Monday, September 7, 2009

Jan Ken Pon 

Last week was my first week of school, and what a week it was.
This is my complete list of schools:
Nita Middle School 仁多中学校
Kamedake Elementary School 亀嵩小学校
Takao Elementary School 高尾小学校
Takata Elementary School 高田小学校
Ai Elementary School 阿井小学校
Minari Elementary School 三成小学校
Fuse Elementary School 布勢小学校

Nita is my main school, I go there three times a week- all afternoon Monday and Friday and all day on Wednesday. I go half days to each elementary school, for example Takao in the morning then Takata in the afternoon. This is kind of tough because some of the schools are half an hour away from each other.
Last week and this week I am making the rounds of all my schools doing my self introduction or 自己紹介. I met all kinds of students and teachers. Some students are super genki even in class and ask me every question- I've heard everything from the obvious "What is your favorite food?" to the completely obscure "What is your favorite bird?" or "Do you support Obama?".
I think some kids would not speak to me if they had a gun pointed to their head.
The teachers are all different too. Some of them want me to speak only in English, and they will help students out in Japanese to understand what I'm saying. Some want me to say everything in both Japanese and English. But the worst is those who want me to say everything in English, and then they dont know enough English to translate. The students stare at me blankly while I jabber on about myself and Indiana. That is the most frusterating thing. You see, the Elementary school teachers are kind of like ours in America- the homeroom teacher teaches everything from Science to Math to, well, English. Did your second grade teacher speak fluent Japanese? I think not.
There are also all kinds of principals and staff. I got to sit down Takata's principal, who has basically traveled the whole world, and talk for a whole hour about the difficulties in Japanese as a Second Language vs. English as a Second Language. It was such a good conversation- really enlightening. The vice principal and two other staff members call themselves the "Cherry Blossom Girls" and are like happy, middle aged cheerleaders. They fed me sweets and told me I am cute. Today's school, Fuse, had very reserved staff. The principal was kind but reserved and the vice principal looked permanently like she had been sucking on a lemon. Needless to say today was a bit hard.
Another difference between America and Japan is that here elementary is considered to run from first through sixth grade. Middle school is seventh, eighth, and ninth, and high school is tenth, eleventh and twelfth. Everyone at the BOE was really surprised and appalled to hear we have four years of high school- until it was discovered that we just label the years differently.

In Japan everything is solved by the game "Jan Ken Pon" or "Rock Paper Scissors". I mean everything- no exaggeration. Who is going to be "it" at recess? Jan ken pon. Who will read this paragraph? Jan ken pon. Who will do anything? Jan Ken Pon. Their love of this game gets a bit irksome- especially when fifteen minutes goes by locked in an epic rock paper scissors battle. Because somehow you can play it with infinity people. Who wins in a fifteen person round of jan ken pon? I have no idea. But the kids somehow can tell. In fact when I told the teacher that we don't often use rock paper scissors for this purpose in the states she looked at me in bewilderment and asked "Well then how do you decide things?"
I have to admit it does have its useful times. Who will Natalie-sensei do the cleaning with? Jan ken pon. It saved me today from having my arms ripped off by two small girls vying for my attention. Unfortunately the winner was on toilet duty, so I got stuck mopping the johns. Here, every day students clean the school. Remember that scene in Spirited Away where the kids are pushing around towels on the floor? That really happens. It's cool because there are no janitors. But also they don't really use any cleaning supplies besides water so I'm not sure how clean anything actually gets. Ah well. It's the thought that counts.

One thing I have really missed in Japan is human contact. Back home I can expect a hug from my friends- even acquaintences. But mostly people don't touch each other here. How different especially from Hispanic culture where we GREET people with a kiss on both cheeks! I was really feeling lonesome about the lack of human contact at this quiet school today until one girl attached herself to me, wrapped her arms around my waist, and hugged me about ten times. She and her three friends hardly let go of my hand the entire day.
I was so thankful for this unassuming kindness.


  1. Maybe you need some lolcats!

    I would totally give you a hug if the world weren't so darned large.

  2. Awww! Sadness! I agree with Cassie. I'll try to throw a hug in your direction.

    Thanks for blogging. It has filled the Natalie void for a moment.