Tag Archives: ex-pat humor

Tales of Japan

Shut up!
Unfortunately some of the first English the students here pick up is the, um, less than savory kind. Sometimes it is all out swearing. Other times it is just stuff that isn’t entirely age
appropriate.

Case in point: a scene from a couple weeks ago.

I was teaching a class of first and second graders. Though I bring a lot of energy to the classroom and like to make the curriculum fun, I do need the kids to actually listen. Usually the kids are great, but on this particular day the second graders were talking to each other instead of listening. After a few times of asking them to calm down didn’t work, I paused. I stood there holding the flashcards, slightly smiling, just waiting. This strategy works pretty well in the honor society of Japan. It is considered shameful that I can’t teach the lesson, especially as a guest teacher (I only come once every two weeks, and I’m only scheduled to teach the first and second graders once a month). The other kids, seeing that I had paused, turned around and tried to get the noisy kids to pay attention. But, of course, they wanted to show off their English too. So this precious little first grade boy turns around and clearly says to the older students, “Shut up!” The
tone wasn’t menacing or harsh. He said it like you or I would say, “Please be quiet.” Slightly mortified, I explained to them that these words weren’t polite, and I had them all repeat, “Be
quiet, please” after me. Then, since they were quiet, I went on. But I haven’t been able to shake the sight of that precious little boy innocently using words that got me in trouble at that age.

Very, very cute!
My apartment is not too far away from a preschool, and occasionally when I walk by a passel of 2 year olds is hovering near the open door. If this is the case, I often stop to say hello and give
high fives to them. This activity occasionally draws more of the toddlers to the door. Three or four of them have taken to compliment me when I stop. “Eigo no sensei kawaii!” (The English
teacher is cute!). “Arigatou!” I reply, and give them another high five. At which point another child usually takes his or her turn to affirm me. Which I thank him or her for, and give another
high five to. After three or four rounds of this, someone usually changes to, “Eigo no sensei kakoi!” (The English teacher is cool!). That statement is then echoed by another round of charming little faces. A couple of times a teacher will walk by and whisper to them. The teachers know I speak English and view this as an opportunity for their pupils to practice. “Very, very cute!” the girl will start to chant. The chorus is taken up by others. “Very, very cute! Very very cute!” Now they are jumping up and down, thrilled to pieces at my cuteness quotient and charmed out of
their minds that they can tell me about it.

There are some rough days in this country, and the culture is not one that works hard on affirmation, so as strange as it may sound, being serenaded by a bunch of two year olds chanting my praises can really make me feel better. Encouragement: I’ll take it in any language!

The Ground Shaking: just an ordinary day…
As most everyone knows, Japan is prone to earthquakes. The country as a whole probably receives at least one per day, but they aren’t usually big enough to feel unless they are decently
strong and fairly close. That combination only occurs every two to four weeks. Yet that is still frequent enough for it to become part of the background noise of life here.

What I mean is this: yesterday I was shopping. Specifically, I was shopping for comic books (manga) as a gift for a friend. I’ve never shopped for manga before, and I was simultaneously
trying to guess which copies he might have already read as well as thinking about how much money I wanted to spend. In the middle of that we had an earthquake. It registered as 4.6 on the
Richter scale. I certainly felt it, but I also ignored it and kept thinking. A few minutes later I made a decision, paid for the purchase, and walked out of the store. As I strode away, for some reason the idea that we had just had an earthquake hit me. I was a little taken aback, not that we had had one, but that I had forgotten about it so quickly. When did the earth shaking become such a normal thing?

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Two Stories

What do you do with your teeth?
On Monday one of my students had a tooth fall out in the middle of class. Since I teach junior high, this is a decently rare occurrence, but out it came. The teacher explained to me that in Japan upper teeth are buried under the house and lower teeth are thrown on the roof. This is considered good luck and helps ensure that the next set of teeth will be strong. In turn, I explained that in the U.S. we put a tooth under our pillows, and the tooth fairy comes to pick it up, leaving money behind. The teacher translated this for the students, and they all made the standard Japanese noise of astonishment. They say “Eh”, but instead of making it one note like crusty old Americans do, the sound starts relatively low and raises 22 notes. The lack of completion of the third octave conveys a feeling of bewilderment. But in this case it was good bewilderment. I think they all wished they got money from their teeth too.

Um, would you like a pen?
Since I live overseas I have my mother on my checking account. It means she can deal with my finances and pay bills without too much of a problem. Because my parents live in a small town with exactly one bank, that is the bank chain I use. Like many companies, this bank gives out pens to its customers. They happen to be really good pens, and when I make my once a year visits I grab
half a dozen to take with me.

Today at the elementary school I teach at I saw the students looking inquisitively at my pen. I didn’t see anything special about it. It is a dark green ball point pen with English writing. Still, if they valued it that much…

I offered the girl the pen. She insisted she couldn’t take it. But the boy next to her said he would take it. The girl got mad at him. I don’t
know if it was because she actually wanted it or because she thought it was rude for him to take it. In either case, this was something I could fix. In elementary school the students come to the teacher’s room to fetch me to start class and they walk me back afterwards. The girl happened to be the one assigned to accompany¬†me. Back at the office, I asked her to wait a minute and dug through my backpack to find another pen from the bank, which was subsequently presented to her. She thanked me and left. During cleaning time I saw she was using it to mark the progress on her group’s chart.

I wonder if this bank has any idea that it’s pens are floating around in rural Japan.

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