Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Dollar Falls

I've been watching the fall of the dollar compared to the yen with very mixed feelings.

I mean, 80 yen to the dollar? Well, if you're lucky enough to be traveling back to the States or paying US bills, you're probably doing a little leprechaun jig. It certainly becomes much cheaper, 20% cheaper than a year and a half ago. So that $25 dinner I bought in the spring of 2009 will now cost an effective $20 (big spender, that's me!). If I had bought my Kindle today, it would have cost me 2000 yen less than four months ago ($25 dollars at today's exchange). Companies that I special order some food items through are now giving 10% discounts across the board. CostCo's even cheaper than usual - too bad it costs me over 2000 yen in tolls to get there and back.

But the other side of the coin worries me. A lot. This drop against the yen means that all Japanese products, from electronics to bulk steel, cost more in the States, Japan's primary trade partner. So customers look elsewhere. I know, you're thinking that I'm just an English teacher, what do I care? Well, that trickles down very quickly. Actually it doesn't trickle. It's a virtual avalanche of shit rolling downhill.

Sales drop, so big companies reduce their production. Employee bonuses, a big part of the Japanese salary system, fall. Subsidiaries also have to reduce production and reduce their employees' salaries or bonuses. These folks spend less, and that hits everybody, including me, like a Mike Tyson roundhouse in the wallet. Fewer tourists come as well, hurting souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels in hot spots like Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo.

English, while considered an integral part of their children's education by many parents, still can't equate housing and food.

Test Time

Ah, it's mid-terms here now, and the stress is in the air.

Three of my kids are in JHS and HS, so they're all getting ready for their mid-terms. My younger daughter is having her second day of tests, my older son's tests start today, and my older daughter's tests are next week (3 different schools).

Kids throughout the area are spending late nights at their desks and going to their cram schools for special pre-test classes in math, science, Japanese and English. Many of them will get home after 10pm, and spend the rest of the night pulling all-nighters.

It's like college life was for me.

And I just smile with the blissful feeling of "Better you than me!"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Halloween in Japan

It's almost Halloween time and, as usual, things are hectic at my school. I'm trying to make decorations and games for the annual party, since there isn't much variety available compared to, say, in Target or WalMart. And this year, I'm planning on ramping up the school English party as well, and have even gotten some JHS kids to help me run it.

When my oldest daughter was 3, we introduced our neighbors to Halloween and its fun. With three other families, we dressed the kids up and had them 'trick or treat' at each others houses, then brought them here to eat some of their spoils and play some games. These parties have continued to grow over the last 12 years (12 families last year), and we've watched Halloween slowly approach the mainstream around us. It's still nothing like in the States, but it's even marked on calendars now!

Good luck finding good, cheap decorations, though. The Japanese love monsters and ghosts (look at Godzilla and 'The Ring'), but they don't have home or neighborhood parties very often, the homes are too small. And while nowadays there is a pretty good selection on the internet from Japanese vendors, the monsters are often different (this morning one of my students asked me why mummies are scary). Being specialty items, the prices are also high. I also like to use pinatas, but they're pretty ridiculous, and actually are made too well. By the time the kids managed to break open the pinata 2 years ago, most of the candy was sugar dust, so this year I'm going to make my own using balloons and papier mache.

I'll post pictures after the party, show you some of the costumes. This is the land of cosplay, remember, so sometimes the kids (or their parents, actually) go all out and make fantastic costumes, others just grab a garbage bag and colored markers. Some of the kids even dress as ninjas, go figure!