To: Newsletter
From: Peter Rivard
Subject: World Cup and Charmers

Final tally on increased visits to Japan during world cup: 30,000. $9 billion expense/30,000 visitors = $300,000/person. I'm sure many of those 30,000 took home stories about the wonderful hospitality of the Japanese and the fascinating beauty of the culture, I doubt any of them will spread $300,000 worth of word-of-mouth. And, in the end, Japan probably lost prestige and tourist interest over the cup, rather than seeing any benefit, if the European headlines I read over the internet are any indication. Although the major Japanese newspapers and the government here did everything they could to drum up fear of violent foreign hooligans, and major hotels refused to accept reservations from people who admitted they had come to watch soccer, the real people on the street in Japan were actually thrilled to be hosting the event, thrilled to be welcoming (they hoped) hundreds of thousands of visitors, and thrilled to learn about those visitors' countries. The western press saw only the ridiculous police warnings and hotel practices. Despite the massive build-up of fear in the official sector, there were very few problems, and almost all of the problems involving violence and even simple unruliness were exclusively Japanese. Despite the massive build-up of police and fearful headlines, there was such a scarcity of bad news about foreigners during the games that an Argentine stealing a mid-priced pair of sneakers was front-page news all over the country one day. The newspapers and the government were expecting riots and perhaps scores of deaths, but we foreigners let them down again. Out here in the boonies, real people just thought it would be cool to have a lot of visitors (the Mexican team had its camp in Fukui) and to have the rest of the world looking at Japan for a while. Official Japan can look terribly idiotic sometimes, but please don't think it reflects the Japanese people.

Another World Cup result: a huge demand for Beckham hairstyles. Thank Buddha the Ronaldo cut hasn't caught on the same way. Beckham, by the way, is soon to be proclaimed the official patron saint of Japan; I'm sure there must be Beckham shrines already up and running (sponsored, undoubtedly, by barbers).

Enough Japan bashing (for now). I actually do love this place. Yesterday, while I was sitting at the computer in the teachers' room preparing class materials, two second years wandered in. After the ritual "I'm committing a rudeness" announcement as they entered the room and not finding the person they were looking for, they were content to see what I was up to. They were Yuki, a smart girl whose name I'd learned soon after she started at Manyo, sensing that an inner wiseass lurked within her, yearning to break free (I was right--I think it must be something in the eyes that betrays it), and Yurie, the tiny girl with an off-and-on crush on me, whose inner wiseass had broken free some time ago. They marveled at how fast I typed in English (it's just not possible to type anywhere near as fast in Japanese--although the system for squeezing 4000 characters out of a standard computer keyboard works better than I'd have expected), and asked me to demonstrate again, so I speed-typed some teasing sentence about Yuki, who then said, "What about Yurie?" They then tried typing in English, crowding me out until I gave up and moved aside, coming up with goofy sentences about me--Yurie typing while Yuki worked her dictionary, finally taking the keyboard herself to add the last word to the sentence "Peter is very very very terrible!" It turns out that their dictionary gives "terrible" as the first translation of the word that is usually used for something more like "scary." I was so scary that these two came in here just to give me grief. I checked it out on my own dictionary, which, being Japanese, said the same thing--but my dictionary really caught the girls' eyes, so I let them try it out, showing them what the different buttons did and switching the onscreen directions to Japanese. They were especially excited to look up the characters in their names and see what they meant in English (this thing, less than half the size of a pack of cards, has three or four times as many kanji and 25 times as many compounds as my huge four-inch thick paper dictionaries--and it's faster to use; I take it everywhere and it has saved many a day for me). They also entered my name, which I'd never tried, and I was surprised to see three or four definitions (I couldn't understand them, without more effort, but one of them seemed to elicit a good laugh--apparently, its store of colloquial English is more complete than I'd expected). Finally, they asked me to show them how to type in Japanese, and they entered more silly sentences to see how much I could read and teach me new words. Yurie softened the earlier "terrible" tease by typing it in Japanese, adding "but Peter-sensei is sweet." I never finished my work, though I kicked them out after forty minutes to patch enough of it together to survive on the next day. These kids are pretty cute, especially Yurie, who likes to tease me and usually has a wonderfully innocent "I'm about to do something naughty" smile--"naughty" in the sense of a kid who has no idea what actual naughtiness might be. Yuki, who's much better at English and seems more her age, is a little bolder sometimes, though it was Yurie who started our friendship by telling me I had a big butt (using more polite language, of course, and in Japanese, since we don't teach any word for "butt" in the first year). After we'd been having our little dialog for half an hour, the principal walked by on his way to the tea pot, giving me an approving smile over the girls' heads. I really enjoy having a job where working conscientiously and goofing off are pretty much the same thing.

The same day, I got a bit more education in Chinese characters (the kanji pictographs were adopted from China, and the Japanese still--1500 years later--call them "Chinese characters"). At my new favorite ramen place after a private teaching session, I ordered "ebi tama," "ebi" being "shrimp" and "tama" being the character for "ball." Shrimp balls. The "tama" character was on its own; most Japanese words are made up of two or more characters. An example would be the word for "egg," which combines the kanji for "ball" and "child," which makes sense in a rather elegant way, I think.

Trying to figure out the sense behind the combination makes studying Japanese quite interesting, like reading Middle English and suddenly understanding the evolution of a a familiar word from its older usage. Sometimes, the challenge is too much: I have yet to meet any Japanese who could explain why the word for "squid" is made up of the kanji characters for "crow" and "thief" (my favorite conversation starter lately).

What really makes the task difficult, though, is that sometimes the process works backwards--instead of a compound taking on a meaning built from those of the two characters in it, a character comes to have the meaning of a particular compound in which it appears. So "ball-child" comes to mean "egg," and eventually "ball" by itself also comes to mean "egg," as a sort of abbreviation, I suppose. Thus "shrimp balls" is not some wonderful deep fried appetizer, but an omelet. Pretty good, though. I always seem to get a surprise at this place.

I did good today. While correcting the Go-chu third years' listening tests, I noticed that the kid with the best mark--and the only one to get all three of the most difficult questions right, including one that no one else answered correctly--was Mayuko, a girl I wrote about a few letters back. I was thrilled--she's a charmer, but she's not the kid I expect to top out a test. Takako, the regular teacher, was just as surprised. I usually don't comment to students on their test scores (other than a generic "great job" or something like that), but when Mayuko and Sachiyo, a really smart student, especially in English, came into the office to ask Takako a question, I stopped Mayuko to tell her. Sachiyo stopped too, but since they're good friends and Sachiyo is quite mature, I didn't feel it was inappropriate to say something in front of her, as I would have with most other kids. I told Mayuko she was the champion of the listening test--she said, "Really?" Mayuko isn't the kid she herself expects to top out a test, either. I don't think I've ever seen a kid that happy about herself. Being able to do that with just a couple of words is a huge perk of teaching. Sachiyo looked a bit surprised, too, and just said in Japanese, "I lost"--but bemusedly and maybe with a little happiness for her friend.

In terms of what is and isn't appropriate, I've still got a lot to learn. At a party this week, I was surprised when the principal clapped me on the back and told me I was sitting in a bad place--"you'll never get anything to eat sitting next to Tomita-sensei." In my country, we don't make that kind of remark (at least openly) about the portly. Tomita didn't mind--he did, in fact, seem preoccupied scouting out which of the other communal serving dishes seemed vulnerable (perhaps he feels pressured to live up to his reputation). Kids have said the same sorts of things to me or written it in their homework: "My English teacher is Mr. Yamaguchi. He is tall. My homeroom teacher is Mr. Tomita. He is big," and "My homeroom teacher is Mr. Tomita. His hobby is eating." It seems to be good-natured. Kids say it about themselves, parents say it about their kids, kids about their parents.

Be well,

By the way, my theory for "crow + thief = squid" is that crows would steal the squid that fishermen in every seaside village in Japan would have had drying on racks in the sun. My Japanese friends don't find this very likely, though. With all due respect to them, though, I had to go through a couple of different people before I got a plausible and agreed-upon explanation of why, grammatically, rabbits are considered a kind of bird in Japan.

In case you're wondering,
means "big."


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