Kansai’s Class Draws U.S. Teacher Back to Favorite Himeji Region

HIMEJI, Hyogo Pref. — When Christopher Crowe, 33, returned to the United States several years ago after a year-long stint in Kansai, he hoped that he hadn’t closed the door on a country he loved.

Four years later, a job offer as an associate professor of English at the new Himeji Dokkyo University — a private school that opened last April — was his ticket back.

He heard about the job through contacts solidified during his year with the Himeji Board of Education in 1983.

“We felt good about it, so we told them we’d come,” he said.

Despite little knowledge of the Japanese language, Crowe and his wife, Elizabeth, packed up the family and returned to Himeji — the sister city of his former home of Phoenix, Arizona.

He’s happy to be back, but the job isn’t without frustrations. As one of four foreign instructors in the university’s English Department of 10 instructors, Crowe said overcoming the traditional Japanese educational system has been the greatest barrier.

“My biggest frustration is the students are kind of like zombies in class,” he said. “It’s not their fault, I suppose, it’s the system. That makes it tough in an English class where you want them to speak and respond.

“They’re not used to any kind of interchange with their teacher, so I enjoy trying to make class a little more entertaining or just off the wall,” he said.

Although his classes are in English, the language barrier is also an obstacle that Crowe faces daily, he said.

“I wish I could speak Japanese because some concepts would be good to explain, but usually I can ask a student to translate,” he said.

“It’s probably better for the students when they know they have to listen to me” without translation, he said. “For the English majors, it’s not bad.”

Crowe said he and his family — he has four adopted children — have found in Japan a unique kind of freedom not enjoyed in the United States.

“Because there are more (social) restrictions, it makes for more freedoms in other senses. You’re safer, you don’t have to worry about things being stolen as much — freedoms we’ve lost in the U.S.”

His decision to adopt children has taken a few Japanese residents by surprise.

“In Japan, (adoption) is a really alien idea,” he said. “We tried to look into adoption here, but they just thought we were nuts.

“That idea of adoption is just mind-boggling. When my students heard that, they couldn’t believe it.”

Crowe and his family plan to stay in Kansai at least a few more years.

“We’ll stay in Japan as long as we enjoy it,” he said, “and that’ll probably be a long time.”