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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Ultra Seven

This title refers to the number of junior high schools I taught at in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken as an assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme between 1990-1993.

It also represents the number of days I have left in Japan, as my third and final one-year contract is up, and I have to leave the country and go back to my unexciting life back in Toronto where, owing to a major recession, I'm sure I will not be able to get a job as a reporter with a top-level newspaper and will have to remain at home in my parent's house.

Here in Japan, on Thursday, July 15, 1993, I have a job (for a couple more days), my own apartment (partially paid for by my work), and a girlfriend (who is unsure if she wants to disappoint me or her father more, but is at least defying him by sleeping over at my house every night this past week.)

Hmm... I don't have much of my own in Japan either... but Noboko (girlfriend) trumps any negativity I have about Japan - except about leaving it. I don't even have free will, as I have to leave Japan. Have to.

Anyhow... today is my last day at Ohtawara Chu Gakko (Ohtawara Junior High School), the largest of the schools I taught at (past tense), after today, anyways.

As soon as I arrive, and before anyone can pour me my first of seven o-cha (green tea) beverages that I would have on any normal work day, I am instead ushered out of the main school building and out to the gymnasium, converted now to an auditorium.

This was were I first gave a speech to the school and students three years earlier, and this is where I shall give my final speech to them.

Some 76 self-introductions (I'm pretty sure that was the exact number), and hundreds of team-taught English classes later mostly involving me reading something in English or providing perfect pronunciation (my specialty),,,

Unlike that first speech, this time they have over-sized blue rubber slippers for me to wear. You never wear your outside shoes inside in Japan, though I do and did inside my own apartment, my slice of Canada meets Japan.

Again I am to go an sit on a chair at the front stage, while the principal raves on in Japanese about what a good teacher I was and what a credit I have been to this school and city and how hopefully every one of the students with older adult sisters made them available for Andrew's sexual appetite.

Obviously I have no idea what the hell he said.

I lived here for three years and have, unfortunately, forgotten more than I ever learned about the Japanese language, which seems impossible, but is probably accurate.

Next, he calls me up to the podium - I look around for Shibata-sensei to translate, but he doesn't move from his seat...

So... I'm about to launch into some idiotic soliloquy about Japan is great, when all of a sudden I spy movement from the rows of students sitting at the front of the stage...

A third-year boy and girl are coming up to the stage, the girl carrying a large bouquet of flowers, the boy an envelope.

Aww, you shouldn't have! Money and flowers? The flowers I mean.

But no, the boy and girl both come up and bow to the flags behind me and then to myself... the boy unfolds the paper he was carrying and begins reading a speech to me in English.

It was pretty good and lasted a minute or so, and if I have taught them nothing (a possibility), then at least I have taught them proper pronunciation - and he doesn't let himself down. Perfecto mundo.

He bows, steps back, and then the girl bows to the flags and then me, and then hands me the flowers, and then without any crib notes steps to the microphone and says, "We will miss you, Andrew-sensei (she said it perfectly!) and hope you will have a long and happy life back in Canada. Thank-you for teaching us.

"Please remember us."

Damn. It really made me want to cry. 'Please remember us.'

I don't know their names. But, 22 years later, they haven't been forgotten.

I then give a short speech, for which Shibata-sensei suddenly appears beside me. I can't recall exactly what I said, but I'm pretty sure I made them laugh with some story about freezing my butt off in the winter, huddled beside the steam heater at the front of the class, and wondered why the damn windows were always open in the winter - and yes, I know it's to make the kids feel alive (all that was translated - laugh from the students who also wondered why the Japanese did such dumb things - especially from the kids who sat at the back of the class and received ZERO heat from that crappy heater...

Whoa... the speech is coming back to me a bit...

I told them how much I had learned about Japanese culture, about society, rules from the teachers and students.

I also decided to mention how I learned my first bad Japanese words here, exchanging bad English words with the students during 'play time'.

Big laughs from the students - but it was all true.

"And," I continued, "it is one of my fondest memories of internationalization here in Japan.

"It proved, very early in my stay here in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, that people are really the same after all. Differences? Yes, plenty, but at heart, we are all the same... we each love our family. We love. We hate. We win and succeed. Sometimes we fail.

"When I first arrived in Japan, I was keen to acknowledge the differences between Japan and the Japanese people relative to my own western society and life... but I quickly decided to concentrate on the similarities.

"You have all honored me with the title of sensei (teacher). I'm no teacher, at least not like Inoue-sensei or Bannai-sensei, but I thank you anyways for the honor.

"So... after three years... I am leaving Japan, and I am just going to be Andrew.

"It's going to suck."

Laughs from the kids.

I raise my hand in a wave and grimace a smile.

"I only have one last thing to say to you students," I say.

I step away from the lectern and give them all a long bow.

There was a gasp.

They needed to return the bow. But couldn't because they were all sitting down.

Leave it to me to create a cultural faux pas now.

I turn to the teachers et al and bow. I bow again to the flags behind me and then, as I am about to slide over (slippers) to my chair, someone in the crowd yells something and everyone stands up.

That person yells 'bei' and then everyone bows to me. I bow back.

I then make my way back to the front of the auditorium by walking a gauntlet of applauding students and teachers...

The slippers clash with everything I am wearing! On the plus side, after three years in Japan, not once did I kill anyone when I accidentally threw a slipper.
 Holy crap... it's only 8:45AM and I am exhausted. I still have to teach!

But not really... I visit three classes, discuss my plans for life in Toronto with the students...  I dunno... maybe become a journalist again?

I do manage to squeeze in my seven cups of o-cha, and all is right with the world.

And the day is done... I ride home... I put the flowers in water in my new vase and await a quiet evening with Noboko, who doesn't disappoint, arriving 90 minutes after I get home... groceries in hand and ready to cook me a meal.

I suggest I take her out to dinner, but I can hear her wince internally, so we stay in again and enjoy each others company one more time.

I really am wasted from my last day at school.

Bei,
Andrew Joseph

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