Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Million Little Random Pieces

***Drunk People***

Now I know that Americans (and people of other nationalities) get rip roaring drunk, but I've seen a surprising number of unbelievably tanked individuals here in Japan. There is a popular karaoke bar near our apartment, and I can't count the number of people I've seen staggering out (if they're lucky). Last night my husband and I walked by a girl lying face down in front of the building. She was surrounded by three or four water glasses and a couple of friends who seemed uncertain what to do next. My husband practically walked over the woman and I passed within six inches, but she never even stirred. Although she is the first karaoke customer I've seen sprawled on the sidewalk, I've seen many more just shy of that fate, not to mention the various vomit stains scattered out front. Now this sight by itself is not so remarkable, but we've seen countless others like it. In fact, earlier in the evening we encountered a group of intoxicated college students, three of which were barfing in the grass. Another in their party shrieked "I love you!" (in English) over and over. In my experience, drunk Japanese guys love to shout English phrases and/or take photos with foreigners. On other occasion, a thoroughly hammered young man befriended our group at a restaurant and posed in photos. Later in the evening we saw him laying, face down, in the middle of the train station. When he noticed us passing by he too shouted "I love you!" Doesn't the Japanese character from Sixteen Candles shout "I love you!" when he falls from the tree drunk? If so, than those situations are a stereotype come to life.

***Unsupervised Children***

Would you let your nine-year-old wait alone in a crowded train station? Is it wise to allow a seven-year-old girl to ride the subway in central Tokyo by herself? You and I might say no, but people in Japan apparently feel differently. I suppose Japanese parents are more relaxed about supervision because the crime rate is much lower and kidnapping rare, but kids can still get lost or slip onto the tracks. I often see mothers striding several feet ahead of their toddlers, rarely looking back to see if he or she is keeping up. It's quite strange to me. The one exception is my kinder class, in which case every mother is pressing her nose against the observation window, watching her child's every move.

***Political Vans***

Do you remember the scene in Back to the Future where the mayoral candidate blares campaign messages from a large van? If not, imagine a person shrieking into five bullhorns at once and that is what we hear outside our apartment four, five, ten times a day. Be sure to imagine frantic, high pitch, incomprehensible shrieking. Here in Japan, political candidates and/or their henchman cruise around town blaring their message to the world. They also wear sashes and white gloves and wave to people like Miss America contestants. Sometimes opposing vehicles cross paths and two people attempt to shout over one another, and that is true auditory joy. What's ironic is that it's against the rules to use a cell phone on the train, because it might disturb others, but this loud, incessant caterwauling is perfectly acceptable, as long as it doesn't start before eight in the morning. Combine that with the garbage truck diddy, the crosswalk song and the talking vending machines and you've got yourself quite an urban symphony.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Well, there's not much new to report from the Land of the Rising Sun. Now that my husband and I have settled into our new neighborhood and jobs, our lives have become somewhat routine. We get up, go to work, come home, waste time on the Internet, and stare uncomprehendingly at the TV. On our days off we might try a new restaurant or sing karaoke. With a few major exceptions, (not knowing the native language, being the only non-Japanese person in sight, living in a country that serves raw horse meat and fish guts in restaurants) our lives are surprisingly similar to the ones we led in the States. Although our lifestyles are still exotic by American standards, we haven gotten used to most of the exoticness by now.

The English teaching gig is like any other job, with both its good and bad days. Of course, there are student's I love, and those I don't. Most of the students study English for work or travel reasons, but many of them do it for fun. I can't count the housewives who come in and take lessons as a hobby. Meanwhile, I'm too lazy to learn more than a handful of Japanese words and I live in Japan. Those words include "Arigato," (thank you very much) "Sumimasen" (excuse me) and "Kancho," which is a word one person chants before poking another's butt crack. All very useful words.

Of course, not all of my students are joys to teach. In one of my classes a twelve year old boy thought it was hilarious to point at pictures of ugly old men and say they looked like me. So of course I did the only mature, responsible thing, which was to point at photos of little girls and say they looked like him. In another class, an adult student told me I looked tired and that I needed to use more face cream. I wasn't sure how to respond so I just kind of stared at her. It was not a heartwarming teacher/student moment. The children's classes are going better, but they too have their quirky students. In one class, two little girls ran up at various times and grabbed my boobs. In another, a girl stroked my hair and my thigh, whispering "beautiful" in a creepy, mesmerized voice. In yet another class, one of the students hid in the cabinet before I entered the room and then exploded out after I started the class. I had no idea she was in there and was a bit startled to say the least. Ahhhh, children.

April 14th was our two month anniversary in Japan. Who knows what the next ten months will bring...

Monday, April 2, 2007

Jesus May Love the Little Children, But I Don't

Yesterday I taught my first children's class and it was more than slightly terrifying. I have zero experience with children and have only spoken to one or two since reaching adulthood. When we applied for the job, the interviewer asked Andrew and I if we wanted to teach children and we both said we preferred not to. I don't know why they bothered asking because when we got here we quickly realized that teaching children's classes is mandatory.

I was jittery on the way to work yesterday, and became even more nervous when I saw that I would be dealing with eight five year olds. Not only that, but it was the first day of new classes, so eight mothers were hovering around the observation windows eager to see how their little darlings would perform. I'm sure the moms were there for moral support, but I felt as if they were judging my performance, which was terrible.

From the beginning, the going was rough. One child shrieked like a banshee and refused to release his death grip from his mother's leg when she tried to nudge him in the classroom. His wailing caused another child to scream, and soon all of the kids in the room were bouncing around like a group of nervous monkeys. At this point I whipped out the vocabulary flashcards and begin chanting words like a maniac. "Rice!" "Rice!" "Chicken!" "Chicken!" "Soup!" Some of the kids were interested, others rolled around on the floor.

The entire class went on in this way. I chanted and sang the vocabulary words, over and over and over again, having no idea what I was doing, while all of the mothers looked on. The boy in the hall shrieked from time to time, but he never came in. I'm sure some of the mothers saw my ass crack when I was sitting on the floor.

The best part came when I tried to end the class five minutes early. At the beginning and end of each class, children line up at the door for one last drill before they leave for the day. The lesson plan I read before class said this part takes three minutes, so I decided I'd give myself five as I was unfamiliar with the drill. When I attempted this, one of the mothers came to the door and tapped her watch, basically forbidding me from ending the class early. So, feeling terribly foolish, I herded the children back into the room and chanted more words at them. Eeek!!

Wish me luck.