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Spotlight: (Thriving and) Surviving in Japan

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I’d like to spotlight a new addition to the recommended blogs here, Surviving in Japan (without much Japanese). This blog/how-to-directory is an ever-growing guide to how to improve your life in Japan if you are not perfectly fluent in Japanese, but are in English. The author, Ashley, is a writer (and part-time teacher) with a good sense of what people settling in to Japan really need to know about. She’s also the new writer for the “Lifelines” column at the Japan Times. There’s no travel-guide-style “wear toilet slippers in the toilet or risk embarrassment!”-style advice here–you can find that in your Lonely Planet. Instead, you get instructions, recommendations, links, photos, and even translations on topics such as

There are lots of other posts on everything from minor issues like how customize your order at Starbucks to critical issues like what to do if your Alien Registration Card is missing. (I’m secretly hoping for a post on reading Japanese nutritional labels at some point! That would be handy for me over here, even.)

This blog is highly recommended for being informative, readable, and essentially performing a public service. If you’re moving to Japan or are already there, check it out! I just wish someone were doing this for every country (and in every language combination!).

You can also follow Ashley on Twitter at @survivingnjapan.


I do not accept guest posts or link exchanges with “online degree” sites or “online TESOL certificate” sites.

Of course, people contacting me to offer such undoubtedly have never actually read my blog. They’re just hunting (or using a program to hunt for) keywords.

But just for the record: The answer is “No.”

(Genuine offers of guest post exchanges, requests for reviews, etc., will always be considered.)

Twitter in Print

Thanks to the recommendation of author and Twitterati star Mayumi Ishihara, my Twitter account for English learners (@readable) was featured in a Japanese business magazine. I think it’s still on the stands in Japan–look for the 9/21 issue of 日経ビジネス Associe. On page 98, Ms. Ishihara introduces a few Twitter accounts and hashtags that can be useful to Japanese learners of English. She’s the author of a recent popular book on using Twitter to practice actually using English, so I was really pleased that she liked my account enough to recommend it to others. I enjoy being in touch with international English learners via Twitter–as a US-based teacher (at the moment), it’s an interesting way to get in touch with the concerns of learners in EFL situations.

Updated Links

The summer was just packed–unfortunately, not in the ironic Calvin and Hobbes sense. Between flying to the middle of the country to help my parents with my dad’s knee surgery, getting my new computer in working order after my laptop was stolen, and job-hunting, I haven’t been able to finish any of the posts I’ve started in my head.

Anyway, I’ve updated the links in the sidebar with a few more good ones. Check out Throw Grammar from the Train, Seoul Sub→Urban, and Japan without the sugar–and yes, I’ve purposefully not linked them here in the post, because there are a lot of great blogs over there that are worth a look!

The writer of Throw Grammar from the Train did a nice piece for the Boston Globe–you can read it at “Un-Rules.” If you have a family member who does the “Ohhh no! It’s the English teacher! I’d better watch my grammar!” thing around you, or who irritates you by sending you links to ill-informed rants by famous peevologists, you can blow that person’s mind by sending along this article. It’s unusually well-grounded for a mainstream publication.

Coming up (I think) is a post on the body half of the mind-body equation. Teachers sometimes let health drop to to the bottom of our long list of priorities. If you have any thoughts on it you’d like me to address, let me know here or on Twitter!

CATESOL Handouts; Conference Survey

My handouts from CATESOL 2010 and one prior conference are now available under the Resources tab at the top of each page. If you spot any problems or broken links, please let me know!

Don’t forget to fill out the conference evaluation form if you went. As far as I know, there were no paper evaluation forms, or if there were, they weren’t widely available. I’ll be writing more about my thoughts on the conference later. The major upside was that every concurrent session I went to was extremely valuable except one, and that was a session I wasn’t too sure about–and it was probably very valuable if you were the target audience. No fault of the presenter’s. I think that’s the best track record out of any conference I’ve been to, including TESOL. (Usually, it’s a mixed bag.) There were definitely some downsides, though.

By the way, I’m working on an informal study about conferences (questions about costs, travel, speakers, inclusion of “NNESTs,” integration of technology, and so on. If you have any suggestions about what I should ask, let me know! I hope you’ll fill it out (it’ll be a Google form) once it’s done.

Hi, CATESOL visitors!

If you came to my segment of the Internet Fair and are looking for an online version of the handout, I’ll upload that and any further thoughts on Sunday, if I can. For now, the basic links I used are here: A Visual Feast

A previous post on the subject is Free Illustrations.

The blog for learners that I mentioned is Readable Blog.

Thank you for coming to my session and checking out my blog!


I’ve been distracted by getting Readable Blog relaunched. I’m also job-hunting, both at community colleges in the Bay Area and possibly at schools in Japan. If your school is looking, please get in touch with me! (I know the school year is about to start n Japan, but sometimes there are openings on other schedules or for next year.) I’d appreciate it.

Oh, and maybe I’ll see some of you at CATESOL in a few weeks.

Anyway, I hope to post again soon. Sorry for being so distracted!

New Twitter Account, Spiffing Up

I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post, but there’s a new Twitter account tied to this blog.

So please feel free to follow @talkclouds. I’m delighted to follow other English teachers back, and if you have some other people to recommend that I should follow, please let me know!

Also, I’ve cleaned up and reorganized my blogroll. I hope to add more to it, but check it out if you have time!

I’m also testing these retweet and Facebook buttons; I’ll tweak them a bit later to make them fit in better, but we’ll see. If folks are too busy to comment, I’m still looking for some other evidence of what posts are the most useful so I know what to write more of and what to write less of.

Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas Tree by Johnny Automatic at

Stay tuned…

I’m going to try to do Twelve Days of Christmas here at Talk to the Clouds. That means that starting on December 25th, I’ll post a useful and/or fun free resource every day for twelve days!

The Twelve Days of Christmas does traditionally start on Christmas, and isn’t the twelve days before, as so many retailers seem to think … just another one of those traditions that we get wrong ourselves so often. That’s obscure enough for most people that I didn’t try explaining it to my students when I went over the “differences between Christmas in Japan and the US” handout that I do most years. One thing I did mention, because it causes a lot of confusion when they run into it, is that many Americans–like me–celebrate Christmas as a cultural event with roots that predate Christianity, rather than as a religious event. It can be pretty confusing for them when they get conflicting messages–first they’re told by some people “Japan is doing it wrong! Christmas is a religious event!” … and then they perceive a conflict between the number of Christians in the US (around 77% overall and very obviously less than that where we live) and the number of people who follow cultural traditions such as Christmas trees, gifts, donations to charities, family dinners, and so on (around 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas). Not to mention that some Christian groups do not observe Christmas or don’t observe it on December 25… It’s very surprising to them and serves as a good look at American religious and cultural diversity at the nitty-gritty in-practice level. There are other, easier and more fun to explain differences too–like no eating Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner here!

Anyway, I hope you find the Twelve Days of Christmas “presents” I’ve lined up for you worth your time! I don’t have them all picked out yet, so if you know of a great free website, program, or other resource that I haven’t yet mentioned (click on “free” in the tags), feel free to suggest it! Let’s see if I can keep it up and post for 12 days in a row!

Time for a New Layout

Well, when I chose this design for the blog I didn’t associate it with Twitter, because I never saw it when logging into Twitter. But apparently everyone else associates it with Twitter–it just showed up in an e-mail from a retail book chain plugging their account there. Sigh. So I guess I really have to change my layout, but I’m not really confident enough with CSS to write my own, plus I have a cold (again!) and can’t think straight. Anyway, if the site changes appearances several times in the next few days, that’s why. Please bear with me! (And if you have a suggestion, let me know.)