Japanese calligraphy: Is new teaching method its demise?

robot Japanese calligraphy - steve miller - qirangerJapan Today recently posted an interesting article about how robotics are being employed to preserve a dying art: Japanese calligraphy or shodo.

Nijiya Kurota’s little hand grips a calligraphy brush dangling above a clean sheet of rice paper. The brush itself is being held dead straight, just as an expert who has spent years learning the art of “shodo”—Japanese calligraphy—would do. That’s because a robot arm is also attached to the brush and for a moment, as thick lines of glistening black ink are laid down on the page, Nijiya is transformed into a master calligrapher.

According to Seiichiro Katsura, a professor at Keio University, and the robot’s inventor, teaching Japanese calligraphy is going extinct. Sure some are practicing it and carrying on traditions, but it is no longer widely taught. Therefore, he had the idea to create a machine – a robot to carry on the tradition.

He thought if he could somehow transfer the knowledge of the masters into a robot’s memory, he could “preserve the art.” Katsura was successful and programmed his robot with the skills of Juhu Sado, a 90-year-old shodo master. Now students simply need to step up to the machine, and through a complex monitoring system, allow the robotic arm’s assistance guide their hands to near perfect replicas.

Seiichiro Katsura is quoted stating, “The process of transmitting knowledge by hand was often tedious, requiring a long process of acquiring techniques, intuition and experience. With this robot, the process becomes faster and more efficient.”

I’ve long studied successful implementations of educational technology and this is not it. While his robotic arm and software can teach a student how to successfully replicate kanji using the installed software, it does so through muscle memory. The constant repetition with subtle corrections imparts the movements into the brain until with can be repeated automatically – without feeling, techniques, intuition, or experience.

In his hopes to preserve Japanese calligraphy, Katsura has effectively destroyed it. What makes Japanese calligraphy (as well as Chinese and Korean) so magical is the art involved in creating it. This robotic process eliminates the emotion from the process making it sterile. The creation no longer is an extension of the practitioner, where mind and body work fluidly together to paint on delicate paper.

Calligraphy is art and something composed of more than a series of movements recreated. Without the emotion and character development that’s an integral part of learning calligraphy, what’s created is nothing more than a cheap imitation.

What are your thoughts. Does this robotic method of teaching remove the art from Japanese calligraphy?

QiRanger Podcast Ep. 2013-14


South Korea tries to eliminate suicides, smoking, and free speech. We’re also talking about staying fit when traveling and going to Gwangju. The QiRanger Podcast starts now.

The News

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The Koreas

  • Seoul Light Rail System: Under the envisioned plan, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will establish nine light-rail lines reaching a combined 85.41 kilometers. The new system will either connect areas on the outskirts of the capital with one another or link them to the city’s downtown, according to the municipal government.    The city government plans to pay some 35.7 percent of the total cost of 8.55 trillion won (US$7.68 billion), with the remainder to be financed by the central government and private investors.
  • Sweating the summer away: Due to power shortages, Korean offices are asked to maintain a temperature of 28C (83F). This is having little affect on overall power consumption. Policy markers are now toying with the idea of making it more expensive to stay cool in the office. “We are using electricity at prices that are too low. That’s why we are spending it excessively. We must raise electricity rates,” said Environment Minister Yoon Seong-kyu during a recent interview in his office in Seoul. “Germany has a larger population and its economy is about 3.5 times as big as Korea’s, but the amount of its annual electricity usage is similar to Korea’s. Furthermore, Germany is reducing the amount of annual electricity usage gradually, but our consumption is growing by about 2.2 percent annually,” he said.
  • PC Room owners starting to feel the crunch from nationwide smoking ban: As Korea pushes a stronger anti-smoking policy, the number of buildings designated as smoke-free zones is increasing. However, Internet cafe owners claim they will become the biggest victim of what they call unfair regulations. “I don’t get why Internet cafes are a non-smoking zone while billiard rooms or karaoke bar are still okay to smoke,” said a PC room owner at Imun-dong, Seoul. “If the prohibition is aimed at promoting public health, it should equally regulate smoking in such places as billiard rooms frequented by juveniles.” If a customer smokes outside of a designated smoking booth, the smoker will face a fine of up to 100,000 won while the owner has to pay maximum 5 million won.
  • South Korea attempts to eliminate suicide stigma: South Korea is notorious for having the highest suicide rate among the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with an average of 33.3 people per 100,000 taking their lives in 2012, far higher than the OECD average of 12.6.    During a policy coordination meeting held last week, the government decided to set up a public-private committee involving private entities such as those from the religious circle and civic groups, as well as a forum of experts, to explore ways to prevent suicide. By seeking an agreement with media outlets, the government is mulling to ask them to refrain from reporting details about suicide cases. A law revision will also be pushed to block access to information available online on how to commit suicide. But then there are stories like this, where people commit suicide when they can’t raise money.
  • The National Security Law needs to go. Last week, the Korea Communications of Standards Commission, Seoul’s communications watchdog, has approved a request by the National Police Agency (NPA) to delete two bulletin boards on Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification’s website. The posts have been ruled as propagandizing and praising North Korean ideology, in breach of Seoul’s draconian law. “We have ruled that it is right to block contents of the two menus,” an NPA officer said, adding that the agency has not closed down the entire website to guarantee the freedom of expression in some degree.
  • Kaesong, the final talks – or Seoul says. WATCH CLIP

East Asia

  • Is Abe doing enough for Japan to recover? While there are signs of a better economy in Japan, wage reports may not reflect as much. In May, wages were down 0.4% and down 0.1% last month. No clear signs of an increase in July. If this continues, it might be impossible for Abe and Japan to meet their target 2% inflation rate by 2015. Masaaki Kanno, chief economist for J.P. Morgan in Tokyo, says part-time work, OT, and bonuses may increase, but not base salaries since no one knows what the future will bring.
  • Toxic water in Japan: The operator of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant said Friday that it delayed acknowledging that the plant was leaking contaminated water into the sea because it did not want to worry the public until it was certain there was a problem. Delaying public notification of an issue this magnitude is outrageous. The first signs were discovered in May, but it wasn’t until July the announcement was made.
  • Japan and the Philippines vow further cooperation. China continues to exert itself in East Asia, worrying its neighbors. With China claiming most of the sea as their territory, many nations are looking to deter what they see as China’s encroachment on their nations. “We confirmed continued assistance towards the capacity building of the Philippine Coast Guard and I have announced we will provide 10 vessels by Yen loan,” Abe said.
  • Abe to meet with Xi. Abe called for an unconditional meeting with Xi to help smooth relations. China has been angered over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and the nation’s less apologetic approach to history. It is expected that China will respond positively to the meeting request.
  • Busan Courts follow Seoul’s lead and issue judgment against Japan. Busan courts have ruled in favor of 5 plaintiffs against Mitsubishi Heavy. In the ruling, Mitsubishi Heavy is to pay 400m won to the individuals or families bringing suit. The court said the company did not pay wages or conduct adequate rescue efforts in the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima where the plant was operating. Mitsubishi calls the ruling unfair, against the 1965 treaty with Korea, and plans to appeal the decision.

Other News Topics

  • Too much tech in the classroom. The Los Angeles Unified School District will give students 31,000 free iPads this year as a part of a program launched by the district. “The most important thing is to try to prepare the kids for the technology they are going to face when they are going to graduate,” said Hovatter. “This is phase one, a mix of high school, middle school, and elementary students. We’re targeting kids who most likely don’t have their own computers or laptops or iPads. Their only exposure to computers now is going to be in their schools.” The district also plans to distribute 640,000 iPads total by late 2014, with the first 31,000 iPads going to 49 of the 1,124 K-12 schools in the district. The iPads will come preloaded digital textbooks from educational books publisher Pearson.

Question of the Week

This week’s question: How do I stay fit while traveling? When traveling I take about 10 minutes each day to perform a simple routine. I first learned the basic routine while reading the Ney York Times, but have expanded upon it to meet my needs.

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My traveling fitness routine begins with 12 exercises that are performed for 30 seconds each:

  1. Jumping Jacks
  2. Wall Squat
  3. Push-ups
  4. Ab crunches
  5. Step-ups (30 seconds each leg)
  6. Squats
  7. Tricep dips
  8. Plank
  9. Running high knees
  10. Lunge
  11. Push-up rotation
  12. Side plank (30seconds each arm)

I then rest for 1 minute. Then I continue with 20-25 burpees or squat thrusts.

It’s really tiring, but does a good job of keeping you fit when you’re constantly on the go and don’t have time to exercise a lot.

If you have a question, drop me a line at questions@qiranger.com. I will respond by email, video reply, or in a future podcast episode.

QiRanger RTW: Travel Talk Around the World

This week we’ll be discussing we’re headed down to Gwangju. This segment originally aired on TBS eFM, 101.3 in Seoul.

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Ladies and gentlemen, that will do it for this week’s podcast. Thank you so much for joining me this week. If you liked it, please subscribe and pop on over to iTunes to rate and comment, it’s a way for the podcast to get featured. Please also share it with your friends, if you think they would find it helpful.

To keep up with breaking news and important, timely issues, visit QiRanger.com you can also subscribe to both YouTube channels – the main QiRanger Channel and The Vlog Channel. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have any feedback, be sure to drop me a line at podcast@qiranger.com but until next time, remember to be true to yourself, and always be awesome!

The QiRanger Podcast is written and produced by Steve Miller and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. “Morning Blue,” was written and performed by Josh Woodward.

qiranger podcast - steve miller

East Sea or Sea of Japan?

August is right around the corner, which means several new teachers will be arriving in Korea to teach in the nation’s classrooms. When teaching (working) in Korea, there are a number of things to take into consideration, one of which being what to call the body of water separating Korea and Japan. Is it the East Sea or Sea of Japan? What is its correct name?

korea east sea - sea of japan

Sea of Japan

The current internationally accepted name of the body of water is Sea of Japan. The International Hydrographic Organization is the inter-governmental organization responsible for naming the planet’s bodies of water. It was founded in 1921 as the result of an international conference held in 1899 to establish an international commission to standardize the names of water bodies around the globe. The eighty-member organization’s mission is “is to create a global environment in which States provide adequate and timely hydrographic data, products and services and ensure their widest possible use.”

East Sea/East Sea of Korea

South Korea refers to the body as the East Sea, and North Korea uses East Sea of Korea. However, the International Hydrographic Organization sanctions neither. South Korea has embarked on a public relations campaign to raise awareness about the name and petitioned the International Hydrographic Organization in 2012 to designate concurrent use of East Sea/Sea of Japan. That request was denied. It is expected that South Korea will once again petition for a name change in 2017.

It is the government’s position “that Koreans have used the name ‘East Sea’ for over two thousand years. Furthermore, East Sea was used 700 years before Japan was officially adopted as a country name. Accordingly, East Sea holds greater historical legitimacy compared to Sea of Japan.” The government also contends the current use of Sea of Japan is largely due to Korea being annexed by Japan at the beginning of the 20th Century and not being able to provide information regarding the historical name from a Korean perspective.

“The Korean government’s ultimate goal is to persuade the international community to recognize the name East Sea as the official, historically proper English nomenclature for the sea area in question. East Sea identifies it as the sea to the east of the Eurasian continent, not only the Korean Peninsula, and such naming has long been accepted worldwide.”

Efforts to spread the use of East Sea abroad aren’t solely on the shoulders of the Korean government. Earlier this year (2013), the Korean-American Association of New Jersey requested textbooks be changed to show East Sea. “We knew it as East Sea, and we want our children to learn the correct term,” Sonny Kim, “To us Korean-Americans, the correct name is East Sea.” The school district did not honor the request, stating that the current internationally accepted name is Sea of Japan, but noted the request raised important issues that should be discussed in the classroom where others could decide for themselves.

So which name to use?

The name used in conversation, maps, or other documents largely depends on the intended audience. Generally speaking, when not in Korea or doing business with Korean companies, it is appropriate to use Sea of Japan, as it is the most recognized name and eliminates confusion about the exact location discussed. However, if in Korea, East Sea should be used. Both the United Nations and International Hydrographic Organization have resolutions in place that would allow for concurrent naming. Korea is attempting to use these measures in its petitions to the International Hydrographic Organization. This is probably the wisest course of action, since it reflects historical data, eliminates confusion about location, and builds on nearly a century of name use. Those believing that a concurrent naming scheme would not work need only look to Australia’s Uluru/Ayers Rock to see that it can.

VLOG: The End of School

The end of the semester has come and I already miss the interactions I have with my students.


What teacher has impacted you the most and why?

Note: This video was shot with the Canon EOS C100 which was provided for my EYE Project. This video was to test the camera, lens, and mics for vlogging purposes.

Teaching in Korea: Questions and Answers

teachingRecently I put it out to the interwebs that if anyone had a question about teaching in Korea, I’d be happy to field their question. Here’s what came in:

Hi Steve! Thanks for fielding questions on this topic. I’m currently teaching at a juku here in Japan (basically the equivalent of a Hagwon in Korea). I’ve been here just about two years and I’m thinking of transitioning to Korea. I know, as an American, I need to get everything apostilled and a background check from the FBI. Whats the best way of going about getting started there being stationed here in Japan? I need fingerprinting, apostilles and it’s all a bit daunting. Sorry for the novel and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

– Jason B.

Jason, thanks for writing in!

It’s actually pretty easy to get everything done and doesn’t require a whole lot of extra legwork if you’re currently overseas. The most important thing for you to do is partner with someone back in the US to handle the “legwork.” I would recommend enlisting a family member or close friend. When I needed to get my paperwork apostilled, I asked my mother for assistance and she was able to get things done quickly and efficiently, despite not knowing what the process really was.

To teach in Korea, you need to have degrees and an FBI check apostilled. Since you’re in Japan, I’d recommend getting your fingerprints done there. US Embassies don’t provide this service, so you’ll have to find out where you can get this done. In Korea, most police stations are happy to fingerprint foreigners requesting this service for background checks. The fingerprints must be on the official FBI sheet, which can be printed from their website (or you can pick up actual cards from the Embassy). I recommend getting a few sets completed just in case something goes wrong or a print is not clear. Pay for the background check with a credit card and send it off. It’s important to request the DOJ notarize the results so you can apostille them later. Have the background check sent to your partner in the US (this can take several months to complete).

Once your partner receives the background check, have them apostille everything at once. When all this is done,  it’s finally time to apply for a job. So if you’re thinking about making the switch to Korea, you’ll need to plan about 3-4 months in advance to allow for the FBI check.

Great question. Thanks for asking it.

I’ve a good  friend who has a Korean girlfriend living in Pusan (long distance for about a year). Anyhoo my friend is about to lose his job as a partner at a big law firm in SF (partners have the luxury to know they will get canned 6 months in advance). He asked me what kind of salary can someone like him expect from teaching english in Pusan and in Seoul. In addition to being a graduate from Berkeley, he went to an Ivy League law school. Would these be plus factors at all despite him never having taught anything?

Thanks,

Simon

Thanks for the question Simon.

Currently wages in Korea are pretty much uniform around the country. New teachers with a BS or equivalent can expect to earn 2.1-2.4 million won. Those with advanced degrees can earn more, but usually salaries cap around 3 million won per month. Another truth of the market, is that many schools will market your degree like crazy if you attended an Ivy League school, but not want to pay for that background. However, it would make the candidate more sought after and make getting a job easier.

The standard raise for teachers is 100,000 won more per month for every year of service. So if contract year one is 2.1 million per month, year two is 2.2 million. While it is rare for someone without teaching experience to land a university job, having the advanced degree would enable those opportunities eventually. Pay at universities vary greatly (a combination of degrees obtained and teaching experience), but usually come with reduced teaching hours (15 hours per week) and extensive vacations (8-16 weeks).

Thanks again for sending in this question!

If you have a question, please feel free to leave it in the comment section or send it to me at questions@qiranger.com.

Op-Ed: This Should Not Shock You

Photo: US National Archives, Public Domain

Photo: US National Archives, Public Domain

Recently CNN published an article stating that we should be shocked when reading the Slave Narratives (part of a collection of works compiled during the Great Depression focusing on American life).

I disagree.

It should not shock you that at the formation of the United States, many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. It should not shock you that despite the Constitution proclaiming, “all men are created equal,” slaves were only considered 60% human. It should not shock you that slaves were bought and sold like livestock. And it should not shock you that in many cases, the livestock fared better than the slaves.

No. As an educated individual, it should outrage you.

It should outrage you that the Forefathers thought it acceptable to carry on persecution against a race, when they themselves were running from it. It should outrage you that there ever had to be Civil Rights Movement. It should outrage you that in 2013 a white executive thinks it appropriate to slap a black child and tell the mother, “…shut that nigger baby up.”

However, America has changed. It is the land where Honey Boo Boo is a star and teachers must fight to keep science in the classroom.

That is what should shock you.



Does Pimsleur Work?

If you’ve tried learning languages over the years, chances are you’ve come across ads for the Pimsleur Method. The company boasts that anyone can learn a language using their system in about a month. On a recent trip to the Philippines, I opted to give their system a try and purchased the Tagalog Level 1 system. It consisted of 30 lessons and 20 additional reading lessons. My goal was to be conversational at the end of the month. Would the Pimsleur method get me to that point? Only time would tell.

IMG_6752

The system is a series of audio lessons. The lesson starts out with a basic conversation between two native speakers. Then the lesson dives into the parts of that conversation, teaching you how to conjugate the verbs and correctly pronounce the words.

To make this a true test, I devoted 30 or so minutes every day to complete the lesson. While I tried to do it at a consistent time, that wasn’t always the case. But I was adamant about spending the time each day. Then, I would try to practice and implement what I learned right away.

By 14 days, I was comfortable enough to walk into a market and haggle. By the end of the course, I was able to have a basic conversation on the street. In fact, on more than one occasion, I was complemented on my speaking skills. For me, the program worked; however, it wasn’t easy. I had to work at using what I was being taught on a regular basis. If I didn’t allocate the time or use what I was learning all the time, I’m not sure program would have been as successful for me.



I was quite pleased with the system and was anxious to learn more. It should be noted that the Pimsleur Level 1 course will only teach you the basics: who, what, when, where, eat, drink, etc. But that is enough for most travelers and what the course is designed for. If you’re looking to travel to a new country for an extended period of time and want a great and easy way to learn the language, give Pimsleur a try. It’s well worth the $100 for the download.

VLOG: End of the Semester – What Do You Miss?

The end of the semester is here and with it, I must say good-bye to a number of students. Some of which I will see in passing, but after two years of teaching, I may not see them again. It’s a sad thought.

What did you miss the most as the semester came to a close?

Viewer Question: How Much Money Do You Make?

qiranger-teaching-korea-money

Recently, YouTube user dufrhd5 dropped me a message asking for clarification on what University Professors make in Korea. Since that question is a bit narrow, I expanded its scope to talk about what kind of money you can expect to earn if coming here to teach.


I hope that help. If you have a question, please send in a message to questions@qiranger.com.