So I can speak Japanese.
This was by no means an easy task. Much like many other deer-in-the-headlights of my generation, it started off with a foolishly simple thought. “Hey, I like Dragonball and Sailor Moon. I know that “sentou ryoku wa ku-sen ijou!” means “his power level is OVER NINE-THOUSAAAAAAND!” and “inochi o kakete mo kurisutaru oukoku o mamoranakereba naranai!” means “I must protect the Crystal Kingdom, even at the cost of my own life!” How hard can it be?”
Eight years later, and the tears still haven’t stopped.
I spent four years learning Japanese in university. Then I came to Japan and found that those four years were a nice starter. Like a solitary Ritz cracker before a viking buffet. It gets the party started but doesn’t really prepare you for the real thing that much. Especially coming to the Kansai region, where everybody speaks with a heavy dialect. I found it was especially hard to understand the kids.
Me: Ah, konnichi wa!
Student: Oh, omae nan ya. Doko ikun?
Me: Anno…nani desu ka?
Me: Etto…mou ichido itte kudasai?
Student: Mou kai yun? Nani yo?
Me: Umm…kyou wa atsui desu ne!
Student: Yappari gaijin wakarahen wa. Yameteoku.
Me: Anou…tokoro de, anata no sentou ryoku was ku-sen ijou desu ka?
Student: …Omae, aho chau?
And, of course, for the Japanese-impaired…
Me: Oh, good afternoon!
Student: Oh, it’s you. Where’re you goin’?
Student: You don’t understand?
Me: Um…could you say that again please?
Student: Say what again?
Me: Ehh…today’s pretty hot, isn’t it!
Student: Yep, Gaijin don’t understand Japanese. Eh, screw it.
Me: Um, by the way, would you happen to have a power lever OVER NINE THOUSAAAAAND?
Student: …What the fuck is wrong with you?
So I quit my job. In a perfect world, I would have my next job all lined up and waiting for me. And in this perfect world, that job would be something like professional cheesecake taster, or even better, actual-use condom tester. I would be paid generously, set my own schedule, and have ridiculous perks like always getting to fly first class, and free peanut butter whenever I saw fit.
Unfortunately, I do not live in a perfect world, which meant that being unemployed once again put me at home with a lot of free time on my hands. Furthermore, with my live-in girlfriend going to her proper job every weekday, that effectively made me a live-in house husband. I told her that she was perhaps the first, and quite possibly only/last Japanese girl to be the one bringing home the bacon while her mate lounges around at home doing nothing. Usually, I’m pretty happy to set precedents, but for some odd reason she didn’t seem too pleased with this one.
With my newfound free time on weekdays, I decided to explore an aspect of Japanese culture I’d never experienced before–that of the bored housewife. Though things are slowly changing, many women only hold career jobs until they get married, or pregnant (although pregnancy seems to follow marriage pretty darned quickly). The woman will quit her job to take care of the kid, but once all the kids in a household hit junior high school, the woman will pretty much be absolved of that duty, as kids seem to spend 85% of their lives at school. Some women may take on part-time jobs or other work to help pass the time. But for the rest…well, that’s what I set out to find out. Just what exactly is a day like for the average Japanese Peg Bundy, anyway?
I’m doing a lot these days, it seems.
Yes, the situation at the school with the other teachers and the VP was bad, very bad. I don’t think it should discourage people from wanting to come to Japan though. Not all situations are like this. And it’s not really something you can say, “Man, Japan sucks!” about, because there are shitty jobs and coworkers in ANY country. As much as I disliked that school, it doesn’t steal away the title of “My Worst Job Ever,” which was a ride operator for a Six Flags amusement park.*
But it is a situation that exists, and it’s not unique to me. One of my biggest gripes with the whole English teaching in Japan thing is how they bring us in so totally and wholly unprepared. If you truly are interested in teaching English in Japan, don’t read stories like this and be scared off–instead, learn from them. If I can help people come here and be at least a little better informed about what they’ll be facing than I was, then I’ll be glad to have been of some help.
Another thing about dealing with bad situations in Japan is, you kind of have to do it Japanesely. Raising a big stink, directly confronting the VP, or even Gaijin Smashing him not only would have made things worse, but served to reinforce the “Americans are pushy and rude” stereotype that many Japanese people have of us. It’s not me losing my American-ness, but learning to adapt to a different culture. When in Rome, they say. When foreigners come to America, we expect them to play by American rules, so for us to go overseas and still expect to do things our way is hypocritical and arrogant, I feel. A baseball club visiting another team’s ballpark wouldn’t expect to bat in the bottom of the inning and have the fans cheer for them, would they?
Actually, when Ms. S first came to the School of Peace, it caused problems for me. She created the English Club, and wanted me to attend the meetings everyday, which meant that I’d be at work for 1-2 hours over contract. Also, while I liked the English Club kids, I also liked being able to wander around and interact with other kids in other clubs. It was fun batting around with the baseball club, or giving badminton a try, or even just talking with the track and field club girls when they were on break. I didn’t like being asked to go to the English Club everyday, but I didn’t say anything directly about it.
The next time I was at the Board of Education, I casually asked if I could leave work a few minutes early. My supervisor agreed, and said that I was probably entitled to it if I’d been staying late at the schools. In a “by the way” manner, I told him that I actually had been staying late at the School of Peace, as I had to go to English Club meetings everyday. I also mentioned how much I liked the English club, but that I also enjoyed visiting with other clubs as well. The supervisor gives me a nonchalant, “Ah, is that so?” and I take off early.
The next time I went to the School of Peace, I noticed Ms. S didn’t ask me to go to the English club everyday. She only asked me to go once or twice a week, and usually made an effort to try and end any plans involving me by my contract hours. This was perfect–I could get my English Club time in, I could still visit the other clubs, and now I could choose if I wanted to stay late or not. As I’d never said a word of this to Ms. S, I can only assume that my supervisor at the BOE contacted her and talked about the situation with her, to which she responded appropriately. In America, going about things this way is terribly round-about, and maybe even rude. But this is just how Japan works. And in the end, it worked out well for all parties involved.
I know I said this before, but I really mean it this time: I am no longer a Japanese school teacher.
I took the new teaching job in September. I didn’t particularly want to do it, but my visa was on the verge of expiring, and I had no other options. I was to fill in for a guy who’d decided to leave mid-year. As his contract was scheduled to end in March, I figured I would work until then. Hopefully, I would have found something better by March, and if not, I could at least save money to help get by until I did. And while that was a wonderful theory, in reality, I handed in my walking papers in November, to quit by December.
What made me crack, you may ask?
The ALT business is by no means a career path. You’re pretty much an outsider in the school ranks, with no chance of advancement. After a few years, you’ve pretty much done everything you can do within the job–even if you wanted to become an instructor (which I don’t), continuing for years on end is little more than just spinning your wheels. I’d gotten tired of the job at my last posting–while those schools weren’t perfect, I still feel that they were one of the better postings a Gaijin could hope to get.
That’s not to mention that there are massive problems with both English teaching theory, and the entire junior high school system as a whole in Japan. To fix these problems, you’d need groundbreaking, fundamental change…and we all know how much Japan loathes change. I don’t see improvements for the better happening anytime soon, and even if they did, I don’t care enough about the field to be a part of it. Getting into what the problems are would require a whole ‘nother editorial–but anyone who’s actually done the job, or anyone who’s been reading along and is perceptive enough–could probably figure it out.
Regarding my specific situation, the schools themselves were not at all good. Unmotivated, rude, and sometimes violent students were a problem of course, but more than that I was annoyed by the teachers. I hated getting little to no time to plan lessons, and I didn’t like that they were having me basically do all their work for them. Again, it’s not that I’m opposed to working–I just don’t like getting taken advantage of. Having the licensed teacher relaxing in the back of the classroom, while unlicensed me tries to explain English grammar points I don’t fully understand in a language that’s not my native tongue…well…that didn’t exactly seem like a fair situation.
Despite my distaste for the entire situation, I thought I could at least suck it up until March. Just let the contract end, and then I’d be free to my own devices. It was only a few months–surely, I could do at least that. That’s what I’d thought, but that all changed thanks to one incident.
Reading the comments for the last entry, it seems as if most people think I’ve finally gone completely insane, or gave in to the pressures of Japan and smoked some crack up, quite possibly behind my ears even. I found this somewhat surprising.
As I was an English major w/creative writing emphasis in university, I took a few classes on writing. One professor warned us all against using popular culture. If the audience got it, great, but if they didn’t, whatever we tried to do would fall flat. For an example, he gave us an excerpt of a story where a character went into another character’s bathroom and found several bars of a certain brand of soap….To us young college students, this meant absolutely nothing. However, the story had been written quite a few years ago, when daytime drama on TV was heavily sponsored by soap companies, aka soap operas. Given the time period of the story, to find several bars of a particular kind of soap showed that this particular character was a housewife, one who stayed at home, watched a lot of TV, and was apparently easily influenced. Of course, we in the current age had no idea about any of this, and that particular characterization point was lost.
When I started writing my editorials, I didn’t really have an audience, and was pretty much just writing for myself. So, I didn’t try to filter out any obscure references I thought might be lost on general audiences. Like, really specific Street Fighter slang, or long since canceled TV shows, etc. Amazingly enough, most people actually seemed to get these references. I could talk about the stupidly awesome properties of the crouching fierce, how much I wanted to get inside of Herman’s Head so that I could party with Animal and bang the holy shit outta Angel, or even how a quadriplegic couldn’t break my stride, and yet somehow, people were always like, “OMG I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE!!!” It seemed like I couldn’t make a reference that was too obscure.
So, I was kind of surprised and disappointed to find out that I might be living in a world where people don’t know about Jack Handey.
I guess this is just my long-winded way of saying–man, I feel old now. If I ever make a Smurfs reference and the majority of people didn’t get it, I dunno what I’d do. Genius would probably blow a fuse.
By Azrael Handy
I hate lazy-eyed Japanese people. I can never tell if they’re staring at me, or out the window.
The Japanese name for a bowl of rice with chicken and eggs is “oyakodon.” Literally, this means “bowl of parent and child.” I think this is the saddest name for food ever, including rape blossoms. Could you imagine if there were a race of aliens that would just reach down and scoop up a mother and her child, put them in a bowl of rice, and eat them? If these aliens really did exist, I’m pretty sure I’d want to meet them.
People keep wanting Japan to apologize for all the atrocities they’ve committed, but honestly, I don’t think Pokemon was all that bad.
I once told a 12 year-old Japanese boy that if he tried to stick his fingers up my ass, I’d stick my fingers up his ass. In some cultures, this is pedophilic gay porn. Luckily for me, in Japan, this is only saying hello. I told this story to my friend Michael, and he said he was coming to visit me immediately. I hope I have a spare futon.
And this is totally unrelated to the above, but when Japanese people get sick, they wear masks over their faces to contain the germs. Then in the summer, women use umbrellas and cover their hands and arms with gloves to stay white. I also just read in the news that the US is asking Japan to crack down on its lax child pornography laws….No wonder Michael Jackson is still so popular here.
So I have to be an “Active ALT” at one of the schools. Which meant no more sleeping at my desk. Which is a shame, because sleeping at work is just a notch below “That Extra 5 Minutes in the Morning” as the best sleep ever. Oh well, time to wipe the drool off my face and actually do something productive, I suppose.
One of my extracurricular duties included making a monthly English newspaper. By newspaper, I really mean just a big sheet of poster paper with some kind of story or article written on it in English that would be put up on the bulletin board outside the teachers’ room. The teachers showed me the last one the previous ALT had written before he’d left. It was something about the fish canals in Seattle, Washington.
Clearly, the guy had no clue about the interests of Japanese students.
It’s a common mistake really. A lot of ALTs come in all enthusiastic about getting to teach Japanese kids about their home country. There are people who try to give talks about the Boston Tea Party or the white sands of New Mexico, or even the annual watermelon seed spitting contest of Portland, Oregon. And while that’s all well and good, these people often forget to take into account one crucial aspect–Japanese kids just don’t give a flying fuck. Japanese kids don’t give a shit about stuff that’s actually Japanese, they certainly can’t be asked to care about something that’s over a whole ocean away.
I found this out during my first year of teaching.
Kids: Hey, what do you like to do on the weekends?
Me: Well, I like to go into Kyoto and meet friends.
Kids: Kyoto! Wow, that’s really far away!
Me: WTF? It’s only 30 kilometers away! Less than an hour by train!
Kids: OMG, so far. You really like to travel.
Me: It’s only 30km away!
Kids: So, what’s it like out in Kyoto? Is the weather the same as it is down here?
Me: THIRTY. MOTHERFUCKING. KILOMETERS.
So unless the fish canal article described how the fish ended up directly on their dinner plates, I doubt the kids cared. If I was going to put the effort into making it, I wanted the kids to at least read it. Or, at least stand there and look at it for a few minutes before saying “eigo wakaran” (I dunno English) and going off to go fondle each other lovingly in the hallways, blow on a duck horn, camp outside a bathroom window, or whatever the fuck it is these kids are doing these days.
So I decided to write about the explosion of anime and manga in America. This always gets a huge kick out of Japanese people, no matter how old they are. When it comes to internationalism in Japan, there is nothing Japanese people love more than–
1. Japanese people succeeding overseas.
2. The chance to laugh at non-Japanese people being stupid.
The anime/manga explosion in America gives Japanese people a chance to accomplish both at the same time, which gives them a twisted sense of orgasmic joy that they haven’t experienced since…ever, perhaps. Every now and then the evening news does a story about it. I saw one such story once-at the end of the story, one of the reporters read off a list of the top three anime in America.
Male Reporter: And apparently, the top three most popular anime in America now are Naruto, Inu Yasha, and Bleach.
Female Reporter: Ah, soo desu ka?
Now, as many of you may know, the Japanese language is filled with all sorts of tiny nuances that can radically change the meaning of a word or phrase. For you amateur Japanese students out there, you might have read the female reporter’s response as, “Ah, is that so?” However, if you had actually seen the look on her face as she said that, you would have realized that this is a much better translation.
Male Reporter: And apparently, the top three most popular anime in America now are Naruto, Inu Yasha, and Bleach.
Female Reporter: I have no idea what the fuck you just said. Was that even Japanese?
When I took this new teaching job, they told me they wanted me to be an “Active ALT.” In other words, it wouldn’t be enough to just go to class and be the obedient English teaching monkey. They wanted me to get involved–join the kids in their sports clubs, go to school events and activities, etc. I considered this, to some degree, unfair–the teachers who are responsible for the sports clubs don’t even go sometimes!* Not to mention that many teachers, in their free periods, would stack up some student notebooks, use them as a pillow, and take a nice nap, or retreat to the back room for a smoke break. But fine, whatever, if I wasn’t in class, I was probably bored at my desk, and I liked interacting with the kids anyway.
*I’ve found that the teachers’ involvement in the sports clubs tends to be hit or miss. It seems like they get assigned a club almost randomly. Sometimes, they end up being the coach for a club they know nothing about. The home economics teacher back at the School of Peace was somehow assigned to Girls Basketball. The poor woman would just stand there and say things like “Okay…now dribble! Good. Now shoot! Good. Hey, is it legal for you to drop-kick your defender like that?” The industrial arts teacher was somehow assigned Girls Badminton. I was talking to him one day, and he was telling me that he had no idea what he was doing–he showed me a badminton magazine he’d bought, and to try and look convincing as the badminton coach, he’d sometimes tell the girls something he mind-copy/pasted from the magazine. Then sometimes, you’d have the teachers who got a wee bit over-zealous…like Noisy Fucker, who went to practice every day, with his bull horn. “Hey. Tanaka-kun. You call that running? Run faster. Hey. Yamamoto-kun. I’ve seen grandmothers take better swings than that. You call yourself a tennis player? And don’t think I don’t see you Takahashi-kun. You think that racket is just going to swing itself?”
Anyway, so I was going to have to be an active ALT. Fine by me. However, this school was quite large, and in order to get me going to as many classes as possible, I was going to four, five, even six periods a day. This is quite a full schedule. So when I did actually have a free period, I choose to go back to my desk and use the opportunity to relax between classes. However, the vice principal, perhaps, did not see it that way. If I was sitting at my desk, he began to come by and ask me to do certain things–translate something here, take something there, recommend my participation in something some class is doing in the dungeons of the schools. I don’t mind being helpful, but there was something about the way he asked me to do these things…as if he was trying to force me to work.