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Thursday, May 1, 2014

My First Class At A Japanese School - Self Introductions

So... what was it like to first step into a Japanese junior high school for the very first time?

Meh. by that I mean, no big deal. Meh... this teacher was taught that word by a fellow traveler down the rabbit hole.

The way I looked at it, was that for the next year, this was going to be my job, so time to do my job.

Look... I understand that not everyone can be as stoic as I say I was 25 years ago... I'm sure I was nervous, but I channel that nervousness into positive emotion. Nowadays, I channel it into eating.. but since I turned my blood into chocolate syrup, I channel my emotions into being emotionless. I drink water all day along. Water. It's like I drop personality with every pound of weight. Oh well... I still weigh about 30lbs more than I did in Japan.

Anyhow... just so you know, the photo at the very top is me giving a self-introduction not at Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School), but at Sakuyama Chu Gakko (Sakuyama Junior High School) in Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture) - because no photos of that first visit to Ohtawara's school exist. You might be impressed to know that I wrote my name on the white board in the Japanese katakana alphabet. My kanji name would be another couple of months away when I finally thought of it.

After giving an opening speech to the entire school and some parents who were interested enough to see what all the hubbub was about regarding the foreigner teaching at their school (see HERE), it was time for me to get to work.

My first class was with JTE (Japanese teacher of English) Kunita-sensei... a Japanese man of around 45, so he had been teaching - or stuck in his ways, depending on one's point of view, for 20 years or more.

But to me... he was my guide.
Kunita-sensei, English teacher at Ohtawara Chu Gakko in the teacher's office.
Now... because it wasn't possible to see everyone during my four-day visit because there were 20 classes in total at this school (seven Grade 7's with exactly 34 students apiece; seven Grade 8's with 40 students apiece; and six Grade 9's with 45 student's apiece), I was only going to see 12 of them this week.

That's three on Tuesday; four on Wednesday; four on Thursday; and just one on Friday. The rest I would see on September 25-27.

We walked up a flight of stairs to visit class 2-2... a class of second-year (grade 8) students who were so noisy in the room before I walked in with Kunita-sensei and continued to be when I walked in, until he finally bade them to be quite.

It wasn't that they were hopping all over the place talking to people, it was just the fact that they were the first class to see me, so the buzz was understandable, and to Kunita-sensei's credit, he knew it too.

I wasn't the first AET in Ohtawara. My predecessor was... Cheryl, a short, very pretty English woman of Indian (India)-decent.

I was, too, though neither short or pretty. I was born in London, England, but considered myself to be Canadian. The whole decent thing was curious to me, because I was not born in India, can't speak the language(s), don't eat the food or know a damn thing about the sub-continent, other than it's a sub-continent. I know Indian girls don't want to go out with me, but that's their loss.

I wondered in my head, if the people of Ohtawara thought all gaijin (outsiders/foreigners) had brown skin, or if just the ones from England did? People in England probably wonder that sometimes, themselves, but bot too long sweetie... then it becomes racist.

I don;t know what you have heard about Japanese students all being dour and polite, but I had the most active bunch of kids I had ever seen. Okay, this was the first class I had ever seen - excluding those weekly classes of Phys Ed I taught (while in high school) to a class of Grade 5's...

Still, they were all smiles as they stared up at me from their desks... Happy to see the gaijin and probably happier not to have to do any real English work.

So... I would give a self-introduction... and Kunita-sensei would translate for the class.

I told them my name... my full name: John Andrew Matthew Stephen Joseph, my real birth date, so they could know how old I was, where I was born and where I grew up.
At this self-introduction at Sakuyama Chu Gakko, I asked the student to guess what I had that was 30 centimeters long. Unfortunately, I was only talking about my foot size.
I showed them photographs of my parents, my brother, my two rottweilers and my cat, my aquarium, my comic book collection, the model cars I enjoyed building, photos of my friends, and then three photos of the women I claimed were my girlfriends back in Toronto - a blonde, Connie; a brunette, Sue; and a redhead, Juanita... all friends, but all whom I badly wanted to sleep with. I showed them photos of my car and my dad's car - both Japanese.

I told them how tall I was, how much I weighed, and how big my feet were. The 30cm elicited many oohs and ahhs.

I told them about the seven years of post-secondary education I have. I told them about about my job as a newspaper reporter and how I taught piano and clarinet, and how I could play all brass, woodwinds and keyboards - and that my uncle was the former conductor of the New Delhi Symphony Orchestra. Plus all the soccer I played and coached and the baseball I played...

And despite all of that, the very first question I was asked was this:

"Who is the girl in the calendar hanging in your bedroom photo?"

The kids at the back of the class are where the cool kids sit - even in Ohtawara Chu Gakko.
It was Kathy Ireland, but that wasn't the point. Or was it? Thee kids were 13-years-old! I was a complete hormone at that age. Still was at 25 and depending on the woman, still am. Anyhow, it was a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit calendar and those kids all spotted the bikini-clad Kathy.

Other questions include:

How come you had three girlfriends?
Me: "Just lucky, I guess."
Nods of tsukebi (vulgar) mumbled around, but I didn't know that at the time.

Do you like Japanese girls?
As soon as this girl asked the question a friend hit her on the back of the head, as she was apparently supposed to ask a different question.
Me: "But, yes... I like Japanese girls, but don't care if they are Japanese or not. I like women."

Do you have a girlfriend?
Me: "Yes, I do."
I had met fellow AET Ashley Benning on my second-day in Tokyo after arriving in Japan, and to say that we hit it off is a drunken understatement. But... she was my girlfriend... in fact, she became the woman who took my cherry, ending nearly 26-years of virginhood. Ashley refused to believe I had been a virgin - I'm guessing because I took 40 minutes that first time, plus I seemed to know what I was doing - I had watched a lot of 1970s and 1980s porn when the movies were required to have a plot and the actresses were required to act. That's what I heard... I would always skip ahead to the good parts.
Anyhow, Ashley had asked me to keep our relationship a secret so the whole town wouldn't think she was s slut... which is funny, because she was always hanging around with me - and not fellow AET Matthew, the Japanese knew... plus, they figured that any guy with three girlfriends must be a cool guy and therefore anyone woman around him must be a slut. Welcome to the world of double-standards.
At Sakuyama Chu Gakko giving a self-introduction by pretending to throw a baseball. What do you like sports? I like baseball. I play baseball. Still... I don't know what is more embarrassing... the white belt I am wearing, or the fact that my throwing hand hit the overhead television set. Owtch. Nice ass, though.
What do you like sex?
I'm still not sure exactly what was implied. What positions did I like, or was he interested in the country-style, from French, Greek, Turkish, Swiss, German, or Swedish or Danish? I studied the lot of them, and was only recently getting the chance to try them out. Or did the mean did I like tying up women or being tied up or peeing on each other or smacking each other around with a feather... or using a paddle or just a hard whack to the behind?
Before I could answer--thank god, it could have been an international incident--Kunita-sensei walked over to the brave lad and whacked him on the back of the head and told him in English not top say such things... and then repeated it in Japanese.
How cool was Kunita-sensei to say it in English first?! That was to show respect to me and also so I knew he wouldn't stand for his students being insulted.
I looked at Kunita-sensei and smiled and said, it's okay. The student stood up, bowed and apologized... I gave him a pshaw-type of wave like it was: 'ain't no thang' even though I would never say that in real life. My smile at him was understood, and he and I became good friends after that.

How long will you stay in Japan?
This was the first and only time I was asked this question in a school.  And it surprised me and left me speechless.
"Hunh... I just got here. But... I like Japan every much... my contract is only for one year..."
The class seemed to deflate a little.
"But... if the Board of Education wants me to stay, I can sign on for two more one-year contracts."
(I know now, thanks to a reader, that you can now do up to five years on JET, and once you leave, you can apply again and be accepted again up to maximum of three times... )
This seemed to energize the class.

Do you think Japan is beautiful?
No brainer here.
"Yes, I do. I haven't been around to many parts of it yet (zero, actually) but I have been around Ohtawara, and it is lovely.
"I am from a large city - Toronto is the biggest in Canada with 2.5 million people (as of 1990), and while I know Tokyo is much bigger, I really like the small city of Ohtawara a lot. It's quiet, but not too quiet. The people are friendly - everyone is bowing at me. I wish more people would speak English to me, but I know I am in your country and should learn to speak Japanese."

Do you know Rondon Crubu?
He meant London Club which was in the bar district of Ohtawara, about a three-minute stumble from my apartment, that looks like a simple laneway during the day, but comes alive when it gets dark. The student asked because I was born in London, England and perhaps because I was a pervy pervert that perverts might look up too.
The London Club was an adult men's hostess club... where maybe sex takes place or handjobs or maybe just exotic dancing or maybe nothing more than just scantily clad women offering drinks... Kunita-sensei suddenly lost the power of describing things in English, and being a JET, that means I'm an ambassador of my country... and while I might be a pervery pervert (IE a man) with the locals and other gaijin women, I still wasn't going to go into any quasi-nudge-nudge-wink-wink situation like the London Club. If no one can adequately describe the place, then it's not the type of place I want to be seen crawling out off. Keep THAT in mind for yourselves.

Do you know Anne?
I had no idea what this question meant. Sure, I know a Anne or two in my day, but how could I know the Anne this girl was asking about?
I asked Kunita-sensei, who, without asking the girl, answered "Anne of Green Gables".
"Oh yes, I know Anne!"
That meant I knew her, but had not until a couple of months ago in 2014 actually read the book. Damn fine book, by the way.
Anne is supposed to be from the east coast of Canada and for some reason, the Japanese, especially the girls and women, really dig her adventures. She is a Canadian icon in Japan, though sadly not enough of one in Canada.

Anyhow, the bell rang indicating class was over... and I had survived this noisy class. But, no rest for the wicked, as I had another self-introduction class with Shibata-sensei... this time with the 3-3 (Grade 9, class 3) students... who were equally as rambunctious, but somehow even funnier.

This was followed up immediately with another Shibata-sensei class, this time the 1-1 (Grade 7's), who were timid for a few minutes, but quickly warmed up to my schtick, which was already rounding into form.

They loved the fact that the name of one my 'girlfriends' was Connie... because it sounds like Kani... which is the Japanese word for crab.

They also got a kick out of my brother Ben's name, because Ben is an archaic Japanese way of saying 'feces'. I probably already knew that of the little bastard.

The one question that I was asked by these kids that stood out was if I like the 'sun-da-baddo'.

At first I had no idea what they were talking about... but Shibata-sensei told me it was an old television show with marionettes... and then it dawned on me... could these kids be watching 30 year old British television shows NOW?

Yes, they were!

I said sure I know the Thunderbirds. And yelled "Thunderbirds are Go!" and instantly I was the new Gaijin King of the Nerds in Japan.

I told them that as a little kid, I was in love with a female marionette on the show, and named my first puppy dog after her.

Which one? they asked.

"Tin-Tin" I said.

Going to an antique market, I found and bought this single card of Tin-Tin from the Thunderbirds show that was on in the early 1960s. Divine providence alsm means that I never have seen another of the cards from the set of 72 for sale.
Laughter everywhere led by Shibata-sensei, who translated her name to "Chin-Chin" which I had already learned was the slangy Japanese word for 'penis'.

Great. Now they KNOW I'm a pervert. Not only am I 'dating' three women, but my girlfriend is a crab, my brother is a pile of poo and my dog answers to the male body part that helped me develop a powerful right forearm.

My reputation is all set.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about lunch time.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Today's photo at the top is me at Sakuyama Chu Gakko doing a self-introduction simply because there is no photo of me doing so at Ohtawara Chu Gakko. The photo in the middle of the article... that's me at Ohtawara Chu Gakko, having some fun with the students.
PPS: Over the three years, I had to give around 72 self-introductions. I loved;em. I suppose that's one sign of an egomaniac, right there. I enjoyed talking about myself and I enjoyed the questions I got back from the students. It was a time for them to not only get to know me, but to find out that I am a human being, just like them, with hopes and dreams.

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