Just another catch-all. The kids continue to keep me amused, and I've pretty much decided to stay another year. I'd heard somewhere that schools are encouraged to change ALTs after two years and that special permission is needed to stay, but my boss told me today that I can stay if I like. It's always nice to be wanted. I'd thought I'd opt out of the bonenkai, the big New Year's office party (a huge tradition in Japan), which as always is at an onsen (hot springs bath) resort; we have to stay overnight at the hotel, and there's a huge feast, so it can be quite expensive, but this year's will be only about $170, about half the amount of last year's. My boss talked me into it, telling me it would be a good chance for me to experience something very Japanese and get a little closer (maybe too close, me fears) to my colleagues. After talking me into it, she had some second thoughts, wanting to make sure I wouldn't be bothered by being naked with all the male teachers, who will be, she assures me, blotto and behaving very badly (two years ago a high school teacher was arrested for climbing the wall between the men's and women's baths and plopping down among the ladies, some of whom were complete strangers, and it's not uncommon for security to have to send some of the guys to their rooms early). Truth be told, I'm not bothered by being naked at an onsen, but being naked with my drunken colleagues probably will be uncomfortable from time to time. The obvious prophylaxis is to get good and blotto myself.
Just for an update on something I mentioned a few days ago, the student who was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance on Monday is home and doing well. Apparently, he's an epileptic, but nobody in school knew that on Monday. We were terrified that the blow to his head had triggered his convulsions (that must be bad), but apparently it was the other way around (though the blow is likely what put his lights out for five minutes).
I'm helping students work through a book of practice exercises for the high school entrance tests. One of my favorite (but most discouraging) entries today was by a girl who answered that she wanted to go to Sabae HS because Sabae has the uniforms that will look best on her. She wants to be a beautician when she grows up, and her hobby is "studying make-up." At least this year no girl has come out and said explicitly that "my hobby is putting on make-up," as two girls did last year (boy, must that have impressed the HS admissions boards). I can think of at least a few, though, who could honestly answer, "My hobby is fussing with my hair." One of my favorite girls wears her hair differently every day, and sometimes changes it at lunch, but always for comic effect. With all the vanity of teenage girls, how can you not like a kid with enough hutzpah to make fun of herself and treat her appearance as a joke? Needless to say, she's also a lot more popular, even with the boys, than any of the hardcore hair girls (we also have a couple of hair boys, although they don't fuss openly).
In the same stack of exercise books, I found another wonderful English mistake. One girl wrote that she loved her best friend because the friend is "warm-farted." As with many mistakes, this one does make some sense, but of course I felt obligated to explain to the poor girl exactly why I was laughing (she laughed too, and seemed pleased to have learned a new word--and she won't make that mistake again, at least not unintentionally).
I also learned a new word today. In a game in class, I had students compete to write the funniest sentences in the pattern "______ enjoy(s) ------ing ________." One team always managed to offer up a sentence involving the ingestion of something called "hanakuso," much to the class' amusement. I looked to the teacher and pointed at my nose, asking "hana?," to which he nodded. "Kuso" is a fairly mild but impolite word for "shit." Boogers are "nose shit" in Japanese. I'll file this next to the word for uvula, which works out to be "throat penis." I also taught the kids a new word, "pervert." In the same game, another team always had the same boy, Yoshifumi, enjoying something embarrassing. The last offering of the day was easily the winner: "Yoshifumi enjoys asking girls' panties' color on the telephone." The regular teacher and I both laughed too hard to be in any moral position to yell at the little monkey. (If it helps to set the context, you should know that in a country where many men are afraid to even breathe in the presence of an actual woman, this activity has become such a popular perversion that perhaps it should instead be considered a hobby. One inspired perv in Osaka took it a little further and called women pretending to be from a public health institute and talked at least a couple dozen of them into immediately removing their panties, placing them in ziplock bags, and leaving them in a public place for him to collect--which also illustrates beautifully what happens on the left side of the bell curve in a country where people are taught to obey authority). By the way, I used the boy who wrote that sentence, not poor Yoshifumi, to illustrate the word "pervert."
About two weeks ago, though, I did feel compelled to offer moral commentary, if mildly and while laughing, to some students who used English a little too creatively. In this class, kids had prepared skits about shopping. The class Romeo (or so he thinks) was paired with a cute but fairly quiet girl, so I know this was all his doing.
Kinako (clerk): May I help you?
Romeo: I'd like to buy a brassiere.
Kinako: OK. What color do you want?
Romeo: What color do YOU like?
Kinako: How about blue?
Romeo: Oh, yes.
Kinako: What size are you looking for?
Romeo: (holding an imaginary bra out in front of him, as if up against the girl [but actually afraid to get too close to her, thank god]) What size do you wear?
Kinako: Oh, terrible!
Romeo: How much is that?
Kinako: It's eighty dollars.
Romeo: OK, I'll take it. Here you are.
Kinako: Here's your change. Shall I wrap it up?
Romeo: Yes, please. It's a present.
Kinako: (wrap, wrap, wrap) Here you are.
Romeo: (unwraps it wildly) It's a present for you! (Hands it to her, then blows her a kiss on his way out of the store.)
I yelled out, "Terrible! Sexual harrassment!" Since, as I've mentioned, sexual harrassment is a popular hobby here, the students all recognized the phrase, similar as it is to the Japanese term "sekkusu harasu" or "seku hara." On the other hand, there's a girl in this class who hands out much worse to the boys, so I didn't see this skit as a serious loss to the girls in the gender wars. Besides, while I don't know Kinako well, I really like this boy, and I know he is one of the more mature boys, at least in that he is comfortable being good friends with several of the crazier girls. In the same class, the scary girl, "Natami," paired up with a boy, another of the class Romeos, in another skit about an underwear store. During their final rehearsals, I saw Natami pantomiming what was obviously shimmying into a pair of panties, and I thought, knowing this kid too well, "Oh, shit." I'm still afraid to imagine what she might have been capable of, and the skit's been over for two weeks now. Fortunately, it turned out she was demonstrating how to pretend to put on underwear to her partner, who was shopping for underwear for himself. While he was pretending to try on the underwear, Natami pretended to peek into the dressing room at him, offering commentary through her facial expressions.
This will be perhaps the only culturally revealing anecdote of today's letter. I was watching the percussion section practice a few days ago. The third years have "retired" from club activities to study for the high school entrance test, so one of the second years, Naomi (a.k.a. "Queer") has become the new section leader. She's a quiet but interesting girl, and I had wondered if she had enough self-confidence to be a leader. Then I saw her putting the first years through their paces. After each few minutes of practice in unison, she'd stop them and give instructions and corrections. As is normal here, underlings stand at attention for this, and after each remark from the leader they shout "HAI" ("yes") military style to show that they've heard. Naomi actually upbraided them for not shouting "HAI" enthusiastically enough and not standing straight enough while she corrected them!
Tomorrow, it's back to pure innocence, first through fourth graders in my tiny rural elementary school. Even in elementary school, though, there's some room for scandal. My junior high school kids are outraged that there's a second-grader at a nearby elemenary school with bleached hair (my kids aren't allowed to alter their hair color, so I am the only officially sanctioned blond at my schools; the girls got together and complained once when a young teacher showed up with slightly lightened hair).