito nakigoe - The sound of a person crying.


aki no kaze fuite - Autumn's wind blows,
ki ni ochite kuru ha - Leaves falling from the trees,
tochi e no okurimono - A gift to the ground;
kusa ga denai - The grass won't grow.

Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, an important day in many cultures. May you spend it well.


  • We have the opposite problem here. Everyone has access to my information but me it seems.

    Our government has the entire nation under surveillance to prevent "terror" and hires private contractors to handle the data who in turn sell the information to marketers because there are no rules against it.

    And we still don't find most abductees. I guess Ben Franklin was right.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:34 AM  

  • At least you wrote two lovely poems during the meeting.
    Privacy... I would have thought your posts with pictures about the school are very positive and present an excellent view of life there. But of course posting pics does get out of hand when they are close-up I suppose.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 7:37 AM  

  • I like the poems. The meeting wasn't totally unproductive after all.

    What's next? A redacted school yearbook with the students' photos cut out and black marker pens masking names?

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:57 AM  

  • "The new privacy laws are draconian to the point of absurdity."

    Yes it's happening here to. Even married couples don't have access to each others information! I've even had trouble arranging maternity leave for my wife! In some ways they are going a little far with it.

    By Blogger Chris in MB, at 4:28 PM  

  • Snabby may like to see just how many identity thefts have been taking place - from lots of places. Here is an interesting list:

    Data Thefts

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:27 PM  

  • It reminds me of my own former school. The administrators actually searched the name of the students writing blogs with contents about the school, tracked them down, went to each of them and threatened to take police action against them.

    So much for freedom of speech.

    By Blogger YD, at 4:27 PM  

  • Woah, for a minute there I thought you were going to bid us farewell or something.

    Anyway, I like those tanka. What are the rules for writing, I might give it a go?

    By Blogger Olivia, at 8:17 PM  

  • When I was a young adventurer, I remember playing with Tonka...(I was going to make a joke about just doing your blog in English and you should be safe, but decided to go with the Tonka instead.)

    By Anonymous The Intrepid Adventurer, at 8:49 PM  

  • I really like the last tanka. I have a question.. do you write it in Japanese first and then translate or what? Do you use Japanese symbols - what are they called, btw?

    I can understand the hair raising on the back of your neck. I've experienced this a few times myself. I had one blogger threatening to tell the ppl I work for... I figured they didn't really know me, but I was paranoid for a while after that. Good for you for standing firm. I agree w/ you on this and the privacy laws.. they seem a little to the extreme to me. Why has Japan taken such measures.. you'd think they'd realize how bad it was for society and turn the other way. Sometimes they seem to advanced but when you hear this stuff, it makes you wonder.

    By Blogger tooners, at 4:15 PM  

  • Tooners, if I write Japanese poems I compose them in Japanese first and then translate them into English. It's a lot easier that way.

    Japanese and English are too different. I can't think in one and express in the other.

    Written Japanese includes three writing systems (not including the Roman alphabet, i.e. abcdefg...) which are usually used in combination:

    The Chinese characters, or kanji (漢字), are read for their meaning, not for their sound. They were imported from China perhaps around 1500 years ago but have always been a bit problematic since Japanese and Chinese are completely different. Most have an "official" Japonified Chinese pronunciation and an attributed Japanese pronunciation, though some common-use characters may have many different ways of being read. You have to know about 2000 of them in order to be able to read a Japanese newspaper without difficulty.

    Hiragana (ひらがな), also known as the "women's alphabet", is said to have been invented by women of the aristocracy about 1200 years ago (though some experts say the "women's alphabet" thing has more to do with its curvy style). It was developed from shorthand kanji, but it is phonetic (i.e. each letter represents a particular sound). Unlike the Roman alphabet, however, each "kana" is read as a syllable; in the example in parentheses above, ひらがな is read hi-ra-ga-na. Hiragana are used together with kanji to show grammar particles and verb conjugation.

    Katakana (カタカナ) was, not surprisingly, men's answer to women's hiragana. As you can see, the symbols are sharper and more angular (i.e. more masculine). I'm not sure when it was invented, but it was probably at least a thousand years ago. It is identical in concept to hiragana; the letters were taken from kanji shorthand, and each represents a syllabic sound (following a system identical to that of hiragana). It is said that at one time men only used katakana, but nowadays hiragana is the standard phonetic system for both sexes. Katakana is generally only used to write foreign words, such as my name, to set them apart from the native ones.

    *whew* That was a bit long...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:57 PM  

  • You might find the same privacy policies in the UNited States as well. I believe the issue is that because of on line predators, posting pictures of school children of any sort is generally considered risky. Not rational at all, but that's what happens today.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 2:06 AM  

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