Thursday, December 1
Today was the Thursday-student のみかい! If you remember I am organizing a social mixer for my adult students. Each month I invite all of students from a single-day out for dinner & drinks. I think it provides the students with many good opportunities, such as; practicing English, meeting other people with a common interest, getting to know their classmates, getting to know me & most important: strengthening the ties between all of us. I am more than a teacher and they are more than students. So it’s good to get out of the classroom and get to know each other.
I had already played host to my Tuesday and Wednesday students. This time it was Thursday. Actually Thursday is the day where I teach the least amount of total students, in total 10. So the attendance was going to be smaller than usual. But I was a little disappointed that only two students chose to attend the party. All through the day I heard a slew of excuses for not attending.
“It’s too late.”
“I’m too old.”
“I don’t drink beer.”
I felt a little like a Japanese person because I was annoyed by their excuses. Excuses are a waste of time for everyone. I would have much rather heard a polite “no.” Then we’re done with the conversation and we can move on to something more productive! Regardless of the pussyfooting, two people were excited to attend the party. So that was good.
After school I met with the two students from our upper-level-discussion-class, Ritsuko and Naoko. I had joined the two ladies for dinner many times before. So I knew they were both lovely people. We exited the building and found our destination, an おこのみやき restaurant. Emma joined us and we had a party of four. We ate some great food and had two beers. After eating Emma broke secret news. Her little “secret” had been kept under wraps from the students for four months. Beginning Thursday night it got the managerial green light and went public. So I can finally write about what I’ve know all along; Emma is leaving Sagamiono.
Naoko, sitting directly across from Emma, was shocked. She and Emma have a good friendship and are pretty close. Emma’s announcement blindsided her. She rearranged her floor cushion and sat up straight.
“One more time, please.”
“I’m leaving at the end of the January.” Emma replied.
The rest of the のみかい was spent talking about Emma’s plans for the future. To make a long story short, she and her longtime Kiwi boyfriend can no longer live so far apart, seven hours in Japan. So they’re going to teach English in the public sector at a public school. She hopes, and I hope, that she’ll remain somewhere near the area. However that remains to be seen.
After the party but long before last train, we said our goodbyes. The Thursday-のみかい had been small but a success. I took the train home already imagining the next party, the Friday-のみかい.
Saturday, December 3
It was another busy morning at work on Saturday. The halls were crowded with students and I politely pushed by them to set up a classroom. Just then a 6-year old jumped in front of me.
“だれ！” He said.
I laughed out loud. I actually knew what he said. In a rude manner he had demanded my name. I touched my nose with my index finger, “I am Alex. Who are you?”
He told me his name and then fired off some more Japanese. I could tell from his intonation and cocked head that he had asked another question. Totally clueless I looked at the teacher behind him. She was in stitches.
“He said you have blond hair. And he asked if you bleached it.” The teacher said between laughs.
I gave out another laugh. I collected myself and spoke very slowly to the young boy,
“This is natural. I am a blond. I am an American. In America we have many different hair types.” I paused and then asked him, “Why do you have black hair?”
The boy stared back at me. “なに” he said. The teacher translated my English. However by this point the conversation had become far too long for the young boy. He turned his back on us and looked out the window. The teacher and I shared a good laugh before going back to work. Kids are great.
Sunday, December 4
Sunday I visited かまくら with Mari. I’ve visited かまくら twice before; once with the training girls and the next with Kellee. However this time I was with a Japanese person. Nice. We exited a station sooner than usual and spent the afternoon zig-zagging the old streets. We were on another もみじがり adventure. It was our third consecutive Sunday outside looking for red leaves. We saw a few trees that looked pretty. But generally speaking there wasn’t much to see. Either all the leaves had fallen off or they were still fresh and green. I’m convinced the strange weather this year has killed any chances of もみじがり. Oh well, there’s always next year.
The highlight of the day was definitely spotting 富士山 several times. Mari first spotted the famous mountain when we were on the train. After this we kept our eyes open all throughout the day. And here and there we would find the huge mountain. It was beautiful. Already capped in snow and so big. Amazing. Hard to believe I stood on top of it just five months ago.
Friday, December 9
I took a half day off on Friday because a very special guest was coming in from the states. The executive director of the University of Nebraska Alumni Association came to town. As the president of the Tokyo Huskers, it was my responsibility to pick up Diane. I met her at her hotel and took her out to see Tokyo for a few hours. We rode the trains and visited Tokyo Tower. From here we had a great view of the city, and a far different view offered in Lincoln. Next we swung by a かいてんずし restaurant. We only had three pieces of fish, enough to get the feel of the Japan. After the appetizers we met the rest of the alumni members and walked to dinner.
This was only our third meeting as an alumni group so we’re still getting to know each other. We talked about ourselves a bit and Diane told us about the University’s growth. Sadly our time together ended too soon. Everyone took their respective ways home. I used my phone to check train routes and found how to return Diane to her hotel. I ran her back home and then took my own trains back home.
All told it was an amazing experience for everyone. Diane got to have a taste of Japan in only six hours. Our alumni members felt a rejuvenated interest in their university. And it was great for me. I was able to further legitimize our alumni chapter. I made a good impression with many people who may yet be important in my life. I could also reflect on my anniversary in Japan. A year before I had been like Diane. Completely lost in Tokyo, dizzied by skyscrapers, blinded by neon lights and totally dependent on other people to do everything for me. Now here I was taking another foreigner by the hand and showing them the country. Very surreal.
Saturday, December 11
Saturday the 11th marked three months of dating with Mari. Hard to believe how fast this time has gone by. We were even treated with a lunar eclipse for the special occasion. That night Mari and I climbed to the top of my apartment building and stood in the cold December air. We looked up and could see the shadow of Earth quickly moving from the left to the right side of the moon. After long the whole moon was covered in shadow. I looked up and all around us were other people poking their heads out of their apartments looking at the moon. Humans are a curious animal. I pulled my girlfriend close next to me, I like this human.
Monday, December 12
Monday I met up with the girls in Tokyo. We were going to have a Christmas present exchange! I met Elisha in 下北沢, a hip college town just down the tracks from me. Lauren, our lovely friend who suggested a gift exchange, was late. She was getting her hair colored and it was taking longer than expected. And she wonders why I call her “Hollywood.”
So Elisha and I wondered around for the afternoon. Window shopping, talking, drinking coffee and reflecting on the last year. We were both quick to point out how the other had changed, and fast to defend ourselves against changes.
Four hours later we found Lauren in しぶや. At last our present exchange could begin. It was a young adult kind of Christmas party. When asked what we wanted for Christmas we all said the same thing, “something practical.” Gifts included a coffee mug, a kitchen glove, candles, a cook book and a calendar. Actually Lauren had forgotten to get me a present so we visited a nearby store. She bought for me just what I wanted, a new cooking pot. Practical indeed.
After shopping it was time to go home. We said goodbye. Elisha was going back to the states for the holiday. Lauren I hoped to see again before 2012, but couldn’t be sure. After all she is Hollywood. Goodbye hugs were exchanged and I squeezed into a train. My arms were soon numb from the pressure of being a canned human sardine. Yep I felt at home.
Every so often in one of my classes I teach an “opinion unit.” In this lesson students read a hypothetical situation and choose from a list of answers. A while ago I started charting their answers on my white board to look for patterns. Sure enough a pattern emerged, they all had the same answers. Literally 95% of the time up to five Japanese adults would have chosen the exact same answer. I first thought this pattern was strange. So I asked my students why they all had the same answer.
“Because we’re Japanese.”
We all laughed out loud. But honestly this was a pretty straight forward answer. I’ve mentioned before, both in my blog and the classroom, how Japanese people prize harmony. And here was a perfect example of that. Given the opportunity to be honest and choose an answer; they all chose the same answer. So in class I started to refer to this as the “Japanese Effect.” And it caught on. Now whenever two or more people agree, the students jokingly refer to it as the “Japanese Effect.” They know it just like I do, they love to agree with one another.
So it’s become my goal in class to create a discourse. I know I cannot change how these people think at a basic level, at least not in 50-minute installments once a week. So instead I’ve taught them about the “devil’s advocate.” Playing the advocate is seldom done in Japanese culture, and to me, is very representative of western culture. The first few lessons playing the advocate was very difficult for my students. Yet slowly and surely they’re making real progress. This is how I know I’ve done my job as an educator.
The harmony and cooperation in Japan continues to amaze me. I think it is one trait that makes the country and the culture so strong. But as an American I also see the reverse side of the same positivity. Such like-mindedness stifles opportunity for creative thought. In a later blog I will compare this harmony with American divisions. But for now that’s gonna have to do it!
のみかい (Nomikai): A drinking party
おこのみやき (Okonomiyaki): A Japanese pancake
かまくら (Kamakura): Former de facto capital of Japan
もみじがり (Momijigari): Literally, “red leaf hunting”
かいてんずし (Kaiten zushi): Conveyor belt sushi
下北沢 (Shimokitazawa): A hip college district
しぶや (Shibuya): A special ward in Tokyo