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Class Supplement, TOEFL Essay, One single object that represents your culture – partly rewritten –


Writing Topic
There will be an exhibition in which every country in the world is represented by one single object. What would you choose to send in order to represent your country in the exhibition? Why would you choose that object to send to the exhibition?

☆Let’s think
For example, tea ceremony is not an object but a cultural activity while a huge teacup used in tea ceremonies is an object. Sushi is rather a food than an object. You cannot place a sushi in a showcase at an exhibition because it is perishable. A sushi replica which is placed in the window of a sushi-bar is an object that could represent Japan. A Toyota car or a Nintendo game machine is a single object that probably symbolizes Japan because those machines are the cream of our world-famous high-technology and Japanese culture.

A copy of The Tale of Genji cannot be the answer because its physical aspect, an object made of paper and ink, hardly has Japanese properties even though the content is a famous Japanese story that is considered to be the first novel in the world. Manga or anime is not an object but a form of Japanese pop culture or art.

Now, if carefully put, a copy of manga could be an object that represents Japan. It is true that its essence is the content, which is intangible and so is not an object, but still a copy of manga is really Japanese. Its physical characteristics and its existence itself reflect Japanese culture. The neat appearance of manga-the glossy cover and elaborate print-and its drawings, originating from Ukiyo-e woodprint, which can depict nuances of feelings are uniquely Japanese. The contents are not simple superhero stories but those which tell you or share with you something about life, people, or small things that count in daily life. Also, manga is full of word play, trivia, and other devices which show Japanese common sense, general knowledge, and tradition. Moreover, putting so much energy into producing just a comic book shows a tendency to be meticulous about rather nonessential or transient things for daily use, as seen in our treatment with other things like cell-phones with many functions and Japanese gardens, one of whose features is patterns on the sand. Last but not least, the fact that the word manga has become an English word shows that it cannot be replaced with the word comic and that its existence itself reflects some distinctive part of Japanese culture.

☆Ideas and expressions
♦industry: high technology, craftsmanship
→ related objects: Toyota car , Sony Walkman, Nintendo game machine, Asimo

♦history and geography: isolated itself until 1868, militaristic/warlike, an island county
→ related objects: katana, tools to take fingerprints of foreigners at the airport

♦culture: the samurai culture, group-oriented, sensitive about feelings, polite, neat/well-organized, (extremely) punctual, well-disciplined, obsession with cleanliness, extremely aesthetic, detail-loving
→ related objects: katana, a large bowl for tea ceremony, high-tech toilet, a manga comic book, cell phone, kimono, furoshiki, kotatsu foot-warmer, miniature food replica, a lunch box set

Shuriken, Hina dool, Japanese sweet, Japanese stationery


☆The structure of the introduction
Perhaps writing a good essay introduction is most difficult for writing-test takers and the least energy should be spent on it during the TOEFL iBT essay writing, where you have to brainstorm, work on the structure, and develop each paragraph well, while minding your English, in 30 minutes. Therefore, making it a habit to begin an essay with the main idea and the summary of the body is the best and the most that most of us could do. However, if you have some time to spend on the first paragraph to make it more impressive, following its basic structure would be a good idea. Here is the basic structure of the introduction:

The basic structure of an essay introduction:
The hook: The first sentence which is put in a way to make the reader interested in your essay.
The explanation: The explanation of the background of the hook.
The main idea: The sentence which introduces what you want to say in the essay.

a. ≪simile or metaphor≫
The hook: The impact of the computer is like that of electricity.
The explanation: Supply of electricity has totally changed all people’s lives, from dark to light, from tiresome to easy, or from unthinkable to possible, and opened a new era.
The main idea: Computers also have transformed the world dramatically into the one where we can no longer live without them, different lifestyles and new things are created, and more democratic society is possible.

b. ≪quote≫
The hook: Mark Twain said, “It’s easy to quit smoking. I’ve done it hundreds of times.”
The explanation: This shows that it is almost impossible for many smokers to quit smoking.
The main idea: To ban tobacco is to make many of these poor tobacco-addicts, including such great authors as Mark Twain, criminals. Thus, I am opposed to making smoking illegal.

c. ≪enigma or Zen≫
The hook: A heavy smoker’s family loses him twice.
The explanation: Long before he dies of a disease which seems to be related to this unhealthy habit of his, when they realize that they are helpless in making him quit smoking, they start a silent but desperate mourning of his early death. It is the same sadness that they share with families of drug addicts. It is the sadness to see him die day by day.
The main idea: Still, this is actually a minor aspect of the tragedy of tobacco. Even though it might be difficult to put in practice because of smokers’ feelings and economic circumstances, cigarettes should be made illegal to protect younger generations and to solve the problem of second-hand smoke.

d. ≪satire≫
The hook: No one would remember anymore that there was a best seller entitled “Japan as Number One” only three decades ago.
The explanation: Not only had we made a rapid recovery from the defeat of WWII, we had become the second biggest economy in the world, but now we are in decline.
The main idea: To represent the past and present of my country, I would send a SONY Walkman to an exhibition where every country in the world is represented by one single object.

e. ≪joke≫
The hook: An English man once told me that he had thought Toyota was a British company for a long time.
The explanation: It is true that you see Toyota cars not only in England but everywhere on this planet.
The main idea: I would send a Toyota car as an object to represent my country Japan.

Your introduction:
The hook:

The explanation:

The main idea:

☆Essay for ideas and expressions
The underground dwarf world that appears in Scandinavian mythology always reminds me of my country Japan. It is the realm of small, cunning creatures that make magic items. If I were to choose one single object that symbolizes my country, I would choose a katana, Japanese sword. I think katana represents well-known characteristics of Japan: craftsmanship, the samurai culture, and the history of battles.

Katana is said to be the sharpest sword in the world and collectors find aesthetic pleasure in it, and this indicates our intense devotion to craftsmanship and beauty. Many people find perfectionism and love of details in things we make from traditional handicrafts to cutting-edge industrial products to Mom’s handmade daily lunch whose colorful, delicately-shaped ingredients are neatly arranged in a little lunch box. Our punctual transportation systems and stores with well-disciplined clerks who offer attentive services also seem to owe their origin in this tendency.

While carrying katana was made illegal long ago, the samurai-warrior culture is still dominant in Japan. Samurai dramas are popular. Business magazines often feature famous Japanese warlords and warriors to learn lessons from their deeds or tactics. Also, many katana-related expressions are alive in our language. To describe a sharp person, we use a more direct expression, “kireru,” cuts well. Crisp beer is “kire ga ii,” or cuts in a nice way. Shin-ken, which is usually used to mean being serious, also means real, not wooden, katana. Lay-off is “kubi-kiri,” cutting heads off and taking a drastic measure is “itto-ryodan,” cutting in half with a long sword. These and many other katana-related expressions are used in our everyday life, by both men and women, young and old. It seems that we are always wielding katana, in metaphor of course.

Katana reminds people of our warlike past. Most of our history is warlords’ history. Also, it is a historical fact that Japanese invaded other countries, torturing and killing their civilians. Those who brutally killed women and children with military katana along with guns were not abnormal individuals but average Japanese, who later went home and spent the rest of their lives as gentle workers and family lovers. This fact shows that we can become ice-cold like a katana in certain situations. Although we are not the only people that have committed atrocities, it is more significant that we are one of them.

I do not think all the main features of Japan can be represented by a katana, which is a weapon and therefore has few elements to represent virtues of a people. However, I think our world-famous characteristics, “both militaristic and aesthetic” (Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: patterns of Japanese culture), are symbolized by a katana, which is a top-class artwork and relentlessly sharp.


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