The other day took place, at last, the première of 2009’s American documentary “The cove” in Japan. A small movie theatre in Kyoto had about 30 spectators on a Saturday evening, which shows how little impact has had on the Japanese population, although a few newspapers and magazines included articles about the topic. It was an exciting film, in the line of James Bond’s moves from the 70’s with submarine cameras, spies, etc. But let’s go to the content: Ric O’Barry, former trainer of the deceased Flipper, becomes paranoid about how humanlike and intelligent dolphins are and starts illegally releasing them in the U.S. After a few years, he decides to go abroad and do the same in Japan, or at least, make a big hit with a movie depicting the killing of these marine mammals because of their meat or for commercial reasons in Taiji, Japan. Independently of their illegal actions, as of entering a restricted area and taking images without permission, their reasons to stop the hunting and killing of dolphins for food accounts basically for dolphins’ high intelligence and friendliness to humans. Well, there are no scientific research that prove their even remotely closeness to human cognitive reason. Besides, if they were so intelligent, they wouldn’t allow themselves to be hunted in such an easy way always in the same area. And many other animals are submissive and friendly to us and we still use them for meat: think of rabbits –many times used as pets, chicken, cows, etc.-. There is not an extinction danger, as in the case of whales, so I don’t see why the Japanese should stop eating dolphins if they please. As for the way they are hunted and sacrificed, it might look cruel in front of the cameras but it’s always bloody when killing an animal; what happens is that we are not shown those images at all in the case of the regular and packed meat we buy at the supermarket. They should also record images of chicken factories and beef processing industries when the animals are killed and start campaigning against killing cruelly those animals.

The argument of poisonous mercury inside the dolphins’ meat is exaggerated in the movie, but anyway used as another argument. In the case of the killing of dolphins as ペストコントロール (pest control) and not only for food, I could also understand and approve the killing: if dolphins consume big amounts of fish and procreate without limits but without being consumed or controlled by humans, the growing human population of the world won’t have enough fish to survive; or we will have to depend exclusively on meat in the future. It makes sense, but they disregard it as an excuse.

But what really bothered me about the movie was the manipulation of images in their favour: the Japanese fishermen are depicted without a face, as if denying their humanness, their angry arguments and words in Japanese are presented as animal sounds out of context. Even they show Japanese politicians and officials as expressionless, lack-of-feeling persons and, above all, liars and cruel even to their own people; while the dolphins are a noble race of “animals” who deserve tears and a decent life in the ocean.
Well, in first place, they should first try to understand the country and the culture to where they have travelled –who is kind enough as to not putting them in jail after their illegal actions-; and second, they should try not to be so ethnocentric and think that they are in possession of the truth –as for which animals should be eaten and which ones shouldn’t- and that they have the holy mission of making all the humanity have their own absolute values.

And today, in the news, the prohibition of bullfighting in Cataluña, Spain. I respect the democratically taken decision but I don’t share it at all: the torture they claim to receive the “toros de lidia” is not that, but just a 20 minute fight against the bullfighter after 5 years of a great life of freedom in the fields before its final sacrifice. Apart from political reasons -some people consider the decision as a way of marking more differences between Cataluña and Spain in search of a future independence (curiously the announce of the prohibition coincides in time with the rejection of a few crucial articles in the Catalan Estatut)-, many of the promoters of this law may have many things in common with Flipper’s trainer, even without having heard about him.




El domingo pasado se celebró la convocatoria de julio del examen oficial de lengua japonesa del Ministerio de Educación japonés. Se conoce como Nihongo Noryoku Shiken 日本語能力試験 y consta de 5 niveles –el nivel 1 es el más alto-. Cada candidato ha de matricularse en uno de ellos un par de meses antes de la celebración del examen. Hasta el año pasado la prueba constaba de 4 niveles, pero debido a la gran distancia que existía entre los niveles 2 y 3, el Ministerio decidió ampliar en un nivel más la prueba creando un nuevo nivel 3 (三級) y desplazando los antiguos 3 y 4 hacia abajo. En esta ocasión me he presentado al nivel 2 (二級), aunque como dicen los americanos, the odds are against me, pues me faltó tiempo en la parte escrita de la comprensión de textos y creo que cometí unos cuantos errores en las cuestiones más gramaticales. El examen es básicamente escrito, a base de preguntas de respuesta múltiple, con lo que en ningún momento se mide la producción de lenguaje por parte del examinado. Por un lado, eso resulta cómodo para el candidato y objetivo a la hora de evaluar; pero por otro, se pierde una parte del lenguaje que es clave, su uso; además, dirige el estudio del idioma japonés y la preparación para dicho examen hacia los aspectos puramente formales de la lengua y no a los comunicativos. La obsesión de los japoneses por la maestría en el arte de la gramática fuera de contexto es obvia en ciertas partes del examen, donde ítems de apenas una frase y elementos gramaticales del lenguaje escrito formal japonés son considerados con el mismo valor que textos originales completos y su comprensión. Hay también tareas extrañas y poco naturales como la de ordenar las palabras de una frase como si fuera un puzle o un crucigrama: ¡en la vida real no se hace eso! En la parte del audio hay un poco de todo aunque a veces parece que miden más la memoria que la percepción auditiva.
Es la visión de estudiar el lenguaje por el lenguaje, abstrayéndose del contexto social y cultural e incluso del contenido. A la hora de prepararse para el examen o incluso para estudiar japonés en general por libre, casi todos los materiales escritos están cortados por el mismo patrón –en base al dichoso examen-: no existe ningún libro de texto de japonés con enfoque verdaderamente comunicativo agrupado en bloques temáticos, sino que son un sinfín de reglas gramaticales. Además, las ediciones están muy poco cuidadas en comparación con libros de idiomas de otras lenguas.
Hasta el que examen no se modernice –e incluya entrevista oral con un nativo y producir lenguaje por lo menos al ordenador, como en el TOEFL-, será difícil que los extranjeros consigan dominar el idioma japonés más allá de las preguntas de opción múltiple. Hace 3 años conocí a un americano en Osaka que había pasado el nivel 1 del examen pero que apenas podía producir unas frases de saludo en japonés. Me pregunté cómo era posible aquello. Bueno, los japoneses encargados del examen deberían también hacerse ese tipo de preguntas y cambiar el JLPT. Y luego aplicarlo también a la enseñanza del inglés, el español, etc., para sus conciudadanos en las clases que no son impartidas por nativos.

Slumdog Millionaire at Ritsumeikan University



A man with a fast and precise talk, the diplomat and eventually writer Vikas Swarup came to Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan, on Monday at the request of the tireless and persevering English teacher Andrew Dowling. In spite of the unusual of the occasion, very few Japanese professors and/or administrators attended Mr. Swarup’s lecture about his book –turned into a Hollywood-awarded movie- and India (maybe they were at one of those long meetings they like to celebrate in the evenings). But, anyway, around one hundred and fifty students were able to listen to and meet the celebrity. I’m not sure how much of the diplomat’s polished English did they even understand, but for sure it must have been a good experience for them.
He talked about the process of writing –supported by an “absent wife”- when in London in an astonishing short two-month period; about the publishing; and about the adaptation into a successful movie (even before the book had been for sale).
The questions about his own life –not belonging to the slums but depicting them in his novel- as a middle class educated Indian man, and about the use of English to show characters who speak in different Indian languages and dialects were answered by him with frankness and humility: his objective is not to explain complex Indian society but just to tell a story and entertain the readers.
The part of the lecture when he addressed India’s economy, culture and growing political weight in the world sounded more of a boring diplomat’s politically-correct speech than an intellectual’s opinion, but even though, when he talked about the novel, its characters and the movie themselves, it was well worth it. Thanks, Andrew, and happy birthday.

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