I'm helping a pair of girls at Manyo prepare for their admission test and interview for the international program (main focus on English) at a local high school. One of them threw me for a loop. After asking the serious questions (should Japan help America in the war in Afghanistan, etc.) I switched to easier ones. I asked Ayumi, "Do you know any foreigners?" Of course she does (she knows me!). I asked Saki, "Do you like foreigners?" I rather expected a politically correct (as well as tactful, considering that I'm not quite a local yet) "yes." "No, I don't." Both Ayumi and I stared at her for a moment. "I beg your pardon?" "I heard that some Chinese in Takefu are eating Japanese people's dogs. Japanese dogs are very cute. They shouldn't eat them." Apparently some stereotypes hold up all around the world (good opportunity to explain "stereotypes"--"Saki, PLEASE don't say that at your interview").
Actually, I'd already planned to ask them whether they'd try unusual foods when they went abroad--and of course there's the current big stink of western dog fanciers condemning Korea's dog-eating in light of the upcoming World Cup (I'm still not sure why a soccer game has anything to do with this, unless it's simply that these people had never heard of Korea until the World Cup hype began)--remembering Saki's weird statement. So, I asked the girls, focusing on foods that seem bizarre to Japanese: "Ayumi, you want to visit France. In France, many people eat rabbit. If you go to France, would you try rabbit?" To my surprise, she would--she even sounded genuinely curious about the idea (I told her it tasted a lot like chicken, only with bigger ears). "Saki, if you go to other countries in Asia, people in those countries eat strange foods. If you travel to Viet Nam or Korea, would you eat... (dramatic pause) AKITA?" Now, whenever I see her in the hall, I say, "Ummmmm. Akita. Delicious." A good 90% of the dogs around here are smallish beige akitas.
Another girl, this time a first year, managed to surprise me even more the next day. The smallest of our triplets (by far the smallest kid in school--when I saw her kneeling on the floor, her body folded forward over her legs, I realized that her torso is about as long as that of a decent-sized housecat; when she runs near the windows, all one can see of her from outside is her ponytail bouncing along). She had been a very shy girl, but several of the friends she is always with are quite social with me, so I've been teasing her and joking around with her to try to get her used to me (a lot of times this job makes me think of Jane Goodall spending months trying to acclimate a troop of monkeys to her presence). I've finally broken through. During cleaning time one day, her friend Kazu asked me to help them clean the floor (you push a small rag along the floor as you run down the hallway with your butt up in the air); I replied that I was too far from the floor, and too old, to do that (the teachers help clean, but none of them cleans the floor--this is really not a practical activity if you're over 15 years old or over five feet tall).
Anyway, I grabbed a rag and decided to help out. Kazu is pretty funny and is usually eager to talk to me, and I hadn't spoken much with her in a while. Yurie (the shy girl) was with her. I tossed my rag down behind them and then cleaned my way past them, to surprise them. Yurie, little darling that she is, giggled and said, "Oshiri dekai!" ("Big bottom!"). I was stunned. I turned around and glared at her, pretending to be offended. She helpfully half translated her prior comment for me: "Big oshiri." By now, Kazu, who was never shy, got in on the act. "Big. But cute!" I continued to pretend (quite transparently) to be upset and yelled at them accordingly (humorously). Then I taught them the word "behind." "Big behind!" offered Kazu and Yurie. Very cute. Oy. Apparently I'm no longer intimidating. Later, I ran into one of Yurie's sisters, so I told her in slow, mock-aggrieved English, "You sister Yurie is a VERY BAD GIRL." Before my next class with Kazu, I told her she was a BAD GIRL, and then I asked some of the boys around her if they agreed that she was a BAD GIRL (first year English only goes so far).
So that's how the kids are keeping me entertained these days.
O genki de