Japan At War?
not likely. the last time japan was at war they got kicked in the face by a dude named doug. since then japan’s been a pretty peaceful nation. but while the rest of the world’s nations are killing each other off, what makes japan so seemingly content? surely there must be some place they want to invade, with peoples they want to kick out and kill off. everyone’s doing it. hell, america does it all the time without even being provoked. it’s our tradition. we’ve been doing it from the very beginning and the injuns weren’t even talkin’ shit. it’s like…our thing.
so what gives, japan? why can’t you be more angry like the rest of us? for a nation that prides itself on conformity, you sure are dropping the ball on this one.
doesn’t anyone ever get mad in japan? the answer to that ridiculous question is, of course, “no.” it’s true. no one ever gets mad. social etiquette dictates that it’s impolite to get upset about anything. yeah…it’s considered rude to get angry. actually i’m pretty sure it’s against the law. the japanese are expected to push any budding feelings of anger and discontent way down deep to a place that they never ever talk about. that’s healthy, right?
i couldn’t believe it myself, so i began a series of experiments to put japanese manners to the test. i started by simply bumping into people in public…kinda hard too. the only response i’d get was “sumimasen,” a japanese word that means excuse me, i’m sorry, and, in some cases, thank you. they apologized to me for blatantly bumping into them!!! it occurred to me that maybe they believed it was an accident, so i upped my game a bit. i did my best to kick puppies whenever possible. still no good. the owners would again apologize and lightly scold their pet as if to blame it for getting in the way of my foot. i was left with no other option but to push an old lady down while getting onto the train in the morning. i even felt bad about it too until she got up, APOLOGIZED and then BOWED to me! the next logical steps would have been to burn a house down or kill someone but i had to draw the line somewhere. i mean, i didn’t want to be rude.
but what about those that can’t keep it all bottled up? well, those people simply go for a train ride. they don’t exactly ride the train so much as they jump in front of it. japan has one of the highest rates of suicide of any country in the word. there have been over 30,000 suicides per year in japan for 15 years straight. this is a rate of approximately one suicide every 15 minutes. this equates to 26 suicides per 100,000 people in japan compared to the US which has 11 suicides per 100,000 people.
of the various ways in which one might choose to off his or herself, diving in front of a moving train seems to be the preferred method. and as luck would have it, the train line i use to get to and from work everyday is my city’s most popular train for taking one’s last bow (see what i did there?). i have, on several occasions, had to sit on a parked train for over an hour while they hosed some poor bastard off the windshield. and in a country where people hate to be late for anything, you’d think the passengers would get mad, wouldn’t you? of course they don’t.
i recently learned that the rail companies will actually charge families of jumpers a fee depending on the severity of the traffic disruption. one can’t help but wonder if jumpers whispers an apology to the train before coming to a sticky end.
what about international tensions? well there is certainly plenty of that. it turns out that, without exception, ALL asian countries hate each other. FACT. while the west has taken an “all look same" attitude toward asian peoples (i don’t know what ‘s more entertaining…this quiz or the mouth-breather narating it), the asians themselves discriminate with extreme prejudice. and the japanese are no exception. as elitists, they rank themselves highest among tiny people for a myriad of reasons that i won’t get into because, frankly…no one cares.
but japan’s imperialistic maneuvers came to a mysterious halt at the end of WWII. contrary to popular belief however, it is not because japan doesn’t have armed forces. japan does in fact maintain a military. the problem is that there are no weapons in japan. the japanese citizen doesn’t enjoy the right to bear arms and since most people aren’t angry to begin with, the military doesn’t use firearms either. instead the armed forces fight with nothing but chopsticks. what’s more is that the japanese military is made up entirely of women because…well..they’re just so much cuter (see above).
so how are conflicts resolved? the answer to that can be summed up in one simple word…”janken.” janken is the japanese name for the rock-paper-scissors game. those of you who aren’t familiar with rock-paper-scissors, please stop reading this now and and kill yourself. you’ll be doing the world a favor. i hear jumping in front of a train is proven to be effective.
the janken game is used literally everyday by everyone from toddlers to the elderly. it’s used to determine anything from who gets the last piece of food, to the order in which people will do any given task or activity. the game is so commonly used to resolve any type of dispute that young children are able to calculate winners, losers or a draw among a large group of participants in a split second. however, the most remarkable thing about the janken game in japan is that no matter what is on the line or how passionate any players are about the outcome…once the game is played and the winner is determined, there is no grumbling whatsoever. it’s immediately done and forgotten and everyone moves on without giving it a second thought.
as a foreigner i find it frustrating to live in a country where people are never to express their feelings of frustration. as an american from the northeast, i find it downright infuriating. it makes me want to throw japanese people in front of trains. but alas, i have to tow the line. after all, i am a guest and i have to be respectful of their culture. i’m not sure how much more i can take before i blow my top though. one thing is for sure, i won’t be practicing my swan dive in front of a moving train. more than likely i’ll be on a one-way ticket back to the land of rape and honey where i can carry a gun, and take a proper ass whipping the next time i push an old lady down on the train.
i wonder how much longer i can last…
back in the city…
well, it’s been a while since i posted on here. to anyone who has been waiting (doubtful) and those that have simply been trying to forget, i uniformly apologize. about 3 months ago i relocated. i opted to once again leave the relative comforts of home that i had spent the last year fashioning. i packed up and said ‘sayonara’ to my friends, students and schools in the japanese countryside and headed for the big city of Nagoya.
companies like mine don’t give a lot of consideration to location requests when hiring from outside of japan. they give preference to teachers with seniority or expats already living in those areas. so most teachers like me, get stationed in remote rural areas when they first arrive. this has it’s benefits. in reality, one rural town is just as good as any other. foreigners get a taste of everyday japan and there is an abundance of local or neighboring events taking place at all times of year. while they remains a relatively minute part of the population, there are still plenty of expat teachers all over japan to keep each other company. as is the case in any country, those expats find each other quickly and often band together. so no one is really isolated unless they allow themselves to be. anyone who’s seen my photos from the last year can see what i mean.
another benefit of living in the country is that it makes it easier to learn japanese since there are far less english speakers. make no mistake about it though, it’s an extremely difficult language and it’s very unlikely that one would pick it up just by living here. the japanese are debilitatingly shy and most wouldn’t dare correct even the simplest mistakes, but instead opt to praise how well you speak even if you know only a few words. learning to speak japanese takes a lot of hard work and i’ve seen firsthand that you only get out of it what you put in. in my case, i spent my last three months in the country studying very hard and it paid dividends. however, i haven’t studied a bit since i moved and not only have i not progressed, but i’ve also forgotten a good bit of what i previously learned. i digress
after missing city life for the last year, i requested a transfer. nagoya isn’t the most recognized of cities. it even remains fairly unknown to foreigners living in japan, which is exactly why i chose it. before and after being in japan, the overwhelming majority of teachers looking to relocate request tokyo and osaka. anticipating this and researching my company’s presence in major cities, i decided my chances were best with nagoya. it ranks as japan’s third largest city and its central location on the main island of Honshu makes it easy to travel anywhere in japan. in comparison, my former home on the island of Shikoko required sometimes two hours, and up to around $50 just to get to the nearest point in honshu before continuing on and paying more to get to your destination.
so here i am, back in the city. a few observations thus far…
- i’ve made a terrible mistake – i’ve complained in the past about how expensive everything is in japan. well, the one thing i forgot to research before moving was the cost of living in nagoya. i’ve landed myself in the 4th most expensive city in the world according to this article. to put it into perspective, new york ranks in at 49th. coupled with the fact that my salary is comfortably below the poverty line in most developed countries, it’s safe to say i’m f@cking broke! i thought i was struggling just to feed myself in the countryside. now it appears that i had it pretty good. at this point i’m completely tapping my paycheck out just to stay afloat. i tried selling my body for extra cash but i was barely able to make bus change…not to mention the emotional scars left behind from those 3 ½ minutes of hard work.
- wheels – since selling my body wasn’t as lucrative as i’d hoped and because the minimum price for a subway or bus ride is roughly $2.50, i decided i should get myself some wheels (pictured above). i call her “the pelican.” she’s the first bike i’ve owned in 20 years and maybe the best purchase i’ve made since i’ve been in japan (aside from my couch). she’s helping me get to know the city, keeping me in better shape and saving me time and money.
- thing are shaping up – the very tiny public gym in my former town left a lot to be desired. calling it outdated would have been an understatement. it looked like the gym where arnold schwarzenegger probably worked out in 1971 and it was filled with what i suspect was the same equipment. not only was everything in this gym old and dangerous, but it was all designed for users no taller than 5’8”. i’m happy to report that my city gym in nagoya is much more modern and well-equipped. it’s no Gold’s mind you, but at least the equipment was made for someone of a maximum size only a few inches shorter than me. compared to the country gym, the membership fee has risen from $7 to a whopping $20 per month, but i think i’ll survive. and this gym is close enough that i can bike or run there, so the only disadvantage now is that i’m pretty much out of excuses for being lazy and out of shape. one more thing…instead of the standard shitty gym pop that’s nauseated me for years, this gym plays nothing but oldies from the west making it better than any gym in history! ANYTHING is better than lady gaga. my god is she ugly!
- back to school – new location, new job. like last year, i’m teaching at four elementary schools. but this year, no more junior high for me and i couldn’t be happier. no more pubescent brats making my life hell and driving me to drink on a weekly basis. my schools are great. the teachers are all friendly and far less shy than last year. there are some who speak a decent amount of english, several who are relatively young and even a few that are cute. my students are a lot of fun and there is even a handful of kids that for various reasons speak exceptional english. all of this spells more people who i am able to speak with throughout the day. as an added bonus, my contract this year affords me an obscene amount of paid time off which i plan on putting to good use. job-wise, i expect this year to be a whole lot more fun.
- roommate – due to a ‘misunderstanding,’ the apartment i moved into placed me in a shared apartment. i’ve lived alone for years now. simply stated…i prefer it. who doesn’t? living alone is awesome. i’ve enjoyed living with roommates in the past but it was always with people i chose to live with. now i’ve been thrown together with a some clown from england of roughly the same age, who lives on mayonnaise sandwiches. and as luck would have it, he’s a neat freak who cleans EVERYDAY. he runs around with a dustpan and a lint roller getting noticeably irritated with any dust or hair that threatens to settle for even a moment. i can see everything i do making him nervous as he scans for any potential mess. despite his fastidiousness though, he has a strange affinity for adorning everything in our bathroom with plush accessories that harbor and breed germs like a furry petri dish.
as if that weren’t enough, he and his girlfriend use every opportunity to make sure i’m fully aware of their sex life. it seems i’m always ‘surprising’ them when i return home…always at the same time of day…to their semi-nude couch groping. and he never misses an opportunity to feign concern by asking, “i hope we weren’t making too much noise last night?” with an expectant look on his face as though he wants me to pat him on the back. yeah buddy…i remember the first time i regularly got laid too. i was over ten years younger and my girlfriend was almost as wretched as yours. get over yourself.
also worth noting: he seems to have no interest in music which i find untrustworthy and he’s got a big telescope that i’m fairly sure he uses to peep on other nearby apartments.
i can’t wait to move out!
one year ago, i had just quit my job, sold everything i owned and was in the process of moving out of my apartment. after over a year of planning, i was about to move across the globe to another country. just as i was saying my goodbyes, a big wave hit japan killing thousands and causing a nuclear catastrophe. on every news program were images of death, destruction and people scrambling to escape the tiny island nation where i was headed. it seemed the gods and mother nature had conspired to send me a sign that said, “you must be out of your [expletive deleted] mind!”
the thought of being homeless and jobless was scary. the mere notion of returning to my former job (which probably wouldn’t take me back anyway) was horrifying. it was…a conundrum. so i did what any reasonable person would do when faced with perhaps the most important decision of their life. i went out the next day and got tattooed with my dad, then said “smell ya later!” the decision wasn’t without trepidation, but i felt that i had come too far to be turned away by a little radiation. besides, growing a tail and a third arm was a pleasant alternative to my last job.
with the anniversary of the tsunami, there’s a myriad of TV programs showing both the immediate aftermath and the current state of the region affected by the great wave. it makes me think of how i was feeling this time last year. last night i was at a dinner party with japanese friends and we realized it was the actual anniversary of the tsunami. i mentioned that i almost didn’t come because of what happened. my friend reached out his hand to shake mine and with a sincere look said, “thank you for coming.”
while i’m always homesick, i’m enjoying my life here and having lots of fun. quite honestly, my life is much simpler than it was a year ago. i miss my family and friends but i don’t miss a lot of the worries and stresses that i left behind. as i write this, i am preparing to move out of my apartment and leave the town i live in. i don’t yet have a job lined up and or a destination for my new home. there is a distinct possibility that i’ll be unemployed and homeless come april. am i worried about it? not really! i’ve got a 3-year visa and a japanese driver’s license. of course i won’t have a car come april but…minor details. i’ll figure something out. and besides, the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom! life ain’t bad. it might be time to get another tattoo…
japanese student: a case study
as i said before, japanese elementary schools are much the same as those in america. it’s the junior high school level where things become very different.
for a year now i’ve taught at both elementary and junior high schools. aside from teaching, i’ve spent a lot of time studying student behavior. there is most certainly plenty that i’ve missed due to my limited japanese, but as much as this impediment hinders me, i also believe that it’s given me a sense of perspective that might otherwise be difficult to duplicate anthropologically speaking. while i hear what’s going on, i don’t always understand it. this no doubt puts me at a disadvantage but it has allowed me to view people’s behavior very antiseptically as though they were animals. i can’t pretend to be fully objective. i’m not just an outside observer. i’m integrated into their school lives and i also have the misfortune of caring about many of them. however, my subjectivity has not made me their cheerleader. in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
again, i don’t know what i don’t know. i only know what i do know. that said, this is what i’ve seen. ladies and gentlemen, i give you…japanese student (japanicus ignoramus).
like many westerners, my preconceived image of japanese student was that of a well behaved, highly disciplined studying machine. that couldn’t be further from the truth.
japanese student comes to school on foot or by bicycle wearing the required uniform. besides their clothing, they have identical bicycles, helmets, and school bags as well. boys must have relatively short hair. girls with longer hair are required to keep it in pigtails or a ponytail. no one is allowed to have dyed hair or wear makeup, jewelry or accessories of any kind. the homogeneity quickly gives the observer the impression of discipline. a closer look however, shatters that image. many students continuously attempt to break uniform rules by untucking their shirts, unbuttoning their jackets and allowing under layers to poke out of their sleeves. their attempts are always noticed by vigilant teachers who are quick to order japanese student to correct the infraction. when japanese student inevitably refuses, the teacher will rectify the problem on their own. ironically, japanese student can often be found on weekends and holidays happily wearing the same uniforms they love to hate, even if they weren’t required to be anywhere near school.
side note: i have to admit, in retrospect, i think a uniform would have made school a bit easier. in high school i could have been unburdened by the pressure to maintain my status as a cutting edge fashion guru/trend setter (see above). the alleviated need to dress a certain way or worry about my outfit during the day might have allowed me to focus my awkwardness on more worthy and debilitating teenage insecurities. as an added benefit, i could have spared my classmates the agony of seeing my grateful dead t-shirts on a weekly basis. a uniform would have been the great equalizer. people might have seen me for who i really am rather than just a really cool guy with nice hair and a great sense of style. but i digress.
japanese education is only compulsory up through the end of 9th grade. nationwide, as of 2010, 98.0% of junior high graduates continue on to high school and of those, 54.4% go on to the university level(* see above). but the road to graduating junior high school isn’t exactly grueling. japanicus ignoramus isn’t even required to obtain passing grades. yes, you read that correctly. advancement to the next grade level is decided entirely by virtue of growing older. japanese student is socially promoted no matter what, which makes it more about making the age than making the grade. with that said, ignoramuses who wish to attend high school are required to take high school entrance exams and they must apply to the high schools they want to attend. it’s much the same as applying to college albeit on a smaller scale and japanese student will commonly migrate as much as an hour by train to attend a particular high school within its area.
social promotion is common in the states but it’s usually used for the relatively few who are low achievers. inner city and problem schools aside, my comparisons are drawn between the enormous suburban schools that i attended as a wee lad and the relatively small country/suburban schools in which i now teach. my graduating class had roughly 750 students of which about 720 graduated (96%). as a teacher, i have 101 3rd year junior high students, all of which will graduate. however, if their examination scores from English class (a required course) mattered, i’d say roughly 30-40% (the majority of which are male) wouldn’t have a prayer of graduating. and i’m being very generous with that figure. that means 30-40% that need to be socially promoted. in fact, the only thing that could possibly hinder japanese student from moving up a grade level is if it had benjamin button’s disease.
now i know my stats are shaky and one could probably research the sushi out of this issue more accurately. but the numbers aren’t exactly the point. all of this just helps me to make better sense of the stupendous amount of dunces i have in my classes. many of these ignoramuses are every bit as dumb as they are japanese. but even the stupidest of them catch on to the fact that their grades only count for so much. in the junior high school environment japanicus ignoramus experiences three phenomena, which have a profound impact on its behavior moving forward.
1. the junior high school environment requires japanese student to become mobile. those who hadn’t previously, now find themselves in possession of a bicycle. its primary purpose is for commuting to and from school. but now they are able to explore their habitat with more freedom and they gain exposure to more exciting experiences and adult-like stimuli from which they might have previously been sheltered.
2. japanese student has its first growth spurt. they make that first reach toward adulthood. and let’s face it, with the average japanese being small in stature to begin with, they don’t have to reach very far. gone are the days where their teacher might haul japanese student out into the hallways by the arm and give them a good scolding. if not on a maturity level then on a physical one, japanese student reckons to perceive the world eye to eye with adults. as a result, it no longer cares to fear its teachers, but would prefer to focus its time and energy on the insecurities and fears that arrived along with puberty.
3. japanicus ignoramus discovers that it now lives in a world without consequences. simply put, the school at which it spends the majority of its waking life is powerless to control japanese student.
a closer look:
its been said that one bad apple spoils the bunch. it should be noted that i have a great deal of students who are sweet, well behaved and a pleasure to teach. but about 1/3 of my apples are bad…rotten to the core and they poison even the best and brightest ignoramuses. now free to roam its new environment, japanicus ignoramus is a constant discipline problem. below are a few examples of why japan will never again rise to greatness as a world power:
1. japanese student has almost no responsibility whatsoever. the only thing expected of them is that they study. they are not lawfully permitted to have part-time jobs. no babysitting and no paper routes. and since it’s very common for mothers to be fulltime homemakers, they are rarely called upon even to take out the garbage. according to many of my students, most free time is spent, not studying, but playing portable video games.
2. skipping class – japanicus ignoramus has nothing keeping it in class. due to social promotion there is no need for them to actually learn anything. many of my ignoramuses (mostly boys) don’t come to class at all. instead they prefer to sneak off and smoke cigarettes and spend a good deal of time lingering outside in the cold hoping to catch the attention of students who are actually in class. one of my ignoramuses, who has to be one of the dumbest kids i’ve ever seen, insists on skipping the end of the day ten minute homeroom session, only to sit outside in the cold on his knees shivering and waiting for the rest of the students to finish up so they can leave together. that last ten minutes can be a real drag. way to be too cool for school dipshit!
3. nothing better to do – while most do attend class, for many it’s only for lack of anything better to do. often times japanese student isn’t interested in learning but rather distracting the rest of its contemporaries. i have several ignoramuses who find coming to class very worth their while if all of their time is spent doing everything they can to derail the teacher or distract others from learning anything at all.
4. outward defiance – the complete lack of personal responsibility can understandably be overwhelming. the absence of any type of real pressures finds japanicus ignoramus withdrawn and wanting only to be left alone in class. not only will they never raise their hands when participation is solicited, but japanese student has even developed some defense mechanisms to ward off predatory teachers.
a. camouflage - when called upon for an answer, japanese student will often sit perfectly still and silent hoping that its assailant will simply lose track of it in the sea of uniforms
b. playing dead – if its uniformed surroundings aren’t sufficient to avoid attack, japanese student will remain silent and motionless hoping that its teacher will simply lose interest. surprisingly, this often works with many teachers. i, on the other hand, love a good pissing contest and have opted to stand very near the possum-playing pubescent procrastinator and wait them out until they answer or cry. this may sound cruel, but i have to fill up time and i have to make it clear that no one fucks with Scotto sensei. it’s prison yard rules
c. safety in numbers – any teacher in japan has seen this tactic since day one. since japanicus ignoramus has been conditioned not to think for itself, it will almost without fail refer to a nearby member of the pack for even the simplest of questions…the most amusing of which being “what is your name?’ and ‘how are you?” i kid you not, japanese student almost always needs a second opinion or confirmation even to say its name or how it feels…questions that by now it has been answering in english for roughly 8 or 9 years
d. evasive maneuvers – to avoid engagement, japanese student will try to elude its predators. they will often turn their backs on the teacher and begin a loud conversation with another member of the pack anywhere in the room. if and when their teacher physically tries to turn them around, ignoramuses will often meet that threat with semi-violent and sometimes aggressive evasive action which at times gets ugly.
5. assault – aside from the dreaded “kancho,” about which i’ve posted here, i have been witness to and victim of what might be classified as assault in my native country. i have seen japanicus ignoramus push, wrestle and even punch teachers. on one occasion an ignoramus kicked a teacher in his…nether region, requiring the soon to be married teacher to be hospitalized. i myself have even been the victim of students’ assaults.
earlier in the school year one of my students thought it would be funny to punch yours truly in his happy place. needless to say, i wasn’t happy about it at all and instinct took over. i retaliated with an action that wasn’t altogether appreciated by the teacher with whom i had been teaching. i was subsequently reprimanded by my company for hanging the offending ignoramus out a third story window by his ankles. meanwhile nothing was done to japanese student for his infraction. but i’m a hockey player. i’ve been through worse. truth be told, i actually like the kid so i decided to brush it off.
fast forward to a couple months later. i had just returned to work from a brief hiatus due to a non-student related injury. i’ve got two bum legs and require crutches to move, but it’s christmas lesson day. my ignoramuses are crafting nondenominational holiday cards on recycled paper as i hobble around the room listening to the Elvis Christmas Album (thank you Kelley Ramer of 440) and thinking about my vacation that starts tomorrow! in short, i’m in a good mood. i make my way past the same ignoramus who almost met his end just months before. i let go of my crutch to shake his hand and he shakes it, and at the same time, the little sonofabitch delivers yet another blow to little Scotty and the twins. again, my reflexes kick in, but i’m on crutches, so i grab him by that bit of hair just in front of the ear that hurts when you pull up on it. but he shouts out “itai!” the japanese word for “painful.” so i check myself because the same teacher is nearby. i was pissed. i knew nothing would be done, other than perhaps a stern talking too. but aside from having to endure the boredom of a lecture, japanese student knows he won’t receive any real punishment. except however…he hasn’t taken me into account. i’ve decided to be patient and calculating. i WILL exact my revenge on him and when i do, it’ll be swift and ruthless…and you better believe i’ll write at least a line or two about it here!
which brings me to my final point…
6. no consequences – no matter what japanicus ignoramus does, it won’t be punished. if japanese student is disruptive, it can’t be sent out of class. under japanese law you would be denying its right to education despite japanese student denying the rest of its peers the same right. if you could dismiss them, there is no result. they don’t get detention, they aren’t kept after school. they are not denied the privilege of participating in sports and since they can’t have jobs they won’t be late for work. the best part is that if they break a serious law or commit a serious offense, there will be no legal recourse. as minors they enjoy complete immunity. in fact, when in trouble with the local authorities, the police will first and foremost call or contact japanese student’s TEACHER. that’s right…the teacher is called first at any hour of day or night. parents will only be called as a last resort. the teacher is expected to collect and deal with japanicus ignoramus for whatever it has done wrong and they experience no negative consequences for their actions other than being lectured. what’s more is that blame for japanese student’s misbehavior will be assigned to the teacher by family and society alike.
what it all means:
what it means is:
a. when you have a rapidly aging society where the population is expected to decrease by 30% in the next 50 years (a decrease of more than 40 million people) and a young generation completely lacking in personal responsibility with no desire to do things according to the out-of-date old-style japanese customs…you’ve got serious social upheaval on the horizon. my guess is that within the next 20 years or so, you’re going to see a major social revolution, much like that in the US in the 60s and 70s. or…
b. the japanese education system is so inherently flawed that i dare not breach such a subject in my blog. this one already gotten out of hand. or…
c. it might just mean that junior high japanese students are a huge pain in my hole.
at the time of this post, the aforementioned teacher who was hospitalized for being kicked in the genitals has very recently celebrated his nuptials and has since been seen at school in good spirits. i have to assume his wedding tackle is in order and functioning adequately.
as for the incident with the student that, not once but twice, punched me in the magic beans, there’s been a recent development…
last week i had to administer a final oral interview test [insert joke here] to my 8th graders. this entailed me sitting at a small student desk in the cold hallway while asking students a few painfully easy questions from a list of 15, which they already have. there are no surprises other than MY surprise at just how easily my ignoramuses still manages to do poorly even when the answers have been spoon-fed. i swear these kids could f up a wet dream.
anyway, there i am freezing in the hallway just trying to get through all the ignoramuses in time and who comes around the corner but my little buddy. it’s mid-class period so no one is around in the hallways. i say “hello” as he approaches (the interview has begun). he responds in kind as i stand to greet him. i extend my right hand for a shake, which he accepts, and without even a second of thought, i bury my left fist into his crotch with an authoritative blow. his knees give out and he slumps down into the chair behind him as i steady him with the right hand i’m still holding. shamefully i have to admit that i hit him hard enough to drop a grown man, but this was a long time coming and he deserved it. while doubled over he looks up at me and i say one word…”revenge.” he nods his head knowingly and straightens up in his chair still clutching his junk. i take his paper and give him a perfect score. he looks at it, gives a sly glance back at me, painfully smiles and says, “thank you.” the little bastard took it like a man. i was proud of him. as he limps around the corner, i smugly mutter to myself, “OWNED.”
i have acquired my japanese driver’s license. some highlights:
- passed the insanely difficult driving test on the first try, apparently making me only the second foreigner in the history of my island to accomplish said task. begging, bribing and sexual favors were the keys to my success
- i’m NOT permitted to drive stick (ha!) the license only allows for automatic. i’ve never even seen a stick shift in this country
- the japanese have decided i was born in ‘53. i think they’re just jealous of the beard
- i am no longer an organ donor. my organs won’t fit the japanese [insert penis joke here]
- street cred: i’m no longer required to carry my foreign registration card (gaijin card). nor can police inquire about my nationality…so i guess that’s a bonus
- since my domestic license had been renewed less than a year before arriving in japan, i am designated as a “newbie” for a year from issue date of my new japanese license, which makes perfect sense since i’ve been legally driving in japan for almost a year at this point with no violations or accidents
noob status requires drivers to display a conspicuous sticker on their car identifying them as such. i lied and said i didn’t have a car. it’s bad enough that i’m a 59 year old with a junior license. i can’t bare the shame of having that sticker on my already embarrassingly small car. it makes me feel like i’m 16 again…having to endure the endless abuse from friends for failing my driving test TWICE before i could get the paralel parking right. not to mention having my mom drive me on dates. there’s an awkward goodnight kiss! so for another year i’m not to indulge in any alcohol, drugs, sex after twelve or any other illegal activity…which probably won’t be to difficult since it’s hard for 59 year old junior licensees to get dates anyway. i bet it probably forbids me from texting while driving too. fascists!
japanese elementary schools are much the same as those in america. they play games, sing songs, make artwork and learn basic skills in a generally fun way. for the most part they’re too young to find school tiresome or question how they’d prefer to spend their time. this is a nice juxtaposition to japanese junior high schools where puberty is starting to kick in, they aren’t quite sex crazed yet, but they’re defiant and awkwardly trying to figure out how they fit in. i’ll write more about those turds at a later date.
japanese law now requires 5th and 6th graders in elementary schools to learn english. while most of my time in elementary schools is spent with those 5th and 6th graders, the other grades rotate in and out. in larger schools that rotation takes a while and today i found myself teaching one of my first grade classes for only the second time in almost eight months. while that may seem unfair, keep in mind there is only so much Scott-sensei to go around and let’s face it, without serious constant exposure to english, 7 year olds don’t retain much anyway. they’re still throwing tantrums, learning how to tie their shoes and shitting their pants on the playground. that being said, they’re giggly, cute as hell and a lot of fun to play games with when you’re a giant.
japanese students of all elementary grades love playing in class and i’m continually amazed at how much they enjoy the simplest of games. something about competing against their fellow classmates really makes them rise to the challenge regardless of age or intelligence. they love to win…sometimes at great personal risk. i’ve watched kids run themselves into walls, trip each other, push, shove and even fight just to score a point in a game. they’ll stop at nothing to win the point even if it means sacrificing themselves.
one wildly popular game that any teacher or student in japan is sure to be familiar with is karuta, which simply means card game. the cards are a set of vocabulary words (numbers, foods, animals, etc.) which the teacher calls out one-at-a-time and students, either in groups or teams race to slap their hand down on the matching card. sometimes the students form groups that each get a set of cards and others times i split the entire class into two teams and have a student from each team race to slap the flashcard on the board. sounds simple, right?
a few months ago i was teaching “like” and “don’t like” to a 5th grade class and i decided to reward their efforts with some sports karuta. my rules dictated that students would repeat sentences starting with “I like…,” and when they heard one that started with “I don’t like…” they would race to slap the corresponding sports card on the board.
many elementary school blackboards in japan have a handle on the bottom that allows them to be raised and lowered. being far above average height, i am forced to raise it as high as possible. otherwise i leave myself susceptible to an unwelcome kancho. on this particular day a little girl ran to the board, jumped to reach a highly placed card, slammed herself into the blackboard and dropped like a sac of potatoes. the height of the board was such that the sill which holds the chalk and erasers was rib level. she got up slowly cradling her ribcage and hobbled away slowly. one of the teachers had to take her to the school nurse because she was in so much pain. as a hockey player it made me proud to see her sacrifice the body like that. i was half tempted to reward her with a slap on the ass and a “good game!” but i’m doing my best to stay out of japanese prison. the upside is, she won the point and was a hero to her teammates.
now anyone who’s ever met me before knows i’m nothing short of a lying cheating swine. so it should come as no surprise to hear that, when it comes to the games played in my classes, even if i’m not playing, the fix is in. more often than not i make sure to keep the score close or at least interesting. i’ll call out the keyword when i know only one of them is paying attention. i’ll pick a card that’s closer to one student so they can get to it first. i accept gifts and bribes. hell, i’ve even gone as far as to step on a kid’s foot or trip them to get the outcome i want. listen, it’s all about what they can prove and let’s face it…no one listens to little kids anyway.
i know what you’re thinking…”this guy is one hell of a teacher!” what can i say, i’m good with kids. although they look cute and innocent, you can’t let these little animals out of your sight for even a second or it’s pure chaos. they can drain your energy quickly. i honestly don’t know how their regular teacher spends an entire day with them. so i find it’s always best to control anything that can be controlled.
today i was teaching colors to 1st graders. it’s only our second class together so they’re like 7 year old powder kegs of snot and energy. every little things sends them tailspinning out of control and they are a lot to handle. i’ve got them racing to the board to slap color flashcards and of course i’m doctoring the game a bit. with every announcement of a color, the classroom breaks into a full out prison riot. kids are screaming and pushing toward the two that run for the board, their teeth are showing and i’m pretty sure they’re yelling “rip his head off!” in japanese. i’m completely out of patience and i’m half hoping one of them shanks the other so we can end the class and go into lockdown.
nothing i tried would allow me to keep the score close. one team was dominating and i’d given up. i couldn’t take the insanity anymore. it occurred to me that i hate kids and everything about them. i just wanted the class to end so i could enjoy some peace and quiet with the 5th and 6th graders. and just as i had resolved to make an appointment for a vasectomy, something happened which i’ve never seen before in a japanese classroom.
a boy and a very small girl were at the front of their lines. i knew it was probably a lost cause, but i looked for an easy to remember color that was closer to the little girl’s side. i called out “RED” and sure enough both of them raced to the board with the boy being much quicker than the little girl. they both had their hands up and ready but they weren’t slapping any color cards. the rest of the students were losing their minds (not to mention their voices) screaming violently. i was about to quiet them down so i could repeat the color but they were screaming it repeatedly. then i saw it.
the boy who was first to the blackboard has positioned his hand behind that of the little girl and he was hesitating. not only was he waiting, but he was gently using his forearm against the little girl’s to ever so slightly coax her hand over the red card. he raised his other palm up to feign uncertainty. the other students were beginning to tear at their own flesh while screaming the answer, unable to comprehend how neither of them could understand. then when it seemed that rest of the class was about to set fire to the teacher’s desk, the little boy at the board whispered a suggestion to the little girl without letting the rest of the class notice and she nervously placed her hand down on the card. he followed by resting his hand firmly on top of hers.
i was speechless. dumbfounded! they both looked up at me…the little girl unsure if she was correct and the little boy waiting on me to make it official. it took me a moment before i remembered to award the little girl’s team the point. when i did the class erupted again. the boy’s team grumbling while the little girl’s team applauded her victory. my mouth was agape and my eyes were still on the boy as he pouted and pounded his paw into the palm of his hand in an oscar worthy performance. his teammates were none the wiser. i couldn’t help but be impressed as he shuffled his feet to the end of the line.
faith in humanity: restored
japanese domestic terrorism
it’s horrifying when you see it on the news. we always want to believe that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in our own country but then you see the images of the aftermath at a government building or in a quiet suburban town. how could this happen, we wonder. what would cause anyone to do such a thing?
a natural disaster is an easier pill to swallow since we can all accept the unpredictability of mother nature. we say “such is life” and shrug it off. but it seems that when we’re forced to witness the darkest recesses of our own human nature we try to seek refuge and comfort in naming a scapegoat. we blame celebrities, popular culture, the movies and media. we even blame schools and teachers. often it’s the parents who are blamed last. that’s when we have to put a face to the problem and we come inevitably closer to seeing our own image. and rightfully so. after all, aren’t we all to blame?
ever since that first primate threw its feces at another in anger, that violent instinct has lived on in every human being. like it or not, the reality is that this sort of thing happens almost everywhere. it happens in the middle east, africa, europe and america. and it even happens in japan.
today i found myself the victim of one of these senseless acts of cruelty. sadly, it won’t receive much media attention in japan. this country would rather ignore the problem, or worse, deny that it even exists. but it does exist! this kind of thing happens everyday in japan and its citizens barely blink an eye despite it leaving countless innocent victim, like myself, injured and traumatized.
today started out like any other day. the weather was unseasonably warm for novermber and i was horsing around with some of my junior high students during lunch break. a boy proudly reported to me and all his friends that “scott sensei smells.” while i was pleasantly pleased with the proper pronunciation of his english proclamation, i couldn’t allow this kind of slander to go unchecked. so i went for his neck but he darted away in anticipation of my response. on more than one occasion my students have learned that i can squeeze the life out of them with just one hand or hang them out a 3rd story window in the blink of an eye. well he might have been quicker but i wasn’t about to let it slide.
schoolyard justice dictates that i take this little bastard down. downtown to chinatown. school is a lot more like prison than we though when we complained as kids. you let another inmate (student) push you around and you look weak. they keep coming at you until it ends badly for someone. you have to send a message loud and clear that you’re no punk. it’s get or get got.
so i waited.
i went back to whatever infantile behavior i was engaged in, pretending to forget, but i kept him in my peripheral. he lingered on the other side of a small railing which gave him the illusion of security as i entertained his cohorts. but these little shit eaters have the attention span of a squirrel and i knew his curiosity would get the better of him. i waited until he wandered just within reach and BAM! i struck with my hand like a rattlesnake.
a direct hit.
however, instead of his arm, i had only managed to get a decent grip on the jacket of his school uniform. now i may be little more than a large child myself but i’m no fool. if my students are bruised, bleeding or broken (and that includes their uniforms), the consequences will be worse for me. inflicting psychological damage and emotional trauma is more my modus operandi. like any helpless rodent his instinct for self-preservation kicked in and he tried to escape. so, in an attempt to get a better grip i leaned over the railing and put a death grip on the little egg sucker”s neck.
“i gotcha!” i hissed, as his body stiffened and his knees buckled. “who smells now you little rat?!?!”
and that’s when it happened.
i was hit by, what in japan is referred to as “kancho.” for those of you who aren’t familiar with this despicable act, this is how it plays out: a student (usually a boy) makes a hand gesture identical to the pretend gun in those annoying and overdone charlie’s angels poses. they look for a target. it could be another student. it could be their best friend or their worst enemy. and as i learned today, it could also be a teacher. they position themselves behind their mark. if they’re patient, they’ll wait until that mark bends over and then…frightfully…they ram it home! i’ve witnessed this many times during my stay in japan. on several occasions i’ve had to remain alert and either avoide becoming a target or fight off the would be attacker. but today i wasn’t so lucky.
typical of any terrorist attack, it hit without warning and caught me completely by surprise. the details are fuzzy and even now it’s a bit difficult to relive the horror, but i feel my story must be told. i won’t try to describe the sensation. like it or not, i’m sure you can imagine.
“MOTHER OF PEARL!” i cried out as i lost my grip on the original offender. my body straightened and my back arched as if i had been struck by lightening. i swung around, one hand looking for vengeance and the other clutching my ass for relief. but by now they had all scattered in search of safety. my eyes locked on to the attacker and every one of them stopped frozen in fear. i shot out my fist and pointed at him with a look on my face that was deathly serious. the power of my index finger seemed to knock him back a bit even from 40 feet away. i held my on eyes his, put all my anger into snapping the finger that was pointed his way, and then fired it directly to the ground at my feet. the earth shook and i swear i heard thunder. the defendant lowered his head and walked to me slowly as if he were in chains.
like a puppy threatened with a rolled up newspaper, he buried his head in his shoulders, looked up at me with sad eyes and muttered, “i’m sorry” in his best english. it was enough to melt even the coldest heart. i pulled back the daggers in my eyes, softened my gaze and gently put a hand on his shoulder. then i grabbed him by the waste and flipped him upside down taking grip of his ankles. i was judge, jury and executioner and i may have been bleeding from my asshole so i wasn’t going to let him off that easily.
his friends began to giggle again as he screamed for help and mercy but i wasn’t having it. at this moment one of the teachers who speaks english was coming toward me and in an alarmed voice asked what i was doing. without loosening my grip i uttered the only word that i felt might offer any kind of explanation for my actions: “KANCHO!” with that the teacher stopped short next to my struggling prisoner, looked down at him and spanked him on the ass. she then looked at me and said pleasantly, “please continue.”
i would have liked to exact my revenge on him in the same fashion he executed the crime, but i bet it would raise more than a few eyebrows if an adult did the same to a student. suffice it to say, i made sure he and other students won’t try that again on me. let’s just say i sent a message and the kid receiving it could be heard loud and clear across the schoolyard.
i’m sharing this, not because of my personal triumph, but to raise awareness. this kind of thing does happen and it can happen anytime and anywhere. i’ve witnessed it firsthand (pun intended). it’s difficult to be prepared but we can educate. we should all do our part to promote kindness instead of violence. even the smallest effort can help make this world a safer place for our backsides. we need to think globally and act locally.
god my ass is sore
6 month mark
i’ve been in japan for half a year now and it’s the longest i’ve ever spent away from home without even a short visit back.
my bed: ladies and gentleman…the japanese futon. it’s different from what we call a futon in america. here they’re thin and narrow. they aren’t usually housed on any type of frame, nor do they fold into a couch. they are most often laid on a floor and they don’t offer a lot in the way of comfort. mine resides on a raised loft built into my one-room apartment. it’s more obtrusive than anything and wastes what little space i have. to be honest, i can’t understand why they are so common. maybe it’s because the japanese are smaller. afterall, the average japanese man is 5’7”. i’m 6’2”. i rarely sleep through the night without waking up in some sort of pain. despite having two futons piled atop one another, i still feel like i have bed sores if i stay in one position for too long. after six months i broke down and bought a couch that flattens out. in all likelihood, it’s probably going to act as my bed as well. it has become apparent to me why japan’s birth rate is continually dropping. no one wants to lie down!
inaka: i came to japan from the biggest city in america. i had everything imaginable often within a few blocks. now i live in what the japanese refer to as “inaka”…the country. i certainly don’t live in the smallest town in japan. it’s actually quite well developed but it’s still the country. there isn’t a wealth of restaurants, bars and shops within walking distance, a benefit to which i became accustomed in nyc. here i have to drive to do everything. my car has become a necessity rather than a luxury, something i quite miss. while the area i live in is beautiful and the people are fantastic, i am still very homesick for city living, a feeling i don’t expect will change anytime soon.
the food: the food remains scary at times and there are some things i can’t force myself to like. having lived in italy, japanese food doesn’t even compare, however much of the food is pretty good. in particular, i’m quite fond of japanese snacks. they do junk food really well and i’ve developed a bit of a sweet tooth since i arrived. the normal japanese cuisine is quite tasty as well and, not surprisingly, the best meals i have are when i’m with japanese friends who do the ordering. in general i’ve always been a fan of japanese food and now i have a more authentic knowledge of it, but my love is limited by two major problems.
- problem the first: portions and pricing. all the food here is small and expensive whether you’re at a grocery store or a restaurant. of course you can make/order and eat more but you’re going to pay for it and it’ll leave a significant dent in your wallet. western foods are particularly expensive and produce is outrageously priced. one apple at my local supermarket is $1.27 (98¥) and i pay $2.05 (158¥) for one undersized red bell pepper. and a pitifully small watermelon hauls in a price of…wait for it…$26-$39 (2000¥-3000¥)! needless to say, i haven’t had an apple or watermelon since coming to japan. food is more expensive here in the sticks than it is in new york. it makes eating healthy very difficult. i’ve lost ten pounds that i didn’t want to lose since i arrived and i’m doing everything i can to keep from losing anymore.
- problem the second: very simply put…it’s japanese food. imagine going to a japanese restaurant every single day. “what should we have tonight? how about japanese food? oh wait, let’s have japanese.” I’M FUCKING SICK OF IT!!! the minute i return to nyc i’m running a hotdog and taco train on my own mouth. mmm food porn.
my car: kuro-chan (little blackie) doesn’t hold a special place in my heart like my baby back home. i don’t yearn for a relaxing joyride like i did in the states. although manual transmissions are nonexistent in japan, i’m still compelled to reach for the clutch every time i go to start her up. i must admit that driving on the left side of the road isn’t terribly difficult to get used to, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.
equally laughable is my propensity to climb into the left side of the vehicle only to find that the steering wheel isn’t there. this happens about once a week, much to the amusement of the jumpsuit-clad gas station attendants who do everything in their power to keep from laughing as they bow and thank me for coming. after suddenly realizing that i just threw myself leg first into the passenger seat and pulled the door shut after me, i’m too embarrassing to climb back out and walk around since kuro-chan is comically small and it looks like a clown car when i emerge. no, instead i frantically fiddle with whatever i can find, or i furrow my brow as i pretend to scrutinize it intently, so as to make it seem as though my strange behavior was purposeful and premeditated. i swear i can hear the abrasive sound of air escaping up into the nose of the one of the attendants whose cheeks are inflated with the laughter they’re holding back.
then i shamefully shimmy my way over, hoping that my onlookers are none the wiser. the perfect crime! that is, until i’m about to drive off and i slide my left hand down the wheel to hit the left turn signal only to send the windshield wipers into full-speed. at this point a quick peek at my rearview reveals the attendants rolling on the ground in hysterics. likewise, i seem to always signal a turn when my windshield becomes too wet. i have no excuse since it rains here nearly everyday and i’ve had plenty of practice with both. the simple fact is, even after six months, it just doesn’t feel natural, much like most things about japan.
sunset: if i’ve painted a negative picture, it’s hardly fair. by no means is it awful here. there are a lot of wonderful things, many of which i’m sure to miss someday, but i have to leave all the puppy dogs and ice cream posts for facebook and the average blogger’s boring banality. however, there is one thing that i marvel at often and can’t help but include here. the sunsets here are, for lack of a less clichéd term, breathtaking. japan is the land of the rising sun and i’ve certainly seen some beautiful sunrises, but i’m constantly amazed at how beautiful the sunsets have been. i don’t know if it’s just my town or japan as a whole, but never in my life have i been in a place where the sunset is so captivating on an almost daily basis.
i live on a mountainous westward-pointing peninsula of an island that faces japan’s seto inland sea. on any given day, the sunset paints the sky with colors that run the gamut from pastels to deeper darker colors. i’ve pulled over on the road, slowed my pace while running and taken a break from swimming just to admire the view. every day it’s different and it never gets old.
a great deal of my time in japan is spent in discomfort. i’m constantly battling culture shock and homesickness. culture shock doesn’t stop being shocking. you get used to some things while other things reveal themselves with time. but i’m a westerner and everything i’ve come to think of, over thirty some odd years, as the norm is different or non-existent and always will be. as for homesickness, it’s not something you recover from. it’s more like the common cold. it’s the same ailment that repackages itself in a different form and finds its way inside you. for a while you feel okay and then you catch it when you least expect it.
i caught it the other day thinking about my favorite time of year. it’s when the weather gets cool enough to throw on your favorite hoodie and a pair of jeans. you get to say goodbye to the sweltering days of summer and welcome in a milder season. and there is always that smell in the air. i don’t know how to describe it, but there is that smell for a couple weeks, even before the leaves start to change, that is unmistakably Autumn. it’s one of my favorite things. for me it’s a rebirth…things change. it always makes me nostalgic for the way i used to feel at the start of a new school year. it reminds me of the way the air smelled during some of my best memories year after year. beer tastes better…hot food is back in fashion…it makes me feel good…i love that smell! only, here in japan, it smelled a little different.
it was a bit of a disappointment. i caught that cold again. later when i arrived back at my place, i waited and watched the sunset. it was beautiful as always. i was thinking about the smell in the air. i felt like i might be missing out. like a scene from some cheesy movie, i imagined a montage of some of my friends bedrooms getting brighter as the sun rose. i had never calculated it before, but it occurred to me that the same sun that i was watching duck under the horizon here in japan was probably just making it’s first appearance back home in philly, dc and new york. i thought about what the air smelled like there. for a second i felt a little closer to home. one day i’m going to smell that smell again and i’m looking forward to being nostalgic for the sunset in japan.