When you mix a weak mind, two schools where EVERYONE has straight black hair and dresses alike, and siblings who look just too much alike, you get... confused!
At Manyo, there was one girl who talked to me once in a while, but sometimes her English was average and sometimes it seemed almost nonexistent, and I could never remember what class she was in, because it seemed like I was running into her all over the place. One day, just after New Years, after 4 months at Manyo, I went into the art room after school and ran smack dab into two of her. Identical twins.
At Go-chu, there are two girls in the same class (the only third year class), very cute kids, with chubby cheeks, pageboys, and great big glasses, whom I always confused--just couldn't get them straight. Then one day I was helping Marie with a letter she was writing to an American pen pal, and I saw that she mentioned having a twin sister. Click (loud noise from inside my skull). "Yurie is your sister?" It had never even occurred to me that these two (sitting all of 12 feet apart) were even related, and of course they are identical twins. Absolutely identical twins (but that Yurie's English is weaker and her blue-metal rimmed glasses are very slightly rounder than Marie's blue-metal rimmed glasses [note added later--I've since found a distinguishing mole on Marie's face]). This after about seven months. Yu-ree-ay and Mah-ree-ay.
With the entry of the new freshmen, it only got worse, because of course there were a bunch of new kids who looked just like some of the older kids--but fortunately usually smaller. Quite a few of them are absolute carbon copies of their older siblings (especially with the boys), which is astounding. I also kept running into this one very friendly girl all over the place; she joined the school band, which is one of my favorite groups to bother, and I could never remember if she played the trombone or the trumpet; it seemed like she was playing something different every time I saw her. I also kept getting her name wrong; I'd call her Saki and find out her name was Maki--and then the next time I couldn't remember which it was and try Maki, and, no, it's Saki. Took me a month to figure out that we have both a Maki and a Saki, who are of course identical twins. I had to run into both of them at once, too, before I figured out their secret (I have no idea why one never said, "no, that's my sister" when I called her the wrong name--probably shyness).
I'm wondering both if identical twins are more common among the Japanese (their long isolation seems to have produced quite a bit of genetic quirkery, but see below), and if this horribly cutesy business of giving identical twins matching names is common.
Since I was getting excited about this new game of matching siblings in the student body (sort of Concentration with brunette midgets), I asked the captain of the tennis team if one of her teammates was related to her, since I thought they looked quite a bit alike (in fact, earlier in the year I had thought there was only one of them and I just couldn't keep her name straight). She told me they weren't related, but that even she thinks they look a lot alike. By the way, when I practice with the girls' team, she's my boss!
Even with one-offs, I have a lot of trouble with names. Part of it is that the names themselves are still new to me--I can't remember, "oh, yeah, he's a Hiroyuki," because I don't already have a Hiroyuki category in my head, as I do a "George" or a "Roger" category. I not only have to match the face to the name, I have to memorize the name itself as well. Sometimes, though, a name is common enough that I've heard it many times before, but through sheer lack of brainpower I just can't make it stick, even when there's some reason to remember a particular kid. For instance, I've now asked Thief her real name four times and I've forgotten it again, other than that it's something common, and I'm embarrassed to ask again. She's one of the kids who approach me to say things, and I really want to encourage that.
On the other hand, some kids, especially ones who don't talk to me often, are stunned to be remembered. Two boys who graduated at the end of March came back to visit yesterday--one of them a really memorable nutjob, though not much of an English speaker--and when they ran into me, they introduced themselves to me as if we'd never met ("I... were... last year... here's student"). They looked amazed when I remembered them, if not their names.
Anyway, I've really been trying to learn more kids names, since they seem to get a kick out of it when I know them by name, and it's been this name game that's been consuming most of my intellectual energy lately. God knows I haven't had enough to make heads or tails of my last few Japanese lessons; I've left each time feeling like I've just spent 30 hours as the sole operator in the control room at Chernobyl on a bad day. I'm really impressed with Mitsuko's (my teacher's) strength for not looking crestfallen when I walk into her kitchen every Tuesday night (or when I puddle out an hour later).
O genki de
ps--a quick internet search turned up what all internet searches turned up, wildly conflicting information, but a rough consensus seems to be that the rate of identical twins is constant all around the world. However, the rate of all twins, fraternal and identical, is about twice as high in the US as in Japan, though the proportion of twins who are identical is about twice as high in Japan (about 2/3) as in the States, so the net rate of identical twins is the same. However, the rate of identical twins in my two schools (5 sets among 500 kids) is about four times this constant rate.