Well, it looks like another great day for the plant exchange. I just picked up a number of new specimens. Today we'll have lots of Pele's Hair (Spanish Moss), a few Pink Dragonfruit cuttings, Java chestnut, Pandan and more. Bring a plant, take a plant, or just leave a voluntary donation to Kaiser High School.
Biannual fruiting season, summer and winter. This cactus requires minimal care throughout the year. Edible fruit is easy to peel and attractive to serve.
October 27 - Island Brew Coffee at Hawaii Kai Shopping Center has opened a second location in Kaimuki. [PBN]
October 27 - The Schaefer family of Hawaii Kai appears on Family Feud [Star Advertiser]
October 26 - Hawaii's Board of Education (BOE) announces a Nationwide search for Kathryn Matayoshi's replacement. Matayoshi, the superintendent of Hawaii's public schools, has not announced that she is resigning. This surprise move takes place shortly after the resignation of Jim Williams and the subsequent appointment of Darrel Galera at BOE. [HNN] [Civil Beat (1) (2) (3)]
October 26 - The Hawaii Kai community recently formed a homeless task force with a two-fold mission: Offer help to the homeless and ensure encampments aren't allowed to stick around and grow. The 10-member task force formed last month under the guidance of state Rep. Gene Ward (Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley). Ward notes that most of those approached are not interested in assistance. Meanwhile, those near the homeless encampments, such as those near the Lunalilo Home Road one, fear that vacant land owned by Bishop Estate will continue to occupied with homeless. [HNN]
October 24 - Ninteen year-old Josiah Ramos died while body surfing at Sandy Beach [Star Advertiser]
October 24 - A Civil Beat poll finds that nearly 70 percent of Hawaii residents want feral cats killed. Specifically the survey asks:
“One additional local issue that has received a lot of attention is the large number of feral house cats living in the state. There are about 300,000 free-roaming cats on Oahu and thousands more on the neighbor islands. The cats are an invasive mainland species, and many of them spread a disease called toxoplasmosis, which is deadly to an endangered local species called the Hawaiian Monk Seal. There are just over one-thousand Hawaiian Monk Seals left in existence.
A recent Civil Beat editorial suggested that the only way to maintain Hawaii’s ecosystem, and keep Hawaiian Monk Seals from edging closer to extinction, is to kill off the population of feral cats. But others have argued that the cats should not be killed, because these problems are not their fault. If you had to choose — what would you do?”
On Oahu, registered voters may vote at Honolulu Hale or Kapolei Hale from 8am to 4pm Monday through Saturday. Parking is available at both locations. Early voting locations are open until November 5.
October 20, 2016 - Oceanic Cable advises East Oahu residents of potential disrupted services on the following days:
Thursday, 27 October 2016 | 12:00 AM – 05:00 AM
On Oahu, in Kaneohe, Kailua, Waimanalo, Kalama, Hawaii Kai and surrounding areas, video services, including but not limited to Video On Demand, Look Back, Start Over services, may be intermittent or briefly unavailable due to network maintenance.
Thursday, 27 October 2016 | 12:00 AM – 05:00 AM
On Oahu, in Downtown Honolulu, Kakaako, Moiliili, Makiki, Manoa, Waikiki, Kaimuki, Diamond Head, Kahala, Kalani, Niu Valley and surrounding areas, video services, including but not limited to Video On Demand, Look Back, Start Over services, may be intermittent or briefly unavailable due to network maintenance.
Other Statewide upgrades are scheduled for: 10/24, 10/26, 10/27 and 10/28 [Oceanic Cable]
October 20, 2016 - On Hiki No, Episode #804, Students at Kalani High School in East O‘ahu demonstrate how to make a thaumatrope – a simple device made from paper and string that creates rudimentary forms of animation. [PBS]
October 19, 2016 - Koko Crater Stables to reopen October 28 [Midweek]
October 19, 2016 - The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed an additional case of hepatitis A in an Oahu food service worker. The infected case is an employee at McDonald’s of Kahala, located at 4618 Kilauea Avenue in Honolulu. Affected dates of service are Sept. 20–21, 23–24, 27–29, and Oct. 1, 4–5, 7, and 11, 2016. [Damon Tucker]
October 15, 2016 - Ground has broken on Kaikaina, a new Department of Hawaiian Homelands project in Waimanalo. Thirty-one new units are being built. [KHON]
US Smartphone Coverage in Japan
If you're currently on either T-mobile or Sprint's phone plan, you're in luck. For most plans, both companies offer free text and 2g basic data roaming in Japan.
Sprint also offers a 3g unlimited data + text + phone plan for $5 more a month. Our family is on Sprint, so the choice was a no-brainer. We tacked on the add-on (which, for the record, they tell me is not pro-rated but monthly) for the mere cost of a few dollars each. As far as I can tell from our first bill after use, it's exactly as advertised. Everything was covered. Before leaving, I thought I wouldn't need phone services, but after departing, found that the ability to call either Japan or the US without charge was a real plus. I probably made a half-dozen calls within the country in the span of one week, as well as a few more back to the US.
If you use Sprint's add-on, you'll receive instructions for changing from CDMA to GSM, the international standard. You'll then connect to Japan telecom powerhouse Softbank, which, in 2013, acquired a controlling stake in Sprint. Softbank's coverage of Japan is ubiquitous. Even in Kamikochi, a remote mountainous region of Japan, we received clear signal. The only real adjustment I needed to make was to conserve more battery than I normally would: roaming takes extra energy.
As far as other cellular carriers, our traveling companions checked with Verizon, whose $40 plan included a scant 100kb of data alongside an equally scant 200 texts received or sent. AT&T has a $40 passport plan that includes unlimited text, 200MB of data and access at hotspots in urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka. As with all phone plans, terms are subject to change, so be sure to inquire directly.
A friend recently commented that it seemed everyone from Hawaii was going to Japan in the near future. As it so happens, in addition to our own traveling party, another group of friends was also in Japan. They used a hotspot rented in Hawaii. Hotspots are portable internet-connected units; you use wi-fi on your phone to connect to it. On their smartphones, they connected the app "line", for texting and voice. As it also so happens, a Tokyo-based friend mentioned the free app's popularity in Japan. I didn't personally research the cost of the hotspot, but Don Quijote and vicinity have stores specializing in them, which they advertise at a cost as low as $4 a day. A big benefit of hotspots is that more than one phone can connect to it at once.
You can also rent SIM chips while in Japan, but my own personal inclination would be to forego this option. You'd have to look around for a chip once you got there, complete the transaction in a foreign language (for most of us), and hope that it worked. I also did not think that the cost was less than that of using a service purchased ahead of time. If you are planning to stay for several months, perhaps the SIM option would make more sense for you.
Japan Travel Apps - Top 5
We're mostly an iOS family, with the exception of me, Ms. Android. Most of these apps, with the exception of the offline Japanese dictionary JED, are dual-platform.
1. Hyperdia - Transit Navigator
If you're planning to go anywhere by mass transit in Japan, you need this app. Type in the departure place and the arrival destination to get your choices. By default, it assumes you're leaving now, but you can always change the time by pressing the detail button. If you're limited to certain types of travel, say Japan Railway (JR), or Shinkansen, you can also select just the modes you want. Likewise, the results default to time as being the most important, but again, you can also choose between least transfers or money expended. This is a very flexible app with excellent functionality.
2. Pokémon GO - Game (& Navigator)
I don't play, but the kids do and they saw a number of landmarks they wouldn't have if they weren't playing the game. At least it made them look up and appreciate the natural wonder of (1) A Mario pipe, smack dab in the middle of Ikebukuro (2) A giant robot building, and (3) genuine natural wonders that showed up on the map as landmarks. Additionally, the app's GPS is pretty good, often kicking in where Google Maps didn't. We were occasionally able to navigate our way from lost to found via Pokémon GO. Sadly, however, no one caught the region-exclusive Farfetch'd.
3. Google Translate - Character Translator
I didn't use it as often as I thought I would, but for those difficult Kanji, it's a quick and easy way to research the character. The translation isn't always right, but the meaning of the character almost always is. Just point, shoot and translate. Given the level of noise in Tokyo, I have doubts that sound-based portions of the app would have worked. Still, for visual recognition, it's helpful.
4. ATM Navi by Seven Bank - ATM (Money) Locator
Money exchange is amazingly easy through 7-11 ATMs in Japan. The Hawaii State Federal Credit Union only charges 1% for VISA debit card use, and Seven Bank doesn't seem to have a surcharge. Additionally, 7-11 ATMs are ubiquitous. Seven Bank's highly functional app for finding ATMs works well even in the middle of Tokyo city, where GPS can often be spotty. As both a money finder and street finder, this is a five-star app.
5. JED for Android - Japanese/English Offline Dictionary
Apple lovers, you're out of luck. JED is strictly for Android. If you're on iOS, use Jisho.org through your browser for translation. If you're on Android, use JED for speed and simplicity. Offline apps are reliable, even where internet access is not available. Additionally, it's faster to load and uses fewer resources (i.e. battery). I used this app more than a few times. It's good to be able to look something up right away while it's still fresh in your mind.
Finally. a couple of notes
City-dwellers will tell you not to count on GPS in the midst of tall buildings. Tokyo is no exception to this rule. Different apps seem to have varying levels of accuracy, and sometimes more than one app is needed in order to figure out exactly where you are. Throughout the course of our trip, we used a number of GPS-enabled apps, including the ones above. We also used Google Maps from time to time, but found that because the text was usually in Japanese, inputting a desired location in English wasn't as effective as it is here.
Another point to make is that certain sites are region-restricted, meaning you may not be able to access all of the US sites while in Japan. Keep this in mind when you travel and don't expect that your bank, etc. . . will allow you to conduct business as usual. I'm a fan of VPN for both encryption and for masking originating location, but not all smartphone users will have access to a VPN service.
Lastly, don't forget to look up from your smartphone from time to time. Japan is a beautiful country, and a smartphone is just a tool.
I give myself a low B-
Earlier, I had written about why I thought world language in high school was a questionable endeavor. To prove my point, I spent an entire year actively studying Japanese to see how far it would take me. The "final exam" was a one-week trip to Tokyo to see if my studies allowed me to communicate effectively.
I surmised that 30 minutes a day of study would give me reasonable proficiency to communicate. Throughout the year, everywhere I went I took my app-loaded smartphone so I could steal a few free moments from each day to learn Japanese. Our trip recently concluded and I'll give myself a B-. My traveling companions give me an A. My son gives me an A. Maybe that's all that counts to me. For him, having seen the results of my studies gave him the proof he needed. He's had to drop his "it's impossible" attitude when it comes to the subject.
As for me, there is a little disappointment because 30 minutes a day just wasn't enough to be as proficient as I had hoped. I thought I would be able to get through all 36 lessons on Japanese audio flashcards by year's end. Instead I only got through 16 and I still feel as though I need to review the last five of those. It helps that the Japanese people are so patient. It also helps that they can empathize with me because English is a mandatory subject in Japan.
Perhaps the point about empathy may be the strongest argument for learning a foreign language. With teens, however, I doubt it has much impact. Growing up, I recall being somewhat xenophobic and making fun of foreigners' English. I never really drew the connection between that and the fact that I struggled through both French and Japanese as a high schooler. Maybe as educators, we need to press the point more.
Getting around Japan
For what it's worth, I surprised myself. On our arrival, we got lost. I was able to stop in at a 7-11 convenience store and ask for directions. Importantly, I was able to understand those directions. With a combination of that information and Google Maps, we found our ryokan (Japanese-style inn).
On the second day, I didn't use as much Japanese as I would on the rest of our trip. Instead, we eased our way into the Country by meeting up with a American friend living in Tokyo. Still, that morning I did use some Japanese at the restaurant we had breakfast at beforehand, and I did use it to read signs. As it turns out, learning both hiragana and katakana is a tremendous help in Tokyo. I'd say that a great number, perhaps even a majority, of signs can be figured out using just kana (character-style writing). Additionally, the transit systems all include the use of hiragana and katakana in addition to traditional kanji. These days, they often provide English translations as well, but some of the station signs remain in Japanese only.
By the third day, I was much more comfortable speaking Japanese. Words came out without the usual hesitation. On this, I definitely credit the free audioflash card series. Honestly, I can't say enough about Roger Lake's amazing learning tool. Throughout the day, I would use Japanese to communicate with others. For instance, at dinner, I was able to ask what certain sushi items were, and I was able to request other items not visible on the menu. It was the first time I had tried tsubugai (whelk) and it was certainly useful to know what it was I just ate (especially because it was incredibly delicious).
On the fourth day, I had a much better idea of what I was and was not capable of communicating. I used my new skills at the Midori Madoguchi (train service center) to ask, in Japanese, for directions to their foreigners' service center. I needed to request reserved seats on a limited express train to Matsumoto, a train station several hours outside of Tokyo. I preferred to do it in English to be sure I got it right. The next day, however, I would use Japanese to figure out how to get back after having missed our train back from Matsumoto to Tokyo.
On the sixth day, I was tired of following my husband and son to their favorite restaurant. I can't say my son is a prodigy when it comes to foreign language, but he is a smartphone prodigy: he quickly figured out how to use Pokemon Go to get to his preferred food choice. That day, my daughter and I ate across the street at a restaurant where not only was the menu in Japanese, there were no pictures accompanying it. Still, we were able to order soba and I was also able to ask one of the patrons what his meal was called. As it turns out, "asa soba" is a morning special. You get one of four choices of soba dishes for the amazing price of ¥330, or approximately $3. I'm not sure if was the actual meal that tasted so wonderful, or the sweet taste of victory.
You must have a natural gift for language
I've uttered these words before to others. Now, I'm mildly insulted by them. Still, those that say "You must have a natural gift for language," are people who just don't fully understand the dynamics behind learning a new language. You don't just wake up one day and know words. You need to be exposed to them in context over and over again before they make sense.
Instead of being hurt however, I see these conversations as an opening to convince people that if you really want something bad enough, you will figure out a way to get to it. I also reflect that we live in an amazing world where our phones can be everything from toys to tools.
It helps to have had others blaze the path before. Perhaps most inspiring for me was my son's former Japanese teacher at Niu Valley. She learned Japanese in college by constantly exposing herself to every opportunity for listening and speaking. My son's current instructor is also a second language learner and inspiring to him. There have been a few others too: friends who learned after several less successful attempts before.
Still, the majority of people I speak to are those who took the usual Japanese language school curriculum: the afterschool program every hopeful nisei parent enrolls his child in. These same students are the ones who go on to take high-school Japanese, get an easy A, but are no closer to speaking and communicating than before. That in itself serves as a "lesson" for those that are reluctant to apply themselves to begin with. Firstly they don't get that opportunity at an easy A because of those that have more background, and secondly because it doesn't seem to have amounted to much anyway.
Ambivalence plus a word to International Baccalaurate coordinators
I'm still on the fence over whether foreign language should be a high school subject. In a world where there is so much to new to learn, does it make sense to spend time on a subject many will never use even if taught at a level where it can be used?
The International Baccalaureate (IB) program prides itself on world scope. World language is a requirement. Might I suggest that the IB school year be divided differently? Perhaps 5/6 of the school year can be dedicated to traditional teaching with 1/6 of the year dedicated to language immersion. Surely that would be more beneficial to the goal. Further, perhaps only one language -- the foreign language most prevalent in the area -- ought to be taught.
Logistically, such a proposal is a nightmare. Where would you get instructors for the language portion of the year? What about the regular curriculum instructors? Should they also be required to interact in the world language unit? Yet, in the grand scheme of things, 1/6 of the Hawaii public school year dedicated to foreign language immersion amounts to the same amount of time I spent last year learning rudimentary Japanese. In week terms, 1/6 of the school year in Hawaii is only slightly more than four weeks.
Returning to the subject of my own learning, where do I go from here? Do I continue my studies or do I end them?
I have at least a few opportunities to use Japanese in Hawaii. My own mother who gave up on me learning Japanese many years ago, has been helping out lately by speaking to me in Japanese. It is grossly inefficient, but I'm glad she's willing to do it. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to join in on the conversation between my mother and my uncle and aunty. They were surprised, to say the least. Yet, sometimes I feel as though it's the equivalent of David Letterman's stupid people tricks: nifty but not necessary.
Ultimately, I think I will continue on with my Japanese language studies. It's a great mind exercise, not unlike crossword puzzles, which some would also argue serve no purpose. Perhaps I may -- not this year, but next -- attempt the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) for no other reason than the famous mountaineer credo, "because it's there."