Nobody Has More Respect for Women Than I Do

People rightly laughed at Trump when he claimed this in the 3rd debate this past week.  The thing is, I think the audience was laughing at the notion that Trump could respect women, when the real problem is what Trump thinks a woman is.

There are multiple definitions of respect, none of which strike me as problematic (these are the verbs; the noun versions are similar):

: to feel admiration for (someone or something) : to regard (someone or something) as being worthy of admiration because of good qualities

: to act in a way which shows that you are aware of (someone’s rights, wishes, etc.)

: to treat or deal with (something that is good or valuable) in a proper way

It is certainly plausible that Trump’s feelings towards women match the first and third definitions of respect here, provided we accept some rather retrograde definitions of the good qualities of women and what proper treatment of women entails.  I don’t think it would be terribly unexpected if Trump’s definition of “woman” meant that groping and grabbing were “treating and dealing with something that is good or valuable in a proper way”.  Likewise, regarding a woman not as a fellow homo sapien with mostly aligned priorities but as an unfathomably attractive but ultimately aesthetic object probably only deepens his offense at people lacking womanly qualities calling themselves that.  Metal fans aren’t just indifferent but morally revolted when Limp Bizkit fans (such as they exist) call their idols metal.

Disgusting slobs with fat ugly faces.

There are hints of this problem in the responses of Trump’s Republican (erstwhile) allies as well: Paul Ryan insisted that “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified”, which certainly doesn’t sound like an attitude one takes towards people essentially like oneself.  Whether or not Ryan respects women isn’t the issue; it’s clear that he does.  He just thinks of a woman as something like a rare giant catfish or a goldtop Gibson Les Paul.

Living in Japan exposes you to this attitude a lot: People don’t think they’re being sexist in a disrespectful sense by having only men drive on the freeway or having women do all the housework.  They’re being completely respectful of what they think are the essential qualities of men and women.  A lack of respect isn’t the issue: if anything too much respect is exactly the problem.

Struggling homunculi

Compare these three uses of “struggling” I’ve heard from teachers:

  1. “Johnny is struggling to raise his science scores.”
  2. “Jimmy is struggling to understand long division.”
  3. “Jackie Jormp-Jomp is struggling to behave in class.”

I think there is a rather insidious, or at least incorrect, assumption being smuggled into the last of these.  That is the assumption that a little man lives in your head that tries to control you, and who people will often assert really is you, but whose perspective is mostly aligned with local authority figures.

(to say nothing of “struggling to complete his homework”, which to me is literally the exact opposite of what it means: “not trying to complete his homework”)

Consider the meanings of both the words and the grammar used here. “Struggle” is basically “work very hard” and brings to mind an obstacle external to the subject.  One can easily imagine for sentences 1 and 2 that “struggling” takes the form of study and practice.  It is difficult to see what children struggling to behave are working against, if not themselves, and what progress toward their goal looks like.  In what part of a misbehaving child’s mind is this struggle occurring?

Source. First hit for “struggle” on Google image search.

The grammar “to (v)” refers to a goal, i.e. something you can imagine achieving and are trying to achieve.  This makes more sense with sentences 1 and 2, as it is quite simple to imagine a test score higher than you achieved before, and a child who has not yet mastered long division presumably remembers what it was like to master subtraction and multiplication.  A child that is “struggling to behave” not only probably isn’t actually working hard but also probably doesn’t have the goal that the teacher’s phrasing implies.

Hopefully you can see my problem with using this word and this grammar with a behavioral problem – it paints an absurd picture of a mind working against itself for a goal external to it.  It summons a homunculus inside the student’s head and shanghais it into service for the teacher.  As with all injunctions to let your central executive freely and rationally choose, it refers to a part of the mind that simply doesn’t exist (and people who appear to have such a part are also not freely or rationally choosing – the well-behaved kids don’t have a homunculus either).

This criticism isn’t to discount the subjective experience of being aware of the unacceptability of your own behavior as you perform it – I had this at a job interview not too far in the past – but we know kids don’t often behave with this level of self-awareness.  The level of self-awareness implied in the phrase “struggling to behave” actually goes further than the usual mind-body dualism – it posits a mind-mind dualism and chides children for not listening to the part of their minds that the teacher simply made up.

Much of the time that teachers say this, they are doing so because it makes the child look better than simply saying that he or she behaves badly because he or she wants to.  Still, we mustn’t let our diplomatic phrasing for the benefit of parents cloud our understanding of what is really happening.

Free will and vocabulary size

Criminals commit crimes of their own volition.  Society certainly plays a role in creating the conditions that produce crime, but ultimately the criminal is responsible for his or her own actions and should be held accountable as a free individual.

Words have identifiable meanings at their core.  People may use them incorrectly, or their meanings may be corrupted over time, but in order to understand them, use them, and teach them you need to know their real definitions independent of context.

I think both of these statements are wrong, but they have something interesting in common, which is a perceived need to regard certain things in isolation for some purposes when in reality they depend on other things for almost all their characteristics.  I intend here to draw a connection between what I studied in college (criminology) and some issues that haunt my current field of applied linguistics.  The connection that I will draw is one of an ultimately false atomized view of both human agents and words in language, and then I will show that the realization that atomized view is false nonetheless has very limited implications due to institutional restraints on how we can deal with human agency and how we can teach and test vocabulary.


That started off much more formally than I intended.  I guess the issues I’m going to bring up are fairly high-minded, but keep in mind I’m used to dealing with these topics in academic writing.  I will try to address the least educated of my readers.  No, not you.  The other guy.  You know the one.

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100 posts.

This blog started as just a way to catalog my thoughts on Japan as I was getting ready to leave it.  I was hoping initially just to have a few friends and family members read it to get an inside view of my life for the past 12 years.  Over time I’ve really started to enjoy the organization and economizing of thoughts that occurs as I attempt to put them down in print and started blogging more or less as my main hobby.  I thought I’d celebrate getting to 100 posts in about 9 months by putting a kind of “Best of” together here, with posts that miraculously were seen by hundreds of people followed by some that sit huddled in the shadows.


So here are the posts with the most views.

White in Japan = Racial minority in the USA? was helped along by some retweets by influential people about 5 months after it was written.

Times Higher Education Rankings and Hensachi got plenty of views from my former JALT colleagues, possibly wondering how their current place of employment stacks up.  Good news if you work at Toyota Technological Institute, bad news if you work anywhere else, and especially bad news if it’s a high-hensachi private school like Keio, Waseda, or MARCH.

International marriage in Japan – a correlation broken in South America is of general interest to students of inequality.  In sum, international marriages tend to have the husband as the partner from the richer country in direct proportion to the difference in wealth between the two countries.

Eikaiwa websites: Advertising ideology may contribute a bit to advertising strategies for small eikaiwa.  If I were to live in Japan another 5 years I’d almost definitely write a book along these lines.

OC English by the Numbers was a numerical rundown of our now-closed school, which we ran together for 11 years.  A bit of showing off and a bit of humble pie.

In general, posts that took a proper amount of time to write (4 of those 5 involved a few hours of research) were rewarded with views.  Go figure, people want to read things that have some kind of payoff in actual factual understanding.  As you’ll see below, posts that featured me rambling on some abstract point that I think is the hidden cause of some intolerable present circumstance tended to be viewed less.

Winners, in the sense of a camp for low-self-esteem children!

I think these deserve another look (or rather, a look).  Ones I simply can’t stand that people haven’t read are in the menu above.

Wasei-eigo proposes that words been seen as belonging to the language they live in rather than the one they come from.  Plus it only has 1 view (me), meaning you’ll be in some very exclusive company by reading it.

A spoonful of medicine helps the sugar go down encapsulates what I think the role of the synthetic syllabus and didactic syllabi are in modern ELT, along with the much more-viewed video games post (check the menu above).


Who’s the nation of 12-year-olds? features some well-worn observations on how little Japanese children resemble Japanese adults.

Infinite virtue ties 20th century utopian projects to moist, supple skin.

Blended learning, mixed results is on a mostly failed experiment with CALL to reinforce weekly eikaiwa lessons.

My year teaching English at Japanese university, part 1 explains the ways that eikaiwa is superior to university (part 2 takes the opposite view).

A memorable time at a JALT event chronicles an awkward encounter with a relentlessly positive presenter.

In addition, any of the class activities that I posted here are endlessly flexible and ones I used over and over again with many different age groups and class sizes.

Occasionally I’ll also lose half my subscribers by writing about metal bands too.  Use the search function… if you dare.

Thanks for reading!

THE Rankings and Hensachi, pt. 2 – Expected and Observed Hensachi

A little Numbers know-how and a lot of free time are a dangerous combination.

I took the sample I used last time to compute something I call the expected hensachi, a score along the same range of hensachis from the last sample – 46 to 75 – but calibrated to schools’ component scores in the THE Rankings.  I did this to provide something to contrast with schools’ observed hensachis, which again came from this site.  Expected hensachis were calculated by this simple method:

(school’s component score – minimum observed component score) / range of component scores * range of observed hensachis + minimum observed hensachi

(I was asked last time to provide an analysis of the components of universities’ hensachi scores.  They are based on two tests – the センター試験sentaa shiken (National Center Test for University Admissions) and universities’ own tests for each academic department, both of which must be taken in most cases.  Cram schools figure out the hensachis based on internal calculations and make them available to students and sometimes to the public.  This site presents scores required for entrance in two formats: raw scores and percentages for the Center, and hensachis for universities’ own exams.  I can’t say, or don’t have the time to look for, how cram schools get their data.)

Tokyo University has the highest THE component scores and the highest hensachi, so its expected hensachi is still 75.  The school with the lowest component scores, Jikei University School of Medicine (ouch!), gets the lowest expected hensachi with 46 (Toyota Tech’s score in the observed actual hensachis).  A school halfway between the ceiling provided by Tokyo U and the floor provided by Jikei gets an expected hensachi halfway as well; Kyushu University’s half-full, half-empty component scores leave it with an expected hensachi of 60.7, which is less than its observed hensachi of 66.

As you might suspect, this leaves some schools with expected hensachis quite different from their actual hensachis.  Read on to check out a chart ordered from the largest positive difference between actual and expected hensachi to largest negative.

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A pro-social level of hypocrisy

People should be judged by the amount of good that they do (or the amount of bad that they avoid), not by how closely they adhere to their stated principles.  I say that as a hypocritical vegetarian liberal who wants to be judged according to objective standards, not by his own.

I’ve had dinner recently with groups of politically-minded folks who act on their beliefs re: consumption to varying degrees.  Let me try to break the groups down for you:

  1. Hedonistic Conservatives.  People for whom selfish overconsumption presents no moral problems, unless the Chinese do it. (These people are Japanese, but American conservatives see China in similar ways.)
  2. Coasters.  People who haven’t thought about what level of consumption would be problematic and simply abide by patterns and implicit rules from the society around them.
  3. Inactive liberals.  People who talk about the problems of overconsumption between bites of imported sea bass.
  4. Opportunistic liberals.  People who tend to take action on the most visible, social media-friendly progressive causes.  People who eat imported sea bass with their group of upper middle class homeless shelter volunteers.

You’ll have noticed that among my friends there are no liberals (or conservatives) who truly act on their principles in considered and logical ways – presumably they would find most dinner parties problematic.  Not one of the liberals in my current circle of acquaintances lives by their principles completely, including me.  I still consider these people morally superior to Hedonistic Conservatives and Coasters because their level of hypocritical, self-aggrandizing liberal activism still results in objectively less harm to other people and a human-friendly environment.

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Times Higher Education Rankings and Hensachi in Japanese universities

This post in a nutshell: Are rankings of universities within Japanese society similar to rankings of universities used internationally?  What components of international ranking scores track the most commonly used rankings in Japan?


The best-known means by which universities in Japan are ranked is called a hensachi score, which tells how far from the statistical mean a typical student admitted to a given institution scores on a test.  A score of 50 is at the mean, 60 is one standard deviation above the mean, 70 is two SDs above the mean, etc.  A high hensachi, say 65, for a given department at a given institution means students admitted do better than at least 95% of the test-taking population on that test (one SD turns out to be quite a leg up on one’s peers).  Hensachi scores vary by department; a medical university like Juntendo will have a high hensachi for its medical department (72) and a much lower one for its nursing department (55).  The private university I used to teach at has hensachi ranging from 35 to 65 for its various departments.

Source.  Looks more complicated than it is.

On the other hand, colleges in the US are usually evaluated according to a range of measures.  It’s not difficult to find out the acceptance rate at a given school, but more commonly seen are suggested minimum SAT and ACT scores as well as high school GPAs.  Placing these on a normal curve is possible but not widely done.

More commonly, people rely on national and international rankings like that of US News and World Report or the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the latter of which are the subject of this post.  The THE Rankings caused a bit of a stir here recently as Japan’s universities underperformed in the list of the world’s top 980 universities, with only 2 institutions in the first 100 and many schools highly regarded in Japan falling rather high (as we shall see, the prestigious private MARCH schools – Meiji, Aoyama, Rikkyō, Chūō, and Hōsei all come in above #800, or off the list altogether).

A common interpretation of the discrepancy between the ranking and prestige that Japanese universities enjoy locally and those they receive internationally is that Japanese universities serve some local societal need that is not addressed, or at least is underrepresented, in the THE Rankings.  The most obvious of these is simply sorting: Japanese universities are a final stamp on a long process of streaming by test scores in order to serve the efficient hiring by companies after college, which justifies the use of a single number (hensachi) to rank universities and explains some other mysterious practices like much of 4th year attendance being superceded by job hunting.  Of course, this thinking would justify any allotment of hensachi rankings; a more prestigious school is more selective and therefore more prestigious, and a selective school is more prestigious and therefore more selective; the hensachi of a school telling employers all they need to know about its graduates.  Other local needs that have been proposed as explanations of this gap include the necessarily limited local market for research in the vernacular (including in-house university publications; I haven’t been able to find any of these in the database that the THE Rankings use to compile their Citations and Research scores), the lack of direct industry ties among Japanese universities, lack of weighting for patents (my ex-employer was particularly well-known for this in Japan), and a lack of outreach apparati for recruiting foreign students and staff.  This last one seems to be a result of misplaced priorities than institutional disadvantage.

The components do not all contribute equally to the THE Ranking.  Notably, Teaching and Research are less weighted this year than in previous years, a fact which this article blames for Tokyo U’s drop in this year’s rankings.  As we shall see, these two areas are relatively strong for Japanese universities.


In the interests of finding out just how much the THE Rankings correlated to Japan’s internal rankings of universities, I went through the THE Rankings for Japanese universities and recorded the component scores that contributed to their final rankings.  I then figured out the average (median unless there were 3 or fewer departments, then mean) hensachis across all departments for those universities and entered them in a Numbers file, using this site to find hensachifor university departments.  Then I computed the correlations between the component scores, the THE Rankings, and the hensachis for those universities.  I only included schools ranked 800 or lower [EDIT: meaning better than 800]; including the final group of 801-980 would have doubled the amount of work.  Sorry.


Not exactly a creative use of statistics, but it involved a lot of copying and pasting and you know, it’s the kind of thing you expect someone to do.  So I did it. You can see the raw numbers in the following graph.

THE rankings and hensachi.jpg
Means: Teaching 32.2, Research 23.4, Citations 33.4, Int’l Outlook 23.9, Industry Income 47.9. THE Rankings are given as averages of the ranges given, for example 601-800 is entered as 700.

The overall correlation between the THE Rankings and hensachis was -0.5778.  For only schools in the THE top 500, the correlation was -0.6128.  These numbers are negative because, as should be expected, rank falls as hensachi rises.  The closer a university is to #1 ranking, the harder it is to get into.  For schools ranked above #500, there is almost no correlation between ranking and hensachi: -0.1339.  This should not be a surprise, as almost all of those universities have identical ranking scores.

Immediately we can see that hensachis do not track the THE Rankings exactly, and sometimes are curiously divergent.  Schools that are very difficult to get into, for example Waseda University with its median hensachi of 69 (rejecting nearly 98% of all applicants) [EDIT: not really rejecting of course, just out of the reach of.  Students at -2 SDs presumably don’t apply to Waseda.] is ranked by THE as just as strong as Toyohashi University of Technology, which with its hensachi of 50 gives students even odds of getting in.  On the other hand, another school with the same hensachi of 69, Osaka University, is ranked just out of the top 200.  A student with much better-than-average scores, according to THE, would be much better off choosing Osaka.  On the other hand, a completely average student could get into a school which the THE considers just as good as Waseda, which in Japan has a level of prestige similar to Princeton or Stanford in the USA.

Correlations, positive and negative

So what about the components of the THE Rankings?  How do those compare with universities’ hensachis?

This next graph has the correlations of each component score with hensachi:

Screen Shot 2016-10-08 at 12.10.21.png
Teaching: 0.7368, Research: 0.6833, Citations: 0.2492, Int’l Outlook: 0.4683, Industry Income:0.4145

And only for universities within the best 500:

Screen Shot 2016-10-08 at 12.10.21 copy.png
Teaching: 0.8527, Research: 0.7785, Citations: -0.4863, Int’l Outlook: 0.3218, Industry Income: 0.3576

And above 500:

Screen Shot 2016-10-08 at 12.10.23.png
Teaching: 0.3738, Research: 0.2289, Citations: 0.3258, Int’l Outlook: 0.1926, Industry Income: -0.2048

To reiterate, a hensachi tells us how difficult it is to get into a university; it is not a direct measure of quality.  It tells us how far above average a student has to be to have a chance of getting in, which depends on how many students try to get into a university and how many seats the university has available.  A high hensachi is a measure of selectivity, which is at best an indirect indicator of quality.

Out of the components that make up the THE Rankings, Teaching and Research are by far the most correlated with hensachi, across all spectra of Japanese universities in the THE list.  Among the top 500 schools only, Teaching and Research have near-perfect correlations with hensachi.  This supports the conclusion that Teaching and Research are responsible for much of any university’s competitiveness in Japan, as represented in its hensachi.

Interestingly, Citations are negatively correlated with hensachi among the Japanese universities in the THE top 500.  Universities whose research is cited more often tend to be less selective of incoming students, or students are dissuaded by the type of academic strength shown in numbers of citations when deciding which schools to try to gain admission to.  This is not the same as Citations being irrelevant; that would show up in a correlation of near 0.  I have no idea why Citations would correlate negatively with hensachi.  Hopefully someone in the comments can suggest a reason.

Industry Income is negatively correlated with hensachi in universities outside the top 500.  Correlations are all weaker outside the top 500, suggesting that objective (at least as far as the THE Rankings’ component scores reflect objective evaluations) evaluations matter less as those evaluations drop.  Still, I await explanation for why Industry Income could be negatively correlated with hensachi.


Among the cream of the crop, hensachi can generally be a heuristic for quality of undergraduate experience.  The main part of a 4-year student’s experience of a university is in its teaching, and hensachi correlates very strongly with the Teaching component of the THE Rankings.  However, among weaker schools by THE standards, hensachi fails to predict quality as strongly in any domain.  Importantly, this applies to weak schools as determined by THE, not by hensachi: many schools with high hensachi are ranked above #600 by THE, including Waseda, Keio, and the aforementioned MARCH schools.  For Japanese high schoolers looking at prospective undergraduate universities, my advice is to choose the lowest hensachi school from the THE top 500, like Tokyo Metropolitan University or University of Tsukuba.

For graduate students, hensachi is a much less useful tool for assessing a university’s strength, as Research, Citations, and Industry Income are likely to be much more important to students conducting original research.  Of course, I have no idea if prospective graduate students in Japan look at their universities’ hensachi at all; hensachi are computed for the difficulty of gaining admission to undergraduate departments.

Of course this assumes that quality matters.  If students are looking at university is mostly a stepping stone toward a prestigious job in Japan, one may be inclined to ignore THE Rankings altogether and regard only Japan-specific rankings as relevant.  If one looks at the hensachis of the aforementioned MARCH schools along with Waseda and Keio not as reflections of the numbers of students wanting to be educated at those institutions but instead as reflections of the numbers of students wanting the career opportunities having been admitted to one of those institutions grants you, they make sense regardless of the objective academic strength of those schools.  High-hensachi but low-THE-ranked universities can be seen as expensive and elaborate filters of workers for Japanese companies, just as Brian McVeigh suggests of Japanese universities as a whole.

There is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy to “prestige” in Japanese universities which can be seen especially strongly in high-hensachi private universities.  Bearing in mind what I said about Japanese high schools a while ago, it may be worth attending one of these universities if only for the opportunity to spend 4 years with like-minded peers.  However, if most of these peers are at that school for the career boost and not for the education, you will essentially be placing yourself in a Community of Practice for careerism and not for cultivation of the mind.  This may account for the low THE Rankings of some schools whose student bodies are clearly very devoted to some goal; that goal may just not be higher education as THE understands it.

For those of you who skipped to the bottom:

The data suggests that hensachi is not completely unmoored from educational quality, but that some forces besides educational quality also drive hensachi upwards or downwards.

Compensatory matcha

A JALT colleague shared with me a story about his university students and ice cream.  As a class project they’d taken a poll of which flavor ice cream was the class favorite, and it turned out to be matcha, or green tea.  When asked why, they responded, “Because we’re Japanese”.  My colleague wondered then, “So why do you eat ice cream?”

(Is the reason marketers prefer the term matcha (powdered green tea, rarely drunk) rather than sencha (infused green tea, the most popular) or ryokucha (just “green tea”), the same as the reason all tomato-flavored things in the US are invariably described as “sun-dried tomato”?)

An especially thick matcha ice cream.  “A sophisticated bitterness that only adults understand.  The moment you put it in your mouth, amazement and sensation spread.”  Note the abundance of kanji and serious-looking font, denoting class.

There is a process of domesticating unfamiliar or clearly foreign products which involves adding one or two “Japanese” ingredients and marketing them as reborn in Japan.  This is a way of compensating for their foreignness, a kind of ablution to prepare foreign products for the Japanese marketplace.  I buy a kimchee that happens to be vegetarian that advertises itself as “suited to Japanese mouths”.  Bakeries sell bread made with rice flour, and not because of gluten-phobia.  MOS Burger and McDonald’s periodically bring out ostentatiously Japan-themed burgers marketed with all the subtlety of a July 4th fireworks show.  All manner of creamy desserts and pastries use either matcha or the combination kinako (a kind of powder made from soybeans which tastes like very finely crushed peanuts) and brown sugar, which for some reason is thought to be Japanese.  All of these function as the spoonful of wa to help the Western food go down.

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Strain Theory, Eigo and Eikaiwa

Criminology, being more or less a specialized subset of sociology focused on how societies treat deviance, offers many lessons applicable to education.  Classrooms and student bodies are types of little societies after all, and it stands to reason that they would have their own versions of deviance, criminality, and sanctions; these being necessary parts of any society.

Merton’s Strain theory was one of the most memorable theories from my undergrad years (nominally spent studying social ecology, an interdisciplinary major of which criminology was a component).  Strain theory, as I remember it without referring back to Wikipedia, attempts to categorize deviant (non-mainstream) behavior in terms of acceptance or rejection of mainstream goals and means.

In general terms, under strain theory one can accept or reject mainstream goals (e.g., getting into college) and mainstream means (e.g., studying hard) independently of each other – you can dismiss college as the goal of education while being a fierce autodidact, or hold college admission as a goal while gaming the system by cheating on your SATs, or (for some reason) cheat on your SATs while not intending to go to college.  Which behaviors fall under the different categories below, of course, depend on the means and goals particular to that culture and/or society.

The canonical example of strain theory has financial success as the goal and employment as the means.  One could accept the goal of getting rich while robbing banks to get there, and this would be Innovation.  One could also give up on getting rich while still clocking in every day, which would be Ritualism.  Or one could spend all one’s time feeding the ducks at the park, in Retreatism.

OK, I had to check Wikipedia to make sure I had these labels right.

I’ve made two new versions of the above graph describing cultures of English learning in Japan, in which the goals and means for learning English differ.  The cultures corresponding to these graphs are captured under the terms eigo and eikaiwa.  If you are unfamiliar with these terms, chances are you have never taught in Japan.  The two are dichotomized quite strongly, and as we shall see, mainstream values in one are often stigmatized in the other.  Briefly, eigo is closely aligned with mandatory education and eikaiwa with English as a means of international (mostly verbal) communication.  For more detailed treatments of these different cultures of English in Japan, check out my MA thesis and its list of references.

Also see Diane Hawley Nagatomo’s new book Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan for a comprehensive and practical review of how these two ideologies of English affect individual teachers in Japan.

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