Okay, so it's Election Day back in the States. Please go vote for John Kerry, or else I may have to stay in Japan for the next four years. You want me to come home, don't you?
Onto other news. I think it is safe to say everyone at Edosaki Junior High is completely comfortable with me now, and that I am with them as well. The reason I say this is that in the past couple of weeks, the craziest things have been said and done while I'm at work. Not just with students but the teachers also. It started out seemingly with just that group of bad boys asking if I liked pornography, then it escalated to them asking what my penis size was, and now it's just become a free for all to ask the foreign teacher just about anything you want. I think this is because I'm laid back and have made a real attempt to be a part of their lives (and school is a huge part of a Japanese person's life, much bigger than your average American's I'd say, for lots of reasons that are difficult to go into just now). But in any case, the school is a family in and of itself in ways that I just didn't see American schools being when I was in junior high and high school, and from what I know now, still isn't. So here I am, the new American teacher (my predecessor was a Canadian woman) and after two months, all the padding has been taken off and everyone is treating me like, well, like part of the family. I'm now privy to some of the darker aspects of the students' lives that the other teachers have to deal with (because the teachers hold themselves responsible for these kids lives as if they were their parents also) and as I've mentioned I've been invited to go to the Onsen trip (though I can't go because it's way expensive, and it turns out none of the younger crew of teachers is going, and only one English speaker) and the kids have taken the gloves off and are asking all sorts of things. The aforementioned questions about pornography, penis size, and now I've been cornered by a group of girls who are also interested in genitalia and have a horrible sense of humor in that they keep saying "teabag" and laughing like crazy about it. Use your imagination. Yes, that's what they're talking about. Mmhmm. *That* teabag. Then today while I was giving a reading test to a group of students and suddenly this boy who is doing his reading test starts to try and give me a lap dance. I have no clue what he was thinking, but he was really blase about it and no one else thought anything of it either. It wasn't really a lap dance, but he kept trying to crawl onto my knee and do that bouncy thing the boys do together. I just ignored him and graded him as he finished reading and he went back to his seat and that was that. Then in another class, after I've done a little discussion on Thanksgiving history, a boy raises his hand and wants to know what "Fuck you" means. He says he knows it's bad but he wants to know why. I heard him say "fuck you" but Fujita sensei told me he wants to know why it's bad. She was very calm, with a little smirk on her face, and she didn't stop him, just looked at me for the reason, so I proceeded to give the kids a lesson on the meanings of "Fuck you". Not something I ever expected to happen. I told them people say it when they're angry or mad or want to be rude. When they're fighting with each other, or when someone says something that offends them, someone might say it, but that they have to be careful, it sounds funny here, but this is generally a nonviolent society but if they ever were dealing with Americans here or in American itself, they should be careful because someone might not think it's funny and a fight could start. They seemed impressed by that knowledge, and I could see them tabulating it into their register of English and the pragmatics of it. Why I said it could start a fight is because there are many cases of American servicemen here in Japan getting into horrible fights with Japanese people, mostly because they've been drunk and misunderstood what someone has said to them, and for many other reasons which I choose not to go into. Later Fujita sensei told me she hopes I'm okay with fielding questions like that. She was happy I'd just told them its meaning and didn't make a fuss about it because she thinks it's important they know what these things mean, even the bad words. She told me about 15 years ago a Japanese boy was living in America as an exchange student and was shot and killed because he didn't know the meaning of the word "freeze". Apparently someone held him up or something and said freeze, and he didn't know to stop. So they shot him. Since then Fujita sensei said she's been very adamant about letting the kids know slang as well as proper English. She said not all teachers do this, but it's her own philosophy. Language isn't just cute and fun and games. If these kids go abroad, they should know what things mean other than "How's the weather?" and "I like such and such, I don't like such and such," or "When's your birthday?" etc. Yet another high mark in my book for Ms. Fujita.
Many of the kids want me to learn their names. This is very difficult as there are over 700 of them. And on top of that, their names are very foreign to my ears. (not even the Japanese teachers know all of them, and the kids wear badges with their names on them, but it's only helpful to the Japanese teachers because they're in Kanji) Some names are more foreign sounding to me than others. I'm okay with remembering some Japanese names that have made it into the American consciousness for one reason or another, but some I've just never heard and it takes me a while to get those sounds set in my head as a person's name. I actually already do know many of them, the persistent ones who want a relationship with me. Sho, the baseball player, his friends Shohei and Taiki. A group of eighth grade boys named Takayuki, Ogata, Kazuki (the lap dancer), Yusuke, Tadashi, and Masashi. Jun Miyamoto, who runs on the track team with me and said, "I want to be Chris's friend," to me the other day. Aww, put on the cute music. Eri and Terada and Yuka and Yuki, my English speech team girls, Daiki, the new boy who also joined the speech team this year. Yuta, the boy genius who writes poetry in English, Kenji, Shinji, Asami, Midori, Onuma, Chihiro and Yumi and Naomi (three of my special ed girls), Tomohiro, Tomohito, Shoto and Yuya (my special ed boys) and more, but enough already. You can see they are names you don't encounter on a daily or monthly basis in America, and for some people never. But I'm trying to know as many as possible because it's important to the kids, and really it's important to me too, because I know them and I want their names to be as familiar to me as they themselves are.
After the "fuck you" lesson, Fujita sensei and I went back to our desks in the teacher's office (we sit side by side) and traded further slang. She was so funny, giggling about some of the things she was teaching me and about the things I was teaching her that she'd never heard when she was in America. She said, "I love slang but I didn't hear as much as I wanted to when I lived in America because mostly we were around very "proper" Americans who didn't really just be relaxed with my husband and I. They treated us like tourists." And I said, "Well girlfriend, you got the right American to learn some slang. I grew up in the country and during and after college I mostly lived in the hood. Two perfect places for slang." She said, "Girlfriend?" and then, "What is this 'hood'?"
So I said, "Lesson One. You've heard of Oprah, right?"
After the election: