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As I'm teaching here, I'm having to try out new techniques to get the students interested in the lessons and learning. I decided this week to try out a new method of teaching vocabulary: Playing games. The week before, playing a game from the book proved to be pretty helpful on the review for the test, I figured playing a game this week couldn't hurt.

The game I chose is one familiar to many American schoolchildren - Hangman. You put blanks up on the board for letters, and the students have to guess the letters, and if they don't guess correctly, you fill in the figure of a little stick man on a cartoon gallows.

As I explained the concept, I saw comprehension dawn on my students' faces, followed by horror. The look said it all: "You mean, if we lose, that guys...dies!?"

I hadn't realized it before, but I guess the game is pretty grim. But then again, so are a lot of Western games - cowboys and indians, ring around the rosie (it's about the plague), cops and robbers, Risk, Red Rover. A lot of our games are violent and frankly a bit scary when you step back and think about it.

I was going to do a whole post comparing Japanese and Western attitudes toward violence, but I frankly don't know enough about Japanese culture yet to make an informed decision. All I have is the reaction of my students in the class, and a funny story. I wish I could have captured their faces on camera, because it was hilarious and embarrassing at the same time.

Once the game got underway, however, the students were learning and participating. When I offered them the chance to be "the hangman" - ie, the one writing on the board - the student who had been most horrified was one of the first to volunteer.

It's amazing how we can adjust to anything.

I'm sure I'll do a more coherent blog post later this weekend. Thanks for reading.


  1. They likely were just shocked that a teacher suggested it. Textbooks give a rather sanitized selection of games. Also if most students were girls, they might have been shocked because girls' games are less violent in Japan as in most cultures.

    Traditional Japanese boys' games can be just as violent. I see my son and his friends playing "Ninja" and "Samurai" in exactly the same way we played "Cowboys and Indians". It's a boy thing, the world over.

    I find the reflexive "Oh, my own culture is so violent and bad, compared to the peaceful Japanese" to be off-putting, and unfortunately common in just-graduated Americans. It seems they feel a need to show how "international" they are by denigrating the culture that produced them, usually by overstating the bad and ignoring the good. As an expat Brit, I have found the US to be on-average, a safer and kinder place than my native London.

    I'm glad you recognized a need to learn more before making a final judgment. Japanese culture in recent history has been quite hierarchical and averse to personal expression. The post-war years are an anomaly in a very violent history.

  2. Your comment is precisely why I hesitated to make any big declaration about it. It was just a surprising observation that my students were so shocked by a game I'd played since elementary school - I never really realized how grim the game is.

    It's interesting that in international travel, we do tend to notice the best of the culture that is around us and the worst of our own. Though, I've found that it can also highlight for me things that I like and miss about the US too.

    I don't know; it's all a process.

  3. haha, I love the way this ends.

    We are strange creatures, and our ability to adapt is uncanny.

    But seriously? How morbid is Hangman??


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