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Monday, July 11, 2011

I'm A Man

Hanz & Franz wear yukata.
It's Monday, September 2, 1991. School starts again. I suppose I have been both dreading it and looking forward to it, as it represents a return to normalcy for myself. I wasn't necessarily bored this summer - I've done enough things to ensure that, but being sick for two weeks with dysentery will kind of wear a person out.

I've had women over to my apartment: Ashley, Kristine and Karen, these past four weeks - none of whom I slept with. It's enough to make a grown man cry. But then, a week in Thailand with two Thai beauties will alleviate that feeling. My friend John & my mom came over from Canada to visit me and see Japan - my first contact with home in 13 months, but I felt crowded. I like my space.

Since arriving in Japan, it's the first time I've ever been on my own. I love the autonomy. The ability to do or do not do anything I want. Having a lot of people around, well, call me selfish, but it got on my nerves.
Matthew, he probably sensed that and would get me out for fun activities - and I really appreciate that. The same with the folks from the Ohtawara International Friendship Association and my office, the Ohtawara Board of Education (OBOE).

I'm a junior high school assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. I'm in my second year here in Japan and I actually enjoy doing what I am doing. I always do. I have fun at work and in life. If I don't have fun,I find something else to do (even now in 2011).

I'm at Nozaki Chu Gakko today (Nozaki Junior High School), my favourite school of the seven I teach at here in Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), Japan. The school's kids are smart, well-behaved and generally speaking, their families are a little bit better-off financially than the other schools. That isn't an excuse for good versus bad behaviour, but I've seen it in action here in Japan... and I would bet it's the same in any other country in the world.

Last year I gave nearly 80 self-introductions to classes. But, since the school year actually began in April/May of this year, I already have all of those out of the way. Summer vacation was the month of August only. In Canada and the US, we get July & August off for until the end of high school, and then depending on your exam schedule, college & university students could be out by April or May. My first year at York University, I was out by April 5, having written five exams in two days, effectively ensuring I wasn't going to get any other degree other than a BA (Bachelor of Arts), which is why I went to Humber College and graduated in Journalism.

Oyamada-sensei (O-yama-da = Big-mountain-rice field - I believe he's the science teacher... I didn't write it down in my diary!) picks me up from my apartment to drive me to school. He doesn't have to, but I appreciate it. He says he has a present for me, but forgot it at home. I appreciate the heads up, as it allows me to say the same thing, even though it wasn't true. It allows me a chance to give him something - fortunately, I have a reserve of gifts from Canada. Yeesh. I feel like an ass.

The school is friendly as always. Students see me walking to the teacher's office and bow, wave, smile, shake my hand and slap my back in greeting. It doesn't just make my day, it makes my year. I wish I could remember this whenever I am feeling downcast.

Nagashima-sensei (she's the head English teacher) comments that my pony-tail looks like popular television comedic talent Shimura Ken. I tell her I don't know if I should said 'Yoroshiku' (a greeting that is difficult to translate) or 'Daijobu-da' (I'm okay, but it's Shimura Ken's catch-phrase - I know because I watch his very funny show to help me pick up the language. Ken(ichi) has a pony-tail (chonmage)). HERE is a very funny English lesson skit which will give you an idea how some English classes are taught, and why the JET Programme is very important to helping schools learn proper English pronunciation! Like the "kid's" in the video, I, too used the New Horizon text books.

After I crack up the entire office, I get to work. I only have two classes to do today... both are about 50 minutes long and are with Nagashima-sensei (who looks and reminds me of my mom). The lessons are safe, nothing fancy but it gets the job done.

The students love my scandalous ponytail, and everyone is fascinated by my black star sapphire ring with diamonds that I spent a small fortune on in Thailand.

Since I have a lot of free time, I help make some promotional posters for the school's upcoming Sports Day this weekend. Being a klutz a la Shimura Ken, I get red paint all over my pants and shoes! Oh well! I'm such an idiot.

Hiyama-sensei, the new other English teacher chats with me about tomorrow's lesson plan - man, she's well-prepared.

After school, I change clothes and go out to play catch with the girl's softball team (boy's play baseball). For an interesting view on sexism, or rather a more modern look at the  power of women, I'd suggest reading my friend's BLOG. Read his bio and get a better idea of who he is.

When I go back in, the teacher's all the teacher's rave over my wildly-patterned shorts. They are pretty wild. Yellow, with some god-awful version of someone's vision of native African symbols. I guess I can't ever mock the Japanese for their fashion sense, when my own is pretty stupid... but that's the point of this blog, isn't? We learn about how weird Japan is and then realize it's no weirder than our own culture to others.

I race home after school and wolf down a dinner and get ready for night school. Shoko, one of my adult students will be there, and I'm excited to see her after she asked me out yesterday! We're going out on our first real date on Friday evening.

When Matthew comes over at 5:50PM (he teaches a more advanced English conversation class), it dawns on me that class actually starts at 7PM, not 6PM. How did I mix that up? Whatever. I have two new students - female, of course. Most of my classes seem to be off the beautiful feminine variety. I don't think it's a coincidence, either. I'm no sex symbol, but, the women in this town do seem to like my refreshing candor when discussing the roles of men and women back in North America. My students are actually Matthew's girlfriend Takako and her little sister Kaoru - who's 16 and I think had a crush on me. If she was 18, I would have had a real crush on her - what a cutie!

Their English isn't bad at all. I test them, and the results are very promising. To be honest, they should be in Matthew's class, but they are both so pretty and nice that I would hate to lose them. Oh well, I'll probably tell them they should be in the advanced class. I'm here to teach and internationalize, not fantasize.

Matthew (left) has a nicer obi than Andrew Joseph.
At the break, we feast! Someone always brings drinks and snacks - bless them! Matthew and I try on our new Yukata, compliments of Masa-san. Since I'm wearing jeans, they want me to take them off - but as is sometimes my custom in this very humid country, I am not wearing underwear! they say to take'em off anyway! Funny! Language barrier my bare ass!

The yukata are very nice. They even brought along some wooden clogs called zori, which barely fit Matthew and myself, but we grin and bear it, as evidenced by the photos contained within this blog entry.

the next half of the class is spent teaching everyone past/present/and future tense for simple sentences. Everyone seems to understand it perfectly. It does my heart proud!

As class ends, I chat with Shoko and give her my phone number. Shoko asks Matthew why he like Takako - a stupid question in my mind, but in 2011, I'm guessing to see if it was just a gaijin (foreigner) male type of ego thing. It is for many men arriving in Japan - gotta get me a Japanese woman! But I can honestly state with some conviction, that Matthew really likes Takako, as he seems to keep mentioning her all the time in our conversations. I think he's trying to keep it sort of low-key, though. Me? I don't give a crap where a person is from. Intelligent, witty, pretty and can stand me and my weird sense of humour - that's all I need.

As I leave to go home, Ohtawara's favourite cougar (okay, she' was like maybe 36 years-old to my 26, and I think just really liked to be young-at-heart) asks me why I won't be going to the Thursday night English conversation class anymore, when it was known that my schedule was free.

Everybody knows what I am doing in this country.

She was told by Takako that Takako, Matthew and I would not be going anymore. To be honest, I didn't know that, but now I'm involved in some sort of power struggle. Didn't matter to me. More time for myself, but it was an easy way to make a lot of extra money.

Thumbs up to friendship!
I stay up until 12AM, phone Matthew to tell him about my conversation with Narita-san and then go to bed. He told me of some political power struggle going on between two factions of the Ohtawara International Friendship Association. Since Takako is my ride (and friend, and friend's girlfriend), I'm siding with her.

Despite having a pretty awesome day, something always comes along to make me ill at ease. I hate disappointing anyone - especially in Japan. I'm also nervous about my date with Shoko, as I know she is really pretty, but I am unsure if we are right for each other personality wise. I think since re-inventing myself here in Japan, that I am a bit too wild for the shy and reserved Shoko. Then again, I hope I am wrong.

Today's blog title is by:The Spencer Davis Group: RAUNCHYKEYBOARD.
PS: Here's a great skit with Canadian funny man Leslie Nielson and Shimura Ken doing a Naked Gun routine. LAUGHS.
PPS: This bottom photo of Matthew J. Hall and myself, Andrew S. Joseph is one of my favourites, as we are not in a ridiculous costume and actually both have good hair here. My pony tail is peaking out at the back of my neck, and Matthew doesn't have that ridiculous perm!
PPPS: I'm still wearing that Seiko watch 20 years later. As well, in the photo you can see a large ring on my hand. Who knew that working out at a gym could make one's fingers bigger?
PPPPS: In the top photo I call Matthew and myself Hanz and Franz. They were part of a Saturday Night Live skit that parodied Arnold Schwarzenegger - hence our pose. Here's a short video of H&F with Arnold: PUMPYOUUP! SNL is very possessive with their videos, so I'm surprised this one is available. The NBC stuff and Hulu is not available in Canada.
PPPPPS: Another blog in eight hours after this posting. It's very powerful.

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