JET Program Reflections #8–Ceremony

Pictured: Another Day, another ceremony… 

Here is the eighth in my Tuesday mini-series of reflections on my experiences teaching English in Japan through the JET Program, lazily culled from e-mails sent to friends and family at the time. This one looks to be from April 2004:  

The new Japanese school year just began today. Actually officially school started on Monday, but if you’re like me you believe that much in the same way that “Life Begins at 40”, a Japanese school year doesn’t start until you’ve had an opening ceremony. And today we had one of those. I have to admit I thought we already had opening ceremony because there were two other apparently unrelated ceremonies earlier this week. But no, today was the real thing with an audience of parents and public officials and the student band’s rousing brass interpretation of Queen’s “I was born to love you”.

Blissfully ignorant, I walked into the teacher’s room this morning looking like an unemployed lumberjack. When I saw everyone in their figurative Sunday Best I knew I was in trouble. Luckily I didn’t wear my Little Mermaid windbreaker this morning but opted instead for my tasteful solid black jacket, which I kept securely zipped throughout today’s ceremony. Face-loss inverted.

I’d like to tell you that before the ceremony they spray painted all the student’s heads black so that those with naturally brownish hair wouldn’t ruin the sea of uniformly black-haired heads, but unfortunately they don’t do that at my school. The honor of that anecdote belongs to one of my colleagues at the different school. Much to my chagrin, my schools refuse to marginalize the individual in such a blatant way. I mean sure we have uniforms, but do we reproach the inferior biology of those with slightly less dark hair? The sad answer is no. How my humorous mass e-mails suffer in the face of such reasonable behavior!

A few months ago the shyest teacher I work with gave me a ride to a teacher’s party. We both live in the same area, and since I knew she had lived there for five years I asked her opinion about some of the restaurants around there. She hadn’t been to any of the restaurants I asked her about, and went on to tell me that she doesn’t like to go out very often because she’s embarrassed that she might run into her students. With a shudder she related a story of a time she went out to get a haircut and was spotted by a couple of her students. The next day the students told their friends about seeing her, much to her horror.

A few weeks ago at the end of a teacher party at one of my elementary schools, all the teachers all sang a song by the Japanese band SMAP while two teachers accompanied on the guitar and xylophone. This is a prime example of something that didn’t strike me as funny until I imagined the equivalent happening in America, with a group of American teachers singing a Backstreet Boys song off printed lyric sheets in the Home Ec room. Thinking about the coordinated practice the guitarist and xylophonist must have put into the endeavor tickles me in particular, I can’t really explain why…

“My Little Darlings” Corner.
About a month ago, I taught a certain third grade class for the first time since I got here. I have no idea how the powers that be decide when and where I go; the only school I consistently go to every month has a grand total of five students. But I digress. In this class, I noticed a little girl in the front row clutching a folded note throughout class. At the end of class after several false starts she worked up the courage to come up and give it to me. “Why would I want a note from some dumb little kid?” I told her in Japanese. No, just kidding, I thanked her. Later I removed the novelty printed tape keeping the note closed and read it. It said (in English):

Nice to meet you.
My name is Haruka.
I am a girl.
I am 9 years old.
Thank you.

Immediately before “Thank you” I could faintly see that she had written “Thank you for being my friend”, but must have decided it seemed to forward as she had erased it.

The ninth (and final!) installment of JET Program Reflections will be up next Tuesday.

  • Well, I guess I could be the first to comment, at the possible expense of someone calling me a Christmas cake.
    Really though, the 9 year old named Haruka is what really keeps me going as an ALT here in Japan. Actually my Haruka’s name is Haruka and she is now going into the fifth grade. Although I never noticed she was in my weekly class for the first month or so, she did stand out in the local tennis club I joined, where she attempted some kind of double dutch jump rope thing off the stage in between tennis matches where she couldn’t concentrate long enough to hit the ball. Once i realized she was the one sleeping in my English class, she showed her appreciation by giving me presents every week. Although it seemed pretty obvious to me she just wanted a friend, she did give me a ring made out of a shinny bread tie. I asked the teacher if I should be worried and she said she would testify for me if her parents took me to court.
    The kids now have taught me to ride the unicycle, the names of many Japanese dishes, where my desk is, how to use the camera on my cell phone, how to play park baseball near my house, brought me band aids when they found out the hard way I don’t know how to catch, and looked the other way when I pulled up a snow marker that no one knows how to put back down.
    I constantly ask my fellow teachers if they want to do something, like hiking or a movie, but every weekend the kids stop by my house to say hi and ask me to play ball. Secretly, i think they somehow run this country.

  • Lars Martinson

    It sounds like you have classes with your kids pretty often, which must be cool. I had 1800 students total, so never really got to know them personally, except for at the one school with only five kids. So that was too bad, but on the plus side I could make one lesson and use it for a month straight.

    I’m a grumpy old bastard, but re-reading that Haruka note always gets me. Aw…